RPG Review: Tiny Frontiers

WILL RAMBLES

I’m not really in the business of reviewing role-playing games. Granted, I’ve been playing them off and on for 28 or so years. My generation lived in the time when this sort of make believe was frowned on. A time when the most parentally appropriate handling of RPGs was to sell them, throw them out, or burn them.

At any rate, now I play RPGs with my kids. Take that, irony! It’s a nice way to bond, have a good time, and do something intellectually stimulating. I also find it helps exercise the creative muscle in my brain that I use for writing. Playing sci-fi RPGs helps me think through scenarios in The Galaxy and All Her Charms.

THE REVIEW

Fair warning: I play RPGs with the author of Tiny Frontiers on a fairly regular basis. I might not me the most unbiased person to write a review of Tiny Frontiers, but I’m going to do my best.

Today I’m reviewing Tiny Frontiers by Alan Bahr of Gallant Knight Games.

tinyFrontiers

It’s a minimalist sci-fi RPG system, designed to play on the run, with new players, with kids, or just with your normal group when you are between campaigns.


1.) Size and Production Quality 

The Tiny Frontiers book isn’t huge. It clocks in at 136 pages in with black-and-white illustrations and layout. The sidebars contain call-outs. It’s well organized and easy to read. My only complaint is the binding on the standard Kickstarter edition. It’s not the best and I think eventually it will fail. However, if you can get your hands on a Deluxe hardbound edition (good luck) it’s binding is perfection and has a handy bookmark ribbon to boot.

At any rate, the standard book is priced at $15 and the PDF on DriveThruRPG is only $5 at the moment. For my money, a huge bargain.

8/10


2.) Art

The art is quite decent for a first Kickstarter. It evokes the sci-fi setting effectively and there is quite a bit of it spread throughout the book. It feels very thematic to the game and true to the original fantasy setting, Tiny Dungeon.

6/10


3.) Content and Rules

 

For me, there are two areas where Tiny Frontiers really shines. This is one of them. The original TD rules are a great minimalist take with only 3d6 required to play. The statistical curves are good and the simplicity lends itself to easy understanding for new players and kids. Take those original rules and add brilliant adaptations for alien species, cybernetics, space ships, and mecha. Now you have yourself a sci-fi bonanza!

9/10


4.) Game Master Section

For a minimalist RPG, the GM section is pretty short and sweet. Some decent guidance and nifty tables for random generation of everything from planets to enemies.

7/10


5.) Pre-made Adventure

There isn’t exactly a pre-made adventure in Tiny Frontiers. Instead, Gallant Knight Games gives us something I really love: MICRO SETTINGS. Part of the stretch goals for the Kickstarter were micro settings written by sci-fi authors, rpg luminaries, and generally talented folk. People like Steve Diamond, Ryan Schoon, Marie Brennan, and Dan Wells to name a few.

Micro settings are an amazing way to wrap your head around a quick idea for a universe of gameplay and include several adventure hooks to get the story jumpstarted.

I love them.

10/10


Total Score: 40/50

So, I’ve never done this, but I think 40 is a pretty dang good score.

I’d purchase this game again. In fact, I’m backing a follow-up Kickstarter right now: Tiny Frontiers – Mecha & Monsters! The new game stands alone, but can be used in conjunction with the original. It also has full-color art! This is a great chance to get one of those deluxe copies, and Alan has told me he’s going with a better binding on the standard version as well.

I’ll tease you with the cover art:

tf_mecha

The Galaxy and All Her Charms – Chapter 1

This is it. As close to a final draft of Chapter 1 of The Galaxy and All Her Charms as I will produce without feedback from an editor. I owe my wife and my writing critique group a universe of thanks for  their feedback. This chapter would be infinitely worse without their kind guidance and occasional gut punches.

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The reason I’m posting the chapter online, is because I promised I would when I wrote about Tiny Frontiers. Those of you who followed the TF Kickstarter know it was highly successful. In the meantime, Alan Bahr and Gallant Knight Games have started funding a follow-up: Tiny Frontiers: Mecha & Monsters. It looks pretty amazing, so I’ll recommend you send all the monies to help unlock all the stretch goals. You can also look forward to a full review of the first book here on the blog. I got my copy last week!

Moving along to TGaAHC. I hope you enjoy chapter one. I’d want to hear from you either way, even if you just are “meh” about it. I have 20,000 words of this book written, and your feedback will help me make it better!

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The heavy lift door slammed shut with a metallic clank, just missing Jeita, as she rushed to enter. The dull edge of the automatic entrance would not slow its progress for her sake. She suppressed a sigh and spoke the lift command, “Deck three-oh-seven.” It would leave her current deck when an inappropriate amount of wait time had passed.

Since the Second Holy Arab-British Empire sanctioned its ban on safety features for Abdalam-only service machinery, servant lifts were dangerous –no, life-threatening– contraptions. Then again, it wouldn’t be the first loss Jeita suffered at the hands of the “Shabby”. She nearly chuckled at thinking the forbidden nickname Abdalam often used for the S.H.A.B.E. and was careful not to let it turn the corners of her lips. Best to keep the outward appearance of being dull-faced and broken in case the Raqib were watching.

As the lift lurched into movement, her stomach seemed to shoot down into the tips of her toenails. Jeita Grotto wedged herself into the corner of the rough metal box for balance, and she felt its cold start seeping into her side. Hundreds of floors of the spaceship screamed past as the lift careened upward from the cramped Abdalam level of the ship with minimal metallic shrieking.

Must have been adjusted recently, she thought.

Normally, the sound was loud enough for any Abdalam who used it to be forced to plug their ears or risk damaged hearing. No one gave members of her caste much thought, and it surprised Jeita anyone bothered with maintenance at all. She didn’t give it much thought today. Her time as a neglected subject of the Shabby was about to be behind her, with any luck. She had seen something intriguing in her last waking-migraine dream. Based on her previous experience with the painful and often disturbing visions, there was a good chance today would be her last trip in a death-trap servant lift onboard the IMS Damascus.

The lift came to a screeching stop at deck three-oh-seven, its riveted metal door slamming open for the mandatory 2.7 seconds just as the warning sticker above it stated. Jeita moved out quickly, and the lift door crashed shut behind her in a not-so-surprising attempt to perform an impromptu amputation. The odor of overflowing bins assaulted her nostrils. She wished for the thousandth time that more Abdalam quarters were in the ship design so that the cleaning schedule could be more frequent. She pushed her way reluctantly into the almost visible stench. She forced down the wave of nausea and steeled herself against the flared sense of mourning and loss accompanying it. Anything reminding her of her son still shook Jeita even now, months later. She pushed the thought of him back, avoiding the display of emotion she knew it would lead to.

Straightening her servant’s smock, Jeita surveyed three-oh-seven. The Anglo-Arab soldiers of the Shabby military caste usually inhabited the deck. Right now, the “double-ays” were off enjoying Concentrated Holy Mess, a registered trademark, in the cavernous mess hall on deck nine-oh-two. Since servants were meant to be neither heard nor seen, tidying always happened during chow or training hours.

Jeita moved lazefficiently from bunk to bunk in the first lodging block, gathering waste left behind by double-ays, and emptying bins into disintegration stations. The lazefficient method was designed to avoid attention from the Raqib, and most servants knew it. She wondered yet again why the military couldn’t be allowed to throw out their own trash, but today was not the day to question her lot as Abdalam.  Keeping up appearances was vital. If the proctor caste singled her out for discipline on this day, it would be disastrous.  Born Abdalam, Jeita’s lot was simple: perform menial tasks on fifteen of the 1095 crew decks onboard the Damascus each day. It was all very mathematical. The organizational officers must revel in it, for even the ship designs ensured the numbers all came out perfectly.

One servant, of course, was relegated to the officers’ deck daily. The bluebloods weren’t to be left neck-deep in filth.

She went about her duties, as usual, not wanting to arouse suspicion. Time was her enemy, as it refused to pass fast enough for her liking. She knew from previous shifts on this floor that her timing was just right. Eventually, when she entered the second lodging block of one-hundred and forty-four bunks laid out in a twelve-by-twelve grid, Jeita stopped and noted the shielded release for the block’s escape mechanism. Its understated warning label promised the violence of action.

SECURE ALL LOOSE OBJECTS BEFORE ENGAGEMENT

She reached up to touch the release mechanism, and its shielding gave her the familiar and obligatory shock that sent tingling, numbing nerve pain shooting up her arm. They had explained it all to her in detail in her dream. The slight, young Abdalam knew what came next…

At the precise moment it was supposed to, deck three-oh-seven shuddered around her, and Jeita felt the weightlessness of the void take over her body. She watched in dismay as uncollected garbage, blankets, pillows, and personal effects floated up into the air as well.

It’s going to be very untidy in here now, she thought. The concern was so irrational she laughed out loud and immediately felt guilty for doing so. Her emotions flashed to irritation at her guilt. Any Raqib who were watching had bigger concerns now. They wouldn’t be focused on the outbursts of one random Abdalam.

Red alarm lights flared, and she knew they would be ship-wide. She had seen the plans of the resistance fighters who were helping her to be free. The entire fleet would be on alert now. Hyper-vigilant, yet blind to the Abdalam escapee right inside their flagship.

Finally, she would be free of her tormentors and away from the Shabby. Jeita could, at last, flee from the memory and pain of Jerom’s passing. A tear escaped her eye and trailed a watery path down her cheek at the thought of the forbidden name she had given him in her heart.

Jeita reached out, and her fingers grasped the emergency release, its shielding now disabled by protocol. She flinched slightly, half-expecting a second shock, but of course, there was none because of the emergency status of the Damascus. With the solid, narrow metal lever in her grasp, she pulled.

“EMERGENCY CONFIRMED. RELEASE ENGAGED. Q-DRIVES EMINENT.” a mechanical baritone voice with a Shabby accent said vibrating through the barrack.

Blast doors at the block entry crashed to seal the barrack from the rest of the enormous ship, and it was now a lodging-block-turned-escape-pod. Jeita let go her hold on the release lever and tried to claw her way through the air to a more stable position. She only succeeded in rotating herself vertically and now her head aimed at the floor. The hiss of lock releases sounded from multiple directions as air-driven components released the barrack from its once snug-fitting home on the starboard side of deck three-oh-seven.

No longer bound to its former home, the large escape vehicle’s Q-drives engaged without regard for free-floating items, or people, within its zero-g space. Jeita and everything unattached in the escape pod flew violently against the back wall and blast doors as the emergency Q-drives pushed the vehicle out and away from the rest of the Damascus at an assuredly unsafe speed. The Shabby quality control people who insisted on the warning label about securing objects hadn’t been joking. Unfortunately for Jeita, though she tried to heed the label, she hadn’t the skill in zero-gravity. She crashed into the former exit, and her head hit the corner of an exposed bulkhead. The youthful Abdalam felt a brief flash of pain followed immediately by the blackness of unconsciousness. Jeita didn’t even notice as the rest of the loose contents of the barracks pelted her and the wall around her.

The escape pod cruised away from the enormous capital spaceship. It was nearly unnoticed amid the flurry of the ship-to-ship battle raging throughout the fleet. Flying almost directly toward the attacking flotilla of unmarked vessels, it was a barely noticeable speck among the void. The pod shuddered then, as its engines struggled in vain to carry out the predefined escape sequence against the strength of a powerful tractor beam.

 



The chilly metal floor had just enough nip in it for Ayda to do a scamper-dance until the pads of her feet numbed from the cold. Everything seemed colder in the void of space.

Sure, she understood the myriad heating systems, insulation, and plating protecting the delicate human life onboard. A floating fortress like the Damascus was layered with extensive protection from the void.

The knowledge of those protections didn’t put an end to Ayda’s disconcerted thoughts. She hated space, except when being here allowed her to fly. The first morning touch of toe to floor was colder than it had any right to be. Perhaps irrationally, some small part of her always attributed the cold to being in space.

Numbed though her feet might be, Ayda walked on tiptoe toward the officer’s common showers. The showers were empty and, because she was clearly the last to use them this morning, also unbelievably chill. Cold water was the Office of Motivation’s way of not-so-subtly hinting to late risers that they had made an “unfavorable decision”. The water seemed to Ayda like icicles falling from the shower head, spearing into her scalp and shoulders.

Hyperbole, Ayda? she thought to herself. Not very ladylike.

Siwa, her childhood nanny, would disapprove. Most people, certainly members of the Raqib and Abdalam castes, didn’t have the luxury of showering with water while in space. They had to make due with sonic showers and earplugs to protect their hearing. The occasional sponge bath was a rare treat for rank and file members of the military.

Ayda could shower at night when there was a slightly better chance of warm water, but she always felt greasy the following morning even if it wasn’t true. Honestly, she should just learn to get up earlier. The dread of taking her feet out of the covers and shivering uncontrollably always kept the young officer in her rack too long. She was always cold it seemed. Except when she was flying Esmerelda, her fighter. Then, adrenaline kept her warm.

Walking back to her locker from the showers, wrapped in a white cotton towel that smelled clean yet slightly burnt from the high heat of military-grade dryers, Ayda noticed a furtive figure shuffling out of her barracks. Was it so late in the morning the Abdalam assigned to tidy the officer’s deck was already working?

“Hello?” she called out. A slim Adbalam man shuffled back around the corner. They are all too thin, Ayda thought.

He glanced at her face briefly before directing his eyes to the floor and speaking in a soft, small voice, “Lieutenant McDeckard, Mum. May I be of service?”

So, he knew her face. Of course he did. She replied keeping her tone conversational, “I apologize for keeping you from your work. I didn’t think I was running so late. Please, don’t let me interrupt your schedule. Allow me one moment to gather my clothes, and I’ll be out of your way.”

The man nodded in deference and turned to walk away, but stopped in his tracks as George al-Abdul slipped from behind the corner and into the Abdalam man’s path. He was an imposing man in his late twenties. A cruel smile twisted his lips.

“What is your name, rijs?” al-Abdul asked letting the insult linger on his lips. Then he laughed and said, “Nevermind. I couldn’t care less. Begone.”

He pivoted around the Abdalam with the grace of a trained fighter and pushed at the small of his back with enough force to nearly send the servant sprawling. The gaunt man caught his balance and walked away in haste.

“Why do you even speak to them, Ayda? They aren’t worth the effort of forcing sound from our lips.”

“My reasons are my own. I wouldn’t expect you to understand, George,” Ayda replied. “Now you begone. Aren’t you late for mess anyway?”

“I’ve just finished. Thought I’d come back here and see if you were still a lacking bitch. I can see that you are,” George said, his face scrunching in anger.

As if on queue, Djinni, Ayda’s rackmate, appeared through the doors of the barracks and rounded on the irate man. Her face was blotchy from crying, as usual these days, but she didn’t let it stop her from tearing into al-Abdul.

“Are you bothering Ayda again, you lack?” she said. Djinni’s nostrils flared as she sized the man up. She stood herself directly between George and Adya, but only inches from George. Her head barely tilted up to look in his eyes, and the olive-skinned woman nearly blotted out Ayda’s view of the man. Without a word, he spun on his heel and marched away, infuriated.

Djinni turned to Ayda and half-smiled at her. Her face was still red, and her eyes were bloodshot as well. When she spoke, her voice was soft and caring, probably to soften the scold, “Miss Ayda McDeckard, you just walk away from that lacking man the next time he tries to corner you. He’s a cowardly zabad who doesn’t deserve any courtesy.”

“Thanks, Djinni. I know he’s a blowhard, but you didn’t give me any chance to fend for myself,” Ayda replied. “Still, you know I appreciate it.”

“You’d better go, girl. There isn’t going to be plus food left at mess soon,” Djinni said. “Me, I’m going to catch a cat nap before training. See you soon.”

Ayda hurried to gather clothing and waved goodbye to her friend, and then she jogged back to one of the dressing chambers near the showers. As she dressed, she wondered why Abdalam and people in the higher birth couldn’t have relationships more like the one she had with her old nanny Siwa.

Finally ready for chow, she pushed the musing aside for another time and rushed to the officer’s lift. It recognized her on approach and glided open, the car waiting for her arrival. Once she was inside, the door closed efficiently and quietly shut and, almost as soon as it had done so, reopened in the anteroom of the officer’s mess hall. She stepped out into the room, and the lift door closed gently behind her.

Mess lived up to its name, as usual. The disgusting slop passing for food onboard would have been unappetizing even to fringe settlers living off colony rations and whatever they could grow with their hands. Ayda always wished her father would do something about the chow the officers ate. Then again, he ate whatever he wanted — steak, hummus, fresh fruit. Perks of being an admiral in the Peace Fleet. What she wouldn’t give for a nice crisp apple right now. Perhaps it was time to make nice with him.

She culled the thought as soon as it occurred to her. An improved relationship with her father wouldn’t make a difference. Propriety was Admiral Allamu McDeckard’s number one concern, and it would be improper to have a lowly PF Lieutenant sitting down to eat with an Admiral. Even if she did happen to be his daughter.

She finished her meal in near silence as most of the remaining officers filed out to prepare for training. Ayda was already wearing her khaki green training flight suit, so she took her time, continuing to peruse memories of her father.

Those musings faded quickly when the general alarm sounded.

Another drill? Seriously? she thought. The entire Fifth Flotilla had just completed a full-scale general alarm drill the previous week. It was strangely curious to have another so soon. Ayda’s heart rate accelerated. If the fleet had located pirates smuggling contraband, they would see their first real action in months. Ayda pined for action. She left the remains of breakfast and sprinted for the lift. It anticipated her arrival; it’s door opened to receive her.

Moments later, she was with the others suiting up in the barracks. There was a tight sense of anticipation coming from the pilots lined up near their racks changing into flight suits. The room was silent save the whisper and rustle of clothing being changed and the thumping boots of those jogging from the room as they finished.

“I can’t get another poor drill score, Ayda,” said Djinni, who had finished changing and was waiting for her friend. “I could lose rank, or worse, be decommissioned. I’m not sure what I would do with myself if I couldn’t fly. It’s the only thing holding me together since– Ladin,” her voice barely able to choke out his name. “Then what would happen to Charlie? Our parent’s inheritance didn’t leave enough to pay for his education on enlisted wages.” Ayda didn’t know what to say. She finished changing in silent thought.

Jogging down the corridor to the flight deck, Ayda couldn’t help thinking that Djinni probably was on her way out. The young officer couldn’t seem to keep it together since Ladin had died in a training exercise two months prior. They had been closer than propriety dictated. If she didn’t improve her scores–

Ayda reached out and nudged Djinni with an elbow as they ran side-by-side, and using her given name said, “You’ll do great today Lamia. You’ll be lights out.”

——————————

The expression “lights out” was more applicable than Ayda had intended. A brief ten minutes later, Djinni was blown to space by one of the unidentified fighters swarming around the Peace Fleet pilots who had managed to launch thus far. Her lights were out permanently because the auto-eject of her fighter never had a chance to fire. From her rear camera display, Ayda watched in shock as metal slugs from an enemy fighter entered Lamia’s cockpit from above, killing her instantly. She had been trying to circle around to cover Ayda’s six– for the second time today.

There was no time to mourn her friend. Ayda was fully engaged in the null-g combat now, and ships on both sides had already been sparked, not just Lamia. She picked a trajectory that put her on the six of the enemy pilot who killed Djinni and let loose a full barrage of plasma and energy, vaporizing the unshielded ship in an instant. The comms lit up with a cheer, and she rounded on her third target of the fight.

It was her cockiness in the instant that earned her ending. In Ayda’s haste to end the existence of the filthy zabad Djinni fell to, she made her fatal error. Her starboard side was exposed. As she watched a third enemy fighter pop its atmo and scatter debris across her bow, a cold feeling tingled up Lieutenant McDeckard’s spine. She recognized the feeling of warning when you’d done something too stupid for the galaxy to forgive.

Of course, the galaxy was a she. And she was not feeling magnanimous.

It wasn’t supposed to end like this. The thought came to Ayda in that split-second of silent retrospection. The seeming inevitability of her death stretched on like the last light of a dying star, ready to wink out of existence with a finality that might just collapse into a never-ending abyss so powerful, even light could not escape its grasp. The events of the morning flashed through Ayda’s mind at incredible speed in a maddening way that made this moment seem less important than it was. The detonation of an explosive-packed projectile was no laughing matter. When it was in proximity to the hull of your spaceship, it was a deadly one.

I really should have stayed in the warm comfort of my bunk this morning, Ayda thought. Lack the bloody void. Court marshals weren’t so bad. It had been too cold to get up anyway.

The irrational idea fled as the concussion of explosives knocked her automated ejection off course, and her head collided with a nearby piece of debris the size of one of her twin Dalmatians back home at the family manor on New Scots.

What were the odds? her last conscious thought. Perhaps no one would ever tell her.


The end. Chapter 1 of The Galaxy and All Her Charms. Let me know your thoughts on Facebook or Twitter. I’m pretty anxious to hear them, but I have thick skin. Don’t be afraid to tell me if you don’t enjoy it.

Thanks for reading!

I’ve Seen Stranger Things

I thought I’d take a minute to give you all some likely redundant thoughts on the Netflix original series, Stranger Things. Yep. I’m probably the five-billionth person to write a review with this exact same title. At least I’m still ahead of 1/3 of humanity.

stranger things titles

Unless you’ve been living under a rock on a planet in a different galaxy where they don’t get Netflix, or Internet service for that matter, you’ve probably heard of Stranger Things. You’ve probably also heard or read people gushing with praise for the series. I’ll be honest… I kind of brushed off the first couple of people who told me about it.

“I’m already in the middle of a Downton Abbey binge with my wife,” I said. Yes, I realize I’m a bit behind on that one. It’s a fantastic series for me right now because I have some scenes in The Galaxy and All Her Charms (keep an eye out for chapter one HERE very soon) taking place in a wealthy Arabritish family’s estate, and they share a few similarities. Enough to justify watching a fun series with a fun lady, at any rate.

So, I had what I felt was an iron-clad excuse to avoid getting caught up in another series. Until some of my more musically-inclined friend started in on me. As readers of the blog will know, I have a thing for music. Where is that understatement emoji? The music in Stranger Things has two things I love: moody, atmospheric, retro electronica, and dark, delightful 80’s pop/rock tunes. Needless to say, I caved, and I took Meri and her sister (who was visiting for a couple of days) with me.

To the meat of the review then.

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How to do this without spoilers– I’ll start with the same comparisons I’ve heard from at least a dozen other people:

The Goonies
Stand By Me
E.T.
X-Files
Any good 80’s teen flick
Silent Hill (not the dumb movie– the excellent and suspenseful video game)

The visuals and cinematography are high quality while maintaining the feel of the period. Tension is managed well with the periodical release and build cycles that continue to ratchet higher as the show moves toward the eighth episode finale. Yes, there are eight one-hour episodes, so we have time to see real character development, and the writers don’t let us down.

Finally, the music. Well– you can see some of it for yourself if you have Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/user/netflixmusic/playlist/2X6z5kU0wMnKoar8i1RN6B

Unfortunately, the score is only on iTunes for now. Check it out there if you like, but really just go watch the show.

Now the shameless plug. If you like Stranger Things, you might enjoy my little piece I wrote recently called Clah and the Ship: a Bedtime Story. It has an element of the fantastic, with some creepiness, and hopefully a similar sense of wonder. Check it out and let me know what you think.

Also, I’d love you hear what you love about Stranger Things. Or where my review went wrong. Hit me up on Twitter.

Tiny Role-Playing Games

Do you wish I’d quit blogging so much? Want to read more of my fiction? This is the post for you. I promise you a means to make me post more fiction. Read on.

—————–

Lately, I’ve been enjoying a personal renaissance of tabletop role-playing games. It’s been nearly 18 years since I role-played regularly. I’ll have another post soon explaining why I feel this is a valuable activity as a writer.

Today I’ll focus on a couple of specific games I think are great and, somewhat selfishly, I will pimp one of them to you without any shame or self-consciousness.

One of the fantastic things about RPGs is the time I spend playing them with my kids. I love the intellectual stimulation (for all of us) doing something other than watching movies or playing video games. Best, role-playing gets us interacting on a level I haven’t always been the best at as a father.

I have kids ranging from under 10 to nearly-legal adult so finding an RPG I could teach them the younger kids and manage to run successfully for the group was a bit of a challenge. At first, I was looking at Pathfinder and later D&D 5e, but these were way too detailed and crunchy.

Lucky for me, I know a guy.

Alan Bahr is a friend. If you know or have heard of Alan, then you know that he has probably read and played more RPGs than most people in the world. Being the insightful, enlightened guy I am, I scoured the internet for a game to play with my kids before I mentioned my dilemma to Alan. To his credit, he didn’t mock me (much) before pointing me to several great choices I could try with my kids.

One of the options was Tiny Dungeon, and it is the game that stuck with the family. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard, “WHEN ARE WE PLAYING TINY DUNGEON AGAIN, DAD?????” over the past several months. The number would be too large for display by 64-processors. When I can compose my blog from a quantum computer, I’ll give you an actual number. Don’t hold your breath.

Tiny Dungeon has a lot of things going for it, but its minimalistic rules are a clear winner in my book. You only need 3d6 (three standard six-sided dice) and an index card for each player, and you’re off to the races! Don’t get me wrong, the setting is lovely and lends itself to easy adaptation from other fantasy RPG adventures. The illustrations are fun, whimsical even, and the book also has a sample adventure that was a perfect intro for my younglings. Now, I’m writing my own fantasy campaign for the kids along with a short story that runs in parallel. Gotta keep those writing muscles lean!

My only complaint, if it can be called such, is Tiny Dungeons doesn’t work for a sci-fi setting. There aren’t rules for ships or mechs or alien races. If you know me, you might have a sense of why that would give me a giant sadface.

Enter Tiny Frontiers.

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As I earlier name-dropped, I know a guy. A guy named Alan Bahr. A guy who just happens to be an accomplished game designer with a high esteem for Tiny Dungeon. Alan has already made a big splash in the RPG world by designing the rules for the Planet Mercenary RPG. PM: RPG funded at nearly $350,000 just about this time last year. It’s been lauded by people like Steve Jackson. Yes, THAT Steve Jackson.

Alan and Gallant Knight Games have done an amazing thing. They licensed the Tiny Dungeon ruleset and created Tiny Frontiers. Not only will Tiny Frontiers scratch my sci-fi roleplaying itch, but it also features micro settings penned by amazing authors like Steve Diamond and Dan Wells.

Well- there’s a bit of a problem. Many of those fantastic micro settings don’t get made unless the Tiny Frontiers Kickstarter meets some stretch goals.

AND I WANT THEM.

So. Tiny Frontiers is already funded at nearly $6000. Here is the deal, folks. I’m offering two stretch goals of my own:

#1
In the spirit of sci-fi awesomeness, when the $12,000 stretch goal for TF is met, I will publish a beta version of Chapter 1 of The Galaxy and All Her Charms RIGHT HERE ON MY BLOG. I’ve been holding off sharing this with you. I’d like to wait a while longer, and I probably should. Tiny Frontiers means a lot to me, so I’ll take the risk!

#2
Also, if Tiny Frontiers should fund at or above $18,000, I promise to finish Rue From Ruin within one month. Cross my heart and hope to die.

I’ll put all extracurricular activities on hold. I’ll take time off work. I’ll do whatever it takes.

Am I manipulating you (and myself) a bit here? You betcha. Am I ashamed? Not even remotely.

So spread the word. Tell your mama. Tell your papa. Tell your friends. Tell anyone you know who roleplays or used to or thinks it might be fun or wants to get their kids into it.

Believe me; you won’t regret it. Tiny Frontiers is going to be amazing! Get on over to Kickstarter and back it now! Meantime, I’ll do what I can to make it worth your while from my end.

Q&A With Michael Ripplinger (Author Of New YA Novel: Yesterday’s Demons)

I have a marvelous treat in store for you all today.

You’re going to love it.

Michael Ripplinger graciously consented to answer some questions about himself and his upcoming YA Fantasy novel, Yesterday’s Demons. I had the opportunity to read an early version of the book, and I enjoyed it greatly. It has monsters, swords, adventure, budding romance, character growth, epic story, and some great secrets to learn along the way. What’s not to like? You can read the first chapter right now for free on Michael’s blog.

You’ll enjoy the interview. At one point Mike (who is a friend) calls me an evil man. I didn’t pull any punches with the questions!

I’ll tease you with the beautiful cover, and then we’ll get down to business.

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William Munn: What is it about Yesterday’s Demons that made you decide to write it? What is the driving force for this particular novel?

Michael RipplingerI’ve had the idea for Yesterday’s Demons for somewhere around 17 years now. Growing up, I was a huge fan of RPGs, especially Japanese video game ones. Phantasy Star and its sequels were my favorite games in the whole world — and they still are. Fast forward to the late 1990s and I was working at Toys “R” Us. I’d taken a break from video games for a few years but working daily in the video game department, I quickly realized there were some pretty cool looking new RPGs on the market, including Final Fantasy VII and Wild ARMs. Playing those two games especially made me realize what love I had for the epic storytelling of RPGs. I wanted to make one of my own, but although I’m a software engineer by trade, I’m not a game designer, and in the end, I wasn’t interested in writing a random monster encounter algorithm or an overworld map. I just wanted to tell a story. So that’s the first inspiration behind Yesterday’s Demons. It’s my love letter to the JRPG genre and all of its wonderful tropes.

The second inspiration was my own lifelong struggles with fear. The earliest thing I can remember is running in terror and hiding in the garage from a neighbor who was trying to give me a lifesize plush lion he’d won at an amusement park. My parents say I was probably just two years old when this happened. I used to watch Unsolved Mysteries with my grandmother, then be unable to raise the blinds on my windows for fear that a killer or an alien would be watching me from outside. I convinced myself there were monster-generated sounds in the basement so many times it isn’t funny. I’ve run away from panhandlers who were probably just looking for a bite to eat out of fear that they would attack me. As I got older, I learned to control these fears and tell my conscious mind they were just in my imagination. But my struggles with them led me to see just how many different flavors of fear there are: fear of monsters, fear of failure, fear of social judgment. And then there’s healthy fears, like wearing your seat belt for fear of reckless drivers. And so I wanted to tell a story about how much fear influences us, and how much it can control us.

WM: You live in Texas now. Where did you grow up and what made you decide to go San Antonio?

MR: I grew up in Rockford, Illinois, which is about 90 miles west of downtown Chicago and not far from the Wisconsin border. When I first married my bride, Rose, we lived in Rockford, but after our first child was born, she got homesick for San Antonio, which is where she was born and raised. The short answer is the one you read on bumper stickers ’round here: “I wasn’t born in Texas, but I got here as fast as I could.”

WM: I’ve read an early version of Yesterday’s Demons, and I had a bit of a hard time putting a name to its genre. What type of story is it and what makes it stand out from other YA novels?

MR: You’re very right, the book dabbles in a lot of different genres. It’s primarily an epic fantasy, but it takes place in a world that resembles the old West, and there are significant science fiction elements. The action begins with a mystery and hey, it’s a book about fear of monsters, so there are a sprinkling of horror elements, too. But I think this eclectic mix is what makes it stand out.

Another thing that makes it different is that it is not dystopian, even though today, so many YA books seem to be about dystopias, and even though the world of Yesterday’s Demons is one that lost all technology and magic two hundred years earlier. There’s plenty of food and freedom on planet Verde, and most of the time, the monsters leave you alone if you don’t seek them out. As a whole, the people are happy, as is Siv, the protagonist. He just knows he’d be so much happier if he could get rid of his paranoid fears and find some peace.

WMI agree, Yesterday’s Demons is not dystopian, and that is a welcome relief. Verde is a very cool world, and without spoiling too much, can you tell readers what level of risks there might be in a world like Verde? Seems pretty safe except for the occasional monster.

MRYeah, Verde isn’t a dystopia, and is pretty safe except for the occasional monster. Actually, the whole planet is pretty safe… except for the two-thirds of it that are a poisoned wasteland called Terrascorcha. Two hundred years ago an event called the Blackout occurred, and all of the planet’s technology stopped working. That wasn’t fun — airplanes dropped out of the sky in mid-flight, for example. At the same time, all of Verde’s magic users disappeared. Technology and magic were replaced by monsters — native animals mutated into beasts. Everyone who survived the Blackout moved south, where the land wasn’t poisoned. And they’ve been there ever since. Monsters are the only life in Terrascorcha today. But still, I say Verde is a pretty safe place because all of that bad stuff is confined to Terrascorcha. Stay away from there and you’re fine!

And unfortunately, a vast majority of what I just said is all a lie, and none of the book’s characters know it yet.

WM: You are a self-proclaimed breakfast cereal aficionado. I eat cereal, at least, a couple of times a week, and I have probably five different flavors in my cupboard at any given time. Do I have a thing for breakfast cereal too? What makes you different?

MR: Who doesn’t have a thing for breakfast cereal? Add milk and some fruit and it’s three of the four food groups in a bowl. It’s colorful. It’s sweet, yummy, and sweet again. If feeling this way makes me different, then I don’t want to be normal. I say cereal today, cereal tomorrow, cereal forever! It’s part of a balanced and nutritious breakfast.

WM: This has been great! I have one last question if you’re willing: If you were forced to pick only one, either sci-fi or fantasy, which would you exorcize from your life?

MR: Hmm… can I cheat and say I’ll give up both in exchange for “speculative fiction”? No, I didn’t think so. If there could be only one, I’d keep fantasy. I love spaceships and robots, but I love swords and spells just a bit more. And you are, of course, an evil man for even making me consider this.

WM: Maybe I was in interviewer in a former life. I feel very similar and wouldn’t want to answer the same question!

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Now, dear readers, get on over to your favorite ebook retailer and pre-order a copy of Yesterday’s Demons by Michael Ripplinger. You won’t be sorry! For the truly lazy, like me, here are some links: Amazon | Barnes and NobleiBooks | KoboSmashwords

Until next time.

TEASER ALERT! I have 502 words of Rue From Ruin – Part 6 in the can. With any luck, you’ll see it before April 1.

Clah and the Ship: a Bedtime Story

A fun thing happened the other day. My writing group got together, and WE WROTE! It was a really fun idea that Steve Diamond gave us while we were attending LTUE last month. We each picked two (or more) words from a list of random words and wrote a complete story with them.

You know. A. Complete. Story.

Beginning. Middle. End?

Anyway, the stories that came out of this exercise were really fantastic and further convinced me that I am the least talented member of our group. Nevertheless, I did enjoy the little story I put together and I’m going to share it with both of you! You don’t even have to fight each other for the right to read it!

I’m calling it a “bedtime story” because it feels fun and a bit whimsical to me, but beware– this bedtime story does have a bit of a dark side. Consider this the only content warning you will get: maybe read the story first before sharing it with smaller children.

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Clah and the Ship: a Bedtime Story

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The waves curled their way over the sparkling black sand and dragged it through craggy lava formations and out into the roiling surf. When the light caught the swells from the right angle, they shone with an inner light that was unknown anywhere else in the land. Those beautiful, rhythmic arms of the sea rose and fell with hypnotic and deadly regularity. Occasionally, ships could be seen in the distance en route to some far-off destination. No one attempted to make landfall on this beach for the rocks would make it sheer folly.

This day was darker than most. An ominous storm savaged the western horizon, tendrils of it reaching out to the onyx land of the isle like wavy boneless fingers. The waves rose higher, driven by the gales of the malevolent front, and the sea birds that oft frequented the craggy shore in search of dinner had flown off looking for a less precarious perch.

Clah was not afraid of such perils as changeable as the weather. Indeed, she willed the storm to her from her crag in the base of the cliff wall just behind the beach. The sheer basalt wall had been her home through many such encounters, and Clah knew that a storm of this magnitude could bring untold treasures to the isle. She walked out onto the sand on all of her appendages, her dark eyes scanning the coast for anything of interest. When she noticed it, Clah scurried back into her home and watched from the safe vantage because she was cautious, and the object of her interest was far closer than she had dared to hope.

The ship was quite large, and rising from its middle were two enormous poles as big as tree trunks from the jungle atop the cliff. They had crossbeams attached and swathed in bunched-up white cloths of wind-catching. To the wildly bucking rear of the craft, there was a raised area where many men scrambled about like angry ants trying to do something with a round, wooden object. The circular roundwood thing had a dozen or so sticks protruding from it at evenly-spaced intervals. It didn’t seem to be responding in a way that pleased the men, and indeed, the ship appeared to be making its way rapidly toward the stony shore broad side first. The waves had grown with the winds and the darkness in the West was doing the same. They propelled the vessel with effortless ease to the doom Clah had foreseen from the moment she first spotted it.

It collided with crushing force, the breakers thrusting it at a speed the ship would not have normally attained on its best day, the crashing groan was so deafening as to drown out even the mighty waves and shrieking wind. Men flew from the ship with the force of the impact, some of them flung through the air hurling toward the beach, only to be caught and impaled upon the cruel rocks or crushed upon them by the prodigious weight of the pounding surf.

But. One man was flung free. He was clear of the reefs, and the tall waves snatched at him as he fought his way to his feet, stumbling away from the vicious ocean and her mighty disdain for the lives of men. He shuddered at the booming crack, as the spine of the ship was defeated by the forces arrayed against it. He turned gasping to stare as the rest of the boat gave way and started to release its ribs, spilling interior contents out like the guts of a man disemboweled.

Clah chose that moment to spring upon her prey, hurtling from her crag, to sink her wicked teeth into the neck of the unsuspecting sailor. He was delicious if a bit gritty from the granules of black sand that still clung to his skin. She hadn’t had a treat this savory since two storms prior when a man and his son had taken refuge on a beach some miles to the north.

Sighing with the contentment of the truly satiated, Clah curled up next to the now slumped man and watched with pleasure as the waves continued to roll in stronger and more powerful. After a time, she drowsily made her way back to her home in the crag and let the rhythm of the storm and the ocean lull her into a tranquil sleep.

Friday Link Pack 3/11/2016

Hey there link likers!

I have some fun stuff in store for you today. First, let me entreat you. If you like my #FLP posts, you may also enjoy my Twitter feed. Feel free to follow me for occasional bits of random goodness. You may even get the jump on a few of the things I post here.

Alright. On to business. Link business.

WRITE-ING (Note to self.)

Tor.com Gets Mushy About Rejection
I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s repressed guilt. For whatever reason, and in a roundabout sort of way, Tor.com is telling us “It’s not personal” when they reject our manuscripts. We knew that, Tor.com. However, the article gets downright brilliant below the fold when the author starts talking about all the structural reasons manuscripts get rejected. Nice save!

TOOLS

Tabletop RPGs As Writer Trainers
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Ok, this is an older article (2011 I think), but Chuck Wendig say it as only Chuck Wendig can. He lays out all the facts in his typical entertaining and CONTENT ADVISORY style. Don’t believe me? Clicky clicky, folks. Clicky clicky.

SCIENCEY

Chart of Cosmic Exploration
This chart may well be the most delightful representation of human exploration of the Solar System that I have ever seen. Don’t miss this one if you have a sciencey streak.

THINGS I LOVE

I’m Cheating Today
I don’t feel sorry. Today is their day. I used to LOVE this band. These days I only semi-aggressively like them. What can I say? It’s not them. It’s me. I’ve changed, and they didn’t. Still, nostalgia compels me.

Yesterday’s Demons Is Available For Preorder On Amazon
This is not a drill. Go directly to Amazon and order this book. I was a beta reader for it, and I’ve reserved my copy. You do the same. I’ll wait.

GIF OF THE WEEK

If I’m still learning to write consistently, this cat is still learning to cat:

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OH. YOU’RE STILL HERE. AWKWARD.

Soon, my friends (both of you), you will learn about Clah. Who or what is Clah? You’ll have to tune in next week to find out.