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Monday, 31 December 2018

That was the year that was


"Night followed day like the flapping of a black wing. I saw the sun hopping swiftly across the sky, leaping it every minute, and every minute marking a day. The twinkling succession of darkness and light was excessively painful to the eye. Then, in the intermittent darknesses, I saw the moon spinning swiftly through her quarters from new to full, and had a faint glimpse of the circling stars. Presently, as I went on, still gaining velocity, the palpitation of night and day merged into one continuous greyness; the sky took on a wonderful deepness of blue, a splendid luminous colour like that of early twilight; the jerking sun became a streak of fire, a brilliant arch, in space; the moon a fainter fluctuating band; and I could see nothing of the stars, save now and then a brighter circle flickering in the blue."
Like H G Wells's time traveller, we've careened through another year. There should be a lever to slow this thing down, shouldn't there? But as "minute by minute the white snow flashed across the world, and vanished, and was followed by the bright, brief green of spring" I've had the chance to glimpse a few standout moments of 2016.

My best roleplaying experience was getting to sit in on a session of Dom Camus' Earth Force campaign. This is a modern take on superheroes, with a dash of existential threat and a background swirl of geopolitics. I played a scientist and got through without actively needing to use my powers, but nonetheless getting multinational backing for my open source research program, which made me feel quite Tony Stark. The whole thing was helped along by an elegant, streamlined system that did everything you need of rules and kept out of the way of the roleplaying. I hope Dom will publish it.


Talking of sweetly simple rules, my favourite new game system has been Gregor Vuga's Sagas of the Icelanders. If you're familiar with the sagas, this captures them perfectly. I ran it straight -- no fantasy, no 21st century mores, just bleak neighborhood struggles against the unsentimental elements and your fellow man. It's quick, easy, atmospheric, and the perfect antidote to decades of GURPS.

Proudest achievement of the year was publishing Can You Brexit Without Breaking Britain? This is my and Jamie's first gamebook in more than twenty years. I have no idea what will happen to the UK in 2019 (good luck -- by then I should have regenerated as an Irishman) but I am sure that the book will give you a better understand of the Brexit process than any of the government ministers charged with negotiating it. And Britain's godfather of gamebooks, Ian Livingstone himself, has taken a look at Can You Brexit? and pronounced it "very clever". He may be partial, of course.

Around the time I was finalizing Can You Brexit?, Ashton MacSaylor was getting ready to deliver on his Kickstarter for The Good, the Bad and the Undead. If you've hung around the saloon for a while, you'll remember that was the Wild West gamebook that Jamie was going to write but couldn't get beyond the outline. Ashton took it over, roped and threw and branded it, and now it's riding in out of the desert with a mean eye and a belt full of bullets.

Talking of gamebooks, I wrote two audio adventures for the Amazon Echo, one an all-new interactive drama, the other a reskin of my first ever gamebook Crypt of the Vampire. With very tight deadlines those were hard work, but luckily I like hard work, as long as it's work on something that interests me.


The highlight of the summer was travelling to Germany for Manticon. Good beer, nice people, an open society, fabulous landscapes, and the best trains I've ever been on. I might move there. (See Brexit, above.)

Earlier in the year, I got a call from Lawrence Whitaker at The Design Mechanism, publishers of the Mythras RPG. (Yes, I know; apologies for the spelling. I have to grit my teeth every time I type it, but it's the Runequest system with Glorantha stripped out, so it actually is rather brilliant.) TDM have acquired the licence to do a roleplaying game based on Jack Vance's fantasy trilogy Lyonesse, and having heard me talk about it on the Fictoplasm podcast they thought I might like to contribute a section to the book. You bet. I owe Jack Vance a huge creative debt and it's an honour to pay a little of that back.

Then there was Daniel Fox of Grim & Perilous Studios getting in touch to bring Tetsubo back from the Land of Roots. Nothing's forgotten, as we Robin of Sherwood fans know. Watch for that in 2019, if you still have money left after food and medicine rationing.

I also got roped in by Ian Turnbull, one of the Black Cactus co-founders, to do some work on a Virtual Reality game. Don't reach for your Oculus headset just yet. The developers originally hoped to get the game ready by October this year, but Ian's and my combined half-century in game development told us that was never going to happen. Maybe next October. My role was, as it often is these days, to clarify, simplify and focus the design and creative goals of the game. (And to chuck out all the bloody cutscenes on the principle of "discover, don't tell".)

In October my time machine lurched off into a pocket universe of misery for a few weeks when I came down with a nasty virus followed by a racking cough. It stopped me from going to TekUKon, which was a blow, but every cold has a silver lining. Unable to get on with any of my new projects, I whiled away the time for the fluid link to repair itself by editing the fifth Blood Sword book, The Walls of Spyte. It's still a slapstick dungeon bash but at least the flowchart now makes sense and the pieces of the key you find are properly numbered, so for the first time ever you can actually complete the adventure.


Surprising creative experience of the year was discovering I still have a copy of the Lord of Light boardgame that Nick Henfrey (creator of Spacefarers) and I pitched to Ian Livingstone (yes, 'im again) and Steve Jackson back around 1980. We didn't have the rights, which might or might not have been a problem. Nowadays there's always Kickstarter, so who knows?

And entertainment highlight of 2018 was discovering Guy Sclanders' hilarious Fabled Lands playthroughs on YouTube. Many of the comments focus on how nasty things used to happen in games in the old days. Well, nasty things are more fun. Whatever doesn't kill you helps you level up.

And on that note, best wishes for the year ahead. See you on the other side.


20 comments:

  1. I must watch Robin of Sherwood as you've mentioned it a few times now and I have fond memories of it (well, the first series anyway). I'm currently listening to the best of Clannad, which I'm thoroughly enjoying. Robin (The Hooded Man) a nominee for best ever TV show theme tune perhaps? My other nominees would be Blake's 7 and The Tripods.

    Good work re The Walls of Spyte. Any release date planned?

    Happy New Year to you too.

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    1. Oh, and I'm going to revisit Jack Vance's Cadwal chronicles. I loved Araminta Station. The sequels less so, Can't believe I chucked them.

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    2. I think he rushed the last one in that series, but I'd cling to my copies of Vance even if the sky were falling in. (Aka no-deal Brexit.)

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  2. Loreena McKennitt and the Mediaeval Baebes probably ought to be on any Dragon Warriors playlist too. We often turn to movie soundtracks as backing music, though it requires a bit of juggling to fit the mood. Or you can just do as I used to, and adapt the scenario to fit whatever the music is doing. The final scenario in DW book 4 actually got written that way, with a track from Vangelis's album Mask still referred to by my original players as "The Thing in the Castle Well".

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    1. Will put Loreena and Baebes on the wish list, had never heard of them. I ought to get everything Vangelis and Peter Gabriel (loved Blade Runner and Birdy, amongst others), but, so much music, so little time. The Thing in the Castle Well? I never knew Lovecraft and Eno collaborated!

      Oh, I forgot Can You Brexit (thanks for the reminder Michael). I'm still scratching my head as to why it's not the year's best seller. People may well be sick of Brexit, but the worst is yet to come!

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  3. Oh, and I'm hoping to run the Kickstarter for The Walls of Spyte in January or February, so the book should be on sale by late summer.

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    1. I'll totally be there to pledge for it. My Inner Completist would tolerate nothing less.

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  4. Out of curiosity, what will the Walls of Spyte wind up being? I never read/played any of the Blood Sword books, but I know previously you've talked about gutting the core 300 sections and starting from scratch, but this post suggests something more akin to bugfixing?

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    1. So far I've just figured on bug fixing. As a stretch goal, though, I could maybe rewrite the book the way I'd like it to have been. That would be pretty ambitious, though -- KS take 10%, print & postage takes at least 80% of what's left, so it's hard to justify taking 3 months or so to write a new book that only about a hundred people even want!

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    2. A hundred and one - although you may already have been counting me !

      Happy New Year, maybe see you in Dublin at the end of this one ?

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  5. Happy new year to you Dave. A nice wrap-up of the year. And by oath, you should be proud of Can You Brexit.

    I'm sure it's on your plan, but will you do a looking ahead to 2019 post as well? I'm wondering about that lone and level elephant in the room...

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    1. Thanks, Michael. I'm prouder of the book than I think any British frontbench politician deserves to be of their performance over the last year, anyway.

      More FL books are definitely something that Paul and Jamie have been talking about. But while backers of The Serpent King's Domain are still waiting for their copies to ship from Megara, it might be rubbing salt in the wound to launch the FL8 fundraiser.

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    2. Love your pluralizing "book" Dave, sounds most promising. Your reticience to rush on with FL8 given the circumstances with Megara does you credit, but as one of those who has still not received a book from Megara, even after funding at a higher pledge level, and has just gone ahead and bought the book separately anyway, I wouldn't want you to halt progress or lose momentum for something outside your control.

      I can't fathom what's going on in Mikael's head to treat his customers so poorly, but honestly I don't think those deliveries will ever be fulfilled. I'd push on if I were you.

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  6. Happy New Year Dave! Is it too soon to start nagging/begging for those Company of Bronze/Iron Men write ups? And of course anything Bloodsword or DW/Legend related will definitely get my $...! Cheers N

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    1. Happy New Year, Nigel. Bloodsword is first on the list, but I'm pretty sure the write-up book will happen sometime this year.

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    2. Hooray! As they say in the classics “shut up and take my money!” :-)

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  7. Joyeuse année 2019 Dave, Jamie & Oliver ! (malgré le Brexit... :-( )

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    1. Thanks, Olivier, and happy New Year to you. As for Brexit... I'm hoping that by March I'll be Irish, and so still an EU citizen. Fingers crossed.

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  8. Happy (belated) New Year.

    Here's a write-up of one of your other gamebooks which you might enjoy:

    https://www.knightmare.com/forum/1/6705?p=55460#p55460

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    1. Thanks, James. A review like that makes a marvellous New Year present! Tim Child and I put a lot of passion into the book, so it's heartening to see that it's still cherished.

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