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



In Response to Threat of Arrest

I know I haven't posted here in a while, but something came up that required me to respond.

You see, this morning I was threatened with felony arrest by George Jones, creator of Crom: Unchained

Now I bet you're asking... "Who?!?" Well, that's complicated.

You see, the blog in question was originally maintained by a company called Murfreesboro Publishing, which was owned and operated by Dave Johnson, alleged author of Star Frontiers: New Genesis.

I'm guessing that, due to his social media exploits being very well documented, Dave Johnson would definitely want to reimagine himself... or go into hiding... or perhaps fake his own death... but whatever happened, two days ago Dave Johnson and Murfreesboro Publishing vanished, and a new entity appears: George Jones and Nashville Publishing and Printing. Were you bought out, Dave? The rebranding is remarkably thorough... If so, congratulations!

As far as I can tell, George Jones is new to the internet. After all, he didn't even have a Google account until yesterday, which is remarkable in this day and age. I honestly didn't know who George Jones was until two days ago, and yet he felt the need to seek out an old YouTube video of mine and comment. So who's stalking who exactly, George Jones?

So, all that being said, George Jones - not Dave Johnson, honest - is now threatening me with felony arrest for "cyberstalking". Which... let's face it... is ludicrous. I have not made any personal attacks, and if I'm guilty of anything it's incorrectly crediting George Jones' work on Crom: Unleashed to Dave Johnson, which Dave Johnson clearly has nothing to do with, George Jones.

So let me respond to the above accusations, point by point.

  1. If anything, I apologize for incorrectly crediting the work on Crom: Unleashed to Dave Johnson, who clearly has nothing to do with it as it's all being created by George Jones of Nashville Printing and Publishing. I don't feel I need to apologize for anything else, or take down anything I've already said in the past, as it's all protected by my First Amendment right to free speech.
  2. I'm not harassing you, George Jones. I'm documenting your public postings about the creation of an RPG, and detailing what's wrong with it. I'm trying to help you be a better RPG designer, really I am. If anything, I might be speaking poorly of Dave Johnson, but that's not you, right?
  3. I am merely reiterating things that you post on a public forum. If you don't want that analyzed, don't post it publicly, George Jones.
  4. I cannot control the actions of people I know on the internet. I can tell them to stop whatever they're doing (if you're reading this: please... stop....), but they have no obligation to listen to me.
  5. "Shilling" isn't a racist word, last I checked. Do you have an alternative word you'd prefer, George Jones?
  6. I'm not sure what "bot" you're referring to... The only "bot" tweet I've made reasonably recently wasn't directed at you; it was directed at Gail Simone, and - unlike you - she gets the joke. As far as I recall, I never suggested making any sort of bot targeting you, George Jones.

So, as far as the threat of arrest... I've checked with my own legal representative - who happens to be a corporate attorney for Fox Broadcasting and the Walt Disney Company - and she's stated that, not only does your case has no merit, but she would be happy to represent me in court. And since she's reasonably cost effective for me - she is my sister, after all (and several friends on Twitter will confirm that, trust me) - it won't really phase me that much, George Jones. If it somehow goes to trial, the discovery phase should be quite fun... just ask your friends at TSR what's that like. I'm sure they're figuring it out as we speak.

Also, and I won't repost your emails because you asked me not to, but you seem annoyed that I and several other people emailed you... For future reference, it was probably unwise to post your email address on a public venue. Just sayin'.

Finally, I get the anxiety thing. Publishing an RPG, or creating any product really, is a harrowing experience. You think this is bad, you should try video game development. All I can say is that you have to adapt to the adversity, and if it's still giving you more anxiety than you can handle maybe you should consider another industry, George Jones.

If you have any more problems with anything I've said, do let me know. You know where to find me.

In the meantime, I'll keep reporting industry news as I see it, which is my right under the First Amendment.


A New Year

Holy hell, has it really been ten months since I've posted on this site? I gotta start remembering this thing exists.


Well it has finally come and gone... 2018 has been the longest decade in my life, and I think I can say the same for many of you out there.

Looking Back

There have been a few people posting about what their highlights for the past year were. Well, here are mine:

  • Published Festival of Magic on the DM's Guild, which - in comparison to everything I've published - is one of my personal favorites.
  • Funded the Kickstarter for the 5th Edition conversion of A Night in Seyvoth Manor, and delivered the product before Halloween. It has since become my one and only "Copper seller" on DriveThruRPG.
  • Had my craptastic Bahamut, The Platinum Dragon - which is literally nothing but a stat block, a shoddy one at that, and contains no lore or art - become a "Copper seller" on the DM's Guild. I mention this only because, so far, it is the only Copper product I've done on my own in the DMG.
  • Collaborated on Storm King's Barrows: Tombs and Crypts of the North, which has since become a "Silver seller" on the DM's Guild. Not my best work, but arguably my most revenue-producing thing all year.
  • Released The Absent-Minded Alchemist, which was a bit of a "meh" product to start but was easy to convert from 4E.
  • Funded another Kickstarter for my social adventure Uninvited Guests, which has since been renamed to Party Crashers. This Kickstarter was a "proof of concept" - to see if I can do quick and dirty one-offs with a low funding goal - and it worked, so expect me to do more of this in the coming year.
  • Launched a Patreon! And the TWO backers I have so far are getting lonely, so...

That's pretty much it. It's not a lot... At a personal level, 2018 has been somewhat difficult in terms of my home life and my financial situation, and those situations are, by nature, not conducive to creativity, so I've been in a bit of a rut. But, all in all, it went better than 2017 in some regards, so there's that.

Looking Forward

So what does 2019 have in store? Honestly, I don't know yet... But here are some goals.

  • Finish Uninvited Guests Party Crashers in the near future.
  • Do several more Kickstarters like
    Uninvited Guests Party Crashers over the course of the year.
  • See what the hell I'm finally going to do with the complete The Coming Dark campaign as well as Atomic Age. There's a lot to be done on those, and I question whether the effort is worth it right now.
  • Cater to my Patreon backers more, in that I'll be creating more "behind the scenes" posts and videos (maybe). In the meantime, hope to get more than... well... two... Patreon backers.
  • Hopefully set up a regular game with... somebody...
  • Maybe go to GenCon. I don't know yet... I need to see if the expense really is worth it.
  • Sort out my personal and financial situations so that I can do this kind of stuff more readily and with less guilt.

If you're reading this, you're one of the reasons I press on. Thank you for your support, and I hope to show you a lot more cool things in 2019.

Ever forward.


A Developer’s Hell

Gosh, it's been a while... To say my life has been hectic, or difficult, is somewhat of an understatement. So much so that I have had to effectively cancel my trip to GenCon this year because I see no way whatsoever that it can be logistically or financially possible. So, to those of you that are going, I will have no choice but to experience it vicariously through you.

Meanwhile, my little pet project - the Atomic Age RPG - has been languishing in something I can only describe as "development hell". Or maybe "launch a Kickstarter hell", if such a thing exists.

Here are my concerns with the project:

1) I have no art

Right now, at this very moment, I can probably launch a Kickstarter, distribute or sell the product... but I can't bring myself to do that. You see, right now at it stands it's nothing more than a text dump, an almost identical copy of the Archmage Engine SRD with some words and numbers changed. That does not make for a successful RPG by any means, and I feel that if I were to do that the product wouldn't last a day before disappearing into obscurity.

If I'm going to do this I'm going to do this right, which means that I need some sort of art. And there are many levels that need to be covered by art...

  • I don't even have a LOGO yet
  • The Kickstarter listing alone needs some sort of art
  • The core book needs art. A LOT of art, quite frankly
  • Everything else (stretch goals, backer rewards, etc...) needs art

Now I know a handful of artists I want to approach with this project, and I have even had business-like discussions with them, but with all of them there is a cost to get this off the ground. Maybe some will do it free, I don't know... I didn't ask and I don't want to ask. Like I said, I want to do this right: I do not want contributions or charity. I'm going to treat this like a business, which means I will pay my artists what the market bears.

That being said, although the cost of prettying up the core book and supplementals will be covered by the Kickstarter itself, the logo and Kickstart art will not and has to be paid first. The financial turmoils I've already mentioned make that rather difficult to do, and I can't bring myself to take the next steps without knowing - without a doubt - that I can afford my artists.

2) It hasn't been officially announced

I've mentioned the project in passing, and have even posted images of some of the content I've been working on, but it hasn't really been officially announced. There's a website, and a Facebook page, and a Twitter account... but few people know about it.

Why not? I don't have a logo, and for personal pride reasons I feel I can't start officially directing people to the social media venues without having a product identity.

So, until I can do that, they stay clouded in obscurity and amidst the whispers of a select few.

3) It hasn't been playtested

Because it hasn't been launched, few people know about it. Even fewer have actually seen it. Actually, I can only think of two people that have, and even those two have probably only glanced over it, figuring I wasn't quite serious about this whole thing because I haven't done everything I mention above.

For that reason, I have no idea if what I'm doing is "right" or "broken". I don't know if I properly grasp the concepts and game style people expect or look forward to, or if I've created any single element that needs radical changing before it gets abused all to hell.

Granted, the playtesting could theoretically happen during or after the Kickstarter, but as a long time game designer it's a serious concern for me. I've had issues before with games that weren't properly tested... Sure, this isn't a video game, but I feel it needs an equal level of analysis and testing before getting anywhere near production.

4) It hasn't been edited

I'll be honest: I'm a lousy writer. And if you're a writer reading this, I bet you can admit (to yourself, at least) that in the early stages of your writing career you were a lousy writer too. Heck, there are probably several dozen grammatical errors and misspellings in this post alone (yes, I know they're there... No, don't point them out).

If I want to do this right, the game has to be the best that it can be, and for that an editor is absolutely necessary. Yes, I know that the editor can do his job pretty much at any time before the product reaches the final stages, but that would mean that the early "alpha" or playtest releases might end up looking like they were written by a child who can't speak English. Once again, personal pride steps in... You can be the creator of the best RPG the world has ever seen, but if you give it to the world using text that looks like it was written by a monkey with a typewriter it doesn't matter how good the game is.

5) It's not done

In the video game industry, there was a time when if you asked pretty much any video game developer when they were going to release their product they would answer without hesitation "when it's done" (I guess we can thank 3D Realms for that one). But the thing is, if it were entirely up to me and my creative flow, what exactly defines "done"? Honestly, I could keep writing content until the core manual is 3,000 pages. Who decides "OK, you can stop now and publish this"?

Furthermore, as many authors will probably attest to, it's hard to be satisfied with what you've written. When you think you're done, you look at it and think "you know, I didn't like [X]... let me fix that"... And six months and 400 pages of rewrites later you keep thinking the same thing. It's very hard for a writer to stop themselves because, in their eyes, it's never done... it's never perfect... and there's always room to do something better.

Let's look at the classic example of someone taking forever to write something: George R. R. Martin. Do you honestly think he sits down and starts writing page one, then as soon as he writes the last word of page 1,200 sends it off to the publisher and never thinks about it again? Heck no. Let's be realistic here, there probably is at least one version of The Winds of Winter that is already written cover to cover... He's knows it's terrible,  he's probably been writing and rewriting and rewording and fixing it for the last four years, and will probably keep doing that for another four years because that's the way he works. If he had someone that made him publish the books when they were ready, we'd have fifteen books in the series by now. They may not be as awesome as the five books we've seen (they'd probably suck, to be honest), but they'd be out there.

So unless you're George R. R. Freakin' Martin, eventually you have to put your foot down and say "OK, I might have spent five years rewriting this thing eighteen times, and I know it's probably the worst thing I've ever written, but I can't keep doing this until the end of time", send it to your publisher and hope that you're the only one that thinks it sucks.

I know a lot of things in my product are deficient, or "broken", or nothing more than a "// TODO" tag. It's personal pride again, preventing me from having anyone besides myself see how bad or lacking this product is. Every day I write something, even if it's a sentence or a paragraph or changing monster #135's Mental Defense stat... But I know that at some point I'm going to have to force myself to stop and let other people look at this mess.

Anyway, besides the personal issues I will not elaborate on here, I have a lot of things to do and a lot of battles with my own pride to overcome. This product will get done, sooner than later, and I just have to get my crap together to do it.

Until the Kickstarter launches, "ever forward..."


Brief Hiatus

Gosh, has it been that long since a post?

I've been in the process of moving in to a new(er) home, and it's been somewhat exhausting work so I have not had the chance to focus on some things I intended to post here.

To give you an idea of how busy I am, I was one of the first players GIBBED in the Fourthcore Team Deathmatch game... And that was just on the initiative roll!

Anyway... On the bright side I have everything moved, and arguably have an office now. Problem is that it has boxes stacked to the ceiling, and there's still a lot of work to do in the new home.

Sorry for the silence; things will be back on track soon!

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Cornering the Gamma World Market

I realized something today: I'm a published author! And it wasn't even planned!

For the past several months, I've been working on my own personal Citizen Kane (or Waterworld... Time can only tell): a massive Heroic tier campaign for Dungeons and Dragons 4e called The Coming Dark. And when I say "massive", I kind of mean it: part one of three is about 80% complete and already clocks in at a staggering 116 pages. It's so epic that nobody may ever play it, but it's something I want to do for my own personal gratification.

I've been working on it for months, doing all the maps, designing and redesigning each scene, creating each stat block, laying it all out in Adobe InDesign, playtesting it with at least three different "play by post" groups. It's been quite an undertaking, and the focus of most of my development efforts.

But about a month ago I decided to take a little diversion. Every now and then I get an idea that pops in to my head and I just can't get rid of, and have to actually create it in order to satisfy my subconscious. Usually this has taken many forms, but this was very specific: it was a Gamma World campaign.

NOTE: To avoid spoilers, I have chosen to make no reference to the module's contents.

So one week I decided to take a break from TCD and write a short delve for Gamma World called Fire From the Sky. It honestly didn't take much time to put together - probably no more than a few days for mechanic design, then several more days for map generation and layout - and was somewhat of an entertaining experience.

At the time of its writing, I didn't quite know what to do with it. I had read the 4e GSL but didn't know how it applied to publishing Gamma World content, so I sent a letter to Wizards of the Coast legal department hoping for clarification; I have yet to receive a response. At the same time, I submitted my Gamma World "pitch" to the Wizards of the Coast submission email address, and I got three responses back saying "we don't want Gamma World content." Well OK then.

So be it. One day I decided "what the hell, I've got nothing to lose" and published a free preview of the first two encounters on Drive Thru RPG while I prettied up the module for publication.

The free preview has over 300 downloads so far. Who knew there'd be that many?

At the same time I was preparing to post my module, I noticed something: Drive Thru RPG didn't really have a Gamma World category, so it lumped it together with the 4e/GSL content. Looking through the product list... I was virtually the only person creating Gamma World content!

I wasn't sure if Gamma World even had an audience; I could very well be creating something that nobody will ever use. But the module was done, and there was no reason to hold it back at this point.

When the module went up for sale, I immediately started receiving emails from would-be customers. Since Wizards of the Coast seems to have virtually abandoned Gamma World, fans of GW were excited to see actual content from someone. They began to praise my efforts before even seeing the module. They asked for tactical maps with 1" squares. They offered suggestions on how to continue it. And, today, I saw at least two people on Twitter mention that they were going to use my module with their gaming group. It's kind of a surreal experience. People like it, I think! 🙂

Almost everyone that communicated with me in one way or another had the same question "are you making another one?" A few even said they would buy it "regardless of price", which is flattering.

Making more Gamma World modules hadn't occurred to me until then, but I see now that there are many Gamma World fans out there that are desperate for new adventures and need someone to fill the void. I had found what is apparently an untapped market, a market long forgotten by Wizards of the Coast, a market that is just dying for someone to step up and create more stuff.

Well, if anyone's going to fill the void, might as well be me.

I have officially begun development on my next Gamma World module. I don't have a title for it, but here is a brief synopsis:

The town of Wildwood has taken some time to recover from the recent chaos, but it is finally back to its "normal" self... For one whole day. Then the swarms began: millions of rats, birds and insects poured over the nearby hill and assaulted the town, forcing everyone to seek shelter as they harried anyone and anything left in the open. Granted, one could argue that swarms of creatures were pretty common in Gamma Terra, but when a swarm of monkeys arrived in Wildwood handing out hand written death threats from someone called "Dr. Neb", it wasn't hard to see that this was far from ordinary.

[Name Pending] is a Gamma World campaign for five 2nd level characters, who must brave the swarms and other oddities to find this "Dr. Neb" and stop his nefarious plans!

As you can hopefully tell, this campaign will be a little more "off the wall" than my last one. It will also be longer; I'm debating whether to make it span one or two levels.

Maybe that's my calling in this crazy world: to be the authority on Gamma World. Well, we'll just have to see how things go, won't we?

Stay tuned for more information!