HERO System

Transmissions From The End #008

What’s up End Transmission fans, he said by way of greeting, unsure if he was addressing an actual group of people that actually exist or a figment of his fevered imagination.

This episode is a sneak preview of what we’ve got coming up for the year 2017. Because we’re still early in the year, be aware of all of the following: there are some things we want to keep under wraps for now, some things we haven’t figured out yet, and some things we haven’t even thought of yet. With all of those caveats at the way, let’s talk about some stuff. Here’s an update on almost everything.

Systems Malfunction

For over 10 years it was an amazing, awesome, experimental boffer LARP. Then it was a gigantic, bullet-stopping setting book for the Singularity System. Then last year in October you guys funded us so we could make Systems Malfunction–still powered by the Singularity System–a standalone RPG. Again, thanks!

But I really, really, really want the book to be full color because well…just look at all of this full color art we produced during the Kickstarter. It’s AMAZING! But we ran out of time on our KS more than $10,000 short of our Full Color stretch goal. We thought more about what an injustice it would be to have to grayscale down those images from glorious CMYK,  So we tightened our belts and crunched the numbers a bit and now we’ve got an IndieGoGo set up. If we can get $3,500 in the next 59 days or so, we can make the book full color, which would be so great. For those of you who already gave generously to the KS and are already getting SysMal, if you have any ideas for additional rewards we could offer you through the IndieGoGo, shoot ’em over to me.

As for production on the actual book, here’s a quick look behind the scenes. The manuscript is currently just a hair under 50,000 words. Probably about 10,000 of those words are boilerplate and need to be rewritten. As a point of reference, Psionics weighed in at 78,000 words and change, and that was before about 30,000 words of fictions. I anticipate needing to write approximately another 20-30k words before the manuscript is complete, not counting a 10,000 word piece of introductory fiction. The latter I won’t be writing myself, at least plant A is that I want to hire a famous writer to write it. Someone whose name you will have heard of. But you know, make plans and hear God laugh, all that stuff. Anyway, I don’t anticipate having much trouble finishing the text portion of the game that remains to be finished at the rate which I write/design games, but art and layout often take longer, and we won’t know if the remaining art we’re commissioning will be color or B&W for 60 days. Still, we should be in position to deliver on our promise of a GenCon 50 release date, barring any (further) unforeseen personal disasters. Backers will receive their books first where at all possible.

S.P.L.I.N.T.E.R.

Last year I tried to launch the SPLINTER “living campaign” and didn’t get anywhere with it so I’m really hoping to make it work this year. If you don’t know what a “living campaign” is, the idea that diverse groups of gamers are playing the same adventures in the same setting at different game tables at various conventions across the country. It’s synonymous with ordinary play. D&D, Pathfinder, and Shadowrun: Missions have all run successful living campaigns at some point in their lifecycles. I know that we won’t be able to orchestrate on that scale any time soon, but we’re also doing things a little bit differently in that it is a literal, cohesive campaign: players can play it from the beginning or jump in wherever, experiencing an epic story where their choices really matter (my plan is, like what many established living campaigns did to one degree or another, to gather data on the choices made by players and think about how those can effect the writing of future adventures).

The living campaign is called Glory & Gore.

We have three episodes already written, and I had planned on writing the fourth, fifth, and sixth episode some time this year before Origins. Whether we have three episodes or six for 2017 players, it should be hard for the living campaign to do worse than the sad story of 2016, where we only ultimately ran two four hour instances of the living campaign. I am hoping to have a GM team that can run at least 25 instances of Glory & Gore, or 100 hours of organized SPLINTER gameplay, over the course of 2017. Wish me luck.

In other SPLINTER news, we have a terrific (and terrifying) adventure coming out hopefully at this year’s I-CON called Return To The Dread Abyss Of The Digitarchs from Oubliette co-creator Richard Kelly who also lead the charge on the (free) SPLINTER QSR. Art direction on it is almost three weeks behind, so it maybe delayed to a Lunacon or Origins release. Having not written it myself, I can say it is one of the greatest published adventures I’ve ever seen, for any game system.

Finally, I have a vision of a SPLINTER box set which will include the most current printings of SPLINTER Core, Sometimes Little Wondrous Things, and Ugly Things, perhaps also the SPLINTER Quick Start Rules, and pamphlets with things like three new playable Bloodlines (!) and rules for Martial Arts in the Realm (both ones Players train in Earthside, and ones passed down by Bloodlines for Aeons).

Psionics

Only two major pieces of news on the Psionics front (although there is some more Dicepunk news in the following and final heading). The first is that we want to take steps towards mass-producing the Psionics comic in a normal comic book size/format and try to get it in the hands of brick & mortar and digital comics retailers. Quite simply, we feel it’s too good a comic to be restricted to the cozy niche of tabletop gaming. We want to get it out there in the world.

And I also want to write a sequel, which is…daunting. But I want a comic book series, and it was never meant to be a one-off. I’m going to have to nut up and do it eventually, but thinking on the fact that I procrastinated writing “Tomorrow’s Starlight” longer than I procrastinated writing anything in my adult life, it may be later rather than sooner.

Speaking of sequels, sales of The Pleasantville Project have been decent enough that we are seriously considering beginning work on its sequel, continuing the Eternal Storm Campaign that will walk Psionics players from the awakening of their gifts to the end of the world as they know it.

No Country For Great Old Ones

(First off, a DicePunk adventure I believe I mentioned on here last year, Escape From Cleveland is officially cancelled before entering production. It stopped being fun around the same time that Trump was elected, making the possibility of Trump’s presidency 100% terrifying and 0% funny. However, since Psionics is firmly set “now”,  Psionics fans deserve an update on how the Trump presidency has effected the secret factions of the Psionics universe, much as it’s shaken up everything in the real world. This update will be short, free, and most likely delivered through this blog.)

No Country For Old Men is an adventure we have in the works that will feature officially licensed game statistics for Delta Green, Savage Worlds, and HERO System, Fifth Edition, Revised (or FRED) in addition to our own Dicepunk system.

No Country For Great Old Ones will be an intense, southern fried crime drama with subtle elements of supernatural horror. It’s deeply inspired by the excellent film “Hell or High Water”: my basic thought process, having been playing a lot of Delta Green at the time was, wow, what if we threw some Mythos into this mix.

The Delta Green and HERO System rules deal directly with the Lovecraft mythos, while the Savage Worlds and DicePunk rules keep the same basic structure of the adventure, but use elements of the mythos that we developed for Phantasm(2010) in place of the Lovecraftian stuff (I finally saw Phantasm RaVager, and my feelings are mixed). No Country will be unique in a few ways besides having full stats for four different game systems. Namely, it is a “two sided” adventure (think of an old record, with an A side and a B side) where the PCs can be either the “cops” or the “robbers”. Once you’ve played through it from one side, you can play through it as the other side, and see how the other half lives, and see what formidable enemies your former characters make.

We could probably rush No Country into production in time for Origins of this year without a problem, but we’re also considering doing a Kickstarter for the adventure to raise awareness. That would delay its release until well, well after GenCon, however, since as a company rule we don’t launch a Kickstarter until we’ve delivered on the previous one.

That’s it for the fourth week of February and the first time I’ve managed to force myself to make a proper update this year. Tune in next Thursday or the following Thursday  (hopefully) for more Transmissions From The End.

<End Transmission>

 

 

Transmissions From The End #005 – Making Up For Lengthy Silence With Endless Rambling!

Sorry guys, I’ve been really fucking busy. The Kickstarter that is going to jump in about two weeks has been taking all my time getting ready for it. I am about excited enough to poop my pants. So I missed about two installments of Transmissions From The End, so I’ll try to make up for it by making this one triple length!

Guest Shit From Thom Caulfield:

I asked Devon if I could have a guest post and he was like “you can have a guest 1/8th of a post because I have a lot of shit to write get your own fucking blog man” and I was like “I will take what I can get!” so here goes.

I’m sad that I can’t post this to the big purple because fascism (hurray!) which we’ll probably have in real world American in about a month and five days (double hurray!) but here are the sample complications I came up with based on the movies that Fiasco abjectly failed to be the Roleplaying Game Version of.

////FARGO (1998)

-JERRY LUNDEGAARD-
* “What kind of trouble are you in, Jerry?”
* “This was supposed to be a no-rough-stuff type deal!”

-MARGE GUNDERSON-
* “Love ya, hon.”
* “There’s more to life than a little money, you know. Don’tcha know that? And here ya are, and it’s a beautiful day. Well. I just don’t understand it.”

-STEVE BUSCEMI-
* “… So maybe the best thing would be to take care of that, right here in Brainerd.”
* “You know these are the limits of your life, man! The rule of your little fuckin’ gate here! Here’s your four dollars, you pathetic piece of shit!”
* “Is this a fuckin’ joke here?”

-PETER STORMARE-
* “That’s a– that’s a fountain of conversation, man. That’s a geyser. I mean, whoa, daddy, stand back, man.“
* “I need … unguent.”

/////IN BRUGES (2008)

-RAY-
* “One of the girls they murdered WASN’T a friend of mine. I just wanted to make you feel bad. It worked quite well.”
* “The little boy.”
* “He pauses, even though he should just hit the cunt, and he repeats, yes, I am talking to you.”
* “That’s for John Lennon, you Yankee fucking cunt!”
* “I’d hit a woman who was trying to hit me with a bottle! That’s different. That’s self-defence, isn’t it! Or a woman who could do Karate. I’d never hit a woman generally.”
* “Would you ever think about killing yourself because you’re a midget?”

-KEN-
* “Harry. I am totally in your debt. The things that’s gone between us in the past, I love you unreservedly for that. For your integrity, for your honor, I love you.”
* “The boy had to be let go.”
* “My wife was black. And I loved her very much. And in 1976 she got murdered by a white man. So where the fuck am I supposed to stand in all this blood and carnage?”

-HARRY (Raiph Fiennes)-
* “How can fucking swans not be somebody’s fucking thing? How can that be?”
* “I liked Ray. He was a good bloke, but when it all comes down to it, y’know, he blew the head off a little fucking kid.”
* “You fucking retract that bit about my cunt fucking kids!”
* “An Uzi? I’m not from South Central los-Fucking-angeles. I want a normal gun for a normal person.”
* “I know I shouldn’t, but I will.”
* “You’ve got the capacity to get fucking worse!”
* “Well obviously I’m not gonna go through you, am I, with your baby and that. I’m a nice person. But could you just get out of the fucking way, please.”
* “Don’t be stupid. This is the shoot-out.”
* “I do want the guy dead. I want him fucking crucified. It doesn’t change the fact that he stitched you up like a blind little gayboy, does it?”
* “You’ve got to stick to your principals.”

\\\\\PHANTASM IV: OblIVion (1999)

* “Mike, that Tall Man of yours didn’t take Jody away. Jody died in a car wreck.”
* “Small Man, your end approaches but it is not yet. Take great care how you play.”

\\\\PULP FICTION (1994)

-JULES-
* “Say ‘what’ again. Say ‘what’ again, I dare you, I double dare you motherfucker, say what one more Goddamn time!”
* “And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy My brothers. And you will know I am the Lord when I lay My vengeance upon you.”
* “Pigs are filthy animals. I don’t eat filthy animals.”
* “Well, I’m a mushroom-cloud-layin’ motherfucker, motherfucker!”

-VINCENT VEGA-
* “Oh man, I shot Marvin in the face.”
* “Bacon tastes gooood. Pork chops taste gooood.”
* “I don’t mean any disrespect, I don’t like people barking orders at me.”
* “I got a threshold, Jules. I got a threshold for the abuse that I will take. Now, right now, I’m a fuckin’ race car, right, and you got me the red. ”

-BUTCH-
* “The night of the fight, you may feel a slight sting. That’s pride fucking with you. Fuck pride. Pride only hurts, it never helps.”
* “I specifically reminded her – bedside table! On the Kangaroo! I said the words, “Don’t forget my father’s watch.””
* “I’m American, honey. Our names don’t mean shit.”

-MARSELLUS-
* “…Marcellus Wallace don’t like to be fucked by anybody except Mrs. Wallace.”
* “The night of the fight, you may feel a slight sting. That’s pride fucking with you. Fuck pride. Pride only hurts, it never helps.””
* “I’m prepared to scour the the Earth for that motherfucker. If [Butch] goes to Indochina, I want a nigger hiding in a bowl of rice ready to pop a cap in his ass.”
* “I ain’t through with you by a damn sight. I’ma get medieval on your ass.”

-MRS. MIA WALLACE-
* “Why do we feel it’s necessary to yak about bullshit in order to be comfortable?”
* “This fucked-up bitch is Marsellus Wallace’s wife! Do you know who Marsellus Wallace is? Do you? If she croaks on me, I’m a fuckin’ greasespot!”

-JIMMIE-
* “I’m gonna get fuckin’ divorced. No marriage counselling, no trial separation, I’m gonna get fuckin’ divorced.”
* “Did you notice a sign out in front of my house that said “Dead Nigger Storage”?”

-THE WOLF-
* ” If I’m curt with you it’s because time is a factor. I think fast, I talk fast and I need you guys to act fast if you wanna get out of this. So, pretty please… with sugar on top. Clean the fucking car.” (I am going to call out Devon on totally having this complication in real life, because it’s his favorite thing to quote when demanding that me or Mikaela or anyone else to do something in a completely unreasonable timeframe.)
* “You see that, young lady? Respect. Respect for one’s elders gives character.”
* “Just because you are a character doesn’t mean that you have character.”
* “I get my car back any differently than when I gave it, Monster Joe’s gonna be disposing of two bodies.”

/////BONUS (2016)

-RPG.net Moderators/Admins-
* “I love rules! They make me powerful!”

I had more planned, but to be honest, the one-month ban from RPG.net made me feel like my sample complications would have less of a

If you had any questions about how any of those complications are supposed to work (in what situations would you bust them, in what situations would you raise them, etc, why are their so fucking many for In Bruges.), email aventine.iconoclast@gmail.com.

Worlds End. Heroes Die. Systems Malfunction.

I saw what you did there, Thom, and if Harvey Keitel wasn’t so fucking awesome, you’d never have gotten away with it.

In two and a half weeks, I will have been developing this game, this setting, and this world, for exactly 12 years of my life (add 2-3 years if you count the videogames too, which started development in 2001). For that entire time, I have been trying to make it a thing. I feel like I have finally “brought the thunder” enough that I feel like I actually have a chance of making that happen.

This is a very early rough of a single piece of promotional art. It might not be enough to get you hyped, but it gets me fucking HYPED.

movie-poster-rough-options

Actually, it’s 10 of them. And that makes me HYPED X 10.

I am hereby officially announcing that our Kickstarter for Systems Malfunction the tabletop roleplaying game is launching on Tuesday, October 18th, 2016.

Artificial Nocturne

Accompanying the Kickstarter will be an 80,000 word braided fiction featuring stories from yours truly, Mikaela Barree, Richard Kelly, John Jemmott, and others. While this will give our monowire sharp deadlines to contend with, our intention is to have the first story ready to launch by the 21st and to launch one story roughly every three days thereafter, on the KS main page. There will be 11 stories total.

Artificial Nocturne is a braided anthology set in the Systems Malfunction universe designed to show up why that universe is FUCKING AWESOME: smart, literate, literary, genre-savvy, morally ambiguous, violent, profane, beautiful, science-fiction like you’ve never seen it before, with vampires fighting robots in goddamn motherfucking space.

Most of the writers already know how awesome Systems Malfunction is because of having played the LARP it’s based on. Some of the writers already know how awesome Systems Malfunction is because of having played the amateur CRPGs it’s based on. The rest of them will have to learn as they go.

It is the year 556 R.T…

D-042 “Jersey City” is an artificial nocturne. It is a wretched hive of scum and villainy (our principal characters). It’s just as fucked up as they say. It’s an outsider’s escape for a broken heart. You can buy anything there. Anyone.

They hide out in the back. They are the YWY (pronounced like “Why” singular, or “whys” plural), a sleeper cell of the Fallen that is wide awake. They are kids, all, terrorists all — age 3 to 300. Some of them are 200 year old psychic aliens. Some of them are robot prostitutes. Some of them are psychic cyborg immortal posthuman teenage prostitutes with a grudge against the po.

They are all terrorists. They are all kids.

They are our heroes. This story is about them and the shadow of a life they eke out around and beneath a space station with 250.5 million souls on board and a million stories.

Artificial Nocturne is a braided anthology in the Systems Malfunction universe designed to introduce it while telling a COMPLETELY NEW STORY within it (believe me, I have a LOT I could have rebooted).

Artificial Nocturne is informed by and keys to the album Synthetica by the rock band Metric.

It’s Not Just A Job, It’s An Adventure

I’ve had a couple of DicePunk adventures planned for a couple of months. The first of these, “Escape From Cleveland”, a Psionics adventure set during the Republican National Convention, I was really excited about this fucked up and awesome idea. But the closer we’ve gotten to the general election, the more and more terrifying Trump’s inevitable rise to power has seemed compared to his merely possible rise to power  and the less and the less fun this adventure has seemed to write and playtest. I might actually leave the country if/when Trump wins. I don’t know that I’m feeling as keen on statting the fucktard  giant douche in DicePunk as I was back in July.

Instead, what we have coming up for some point in the future is an adventure I like to call No Country For Great Old Ones. It’s southern-fried cops and robbers a la recent incredibly amazing film Hell or High Water only with a ‘dash’ of the supernatural thrown in. We plan on releasing it “quad-statted” for DicePunk (specifically, Phantasm), Delta Green, HERO System 5E (Revised), and Savage Worlds, assuming that we can get all the licensing lined up. It’s going to be the tits.

This Is Entertainment

The SPLINTER Quick-Start Rules are called SPLINTER: This Is Entertainment. It will be a free PDF booklet (some dead tree copies possible for Free RPG day) that will include everything you need to jump into SPLINTER including pregenerated players/Avatars and an introductory adventure. In other words, the world’s weirdest RPG just got a bit more accessible.

It’s currently on schedule for a Christmas season 2016 release thanks almost entirely to one Richard Kelly. Richard: TYVM for keeping this particular ETG assault vessel on track and on target.

In Closing

I think that’s all I’ve got for now. Thanks everyone for listening to my blather and turn in next Thursday for another Transmission From The End.

 

Stuff Goes In, Games Come Out

Resolution 2016.1: Blog More. 

To make this easier, I’m going to try to stop waiting “until the stars are right” to make a blog post, and that includes that I’ll stop waiting until I have a fascinating topic. Loads of internet folks have huge followings just for consuming media and pontificating on it publicly, and while I doubt I’ll achieve any such following, I can do one better: I don’t just consume stuff and pontificate on it, an alchemical process in my brain cave turns stuff into game content. This is happening constantly, so there’s no need for a special occasion to “blog” upon. That’s the theory, anyway. In practice, maybe this will be a one-off or a very occasional thing.

Ok, let’s go!

Watching

The Simpsons: Is there any doubt in anyone’s minds that this is the greatest American comedy program ever made? Almost 30 seasons at my fingertips means countless hours of binging. I always have this on in the background even if I’m not watching it: it’s comforting to me. I don’t really like Season 25 and on: it’s not the quality of the episodes, which is eh (debatable), it’s that seeing the Simpsons talk about smart phones and twitter makes me feel like I’m living in a parallel dimension. I remember too vividly when the family couldn’t afford cable. Season 10 and earlier are pure comfort food for the troubled mind and the quality of the next 6-8 seasons is surprisingly high too. The mix feels a bit off in the Season 18-Season 22 range, like maybe the cynicism is a bit too high. This bears further investigation.

Fargo: I watched the entire first season (amazing, my favorite part was all the subtle and not-so-subtle hints that Malvo was not even human, and when we saw the wolf in the finale I exclaimed half-ironically “It’s Malvo! He’s taken wolf-form!”) and now I’m slow-crawling my way through the second. It’s definitely entertaining, but I’m not convinced yet it’s of the caliber of the first season, I’m giving it a fair shake. I’m definitely wondering what the fuck is going on with these UFOs.

Oh, the whole “rain of fishes” thing in Season 1 really messed with me, because like an unthinking dolt I actually believed that the series–and the movie it was following on–was “based on a true story”. Then I reread those ponderous opening captions more closely. “This is a true story”…no, it fucking isn’t…very, very tricksy.

Parasyte: The MaximI’m not a big fan of anime in general (although I have watched a TON of it over the years) but I can’t recommend this series strongly enough. Like the manga it’s based on, it hooks with black humor (VERY black humor) and body horror but over the 24 episode run it morphs into something very different…almost like a very philosophical and very dark “boy and his dog” story. It’s chock-full of fascinating characters, interesting philosophical underpinnings, and cool gory tentacle fights.

Oh Yeah: Like everyone else, I saw the new Star Wars.  It was alright. I’m not a Star Wars fan and I never have been, so in that sense my opinion doesn’t really matter. But…I can’t deny that it’s a good film. It’s just so formulaic and so manufactured…it is exactly what needed to be made to erase the “old shame” of the godawful prequels and make the franchise economically viable. But however deftly it accomplishes its goals as a piece of commercial entertainment, it also seems totally uninterested in being art, which is why it’s no surprise that it isn’t.

Reading

The Hellbound Heart by Clive Barker: I was looking for this one for a while before I got it for Christmas. I’m not sure if it was actually hard to find or if I just wasn’t looking that hard. Anyway, I was hoping it would add some insight to the movie it inspired, “Hellraiser”, which is a solid flick (unlike its many sub-par sequels) but I thought might have suffered a bit for having been made at the time it was made at (the 80s) with the budget it was made with (not a whole heck of a lot). I was particularly hoping for some more insight about the Cenobites, AKA the Theologians of the Gash (what a phrase!). Anyway, no luck there. The Hellbound Heart is an excellent novella and “Hellraiser” is a very faithful adaptation by its author. About the biggest change I spotted was that Kirsty seems to just be a friend of Rory’s rather than his daughter, like she is in the film version. The novella ends just as abruptly as the movie, if not moreso.

Sandman: Overture: Neil Gaiman wrote a new Sandman storyline for the first time in two decades. Did you know that was a thing? I didn’t but then I got it for Christmas out of nowhere. Now you know it is a thing. It’s a prequel. Go read it. Anyway, to my surprise, while I wouldn’t for a second have read it if Gaiman’s name wasn’t attached, the words really weren’t the big deal here. This is the prettiest comic book I have ever seen by a huge margin. I am not a big art guy as a rule, but the art is BEYOND amazing. I would describe it without irony as hypnotic. This is a picturebook that any adult could stare at for hours.

The Dying Earth by Jack Vance: So I finally got a copy of this. I’m only about ten pages in, but damn. Did you know this Jack Vance guy invented “Vancian casting”? That’s the magic system that Gary Gygax chose for Dungeons & Dragons, and which has been wedded to the game ever since. The idea that wizards memorize a certain number of spells which they then cast and then “forget”? That comes DIRECTLY from here. Pretty cool, right? That’s why I wanted to read it. Anyway, as I said I’ve barely got a toe in and shit is crazy. Everyone is a wizard and a high level wizard and one guy’s brain can know about four spells at a time and another guy’s brain can know about four or like six if he takes kind of crappy ones and everyone is making ladies in vats because I mean why not and some of the ladies are defective and kill the other vat-ladies and they’re like “oh shit gotta make more ladies cause we’re wizards and that’s what you do” and the shit is just nuts. I’m only like 15 pages in and we’re already at like…peak wizard. Or if we’re not…damn.

Thing I just learned: Vecna is an anagram of this guy’s name. I mean holy shit, you guys.

Playing

-Videogams-

Currently NOT Playing Fallout 4: I abruptly stopped playing this about three weeks ago for no particular reason. I didn’t finish it, I had four characters in various factions of various builds at various levels of progress and I was having a grand old time. Then, suddenly, I lost all interest in continuing, like the bottom fell out. It could be burn-out, I guess, but I don’t feel burnt-out. What’s going on here? Am I going to die?

Dungeon Crawl: Stone Soup: Roguelikes are a perennial obsession of mine, and DCSS is the greatest roguelike I have ever played. I am not sure if it is THAT hard or I am THAT bad at it or some combination of the two, but I’ve been playing this game on and off since at least…2012…2011?…earlier? More off than on, sure, but still logged at least a couple hours. Now don’t laugh, but I finally got my very first rune of zot…yesterday. (I’m playing a MiFi for those in the know. Apparently, MiFi is the “master race” based on the results of the 2015 Crawl tournament: Minotaurs and Fighters scored by far the most ascensions.) Cataclysm: DDA is still amazing and Dwarf Fortress is still crack, but DCSS is definitely the “traditional” Roguelike for me. I tried Nethack and I definitely was not able to ‘hack’ it.

Anyway DCSS has somehow taken over from my Fallout 4 as my primary timewaster instead of more like a cofeebreak kinda time-waster, which is astonishing. How does this happen. How does a $0 game with graphics that would not have impressed in the year 1990 take away my attention from a $60.00 cutting edge AAA Bethesda game? I don’t get it.

Halo 5: Guardians: Late to the party on this one, just got an XBone. The lack of couch co-op is fucking UNCONSCIONABLE and I hate that I’m playing this because I do not want to support that kind of shitty and awful design decision but I’m too much of a junkie for the ongoing story of Master Chef and his quest to serve the galaxy cuisine.  Anyway, not done yet, but I just want to say that Cortana “turning evil” is a plot point I have been feverishly awaiting since the trailers for Halo 3 like circa 2007 or earlier.

-Tabletops-

For all you kooky kids who think that “tabletop games” means board games, when I say/hear “tabletop games”, I mean/think “tabletop roleplaying games”.

HERO System 5E: Sleep No More Season 2: This is a horror campaign I am GMing heavily influenced by Call of Cthulhu and even more heavily influenced by Delta Green, although there are other influences mixed in to create what I hope is a uniquely intense horror melange. Intensity is the byword of this campaign. This campaign has been going strong since around late August/early September, and six more sessions are planned before the “season” ends. The first Season of Sleep No More was played back in 2011: this second season has been set in the same universe, but a different part of it, and no PCs have directly carried over.

Singularity System: Systems Malfunction currently exists only in the form of a Singularity System tabletop campaign (but this should change in the future!). Mikaela is GMing and I am PCing: my PC is the captain of a stealth courier ship and we’re adventuring across the galaxy for profit, making enemies left and right! Sessions have been kind of far-flung and scattershot so far, so I’m hoping the schedule will tighten up going forward.

Dungeons & Dragons: I was supposed to be playing online in a 5E campaign but it seems to have fallen through, so I have been running some 3.5 dungeon crawling action for Mikaela as a solo campaign, heavily informed by item two in the above category. Playing with some fun house rules and custom tables, partially made up as I go along, which is not what I usually do, and which has been pretty fun.

Listening

Psychic Warfare by Clutch is an unbelievably kick-ass rock and roll album by a mind blowingly awesome band that just seems to keep churning them out like clockwork.

“Firebirds! Energy weapons!
Both of these things are interesting to me!
I don’t care how you get them
I need them both and I need them urgently!”

Who could possibly disagree?

 

 

Hard Out There For A Pimp

So much-belated Origins 2014 after action con report GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! I think this may be shorter than usual, but I do have a tendency to say something like that and then write something like INFINITY pages, so we’ll see. I always have trouble hitting the mark between “short enough to read as perfunctory” and “really freaking long”

This year we were at Origins, running demos, and selling games. By we I mean the End Transmission Games crew, myself, Mikaela, and Rachid Yahya tagged along to help us out (thanks again, Rachid!). We were able to hold our heads up proudly because the Systems Malfunction setting book for the Singularity System is finally done after about a year and a half of sweat and toil and cat herding! Go buy it! Now!! Buy two of it!

Our pal Jason Walters of IPR/HERO Games/Blackwyrm Publishing invited us to join our booth to the three that IPR/Blackwyrm had to form an island, and we were happy to do so. It was a nifty arrangement and I’d love to do something similar in the future at Origins shows yet to come.

Following a meeting with Jason Pitre at the con, we have applied to join the amazing Indie Game Developer Network, home to many cool dudes and ladies what makes the indie RPGs. I sincerely hope we are accepted among their ranks, because it seems to be our last shot at having a sales presence at GenCon this year, without which we’re DOOOOOOOMED…not to have a sales presence at GenCon this year. Which would be terribly unfortunate, as our books are already headed there, and so are we.

Now on to the topic of… SALES, SALES, SELLING AND SALES

Sales were…not great, but not terrible. At least that’s my gut feeling without access to sales data for any companies of our size in our position…and without knowing for sure of any companies that are exactly our size and in exactly our position. Sales is a tough topic. As I said to many people and had said to me by many people over the course of the con, selling an RPG is a lot like selling a car. To someone who already has several cars. That they don’t ever use.

Basically, what I am learning is that our company sells the majority of our products during conventions. A lot of this is hand sales, us actually selling things AT conventions. This can be ascribed to A) Mikaela being i) a pretty girl and ii) actively outgoing, and please note that the latter of those two things is literally no less possible for me than the former, and B) game designers excitedly talking about their products to potential customers. But not all of the sales that happen DURING conventions happen AT the convention. We also see huge spikes in our online sales during cons. Which is weird but not really…I guess some of the dozens of people that take a business card and say they’ll “check us out online” do just that, and like what they see.

Besides conventions, we do most of our sales through DriveThru RPG, a huge online megastore of all things vaguely roleplaying related. While we are fortunate enough as of this writing to have an awesomely high publisher rating on DriveThru RPG and numerous very favorable and flattering reviews, DriveThru does not do anything to actively promote are products like they do for larger and better known companies. I think the number of sales we have through DriveThru have more to do with the degree to which DriveThru has cornered the online RPG Market.

Our sales on “indie” venues like the indie RPGs un-store and Indie Press Revolution are much more disappointing, especially since these are “indie” venues and as a publisher, we are as “indie” as you can possibly get. In fact, to quote MC Frontalot, with only a pinch of irony,

Unpromoted,  don’t know how you found me.
Soundly situated in obscurityland,
famous in inverse proportion to how cool I am,
and should I ever garner triple-digit fans
you can tell me then there’s someone I ain’t indier than. 

IPR who is our distributor (kind of), for instance, does not (perhaps “can’t” is the word to use?) carry our products at national conventions because they don’t sell well enough to justify taking up shelf space that could be used for the “mainstream” “indie” RPGs (to what degree is that an oxymoron?) people are literally flocking to buy (cough). From a purely capitalistic perspective, this makes perfect sense because it makes financial sense. It’s just the fact that places like IPR present themselves as advocates for independent creator-publishers just as much as they present themselves as business ventures that makes it a hard pill to swallow. When you’re so Indie (read: unpromoted, unadvertised, unknown) that self-identified Indie venues can’t carry your shit because it’s too obscure, it starts to feel like a real Joseph Heller, by which I mean a Catch 22. Of course, it’s not like the big guys are looking out for our interests either…or even know we exist. Oh well, not whining, just philosophizing. 

But we’re pursuing avenues to try and raise awareness of our brand and all that other…corporate shit…that I despise…because I’m a flaky tortured artist creative type and all I know is to mak gams, not to mak money *le sigh*. Anyway if you’re reading this and you weren’t yesterday, then maybe something’s working.

And then there’s the big old fashioned national Distributors that are still in many ways the gatekeeper to FLGS (Friendly Local Game Stores) sales and that whole huge market segment (not everyone buys on the internet or at cons), but that’s such a big topic it will have to be saved for another post.

So that about raps up the recap of Origins and the thoughts stemming from it. We learned our lessons from last year, we brought a lot less books, and we sold a great big mess of them, in person and (I’m presuming, if things go like they usually do during cons) online. We put a ton of business cards in a ton of hands and had a ton of interesting conversations and made a ton of contacts, just like last year. As far as our public awareness, we are still somewhere between “way under the radar” and “totally unknown” but hopefully rising on the graph. Anyone into us know is into End Transmission Games before it was mainstream. Or “indie”. Or whatever it is sells thousands of games. 

There is a new S P L I N T E R product on the horizon! Finally! It should see release in the next few weeks, maybe I’ll blog about it first! We are also planning our very first KICKSTARTER. I will definitely be a-blogging about that soon.

Till next time!

GenControversy

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.

Exciting Stuff, Good News, And Some Reminiscence

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