And my girlfriend likes UL and DHC
And she’s so smart and independent
I don’t think she needs me
Quite half as much as I know I need her
I wonder why there’s not another guy she’d prefer

Yeah my girlfriend takes collect calls from the road
And it doesn’t seem to matter that I’m lacking in the bulge
She laughs at my dumb jokes when no one does
She brings me Mexican food from Sombrero just because

Quote  —  Posted: April 16, 2014 in Uncategorized
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The development of the first official game setting for the Singularity System, Setting Module 00: Systems Malfunction (based on my long-running LARP of the same name) has been pretty much a goddamn nightmare. A nightmare of the endlessly recurring kind. The reason for this is no mystery: this is the first time that End Transmission has sought to publish a work of which I was not the sole primary author, and I am far better at producing my own content than I am at managing the content ouput of others. The fact of the delays was no surprise either, but the scale of them is staggering.

Some history: in January of last year, I began developing the Sol Invictus setting for the Singularity System. I realized that I could not possibly develop BOTH the Sol Invictus setting and the Systems Malfunction setting for tabletop and meet a reasonable production schedule (i.e. a GenCon ’13 release), so I decided that I would outsource the development of the Systems Malfunction setting book to an independent contractor familiar with the universe and subject matter. It soon became clear that no matter what, the Sol Invictus setting would take years for me to bring to fruition (which should have clued me in to something), but the choice to put the Systems setting book in someone else’s hands had been made, and there was nothing to be done about it. (As of now, only 110 .doc pages and 36,000 words of Sol Invictus exist, meaning that the first draft is nowhere near complete.)

The project was assigned by February of 2013, but we did not issue a contract until May of that year due to general inexperience at business, and more importantly, we were working our butts off making games.

Our plan was for a GenCon 2013 release of the Systems setting book, following hot on the heels of the Singularity System which we managed to release at Origins 2013 to modest sales (we’d initially been planning on releasing THAT at Lunacon to substantially modester sales, but that’s another story and a far less outrageous one). Contracted deadlines were missed again and again throughout July, and things became increasingly quite tense. By the time we got anything resembling a completed manuscript, it was mid-September, two months behind schedule, and GenCon had come and gone. At that point we were dealing with the stress of moving, and neither of us was looking forward to rush-processing the draft for a Con on the Cob October release. We wound up calling in sick from Con on the Cob entirely last year.

It’s a good thing we didn’t try to go to print with that manuscript, because it wasn’t actually complete at all. It took me entirely too long to realize this, as I spent three months going and carefully editing (for content and format) the rules section, before I could take a month to carefully review the setting chapter (editing again for content and format) and realize that some of it in fact was missing. At this point, it was January of this year. I had gotten over the extreme rage at all the missed deadlines between July and September, and was feeling a bit live-and-let-live. So never one to realize that a fire tends to burn rather consistently so you shouldn’t thrust your hand in it twice, I reached out to the original author. Could he deliver all of the missing and incomplete content by February 8th, so that we could get the book to print for a March Lunacon release? Of course he could, he assured me, no problem.

As of this writing it is February 25th and I still do not have a complete manuscript for layout: it is completely impractical, if not impossible, to publish this book for a Lunacon release, since Lunacon is in less than three weeks and the layout-to-publishing-to-shipping process involves several proofing stages and is rather time consuming. The complete draft is, as of this writing, 225 days late, also equivalent to seven months and 10 days, also equivalent to 32 weeks and one day. Oh well, there is always Origins. Maybe we will have a book by then. Anything is possible. This cannot all be blamed on the contractor. The truth is that the sheer scale and enormity of the project, the book, and the content it contains has expanded and expanded with seemingly every other revision and addition that we’ve done recently. Even culling everything not absolutely necessary, which I have been doing for months now, this project has lost weeks and weeks to the phenomenon software developers identify as scope creep.

In all seriousness, I can’t say that I have only myself to blame for this. But I also can’t say I don’t blame myself.

And all of this is…OK. I’ll repeat that, all of this is OK, just growing pains (even if some are more painful than others), mistakes we can afford to make, and learn from, and not make again, like the shipping thing last year. The truth is, we are (fortunately) on steady enough financial footing that this doesn’t knock us out of business as a company, and (fortunately or unfortunately) at this point we’re still very much under the radar. This is a book almost no one has heard of being talked about in a blog post that almost no one is reading. There are no legions of fans crashing our gates with rage that this book is seven months late (something that, I understand, happens even to the biggest in the business) and I am, perversely enough, almost grateful for that at this stage. It is bad enough dealing with my own frustrated expectations.

One lives, and one learns, and one continues to make games.

Wow: we’re a week into 2014 and predictably I’ve never felt more like I’m actually living in the future. Time flies, and it does so at a terrifying rate.

So End Transmission Games has been basically underground/off the grid for almost half a year now. I know from a business/marketing perspective, going dark for that long is virtually inexcusable. The reasons are pretty simple, beyond the state of reclusive, hermit-like silence that is naturally my most comfortable mode of being. After GenCon ’13, we were completely exhausted. Then we had to move into a new apartment pretty much immediately, which left us in whatever state comes after exhausted, when you become exhausted while already exhausted. Double-exhausted? Actually dead? I don’t know. (Upshot of the move was that we now have a real warehouse/office, kind of, making storing and inventorying our stock less of a nightmare.)

After getting settled in, we resolved to take a while (i.e. the month of October) to recover from the move and the busy con season, catch our breath, regain our sanity, and so on. But by the time we were feeling even slightly recovered, the holidays were upon us like a pack of wolves. All of this was the real life equivalent of, when in a fighting game, you get knocked up into the air by a move and then repeatedly kicked/punched in an air-juggle combo before you can even fall to the ground, let alone stand up.

But it’s 2014 and we’re back on the grid, up and running, out of the polar vortex. Future posts will come in weeks, not months. They will reveal things like our upcoming con schedule and the details of our upcoming product release schedule. In the mean time, here’s a real brief look at the stuff that’s coming up in 2014 from End Transmission Games.

  • Setting Module 00: Systems Malfunction for The Singularity System. If there’s ever been a project a long ass time in the making, this is it. We’ve been working on the translation of the Systems Malfunction setting to the Singularity System non-stop since this time last year, but the SysMal setting itself has been around since two thousand aught five. Yeowza! That’s nine years! (And much, much longer if you count the indie videogams it’s based on, but let’s not go too crazy.) Anyway, Setting Module 00 brings the obscure-yet-beloved setting of the Systems Malfunction LARP to your tabletop (finally!). Even more importantly, it’s an intricate, detailed setting book that gives you absolutely everything you need to embark on your own thrilling, awesome, epic spacepunk in the Singularity System. What do I mean by everything? I mean the full download on ancient history and recent events, races, major and minor factions, the galaxy’s power players and their dirty secrets, the social impact of modern tech, bio-augmentation, psionic talents, transference cloning, and aetherial magic, entertainment, culture, and society, a planetary gazetteer, plus expanded rules for: character creation, playable xel, celestial, verkulaks, and replicants, expanded personal combat, new bioaugmentations, new psionic talents, complete rules for aetherial magic, extra lives through transference cloning, consumer nanofacturing and you, new traits, racial abilities, new guns, swords, grenades, ammo, energy weapons, giant fightan robots, starfighters, starships, machines, NPC stats…I could go on, but I won’t. But I could. Ten pounds of awesome, one pound can. Open with care. Now this release has been delayed time and time again as the content has grown and grown and grown. We’re now cautiously optimistic for a March, 2014 release date to coincide with the opening of the Systems Malfunction LARP’s newest season.
  • New releases (finally) for our transgressively-meta, crazy weird indie RPG S.P.L.I.N.T.E.R.! SPLINTER’s been out since March of 2012 without a new release, but we haven’t forgotten it. What new releases 2014 may portend I can’t decisively say yet, but we’ve been thinking about Superstar Profiles for a few of EBC’s most famous (and infamous) players, featuring full backstories, story hooks, and/or game stats (for the players and their Avatars). And a treasure trove of new monsters and a menagerie of new treasure for the Splinter have been in the works for years now, and may make it to publication this year.
  • We will be Kickstarting our brand new RPG, Psionics! I am more than stoked about this. Psionics is a storytelling game set in the present day about teenagers and adults with dangerous and volatile psychic powers, and the shadowy organizations out to manipulate and control them. It uses the DicePunk System first seen in our Ennie Award nominated Phantasm(2010), but it features entirely new character types, enemies, and abilities, as well as a completely different genre: a dark, postmodern present day thriller, inspired by works like Akira and Firestarter. Look for it on Kickstarter a little later this year!

All that and more from ETG going forward into 2014. Some of these deserve (and should get) blog posts of their own in the near future, especially that last one!

Made it to, through, and back from GenCon alive. Some candid impressions/highlights, in virtual stream of consciousness fashion (but with bullet points). As I type up these recollections I can’t help but feel like I’m forgetting dozens and dozens of things. Probably so, honestly, my mind feels shattered and, horror of horrors, I’ve got another convention to take on starting tomorrow. Still here’s what I can currently remember.

  • Many thanks to David and Filamena from Machine Age/Onyx Path for making our attendance possible. I think we still need to iron out some details if we’re going to go splits on a booth for next year, but the assist on the last day logistics was really clutch.
  • The overestimated initial print run of The Singularity System continues to be a large, heavy, expensive, inconvenient albatross around End Transmission’s proverbial neck. No surprises there.
  • As I’ve hinted in the past, GenCon is really not friendly to small companies. In fact, GenCon hates small companies. I think the real problem is their priority points system, which is a Catch 22 that would make Joseph Heller blush. Basically, the placement of your booth determines your sales. Exiled in “exhibitor siberia” in the far rear right corner like we were, you only see a tiny percentage of the foot traffic that you would if your booth was closer to front and center. What’s more, the people you see have passed through the entire commercial/retail gauntlet, and have become mentally jaded and financially exhausted. Your booth placement is determined by a Priority Points system. The more conescutive years you’ve been exhibiting at GenCon, and the more money you’ve put into Sponsoring GenCon (or so I gather, the specifics online are distressingly elusive and I’d appreciate any hot tips or leads into deciphering it all), the more Priority Points you have. The more Priority Points you have, the better your booth placement. But coming to GenCon consecutively is expensive, and expenses require revenue from sales. Ergo, your shitty booth placement means you lose money, and you must suffer through several consecutive years of losing money in order to qualify for slightly better booth placement and maybe stop losing money. It sucks, and what makes matters worse is that the Priority Points go only to the company that serves as the primary contact point with GenCon, the guys whose names are on the booth application. In this way, and because priority points seem to be non-transferable, the priority points system strongly discourages booth co-ops and booth sharing, a la the old Adept Press/Forge booth. So basically, End Transmission sat through a year of shitty placement and shitty sales, and because our booth didn’t SAY End Transmission on it, we don’t even have the priority points to show for it to improve our standing next year. Fuck.
  • We did not win an Ennie award. On the other hand, we were seriously overdressed, so I’ll take some consolation in that. Also it was a big honor and delight just to be nominated. And my condolences to the good folks at Hero Games, my understanding is they went 0 for 6 this year. Personally speaking, I was glad that there was a reasonably priced cash bar to dull the pain.
  • I actually met Kevin Siembieda, who is more or less virtually universally reviled on the internet, moreso than any other personality in gaming I can think of. Yet when I met him at the Palladium booth, the impression I was left with was that he was one of the sweetest, nicest people I had ever met. He signed my copies of Rifts UE and Chaos Earth, and even threw in a free promo copy of Northern Gun just because I was a guy that shook his hand and talked to him; that’s a big deal as certain game companies (*ahem*) are very stingy with free copies. I was blown away; my mind could not handle the paradox.
  • Actually played in an enjoyable convention game (for once), a World of Darkness joint called “Immanentize The Eschaton” (I was sold on the name) run by ceremonial magician, author, and podcaster James L. Wilber. One of the most interesting people I’ve ever met, although he denies it. I’m partway through his novel now.
  • Played my first ever game of BattleTech, kind of, and the Catalyst Demo Agent running the “boot camp” (as they call it) sold me. I think I might have a new fandom/addiction in the making. The BattleTech Starter Box Set proves incredibly difficult to find, however, not just at the convention exhibitor’s hall, but on the internet at large.
  • Shook hands and rapped with Dennis Detwiller, one of the creator of the Delta Green RPG/Campaign Setting which I’ve been in love with since high school. Swoon!
  • Grabbed Scott Holden of OneBookShelf at the DriveThruRPG Booth, talked his ear off about how freaking hard it is to be an indie publisher. He told me to follow up on the conversation and I intend to.
  • Concluding the “People I Met” saga, ran into the guys from Daydreamer Interactive. It was their first GenCon as Exhibitors also, just like us, and it seemed like they were having an even weekend than we were. Swapped them copies of Splinter, Phantasm(2010), and The Singularity System in exchange for soft and hardcover copies of their new post-apocalyptic RPG, Infinum, which looks gorgeous.
  • Oh yeah, we actually sold some books. Again, I’m not ashamed of our gross, and if it was just the booth cost to balance against, we’d have done better than break even. But when you factor in travel, lodging, shipping, and logistics, we’re deep in the red.
  • It seems like it is really nice to have an established following. No, I don’t mean us. Machine Age folks had tons of friends from the internet, pre-sold customers who’d heard of them from Kickstarter stopping by to pick up their books. I was mad jealous.
  • David and Filamena left before I could trade my games with them for a copy of Apothoesis Drive X, Amaranthine, and their two Kinko’s games about the apocalypse. I wanted to pick up ADX for Evan, but I wanted the rest for myself.
  • Given business cards by several printer/print consolidators/manufacturers who make cards and packaging and the like. Assuming I didn’t lose these cards, visions of designing board and/or card (collectible and/or deckbuilding) games are dancing through my head.
  • That brings me to the final category, stuff I bought: now the proud owner of a weird-ass set of novelty dice, including d5, d7, d14, d16, d18, d24, and so on. From the same place, purchased a “band of orcs” mini set that appears to be an orcish metal band; incredibly Shadowrun for something not associated with Shadowrun. Speaking of Shadowrun, in spite of my best intentions I picked up the $100.00 Limited Edition Shadowrun 5th Core Rulebook with red leather dragon-embossed cover and gold-leaf edged pages. To my credit, this is mitigated slightly by the fact that I did not purchase the $200 Mayan Edition. Purchased various apparel, which I won’t detail here; if you know me in real life then you can appreciate the dark nerdery of my wardrobe. I also bought an awesome looking indie RPG called Misspent Youth from IPR. It seems like it’s right up my alley, conceptually if not mechanically. And…honestly that’s just scratching the surface of the crap I bought, and I’m out of time to make this blog post. So maybe I’ll follow up with a “more crap I bought at GenCon” post, because there were some really interesting finds.

So this time next week I’ll be deeply embroiled in the yearly melting pot/crazed extravaganza of gaming culture that is GenCon. This will be our third year in attendance. To run down previous GenCons…

2011: Went largely to help out CGL with GMing Shadowrun. Mikaela came along but was fully in the midst of experiencing extreme personal/family tragedy, and left early. End Transmission Games did not exist yet, and no effort was made to promote my own stuff.
2012:  No personal tragedies this year, but when Mikaela and I went we were both dreadfully physically ill with some terrible death plague. Especially me. We carted a ton of Splinter books, and tried to run some demos, but no one had heard about our demos and and we had nowhere to sell our books. Net loss to our fledgling company: just thousands and thousands of dollars. One demo was a complete no-show, and the next was a big success…but I don’t really know what I was expecting since we didn’t have a booth, and with the rate they go at, it didn’t seem like we’d ever be able to afford one.  Anyway, my full wrap-up of GenCon 2012 is here.

(It’s been a pattern since at least 2010 (pre-End Transmission, when we were just trying to promote Systems) that we go to conventions knowing we’ll lose money on it as a given, but hoping that the word of mouth we spread will make up for it. Then of course, we’re both too shy and socially reticent/awkward (news flash: other people are terrifying, and it’s even worse with fellow geeks) to be remotely extroverted enough to actually spread said word of mouth.)

This year, though, I like to think we’re locked, cocked, and ready to rock.

Here’s the rundown of End Transmission’s GenCon appearance this year, and the products we’ll have on offer.

* We’re sharing a booth in the mighty mighty dealer’s hall with David Hill and Filamena Young of Machine Age Productions. Specifically it is booth #1956 and we should be there most or all of the con. Stop by! We’ll have all the following there:

* Singularity System Core Rulebook.

* Singularity System Gameplay Modules Biotech and Wild Talents.

* Brand New, Never Before Sold Singularity System Gameplay Module: Firefight! This is The Singularity System’s main personal combat module, and it includes rules for personal combat, including new actions, new maneuvers, 40 new weapons, and new options for customizing personal weapons and armor. 

* S.P.L.I.N.T.E.R. 

* Ronnie award winning storygame Anathema.

* ENnie award nominated fan RPG Phantasm (2010).

* We’re running one demo of the Singularity System ourselves, from 3-7 at Room #302 in the JW Marriott on Friday. There will also be other demos running Friday Morning and Sunday Morning, location to be announced.

* We’ll be at the Ennie Awards Ceremony right after our demo, to watch Phantasm(2010) probably not win. 

That about covers it! See you there!

So the cat’s already out of the bag that Phantasm(2010) has been nominated for an Ennie Award for Best Free Game. I fully don’t expect to have any shot at actually winning, because I know what our sales are like, and from that I can extrapolate how many…er…few…people have heard of us, but still, even being nominated for something like this is a great big delight and a great big honor. Not to mention a great big shock!

Phantasm is among the very first games I ever designed; the original version of it dates back to 2004, or even earlier. If memory serves, originally, I began developing the game, on my laptop one morning at my friend John’s house actually, as an act of pure fannish enthusiasm for the old b-movies of the same name. I did not once consider things like if this idea was saleable, if anyone else was interested in playing this concept, etcetera. All I knew is, I wanted there to be a Phantasm roleplaying game so I could play one, with the obscurity of the source material, no one else was likely to make one for me (fun fact: I wassss wronnnnnggggggg, but I wouldn’t find out that my idea had already been gnabbed by Jared Goddamn Sorensen of Lacuna fame until years too late), so I’d better do it myself.

And I did.

The results were…mixed. As you can imagine with any first serious effort at game design, first effort at adapting non-interactive source material for interactive play, and so on. I was, after all, only 18.

Fast forward a bit…

When in 2010 I vowed to spend the year rebuilding my mechanically crappy, deeply flawed old Phantasm game (entitled Phantasm D6) from the ground up, again there was no thought of if this idea would “sell”. This second take at Phantasm, to be completed by 2010–hence the title, Phantasm(2010)–wasn’t motivated fanboyish glee for the source material like my first go-through. This time I was completely obsessed with the idea of creating something that was mechanically vastly better than my first attempt. I thought I had learned a lot about game design in the last five or six years (from running my own LARP for years, from playing and GMing a ton of different tabletop RPGs with a ton of different people, and so on) and I wanted to bring all of that newly minted knowledge and experience to an idea I thought deserved a better treatment than my adolescent self had managed. There’s no way I was going to come up with a game that was mechanically perfect, especially as a one-man show  taking on a full length, full-sized RPG. Phantasm(2010) is a full-length RPG, at 56,000 words in manuscript form and 218 pages in print, comparable in sheer size and scope to the heavy duty corebooks adorning some of your shelves. I knew there was room in there for a lot more source material taken from other beloved grindhouse horror movies of the 70s’, 80s’, 90s’, and 2000s, and I squeezed it all in. I knew it wouldn’t be perfect, and it wasn’t, but it was a heck of a lot better than my last attempt, which was gratifying. There was no thought of making money off it, obviously, as it was a completely derivative fanwork: that’s why it remains in the *Free Game* category in spite of the production values.

I first gave Phantasm away for free on the Forge forums (in the dwindling days of that place) in January or February or 2011, a release marked with not even a piffle or a tumbleweed. It was just a big 143 page PDFified .doc with no art assets to speak of. No one would download it, even for free, to tell me what they thought. I was a bit disheartened and disappointed, not really realizing. I don’t have the time right now to explain the form of limited dementia that made me think the Forge was the kind of place you’d go to find people who want to *PLAY* homebrew RPGs, rather than just the kind of people interested in making them. I also didn’t realize that Phantasm(2010) wasn’t exactly the kind of “Indie” The Forge was into.

Now, backed by the amazing production values afforded to me by publishing as End Transmission Games my “this is way too obscure for anyone but me to show an interest in” fangame has been nominated for a gosh-darn Ennie award. I’m flabbergasted, but happy. Words fail. Who knows, maybe we’ll even break the top 100 small press on DriveThru…but I doubt it. : P

Speaking of things that make my heart soar, back at Origins 2013 I got to meet the incomparable Steve Long, the superhuman, (seemingly) single-handed creator of the massive pile of Hero System books I own. I gave him a copy of the Singularity System core rulebook that we were launching at that convention (just *slightly* overshadowed by the SR5 launch, as you can see on the front page of http://rpg.drivethrustuff.com/), mainly to lighten the heavy load of books and shame we’d have to carry home. He was kind enough to give us a shout out on his blog, which I have to admit made my inner fanboy squeal with furious glee.

I already gave the “secret origins” of Phantasm(2010) (ok, not so secret, I love Phantasm, I made a shitty game about it, I learned a little about game design and made a markedly LESS shitty game about it), so let me wrap up with a bit about the origins of The Singularity System, our current flagship product. The short version, because it strikes me this may be running long.

I mentioned a larp earlier. Well…since 2005 I’ve run a science fiction LARP of my own devising and creation. Mechanically it’s evolved from a first incarnation as a bastardized derivative of Tales Of The Dreaming which itself evolved as a bastardized derivative of NERO; but that’s neither here nor there. LARPing is great, and using your imagination is great, but there are things in my imagination that LARPing doesn’t work great for: like massive space battles between cruisers, carriers, destroyers, and squadrons of fighters and bombers, or massive land battles between towering mechs, menacing tanks, and assault choppers. Also, I noticed that not only did LARPing not work as a way of roleplaying that kind of action, but the vehicle combat rules in most tabletop games I had played were sorely, sorely lacking.

Initially, the Singularity System was just Systems Malfunction The Tabletop game; but then I realized that a) that would be creating yet another game system inexorably tied to an obscure Intellectual Property virtually no one has heard of b) with a few tweaks here and there, I could create a set of core rules for doing science fictiony stuff, starship, and vehicle combat that would work for Systems Malfunction, and could be customized to work for any other science fiction setting I could think of, from Star Wars to Star Trek to Battlestar Galactica to Stargate to…Aliens. Ran out of things with “Star” in them. So that’s exactly what I did, and since then I’ve been pitching Singularity as being to science fiction what D&D is to fantasy; a generic, highly modular toolkit for creating your own setting and stories within that milieu.

Where I’m going with all this is that Singularity System hasn’t actually been set up to work as Systems Malfunction the Tabletop Game, until now. Meaning my friends and I wanting to stage un-LARP-friendly adventures in that beloved (if obscure) universe we’d created were out of luck. Again, until now.

Coming soon, and if we’re really lucky (verging on the miraculous) maybe even coming by GenCon, the Systems Malfunction Setting Module, SET #00 for the Singularity System, is being written. Has been being written since February or so and is now desperately speeding towards completion. It will come with a “default” setting for The Singularity System full of history, personality, and character–a setting years in the making, authored by dozens of people over tens of thousands of man-hours. And it will, combining like Voltron with the Singularity System, make Systems Malfunction the Tabletop Game a possibility. At last.

Eventually.

If not that, we are cooking up a little something else for the upcoming Gencon, as a contingency plan of sorts, so keep a lookout.

- DTO (MM) Out

lol anger management

This is what I did to my poor computer monitor when I punched it upon receiving an e-mail communication I really, really didn’t like when I was already in a terrible fucking mood trying to get confirmation of insurance coverage without success for the nth month in a row.

I am the king of anger management skillz.

Image  —  Posted: July 2, 2013 in Uncategorized
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