Villa Argentate, home of schemers and scoundrels, nexus of trade, and thorn in the side of the nobility, has a problem. The city's tribute, which keeps it and its residents free of the Duke's interference, has gone missing. The city trembles with fear and doubt; will Villa Argentate's movers and shakers find a way to solve the city's problem, or will they collapse in social maneuvering, back-biting, and treachery? Six figures rise to prominence in the chaos in the city, standing on the precipice of The Vicious Crucible of Villa Argentate. The only way out is through, and the only way through requires a painful transformation into something new.

The Vicious Crucible of Villa Argentate is game for up to six players and a GM. It plays in three to five sessions, or a pulse-pouding single session of jump cuts and action sequences. Best of all, it's free.

Happy Gaming!

The Eburnean Tower has stood for centuries as a symbol of scholarship, arcane power, and ruthless domination. Now this hallowed institution is crumbling from within through backbiting and treachery. The wards have fallen; the Tower's enemies have invaded. Some among the magi's number plot and scheme to leave everything behind them in a smoldering ruin. Now six figures rise to prominence in the history of the Tower. These six stand on the precipice of The Vicious Crucible of the Eburnean Tower. The only way out is through, and the only way through requires a painful transformation into something new.

The Vicious Crucible of the Eburnean Tower is game for up to six players and a GM. It plays in three to five sessions, or a pulse-pouding single session of jump cuts and action sequences. Best of all, it's free.

Happy Gaming!

Tonight, instead of hitting Reload on political websites, I ran The Vicious Crucible of Verdigris Valley for some folks on Google Hangouts. You can watch us all act funny and figure out how to play over the Internets (my first time!)

It's an hour and fifty-five minutes, and we play at a quick pace to cover probably half of the Verdigris Valley scenario. We're going to play again, probably the conclusion, next week!

So I'm running the Houses of the Blooded LARP at Big Bad Con up in the Bay Area this weekend. Since it's a one-shot, we won't be getting the juicy details and feudal context that are supplied by the game's Season Actions… so I elected to create a little something-something to help jump start some action, scheming, and dealing in the LARP.

Behold, Trouble Cards!

Each card gives you a certain calamity that is befalling your lands. I figure you deal out these cards and you explain, "Hey, it's Winter. And Shan'ri hates the ven." The cards prompt players to collect certain resources, seek out certain other ven in the game, engage in the ven's wacky feudal structure, and other fun stuff. It promises them style rewards for doing these things.

These are directly inspired by Paul Tevis' "achievements" that were used in the last Strategicon Houses LARP, and after running and playing in this game for a few years, I'm honestly starting to look for an alternative to the unreliable "Refreshments" mechanic (which may be us running the game with too few storytellers; we'll see at the next couple events).

I'll see how they actually play out this weekend, but I thought I'd post them online, too. If you give them a try, be sure to tell us how they worked for you!

The borderlands of the Verdigris Valley have never been peaceful, but now an invasion force gathers at the summit of the Pashuan Way, looking hungrily down on the rich homesteads and crippled fort below. The days to come will throw six men and women into a gauntlet of desperate pressures, crushing obligations, and entangling relationships. Some will fall; some will triumph; some will cave to the pressures; some will bask in the flames like a phoenix. These six stand on the precipice of The Vicious Crucible of Verdigris Valley. The only way out is through, and the only way through requires a painful transformation into something new.

The Vicious Crucible of Verdigris Valley is game for up to six players and a GM. It plays in three to five sessions, or a pulse-pouding single session of jump cuts and action sequences. Best of all, it's free.

Because sometimes, you just need a cookie. This takes about half an hour and produces cookies.

It's the age-old Nestle Tollhouse recipe, scaled down about as far as you can go (1 egg is hard to split any further). So it makes, like, a dozen cookies or so, depending on how big you make them. Enough cookies to split with your spouse while watching Supernatural or something.

1/2 c butter (one stick)
1 egg
1/2 c brown sugar
1/4 c white sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla

1 c flour
1/2 tsp soda
1/2 tsp salt

1 c chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375.

Combine wet ingredients (butter, egg, sugars, vanilla) in a big bowl. Add flour, soda, and salt on top. Stir dry ingredients on top until soda and salt are incorporated into flour; then dig a little deeper to combine wet and dry ingredients. Stir in chocolate chips (or whatever). Drop spoonfuls onto cookie sheet, bake at 375 for 12 minutes.

There are 24 tributes from all over Panem.

Two of them are black. They come from the same district.

Of all the 22 tributes from other districts, only two interact with Katniss with anything other than unbridled antipathy.

And so the only two black tributes help the main character until the plot requires somebody to die, and so they die.

Bleeeeergh.

Update: I revised some numbers below; my night-of-watching eyeball estimate was off.

So once upon a time, I used to work at a Big Publishing House that made textbooks, which have crazy-tight and crazy-serious deadlines. And as I learned most of my publishing process there, deadlines being really fucking serious business got firmly entrenched in how I do things.

I don't miss deadlines.

And blowing a deadline for me is the shortest route possible to never working for me again, full stop, no exceptions, no joke. You've demonstrated that you are not reliable at gauging your own time, your own process, your own life, and you're not taking responsibility for the choices you make and how you communicate with the people you work with. And there are so many other fish in the sea that I don't need to put up with that from you, ever again.

However…

The email saying, "Hey, I won't be able to make my upcoming deadline," that's fine. That does not set the emergency lights spinning and the klaxons wailing. That email is, in fact, awesome.

That email, which is sent as soon as you know a deadline is going to be a problem, keeps me in the loop, lets me make informed decisions, and shows that you're taking responsibility for whatever the problem is, whether it's a schedule oversight or a life-and-death hospital emergency. That email, which also should include a revised deadline, lets me adjust my plans now, while I have lead time, instead of three days after the day I was expecting to get work back from you.

That email is how professionals and equals communicate, and I probably respect you more, not less, when I get it. Because we all know shit happens, the important thing is how you deal with it.

When I was writing Watchtower Report, one of my most useful brainstorming techniques was thinking about other shows, movies, and properties that I'd like to run using the Smallville RPG. Starship Troopers was one of these, and part of developing the ideas in the book was putting together a "Smallship Trooperville" game and seeing how it ran. (This also helped me refine how to create and run a one-shot of the game, but that sort of thing will have to wait for the Cortex+ Hacker's Guide. ;)

Playing this was a blast, and it was especially amusing seeing the scifi military drama get "Smallville-ized" and watch players navigate scenes where they all blamed each other for whatever was going wrong at the time, then made up and saved human civilization.

Now that Watchtower Report is out, I figured I might as well post up my game prep for that (wholly unauthorized) Starship Troopers game.

Smallship Trooperville is a one-shot game for the Smallville Roleplaying Game for 3-6 players. Players pick up Starship Troopers favorites like Johnny Rico, Carmen Ibanez, Dizzy Flores, and Carl Jenkins (Nazi Doogie Howser!) to continue the fight against the arachnid menace.

Watchtower Report is now available for $29.99 from Margaret Weis Productions.
Buy it at DriveThruRPG!

Void Vultures, a scrappy little game about badass space marines looting derelict space stations (and the things that live on them), has been more than fully funded… we've reached five hundred percent funding.

Here's the skinny:

The game's corebook, Rüls of the Void, will be released under a Creative Commons (sharealike attribution) license, which means it'll be free for everybody who's like a taste. It will be accompanied by Derelicts of the Void, which will have a number of derelict stations for exploring and looting. When they're finished and ready (probably December), they'll be posted up here…and shortly every torrent site on the planet.

The game's two expansions, Horrors of the Void and Dreadnoughts of the Void, will be available for backers of the kickstarter. If you missed the kickstarter and want in on the Psi-powered, Cyber-augmented, spaceship-flying, mech-piloting fun, you'll need to find a backer. They'll tell you what's what.

And while we're on the topic of our backers, man, I have nothing but giant thank-yous for the lot of them. We had nearly 250 backers for this project, which is just awesome.

I have a ridiculous amount of fun writing content for this game (not to mention ordering art for it), and I hope you'll have fun playing it, too. I wouldn't be surprised to see new Rülsleit games cropping up in the future!

The Void Vultures kickstarter has reached its initial goal of $750! We'll be able to get some awesome art from awesome artists (details coming soon) and make both Rüls of the Void and Derelicts of the Void into great PDFs.

But if we can get the kickstarter to go further, we'll make Rüls and Derelicts even better… we'll make them free.

If this kickstarter hits $1500, both Rüls of the Void and Derelicts of the Void will be fully ransomed, freely downloadable to the world.

But wait, you might be thinking, if the game becomes free, what have I bought, then? Never fear, our loyal, generous, and very appreciated backers: we've got something special right here, just for you.

At the next threshold, we'll create Horrors of the Void, a second expansion exclusively for Void Vultures' backers. This expansion will invade your brain with 24 more pages of off-the-hook options for your salvage experts themselves and the terrible threats they face. Play void vultures with mind-bending Psi powers or augmented with powerful Cyber. Confront the treacherous Void Syndicate or quail before the New Solar Order.

And the best part? All that good stuff will only be available to backers like you and those lucky gamers who play with you. How's that for a perk?

So prod your friends to check out Void Vultures. Post, tweet, status-update, and whatever else so that we can push this thing to the stars.

Thank you for all your support! We wouldn't have made it this far without you.

— Josh and Ryan

I went looking on the Internet for a list of adjectives to describe skin tones. I was thoroughly defeated. So I put this together, trying to avoid those with the worst connotations (although see note). These aren’t ethnology or sociology terms, but descriptive words. The color splotches aren’t intended as definitive (actual skin is beautifully textured and marbled, with lots of color differentiation) but as sort of bookmarks to get us non-art-students in the right vicinity.

This week is Speak Out with your Geek Out, and I'm going to speak out about how I geek out with writing.

Except… I'm on a roll writing Rooksbridge #10, so. Maybe later this week?

$5.00


Your mother wants you dead. Your brother is afflicted by a terrible curse. Your father has been missing ever since your uncle took his throne. There are strange men wandering through your estates, turning up your worst secrets. The Senate is meeting in scant weeks, and your sources tell you that they'll discuss invalidating your claim to your lands.

And you thought your life was complicated enough when you were using just the corebook!

Coronets but Never Crowns is the Family and Politics expansion for Houses of the Blooded that shows you how to let loose your powerful, passionate ven on the world of feudal politics… and vice-versa. The expansion features six new rules modules which can be added singly or in any combination, including:

$5.00
$2.00

Hearts True and False - Stories from Rooksbridge #9

Count Beverwick is coming to Guilford. He's bringing a courtier that has been exiled from the Baroness Bramwood's lands; he's bringing his own interpretation of the land grant that she has been developing. And most troubling, he's bringing no women. His excellency comes bearing expectations, and it's up to the Bramwood court to stymie them… or satisfy them.

Stories from Rooksbridge is a serialized fantasy novel, with installments published not-incredibly-regularly. It features knights and magic and politics and sex and is hopefully half as much fun for you to read as it is for me to write.

The digital edition includes printup, screenread, iPhone, and now ePub formats.

You can also find Necessary Paramour at Kindle US, Kindle UK, Kindle DE, and Nook Books.

$2.00

For the Atlantis Risen project, I've been doing a lot of reading and watching (more reading than watching) trying to get to the bottom of the steampunk genre. I've done a steampunk game before in Full Light, Full Steam, but that was when I was young and stupid. This time, I resolved to dig and find the roots of steampunk. Instead of doing a game that had steampunk trappings, I was going to do a game that hit on what steampunk was about. The more I dig, though, the more I just find sand that streams through my fingers.

Many hold up the Difference Engine as the foundational steampunk book, and that's a pretty fair assessment. At the time it was written, though, there was no steampunk. This book was simply speculative fiction in the alternate history vein. Turtledove material.

Going further back, people cite works like Morlock Night, which purports to be a sequel to Well's Time Machine. But this, as with many other "steampunk" works new and old, throw in all sorts of crazy shit along with gleaming brass levers. This actually fits pretty easily in the "weird fiction" genre that thrived in the heydey of the pulps.

It's also worth highlighting what might be the single greatest effort to make a steampunk anything, that being the band Abney Park. Which is… well, it's industrial rock with occasional lyrics about steam, soot, and airships.

You can scrape together a number of works (here, here, here, here, here) to try and assemble a set of steampunk exemplars, and these lists look pretty solid (and nearly all of those works are great reads). They all have fantastic steam technology, anachronistic social mores, and… very little else. The elements that knit these lists together are rather superficial — and I don't mean that disparagingly, but descriptively: the common elements are all surface details. You won't find common themes or narrative structures, just recurring motifs.

This is the best definition of steampunk I can come up with:

If you got Requiem for the Wicked's digital edition, the iPhone version apparently dropped the last paragraph. Whoops! This has since been fixed; you can download the updated version from your downloads page.

Here's the first draft of the flavor text that opens up Void Vultures. It's since been polished and improved, but you can take a peek here to see where it started:

Ten years ago, the powers of Earth and their many solar colonies erupted into violence in a system-wide war. With the terrible weapons at their disposal, it wasn't long before every habitable planet and moon was reduced to an irradiated dustball. Years of mass starvation and deprivation later, we survivors strain out a living by scavenging what remains on derelict space stations. We, the heirs of Earth, have become little more than vultures, picking over the carrion of a golden age of plenty.

I'm a scrapper — a salvage expert, if you want to be polite, but I answer to void vulture, scavvy, kender, station-stripper, magpie, even shitpicker. I draw the line at "junk monkey," though, so watch it. My mates and I board derelict orbital stations and anything else that might have some glimmer on it, kick in the doors, take down whatever security measures exist, and plunder whatever's left on the hulk. Sometimes, somebody or something has taken up residence, and we deal with them, too.

Lucky for us, the township that we return to never asks questions. They need our salvage to keep flying, feeding, and breathing and perhaps someday, if we pile up enough provisions, we'll be able to boost our way to the colonies in Alpha Centauri. Between you, me, and this bottle, though, that's pie-in-the-sky bullshit, a bedtime story to let the kiddies sleep at night. I'll be happy enough if we can knock over a planetoid and set ourselves up for the rest of our miserable lives.

Girl's gotta dream, after all.

1pkg bacon
1lb ground beef
1pkg corn muffin mix
- 1/3 c milk
- 1 egg
1c shredded cheddar cheese
1c corn
rosemary
chipotle chili powder

dutch oven
aluminum foil

Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.

Start by making a lattice of bacon in the bottom of a dutch oven, with the ends of the bacon resting against the sides of the dutch oven. Then weave additional strips of bacon around the sides, starting along the bottom of the dutch oven and moving up, alternating under and over the ends of the bacon as if you were weaving a basket. This takes most of a package of bacon; dice up the rest.

Over on his blog. Ryan Macklin has posted character creation rules for his long-upcoming game Mythender and has invited everybody to give the rules a spin.

I took him up on the opportunity, and you should, too. Here's what I came up with:

Rúrik Dúisson, Apostate Commander

What Myth did you devote yourself to?
I was the high priest of Freyja, the harsh and demanding "goddess" of the fields, sorcery, and war. I led the temple in Rotterheim.

What was done to make you flee your oaths and bonds?
I was ordered to start a war so that those who died in battle would go to Freyja. When I refused, I was silenced and exiled, and by the time I returned to Rotterheim, the walls had fallen and even the women and children were pressed into the town's defense.

What did you give that can never be replaced?
My wife and daughter were taken by Freyja as servants; they now reside with her in her hall, Sessrúmnir, on the heavenly battlefield Fólkvangr. Therefore we march on heaven to free the captives she keeps there.

This was one of our readings at church this morning (along with The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock), and I felt like sharing it a little wider.

In Place of a Curse
by John Ciardi

At the next vacancy for God, if I am elected,
I shall forgive last the delicately wounded who,
having been slugged no harder than anyone else,
never got up again, neither to fight back,
nor to finger their jaws in painful admiration.

They who are wholly broken, and they in whom mercy is understanding,
I shall embrace at once and lead to pillows in heaven.
But they who are the meek by trade, baiting the best of their betters with extortions of a mock-helplessness,
I shall take last to love, and never wholly.

Let them all in Heaven - I abolish Hell -
but let it be read over them as they enter:
Beware the calculations of the meek, who gambled nothing
gave nothing, and could never receive enough.

I've moved everything from kallistipress.com and rooksbridge.com onto the all-new shiney joshroby.com!

If you had a user account at rooksbridge.com, you now have an account at joshroby.com. All your purchases should follow you.

I'll have both games and fiction available for purchase and download here, both my back catalog and — real soon, now — new titles.

Whether it's Lankhmar or Camorr, San Angeles or Mega-City One, even Ankh-Morpork, the city has long been a favorite setting for genre fiction. It's a comfortable bridge between our own urban lives and the sometimes alien worlds of fantasy and science fiction: sure, everybody carries fencing swords, have ears of various magnitudes of pointiness, and battle with extradimensional threats, but they live in a building on a street, go to a pub to socialize, and maybe have a local sports team they root for. They buy their food at a grocery and they have neighbors that are either too noisy or too nosey. We understand the baseline, and that lets us appreciate the crazy genre bits all the more.

It's a natural consequence, then, that genre gaming often sets its sights on the city as a setting. From the dazzling Freiburg to dangerous Freeport, from utopian* Alpha Complex to beleaguered Gem, we've played our way through a lot of cities. Gaming cities give us that same familiar-but-unfamiliar feel that we get from city novels, but do a little more, besides. Here are my favorites:

Cities give us lots of different power factions from all sorts of backgrounds. You have the city's officials, clerics of its churches and temples, cutthroats of the thieves guild, the local lords, the merchant houses, and so on and so forth. That's a whole lot of story fodder just waiting to be tapped.

A good city map can just pour ideas directly into your brain. The cathedral's here, the river goes down this way, and then there's the docks? Well, there must be underwater river access in the catacombs underneath the cathedral, right? And that lets you smuggle out the heretics and get them on a ship…

Cities are juxtapositions of disparate agendas. Everybody comes to the city for their own reasons, and those reasons are easy to weave together into snares for the player characters. All those factions I mentioned?

So maybe you've heard of this "Red Shirt Guy" thing. Maybe you heard about the first YouTube video, maybe you've heard about the others. But it is a great story, and I think it needs to be put somewhere, all together, because it's one of the few instances where Geekdom rose above the ever-present desire to kneecap ourselves and descend into bullshit self-depreciating name-calling and oneupsmanship. So without further ado:

BlizzCon is the annual convention for Blizzard Entertainment, makers of World of Warcraft. Warcraft is a mammoth property with tons and tons of spinoff products. In the next couple months, the MMO's newest expansion, Cataclysm, will go live. As a lead-up to this, there's a tie-in novel called the Shattering that tells the story of the changing world. One of BlizzCon's panels was a Q&A with the game producers, and one of the questions was the following:

The questioner, quickly dubbed "Red Shirt Guy," kind of embodies the essence of geekitude: stammering a little, asking a question that belies a full immersion in the canon of a fictional world. As you can imagine, when his question appeared on YouTube, there were some disparaging remarks and responses. It looked like he was quickly becoming the new Star Wars Kid, ridiculed for being a big fat geek, mostly by big fat geeks.

But!

Ryan and Josh (and stuntman Will Huggins) sat down with Sean Nittner on the This Just In from NeonCon podcast. We're fresh from playing the game and we talk about what happened in the story, a little of how things work, and our hopes and dreams for the project.

It's a 23 minute listen: Episode 6 – Ryan Macklin and Josh Roby’s Vicious Crucible

So here's the thing that most excites me about the Vicious Crucible project: it's all about the situation. Each game is about these characters in this place enmeshed in these circumstances. Each game is about how that situation changes the characters and how the characters change their situation.

Roleplaying games are made up of a ton of parts — setting, resolution system, character options, dice tricks — all the pieces are important, and all of them can be clever. It's easy to design and talk about a clever dice trick; it's easy and fun to geek out about a clever setting. Situation, though, is a little harder. There are a few stellar situations out there that are widely known — Unknown Armies' Jailbreak, for instance — but on the whole, great situations are in short supply. I think that's for two reasons: first, building a solid situation is hard; and second, situations generally aren't portable and are hard to share.

I like challenges. I like difficult tasks. And so situation being hard to pull off isn't something that dissuades me; it's something that attracts me. This project is all about the situation: it lives and breathes on the strength of the situations in each game. And that means that, if this project works, it will work because the situations are strong. A strong situation makes for awesome play. The bar is set high, and when we roll out these games, they're going to fly high.

Dear Blizzard Support:

I just had the, ah, "pleasure" of being matched up with a player whose username was Klitorectomy, which is rather obviously a mispelling of clitorectomy, or female genital mutilation. If you aren't aware of what clitorectomy is, there is a succinct overview here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clitoridectomy and here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Female_genital_cutting

When I told him that his username disgusted me, he answered with "it's only a game" and then "what are you, Jewish?" When I asked him if he intentionally chose female genital mutilation as a name, he stated that when he chose the name, he thought he'd be able to change it.

I have the game Replay saved, but I cannot for the life of me figure out how to get the file and attach it here. If you can reach into my account and access it, I've saved it as "Vs Klitorectomy." If you don't see my file names, it is the game on Oct 8th, 8:16am.

Female genital mutilation is a terrible and oppressive practice inflicted on the least capable of defending themselves. It's not anything that need appear in a video game, let alone the wider world. I'm sure Blizzard does not want this sort of thing happening on their games, and I hope it will be dealt with quickly.

Thank you.

——

I would also like to note that, while I was chatting with this creep, getting the details and insults above, I totally kicked his ass with a handful of Dark Templar. —Josh

At the request of some folks, I put together this handy flowchart that shows the steps to Smallville's contest rules. It looks more complex than it really is since the top half and bottom half are identical except that "Player A" and "Player B" switched.

You can see the "main line" of blue bubbles that describes the spine of contests: the quintessential "give in or fight on" decision tree. Stress is in the yellow bits, giving in in the orange bits.

Hope y'all get some use out of this!

A month or more ago, a poster at RPGnet asked the inevitable and fateful question: "Can Smallville do Star Wars?" I had an almost religious revelation at the question, and immediately started thinking about how to implement it. Strategicon: Gateway was coming up, so I resolved to run a "Jediville" game there.

To prepare, I had to write a few new traits and do up a Pathways chart. I like what I came up with — it seemed serviceable — and liked even more the episode that I built with it, The Treasure of Hoth. You can check out all three documents by clicking the links below:

Jediville Pathways ChartJediville Traits (unfinished) • The Treasure of Hoth, a six-Lead episode ready for play

If you want to play in the game at the upcoming con, you probably don't want to read the episode. There are spoilers in there!