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9/19/11 10:48 am - Review of "Twisting Tales", by Clare Le May

Let me confess up front - Clare Le May is a friend of mine. We meet regularly at our local writers' group here in Normandy, and since I first read her short stories three years ago I've been hoping she'd finally take the plunge and publish a book.  And here it is!

My favourite fiction is that which unsettles, provokes, challenges, breaks boundaries. Not just science-fiction and fantasy, not just traditional "weird" fiction, but Borges, Kafka, Bulgakov, Paglia, Marquez, and many, many others.  And I love Clare Le May's stories: she has a voice so strong, female, yet universal, that she happily breaks through several genres to get to what she wants to say. If I had to choose, I'd say her writing was "magical realism" - her stories have a fable-like quality, like modern-day Brothers Grimm, light and open on the surface, unsettling and sometimes upsetting beneath. And yet for all their fantastic quality, they contain eternal psychological truths.

You can get "Twisting Tales" from Amazon or Lulu. It's an 80-page collection of eight short stories. If you like modern-day tales with an off-kilter world view (hey, you're reading this blog, who am I kidding?), then this is worth a look. Recommended - and I hope to see a lot more from Clare Le May.  

Best,

Sarah :)

Link to Amazon.co.uk: 


Link to Amazon.com: 

8/5/11 12:13 am - Direct from GenCon 2011

So after a strenuous day of carpentry and ambience engineering (taking games out of boxes and putting them on shelves) yesterday, today marks the finish of the first full day of GenCon 2011. It's a *huge* con this year - a larger new exhibition hall, and a voyage of discovery for me of the Skywalks which cover more distance than our entire commune back in Normandy. The Cubicle Seven booth looks marvellous - packed with The One Ring first thing this morning, and heaps of enthusiastic fellow gamers queueing to partake in its bounty. It looks (and smells - c'mon, gamers, admit it!) awesome!

Tomorrow we should have Airship Pirates arriving for launch at 1pm, and Saturday the launch of Shadows Over Scotland, which I'm dying to see. There's been heaps of interest for both.

I've had time to scoot round the hall, meeting old friends and colleagues and new, and putting faces to names. Gameswise other than C7 titles, got my eye on Dust's Deadwood boardgame, which Will Be Mine, plus Fiasco, maybe Smallville, though it's still only day one!

Ran my first GenCon game today - Mindjammer 'Occam's Razor', which was great fun, especially with the players trashing the scenario midway through, necessitating a hasty regroup to rewrite! Ah, Fate!

Now chilling before day two tomorrow. Great to see everyone, can't wit to do it all again the morrow! And the ENnies!

Game on!

Sarah

*****

7/18/11 11:02 am - The Cthulhu Conundrum - Writing Historical Fiction and RPGs (Part Two)

In my last post I talked a little about the experience of writing period Lovecraftian fiction. This week I'd like to touch upon our latest pride and joy, the bumper book of Caledonian fun for the Call of Cthulhu roleplaying game, Shadows Over Scotland.  I worked as editor on this weighty tome, authored by Stuart Boon, and together I think we've forged something unique both as a game supplement and a written work.

Shadows Over Scotland is set in the 1920s, and as the title says in the country of Scotland, the northernmost of the four countries making up the United Kingdom. To the vast majority of modern readers, then, it has two factors mitigating against its familiarity: first, that it's set in a historical period some 90 years before the present day; and second, that it's set not in England but in Scotland, a separate country and culture.

Most Call of Cthulhu players and Lovecraft aficionados are familiar with the 1920s New England as the backdrops to most of their tales. There's a "shared world" understanding of the cultural conventions of, say, Arkham in 1927 - what day-to-day life is like, what cars people drive, what clothes they wear, what kind of food you can buy and eat in a restaurant or rooming house. As a British national, I personally always found it difficult to get into that mindset - I have a vague idea of contemporary American life from TV and the movies, and the few visits I've made there - but the 1920s?!  I remember on my first Cthulhu game, exploring the haunted house in the 2nd edition rules, I didn't even know what cars people were driving - or if horses were common mounts in the streets of Arkham! That's a huge gulf of understanding of cultural context.

How much more then is 1920s Scotland a challenge? Somehow, in 288 pages, we had to produce a volume which would give a non-Scottish national - let's face it, many of our readers would live Stateside - a grasp of not only a different yet familiar culture, but also a different yet familiar era, enough to run a fun and exciting Cthulhu game. What do people eat? How do they talk? How do they get about? How do they behave? Scotland in the 1920s is not New England.  Heck, it's not even Old England. Attitudes, language, beliefs, would be a constant surprise - even to those of us writing and editing the book!

We wanted a fun and playable book, of course - that's always the goal when creating historical RPG material. There's endless source material out there, some of it very detailed and esoteric indeed. But that's not what we were producing - Shadows Over Scotland is for Call of Cthulhu gaming, and not a research project. It has to be accessible, digestible, and above all great fun to play.  So how to do that?

Happily (or unhappily, from the perspective of those alive at the time), there is one great unifying force behind all Lovecraftian material set in the 1920s: the First World War. Even in 2011, it's still probably too early to accurately assess the cultural and social impact of that conflict, but in the 1920s societies all across the New and Old Worlds are wracked with unrest and change.  Scotland is no exception, and that very instability is a perfect environment for typical Call of Cthulhu investigators and investigations.  More than ever, Scotland is in upheaval - new technologies, new ideas, and a painful departure from the prestige and relative plenty of the past.  

That phenomenon - an almost chaotic change - is a great breath of fresh air and freedom to improvise for Keepers running Scottish scenarios. Shadows Over Scotland gives you heaps of material on the historical and cultural background of Scots society, descriptions of picturesque towns, uncanny and fearsome legends, terrible secrets, and of course Scotland's awe-inspiring scenery, as well as over a hundred pages of scenarios steeped in Scots culture - but at the same time there's an "openness", a sense that Scots life is gradually changing, which means that Keepers needn't be cultural experts to get the right "feel" for a Shadows Over Scotland game. A party of American investigators disembarking in Glasgow will have a whole ancient culture to explore...

As an editor, working on Shadows was a voyage of discovery for me, too.  I'm profoundly English, and although I'm a bit of a history and culture vulture and love visiting Scotland, wandering Edinburgh's wynds and stalking the Highlands, I have no pretensions to "knowing" Scotland. The amount of fact-finding and detail-checking we did on Shadows has made me appreciate just what a different and unique place Scotland is - and was even more so in the 1920s - and what a humongous and awesome job Stuart Boon has done in putting this new supplement together.

Shadows Over Scotland is on the press now, and should be available from Cubicle 7 in the next few weeks.  I think it stands as a great presentation of 1920s Scotland, its culture, people, history, and magnificent lcations, and also a truly unique environment for Call of Cthulhu gaming. I can't wait to see it finally see the light of day, and to see the hordes of investigators taking on the noisome Cthulhoid foulness which lies beneath its lochs and glens...

*****
 

7/5/11 10:52 am - The Cthulhu Conundrum - Writing Historical Fiction and RPGs (Part One)

Over the past few days I've finished a massive editing job on the upcoming Shadows Over Scotland supplement by Cubicle 7, for Chaosium's Call of Cthulhu RPG. It's my second time working on a historical Cthulhu piece, the first being The Apprentice, a 1920s Lovecraftian short story I wrote for the upcoming Tales Out Of Miskatonic University anthology by Mythos Press. Both of these experiences have given me a lot to think about with regard to writing period Lovecraftian fiction and RPGs.

Shadows Over Scotland looks to be a milestone for Cubicle 7: it's a lavish, 288-page hardback set in 1920s Scotland, filled with gorgeous source detail and heaps of suitably tentacular scenarios. By Stuart Boon, a Canadian Cthulhu aficionado and long-term inhabitant of Scotland, it's proved a real challenge and a learning experience, both in terms of exciting content, but also in terms of getting the balance right between historical accuracy and Maximum Game Fun. It's due out early August, hopefully just in time for GenCon.

The Apprentice was a similar experience, though personally, and from a writer's point of view, far more challenging. For this first of two posts, I'll begin there.

Let's be up front: writing 1920s Cthulhu fiction is artificial. Lovecraft, when he wrote, didn't think about the "period" he was writing in: he was writing in the modern day - even the thoroughly modern day - and his language, technological basis, and world view was imbued with the latest, best, and greatest in human thinking. His obsession with heredity and eugenics, his fear of atavism, his nihilism, his somewhat forced use of "proper" early 20th century American English, liberally peppered with slightly haughty archaisms, all came to him naturally as a creature of his time.

When we write period Lovecraftian fiction now, we try to deliberately blind ourselves to everything we've learned over the past 90 or so years. We ignore the Nazi eugenics nightmare, the knowledge of the Second World War, the social progress we've made since the Sixties and before. We immerse ourselves in a language and mindset that is no longer our own. If we're British, we even try to emulate not only American English, but the American English of the 1920s. It's a forgery - of the most intricate, deliciously delicate kind.

But you can't go too far down that road - and this is where the artifice is compromised. Lovecraft, for all his genius, had some pretty unappealing opinions from our 21st century perspective, and reproducing them in our Lovecraftian emulations leaves us open to accusations of all kinds of prejudice - racism, sexism, Anglo-Saxon supremacy, to name but a few. So we soften our Lovecraftianism; we edit out the unacceptable face of the Lovecraftian world view. We focus on the acceptable horror - the tentacled stuff which lurks in the shadows - rather than the *truly* disturbing stuff - the fact that the past, even the relatively recent past, was a thoroughly different country, with attitudes popular then which we'd find utterly repellent now.

So, in a sense, writing a truly "period Lovecraftian" story is impossible: we have to censor ourselves, and write something "acceptably horrific" to today's readers. Ultimately, we have to use our 21st century perspective to inform the concepts behind our faux-1920s fiction - otherwise it becomes irrelevant, an exercise in fakery, and ultimately unsatisfying, if not in utterly bad taste. The period Lovecraft fiction we write today is a simulation.

The Apprentice turned out to be a monstrous hybrid - a mongrel birth from a 1920s New England sire on a 21st century British dam. Perhaps that's what all modern Lovecraftian fiction has to be - and I wonder which bits of it Lovecraft himself would find most horrific, the tentacles in the shadows, or the Hideous Hybrid Futuristic Humans we've all become, claiming to be writing in his name, but in fact embracing some of the very ideas he so terribly feared?

Next week: Part Two - Shadows Over Scotland, and creating a Lovecraftian 1920s Scotland

6/27/11 10:15 am - The Hard Sci-Fi Paradox

Okay, I admit it.  I have a problem with the "hard science-fiction" genre. Not the novels themselves; but rather the entire concept of the genre - it's name, and the apparent "eyes-closed" ethos it espouses. It goes something like this:

Science-fiction is about what human beings will become in the future, how they will deal with the challenges of new technology, new social organizations, new experiences, and even new definitions of what it means to be human. Although it's not about technology per se, technology plays a major role in being an underlying cause of the changes providing these challenges.

So, it's speculative.

Now, a hundred or so years ago, it was widely regarded that all the known laws of physics had been discovered, and that theoretical physics was a "completed" science, with nothing more to do other than cross a few t's and dot a few i's. It was also believed that if you travelled more than 15 miles per hour in an automobile you'd probably suffocate...

The science of "tomorrow" (whenever that is) is going to be radically different from the science of today. In fact, given Moore's Law, and the general acceleration of the rate of change in our culture, it's probably going to be more different than it's ever been before. So different, in fact, that our brains and imaginations right now likely can't even begin to imagine (or perhaps even understand) what shape that science will have - there'll be new "laws", new discoveries, and the agreed orthodoxy of today will likely be swept away in an explosion of discoveries that are allegedly "impossible" today. Give a neanderthal your iPad; that's a gap of 50,000 years.  Now expect a similar gulf in understanding to open between the world of today and that of only, say, a couple of hundred years from now.

Enter "hard" science-fiction. This genre, as far as I can fathom, prides itself on not relying on any science we don't consider "possible" today. So, no teleportation devices, no antigrav, no faster-than-light travel, no telepathy, telekinesis, or other whole bunch of stuff which often enables science-fiction to truly take wing.  Instead, reaction mass, spinning habitats, hydroponics decks as far as the eye can see; and lots of grim, grey vistas of grease, lube oil, and rusty chains dripping with water.

Here's my problem: what's the point? If you're writing speculative fiction, then *speculate*.  Don't restrict yourself to our 21st century "angels-on-a-pinhead" orthodoxy: be brave, paint with massive brush-strokes.  I'm not saying we should abandon all "logic": we're writing stories, after all, and they require a sense of verisimilitude if they're not to be rejected instinctively by a reader.  But at the same time, it seems horribly sad to decry a work of fiction which breaks through the glass ceiling of modern "hard science" orthodoxy and dares to dream.

Sometimes it even seems to me that "hard science-fiction" isn't science-fiction at all, but a kind of technological fetishism, and obsession with the minutiae of gears and crankshafts at the expense of the flight of thought. In that sense, space opera remains the bearer of the flame; somewhere speculative fiction is still permitted to truly speculate, without the artificial constraints of today's priests of orthodoxy.

There.  That's my beef.  I love me some science-fiction, right to my core.  And I hate me the niggardly people who hounded Galileo to the pyre. I want my science-fiction to soar like Icarus and make me think something I've never thought before, not remind me that I need to clear the garage and do my taxes.

And if our wings melt while doing so, well, at least we flew ;)

Sarah

*****

6/23/11 11:31 am - How Far in the Future?

One thing's for sure - the future is approaching faster than any of us ever thought possible. Technology in particular seems to be keeping pace with Moore's Law, with every month seemingly producing some new scientific breakthrough or awesome gadget to change our lives utterly. Late this year I'm expecting my iPad to start doing what I say; already my TV can see me and react to my voice and gestures. A brainwave interface is just around the corner.

In writing Mindjammer, I wanted a universe where I had enough time to play with to assume that all these brain-screwing inventions had happened - but not so much as to render the human race completely intelligible to those of us alive today. If you sit quietly and think about it, homo sapiens in, say, 100 years time is going to be far, far more different from us now than good old hom sap was 100 years ago. We're going to engineer and augment ourselves to the max, increasing our diversity, capabilities, and even raw intelligence to the extent that we're rapidly going to become another species. A species which modern day humanity will struggle to comprehend.

Or not. In Mindjammer, "something happened" to cause Earth's civilization to stagnate. It got a helluva long way, sure: there are geneered hominids, an interstellar Mindscape linking people's brains together, slower-than-light space colonies, artificial intelligence, and the whole far-future shebang. But, for some reason, things stagnated. Earth's civilization - the First Commonality - decided enough was enough. It banned religion, dissent, politics, even news, and put a lid on technical and social innovation for thousands of years.

Until two hundred years ago. At that some, presumably, "something else happened", and suddenly humankind had faster-than-light travel. Suddenly, history began its inexorable march again - progress, change, disruption.

That's the melting pot; that's the laboratory, the mish-mash melee of conflicting forces which I'm using for my experiments in what-if, where humankind meets the challenge of becoming Something Other, and - what? Is found wanting, and fails? Or succeeds, and moves beyond whatever humanity has been before?

Like I say, I think we're going to be faced with these issues way before the year 17,000 AD.  But Mindjammer is a place to game out possible outcomes of this greatest of challenges.

I'm up for going post.  Anyone else? :D

Best,

Sarah

*****

5/20/11 08:31 am - 'The Desert of Souls' by Howard Jones - Amazon review

I've just finished reading 'The Desert of Souls' by Howard Andrew Jones. I've enjoyed it so much I've decided to write two reviews - one for Amazon, focussing on the book as a literary work, and one for RPG.net, focussing on the aspects which are cool from an RPG point of view. Here's the first of those reviews, cross-posted on Amazon today:

'THE DESERT OF SOULS' BY HOWARD ANDREW JONES - A LYRICAL TALE OF HEROISM AND ADVENTURE!

'Desert of Souls' is a beautiful book - a tale of romance, action, and adventure. Imagine Fritz Leiber meets Arthur Conan Doyle in the world of the Arabian Nights! Two heroes - Asim and Dabir - begin a mission for their master Jaffar, one of the lords of a swashbuckling, larger-than-life 9th century Baghdad, which leads them deep into perilous intrigue and death-defying conflicts, and a quest far beyond their wildest imaginings.

In this his first novel author Howard Jones is already an accomplished writer, weaving a story with beautiful language and an apparently effortless mastery of the background of the Caliphate of Haroun el-Rashid. His prose is smooth, and sometimes deeply lyrical; his love of the desert, his evocation of ancient Basra and Baghdad, are a real pleasure to read. But it's his characters where he really shines: Jones has artfully managed to portray true heroes. Asim and Dabir, and their comrades, feel like real people, yet are also cast in an honest Golden Age mould - a perfect antidote to our cynical and divisive age. These aren't weak anti-heroes or tortured souls filled with self-doubt; they are people like you and I, thrust into extraordinary situations, and they rise to the occasion with a courage and humour which is as satisfying as it is stirring.

What struck me most about 'The Desert of Souls' was that Jones has succeeded in 'reclaiming' the world of the Arabian Nights for modern story-telling. Too often these days is the Middle East portrayed as a hostile, alien culture; in his novel Jones harks back to the love and respectful treatment of his source material shown by writers and adventurers such as Sir Richard Burton. It becomes a real place, a world we can understand, a people we can like and sympathize with as they face peril and ripping, action-packed adventure. It's a world of magic, mystery, and intrigue, but also one which touches on the themes of love, duty, loyalty and friendship which unite us all.

I thought of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser a lot during the Desert of Souls, but there's an optimism and light in Jones' characters and story-telling which is absent in Leiber's. His affection for his characters is clear, and we share his excitement that we are seeing two people at the very start of their path to greatness. I hope Howard Jones pens another novel quickly, and that we can follow Asim and Dabir's adventures as they grow!

*****

4/21/11 12:44 pm - Event Horizon: Novel Achieved

For almost twelve months now I've been burrowing away in my literary hole on "Consensus", the first Mindjammer novel.  Now at last it's approaching its end - but with agonizing, exponentially miniscule steps.  The event horizon of "mission accomplished" seems always suspended in space like a water drop inches before my face, but crane my neck as I might I can't seem to get my lips round it.

With metaphors thus suitably mangled, that means I'm nearly there - the Mindjammer novel is 99% complete, final polishings over the next week or so.  The past year since GenCon 2010 has been thoroughly mad.  Working full-time as a writer, line developer, and sometime (read: a lot of the time!) editor for Cubicle 7 has been totally brilliant - a great way to be involved in a million zillion achingly awesome projects and help some of them through to the light of day.  At the same time, I've been pounding away in my early morning writing sessions and at weekends on the manuscript for "Consensus", watching it grow from a myopically-blinking nine-stone weakling into the 125,000 word colossus it is today. It lurks in the corner of my room like a psychopathic guest, heavily armed and burbling mad visions from the depths of space, and generally upsetting unforewarned visitors to our humble middle-of-field Normandy shack.

Part of me is dreading finishing.  For twelve months I've lived, sweated, grunted, and sometimes died with Thaddeus Clay, Max Proffitt, Jackson Stark, Lyra Da Luz, and all the other cast of thousands of Consensus. They've become good, if slightly insane, friends, and it's been a profound experience to see them step off the pages of the Mindjammer RPG and become "real" people, with their own voices, hopes, fears, dreams... 

Right now I'm consoling myself with the knowledge that I'll be seeing them again - I'm planning to start work on a second novel this summer, sometime around GenCon, and re-visit the lives of those four heroes and all their fellows which I've just so thoroughly ruined in the first book.

I hope they'll talk to me... ;)

Sarah x

***

6/9/10 10:24 am - On Being a Busy Bee, and UK Games Expo 2010

 Three months since my last post... what's that all about? Starting work as programme manager for cubicle7 certainly threw a couple of old faves into a cocked hat for a few months, including my livejournal posts, which were never too prompt anyway ;)

BUT - here I am, just returned from UK Games Expo 2010 and in a reflective mood - or possibly looking for tasks to put off tackling that mountain of emails in my inbox :D  

UK Games Expo was great, and bizarrely enough too short!  I made (as it turns out) the mistake of signing up to run two sessions over the weekend - one on Saturday "morning" (Legends of Anglerre), one on Sunday "morning" (Starblazer: Mindjammer).  I say "morning", as the sessions run from 10am to 2pm.  Add to that the 15 minute runover, the 15 minute debrief, and then the scrabble to eat and drink something for lunch, and basically it's 3 o'clock - and the con closes at 5, or 4 on Sundays.  Urk!  So, my time on the Cubicle 7 stand was perilously thin this time round - next year I'll probably do just 1 sesh, even though they were both great fun.

It was great to see the old faces and put some names to new ones, including Brass Jester, Darren and Gillian Pearce, Ralph Horsley.  Had a great time playing Anglerre with Steve Dempsey (gbsteve) and Brian, with a cool denouement involving an unexpected trebuchet and some truly enormous fire arrows (curse those declarative powers of FATE points! :D), and a truly awesome outcome to Escape from Venu (Mindjammer) with Craig and Owen where it turned out the person who'd kidnapped the Amidan princess and delivered her to the nefarious Venu was actually the *starship*!  Darn, I wish I'd written that in the official version now! :D

What else?  Well, toy purchases were suitably awesome as ever.  I always take the chance to strike out on something I wouldn't normally buy when I'm at a con - having "discovered" absolute gems such as Godlike, Unknown Armies, Capharnaum, Umlaut, Duty and Honour, Zorcerer of Zo, and Exalted (ok - a rough diamond, that one ;) ) that way.  This time I came away with the absolutely splendid Wild Talents (gotta love that alternative history - Watchmen turned up to eleven!), Reign Enchiridion, the Qin Bestiary, a big pile of sailing ship miniatures (yup... my Legends of Anglerre campaign has turned *very* nautical), and - finally - the Armitage Files.

A word on that last one.  I got Trail of Cthulhu at Dragonmeet last year, and despite being generally enthusiastic had a few reservations.  Basically, I loved the fact that Ken Hite (princeofcairo) had absolutely exploded the "trudge through the same old Mythos" aspect of CoC by making the whole Lovecraftian shebang mysterious and undetermined again.  You know the thing: "hell, I can lick Cthulhu - 700HP, I reckon a handful of spitfires should do it in about 15 minutes flat.  Less if we throw dynamite".  Right - very scary...   BUT, with Trail, Ken nixed the whole "stat-up-a-god" nonsense and even broke out the *definition* of Cthulhu (or Nyarlathotep, or whatever) into multiple different possibilities.  Which one's true?  Does it matter, if the world's ending?  

So - that suits my mindset perfectly.  The sheer indeterminacy predicates a subtle menace to the setting - you can't actually *know* what you're up against.  Plus, improv and consensual story telling can occur - there is no overarching canon truth (Nodens save us from "Canon"!) to railroad your game.

BUT, the Gumshoe rules seemed at odds with that - at least initially, in the ToC rulesbook. By declaring that "clues are always found", and the "GM decides the outcome, then plants clues leading to that outcome"... well, it seemed pretty railroady, at least on first read.  Not personally my cup of tea.  So, despite having a refreshingly schizophrenic quality befitting a good Cthulhoid game, ToC languished unplayed on my shelves the past six months.

The Armitage Files changes all that.  I can imagine it being *hated* by a certain type of GM and player, but for me it propels Trail from "second place to CoC" to "cutting edge", in one fell swoop, step, or slither...  Railroading is *GONE*, *TOAST* - the Investigative skills of the PCs now become the de facto checklist for the GM to determine what kind of clues are going to be found, and - and here is the MOST IMPORTANT BIT - the GM becomes an investigator too, as the players and GM work together to figure out what the hell is going on.  Now *THAT* is what investigative roleplaying should be about.  Not the GM deciding whodunnit and then guiding the PCs blindfold to a predetermined conclusion - with ToC / Armitage Files, the GM doesn't even know how it's going to end.  And that's the starting point for all kinds of awesome.

I take my hat off to Ken, Robin, and the Pelgrane guys - this makes me want to run out and play ToC today.  I'm already dusting off Masks of Nyarlathotep and planning to mash it up with the Armitage Files to make *the* awesome improvisational Cthulhoid campaign.  Haven't been this excited about Cthulhu for years :D

OK - that turned into an impromptu mini-review, but there you go.  Good writing deserves it, and the Armitage Files is worth every penny.

So - what else?

Well, the Cubicle 7 job: that's turning gradually awesome.  Initially we've been fighting a bit of a publication logjam, which I get the feeling we're about to release bigtime.  But the next year or two look to be truly amazing for RPGs.  I love the way C7 prioritizes quality above all - we have some great products coming.  I'm responsible for Starblazer, Legends of Anglerre, Victoriana, Qin, other translated games, and Call of Cthulhu (the Cthulhu Britannica line), and we have a corker of a release schedule lined up.  On my own writing front, I'm spending half my time programme managing the C7 stuff, the other half writing my own thing, either for C7 (Mindjammer, various Anglerre projects), Chaosium (Chronicles of Future Earth needs a players' guide, if the core book ever comes out), or fiction (short stories coming out shortly (!), plus a Mindjammer novel in the works).  It's a whole busy time, but gorgeously fun and stimulating.

Next stop - a couple of months of down periscope again, and then surfacing for my first trip to GenCon.  See you there!

Cheers,

Sarah 

*****

3/1/10 08:48 am - Legends of Anglerre: Old School Nostalgia

 I'm getting really excited about "Legends of Anglerre" appearing on the shelves this spring.  It's my first foray into writing a complete RPG, and it's a biggie - the fantasy version of "Starblazer Adventures", Legends of Anglerre will be the first full-blown fantasy rpg using the FATE 3.0 rules.

For the past 7 months, Legends of Anglerre has been my daily routine.  First, a bucket load of new writing, then a careful process of editing, condensing, rewriting, polishing, testing, proofing, until the manuscript hit just the shape I wanted to consider itself finished.  And it's looking so cool.

First is the old school feel.  Like Starblazer, Cubicle 7 have gone for a clean black and white interior with minimal decoration and plenty of luscious 80s art from the fantasy issues of the Starblazer comics. Just crack open the book and it breathes high fantasy, sword and sorcery goodness.  All the familiar chapters are there - character generation, game system, races, occupations, skills, equipment, magic items.  It's in the "Powers" chapter that the twinkle of something different begins to spark. Not "Spells" - but "Powers".  In Legends of Anglerre, your supernatural powers can take on any manifestation you want.  You want a Sorcerer casting bolts of flame?  No problem. You want a dragon breathing gouts of fire?  Same rules, different cosmetics.  And here's where it gets sexy: the advancement system works for both.  You can play, as a PC, a young fire dragon, and track his growth and advancement as he adventures, getting larger and more powerful. Hell, you can even play the doomed heir of a dead race with a Fire Demon bound into his sword - and the same advancements apply, as the hero discovers greater and greater powers in his demonic sword.

It's a tiny shift of mindset, but suddenly the old school vibe has gone all multi-faceted, and the rules morph into whatever your game requires, while still fitting comfortably and snugly in the palm of your hand.

It goes further.  The second half of the book includes rules for creating, fighting, and even *playing* sailing ships, star boats, castles, war galleys, war machines, kingdoms, guilds, temples, and more. These "constructs" and "organizations" have character sheets, statistics, skills, aspects, the whole thing: they use the same rules (with minor tweaks) as characters.  Everything slots together like a well-made jigsaw, and you can zoom in and out from character level, to castle level, to kingdom level, and back again, without any sense of changing "game system".  You can even use your personal experience advancements to improve your castle - or your kingdom!

This gets me really fired up.  All within the same, simple, elegant system, with no added complexity, suddenly it becomes possible to play the complete plot of, say, Stormbringer or Lord of the Rings.  All the sieges, mass battles, soul-searching, angst-ridden moments of despair, the mental battles with demons and arch-villains, the elation of supreme power.  Legends of Anglerre even provides rules for becoming a god!

My pet project immediately following Anglerre's release: I want to write an old-school D&D style "module", for the Legends of Anglerre game.  It starts off homely, familiar, comfortable - just what you'd expect from a "module".  Then it takes off in an explosion of possibilities, bringing in all the innovations of the FATE Anglerre rules, and your old school adventures go where they've never been able to go before.  And cram that into 32 pages ;)

Anglerre!

Cheers,

Sarah :D

*****
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