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RPG Seed: Journeyfolk

This is the seed of an idea. The barest hint of a setting, a slight blush of a game mechanic.

The Setting

There are great and mighty heroes of the land, movers and shakers who can face down armies, raise mountains, and challenge the gods themselves.

These titans are busy. Perhaps they must oppose the forces of Khernobog. But for whatever reason, while these paragons can do any twenty things they wish, there are always 100 more things to do.

You have been apprenticed to one of these mighty beings for years, cleaning weapons and cooking meals and cleaning up after familiars. But now, you are a journeyfolk. You are trusted to actually take care of some minor things on your own, dealing with some of of the 100 problems your great and powerful patron doesn’t have time for so they are freed to tackle other issues.

And if one of these lesser problems kills you, that will prove it’s important enough to draw your patron’s direct attention.

The Rules

When you attempt something you might fail at, you make a roll. Every die that turns up as a 5 or more on that roll is a success. For typical things, one success means you have accomplished your task. Difficult things, or those actively opposed by others, might require 2 or more successes at once. Long, complex things might require many successes, earned over time.

Every turn, you get three action dice. These are normally d6s. (For our purposes these are colored green, though that’s not required by the rules). Anything you do on your turn must have at least one action die attached to it. If it’s something you can’t fail at (walk across the room), you just expend the die and take the action. If it’s an action you could fail, you roll the action die to see if you succeed.

You also have other dice, like Physcial dice (attribute dice are blue), Combat dice (skill dice are white), and Fire Spell dice (magic dice are red). These start at a d6 each. When you expend an action die to attempt something, you can add these dice if they are applicable.

You can keep adding dice to see if you succeed, until you roll a “1” on one or more dice, at which point you have to stop. However, you can only use each die you have one per turn, and every action must at least one action die attached to it.

You can spend experience points to buy up the value of your dice. Buying up skill dice is cheap (they only apply to a limited number of rolls), buying up attribute dice is more expensive (they apply to broad categories — in fact there may only be three attributes, like Mental, Physical, and Spiritual), and buying up action dice are extremely expensive (as they can apply to any action).

When you take damage, you have to degrade your dice. I’m not sure how yet. Maybe just your action dice degrade. They can go down to a d4, which can’t *succeed* at a task, but you can still expend those action dice to do things (you’ll just have to expend additional dice as well, if you are attempting a thing you could fail at).

Damage might be broken into categories, like physical (wounds), mental (confusion or insanity), social (reputation), and spiritual (possession, demoralization). If so, engaging in a public debate can’t result in physical damage (unless things escalate to violence), but might result in you taking damage to a Diplomacy or Mental Attribute die.

Your patron is also a die, but one you can only use out of combat, and which has a recharge time measured in days or weeks, rather than a turn. Need to talk your way past a guard? Invoke your patron’s name. Want a curse removed? get your patron to send you the materials needed to do so. Want to have a band of mercenaries guard a town? Ask your patron to pay for them.

The more often your patron helps journeyfolk like you, the fewer resources they can dedicate to help on each occasion. Your patron die begins at a d10, with a one week cooldown. You can move it up to a d12 with a month cooldown or a d20 with a season cooldown; or a d8 with a day cooldown.

This obviously isn’t a playable system yet, but it’s the nugget from which a game could be carved out.

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Announcement: Change of Course

Well I don’t like TOO much preamble before getting to the point of the announcement, so here’s the tl;dr version.

My wife Lj has gotten a job in Indiana, working as an Executive Assistant for Lone Wolf’s vice-president. As a result, she and I are moving from WA to IN.

In fact, Lj is flying out to our new apartment (if you need our new address and don’t have it, drop me a line) on Saturday. June 15th. In 3 days.

I’ll be around for about a month in Redmond, and then go out to join her.

Inevitably some folks will have questions, so predicting them as best I can, and in no particular order:

Starfinder isn’t going anywhere. Paizo has lots of amazing, hard-working, and talented people on that game line, and they have known I was leaving for a bit now. We don’t know exactly how everything will get sorted out, but the game line and its products will continue.

I remain a huge fan of Paizo, Pathfinder (both editions), Starfinder, the Adventure Card Game, and even things I can’t talk about yet. I was a freelancer for Paizo for years before I was a full employee, and I expect to be freelancing for them again in the future.

While Lj getting a job is the reason for this change, yes, I have plans that involve other companies. But I’m not announcing any of them just yet. Rest assured, I am not leaving gaming behind.

Yes, this is why Rogue Genius Games is taking a short break. But in the long run, it’s not going anywhere. I have plans and plans, yet, for my tiny little gaming company, and its partners and allies.

Yes, that’s why I will be at Gen Con this year. I had decided not to do any out-of-state conventions in 2019. But that won’t be out-of-state by August.

If you have more questions, let them fly!

Making d20 Creatures Interesting: Phase Venom

In general, d20 games are more fun if the foes have abilities that require PCs to make interesting decisions.

Ideally these abilities can be easily figured out (perhaps after being experienced a time or two), follow an internal logic, and force the players to try new things without being frustrating or overpowered.

For example:

Phase venom. A creature with phase venom is out of phase with all standard planes of existence. It takes only 50% of the damage inflicted on it, and it only 50% likely to be effected by nondamaging effects.

All the creature’s attacks infect targets injured with phase venom, causing them to be more in-phase with it, and less with the normal universe. Such targets do full damage to the phase venom creature and have nondamaging effects affect it, normally, but receive 50% less healing from allies not at the same phase, and each round are 50% less likely in that round to be affected by non-damage based abilities (such as beneficial spells) cast by allies not at the same phase. They also take only 50% damage from creatures not out-of-phase, and are only 50% likely to be affected by such foe’s nondamaging effects.

A target of phase venom becomes fully in-phase with their normal reality after one minute.

Now, this makes a creature very resistant to PC attacks, but it also gives them a way to make it less resistant, at the cost of potentially being more cut off from ally support. OTOH, if the phase venom creature is used in a fight with creatures that don’t have that ability, a PC that becomes out-of-phase is actually harder for some foes to hurt… which may cause them to target in-phase foes.

None of this is overpowering, but it adds a new element to an encounter, forcing PCs to decide who is best to face off against each kind of foe.

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Real Mental Health Issues, My Traumas (3)

CW: Trauma, Violence

In conjunction with my therapist, I am writing about some of the traumas I have suffered. This is an exercise for me, which I make public as part of the process, rather than in an effort to garner responses of any kind.

I’ll go back to fake words and weird game ideas later. You can safely skip this one.

I don’t remember many details of the worst beating I ever took.

Since it was also one of the most public, I someone feel like I should remember it well, but I don’t.

I was at a friends’ apartment, in the short gap after I was driving and staying out all night (at least on weekends and in summers) out of High School, before I got married. I’d guess 1987 or 1988, making it more than 30 years ago.

One of the friends who stayed at that apartment and I heard a woman yelling for help. We looked out a window and out the front door, but couldn’t see anything.

In case she needed immediate assistance, we ran toward the sound, along the 2nd-floor exposed walkway that linked the apartments, and down a set of stairs to a parking lot.

When we got to the edge of the parking lot, we saw a woman was in a car, on the driver’s side. Her window was cracked open by a very small amount, and she was yelling for help out the window. A very large man was holding on to the side-view mirror, screaming at her, and pounding on the glass.

I can not tell you anything about the woman, or the car. I have no memory at all of their appearance, or even impressions they gave me. They existed, and that’s all I know.

The man was large, muscular, and angry. I can’t tell you what he wore, what his ethnicity was,m what he hair looked like–nothing.

The woman was clearly safe, at that moment, but also clearly could not drive away without dragging the man along with her, which she seemed unwilling to do.

My friend and I decided that he, being faster,m would run back to the apartment and dial 911. I would remain here, in case the situation devolved and direct intervention became necessary. We did not wish to escalate things unless it was the only way to prevent bodily harm–a theme in many of my traumatic events which I have begun to question.

My friend ran off. The man kept screaming. The woman kept yelling for help. I observed.

At some point, something changed. I have no idea if I looked away and missed the change, or if I had the information beaten out of me, or I have just forgotten because it has been so long.

The next memory of the event I have is that the woman was driving away, dragging the man with her for a bit until he was knocked lose of the car. She drove off.

The man got up, yelled at the car, then looked around.

He saw me, and screamed “You think that’s funny?”

To be clear, I did not. i was not laughing, or even grinning. I was trying to decide if I should go check on him for injuries.

He shouted, and charged at me,

I was standing at the edge of the parking lot, next to a concrete sidewalk and a sandbox. I have a bright, clear memory of thinking that when he tackled me, it would be better to be knocked down into sand, rather than onto concrete, and taking on big step sideways so that was the angle he’d hit me at.

I do not remember speaking to him at all. I do not remember the impact.

I do remember the taste of sand and blood in my mouth, and being aware I was successfully using my arms to protect my head from his kicks.

He kicked me for what seemed like a truly prolonged period of time, but I have no objective idea how long it was. I remember being surprised that, given his size, he wasn’t doing more damage to me. I remember wondering if it was because he was drink. I don’t remember in any moment before that concluding he was drunk.

At some point in the time he was kicking me, I began to wonder if I was going to have to fight back. I had made no effort to strike him yet. I was curled up, protecting my head with my arms and my sizable gut with my legs, and he was kicking me. I feel like he must have been yelling, but that’s an impression on my part, not a clear memory.

I know I considered my options, as I was being beaten. His right leg was right on front of my feet. I saw I could easily lash out and slam into the front of his knee with both feet.

I was really afraid I would break his leg if I did that. Maybe cripple him. It felt like a disproportionate response to having him kick me for however long he had been.

It felt unreasonable.

I don’t remember if he ran off when I heard sirens, or a little before I heard sirens.

The recovery from being on the ground is also lost in my memory. One moment I was seeing him run off, the next I was sitting… I have no idea on what, talking to a policewoman.

I declined to go to the hospital. This worried her, because blood was pouring out of my mouth. I discovered my right cheek was bleeding profusely into my mouth, where a kick had torn it against my own teeth. I explained this to the policewoman.

There were a lot of people milling about. My friend had returned, at least one other friend from the apartment had shown up, and there were bystanders.

And the manager of the apartment complex, who was pressuring me to file a report at the police station. Apparently the man was someone she had trouble with.

I asked the policewoman if I should do that. She asked me if I knew the man, or would recognize him, or could describe him. I told her all I could say was he was taller than me, and powerfully built,. She affirmed I could go file a report if I wanted to, but she didn’t see how that description could lead to anything.

I did not go file a report. I was told later the manager was very upset with me for that.

Eventually I ended up at home. My parents care was there, so I must have driven myself, but I have no memory of that.

My arms and legs hurt for weeks, and I had some really spectacular bruises. I was on my parent’s health insurance, and I didn’t want them deciding I could not visit that apartment complex anymore, so I didn’t have a doctor check me out.

In the weeks that followed, several of my friends asked if I had talked to the woman in the car. A few suggested I should ask her out on a date. That seemed… vile to me. In any case, I quite honestly told them, I had no idea who she was, and given she has driven off without me doing anything to help, I doubt she had any idea who I was, or that she would care if she knew.

And that’s all I recall of this event.

Real Mental Health Issues: My Traumas (2)

This addresses and describes trauma I have suffered, and if you don’t have interest in knowing about that, or if it’s not in your mental health best interests to read about cruelty, assault, or being immobilized, don’t read this.

It’s okay. I’ll get back to imaginary creatures and game spells later. At my therapist’s recommendation, and with their support, I am both making a list of the potentially traumatic events in my life, and trying to nail down details about them I have forgotten.

It is exhausting, frightening, shocking work.

having been diagnosed with civilian PTSD, I also think it is important work for my own well-being.

This is a frank discussion and description of some of that trauma. If you’d rather not be exposed to that, it’s perfectly all right to skip this. I’ll go back to pastiche supervillains ideas and my take on politics and gaming later.

This content is mostly about alcoholism.

My father was an alcoholic. He and my mother tried to control his alcoholism with rationality and intelligence, because they were rational, intelligent people.

It did not work.

My father was never violent. In fact, I have never witnessed any violence against any member of my family except myself, and I have never witnessed any member of my family be violent except myself.

I have assumed, for my entire life, that since my father was never violent, there was no trauma to me associated with his alcoholism.

When drunk, my father made promises that not only would he not keep, he would not remember.

All the alcohol in the house I grew up in was kept in a cabinet that, after he had consumed the two drinks a night my parents thought was reasonable, my mother would lock.

Then, when he felt he needed more alcohol, my father either had to try to force the doors of that cabinet open just enough to pry a bottle loose with a bent coathanger, or go out.

He never drove to get alcohol, and never drove after having even one drink.

He did, however, call a taxi… of just take a walk. We lived 3 houses down from a bar and restaurant (The Mont, in Norman, OK), and late a convenience store was even closer,

As early as 5 or 6, if I woke up late at night and my father was going out, he might take me to the Mont as 10 or 11pm, after everyone else was asleep. I could sit in the restaurant section, and he’d sit right next to me, on the other side of the railing that demarcated the bar.

I learned to play chess with him, and later the game go, at that bar.

As I grew older, he was more likely to walk to the store, buy a bottle, and come back and we’d play games at home. My earliest game experiences–chess, go, checkers, pitch, and a civil war wargame/boardgame I don’t know the name of, were with my father, but only when he was drunk. We almost never got to finish those games, because he’d become too drunk to keep playing. Usually he’d fall asleep, or begin to cry about international politics he’d slurringly try to explain to me.

This was all I knew. To me, this was normal.

I did that less once I had friends, and could play games with them. No because I was avoiding my father, but because the window during which he could play got shorter and shorter, as he drank more, faster.

After my sister went to college, it began to be normal to come into the living room in the morning to discover my father had passed out after unlocking the door to come into the house, and we had, for an unknown period of time, been asleep with our front door held open by his body being slumped across our doorway.

My mother told my father to stop getting drunk at home, so he would take a taxi to a motel, and get drunk there, often paying people to spend time with him because he disliked drinking alone.

In my mid-to-late teens, I met some of the people he paid to spend time with him. They suggested I could pay them to spend time with me. They also suggested I could get the money to do so from my father and he wouldn’t even notice.

I am sure I could have.

My father was a sweet man who loved me, and was doing the best he could.

He and my mother were going to take my wife and I out to dinner on our first wedding anniversary–but he got too drunk and couldn’t do it. My mother had to call me, and confess he had moved out a few weeks before, and they hadn’t told me because they didn’t want to ruin my anniversary dinner.

My mother took us out without him.

About a year before he died, in an effort to get him to go back into rehab, I told him he was drinking himself to death.

He told me he knew, and that was what he wanted. He wanted to drink himself to death.

He did.

Real Mental Health Issues: My Traumas

This addresses and describes trauma I have suffered, and if you don’t have interest in knowing about that, or if it’s not in your mental health best interests to read about cruelty, assault, or being immobilized, don’t read this.

It’s okay. I’ll get back to imaginary creatures and game spells later.

While I have been to therapy for years, I had never before had a therapist ask me to catalog all the major traumas in my life.

It’s… troubling.

There are things I mention when asked probing question I have never thought of as major trauma… but I see why my therapist is dubious.

I know that, at a major national camping event, when I was in my early-to-mid teens, a young woman asked me to follow her from the campground into the woods, whereupon she brought me to a group of mostly older kids who jumped me, hit me, and forced me into a large hole they had dug in the dirt. At least one of them jumped down on me and kept me pinned there.

I remember being confused as to why she wanted me to come with her. I knew who she was (the only woman I recall in a camp full of boys and men), but I did not know her at all. I had a sense that I was headed into a situation where I did not understand the socially acceptable behavior or appropriate expectations.

Anytime I feel that now, I get very upset. I can have a panic attack walking into a new restaurant if I don’t know if I am supposed to sit, wait for a server, or walk up to the counter. That’s not my most common response, but it has happened.

I very clearly remember being very upset that no matter how hard I tried, I could not get up, or get my face out of the dirt.

I remember everyone was laughing, in what sounded like true amusement.

I don’t remember how I got out of the hole. I don’t remember what anyone said, afterwards. I do remember being entirely sure I could not tell the people running the camp. That doing so would make things worse.

I don’t remember why, though the young woman was the daughter of one of those people, which may have impacted my thinking. I remember I liked her. I don’t remember her name. Or even her face, at this point.

I don’t remember any of their faces.

I know that for months after that I thought about it, but noted to myself that I hadn’t been *injured*. No broken bones. No blood.

“Not a big deal.”

I never told my family.

Eventually, I dropped out of that camping group, though not for at least a year after this.

“Not a big deal.”

Maybe I was wrong, about that.

Thankfully, my therapist knows this is impacting me. I have coping mechanisms. I have support. And if this IS something I needed to accept had a lasting impact on me, at least I can work on it now.

But it’s weird to have to face this thing again, which I so successfully buried, so long ago.

It’s upsetting, and I don’t like them still having the power to upset me.

Which, or course, is part of the point of delving into it.

 

Five Years at Paizo

I have now been a full-time employee of Paizo for five years.

It both seems like it’s been much, much longer than that, and like it can’t possible have been that long.

I was hired to be a developer for the Pathfinder Modules line, and that lasted for all of a single module (Plunder & Peril), which was outlined and ordered before I showed up, written by awesome authors, and which both Paizo Editor-in-Chief at the time Wes Schneider and the entire Paizo editorial staff had to do a lot of hand-holding to get me through it. Then I moved over to help with the Player Companion line, which I eventually took over. The first book I was able to propose, outline, assign, develop, and shepherd through the whole process was Dirty Tactics Toolbox, and it remains something I am proud of. I developed or helped develop 24 titles in that line, covering a little more than two years. Again, it both feels like it was longer than that, and like I couldn’t possible have been doing that for two years.

During that time I was also the host for Paizo’s RPG Superstar contest, was the Freeport Developer for Green Ronin (and yes, that got complicated, and I appreciate more than I can ever express the trust both companies placed in me), a blogger, the publisher for Rogue Genius Games, a developer and then producer for Rite publishing, a freelance writers developer and consultant, the person who handled most of the development blogs for the Emerald Spire (leading to my “Into the Emerald Spire ongoing multi-year Con game, which will be played at the 6th PaizoCon in  row come next month), a seminar attendee, and as much as possible an advocate for the causes and people I thought needed allies.

(And as a ridiculously long parenthetical aside, I wish I had written something like this for my five-year anniversary with Green Ronin, who have been a loving and supportive family in ways I never would have predicted, and for Rogue Genius Games, which is still my baby. But those milestones hit at times when I didn’t have the words. I don’t want to take away from my main point, but nothing in the past five years has been simple, and I need some folks to know I love and appreciate them at a special level. Thanks Ronins. Thanks Stan! I would not have survived the past 60 months without you all.)

For five years, Paizo has been the focus of my social, professional, and financial life. I met new people. I made, and in a few cases lost to tragedy, close friends. I even had a “five year plan.” I thought I was on a specific path, and thought I knew where that would take me.

Then, Starfinder.

Which I never saw coming.

First the pre-game work, then the core rulebook, and now the work as Starfinder Design Lead. I’ve followed, collaborated, tried to lead, grown, and I hope helped others to grow. I am grateful for how amazing and talented all the people who work on Starfinder in all capacities are, and I am truly proud of a universe I have helped to begin. I look forward to seeing it evolve, especially watching the amazing things other people are doing to make it so much better than I imagined.

On the journey to be here, this arbitrary benchmark which has me writing passionately at 3:30am (and not at all for the first time), one moment sticks out in my mind.

In early 2014, on a phone call with Erik Mona about whether I would seriously give up the life of being a full-time freelancer in the extremely cheap and well-known environments of Oklahoma to take a full-time job for Paizo, he asked me why I wanted the job.

“I want to grow. I want to be around people who do work I admire. I want to meet new people, learn new skills, and do new things. I love Pathfinder, and I love Paizo. I want to help both of those things be better, and I can’t imagine a better place for me to be around successful people who can help me be better.”

It was, Erik said at the time, a great answer.

And, it has proven to be a great success in terms of making me a better person.

The past five years has certainly not been without its challenges, frustrations, pains, fights, and failures. But especially on the my year anniversary, I want to take special care to thank EVERYONE I have ever worked with since I joined Paizo, from managers and publishers and the warehouse crew and art department, editors, designers, developers, and owners, to freelancers and the community and Superstar contestants, for being so helpful, and welcoming, and awesome.

I look forward to the next five years, and all the challenges and opportunities they will bring.

Owen K.C. Stephens,

Starfinder Design Lead, Paizo, Inc.

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!)

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.

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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:

ENJOYED THIS? BACK MY PATREON!