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Posts Tagged ‘gaming’

2022 in review

Publications-wise, that is. I never really know what to say about my personal life; it’s mostly a combination of uninteresting things, and stuff I don’t especially want to make public.

This was a weird year. For the first time since (I think) 2007 — which was the year after my first two books were published — I didn’t have a novel out. But since I had three in 2021 (The Mask of Mirrors, The Night Parade of 100 Demons, and The Liar’s Knot), and since I’ll have three again next year (The Game of 100 Candles, Labyrinth’s Heart, and The Waking of Angantyr), it’s not like I have much grounds to complain!

Meanwhile, on the short fiction front . . . this was a banner year, with no fewer than ten short stories published (beating out 2019, which had nine, but that was counting my fiction for Legend of the Five Rings, too). Speaking of L5R, this year also saw the publication of my first really significant game work: I’ve written micro-settings for Tiny d6, little branching adventures in 50-word chunks for Sea of Legends, RPG fluff and a few bits of mechanics for an earlier edition of L5R, but now I can lay claim to a full-bore adventure. And I’m really proud of how Imperfect Land turned out, in terms of its structure, its content, and the impact players can have on the larger world of their campaign. If any of you out there are reading for game awards and would like a review copy, just let me know!

And speaking of award nominations, if that’s your reason for looking at posts of this type, the piece I’d most like to bring to your attention is “Fate, Hope, Friendship, Foe” (3800 words, Uncanny Magazine; also available in their podcast). This is my “Atropos on a road trip through the Midwest” story, aka “the story it took me sixteen and a half years to write,” and I couldn’t be more delighted with how it turned out . . . even if for a long time there, I assumed it would never get written.

But as mentioned above, I have many other stories racked up from this year! Not all are available to read online, but:

* “Chrysalis” (5700 words, Beneath Ceaseless Skies) — a setting based on Mesoamerican folklore, where the main character is arguably a rock.

* “This Living Hand” (2900 words; Sunday Morning Transport but paywalled to subscribers) — dead Romantic poets and a willow tree that is up to no good.

* “Never to Behold Again” (440 words, Daily Science Fiction) — flash set in a world where beauty is eroded by people perceiving it.

* “The Me of Perfect Sight” (670 words, NewMyths) — Sumerian mythology about Inanna’s theft of the holy me.

* “And Ask No Leave of Thee” (7500 words, Neither Beginnings Nor Endings) — a modern retelling of “Tam Lin” that started with me figuring out how to do a non-magical version of the transformation sequence, then wound up as fantasy anyway.

* “Then Bide You There” (490 words, Dream of Shadows) — flash fiction born of me reaaaaally hating the folksong “The Two Magicians.”

* “Two for the Path” (1200 words, Shattering the Glass Slipper) — what if Snow White’s stepmother was actually trying to save her?

* “The Faces and the Masks” (340 words, Daily Science Fiction) — a meditative bit of fantasy-religious flash in the setting of the Rook and Rose series.

* “Crafting Chimera” (6700 words, ZNB Presents but paywalled to subscribers) — a psychologist tries to help a shapeshifter with identity issues.

Whoof, that’s a lot. But you know what? I already have seven stories racked up in the sold-but-not-published queue, all of which I’ve been at least tentatively told will be out in 2023. And I have two more for which I don’t have a date, but it might be in 2023. So with a few more sales — provided they’re to markets that aren’t already booked out so far, new acquisitions will be going into the 2024 schedule — I could theoretically surpass this record . . .

More adventures in L5R!

And this time around I mean literal adventures!

Well, one adventure, anyway. A while back I was contacted by the Edge Studios, the company now handling the Legend of the Five Rings RPG, asking if I’d like to create a pre-written scenario for the game that would pick up and run with a strand of the plot that was planned for the official storyline, but which never happened due to that storyline getting wrapped up earlier than intended.

So of course I said yes. Then I had to figure out how to make an RPG adventure out of a premise that amounts to “a bunch of religious figures get together to Do Politics,” heh. Also, it was my first time attempting to do something like this: I’d written microsettings for Tiny d6 several times before this, but those pack fluff text, a proposed setting, and several adventure hooks into 1500 words. This time around they wanted more like 15,000 words, all developing a single plot in a well-established world.

But in all honesty, I’m super pleased with how it turned out. Because there are no pre-generated characters and no way for me to know what types of people the players would bring to the game, I couldn’t just make it all be about theology and such (which probably would have been of limited interest anyway); I had to figure out structures that would let players engage usefully with the plot via a wide variety of skills. There’s a section where PCs can influence the religious conclave via anything from meditation to calligraphy to a sparring match to their ability to hold their booze! The necessity of providing that flexibility was actually a good thing, because it meant figuring out multiple types of conflict, which gave the adventure as a whole a much wider dynamic range.

Imperfect Land is out now, if you happen to be interested in the L5R RPG. I’ve gotten some good early reactions already, but of course the real question will be what happens when the rubber of what I wrote meets the road of people actually playing it. I hope they have fun!

And as long as I’m here announcing L5R-related news, I should add that I’ve officially sold a third and final novel in my series to Aconyte Books: The Market of 100 Fortunes, which will be out some time in early 2024, about a year after The Game of 100 Candles. First, though, I gotta write it . . .

Bag of Giving: epic Greek adventures for a good cause!

Last week I joined forces with Mike Underwood, Cass Morris, Marshall Ryan Maresca, and Dave Robison for an epic session of Agon as GM’d by Sharang Biswas. This turned out not to be the game I thought it was, not quite; I’d bought Agon many years ago at GenCon, but apparently it’s been significantly redesigned, I think for the better — the original edition looked very “grim ‘n gritty,” while the new version has a stronger aura of fun. We had a blast, and you can watch the results on Youtube.

The impetus behind this was Bag of Giving, a charity fundraising effort that’s pulling people together for interesting one-shots. Each month they pick a charity to support; for March it’s the The Hero Initiative, which helps comic book creators facing things like medical emergencies. But you don’t have to donate to that group specifically; you can choose any charity you like. (I’ll note, given the current situation, that we chose our charity well before the invasion of Ukraine. Donations to help refugees would not go amiss.) Then just send a screenshot of your donation, minus personal information, to contact at bagofgiving dot com.

To provide some incentive, every $5 you donate gets you an entry in a giveaway for a book bundle! The titles on offer for March are:

  • An Unintended Voyage by Marshall Ryan Maresca
  • Driftwood by Marie Brennan
  • Give Way to Night by Cass Morris (hardcover)
  • Liar’s Knot by M.A. Carrick
  • Shield and Crocus by Michael R. Underwood
  • We Could Be Heroes by Mike Chen (hardcover)

We thank you in advance for whatever donations you make!

Upcoming events of awesomeness!

It has been bonkers around here for the last two months or so, with a nigh-constant stream of interviews and promotional events. That’s slacking off at last, but there are two more coming up that I want to particularly draw attention to . . .

First, this Sunday, February 28th, we’re getting the band back together! Myself, Alyc, my husband, and two friends of ours from my grad school days (Emily Dare and fellow author Michael R. Underwood) are getting together for a Rook and Rose Blades in the Dark tabletop game. We all used to game together back in Bloomington — and in fact, the only reason I use the past tense there is that Mike doesn’t live out in the Bay Area with the rest of us, so he’s not in our current gaming group. But he’s offered to GM a one-shot game this Sunday, from 6 p.m. Eastern/3 p.m. Pacific until about three hours later, which will be streaming live on Twitch. (My first time doing this kind of thing for an audience, eek!) We’ll be playing members of the Oyster Crackers, an Upper Bank knot of thieves that appear briefly in The Liar’s Knot; I suspect we may run into the Rook. But I have no idea! It’s in Mike’s hands! This feels so weird and so awesome at the same time!

And second, on Wednesday, March 10th, Alyc and I will be doing an event with Tubby & Coo’s, a great independent bookstore in New Orleans. This is set up courtesy of fellow author Bryan Camp, a New Orleans local; we’ll have a reading and a conversation with him. That’s at 6 p.m Central, which is 7 p.m. Eastern and 4 p.m. Pacific.

. . . plus some more interviews, but those are more of a “record it and then it’ll go live later” kind of thing. Oof. Full court press in promoting The Mask of Mirrors has been fun, but it’s also tiring, y’all.

Point and Click Adventure Games

I’ve always liked the “point and click adventure” style of video game. You know, the kind of thing Sierra was known for, back in the heyday of this genre: games where you wandered around talking to people and clicking on everything that was clickable to add it to your inventory, and then when you got to a challenge sticking your inventory items on it (or on each other, to make a new inventory item) until you figured out how to solve the problem. Many of these games were low-stakes, in that you could only die at a few specific points, and their overall focus was on story.

Does anybody have recmmendations for more games of that type? Either classics that are available on Steam or GOG, or newer games made in that mold. I’m a huge fan of the Gabriel Knight series, and I’ve also played various King’s Quest and Monkey Island games; I recently finished the more recent Blackwell series, and have also played Gray Matter, by the creator of the GK games. I like ’em because they don’t take too long to play and they don’t make me worry my character is going to die, and it would be nice to have some more to entertain myself with in my spare time. Fantasy genre preferred, but feel free to recommend whatever.

Nighty Knights!

Many of you may recall that I’ve written several times for the TinyD6 RPG line (Tiny Frontiers, Tiny Dungeon, Tiny Wastelands, etc). That’s all been through Gallant Knight Games, but now I’m parterning with a different company, WunderWerks, for a Tiny D6-based game called Nighty Knights!

In this one you play stuffed animals defending sleeping children from monsters and nightmares. Like all TinyD6 games, the rules are very minimalist; it’s designed to be the kind of thing you can easily pick up and play with a minimum of prep. My contribution this time around will be setting material for Underbed and the Dreamlands, detailing the realms your stuffed animal PCs can adventure through.

The Kickstarter campaign has only been running for a few days, but it’s already up to 200% of its goal, with stretch goals falling like ninepins! If this sounds like your cup of tea, get in on the action now, with lots of cool rewards.

This short story GOES UP TO ELEVEN

I recently finished my first short story of the year, which doesn’t yet have a title I am satisfied with, but which is destined for publication in Kaiju Rising: Age of Monsters II, once the Kickstarter behind that link successfully funds. (It’s a quarter of the way there after one day, so odds are good.)

Drafting the story was interesting, because it’s been a while since I wrote something where my constant reminder to myself was GO BIGGER. In some ways “The Şiret Mask” last year, I suppose, but that was more caper-style ridiculousness. When it comes to sheer world-wrecking destruction, I think I have to go all the way back to In Ashes Lie, with its Great Fire and the battle between Prigurd and the Dragon in St. Paul’s Cathedral. But when the theme of your antho is kaiju, well, sheer world-wrecking destruction is very nearly an entry requirement.

(“Very nearly” because you could probably write a really interesting story about kaiju not trashing cities — something much quieter and more personal — and in fact I hope somebody in the lineup for this anthology does so. But that story is not my story.)

As for my story: it’s riffing off the microsetting I wrote for Tiny Frontiers: Mecha and Monsters, which was called “The Grand Prize,” and is basically what happens when somebody hands me the prompt “kaiju and mecha” and my brain immediately pairs that with high school science fairs. The short story takes place at the Twentieth Annual Metzger-Patel Genius Prize tournament, and that’s all I’ll say right now — except to remind you that if you want to read a story about teenaged robotics and bioengineering competitions gone massively overboard, you should back the Kickstarter today!

my publications in 2017

A fairly busy year for me, all things considered. And a reminder that I need to go through my bibliography page and clean up all the things that still say “forthcoming” when they’re already out.



Short stories



Gaming fiction

Today’s random gaming thought

You can tell how much an RPG system cares about a thing by how granular the rules for it are.

I’ve known this for a while, of course. RPGs evolved out of historical war-gaming, so many of them have incredibly detailed rules for combat, and much less detailed frameworks for other activities. But there’s another angle on this that I don’t think about as often, which is: when you get a bonus, how restrictive vs. broad is the application of that bonus?

In L5R, there’s a spell that gives you a boost to Perception-based rolls. All Perception-based rolls. Vision? Hearing? Scent? Reading people’s behavior? Commanding an army in battle? (For reasons of setting philosophy, that’s based on Perception.) This spell boosts all of them. Because although L5R is better at caring about non-combat stuff than some game systems, it’s really not all that interested in the finer-grained applications of Perception. Instead of having many spells that give you bonuses to different kinds of Perception, there’s one that hits them all.

Or Pathfinder. My PC has a magic item that gives a +3 to all Charisma-based skill checks, because Pathfinder, like most D&D, fundamentally doesn’t give a damn about social interaction. There is not, to my knowledge, a magic item that gives a +3 (or a +anything) to all Dexterity-based skill checks, because that would include Stealth (good for avoiding combat or taking the enemy by surprise), Acrobatics (good for avoiding attacks of opportunity in combat), Ride (good for anybody engaging in mounted combat), Disable Device (good for picking locks and disarming traps), and Escape Artist (good for escaping entangle and grapples in combat), among others. But handing out a cheap blanket bonus to Bluff, Diplomacy, Disguise, Handle Animal, Intimidate, Perform, and Use Magic Device? Eh, why not. That last is pretty much the only one that will often matter in combat, unless you’ve taken all the feats necessary to make feinting via Bluff a useful thing to do. And the game is relatively uninterested in what happens outside of combat.

And then you get players arguing that doing X isn’t very interesting. They’re right, in a way, because the rules have made it uninteresting. All you need is this single effect and you’re great at the whole shebang. But if the rules started from the assumption that X is interesting, and treated it with the same care and complexity of flavor they use for other aspects of play, it might be a different story.

(No game can do that for every single aspect, of course. If you tried, you’d wind up with something of unplayable complexity. But it would be nice to see that care and attention given to things other than combat more often.)

Today’s random gaming thought

(Non-gaming thing first: one week left to pre-order Maps to Nowhere!)

I’m playing in two Pathfinder games right now, and keep running up against the fact that nobody in those worlds ever uses magic sensibly.

This post is brought to you today by a tongue-in-cheek discussion with one of my GMs about how my PC wants to get an NPC to leave the city faster, wherein I joked about hitting her over the head with a Rod of Concussionless Incapacitation. Which is a solution to a problem we pretend doesn’t exist: in fiction people get knocked unconscious all the time, often for hours, and yet somehow wake up without concussions and permanent brain damage the way you would in reality.

But let’s take problems we do admit exist. The equipment list for Pathfinder includes a collapsible (and therefore semi-portable) bathtub, but there’s no magic item for a bathtub that fills itself with hot water — even though that would be dead easy to make. (Two cantrips would do it: prestidigitation and create water.) The GM for one campaign has a homebrewed cantrip/orison of birth control. The other campaign is Kingmaker, with its “SimKingdom” rules; those include sewer systems, but we built continuous-use wondrous items of purify food and drink into ours so we’re not just dumping our sewage into the lake. And I recently figured out that if we make a command word item of plant growth and use it on all the farms in the kingdom, we’re boosting our crop yields by 1/3 for the year, allowing us to feed our population with less encroachment on wild spaces and less risk of famine, for the low investment of a few thousand gold.

This is a utility approach to magic that you almost never see, whether it’s in D&D or novels. Even when magic is abundant in the setting, it rarely gets applied to the basics of day-to-day life. But if we really had these methods available to us, you damn bet we’d use them to make our lives simpler and more comfortable; just look at what we do with technology! Somebody would set up shop marketing self-filling heated magic bathtubs and command word items of prestidigitation to clean your house with. Sure, it’s a less lucrative market than selling swords and armor to adventurers — but your customer base is orders of magnitude larger.

You don’t see this in Pathfinder because ultimately, the game does not give a flying damn about anything that isn’t pertinent to making yourself a better adventurer. And you don’t see it in fiction because it won’t influence the direction of the plot. But there’s no reason it couldn’t be there as a background detail, a way to make the world feel lived-in and believable. For a while I was reading a serialized online story called Tales of MU, which was basically the urban fantasy evolution of a D&D-style world; that’s one of the few stories I can think of where magic really did get used in all these kinds of ways and more. But I can think of perishingly few others.

So, recs? Either of stories that do this, or other magic items D&D ought to have and doesn’t. 🙂 If I were a game publisher, I would so be tempted to put out a sourcebook of utility and luxury items . . .