Getting Sinister in Saltmarsh, Pt. 2

Once again, this post contains spoilers for Sinister Secret of Salt Marsh. Stop reading now if you intend to play it one day.

When last we left our trio of adventurers, they had braved the dilapidated mansion of the “Mad Alchemist”, discovered it was not actually haunted, and smashed the smuggling ring they found operating in the caves beneath it. I picked things up a few days later, assuming they had spent that time selling their loot in Saltmarsh and turning that into coin. I had prepared a few rumors for them to pick up around town and passed those on.

Then two men came to see them at their inn. One was an older cleric of Pelor and the other a young man with a freshly shaved head and the robes of an acolyte. The latter turned out to be Jebbric, the smuggler they had shown mercy to back in the caves. He took the whole going straight thing seriously and went off to join the Church of Pelor. The older cleric had brought him to the inn so he could pass on some information about the smuggling ring and so fully repudiate his former life. He told them the smugglers were expecting a ship to come in just a couple of days. If they wanted to finish the job of destroying the smuggling ring, they’d want to take care of the ship. Kate thought to ask about the handout from the caves, so Jebbric explained the signaling system the smugglers used. This proved useful later.

I had given them two days so they could make any preparations they might need. The girls seemed pretty unconcerned about attacking a smuggling ship, so rather than prepare, they started chasing down the rumors they had learned. They visited a park and discovered that indeed frogs were croaking in unison in the middle of the night. They talked to some folks about a rash of burglaries that some blamed on Seaton refugees and others on the famous Keoland thief known as the Scarlet Thorn. Finally they went to see the city council and apprise them of the situation. It was agreed that two excisemen from Saltmarsh would answer the signals from the ship and begin to row out. Meanwhile, the adventurers would approach from the opposite side in another boat and board while the smugglers were distracted.

The plan worked out well. Kate slipped onboard first, backstabbing and killing the guard on the forecastle. Then Nicole’s plate armored paladin made too much noise jumping down to the main deck and the alarm was sounded. The NPC cleric took care of the smuggler in the crow’s nest with a well-chosen command spell (“Jump!”). Nicole assaulted the bosun, killing him and sending his body over the rail into the briny deep. Kate had a long duel with the ship’s captain but poor rolls kept her from prevailing. The paladin finally came to her aid and dealt the finishing blow. Kate was not only annoyed at the kill stealing, but also that the bosun had gone over the side before she could loot the body. She asserted that the treasure so lost was coming out of Nicole’s share, which cracked me up.

Descending into deeper into the ship they discovered three smugglers and a wizard playing cards. They should have come up on deck when they heard the fighting, but I totally forgot to do that so I decided that they were a little drunk and too into their card game to investigate the noises above. When I mentioned that one of the card players was a wizard, Kate went nuts. “I dive across the table and stab him!” she exclaimed. They won initiative, so this she did, hitting the wizard with both her weapons. The poor bastard only had 8 hp to start with so she nailed him to his chair before he had a chance to get up, never mind cast a spell. Two smugglers went down the same round and the last surrendered.

Down in the hold they encountered three lizardmen and dispatched them in a few rounds. Then they discovered three things: a pseudodragon in a cage, an aquatic elf chained up in a tiny room, and a cache of weapons that were being smuggled to a lizardman settlement. The pseudodragon is in the module and as it was total Kate bait, I let her bond with it. Their party can certainly use the help. The aquatic elf, Oceanus, explained that he was captured while investigating the connection between the smugglers and the lizardmen. He then agreed to come with them to Saltmarsh and talk to the town council.

We ended the session there. Next time they have to dicker with the council about the fate of the ship they captured, and then decide on a course of action. Are the lizardmen a threat to Saltmash? If so, what’s to be done about it? And what’s up with those frogs in the park? And is the notorious Scarlet Thorn really in Saltmarsh?

Getting Sinister in Saltmarsh, Pt. 1

When I moved back from Austin, one of the things I wanted to do was get a family RPG campaign going. Our long running game night only sometimes actually features games anymore (long story), and I could tell from various comments that Kate found it frustrating to spend so much time around gamers without getting to roleplay regularly. I tried to get something going with a Dragon Age game last year, but I we only played a few times. I was writing all the adventure material and since this was Dragon Age, it started feeling like an extension of work. I wanted this to be about the family just getting together and having fun, so I decided to take a different approach. Kate had heard endless discussions about D&D at game night, but her actual experience with it was limited. I was looking for a game with a lot of pre-written adventures anyway, so I decided to go all the way and run an AD&D game set in Greyhawk. Might as well give the girl a proper education!

With just Nicole and Kate playing, this was going to be a small party, so I had them create 3rd level characters. Nicole made a paladin and Kate an elf ranger/thief (yes, I bent the rules for her). I created a NPC cleric of Procan as a support character, so the party would at least be a trio. To open the campaign I choose Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh, a classic adventure that I had actually never run before. I dug out my DMG II (from 3rd Edition) because it had a write up of Saltmarsh. Most of it was useable, though I dialed the year back to 576. My plan was to keep them in and around Saltmarsh for at least a couple of levels, so the town info would be useful.

Spoilers for Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh follow! Do not read on if you plan to play this module.

At the start of the first session, I told them they had traveled to Seaton at the behest of Saltmarsh’s Alchemists’ Guild to find and acquire some rare ingredients. The day before their arrival, a squadron of ships will yellow sails had raided the town. Hundreds of prisoners were taken and many buildings burned (including the shops they were to visit). The game picked up with the PCs at the Alchemists’ Guild, explaining why the raid had prevented them from completing the mission. The head of the guild said not to worry about it because something more important had come up. He found a letter indicating that an alchemist from the area named Turnbull had a copy of a rare text called Ye Secret of Ye Philosopher’s Stone. The man had disappeared 20 years ago and his ghost was said to haunt his dilapidated mansion. Would the PCs venture inside and try to find the book?

The module makes much of how you have to play up that the house may be haunted. I tried to do so, telling them local legends of the ghost of the “Mad Alchemist.” After they took the mission, I had the NPC cleric ask, “Do you think it’s really haunted?” Nicole and Kate both scoffed immediately, which made me laugh. Kate, so jaded at 16. Nicole quipped, “If I ran a thieves’ guild, I’d hide it in a supposedly haunted house.” I said nothing in reply.

The trio then went to the mansion to investigate. I thought the upper levels needed a bit of jazzing up so I added an encounter in the dining room. They came upon a table and next to each place setting was a severed hand. Kate asked if any of the hands had rings; I said yes. When she entered to loot the rings, the hands (in fact, crawling claws) leaped up off the table to try to strangle them. That was fun. Later they freed Ned the assassin and let him tag along for a little while. Right before he was about to get his clothes back, Nicole hit him with detect evil and the jig was up. They sent him packing wearing only his underwear.

In the basement they avoided the rot grubs by burning the dead body in plate mail straight away. I added the detail that the armor was engraved with symbols of Pelor. Nicole is playing a paladin of Mayaheine (yes, GH nerds, I’m bending the timeline slightly) so I thought it’d be suitable armor for her. Kate then found the secret door and got the drop on Jebbric, the smuggler inside. They interrogated him and tied him up. They then found the book they had been sent for and smashed the smugglers’ ring operating in the caves under the mansion. They turned four prisoners over the Saltmarsh watch, but let the one who gave them information go. Jebbric promised to straighten up. They then returned to the Alchemists’ Guild for their reward. So ended session 1.

Overall, it was a really fun time. Kate, who is soft-hearted in real life, was all about the ducats in Greyhawk. She took meticulous notes on every item of value they found in the house and tallied everything at session’s end. I can see some future adventures involving her thief side. Other possible hooks include the escaped assassin, the plate mail of Pelor, and the raiders that attacked Seaton.

We played session 2 last night. I’ll try to write that up later this week.

Resuming Transmission!

I put this website into a “temporary hiatus” in April, 2010. I meant to get back to it sooner, but other things kept getting in the way and Facebook, Twitter, and LiveJournal provided other venues for my day to day scribblings. I’m happy to report that the site is back up and running. Huzzah!

I must give huge thanks to Joe Fulgham, who sorted out the technical stuff for me and rejiggered the site to run off WordPress. Joe is one of the hosts of the Caustic Soda podcast, which you should check out if you have not. I was a guest on the Hitler episode, so if you want to hear me talk about Nazis, start with that one. I’m not sure what is says about me that when they needed an expert on Hitler, I got the call.

I have copied over all the blogging I did on LiveJournal the last couple of years. You’ll find the original date of publication at the bottom of each entry. I was a terrible blogger in 2011, so getting the entries over here wasn’t so bad. I hope to be better about it moving ahead.

If there’s anything in particular you’d like to see me blog about, let me know. In the meantime, welcome back!

Fun in LA

I spent last weekend in Los Angeles, or Burbank to be more precise. I wasn’t there that long, but it was funny how many LA stories I got out of it. Saturday afternoon, for example, I was coming back from a mediocre lunch at the oldest remaining Bob’s Big Boy (it dates to 1949, though hopefully the food does not). I saw a woman with a big stroller crossing the street with what looked like the entourage of a rap star. As they got closer to me, I saw that a cameraman was filming the whole posse. I don’t know if the baby mama was the center of attention or if she was a nanny for someone else in the group. I walked right by them and couldn’t tell you who anyone was, but it’s possible I made a 2 second cameo is some dreadful reality show.

Later I was in a quiet hotel bar doing some Dragon Age work. Two women came in, and a few minutes later a Latino guy in a fedora joined them. The women start to interview him, and they seem pretty excited. Again, I had no idea who he was. I was sitting maybe 10 feet away so I could hear the whole thing. As he dropped clues, I used my iPad to run Google searches. I finally figured that it was Jaime Monroy. I had never heard of him, though apparently he was the warm up comic for Solid Gold and opened for the Jacksons on the Victory Tour. He had some interesting stories but he lost me when he said that his hero was Ronald Reagan.

Finally my old friend Cecil Castellucci came and picked me up at the bar. Cecil and I met as college freshmen at NYU and fate kept throwing us together until we decided we were friends for life. Our most improbable meeting was in the middle of Dachau the year I Eurailed around the Old World. We have both ended up with careers in the geek world. I do the gaming thing, of course, and she writes YA novels and graphic novels (her Plain Jains book for DC was terrific). We have crossed paths at conventions from time to time but we needed a proper catch up and this was the night. She used Twitter to find a cool bar in Burbank called Tony’s Darts Away. We stayed there until it got too loud and crowded (damn hipsters), then we moved to an old school diner place we happened across called Talleyrand (founded by a fan of French diplomacy?). They still had bundt cake on the menu so I got a slice and we kept talking until I got a call from Wil Wheaton. I had a great time talking to my old friend and wished it could have gone on longer, but we had to leave.

I was crashing at Wil’s the next two nights so Cecil was kind enough to drop me off. Everyone was sick at the house and they had been working all day, so they went to bed by midnight. I’m a night owl, so I was up until 4ish. Then I got up at 8 am because I had somewhere to be early. I can’t talk about the rest of the trip yet, but that should change come March. I will say it was nerdy, fun, and a little bit Hollywood. I got home and at first thought I had missed the plague. It was sneaky though and I didn’t get sick Thursday. Now that head cold is ragin’ full on. Glad I can stay home this weekend.

Originally published on LiveJournal on February 10, 2012. 

The Highlights of My Year

2011 wasn’t the worst of years, but it wasn’t the best either. It was up and down, sweet and sour. I started the year living in Austin and working a day job at Vigil Games as lead writer on the Warhammer 40K MMO. I’m ending it back in Seattle with my family and I’m pretty damn happy to have reunited with Nik and Kate on a permanent basis. I don’t want to dwell on the negative so here are the top 5 other highlights of the year.

1. Kate’s Birthday

I wrote about this a few weeks ago so I won’t go on about it, but the most joyous event of the year had to be Kate’s surprise 16th birthday party. I often feel like it’s my job to apologize to Kate for how disappointing the world is, so it was awesome to see how happy our girl was with her party and all the friends who came out for it.

2. Brazil

In May I flew to Curitiba to be a guest at World RPG Con. This was my first (but hopefully not my last) trip to Brazil, and my first time south of the equator as well. I had a great time, though as usual with big trips like this I wish I could have stayed longer. The con was small but the organizers and attendees were super enthusiastic and they made me feel so welcome. I met many excellent gamers and had the chance to actually hang out with Steve Jackson (the other American game designer guest) for the first time.

The day after the con we got to ride the Curitiba-Paranaguá Railroad. It was a three and a half hour, 116 kilometer trip through the rain forested highlands to the coast. The route went through 13 tunnels and over 30 bridges, and the whole trip was in a vintage Italian train from the 60s. Then we had a huge seafood feast in Paranaguá, followed by more sightseeing by bus before the drive back to Curitiba. All in all, pretty awesome.

3. Seattle: The Returning

I moved back to Seattle in August. Nicole flew down to Austin, we loaded up a truck with the help of friends, and then it was a five day ride through Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, and Washington. I’ve mentioned my happiness about getting back with my family, but here I’m talking about the trip itself. When I moved down, I had a fixed deadline so it was four days of hard driving and nothing else. This time Nicole and I had no schedule we had to keep to so we decided to be more casual. I’m glad we did.

Our first stop was at Reaper Miniatures in Denton, TX. Ed Pugh and Ron Hawkins gave us a thorough tour of their facility. They have a really impressive operation going on there and it was cool to see it. We probably spent too much time swapping game industry stories, but hey, how often are we getting to Denton? When it was time for us to move on, they gifted Nicole with some out of production Mousling miniatures, which made her squee with delight.

Next we stopped at the Kansas Cosmosphere & Space Center in Hutchinson. It’s a really unlikely place for a museum dedicated to rocketry and space flight it’s quite well done. Apparently NASA wanted to get rid of a bunch of stuff back in the 70s, so Hutchinson said, “Give it to us and we’ll make a museum!” The history is well presented and they have some great artifacts, including the lovingly restored capsule from Apollo 13. Worth a stop if you find yourself in Kansas.

In Denver we stopped to have lunch with college pal Pat Brown at the Buckhorn Exchange. We worked out the meet up over Facebook on my phone while we cruised down the interstate. Thanks, technology. Pat recommended an over the top gourmet shop outside town so we had to pop in there as well. They had a huge room full of cheese that was essentially a giant refrigerator. The store keeps coats on hand in case you get cold, but after Texas I enjoyed it in there. Cheese and other goodies we got there made our dinner in the hotel later that night.

As we rode through Wyoming, I thought we were done with stops. Then I noticed on the map that the highway went right by Little Big Horn in Montana. Turns out you can get from the highway to the hill where Custer died in less than 10 minutes. Clearly we had to do it.

4. Dragon Age, Set 2

Professionally speaking, the highlight of the year for me was the release of Set 2 for Dragon Age. It took way longer to get done than I figured, but I’m pleased with the result. The release made me feel great for an hour or two. Then someone asked, “So when is Set 3 coming out?” Oh, gamers. 🙂

5. Steve Ignorant: The Last Supper

I’m ending my list with a bit of punk rock. I did not get to a lot of shows in Austin because I lived in north, north Austin and had neither license nor car. So when German band the Spermbirds came to America for the first time to play South by Southwest, I ended up missing their show. When I heard that Steve Ignorant was bringing his Last Supper show to Emo’s, I determined that I would be there. Thanks to pal Donna Prior, who agreed to drive and come to the show with me despite the music not exactly being her thing, I got my wish.

Steve Ignorant was the singer for Crass, an uncompromising British punk band of the 70s and 80s that went the Sex Pistols one better by taking their anarchism very seriously indeed. They became a hugely influential band, and ran a record label that put out lots of other anarcho-punk bands. Crass broke up in the mid-80s and I never had a chance to see them. I think they only got to America once and then briefly. A couple of years ago Steve Ignorant decided to put on a show called The Last Supper. Basically, he wanted to perform those old songs a final time as “a celebration of what Crass meant” to him.

So this was not a Crass reunion per se, but Steve singing songs from ’77 to ’84 backed by musicians from bands like Conflict, Killing Joke, and the English Dogs. I’m sure a lot of people saw the whole thing as a cynical endeavor but I don’t give a shit: it was awesome. Steve was into it, the band was tight, and hearing those classic songs live was a treat. The real surprise of the night was the performance of many songs from Penis Envy, Crass’s feminist statement on which Eve Libertine handled most of the vocals. A younger singer named Carol Hodge sang the Penis Envy songs and she killed it. She was fierce and delivered those songs with conviction and energy. It was the icing on my punk rock cake.

Originally published on LiveJournal on December 31, 2011. 

Kate’s Birthday Surprise…from Space!

My awesome step-daughter Kate turned 16 today. This being a big milestone in her life, Nicole and I wanted to ensure it was special and memorable. Nicole organized a surprise party for December 9 and spent months getting Kate geekerific gifts from all over the internet. After due consideration, I decided to contact my friends at BioWare and enlist their aid. Kate, you see, is a huge Mass Effect fan, and nearly as big of a Dragon Age fan. My publishing company, Green Ronin, is in business with BioWare, licensing Dragon Age for a pen and paper RPG.

So I e-mailed the BioWare folks and explained that Kate’s birthday was coming up. She didn’t like Twilight or boy bands, I told them, but she did like shooting aliens in the face. Mike Laidlaw, Dragon Age’s Creative Director, said, “I’m on it!” He and Chris Bain (my day to day business contact there) arranged to have three Mass Effect t-shirts and two prints sent here before the surprise party. They were a huge hit with Kate, and caused one of her Mass Effect loving friends to exclaim, “I hate you so much!” One of the t-shirts and one of the prints featured Garrus, Kate’s favorite character from the games, and this made her extra happy.

Nicole did a fantastic job with the party. Kate was truly surprised, there was a big crowd, and Kate got some killer swag. After that and a brunch at Salty’s with Bruce and Tim (who had flown up from the Bay Area for the party), I’m sure Kate thought that the birthday surprises were at an end. Mooohaaaaahaaa.

Mike Laidlaw and his BioWare cohorts went above and beyond the call, you see. Mike was able to get the voice actor who plays Garrus in the games to record a special message for Kate. I had hoped to have it for the party but the audio people needed to process it so it had the right Garrus sound. I got it on Monday, just in time for Kate’s actual birthday. I had planned to get up early the following day and play it for her then but I couldn’t wait.

A few minutes after midnight, I took my laptop downstairs and gathered Kate and Nicole. I told Kate that I had a received a message for her from space…and the future. Then I hit play. Garrus’s voice boomed out:

“Kate, we’re in this together. Odds don’t matter anymore. This fight has always been ours to finish.”

Her face lit up. She said, “That’s so awesome. Oh my god, that’s awesome. Fangirl squee!” Then a few minutes later she said, “I’m going to be smiling all the time.” I assured her that would be AOK.

I’m writing this an hour and a half later. Kate can’t sleep because she’s still too excited. I’m so pleased this made my girl happy. She deserves everything good in this world.

Huge thanks to Mike Laidlaw, Chris Bain, and all the BioWare people who made this happen. You rule from orbit.

Originally published on LiveJournal on December 13, 2011. 

A Chronicle of Ice and Fire

I haven’t been doing any regular roleplaying since getting back to Seattle, as weekly game night at our place long ago devolved into eat, drink, and bullshit night during which boardgaming sometimes happens. And hey, that’s fun too but it wasn’t scratching my itch. Jon Leitheusser, Green Ronin’s Mutants & Masterminds developer, was nice enough to invite me to join his group, so this week I trekked down to Renton for a kickoff session of A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying (abbreviated SIFRP).

When people ask me at cons and such how SIFRP captures the flavor of the books, the first thing I tell them about is the house system and the campaign framework it provides. Before you make your character, you sit down as a group and generate a minor noble house. This is the glue that will hold the campaign together. All the PCs are members or retainers of the house, so you have both individual goals and group goals as the house engages in the game of thrones. It gives a real reason for your characters to work together, so you aren’t just a random collection of mercenary sociopaths (though if you want that, I suppose you could run a chronicle in which the PCs join the Brave Companions).

So Tuesday night Jon, Seth, Jason, James (by Skype), and I got together to generate a house and start character creation for the chronicle. We decided to roll up a couple of houses and pick the one we liked best. Houses have seven attributes (Defense, Influence, Lands, Law, Population, Power, and Wealth). You establish starting stats based on its location in Westeros and these can be modified in several ways throughout the process. You then get to make a certain number of rolls on the historical events table, which both modifies the attributes and gives you seeds to develop important events in the house’s past. Once the final attributes are determined, you can then spend resources to determine details of your holdings. When you’re done, you should have a good starting point for your house and an idea of where Player Characters can fit within it.

The first house we generated was in the Westerlands. That meant Lannisters, which I don’t think any of us were too keen on. Nonetheless, we went through the process so everyone could see how it worked. We ended up with a new house created after Robert’s Rebellion. We had small holdings in the hills with a hall near a river that passed through our territory. We had a lot of money (because hey, Lannisters) which we figured came from river tolls and our two mines. I had a feeling we weren’t going to stick with this house, so I suggested we skip detailing our banner house and military forces. We felt there were hooks here we could certainly use but overall it wasn’t what we were looking for.

The second house was in the Iron Islands and it was clear pretty quickly that this one would win out over the Westerlands house. Jon’s roll of 1 also meant we were an ancient house dating back to the Age of Heroes. This gave us a lot of rolls on the historical events table and plenty of stuff to work with for our house history. Our house was founded by treachery, for example, and other events made it clear it had had its ups and downs: defeat, victory, ascent, scandal, decline, favor. I suggested that defeat be the most recent event and we tie that to the Greyjoy Rebellion. With our resources were able to secure our own island and a small castle, but its dominant terrain was wetlands. We decided the house controlled a bigger, better island in the past, but in a period of decline we lost it to our rivals. As Ironmen we naturally opted for veteran warhips and raiders, as well as some sailors and a garrison for the castle. We brought in an artisan we we could have castle-forged steel, and used other resources so James could play the house’s heir.

At some point we decided that one of our ancient ancestors slew a sea dragon (or perhaps stole the credit for the deed, if we opt to make that the founding treachery). With that in mind, I suggested that we become House Greenscale and that our motto be “Cold Seas, Cold Blood.” We almost went with Seth’s suggestion of Highrock (he thought that’d be funny considering our wetlands) but Jon countered that it’d be a better name for the castle. We all agreed and so we became House Greenscale of Castle Highrock.

We still have some work to do fleshing out the history of the house, but this gave us a good framework to start creating our characters. Clearly court adventures and tournaments are not going to be our forte. We are a house of Viking raiders looking to revive our ancient glories. I’m working on my character now and will try to post something more when I flesh him out. I enjoyed the house creation session and I’m looking forward to getting the game going. Cold Seas, Cold Blood!

Originally posted on LiveJournal on December 1, 2011. 

Gaming and Punk: Crossing the Streams

It isn’t often that my punk rock life and my gaming life come together but it happened this week.

The story begins in the early 90s, when I was living in NYC and helping to run ABC No Rio, a non-profit punk club and arts center. ABC was full of characters and one of the most colorful was Donny the Punk. Although he was a long time member of the NY punk scene, that’s not how Donny got his nickname. No, he got it the old fashioned way, by being gang raped repeatedly in prison in the 1970s. This obviously had a huge impact on his life, and he later was the president of Stop Prisoner Rape. We did an art show once at ABC based on his jailhouse experiences. It was powerful stuff. You can read more about Donny’s harrowing story on Wikipedia:

So one day Donny and I were talking at ABC and he asked me what I was up to. This was in my early days of RPG freelancing and explaining roleplaying games to my punk friends was often a challenge. But Donny lit up and said, “Oh, gaming! I used to design wargames for SPI.”  SPI, of course, was one of the major wargame companies of the 1970s and the big rival of Avalon Hill.

Donny then proceeded to tell me how he had designed a game in which all the commanders were named after people from punk bands, which I found quite amusing. No one at SPI, of course, had a clue. I just can’t see SPI founder Jim Dunnigan rocking out to The Clash, Dead Boys, or Richard Hell and the Voidoids.

I always remembered that story but not the name of the game. Donny passed away (a victim of AIDS) in 1996 so I never had a chance to ask him again. Looking over his bio, I’m curious to know when and how he ended up doing design and development work for SPI. He did spend some time in the military but was kicked out for “homosexual involvement.” Then he was a Quaker for much of the 70s. All in all, a pretty unlikely candidate for a wargame designer.

For 20 odd years our conversation about gaming remained a personal story I shared with few people. How many punks play wargames after all? Then yesterday I got an e-mail from my friend Crazy Todd. He provided this link and said, “This will amuse you.”

Turned out someone on Boardgame Geek was looking at a SPI game called Cityfight: Modern Combat in an Urban Environment from 1979. He had noticed that many of the commanders were named after old punks (Strummer, Pursey, Foxton, Bators, etc.). This was Donny’s game I had heard about all those years before! Of course, I had to say something and I was delighted to discover that there were a number of old punk wargamers on BGG. The majority seemed to be Canadian, which may or may not be indicative of something (it did make me think of my Canuck pals at Fiery Dragon, who published a number of wargames over the last 10 years).

Now I’m watching a copy of Cityfight on eBay. Clearly I must own this unique piece of punk and gaming history. Pogo on, Donny.

Originally posted on LiveJournal on October 29, 2011. 

My New Studio!

It’s official: I have joined Krab Jab Studio in the Georgetown neighborhood of Seattle. It’s home base for a group of visual artists, including Magic: The Gathering veterans Julie Baroh and Mark Tedin, as well as Milo Duke. Now you might well be saying, “I didn’t know Chris was a visual artist.” That’s because I’m not! Confused yet? Allow me to explain.

I returned from Texas two months ago and since then I’ve been working Green Ronin full time, and doing so from my home. Nicole, GR’s general manager, also works from our home. While it has certainly been great being back, I began to notice in month number two that I wasn’t working too well at home. My office is so full of books, games, and miniatures that it’s been non-functional for years (really it’s more storage annex than office at this point). That meant that I was spending most days sitting up in bed and working on my laptop. Some days I would spend 80+% of my waking hours sitting in a 2′ x 4′ space. And with all the distractions of home, it wasn’t the most conducive environment for writing and design work. It was not, in short, a long term solution for my day to day work life.

I used to take my laptop and spend some days working in cafes and restaurants. That was an option but I wanted something more. I began to research coworking spaces in Seattle. Coworking is basically when many independent workers come together to share space and resources. It’s a way for people who can’t afford a full office or work space to enjoy a similar environment for a fraction of the cost. Green Ronin as a company doesn’t need and can’t afford a central office but I wanted somewhere to go away from my house to work, and to write in particular.

I did some research and turned up place like Office Nomads and Indie Ballard in the area. I found some promising leads but all of them required bus commutes of some distance. Then my friend Jenny told me that Krab Jab Studio was looking for a fourth member, since one of their artists had left recently. I’m not an artist but she thought they might be cool with having a writer come on board. Turns out that Jenny is smart.

I had a good feeling about Krab Jab before I even visited. I learned that Mark Tedin was a member and we had worked together at WotC a decade ago. In fact, we spent something like a year carpooling together from Capitol Hill. The studio’s location in Georgetown was also a huge plus to me. For one thing, it’s close to my house and thus an easy commute. Georgetown is also the closest thing Seattle has to NYC’s Lower East Side, or at least how the LES used to be. Just the place I’d enjoy spending more time. The building itself is also pretty cool. It used to be the bottling plant of the old Rainier Brewery, and now is the home to a variety of art spaces and small businesses.

After meeting Julie and Milo, it didn’t take for me to decide this was a great fit for me. I get a coworking space close to me in an area I like, but I also get a chance to plug in to the Georgetown community. Krab Jab is now organizing the Georgetown Art Attack, a twice monthly neighborhood event that delivers “art, music, and mayhem.” Those of you who remember my days at ABC No Rio in NYC know this is all right up my alley.

So on Nov. 1 I’ll officially become the “writer in residence” at Krab Jab Studio. Conveniently, I have extra furniture and such from my Austin apartment that’s currently sitting in my garage, so I can set up my area easily enough and maybe even free up some room at home. I am hoping that a new space that gets me out of the house and interacting with other creative people will benefit my work as a writer and expand my horizons in interesting and chaotic ways. I want some structure but not the soullessness of the cube farm. I’ll admit that sharing a studio with three artists is not the obvious move for a writer, but to hell with the conventional. I’ve already had too much of that.

Originally posted on LiveJournal on October 26, 2011.

I’m a Bad Blogger

It’s true, I’ve been a bad blogger. I haven’t updated since mid-July. My own site,, has been moribund for over a year. I really need to get that up and running again. I haven’t written much in part because I’ve in busy, in part because I’ve been lazy, and in part because it’s too easy to squirt out a thought or two on Twitter and Facebook. Still, looking back on my old entries, I regret not writing more about what I’ve been up to. Details fade over time and it’s good to record them when memories are fresh. At least my Tweets are being preserved in the Library of Congress.

I’ve been back in Seattle for two months now. Had I stayed at Vigil, this week would have marked one year of employment there. Other than being poor again, I don’t regret leaving the job. I missed Seattle, and my friends and family here. My Austin sojourn already seems like a strange dream. I sometimes think, “Did I really live in Texas for almost a year?” Then I have some of what Seattle calls BBQ and I know the answer is yes, yes I did.

The focus of my effort moving ahead is Green Ronin. I have plenty of work to do, with my major task being the completion of Set 3 for Dragon Age. I am taking on some freelance work as well, to bringing in extra money and in some cases just because it’s fun. I got an unexpected offer from an surprising source to work on an intriguing project that is right up my alley, and I’ll probably take that on. I may do some shorter projects for video games as well, and I’m writing an essay for an upcoming anthology.

One thing I’d like to write more of is fiction. I’m going to start tinkering with a novel soon, because while I’ve written a lot of game books I have not written long form fiction. I have a bunch of competing ideas; I just need to pick the one I want to pursue. I’d also be interested in writing the occasional short story. If any of my publisher or editor friends need authors for short fiction collections, let me know.

Since my schedule is my own again, I also hope to travel more. I did make it to Brazil this year and that was awesome, but I’m always hungry for more. When I have a day job, I have money but little time. When I don’t, I have time but little money. This is why most of my travel in the last decade has been convention or business related, though Nicole and I have become masters of making the most of that.

My parents are visiting right now, so we’ll be hitting some museums with them this weekend. Hopefully, I will blog again before another two months have passed!

Originally posted on LiveJournal on October 22, 2011.