Category Archives: randomisms

Kurt Vonnegut on Sci-fi

“I have been a soreheaded occupant of a file drawer labeled ‘science fiction’ ever since, and I would like out, particularly since so many serious critics regularly mistake the drawer for a urinal”

Kurt Vonnegut 

I believe fascinating concepts can be more thoroughly explored through the lens of the  possible future. Some circles are catching on. Some are not. 

Does it mean I’d never consider writing literary fic? No. It does mean I think limiting all stories to “our world” present or past would be ridiculous and boring. 

Genre labels are a bit silly. I’m with Kurt on this one. Don’t put any writing in a box/drawer/container by genre in order to better piss on it. Verify each recommended work on its own merits.

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.

You can read my review of the completed Tiny Frontiers: Mecha and Monsters here.

I’ll tease you with the cover art:

tf_mecha

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.

tinyFrontiers

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.

yesterdays-demons-cover-final-small

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!

———-

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.

Learn Like A Poetic Viking

My friend Ron Coulson (who I’ve known practically forever) has challenged himself to write a poem a day this year. He is well underway. This is #63 of 366, because, you know, leap year.

I’ll be the first to admit I’m no poet (any evidence to the contrary cannot be proven), but the subject matter here is near and dear to me — learning! I also enjoy a good metaphor and the Viking theme here is vivid and wonderful. Overall, it struck me as fantastic and I thought I’d like to share it with you all. Ron generously agreed. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

drinking-horn-bw

Untitled

Let us devour knowledge in a way
That would make vikings cringe
Let’s gorge ourselves until we
Vomit certainties no one can dispute
Let truths drip from our chins
As the spittle of enlightenment
Lands in our opponents eyes
Raise your mugs, my friends
Then chug down life’s lessons
Until we are drunken sages
Then sleep
Then do it all again

-Ron Coulson (2016)

If these words have inspired you to learn, be sure to check back on Friday. I’ll be posting a brand new Friday Link Pack #FLP for writers.