Jun 30 2013

Big Damn Antiheroes

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We had the character creation and prologue session of my new Pathfinder campaign set in Eberron last night.

Unfortunately, two players were absent from the session, which threw something of a monkeywrench into my plans for the whole “shared origin” thing, but we decided to roll with it anyway with just the players at hand, since gaming opportunities are so few and far between for us these days. If I’d had time I would have rescaled the scenario a bit, but the group managed to get through it with only one character ever in actual danger of biting the bullet– it just ran longer than I’d planned for with the reduced firepower.

The background of the campaign is that during the Last War, the characters were mercenaries in the same unit fighting for Breland, engaged in a skirmish action near the edge of the Breland/Cyre border, brought back together four years later by fate or circumstance as they become embroiled in a new set of plots and intrigues. With the reduced group, this changes the background a little– the rest of the group will have to be integrated in at the beginning of the next session– but it still provides a shared background for three of the PCs, anyway.

The makeup of this group is interesting so far, in that instead of being the usual mix of heroes and professional adventurers, it’s a sort of ramshackle collection of ne’er-do-wells, most of whom have little business being out of prison, much less doing that whole “hero” thing:

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Jun 25 2013

Onward to Eberron

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As obvious a thing as it may be to say, gaming is a group activity. You have to have buy-in from everyone in the group in order for it to work. And while some of the players in my group are perfectly happy to play whatever game is put in front of them, I was receiving feedback from other members expressing preference for another direction. On the other hand, GMing is a boatload of work, and so you really have to be interested in what you’re doing to make it worth the effort. So choosing a game and managing a group is an exercise in finding common ground.

To that end, I decided to drop the Coventry campaign; my intention was to pick up and do more with Fortress of Tears, but for whatever reason, I’m finding myself blocked on it. So I decided to stop and think a minute about what I could run that would please the players (many of whom have stated a clear preference for some incarnation of Dungeons and Dragons) but would also please myself.

I was very surprised when Keith Baker’s Eberron setting stepped up and said, “‘ave a go, mate.” I was quite indifferent to Eberron when it first came out… I didn’t dislike it, and I certainly didn’t hate it for not being Forgotten Realms the way so many others in the RPG community seemed to, but it also wasn’t what I was looking for in D&D at the time.

Some of that was because it looked too much like a fusion of D&D and the Star Wars prequels (with Sharn standing in for Coruscant, warforged standing in for droids, etc.), and my feeling was, “There’s already a Star Wars RPG, what do we need this for?” That feeling was so strong that I actually nabbed bits from Eberron for the Star Wars campaign I was running, and sure enough, they felt right at home.

With the passage of time, I don’t think that was an inaccurate assessment, but it’s also less of an issue now than it was then. The Star Wars prequels have faded into the mists of pop culture history, and the other facets of Eberron can start to shine. When you can come back to Eberron on its own merits, there’s quite a lot to like there. It also has several “tweakable” settings that you can play up or down as you wish. Want steampunk? It can do steampunk. Want cosmic horror? It can do cosmic horror. Want jungle exploring? It can do jungle exploring. Want steampunk exploring of cosmic horror in the jungle? Yup, it can do that.

Still, the real surprise to me, was how well 4e treated Eberron– especially when you consider how it did its damnedest to destroy everything else. While Forgotten Realms got blown up (again) and Greyhawk got thrown under the nearest bus, Eberron got away with just having dragonborn and tieflings shoehorned into the corners, plus some easily-ignorable shuffling of its cosmology.

Mark of Prophecy, the introductory adventure in the 4e campaign guide, starts brilliantly. Seekers of the Ashen Crown, the largest of the 4e Eberron adventures, has as much intrigue and roleplaying material in it as any of the 3.x stuff for Eberron did, and considerably more than, say, Revenge of the Giants. It’s still in the “delve format,” alas, but once you get past that annoyance it’s a solid, well-written adventure.

So, I admit, I’m pretty excited about this new campaign. As always, I wish I was playing in it rather than running it, but that’s the story of my life as far as gaming is concerned. I have a rough campaign outline that should take the game from 3rd level to 8th, allowing for wiggle room as the PCs decide to turn left instead of right or what-have-you. Beyond that will just have to see what the future brings. Life changes are surely going to throw a spanner in the works by then, if not before!

-The Gneech

PS: For those curious, I’m running the game in Pathfinder, using fan conversions and/or custom data in Hero Lab.

Jun 06 2013

On Being a Writer and Becoming a Writer

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I’m a writer. That’s what I do. That’s what my whole mind is organized around. Even when I’m creating comics or drawing pictures, I put some kind of an inherent story into it. I’ve been doing this as long as I can remember.

Many times I’ve flirted with the idea of going pro, but various things have held me back, usually starting with “money” and moving on from there. But I think it’s time to start heading that way. There are several factors informing this decision:

  1. First and foremost, people like my work! Which I’m very grateful for, of course. 🙂 More than one publisher has told me, “You write it, whatever it is, I’ll publish it.” That’s… well, for a writer, that’s huge. In books where my stories have appeared, they’ve been singled out for special mention. It would seem, judging purely by external evidence, that my writing doesn’t suck. I should really be doing something with that.
  2. Second, I’m not getting any younger. I spent the first half of my life waiting for better days, stalling for time, or “looking for the opportune moment.” But I’m running out of wiggle room. If I’m going to do it, I need to do it now before it’s no longer an option. Fortunately, my age is an asset rather than a liability here: I’ve had some life experiences now. I’ve seen things, man, seen some horrible things! Surely this must add depth to my work. And besides, many well-known and popular writers started later than I am… Rex Stout started publishing Nero Wolfe stories when he was 45. If they can do it, I can do it.
  3. Third, I don’t want to stagnate, creatively. I need to take on new challenges. Writing for free and publishing on the web for anyone and everyone to see is fun, but convincing people to pay you to write? That takes some mad skillz. It’s time for me to level up!

There are things I will have to do in order to make this venture succeed. Most obviously, I need to actually write, more. A lot more. I can’t just quietly putter away at a story for months or years and then leave it in a drawer any more, I need to start, write, and finish things. If an idea doesn’t pan out, I need to shelve it and move on to the next one instead of dithering around on it trying to make it go.

Also, I need to work with a plan. I need to identify markets I want to be in, and go after them. I need to make contacts in the circles I want to be known in, and find ways to be of value there. I am very grateful for the “carte blanche” publishers I’ve mentioned above and I fully intend to work with them, but they are not by themselves enough to make a career, and they don’t cover all the genres I’m interested in working in. I need to find editors and agents and production people and cover artists for works I plan to publish myself. I need to learn the biz hardcore, get serious about accounting and taxes and all the annoying crap that writers hate to deal with but will die if they don’t. I need to make that part of my day-to-day writing activity, instead of something I just turn to reluctantly when I’m forced to.

I have been laying the groundwork for this for a while, actually. One of my writing rules since the end of Suburban Jungle has been, “Know how you’re going to get paid for this.” Every story I’ve written since then (not counting Brigid and Greg Fictionlets, which have a special dispensation) has had a business plan attached, and they’ve all been for money. Not always a lot of money, granted, but the point is that I’ve stopped giving away the store.

So, that’s where I’m headed at the moment. It’s an exciting thing to be really, actually, finally-and-I-mean-it-this-time doing it, but it’s also intimidating. Hiding behind “the day job” has given me something to blame my failures on for all these years. Thinking of myself (and referring to myself) as a professional writer, and treating it like a job instead of a hobby, means that if it goes Pfft! I’ve got nobody to blame but myself.

-The Gneech

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Jun 05 2013

The Pinnacle of Paranormal Detectives

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I recently finished and submitted a new Michael Macbeth: Paranormal Consultant story to an upcoming anthology; it hasn’t been accepted yet (although I’m hopeful), so I won’t say more than that about the specifics, but I do want to talk about the form a bit.

Michael is that hoary old chestnut, a psychic (mystic, what-have-you) detective, a concept that’s been around, sorta quietly lurking, since at least the pulps of the 1930s if not before. The character type has enjoyed a recent resurgence with the popularity of such things as Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, the “weirdening” of Sherlock Holmes in several recent adaptations and anthologies, and so forth. And of course Kolchak, while not a psychic himself, was a Marlowe-style private eye in a world of horror and monsters, so he fits right in.

This is a genre that I am comfortable in, and in which I will probably be writing no small amount of stories in the not-too-distant future. Whether they feature Michael, or another character, or possibly several different ones, is yet to be seen. However, I have recently come to a conclusion about the genre: the perfect psychic detective story has already been written. That story is Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency.

I’m not going to go into why here, well except for the bit about use of language. Oh, and depth of theme. Not to mention the tight plot and nifty twists. And atmosphere. The point is, with all due respect to Mr. Butcher, Laurell K. Hamilton, Gail Carriger, Seanan McGuire, Charlaine Harris, and all the way back to Seabury Quinn, there will never be another psychic detective story that reaches the pure ideal of Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. This is my own personal opinion of course, but anyone claiming otherwise is objectively wrong. Even Douglas Adams couldn’t do it! There’s a reason The Long, Dark Tea-Time of the Soul took him so much effort, and The Salmon of Doubt was never finished. After Dirk Gently, Adams had nowhere to go but down, and he knew it.

At first, I was discouraged by this. But upon reflection, I found it strangely liberating: the pressure’s off. The competition is already won. I never have to worry about trying to write the best psychic detective story ever written, because it’s already been done. All I need to worry about is writing the best psychic detective story I can write. Of course it won’t be as good as Dirk Gently, because that can’t be done. I wouldn’t feel any guilt or pressure about not being able to fly and shoot lasers from my eyes, for the same reason.

All that said… if I could manage to write a book that was “kinda sorta nearly as good as some of the bits in Dirk Gently,” I’d be totally happy with that. 🙂

-The Gneech

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