Category Archives: Musings

Top Ten Geeky TV Series Pitches

A lot of shows got cancelled recently. That’s fine. Good, even. It’s part of the Entertainment Cycle of Life.

So, here are my top ten pitches for new Geeky TV series. Note that in many cases while I am pitching it, I’d be the WRONG person to write, direct, or produce these.

10. Nebula’s

It’s a single-room comedy… in space! Think of it as Cheers, but set at Quarks.

9. UnCivil

The US Civil War was about slavery. In a world where the heroes of the ancient world were real, and super-science and magic are just beginning to develop, this is the story of early mystery men (and women) operating during the civil war.

8. Lower Decks

The U.E.S. Topeka is the jewel of the United Earth fleet. On its upper decks negotiations decide the fate of systems, bluffs end wars, and strange creatures on contacted for the first time.

On its lower decks the sanitation systems have to be maintained, the quantum torpedoes polished, and the missing synthetics crate from storage 141 has to be found before the new official review. What goes on above deck 50 doesn’t make much difference down here.

Unless there’s a hull breach. Or a Krangin prisoner escapes. Or a visiting alien turns out to be accompanied by a vampiric slime that got into the air ducts.

Again.

7. Vigilance

A therapy group on loss decides they are tired of just mourning their dead. They have MMA fighters, engineers, paramedics, even a cop. No one of them could be a hero, but as a group? As a group they can forge one new figure to make a difference.

They can be Vigilance.

Foresee a fight? Then have one of the fighters wear the suit. Need to interrogate someone? Send the psychologist. Someone in the Vigilance suit gets hurt? Patch them up in secret at a member’s house, and send out someone else the next night.

No one has all the skills to be Vigilance. But between the twenty of them, they have this covered.

6. Lost City

Under Seattle is the famous and well known Seattle Underground.

Beneath that are the Tunnels and Cellars.

Beneath that is the Lost City. Things that have been lost, forgotten, or abandoned often end up in the Lost City. Atlantis may never have existed, but there are a few Atlanteans here. the Rat emperor is always lurking at the edges. And this is where the Sasquatch went when they were driven out of their native homes.

Debbie Darbaski’s little brother disappeared when they were children. Now a young adult she gets a letter from him, asking for help. In the Lost City.

5. Perri Hotter and the Arcane Adult Education Class

Look, not everyone in the Magic World can make it at the ivy-wand-league schools, like Warthogs, or Bullbrakes. Sometimes when you AREN’T the chosen one, your life takes an unexpected turn, and you best bet is Arcane Adult Education Class.

Of course that means if some villain DOES manage to encase all the major magic schools in dream ice, you and your evenings-and-online-classmates may the the only hope the Magic World has. And as the best-of-the-worst, everyone is looking to Perri Hotter, who was once mistaken for the Chosen One, to save the day!

Which doesn’t mean she can skip her day job, either. Saving the world doesn’t pay the bills.

4. Asmara

The year is 2100. Asmara is the major, mobile solar-system traveling space station controlled by the African Union. With unlimited solar power and self-sufficient hydroponics, it is beholden to no one, and on it cultures suppressed for millennia are having a Renaissance.

3. The Game Masters

As the world gets weirder, the governments of the world often need experts who can tell the difference between real satanic rituals, and circles taken from the Paladin Roleplaying Game. Combining esoteric knowledge, game theory, and a host of friends with weird hobbies. Han Kite, Robin Kaos, and Mike Selinker (as himself!) tackle the weird cases the more traditional agencies have thrown up their hands and given up on.

2. Ashmen

A group of US firefighters go to help with an out-of-control blaze in Europe, but are cut off and surrounded by flame. they take refuge in a root-encrusted cave, pass out, and when they wake up and come out, it’s the 9th century.

And the locals mistake them for “ashmen,” Dane raiders famous for their ash-wood ships.

They have what was on them at the time, and their collection of modern knowledge. Can they make a new life in the dim past? Can they even learn the language? And, once they befriend a local village, can they protect it from the REAL ashmen, who are coming to raid?

1. The Morrigan

Erin Gabanna always loved her grandmother, but is still shocked when she inherits everything upon her grandmother’s death. In a letter, her gran warns her that this includes the title of The Morrigan–Erin is now the harbinger of death, lady of crows and wolves, and a member of the unseelie court.

Erin will be drawn to death and war for the rest of her life, and will be hunted by the one-eyed Cuchulainn as her geas.

Erin’s grandmother hid her connection to death, but Erin is going to fight it. Or, at least, seek to bring justice to those deaths she is drawn to. In this she leans on her friends of college, which include a paramedic, a lawyer, and her best friend, a celebrity bodyguard.

The Morrigan is a murder-of-the week procedural, as Erin is supernaturally drawn to death but decides to solve these crimes on her own accord, with a running B-plot of supernatural politics with Maeb, Dagda, and other entities trying to draw Erin in as a young, inexperienced member of the court with a lot of enemies, and few allies.

Entertained by just the IDEA of these shows? Feel free to support me on Patreon!

(Want to pay me to actually work on these, or create more ideas for you? Leave me a note in the comments, or shoot me a line at owen.stephens@gmail.com!)

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Alcoholism, Therapy, & Gaming

My father was an alcoholic. He went to rehab, once, in the 1990s and toward the end of that process we had ‘family week,’ where the whole family came in for group therapy and counseling. So the other members of my family and I went, and spent a week there. It was a bit like summer camp, but the activities were figuring out how badly screwed up you were and crying instead of archery and canoeing.

While there for family week, I met a young woman who had been badly abused. I did not get, and if I am honest did not at the time want, any details of what she had been through. She was there for her own addiction. I either never knew what she was addicted to, or I have long since forgotten. She wasn’t in any of the group or therapy sessions I was in with my father and family.

She saw some of my RPG books I had brought with me, and was fascinated by them. She understood the concept immediately but, faced with multiple books of hundreds of pages each for just a few games (I know I had Rolemaster with me, I may have also had some D&D and Champions), she claimed that she “wasn’t smart enough” to play RPGs.

I assured her she was. I promised I could show her how the concept worked and we could play a game, with just a few of sentences of explanation, and three sentences of rules. She agreed.

“Tell me about your character.”

She loved rabbits. She wanted to know if she could be a rabbit, I told her she could be anything she wanted. She decided she was an anthropomorphic rabbit scavenger in a post-apocalyptic world who hunted (and killed) carnivores, and defended herbivores.

I gave her a 3×5 index card.

“Write down one thing you are good at.”

She wrote down she was good at creeping.

“Write down one thing you’re bad at.”

She wrote she was bad at keeping calm.

“Write down one important thing you have.”

I had meant one object she possessed. She wrote she had ‘limitless determination.’ This game was for her. I was not about to tell her she’d done it wrong. Limitless determination it was.

“Write down one thing you want to accomplish.”

She wanted to find a safe place to bring orphan bunnies.

I gave her a penny.

“I’ll describe situations, and you tell me what you want your character to do. For anything you try you flip a coin – your action succeeds on heads and fails on tails. If you try something you are good at or have an important thing for you get to flip twice and succeed if either is heads, while if it’s the thing you are bad at you have to flip twice and get heads for both to succeed. That’s it.”

She asked if, since she was a rabbit, she could succeed on tails, and fail on heads. That seemed super-obvious, and I agreed.

And so the “Hares & Holocausts” game was born. Getting to flip twice and winning if either was tails was a bonus. Having to flip twice and winning only if both were tails was a trial.

We played 3-4 times over that week, mostly at lunch and once one morning after breakfast. I borrowed heavily from Gamma World, Rock & Rule, Watership Down, and Seven Samurai. Her character never got a name, and she didn’t seem to care. I thought of her as “The Rabbit Without a Name,” who wore a poncho, and assumed the setting used an Ennio Morricone soundtrack.

Each scene was clearly defined as casual or dangerous. Casual scenes had no consequences. In a dangerous scene, there were normally 3 chances for her to take an action. Actions weren’t blow-by blow things like “I stab a scorpion bandit,” but more like “I attack the bandits, trying to drive them back out of the mine shaft.” One successful action out of the three was a draw–she ended up neither better off nor worse at the end of the scene. Two successes was a win. Three was a BIG win, and she got some kind of permanent improvement.

Zero successes was a failure.

If she failed at a scene, she took a wound which meant she had to either give up one of her bonuses until she healed, or write down a new trial (which she got to pick) as a scar she kept until she succeeded at a task using that trial. I remember she choose a scar at least once,  getting a cut through her left eye so she got the trial “Bad at seeing things to my left.”

She picked up a katana, with a BIG win, which she got as a bonus she could use once per combat, because I wanted to introduce the idea of equipment. She also gained a psychic mind-stare with a BIG win, which let her try to take out a foe before a scene began, with no penalty if she failed.

She crossed The Waste, and found a mine shaft, which had evil scorpion bandits in it. Driving them away, the mine shaft lead her to a valley with a ruined town which had some bunny orphans in it. She saved them from a spider sweat-shop owner (who forced the bunny orphans to weave designer webs for uptown spiders), then went to find them a safe home. That took her to an old observatory on top of a nearby mountain, where she had to convince the ancient security AI (that controlled a robotic sphinx guard) to allow the orphan bunnies to live there. She hunted down and imprisoned a skunk airship pirate who made clouds the observatory couldn’t see through, and promised shed talk the orphan bunnies into become astronomers, and the AI agreed to let them stay and protect them.

Then she took the stench-airship, and flew off. She wanted to find, and defeat, the Uptown Spiders who received the designer webs. End of campaign.

I did not realize for weeks that she never killed anyone. Drove off, defeated, jailed, convinced to change sides, yes. Never death.

She really seemed into it, and told me she would introduce that game to friends of hers. She still didn’t think she could play a “real” RPG. I tried to convince her there were lots of games, like there were lots of books and lots of movies, and all she needed was one that was a good fit for her. I was not convinced “Hares & Holocausts” could be played seriously, thought I didn’t tell her that.

I’m skipping over a lot of the weird, awkward, difficult parts of this experience. I was making it up as I went along, and it was not as polished as this short write-up makes it sound, especially for the first game or two. There were moments I was uncomfortable. There was at least one time she burst into tears. I used some Rolemaster critical hit tables for narrative inspiration once, and that was a big mistake on numerous levels. The councilors insisted all games take place in one of the public areas, and only between 7am and 6pm. No one else played with us.

At the end of my week, I gave her my contact info. She was going to be there for at least a few weeks longer. I did not ask for, and she did not offer, her contact information. I never heard from her.

I think that’s the only complete, totally original RPG I have ever designed by myself.

My father stayed sober for 90 days, because one of the councilors at rehab told him he couldn’t — that it would be impossible. Through sheer iron will, my father took not a single sip of alcohol for three months. They were a good time to know him. Then, convinced this meant he wasn’t an alcoholic, he drank himself to death over the next few years.

I have a Patreon. It allows me to take the time to make posts that are freely available, like this one. Your support is welcome and appreciated.

Ungol

Ungol is the Accursed City, the Land of Maddened Death, and the location of the Skulmance.

It is a kingdom, a ruin, a demiplane, a demigod, and an artifact.

Ghouls live in Ungol, as do wererats, rakshasa, jackalweres, and hags.

It can be reached only through rituals, though some rituals once performed open a path on a regular, though often infrequent, basis. It opposed, and is opposed by, Valorgard.

Only pain and wickedness comes from Ungol, and to even know of it can give it power. Even its dust has power. So we do not speak of it.

But anything written of Ungol morphs and changes, until the writing spreads dangerous lies that benefit only Ungol. Only writing inked with the blood of an unwilling sapient creature, and scribed on pages made from another unwilling sapients skin, can hold unchanging words of Ungol.

So we also do not write of it.

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What is the Secret of Social Media Engagement? The Answer May Surprise You!

Honestly, I don’t think clickbait titles (yes, like the one of this article) work that well anymore. At least, not at the few-thousand-followers level I am at. I suspect the rules are different both for people with fewer than 500 followers, and those with 100,000 or more.

In my experience, the secret to getting people to engage with you on social media (which is not the same as monetizing them, or getting them to respond to call to action, though it an be an element of those things) is twofold.

First, offer more content than requests or pitches. That makes people think of your primarily as a source, rather than an ad.

Second, when you want a high level of engagement, post something that both invites response, and that causes those responses to be more content. But that isn’t too difficult.

For example: “Change one word in a movie title to ‘fart.”

Yes, it’s juvenile. So, try to make your engagement posts on-brand. But a TON of people will happily post “Fart Wars!” and “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Fart!” and be amused.

That means people are reading, and liking, and posting, and then the social media platform is more likely to show it to other people, and THEY will engage, and…

Experiment with what your audience likes, and do more of those. But not too often.

Then, try to monetize your followers separately, with things like:

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Why Trauma Doesn’t Just End

This post is heavy, not gaming-related (at least mostly), personal, and from my perspective. I’m not claiming this is a scientific or universal explanation. Just my experience.

When you experience trauma, everyone seems to understand why it affects you immediately. You witnessed blood spraying from your mother’s face as a child. You got beating bloody by a random drunk you had never met before. You saw a naked woman clinging to the railing of a motel, screaming for help while a man tried to drag her inside. You were lured into the woods by someone you thought was a friend, so a group could jump you, force you into a ditch, and threaten to bury you alive.  You were in a car wreck. An earthquake. A wild fire.

In the hours and days after that, everyone gets it. It was traumatic. You were rattled. It sucked.

Years later, if something sets off those memories so you begin shaking, crying, screaming, some people don’t understand why you haven’t “gotten over it.” Why is it throttling back your productivity, or driving you to seek self-medication, or suddenly making you have nightmares. After all you were fine yesterday, right?

Well first, most likely not. But, second, life is a building, and it’s always growing. Every year is a new floor, every event and responsibility a new tenant you have to keep happy.

The foundation is SUPPOSED to be strong and reinforced enough to handle every floor you build. But some of us built our foundations under poor circumstances. The concrete was smashed, or the ground was swampy. When we put the first few floors on it, we are okay, but every floor is new weight. More and more strain on that foundation.

And not every floor gets built strong, or even correctly. Trauma is a fire on the 5th floor. A wrecking ball coming in through a corner office. Flooding in the basement.

So, we do what we can to shore it up. Self medication is trying to fix the problems of all that structural damage… but it’s not always good as a long-term fix. You’re not doing the work to code, because your problems are ones that sticking to code won’t fix. The tenants are complaining about the heat, because you never got the HVAC fixed after basement flooded. So you set about renovations in their apartments and offices. More windows, more doors, spruce the place up. Sure, you are cutting holes in retaining walls on the 27th floor to do it, but the building is only 28 floors tall, so who cares?

But then you build the 29th floor. The 30th. Ten more on top of that. The external braces you bolted on to make up for the weak walls can’t handle that strain. The cracks in the foundation split their patches under years of use and tons of weight.

You seem fine… but there are problems.

Then one day, winds are just a tiny bit stronger than usual. The buildings around you are fine. They can take it. But you? Your trauma-ridden structure, patches and braces and ad-hoc fixes can’t take it. Your whole frame bends. Windows pop out. Girders on the 5th floor buckle.

People look at you wand wonder what the big deal is. The fire that weakened those girders was 40 years ago. Why are you making a big deal about them now?

We can’t tear ourselves down and start over. And while major renovations sometimes can help bring us up to code, it can be extremely difficult to use a building while it’s being renovated. Do I kick out functions like going to work, paying the bills, helping people out, so I can get the work of replacing major columns done? Especially since the workmen can’t promise the columns will ever hold the same weight, and don’t know what they’ll find in the walls when we start tearing into things?

Or do I throw up some more supports, just give up on ever using the 5th floor for anything, promise we’ll add high-speed wifi to the whole building, and hope I don’t drill through a sewage pipe as I install the fiberoptic?

Trauma doesn’t go away. It leaves scars, and you often don’t know where they are, what they look like, or what will set them off.

I spent way too long trying to decide if I even wanted to link to my Patreon in this post. It seemed cheap, somehow, to talk about my pain and then ask for money.

But I know some very brave, smart, struggling people who do it, and I never look down at them for doing so. So maybe we normalize that emotional work is work, and it’s okay to suggest people be paid for it.

If you want to contribute to my writing and videos, check out my Patreon.

EDIT: A post-script.

Since people have asked, yes, all the traumas I list in the second paragraph are specific examples from my life. I left out the sexual abuse as a child, mockery for fat shaming, bullying as a nerd, and probably dozens of others that felt less relatable to the general public.

That’s not the point of this piece but yeah, for those of whom it seems to matter, those ARE all examples of trauma in one person’s life. Mine.

 

Ten Unlikely FOX/Disney Mash-Ups, Ranked!

So, as of today, Disney owns the FOX catalog of movies and television fiction.

Sure, that means LOTS more characters enter the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and Star Wars: A New Hope distribution rights now go back to Lucasfilm. Those are the “mainstream” stories about this merger.

But Disney had made TONS of money building linked cinematic universes and rebooting properties in the past 15 years.

So, what are some unlikely but now technically possible combinations of new FOX acquisitions and old Disney properties they could try?

Here are Ten, ranked from worst to best.

10. Program of the APES (Planet of the Apes/TRON)

When an uplifted chimpanzee finds an old, independent research facility…. Nope. I can’t do it. Some great tastes just do NOT taste great together!

9. DIE HARD Wore TENNIS SHOES (Die Hard/The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes)


The only reason this isn’t the worst idea on this list is that I COULD see a way to do this as a parody… and Program of the APES really is a worse idea.

8. Serenity Witches (Firefly/Witch Mountain)

I mean, it might be fun just to see Browncoats’ heads explode. Mal and the Serenity must help a couple of psychic kids escape their government pursuers and return to the frontier planet Witch Mountain.

7. Swiss Family Robinson ALIEN

Yes, it’s a reach, but hear me out. In the future a family of explorers, with one famous example of being stranded, get stuck when their colony ship crashes on a deserted planet. They set about trying to survive already harsh conditions, when one of the animals finds this leathery egg…

Alien is at its best as either full-on military action, or small, isolated horror. Why not try that second one again?

(But if you do… yeah let’s NOT actually mention Swiss Family Robinson)\

6. Flight of the AVATAR

Do a straight-up remake of Flight of the Navigator, but with a Na’vi kid.

This is a heartless cash grab idea. Those always do well, right?

5. My X-FILES Project (X-Files, My Science Project)

A group of teens find the junkyard where the government sticks all the alien gadgets and gizmos that were stolen away to make sure the FBI team known as the X-Files can’t prove they exist. Now the X-Files are closed down, and it’s up to the kids to use the alien tech they have recovered to investigate other strange phenomenon.

Okay… I’d at least give this one a try.

4. Predator: Black Hole

I’m not saying there’s any tonal or aesthetic justification to linking these properties. I’m just saying if I get a movie post with Maximilian facing off against a Predator, and the tagline “The Most Dangerous Hunter Needs the Most Dangerous Hunting Grounds,” with the Cygnus and a black hole in the background?

I’m in!

And no one knows what to do with either franchise, so why not give it a shot?

3. Muppet Night at the Museum

Hear me out!

All you need is for the Museum where exhibits come to life to have a travelling Muppet display be installed, and hilarity ensues! Let’s face it, Night at the Museum could use a threequel, and Disney doesn’t know what to do with the Muppets anyway. And Miss Piggy karate chopping soldiers of all eras has some promise for comedy.

2. Kingsman/Pirates of the Caribbean

Look, Disney is GOING to make more PotC movies. If one of the new characters is a tailor, who gets a huge pirate treasure an uses it to begin training other tailors as super-spies? That’s a win.

1. The Orville/The Cat From Outer Space

This one is a no-brainer, but it should also be more an Easter Egg in an Orville two-parter, or MAYBE for “The Orville The Movie.”

But you can’t convince me a race of psychic cats isn’t perfect for The Orville.

BONUS MASH-UP

Ice Age “Live Action” Remake

Ice Age lost some steam, but still has lots of fans and great actors in its key roles. Just give us photo-real CGI prehistoric beasts, and people will pack the theaters.

This is the ONE idea on this page I think has any chance whatsoever of actually happening.

(Though if Disney wants to pay me to explain how ANY of these ideas could work, I’m available!)

PATREON
If you get use out of or enjoy any of the content on this blog, please consider adding a drop of support through my Patreon campaign!

Cheap Cool Common Minis: Sword and Shield

I could see this becoming a weekly thing… or not, depending on how popular it is.

The idea is to look at  a specific miniature for gaming I think is cheap ($1 or less, plus shipping), cool (well, I like it), and common (at time of writing, no promises you you come here 6 months later).

I won’t tell you specifically where to get it, though I’ll link to a Google page for options to get it . But check out your local friendly gaming store first! Especially if I am suggesting a randomized miniature you might find as a single… which today I am!

Need a male human or half-elf adventurer in a chain shirt with longsword and shield? Want something to turn into a pulp-era adventurer with some modifications?

Behold, from the HeroClix “The Mighty Thor” set, Captain America (#104)

Marvel-Heroclix-The-Mighty-Thor-Captain-America-006

Yes, like a lot of HeroClix, the sword can bend a bit. I find a dip in boiling water (CAREFULLY) followed by placing it in an ice bath held in the correct position usually fixes this. If not, i have TONS of spare swords I can glue in from metal equipment sprues.

Here’s a better shot, though this is obviously a CG render, rather than a live shot.

It is, of course, on a clicky-base, which is too big for a lot of games. But it’s easily enough to get a straightedge (don’t use a knife without being careful and experienced) under the lip of the figure base, and working it around to pry a tiny bit at a time, until it pops off.
Or, just cut it free at the feet. (With proper precautions and supervision, as appropriate).

413MVxyelnL_1024x1024

Works well as a dashing advanced-fantasy figure, but also a science-fantasy, modern fantasy, or (weirdly with a little work) a supers figure.

I found LOTS for sale under $1, though no promises you can.

But to me, this looks cheap, cool, and common!

PATREON
If you get use out of or enjoy any of the content on this blog, please consider adding a drop of support through my Patreon campaign!

Creating SuperMemes

Superhero/comic book worlds often build off their pasts with legacies and spin-offs. A good example of this are the X-Men, who have an X-Gene that gives them mutant powers, are trained by professor X, and have had groups such as X-Factor and eXcalibre.

It may all seem a bit eXcessive, but it also greats a throughline readers can use to quickly understand how these individuals and groups are related.

So if you are going to build something for a superhero setting, why not put in the thought on how to turn a single idea into a whole meme? A set of related concepts you, and readers and players, can expand on over time.

Here’s a particularly obvious example you can build an entire set of superhero groups and concepts around: AB-Humans

The rise of “Advanced Biology” Humans, or AB Humans, was troubling and unexpected. It lead to the rise of mega-geniuses, extreme mutations, and people with true superpowers.

And, of course, costumed heroes and villains.

Doctor Amanda Bryant, a powerful telepath sometimes called “Doctor AB” tried to train some of the most powerful ABs to control their abilities and use them for the benefit of mankind. In an effort to show that this could be the standard, she called them the Normal AB Example.

The press quickly dubbed them the AB-Normals, and bigotry and fear dogged them constantly.

Doctor AB’s old colleague, Erica Magus, saw that society would never trust ABs, and knew that only armed resistance could protect this minority. She took in ABs no one else would give a chance, even those who had turned to crime and rage to survive, and made them her Knight Errants.

The AB-Errants.

Since then both groups have spun off side teams, the AB-Solvers and AB-Stainers, and AB-used being the best known.

PATREON
If you get use out of or enjoy any of the content on this blog, please consider adding a drop of support through my Patreon campaign!

The Secret to Being a Good GM

First, note that I am a HUGE believer in playstyle being variable. I don’t think there is one BEST way to do almost anything in gaming. I often get annoyed if people are being too silly when I want a serious story… but that doesn’t mean I am right and they are wrong. Similarly if a group wants to focus on tactical miniatures combat using RPG rules, that’s fine, as long as they are all having a good time.

But for me, and the styles I engage in the most, this is the thing that I have done as a GM, and that GMs of mine have done, that has generated the most total fun.

Ready for the secret?

“Create the environment to tell the PCs’ stories.”

That’s it. … And that is a lot.

Anything I do — building memorable NPCs, adding GMPCs, worldbuilding, props, funny voices, creating a meta-plot, creating random encounters–it’s all designed to create an environment where players can build the story of their characters.

Yes, I want to have fun doing that. But I am specifically trying to tell HALF a story. I don’t want to write how the villain falls. I want to write how he rises, grows, becomes a threat… the players will write his downfall.

To me, this idea has two main corollaries.

First: Build the details in the places the players show interest.

Yes, it can be annoying if I mention there are two people in a bar (a mysterious cloaked figure with a circle of runes floating around her head, and a dirty pig-farmer), and the players only show interest in the boring one I *didn’t* build an adventure around.

But that’s okay. All my ideas connected to the circle or runes are still available. I just get there a different way, or table them until later. If the players want to know what’s up with the pig farmer, then THAT is the story they want, and I’ll give it to them.

What IS a pig farmer doing in the same bar as women with magic halo crowns? How can he afford a drink? Why isn’t he tending his pigs?

The answers to those questions can form the same story, or a new one. I’m even okay railroading PCs… as long as I build the track through the scenery they want to see.

Second: Give PCs opportunities to change, and be changed.

Gaining a flaming sword? Kinda cool, especially for some players. Gaining the ability to make any sword you use flaming because you saved a fire elemental envoy from being killed by evil water wizards and were named a Knight of Emblazoned Honor, a peer fo the Plane of Fire?

Awesome.

Of course, the player can turn that down. Or then seek out other elemental titles. Or embrace the idea of fire being their birthright.

On a smaller (lower-level) scale, let players save the owner of a tavern, and get free drinks. Be befriended by an entirely mundane mockingbird. Have one horse hate them. As with all elements of telling their story put out feelers, and build on what the players enjoy.

Look at their character histories for hints on this. A summoner who doesn’t know why they can summon a chickenlike outsider? Give hints to multiple potential answers, and see which ones they build on. A fighter who carried their grandfathers sword from the Otyugh Wars? Leave hints their grandfather did more than they ever let on… and the sword may have a destiny as well.

While non-item rewards are part of this, so it just giving the players a sense that their characters impact the world in ways large and small, and the world can impact them as they interact with it.

Don’t force change. But make it available.

While, of course, trying to give players more of the things they seem to enjoy, and less of the things they don’t.

It’s the most complex simple thing in the world. 🙂

PATREON
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Writing Basics: Tell Publishers Why They Should Care

I did a two part article on RPG pitches, but there is always going to be associated information I think of later.

Like this.

If you are trying to get a publisher (or developer, editor, producer–anyone who could pay you for words) to accept a pitch of yours, tell them why they should care about it.

Compare the following pitches for “State of the Union,” a hypothetical Starfinder adventure.

Pitch One

I’d love working with you, and would like to discuss with you the possibility of having you publish a Starfinder adventure I am working on called “State of the Union.” It is for 1st-level characters, and is set in the multi-species Student Union of a space-stations major university. What appears at first to just be normal academic pranks turns out to be  the cover for a major organized crime operation, and only the PCs can stop it!

The adventure would be 32 pages long, and I could have it completed in 3 months.

Pitch Two

I’d love working with you, and would like to discuss with you the possibility of having you publish a Starfinder adventure (designed to be released under the OGL and Starfinder Compatibility License) I am working on called “State of the Union.” It is a lighthearted adventure for 1st-level characters, and is set in the multi-species Student Union of a space-stations major university. The PCs uncover what what appears at first to just be normal academic pranks, but turns out to be  the cover for a major organized crime operation! No one else takes the threat seriously, lives are at stake, and only the PCs can stop it!

The adventure would be 32 pages long, have 2 pages worth of maps, and I could have it completed in 3 months. A full outline is available.

Pitch Three

Among the projects I think might be a good match for your company is a Starfinder adventure (designed to be released under the OGL and Starfinder Compatibility License) titled “State of the Union.” It is a lighthearted adventure for 1st-level characters, and is set in the multi-species Student Union of a space-stations major university. The PCs uncover what what appears at first to just be normal academic pranks, but turns out to be  the cover for a major organized crime operation! No one else takes the threat seriously, lives are at stake, and only the PCs can stop it!

I envision this as 32 pages long and needing 2 pages worth of maps, and I could have it completed in 3 months. A full outline is available. It could also be adjusted to be longer or shorter, to fit your production needs. The core of this adventure comes from my experiences as the manager for the parking garage of the University of Oklahoma Student Union in the 1990s. During my 20-years as an RPG designer I have considered designing it for d20 Modern and Star Wars Saga Edition, but what has always been missing before are elements now available with the Starfinder RPG.

Pitch Four

So, this one is special. It was written in response to this article by Steven Marsh.

If you want to learn about RPGs and how they work, you should already know who Steven Marsh is. If you don’t, go look him up. But the main thing is that he was editor of Pyramid Magazine for 18 YEARS!

Steven has seen more RPG pitches than I will in a lifetime. If you ignore everything I wrote here, PAY ATTENTION to his much-better version (reprinted with his kind permission).

.

Dear Editor,

I’ve reviewed your submission guidelines and hope you’ll consider a new entry for your line of adventures under the Starfinder Compatibility License.

THE PITCH: Intrigued by seemingly mundane academic pranks, the heroes soon discover these deeds are cover for a major organized crime operation. With no one else taking this life-and-death threat seriously and the clock ticking down, only the spacefarers can infiltrate the multi-species student union and save the day . . . hopefully before the evening’s Zero-G-Pong Charity Fundraiser!

SPECIFICS: This is a lighthearted scenario close in tone to your adventures “Toastmaster Emperor” and “Pair of Dice Lost.” Designed as a combat-light standalone adventure for 4-6 low-level heroes, it can also serve as a followup to “Toastmaster Emperor.” It’s outlined at 31 non-title pages: 6 pages of background, 20 pages of encounters centered around two locales, and 5 pages of new gear and adversaries. It requires 2 maps; I could provide basic InDesign or JPG files, which can either be used as is or form the basis for more “professional” efforts.

Thank you for your consideration, and I look forward to your thoughts!

The Takeaway

You CAN put in too much information, and Pitch Three is pushing what i consider to be the upper bounds. But letting a potential publisher know you have done your homework,  you have relevant real-world experience, and this isn’t your first rodeo are all useful additions to what you are pitching and why.

Waste Nothing

Also, as much as possible, reuse any work you have already done and still have the rights to (though clear that with your publisher, if it’s ever been seen by the public before) and write things you can use multiple ways.

For example, I WAS the manager of the OU Student Union parking garage in the 1990s, and I DO have an idea for an adventure called “State of the Union.” So, if a publisher asked me about this article, I could confirm those details.

(Though I DON’T have an outline. Yet…)

PATREON
If you get use out of or enjoy any of the content on this blog, please consider adding a drop of support through my Patreon campaign!