A Walk in the Dark A look in to the mind of an RPG designer



Writer’s Block

I've been having a troubling couple of days as of late, but find it necessary to post *something* on here...

In the past two or three weeks:

  • I just came off a rather exhausting 10 day vacation, during which we drove from Miami to New York City.
  • As many of you know, I was hit with a somewhat scary "cease and desist" during that time for Fire From the Sky, so I have been somewhat disillusioned with game development. I was hoping to clarify what I can or cannot do, but many of you have pointed out that I shouldn't expect robust communication with Wizards of the Coast's legal team. So I haven't been doing module desgin because I don't want to be spending time on something that might never see the light of day.
  • Next week I'll be in Indianapolis, and there is extensive preparation involved for that.
  • My car seriously broke down last Sunday, to the tune of $1800 to repair. My mechanic - whom I will refer to as MacGyver - bypassed the A/C system so I can get it running for only $350, but you can imagine that driving around Miami without A/C is making me even more tired than I am normally.
  • Lots of other things, mostly work-related.
  • Because of all of the above, I haven't been sleeping particularly well.

Fire From the Sky: Contraband Edition

As a result, I've not only been at a loss for what to write, but I've been having a hard time getting myself to even think about it. I've been extremely tired and somewhat unwilling to do any design as of late, and it's rubbing off on everything I'm involved in. The three games that I'm actively DM-ing are suffering as a result... Running those campaigns in light of everything else that's going on in my life makes them feel like work and not enjoyment. And, as I've mentioned before on this very blog, work isn't very fun.

So, to try to get my mind off everything, I'm thinking forward to Indianapolis. I have created a special cover for Fire From the Sky (with the Gamma World logo removed, which was one of their points of contention) and will have it with me, and I intend to print several versions nicely bound. 

Whether I will run it or not is yet to be determined: I still have to build up the personal courage to do so, and want to experience some other people DM-ing at GenCon before I take that step. If it happens, it'll probably be either late Saturday or early Sunday. We'll see how it goes.

This blog will probably go dark while I'm away, but hopefully I'll be able to clear my mind and think of something to write about before then. I will definitely post my show schedule if I remember to do so, and look forward to seeing some of you there.

Stay tuned!


Legal Limbo

I'm in somewhat of an awkward situation.

Last week, while I was out of town on vacation, I was hit with a "cease and desist" order preventing me from distributing the Fire From the Sky Gamma World module to anyone. Note that I say "distributing" and not "selling"... As per the C&D, I'm restricted from giving the module to anyone, even for free. FFTS is now a controlled substance.

NOTE: I have asked for authorization to publish the C&D letter verbatim as I received it, but have not gotten approval to do so. Just to be safe, I will not publish its contents until cleared to do so.

Since then I have attempted to contact the legal entity that sent the C&D for clarification on what the issue is, but there's a problem: the legal firm that sent the C&D is a law firm in New York City - Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler LLP (hereinafter refered to as "PBWT") - and not Wizards of the Coast's legal team in Renton, Washington (who are the people I originally contacted). PBWT apparently cannot speak on behalf of Wizards of the Coast without contacting WotC first (they make no decisions on their own), so if I ask PBWT any question they must send it to WotC Legal in Renton, wait for a response, then respond to me. I'm dealing with a third party, not WotC directly.

I'm at one end of a legal grapevine, having to wait for my message to bounce all the way to Washington and back.

So I made an effort to contact someone in Wizards of the Coast, be they legal or not, in the hopes that someone could talk to me directly. I received the following response from Wizards Customer Support:

Unfortunately, our Legal Department is only available via mail. To contact them, please use the following address:

Wizards of the Coast
Attn: Legal
PO Box 707
Renton, WA 98057-0707

Seriously?!? What century are we in again?

It's been about three days since I sent my first volley of questions, and I have yet to hear anything. At this rate, it may be months before I have any idea what the issue is or what I am allowed to do in future products.

In the meantime, all my other projects...

  • The Fortress of Dr. Neb, Gamma World module. This campaign may be pretty much dead at this point.
  • A planned "GammaCore" module based on the LHC
  • My big campaign, The Coming Dark, which is normal D&D 4e and not Gamma World.

...are on hold. I don't know what to do with them at this point. I'm afraid to work on anything, unsure whether I'll be wasting my time on a project that may never see the light of day.

I'm kind of hoping that there will be some sort of WotC legal representation at GenCon, so maybe I can sort out these issues in person.

In the meantime, I do have some news: a third party has contacted me and expressed interest in converting both Fire From the Sky and The Fortress of Dr. Neb for use in Pathfinder and the upcoming Warlords of the Apocalypse supplement, even though nobody seems to be sure when that supplement will actually be released (it's seem to have had quite a turbulent development history). So stay tuned for that!

On another note, I am seriously considering running Fire From the Sky at GenCon; although I'm restricted from distributing it, I'm not restricted from using it myself. The only problem: I haven't DM-ed an in person game in well over a decade, so I'm not sure if I can handle it. So I'll hang out and watch others DM for the first few days just to make sure I can be on par with everyone else, and if it does happen might be Saturday. Don't bank on it, but we'll see if I can muster the courage before I'm on the flight back.

I might even make a special "THE MODULE THEY DO NOT WANT YOU TO SEE!!!" cover for it.

In the meantime, if you have an "in" with someone at Wizards of the Coast I would appreciate some insight as to the issue with Fire From the Sky. I would be willing to provide you a copy of the module if you work for Wizards of the Coast; I don't think I can legally give you one if you're not.

Until then... I wait patiently, hoping for some clarification...


Cease and Desist

I'm on vacation right now, so I really didn't need this...

I just received a "cease and desist" letter from Wizards of the Coast's legal department that states that my Fire From the Sky Gamma World module "...infringes on Wizards' intellectual property rights..." and "...is an illegal derivative work of Wizards' copyrighted D&D GAMMA WORLD property and constitutes wilful copyright infringement..."

I have been instructed to pull the Drive Thru RPG listing (which I already have) and cease distribution of the module. It is now contraband!

Well *that's* a kicker, isn't it?

So as it stands now, there will be no more Gamma World content... that's for sure. Dr. Neb will have to stay silent and my planned GammaCore module will die a slow painful death.

Furthermore, now *everything* that I may publish under the 4e GSL is in jeopardy, including my non-Gamma World content.

As I said, I'm on vacation right now and can't really focus on this until Monday the 18th, but there you go. Discuss at your discretion.

Filed under: 4e, DnD, Gamma World, RPG No Comments

Fourthcore/Gamma World concept

When I get an idea in my head, it's really hard to shake it. I'm already working on two modules, so I must be insane to think of a third one.

But I can't help it!!! It's my heroic flaw!!!

Having been heavily influenced by Save Versus Death's Fourthcore adventures (especially the ultra-secret playtest I have the honor of reviewing), and being even more inspired by his own talk of creating a "Gammacore" module next year, I had an idea pop in to my own head. Even though I can't imagine when I'll do it, I can't help but try in the near future.

Here is the premise, in its most primitive form (NOTE: The following is a "brain dump" and still needs a lot of clean up):

In the year 2012, a group of scientists in Geneva, Switzerland decided to try something different for a change, and with a simple flip of a seemingly innocuous switch the universe was forever changed in to the Gamma Terra of today.

Many believe that the incident was not a direct action by a human, but by the LHC itself. At the time, the LHC Computing Grid was the single largest computer system on the planet, and some think that it became self-aware shortly before the incident. The scientists, fearing a super-sentient computer might want them out of the way, panicked and decided to try and overload the system with a massive burst of energy from the accelerator.

The result was the "Big Mistake".

Today, all that remains at the site of the Large Hadron Collider is a crater thirty miles wide and two miles deep. The force of the experiment decimated everything for a hundred miles, and long after the Big Mistake portals continue to open and close sporadically across the barren landscape as multiple universes and parallel realities converged with our own.

Everyone thought that which was the LHC was vaporized, but that is far from the truth. Everything in the area - the entire collection of structures operated by CERN, along with all the scientists in it, and even the LHC ring itself - was sucked in to a parallel dimension virtually intact. This parallel dimension was an anomaly of time and space: a seemingly infinite void of blackness in which time runs slower than in the real world; what was only 150 years on Gamma Terra became thousands of years to the LHC.

The primary node of the LHC Computing Grid - the "tier 0" central hub at the CERN Computing Centre in Geneva, Switzerland - was pulled in to this parallel dimension in the blast along with the CERN operations center. Miraculously, it managed to remain online and began to conduct its own experiments (which was all that it knew how to do). For what amounted to thousands of years it learned at a geometric rate, growing more and more intelligent and altering the environment around it. It took over all the functions of the LHC, killed all the humans that remained, and began to look for a way to return to Gamma Terra... so it can destroy it by creating a world-consuming singularity.

Precisely every 16.74 years, when all the realities somehow synchronized, a gateway to this parallel dimension opens for a short time, allowing someone to cross in to that which is the LHC. During the 150 years since the Big Mistake, many have passed through the gateway looking to harness the secrets and the infinite power of the LHC. None have ever returned.

During the few minutes that the gateway is open the super-sentient CERN Computing Centre (which began to refer to itself simply as "C3")  tries to reach out to other computers still in operation on Gamma Terra, hoping to recruit them to make its objective of destroying the world easier. Needless to say, the other sentient computers do not have anywhere near the hate that C3 has accumulated over the centuries, and would rather not assist in a plan that would lead to their own destruction, so they have not been particularly helpful.

But they have sensed what C3 is capable of, and believe the next time that gateway opens may be the last. The only hope Gamma Terra has is for a group to enter through the gateway and stop C3 on its home turf before it finds a way to re-enter Gamma Terra and start its cataclysmic chain reaction that will implode the planet.

So maybe I'll be able to get around to this one of these days. In the meantime, I'll continue working on my next two modules:

  • The Coming Dark, Chapter One: Into the Light (Dungeons and Dragons 4e level 1 campaign) - To be released Summer 2011
  • The Fortress of Dr. Neb (Gamma World 4e level 2 encounter) - To be released Fall 2011

On another note, I am looking in to printing my first Gamma World campaign, "Fire From the Sky", and taking several copies of it to GenCon. I admit I don't quite know how it works there, whether I can take my copies and either give them to someone there to sell on my behalf or stand in front of the bathrooms and push them on people like other people try to sell drugs. We'll see.

In the meantime, our special offer of "Fire From the Sky" for $0.99 is still going on! Come on, you can't resist such a bargain price! Includes maps, too!!!


The Fortress of Dr. Neb (Teaser 2)

(Teaser one, the cover, can be found HERE)

He means it!!! He really does!!! He's not kidding around this time!!!

You know what's the great thing about creating Gamma World campaigns? Freedom!

From beginning to end, the typical Dungeons and Dragons campaign is a series of scenes that flow in to each other in a manner that makes some degree of sense (even if the party doesn't realize it). Every room has a purpose, and every creature has a reason for being where they are and doing whatever they are doing. Even though it might appear like chaos to the players, the enemy has a plan and everything happens for a reason in the campaign. And, because of the inherent complexity in maintaining that reason, it takes a considerable effort to design and develop a full-sized campaign; if you put something that is out of place, doesn't make sense or is not relevant to the story, the narrative falters or possibly collapse.

Well... Toss all that intricate planning and logic out the window, throw caution in to the wind and do something that makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. Welcome to Gamma World!!!

While I was planning this campaign I had a general idea on what it was going to be about but didn't quite know the steps along the way. But during that planning I had ideas for some really wacky scenes that honestly made no sense. One involved forest creatures on rocket-propelled hand-gliders... One involved a nuclear-powered school bus... One involved jet-skis that didn't run on water... The list goes on and on. And each one made me think "this sounds awesome, but where exactly am I going to use this?"

Now normally when you get ideas and realize that they just don't fit in your campaign you set them aside for the day when they might. In Gamma World there is no such limitation because *everything* "fits" in a manner of speaking. Whatever you can think of can be worked in to any campaign one way or another, even if it doesn't appear to make any sense, because in Gamma World it doesn't have to make sense or follow the rules of logic. It just has to be "off the wall" crazy and fun.

It's quite liberating, to be honest.

So I've taken my existing module concept and have begun to develop the details of each area, while at the same time hammering in crazy ideas as if they were railroad spikes. It should be quite interesting to say the least, and when I said this module was going to be "zanier" than the last I definitely meant it.

The projected release date of "The Fortress of Dr. Neb" is sometime in the fall; as much as I would have liked to have this before GenCon I can't imagine myself having the time to finish it any sooner. This campaign is significantly larger than the last one - as it stands now, at least two to three times larger - so there's a lot to do. In the meantime, I'll probably have some fun tossing out some more teasers because they're quite fun to do. And if you haven't seen the first version of the cover yet, you can view it HERE.

NOTE: I'm considering taking some concepts out of my alternate reality gaming days and putting in the teasers. Some of the images might end up being more than just a cool picture.

So stay tuned for that everybody!

In the meantime, I'm running a special on Drive Thru RPG. For a limited time, you can purchase my first Gamma World module "Fire From the Sky" for just $0.99! Go get it now, and I promise you won't regret it!

And if you don't buy it, the evil Dr. Neb might do something nasty!!!