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.

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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:

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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.

Rue From Ruin – Part 5

The much maligned, and hopefully much anticipated, part 5 is here. Revel in its glory. Relish its brevity. Relinquish your focus on daily life and enjoy. Finally, the story continues.

If you have no idea what I’m talking about, start with the Rue From Ruin page.

When I first sat down to write part 5 I was calling it something different, and I thought I had it all planned out according to my outline for the story. Yes, there is an outline. Back on task, you. Anyway, the words just weren’t coming out in a way that I liked, and I felt that something was missing. I let it get in my head and ended up sitting on my hands for some time.

I LIED to myself.

I told myself I was too busy to finish. I told myself my promotion at work was too demanding, and my brain couldn’t find a way to write. I told myself, I just needed a break.

Truth is, I was stuck. And instead of asking for help or even just trying to brainstorm an alternative, I was making excuses. Then I went to LTUE. Then I thought, I should ask my writer friends for help. THEN. Then I had a direction. A purpose. I knew what I was supposed to be writing.

And here it is.

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Rue From Ruin – Part 5

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Dilemma

Running. It seems like I’ve been running for months. Maybe I have. Today I’ve been running for a few hours. The wretched, burning globe of the sun is high in the sky, and I can feel it searing the bare areas of my shoulders. If I could sunburn, I’m sure I would. Even so, the pale white skin that shows beside the shoulder straps of the rough denim overall feels more irritated than the skin beneath the straps.

If it seems like I’m complaining a lot, maybe my tale isn’t for you. The life of a pissed-off wolfman bent on revenge isn’t all unicorn colts and sugar and spice and other cloyingly sweet similes. Being me generally sucks.

Yes, I’m still chasing after the elusive Professeur Demons. He’s playing dirty and took advantage of my exhaustion to slip out of the backwater jail we were both locked up in before I woke. I’m close enough I can almost feel the trail of his scent. The odor attacks my nose like a kid sticking a nail through drywall and twisting it, rotating to widen a hole meant for stuffing with treasures hidden from Mom and Dad. The smell of him only feeds my anger. But, there’s something else there as well. Something — familiar.

It’s not familiar like an old shoe, or like the scent of your own pillow in the spots where you’ve drooled, open-mouthed while you slept. It’s familiar in a much more recent way. Like dropping off flowers for a loved one on the way to work, and coming back to the scent of them filling the house. Realization dawns on me and I almost trip in surprise. The bastard has taken the Spanish girl.

I trot on, not wanting to lose them, wondering what he thinks his hostage will buy him. I wrack my brain to determine his plan. I guess he’s going to threaten to kill her? Unless, there is some connection between them I don’t know about.

Poor girl.

The smell of her intensifies as I jog through a thicket, and I know she must be near. I emerge into a full-blown view of the Pyrenees Mountains, much closer than I thought they would be, and then I’m upon her. She’s stumbling, incoherent and mumbling something under her breath. There is no sign of Demons, though he can’t be far. I catch the señiorita in my arms just as she is beginning to crash to the ground. Touching the skin of her arms is like grabbing the handle of a cast-iron skillet that’s been on a stove too long. I still can’t make out what she’s saying. It’s quiet, slurred, and most relevantly, in Spanish.

“Are you alright? Can you understand me? Entiendes?” I ask.

She doesn’t seem to notice me at all. I shift my grip on her arms so that I can help her to a sitting position and I see something peculiar on her on her neck. A small red dot the size of a pin-head. Or. A needle. There is a faint smudge of wiped-off blood around it, confirming my suspicion.

Damn.

He’s injected the girl with whatever it was he gave me. I don’t understand it. Why would he do this?

I know what it means. The girl will be fine. As fine as I am anyway. Ok, so maybe not so fine. The people near her will be less fine. Especially if she finds her way back to her village.

I want to do something to help. My impulse is to help her and keep her from my fate somehow. My NEED is to catch the Professeur. My gray-matter battles itself in an attempt to find the right solution to this problem, but there doesn’t seem to be one. He’s slipping farther away from me over every second that passes. It’s so hot and bright, and I can’t think straight.

I don’t want to have her blood directly on my hands, but this would be his mistake, not my guilt. I can’t leave her to wreak havoc behind me. Can I?

Nice and easy, I lay the girl down on the ground. She’s barely conscious now, and her breathing comes in quick pants. The pouch tied at my neck dangles down and brushes her lips as I lean over her. She flinches away from it. The thought hits me like a Mack truck carrying a load of solid lead bricks.

What if I give her a dose of tincture?

 

Gross Misuse – Flash Fiction In The RFR Universe

Happy Halloween! Well, tomorrow anyway. You get the idea.

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Behold! A flash fiction story in the world of Rue From Ruin. It is not an official part of the story, but it is intimately related to it. I repeat, this IS NOT RFR – Part 5. If nothing else, it’s a bit more light-hearted than Rue. It also has a different protagonist. Thanks as always to my lovely sounding board, Meri, and also to my good friend Michael Ripplinger, for keeping me from publishing an unreadable Halloween nightmare of crappy writing.

At any rate, it was an absolute blast to write. Perhaps Gross Misuse is the start of a new tradition on the blog. Flash fiction for Halloween in the world of one of my longer stories.

I hope you enjoy…

Gross Misuse

It was usually quiet here. I remember the first time I was placed in my dark, narrow home with my brothers. So cozy.

The cleanings once happened regularly. Strong chemicals were employed, removing the buildup of time. But those days were gone, and it had been some time since the people in gray and white had come. My siblings and I were no longer our spotless and shiny selves.

There is absolute despair in disuse. Always lying still; never called upon for the job for which you were made. Though – I would never have wished for what happened this day.

The day passed slowly like any other but pass it did. The light of it bled through a crack in the door to our darkened home. I longed, as always, to be brought out into that light. The world needed to know I hadn’t lost my edge.

When night fell, my brothers and I lay in silence as our domicile returned to nearly complete darkness. We heard a crashing noise, quite strange after what seemed like ages of stillness. It startled me, but, of course, I could not jump. It is not in my nature to do so.

A terrible snarling followed the crash, and a high pitched sound howled into the night.

My home was torn from its enclosure, and everything I knew was turned upside down. The violence of this sudden eviction was such that my brothers and I flew from our confined space. Our oddly-shaped cousins from neighboring homes met us in mid-flight. The sound of our meeting was a cacophony of tinkles, clangs, and clinks.

During that split second in mid-air, I wondered if I would be stuck somewhere at the end of my impromptu flight. Would I be left, dulling, half embedded in some weaker material?

No. That was not to be my fate.

A strange, strong grip plucked me out of the air. It was firm and rough; more so than any hand that had held me before. It also seemed to… smoke. That’s probably not the right word. It was like I was made of dry ice and evaporation was squeezing its way out from between where we touched. Having been forged at over nine hundred degrees Celsius, I knew it wasn’t I releasing the foul-smelling vapor into the air.

The hand seemed to tremble as if in pain but tightened its grip in response. It bubbled a wet and putrid ooze against me. The hand’s owner ran, chasing a second form at the edge of sight. The figure was difficult to make out at such high speed. I caught a glimpse of my captor as he wiped his scruffy face with the back of his arm. We had burst out into the moonlit night, and his rough features were mostly visible. He was hairier than most men I’d seen. Unkempt. Something was off about him as well, but I couldn’t quite place it.

There was no time to ponder the strangeness of it as my abductor sprinted and leaped to catch his prey. He slashed out powerfully with me. I found my target and reveled in the feeling of slicing through skin, flesh, gristle, and even bone. I hope you’ll pardon the cliche, but I was like a hot knife slicing through butter.

The feeling was exhilarating at first. I was meant for this! Cutting, chopping, carving, slicing – but no, not into a living being. Not like this.

I was an instrument of the glorious kitchen. Made for working with food, not killing things like some crude slaughterers implement.

Still. I cannot deny the pleasure I felt in my heart at being put to use.

It almost distracted me from the howl of pain and the stench that rose from the body I had cut. It was the same reaction that came from the seething hand that held me. I noted that there was blood on me now, and it was boiling and steaming as well. The odor sickened me.

My captor leaped at his prey knocking him to the ground. He laid my frothing blade against the neck, daring the creature to move. A thin wisp of mist rose from the spot where my edge rested firmly. I couldn’t quite see my victim’s face. Its neck was enormous and was covered in unusually thick, coarse hair. This creature was even stranger and stronger than one that grasped me.

I resigned myself to the fact I had become an instrument of death. I would probably end up in an evidence lockup.

Then, my wielder began to speak.

Perhaps this day would end without a death on my conscience after all. As a silver butter knife, I never expected to be holding onto that hope so feebly.

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If you enjoyed Gross Misuse and are unfamiliar with my serial story Rue From Ruin, you should check it out. I have a least three readers who think it is extra neat!

Rue From Ruin – Part 4

Here it is. I hope you enjoy it. If you don’t know what it is, go here.

This is the last time I’m going to write recognitions for folks who’ve helped out directly on a part. I’ll move all of them to the main Rue From Ruin page soon. In the meantime, I need to say this now. It’s important because, without these fine people, you wouldn’t be reading Part 4 today.

So much great help from Meri. She spotted all the really dumb stuff I was doing and she found it while suffering from a horrible cold. What an amazing woman! I’m blessed beyond belief to have her as my wife. My teen sons also took turns reading although their feedback was more along the lines of, “Ooo! Pretty good, Dad!”

Big thank you to the beta readers who provided some wonderful critique and helped me add more story that might have gone missing otherwise. J. Rushing, K. M. Alexander, and Drew Gerken all pitched in. Each of them had a unique perspective and I appreciate them immensely. They don’t even know. Srsly.

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Rue From Ruin – Part 4

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Imprisonment

I’m being marched through the center of a village at gunpoint by a fourteen-year-old girl, I think to myself. I wonder how pathetic it must look. Vanity isn’t a major weakness of mine, but I’m not immune to it either.

A tall young man, several years my junior, lounges against the wall in front of the small building we head toward. Incredibly, the squat stone structure appears to serve as police, fire, and La Poste for the little hamlet. The youth stares at me, but the girl with the shotgun ignores him and his sickly complexion. There is something familiar in his dark hazel eyes; I can’t place it. As we breeze past him, I’m unable to stop staring back.

“Watch where you’re going, scruffy-man,” the tall teen says and nudges my ribs with her 28-gauge. I turn around just in time to stop myself from walking right into the doorjamb of the building we are entering. She says, “I am the gracious host, am I not, señor?”

I nod agreement, not trusting my tongue to be civil.

It won’t do any good to snap at her, I remind myself. However, if I hadn’t taken the tincture in time… I shudder and try not to think about it.

We resume walking through the door of the multi-purpose building. I catch a whiff of something pungent that causes me to stop like a car in one of the crash test commercials. I feel the shotgun barrel dig into my back as the girl presses forward, not anticipating my sudden halt.

I know this scent.    

The girl sighs, impatient, and we continue down the narrow stone hallway past the shuttered window where La Poste customers fetch their mail. The odor is so strong it’s becoming overpowering. I can almost see it. After ten meters, the hall opens up into a tiny room with a small rectangular table, covered with a black and white checkered tablecloth. A man in a rumpled uniform sits behind it. The officer barely registers to me because my sinuses are reeling in the overpowering smell of HIM. I swear the odor emanating from the small window on his cell door is practically visible, with sickly green tendrils of smoke-like stench reaching for my nose.

“Hola, papa,” the girl says to the man at the table. “This Americano was trespassing by the old well on the Laurent property.”

I barely notice her speaking, because this is it! At last, the end of my search! I’ve found René Demons. And soon, he will pay so dearly for what he has done.

After I get some answers, I remind myself.

The man in the chair straightens and says something in thickly accented English about, “… night for trespass … go in morning.” He waves a hand toward the open door of the second holding area. It’s barely a closet, and his daughter gives me a nudge toward it. I try to catch a glimpse into the window where the sickly scent-tentacles are reaching out. No luck. I listen for any movement in the cage and hear none.

Of course, Demons probably knows I’m here. I haven’t said anything, but he’s always been very canny at running from me; the monster must know I am near. He can’t be allowed to escape, but I also can’t see a way to get to him now without slaughtering the officer and his daughter. As badly as I want the Professeur, I don’t wish to harm these people.

Deadlocked by indecision, I allow myself to be herded into my tiny prison, hardly noticing as the door grinds shut behind me. Once in the cell, I sink to sit on the cot. It’s barely larger than an oversized camping cooler, and no softer. That doesn’t matter. All I can think of is how I’m going to rend the Professeur’s flesh in the most painful ways.

After sitting for a while, fantasizing, I start to consider the questions I’m going to ask him in the morning. Why turn me into this… thing? Why let me go home to my family as if nothing were wrong?

Why the hell didn’t he just give me some answers that day? I’m clearly delirious. He’s been running from me because he knows I’m going to kill him. How could he have any doubt of my intention?

Exhaustion and the droning on of the father and daughter eventually lull me. A night of rest will ease my fatigue and help me deal with him in the morning, the rationalized thought comes thickly as if bubbling up through molasses. I fall asleep sitting on the cot, back against the wall, chin on chest.

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The dream always brings back every painful reminder of what I felt like waking up on the morning when they died. I’ve dreamt it more times than I can count. It goes like this:

I’m looking up at the ceiling and note with morbid fascination that there appears to be something crimson speckling its powdery, popcorn texture. I roll over on the slick, hard surface, nearly naked in my shredded clothing from the night before. I’m covered in sticky red blood and, in fact, am lying in viscera in the middle of our kitchen floor. Their dead and waxen faces are waiting for me as I roll to my knees in the ichor. The bright red lifeblood spattering them is a stark contrast to the porcelain of their features. There is so much of it.

Everywhere.

The details of the night before are hazy, but I do remember coming home and feeling terribly sick. I went straight to my bed to lie down and was frustrated and worried that the Prof had gone off his rocker. He had taken a phone call earlier in the day, I think. Shortly after hanging up, he had left for a few minutes and then he came up behind me and injected me with a hypo of what I think was his own blood. I recall his crazed screeching about it being the only chance.

I called security immediately, and the Professeur fled the lab. I tendered my resignation in disgust and left the office to return home after making my report.

No longer able to keep my thoughts to myself, I remember getting up and coming to the kitchen. Always my sounding board, my wife was there sitting at the table with little Kara. I sat with them and ranted on about the incident. Marilyn, ever rational, reminded me that some blood tests were probably in order. Just to be sure I wasn’t infected with something dangerous like HIV. How I wish I would have left the house right then to follow her advice. Instead, I complained and whined and said I would get checked in the morning.

Then the change started coming on. I felt the terrible pain of displaced bone and muscle and ligament for the first time. The dread of a strange, overpowering hunger and the anticipation of sating it.

To my utter dismay, shame, and heartbreak, there are only two human beings I’ve ever killed in the throes of my curse: my wife, Marilyn, and my daughter Kara.

After awakening and sitting up to the scene of their deaths, I collapse back to the floor. Salty tears of despair flow freely, and somehow I can’t seem to breathe. Finally, a cry that sounds like the mating call of a grizzly bear escapes my lips. Once released, the wracking sobs won’t stop for what feels like hours.

When the tears finally run dry, I make a solemn vow to my dead family: I will make vengeance my life’s last goal.

——

The door swings open, and a man in a fireman’s uniform is speaking to me in French. Still mostly asleep, I don’t understand a word of it. I wipe the wetness of the drool from my chin. But, unfortunately, it has also soaked a portion of the overall I’m still wearing. There is a large salty-edged saliva stain on the front. It must look ridiculous.

The man motions me to leave. Finally! I wipe the sleep from my eyes; stand and follow him out. I’m groggy, but I still notice the open door to the other cell. I sniff the air, and although the scent is still there, it’s somehow weaker, less overpowering. My worst fear of the previous night is realized. They’ve let him out while I slept!

Sniffing the air, I catch a tendril of scent leading out of the building. He is still very near.

I don’t much care what the Frenchman is yelling after me as I sprint out of the building at full tilt.

Good News. Bad News.

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First, the bad news: Rue From Ruin – Part 4 cannot be published today. It is SO close, but I can’t give it to you like this. It needs… maybe one more day? Maybe two?

The good news: during revisions I’ve added over 400 words that are absolutely essential to the story. This will be the longest part of Rue From Ruin yet, clocking in at almost triple the length of Part 1.

Part 4 is one of the most difficult things I’ve ever written. There is so much happening. My critiques by beta readers have been so helpful and I can’t wait to share it with you all. At the same time, I don’t dare publish it without a solid review of all the new words.

I hope you can forgive me. I’d hate to have three people angry with me forever.

UPDATE (The excellent news): Rue From Ruin – Part 4 is now available to read!

This post is also brought to you by allergies:

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Fan art… Whaaaaat?!

So.

My story, Rue From Ruin, has fan art! I’m not ashamed to admit that I let out a sound that could probably be classified as girlish glee when I discovered this.

No really. People stared. It was quite a scene.

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What a strange and humbling response to the story! It feels entirely misplaced and yet marvelous at the same time.

I’m not sure if fan art is a correct classification where this is excellent work by a musician who is extremely talented in his own right. Check out this creepy atmospheric music written by my friend, Lance Clark.

Part 4 of Rue From Ruin is in revisions now and will go to my beta readers over the weekend. If I’m lucky, it will be ready by Tuesday. If not, Friday.

That’s Paranormal Romp Writin’ Music

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Recently I finished Armada by Ernest Cline. It’s a rather good book although it can’t compare to Mr. Cline’s first novel, Ready Player One (no matter how desperately it tries). I have a hangup about all the teenage banter, and I won’t dwell on it. Needless to say, I probably would have loved Armada if I were ten years younger. The basic premise is similar to The Last Starfighter but the similarities end quickly, and the story is great.

The one thing Ernest Cline’s books do very consistently and efficiently is evoke memories and nostalgia for the 1980s. It’s been noted by many reviewers; the author is a wizard with pop-culture references. The music he picks/mentions in his books is legendary and spawns Spotify playlists that are listened to unendingly by fans.

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I love music, and when I write sci-fi, I’m often listening to ambient electronic or classical movie scores. Although, I’ll admit, I’m a sucker for period music, though, and I totally dig the tunes that set the backdrop for Guardians of the Galaxy. They are perfect for that movie in every single way and sometimes Bowie or other selections from that soundtrack will creep into my writing playlist for The Galaxy and All Her Charms.

What I found surprising recently was, as I was listening to a playlist for Armada, many of the rock-heavy songs inspiring while writing Rue From Ruin. It turns out, this music is a perfect match for some of the scenarios where the main character finds himself. Thought I’d share. Enjoy.