A la peanut butter sandwiches!

Wraith 20 Kickstarter - Down to the Wire

Normally I hate self promotion. It's a flaw in a writer, I know.


We are down to the wire on the Wraith 20 Kickstarter. We have achieved marvelous things, and there are a few more in our grasp.

So if you haven't climbed on board yet, now's the time. Help us get those Necropolis writeups in the book and the next big chunk of the Book of Oblivion written. Come see what all the fuss is about. Time, as they say, is running out - we wrap up in under 5 hours.

Come on in. The afterlife's fine.
A la peanut butter sandwiches!

2014: Your Mileage May Vary

So. 2014.

Lots of great times. Had a blast taking Melinda with me to Brazil, speaking at a game conference there and gallumphing around Porto Alegre with old friends and new. Got to meet the mighty Mothman statue. Took a trip down a creative memory lane by starting the wheels turning on Wraith 20, and realized that with 15 years’ new experience, I had a lot to say in that space. Fulfilled a lifelong dream and went to a World Series game, courtesy of dear friend Dustin Clingman. Attended a powerhouse storytelling conference courtesy of Lance Weiler and Christy Dena, and was humbled to be a part of it. Wrote some of the best short stories of my life, got to be part of some high-powered anthologies, and tried my hand at board game design for the first time in ages. Kicked off a super secret project with some highly respected professional peers, once again had the pleasure of running roundtables at GDC, and ran a successful narrative track at ECGC with some incredibly smart folks. Made the annual pilgrimage to the farm, and cooked and drunken Scrabbled with Melinda’s Aunt Dolores. Took my family to the Outer Banks (first time for Mom and Dad), made Staggering Squirrels at NECON, and blogged in interesting places. Bought some interesting art. Continued my flailing participation in a 20+ year old fantasy baseball league, no thanks to guys like Jedd Gyorko, and crossed Nationals Park off my list of “stadiums to see a game in”. Saw friends succeed at numerous creative endeavors in books, in tv, in games, and was happy to see it all. Did cons. Did lectures. Got to look at some incredible pieces of gaming history at the Strong Museum. Got the fluffy cat through an ongoing health crisis and continued to serve the whims of the calico princess. Took my goddaughter fossil hunting in deepest eastern North Carolina, took my dad to ballgames, and saw my wonderful niece and nephew grow up a little more. Got more time with my siblings; got more time with my mom. And of course, had a year of wonderful madcap adventures with Melinda.

Bad stuff happened, too. But we’re not going to talk about it, because that’s not what I choose to take away from 2014. Here’s to the good memories. The hell with the bad ones.

Onward to 2015.
A la peanut butter sandwiches!

On Wraithing Again

"Every time I’m out, they pull me back in."
Actually, not true. I was out for a long time. Out of writing and designing for tabletop games, that is. Sure, I kept writing stuff after I left White Wolf for video games (“You leveled”, the head of another company told me at Origins after I announced I was changing jobs). Kithbook: Redcaps. The intro fiction to Orpheus. Some Hunter material, some other things. But I wrapped it up with bits in Abyssals for Exalted and The Book of Changing Breeds for Werewolf. Those were the goodbyes to the stuff I’d worked on and that I identified with most strongly.
Over the years, I occasionally got asked to contribute to projects. I always said no. No because I’d moved on, no because my sparse-on-the-ground spare time was needed for trying to get my fiction career going, no because it felt like going backwards.
Last year, I got offers I couldn’t refuse. James Wallis, whose work I have the utmost respect (and space in my game closet) for asked me to do a stretch goal piece for a project he was working on. And old friend Rich Thomas asked if I’d be willing to helm the 20th Anniversary Edition of Wraith: The Oblivion.
My response to Rich was literally unprintable, but it ended with the word “yes”. Because it was Wraith, and I’d have been kicking myself forever if I’d let someone else do it when I had the chance to do it myself.
Wraith was, after all, where I got my start. My first paid writing was 2 chapters in the Haunts sourcebook, contracted by original developer Jen Hartshorn. (I overwrote. Some things never change.) I wrote on Wraith for Inphobia. I wrote a big chunk of the Wraith Players’ Guide, and then I got hired as the developer and moved to Atlanta and got a phone call from Harlan Ellison and became, professionally speaking, who I am.
Because of Wraith.
So really it was no choice at all, despite the fact that I was signing up for a part-time gig doing what used to be my full-time gig on top of my current full-time gig which is frequently a more-than-full-time gig. And yes, it feels weird slipping back into the old role, flexing old muscles that haven’t been used for a long while and melding them with the things i’ve learned in 15 years in pixel-land. At the same time, though, it feels good - good to be doing those things my mental muscles remember, good to be doing them better with the help of all those years of experience. I remarked to a friend tonight that I was running my writing staff like a dev team; I hadn’t realized it until I said it.
Which leaves me roughly where I am, which is to say adrift on a sea of manuscripts, juggling social media stuff for the Kickstarter, coordinating a staff of ridiculously smart and talented writer-types and trying to remember what I was thinking and why I was thinking it all those years ago.
It’s going to be very interesting seeing where it all leads. And I, for one, am looking forward to seeing how I get there. In the meantime, however, I’ve got manuscripts on the grill.
*pours a finger of scotch*

Back to work. See you on the other side.
(And if you feel like checking out the Wraith kickstarter, you can find it here.)
A la peanut butter sandwiches!

Wraith 20 KS Update

Well, we're just past halfway on the Wraith KS, and here's where we stand:

We're funded! Woohoo! Big thanks to all the Wraith fans out there who are helping us bring the game back. Now it's a question of stretch goals, which we're using to back A)more material for the main book B)a fiction anthology (and wait until you see who I'm lining up for that), and C)additional projects like the Book of Oblivion.

Also, we've added what are being called "Rich Goals", which is a nice way of saying when we hit certain numbers I dig into the memorabilia vault and tell stories about the development of Wraith 2nd and various and sundry other hoary legends of Wraith. You can find the stories - and the Kickstarter - here.

So, onward! And more words-ward!
A la peanut butter sandwiches!

Wraith: The Oblivion 20th Anniversary Edition Kickstarter

So this is my big personal project for the next few months - a chance to go back to the game I got my professional start with, armed and armored with 20 years of professional gamedev experience, and working with some supremely talented writers both new and old to the setting.

I’m very happy to say we’re past 300% funded and still rising, and that every stretch goal we hit lets us add more. So if you dig horror, or RPGs, or ghosts, or horror RPGs about ghosts, or just want to know what I’m rambling on about these days, check it out.
A la peanut butter sandwiches!

(no subject)

Most of the blogging I’m going to be doing over the next few months about the Wraith: The Oblivion 20th Anniversary Edition Kickstarter and Project is going to be either A)over on the KS page as updates or B)on the Onyx Path blog as, well, updates. That’s perfectly cool with me, as it’s an OP project and they therefore have dibs.

But before the Kickstarter launches on Tuesday, I did want to ruminate on the project for a little bit. Wraith was the First Big Thing that I ever did in gaming. I was hired by Jennifer Hartshorn to do two chapters in the Haunts sourcebook back in the day, and that was my first paying, professional work. Most of it was actually written in the basement of a church in suburban Boston, where I was proctoring fake SAT tests for the Princeton Review and cramming myself and high school juniors into chairs designed for third graders, but that story’s been told a million times. After that, I did some work on the Wraith Players’ Guide, and an article for Inphobia on keeping your party together in Wraith games, and then I got contracted for Artificers and did a bunch of stuff on Changeling and got pulled in last minute to write the back end of Toybox and…

Whew. It was a long time ago, and if you draw a straight line from then to now it runs right through the middle of a big patch marked “Insomnia”. But I will say this: I have always been incredibly proud of the work that went into Wraith, both my own and those of the many people I collaborated with. I was very sad to see it get shut down back in the day, though I appreciate White Wolf’s choosing to let me wrap the line up neatly with Ends of Empire instead of just putting on the brakes. I’m pleased and excited to be climbing back onto that (bony, skeletal, undead) horse again, and I confess to having let “so what would you do differently?” rattle around in my brain for the last fifteen years or so.

And I am of course really excited to be working with many of the classic Wraith writers from the old days. And I know, that sounds pollyanna as hell, but it really is fun bouncing ideas off them again, seeing their prose (and how much it’s improved in the last fifteen years - don’t tell them I said that), and just generally swimming in the same pond with kindred spirits. There is something to be said for getting the band back together. Hell, just having an excuse to pick up the phone and call Clayton Oliver makes me happy. The fact that the conversation largely consists of “You’re doing great stuff, now add these additional bits” is icing on the cake.

I will be talking a lot more about the project over the next few weeks. I will be singing the praises of the new folks on the project, writers who haven’t worked on Wraith before and who are hitting the ground running. I will be talking about what we’re changing from the old edition and what we’re keeping and why I am cheerfully spitting in the legendary Wraith Curse’s eye on this one.

And right now I’m already neck-deep in manuscript redlines, turning around various chapters to various writers with various suggestions. Though to be fair, I appear to have gotten kinder and gentler over the years. Bruce Baugh wanted to know who I was and what I’d done with the real Rich Dansky; apparently the memory of the time I told a freelancer that he’d written me a lovely Wings Hauser movie but now I needed some game material still lingers. The rust, though, is coming off. The old muscles are being flexed. The red pen is my non-crosspieced lightsaber, and I wield it with Jedi-like precision.
But I’ll talk about all that later. Right now all I have to say is that it’s good to be back.
A la peanut butter sandwiches!

Things I Think About The New Star Wars Teaser Trailer

  1. It is definitely a teaser, which, by definition means “largely content free”. And that’s fine. I’m more than a little done with the modern trend whereby you get roughly 2/3 of a given movie’s footage from the various trailers and teasers long before it actually comes out.

  2. It was fun seeing X-Wings and the Millennium Falcon again.

  3. I am glad that many people seem excited about the teaser and are having fun with it.

  4. I would very much like to see a fun new Star Wars movie, as the Star Wars universe leaves behind most of what makes it unique and fun when it goes for some combination of grimdark, political, or overtly kid-friendly.

  5. I do not have a major emotional investment in the new Star Wars movie except as something I hope will be a couple of hours of enjoyable entertainment.

  6. I feel sorry for the people who have already decided that they will not enjoy the movie based on approximately 30 seconds of rough footage.

  7. I think getting preemptively upset over how the proposed details of a weird-looking lightsaber glimpsed for approximately 5 seconds will ruin the movie may be putting the sandcrawler before the bantha.

  8. Utinni!

  9. I do not dispute anyone’s right to not enjoy the trailer or not look forward to the movie. I do dispute endless attempts to ruin other people’s enjoyment as a means of reaffirming one’s own tastes.

  10. They say there is a desert planet that is not Tatooine. I am forced to ask whether it is Arrakis.

  11. Stormtrooper armor looks very hot. This is probably not a good thing on a desert planet.

  12. John Boyega was very good in Attack the Block. I expect he will be very good in Star Wars.

  13. Disney has officially thrown out the Star Wars EU canon. Therefore, please do not quote the Star Wars EU canon to “prove” why John Boyega shouldn’t play an imperial stormtrooper or why a weird lightsaber with cross hilts can or can’t exist, because it’s irrelevant.

  14. There will probably be lens flare in the movie. It is OK to make fun of lens flare, as J.J. Abrams is to lens flare as Michael Bay is to explosions or Tim Burton is to letting Johnny Depp get weird haircuts. Making fun of JJ’s lens flare obsession is our way of telling him we still love him.

  15. "There has been an awakening" is exactly the sort of dialog we make fun of M. Night Shyamalan for. But that’s OK. It’s a teaser. It’s not the movie.

  16. If you insist on being “right” about what the teaser means, you’re probably missing the point.

A la peanut butter sandwiches!

SBGames 2014

Very pleased and proud to be giving a keynote at SBGames 2014. I'll be talking about The Writers' Journey, or at least my version of it, which included stops in Boston, Atlanta, and a giant pile of dice.
A la peanut butter sandwiches!

Ruminations on Trick-or-Treating

There are a lot of reasons I like trick-or-treating (besides the leftover candy, you heathens), but the biggest one is this:
It’s a reason to talk to your neighbors.

Once a year, you’re guaranteed to have folks from all over your neighborhood - in theory, at least - knocking on your door, saying hello, and generally being pleasant. And the people having their doors knocked on are also being pleasant, and saying hello, and participating in an honorable social contract within the community: if I leave my light on (my part of the deal) and you wear a costume (your part of the deal), I give you something nice.

[Side note: all that nonsense about razor blades in apples is exactly that. I wouldn’t be surprised if it were started by the people making fun sized candies of various persuasions in order to get us to buy more bags of tiny Butterfingers that are mostly wrapper. “Fun sized”, my ass.]

And implied in that was that you talked to all your neighbors. You didn’t knock on some doors and not on others because of politics or what church someone belonged to or whatever. You went, neighbor to neighbor, in a simple, human interaction.

Now, of course, trick-or-treating is on a downturn. In too many places, it’s being replaced by “Trunk or treating” or mall treating or whatever. And yes, I can see the benefits of limiting this to a controlled time and space, and not gambling against the extremely minuscule chance that one of your neighbors will, when asked for candy, instead respond with a chainsaw.

But I still think it’s a bad idea. Mall treating just reinforces consumer behavior - go store to store and get stuff. Trunk or treating is generally done within the bounds of an existing social group - a church or a school, for example - so there’s no reaching out, no getting to know your neighbors, no meeting the new.

Yes, I know, not every neighborhood’s great (or viable, or safe) for trick-or-treating. Not every neighbor wants to be reached out to, and there are a myriad of reasons to do something controlled and scheduled and above all, safe. But it feels sad that our neighbors don’t feel safe, that our neighborhoods don’t feel worth connecting with, that we can’t take as long as we need to make the circuit of the neighborhood and that at the same time as so many kids are trick-or-treating at the mall, so many people are shutting their lights off and hanging “no trick or treating” signs on their doors lest their evenings be disturbed by occasional friendly interruption.

We will, of course, keep the jack-o-lantern flame burning as long as we keep getting knocks on the door. But it’s always a little disappointing when this year’s knocks are fewer than last years, and last year’s were fewer than the year before’s. And in the back of my head I think of Ray Bradbury’s short story “Pillar of Fire”, wherein the last dead man on earth tries to reinvent Halloween and all its frights all by his lonesome in a world that’s gotten over being scared of the dark.
A la peanut butter sandwiches!

Why I Write Horror: A Rumination

It’s Halloween, and I’m more-or-less a horror writer, which means that ‘tis the season I get questions like “What horror novels should I read?” (Answer: Mine, of course) and “What’s the scariest thing you’ve ever read?” (Besides a royalty statement?) and, of course, “Why do you write this stuff?”

The “Why do you write this stuff” is the one I’ve been getting the longest, it part because it’s one my mother keeps asking. She wants to know, not unreasonably, when I’m going to write something a little bit nicer, and she often points to the fairy tale intro I wrote for Changeling 2nd Edition as proof I could maybe branch out into something with a lower body count once in a while. And that’s true, but I keep coming back to horror, and I suppose it’s worth noodling around a bit as to why. In no particular order:

I write horror because this stuff made a hell of an impression on me when I was a kid. To a six year old me, the story on the side of the 7-11 Slurpee Monster Cup for zombies was scary as all get-out. I used to lay awake at night debating whether to leave the door to my bedroom open (so the light from the nightlight in the hallway could come in) or closed (so if the zombies came up the stairs, I wouldn’t have to see them coming). By 4th grade, I’d been introduced to Ray Bradbury, most notably stories like “The Halloween Tree” and “Pillar of Fire”, and the simultaneous terror and fascination was locked firmly in place. My thesis was on Lovecraft; my first two published papers were on HPL and Charles Robert Maturin, respectively. In short, it’s been a part of me for a very long time.

I write horror because it’s interesting. What scares folks - the outward manifestations of inward fears, as Ambrose Bierce put it - is really meaty material to chew on. Know what terrifies a character and you know something about that character. Know why that terrifies them and you know the character entire.

I write horror, not because I’m interested in writing critters or spattering bodily fluids on walls, but because it’s possible to write the scary stuff without resorting to fangs in neck or blood on walls. Some of the most enduring pieces in the horror canon (such as it is) offer neither beasts nor blood, but manage to chill the reader just the same. That level of skill and craft is what I aspire to.

I write horror because I’ve spent good chunks of my life scared - scared of getting beaten up on the playground, scared of failing, scared of not living up to expectations, scared of all sorts of things. And while those fears may not be much in the grand scheme of things to be afraid of in this life, they’ve been with me all my life, and writing the spooky stuff is how I finally figured out to take them on.

I write horror because I was told I couldn’t or shouldn’t. Because the stories I submitted to Annie Dillard’s writing class at Wesleyan came back with the words “We have nothing to say to each other” on them. Because bringing along Dan Simmons’ “Carrion Comfort” as my subway reading material on orientation day at my MA program got me instantly labeled as the Not Actually Serious About Books Guy. And yeah, maybe twenty-plus years on I should be letting that stuff go, but old embers can still burn hot.

And finally, I write horror because I’m good at it. Those are the stories that come naturally to me - the small child making a bargain with unseen powers as he plays at the beach, the impossible thing in the man-made lake, the slumbering power underneath placid suburban real estate - these are the things that call out to me when I sit down to write. These are the things whose stories I know how to tell instinctively. These are the things I can wrestle best with in words, and I’m OK with that.