Back to Reality

Today is the launch of the book by the Bestseller Experiment, a wonderful podcast that I have been following, and written about before. The hard work that Mark Stay and Mark Oliver (Desvaux) did on the podcast has really paid off with regards to the book. The great banter in the podcast was a big hint for what they were writing, and I think the Mark’s delivered their signature style well.

The good news is that the book has already reached number 1 in music:

Back To Reality no 1

It will be interesting to see how things develop over the next few weeks. As well as what will happen with the brilliant podcast; in the first live stream for the book launch, Mark Stay explained there will be a podcast break.

As a member of the beta team (Experimentalists) I got to read the book before its launch. The launch team was amazing, and a very interesting experience. Sadly I was not as quick as my fellow Experimentalists in regards to giving feedback. The team is another example of the many things a professional author should consider.

Back To Reality Bat

My review is:

This feel good story initially starts out following the unhappy life of Jo, her dull life degenerates further, but then Yohanna turns up and things get weird! It’s certainly a page turner, as Jo deals with a comedic level of problems. Despite the scale of the protagonist’s problems, somehow the two Marks manage to maintain a light tone and some great humour.
Be warned this funny story also has character depth, interesting scenes all wrapped up with some heartfelt profundity. This good mix of fun and seriousness helped with the books pacing, I was intrigued to know what would happen next. In the spirit of this books good use of nostalgia, the story has a Play Your Cards Right feel: “Is the next scene’s emotion higher or lower than a 7?”
I recommend this fun read, particularly to anyone wanting a good balance of joy, sadness with a good sprinkling of gravitas about life choices. I rate this book a caterpillar cake, definitely worth consumption.

I am greatly looking forward to what else the two Marks do. In the meanwhile tracking the books position in various charts will be fun. You can get your copy of the book now via the smart link at http://bestsellerexperiment.com/backtoreality/

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Spirit Game – Secret Rage

This continues on from PBM Thanks & Secret Rage.

I developed the Secret Rage idea by changing the player character from that of following a lineage of Garou, to that of playing a powerful spirit. Making the game about a powerful spirit, something effectively immortal, which can guide Garou, who the player can also play, gave me the idea: “A chronicle to prevent the Apocalypse”. This idea links to the forthcoming new World of Darkness that is in development, which builds upon the old World of Darkness (oWoD), but the end days (Gehenna, Apocalypse, or Ascension) never happened.

The scale of this spirit game is even bigger than my old Vampire Methuselah and Elder PBM games, more like the professional games I ran at KJC Games. Whilst the spirit has vast powers and epic plans, the key is to treat the character like any other, to be propelled by motivations and personal drama. An added benefit with this project is it also allows me to playtest ideas from a commercial PBM project that I’ve been working on for years: Elemental Masters. This game is about the building blocks of reality and the plots of pantheons; I seriously need a better name than this working title, meh.

A few RPGs go in to some detail about spirits, particularly several of the World of Darkness (old WoD & Chronicles) as well GURPS Spirits. Sadly despite the numerous details they present, I still wanted more depth. To be fair to those books, I do tend to go overboard with my ideas, plus the Spirit label is so all-encompassing, so it is no surprise that a collection of predominately enigmatic entities are described in vague terms. One of the strengths of the WoD books is how many ideas they present, whilst not creating a rigid structure to limit possibility. As normal for any GURPS book, GURPS Spirits is filled with a plethora of thought provoking ideas, and plenty of rules options, plus plug-ins to such a powerful system.

When I first read the Werewolf I was reminded of how the game brilliantly compares with Dungeons & Dragons; I’ll justify that statement another time. Manual of the Planes was my favourite D&D book, and Planescape is my favourite setting, so it is no surprise to reveal that Umbra is my favourite WoD book, my second favourite is the Mage Book of Madness.

Spirit Scale

Given the cosmological scale of any spirit world to its setting, any decision made can have far reaching impacts upon said setting. It is common to declare that the ephemeral nature of spirits makes them mysterious to mortals/beings of flesh, which is understandable given that Spirits are not player characters (PCs). The three tiered Umbra (High, Middle and Low) in the old World of Darkness effectively contains every idea and its spiritual impact, so detailing literally everything would be an impossible task. It is up to each group as to the scale of any Umbral impact they want to explore, there is certainly enough information for any Storyteller to launch all manner of games.

Given how many different games I’ve played for extended periods, I’ve gotten to explore the core setting of each game. This is another reason for my obsession with all RPG cosmologies, to explore. For example a very long running game of Legend of the 5 Rings slowly became about the setting’s cosmology; I am quite looking forward to the forthcoming 5th Edition and to see what more they add. As a Star Trek fan, I did consider another name for this campaign:

Tellurian Trek!

Spirit Courts

Another important consideration is the complexity of any Spirit Courts, powerful gatherings that surely would have connections to each other. A design dilemma is how best to present such entities, especially if they are long-lived, and thus would have many ancient relationships to work out; never mind the historical events they could discuss.  The Dungeons & Dragons setting Planescape went in to a lot of detail about the Blood War, which I think really added depth to the D&D cosmology; the machinations of ludicrously powerful entities and Gods is better presented in that setting. Werewolf did a good job of summarising many Spirit Totems and their relationships, and the setting itself is based around the Triat and Gaia.

I believe the vast cosmological scale of is one of the key reasons so many players of the World of Darkness setting preferred Vampire over Werewolf or Mage, and to a lesser extent Wraith, Changeling and Demon. Vampire is a rich enough game; it has plenty of characters, depth and history, without needing the Umbra to be brought out of the shadows. When Dirty Secrets of the Black Hand came out, a few players I chatted with explained that they didn’t like the new layers of plots, and some said they disliked the Umbral tie-ins; there were of course forum posts debating this point. Several players I’ve chatted with who love Werewolf or Mage typically list the vast cosmology as a reason why they do. Of course plenty of players, like myself, appreciate the different games for different reasons.

Spirit Psychology

Years ago I had written a collection of ideas about Spirits for Elemental Masters setting, but I had not fleshed my ideas out enough. Typically for me I had avoided finalising ideas due to constantly feeling that I needed to research more. Finally with years of research and this idea for Secret Rage I was able to finalise ideas. I had been working on detailing the psychology of different types of spirits, also drawing upon computing and philosophical ideas. Exploring ideas such as compartmentalised minds, how an Incarna’s brood relationship works, how I think slumber works, more about a spirit’s relationship with Gnosis, Gaia, etc. My spirit work is not ready for public release, but things are at a good playtesting stage, which Richie and I will explore.

I’ve considered whether to develop this work in to a commercial product, so it is interesting to note that the new White Wolf have the Storytellers Vault.

PBM Thanks & Secret Rage

A while ago when I was mostly bedridden several of my friends would skype with me. It really helped to have some extra communication, and thankfully with a wireless headset it meant I could rest in bed. One of my long-time friends is Richie; he’s self-employed working from home, and has a young child, so he’s ludicrously busy, yet he still allocated time for me.

In addition to saying thank you to Richie for his support, I have tried to offer small gifts to show my appreciation. Richie and I first role-played together well over twenty years ago. Due to his busy life he’s not able to game regularly, so I thought a Play By Mail (PBM) game would do us both good, neatly sliding in to his hectic life schedule, at whatever pace he could manage. I wrote an introductory series to PBM here.

Roughly a year ago we discussed playing old White Wolf’s Aberrant game, since Richie’s a fan of comics, but he’d not played that setting yet. Aberrant has a rich Supers setting with mature themes, and lots of world changing powers to explore. Sadly this game never quite got going due to how busy Richie always is, and since I was still struggling with my health I didn’t push the subject. I have managed to offer a few other things as thanks, for example I made this small thing a while ago when he was ill:

BatJanoSandman

More recently I returned to the idea of offering a better present by running a PBM game. As we are both writers I considered proposing a classic style Dungeons & Dragons game emphasising the Hero’s Journey arc. Although this may feel a bit too cliché to many role-players, I think it is worth keeping in mind that there is so much you can do with good old D&D, there are so many settings and styles of gameplay. I also considered a Cthulhu game, given the single player nature of this game maybe doing something along the lines of Groundhog Cthulhu: Live, Go Insane, Die, Repeat. Or maybe going a bit over the top and running a GURPS Infinite Worlds game. I went through lists of other RPGs, even games that I’d not tried out yet. Eventually I settled on a game that I thought was the most likely to get Richie to bite, so I suggested the Gift of Werewolf.

We both adore Werewolf: The Apocalypse; well we adore all of the classic World of Darkness (cWoD). Despite how much we played Werewolf, we still want to play more, both feeling the genius game was overlooked by many gamers, and those who did take an interest in the World of Darkness games typically favoured Vampire. Over the years when I’ve been asked to pick to my favourite cWoD game I’ve always picked the World of Darkness as a cohesive whole, since that was how I always ran the setting. So my friend knows that when I suggested Werewolf, I really meant the cWoD with the primary focus being Werewolf.

After some chats I made a list of ideas for the Werewolf PBM for us to discuss further, and things quickly developed; typically I wanted to do something more and a bit different than my previous games. The initial premise was Richie playing a lone Garou, however, role-playing a lone Garou is a bit depressing; they are primarily pack animals after all. So I proposed a game spanning eons, we could use Past Lives to allow for story that covered such a time period, a chance to explore a powerful historical and social background of the Garou, and it could be about preventing the Apocalypse. The new White Wolf Publishing company are working on a new World of Darkness, one that roughly continues from the classic, without the Apocalypse/Gehenna/Ascension ending. Whilst we are waiting for those products I considered this to be an intriguing idea.

Over the course of a few weeks I played about with the premise and kept coming back to wanting to do something more like my Vampire Methuselah and Elder PBM campaigns. Meanwhile Richie wrote a cool short story, things were a go. I then had a more intriguing campaign idea, one that would take the Past Lives plan to an even bigger level, and take the game in a radically different direction. It didn’t involve abandoning what we’d initially set out to do, and Richie’s story would tie-in.

Next time I’ll go in to more detail about my Secret Rage.

You can check out some of Richie’s great designs at http://www.richiedigital.co.uk/

Positivity & Quality, the Mikey Neumann Way

For me this week has been marvellous, two projects that I’ve been anticipating for a while were released, and both delivered. The first was by Max Landis which I wrote about in The Passion of Landis, the second is Mikey Neumann’s video on John Wick 2. I appreciate this somewhat abandons my normal anti-hype stance, but there are both in that rare category of constantly delivering.

After I watched Mikey’s video on John Wick 2, I know I wanted to write something about Mikey and why I think his work and positivity is of such a high quality. I was introduced to the amazing Movies with Mikey via this statement:

 “Mikey is a wonderful human being, so it kind of adds up that he would make one of the most celebratory film review shows on the Internet.”

Extra Credits. 22 Dec 2016.

After such a good recommendation I checked out Movies with Mikey, which is on the Chainsawsuit Original channel, and I was not disappointed. I believe that Mikey Neumann wonderfully highlights the many things that can make a film great, even if the film has some substantial flaws.

For example: the film Sunshine received a lot of criticism, and Mikey doesn’t ignore how the second half was a problem for some viewers. Crucially Mikey also talks about the film’s incredible music (it truly is!), the cinematography, the gravitas of the plot, the human drama. Even though I have seen the film and thought it was a good but flawed, after watching Mikey’s video I now have a much better appreciation for Sunshine.

When I discover a new YouTube channel that impresses me I prefer to go to the channel’s beginning and watch everything. I appreciate that normally earlier videos tend to lack the production quality, but even his old videos like Ninja Turtles have the quality and voice of his later work.

One of the fun things that Mikey does with his videos is quirky segues. Granted there is nothing too unusual with that …

But Did You Know? Previously Mikey Neumann was an actor and writer for the games Brothers in Arms and Borderlands.

Mikey’s video on The Force Awakens is a great example of digging into a film that many people have intense opinions about. I loved the Star Wars setting as a kid, as well as the numerous games (computer, tabletop role-playing, etc.) I still like the setting now, but I am somewhat guilty of being sick of the hype Star Wars gets, in particular by those that claim it is on the only thing; these days I restrain myself at least. Personally I thought the film was okay, there are bits in it that I found annoying and things that I enjoyed, nothing special there. After watching Mikey’s video I found myself reassessing the film, and I came away from the summary with some extra appreciation for The Force Awakens.

I had a similar experience with Mikey’s overview of Interstellar, a film which I had really enjoyed, albeit with a few niggles. Mikey presented a wonderful rationale about the power of love and how it relates to events in the plot, which cut through my complaints. Whilst I consider myself open to persuasion, like most people it takes a lot to persuade me, and that’s a power that Mikey has.

Now when I see a film, I have the added pleasure of looking forward to the hope that Mikey Neumann will make an overview of it. I am intrigued as to what Mikey will say about it, what redeeming things will he highlight?

I adored the film Arrival, and Mikey’s analysis was a second helping of film love. Mikey’s overview of John Wick helped me overcome a creative barrier with a role-playing game that I have been working on; I will blog about this after playtesting the ideas some more. Thus I was heavily invested in Mikey’s analysis of John Wick 2.

It’s Going Down For Real!

And here’s the thing, I think appropriate positivity is important, as is being fair, but these concepts are so vague that we all have different opinions about them. So I think it’s valuable highlighting that some of the fun and quirky things he puts in his videos might be off-putting to a few, and like all good art there are differences of opinion. Give one of his videos a full viewing, I think for the majority of people that time will be well spent. Mikey’s introduction to John Wick 2 is a case in point, I wasn’t a fan, yet I was pretty much smiling the entire time. Oddly I was in no rush to get to the detailed analysis that I had been looking forward to for months, I simply enjoyed the moment, his creativity and fun. I later decided to look at the comments section, and I was amused by a few people being negative about Mikey’s rapping. Certainly any regular viewers should appreciate his style, and stay positive themselves. I found the rest of the video to be amazing, with some very interesting points made.

But did u knnnooow?

Mikey has Multiple sclerosis (MS), and his ongoing battle with health is quite the tale. This is part of the reason I felt compelled to write about someone I only know through their art. Some time ago I wrote a blog about Wallowing in Positivity, and given my own ongoing health problems I can somewhat appreciate Mikey’s much more severe condition. Managing any work whilst ill is impressive, never mind high quality work; this is not about implying perfection, I am sure Mikey has many varying emotional responses to things. I originally wrote a lot about how being ill typically makes everything not just physically by psychologically more difficult, partly because I’ve met people who dismiss this as untrue. My point is better served by stating that I think it’s inspiring that Mikey is able to radiate such positivity; to read more about Mikey’s health check out “The Road to Here…”

Like most people I have a bunch of things that I criticise, and whilst I always strive to be constructive, I can often feel like I’ve been too negative when discussing something. My own bed rest provided me a lot of thinking time, this led me to re-examine how sometimes it is more constructive to be positive, to focus on the good, instead of starting from a negative point. In a world filled with critics offering typically negative heavy analysis, it is great to have people like Mikey offering something different. Discovering Mikey’s work has brought great joy to my life, and emphasised a life style approach that I aspire to embrace more myself. Check out more of his work at http://chainsawsuit.com/

The Passion of Landis

I detest our celebrity obsessed culture. I respect hard work, as well as talent that works hard. If we put someone on a pedestal, idolise them, we are denying them their humanity. They will struggle like the rest of us, and sometimes fail; they shouldn’t be denied this reality. I’m not interested in learning about people’s personal lives, or fixating upon their every utterance, looking for either perfection or errors. This post is about Max Landis’s art, not the person, who I don’t know. I respect his work ethic and passion, plus his informative/fun videos.

Blimey, this latest Max project is bizarre, intriguing, and fun. It’s probably brilliant, I’m not sure, I’m still analysing it since it’s grand in scope.

I rarely get excited about forthcoming releases, particularly films or computer games, like most people I’ve been disappointed too many times. I appreciate the importance of advertising, and the reality that the big game or film studios are about big business, that the art comes second. Max Landis is somebody that talks about the realities of screenwriting and TV/film production. Some people claim his career is built upon nepotism, I believe it is a career built upon relentless writing, practice & study, combining passion and hard work; like most great artists. Max’s latest project is something that he’s been building up to for a while, and I’ve been looking forward to this more than any film release.

It’s strange that I’ve been anticipating this project so much, since I’m not a follower of Carly Rae Jepson’s music. Over the years I’ve probably heard about ten tracks, I thought they were good, but since I have so much music, as well as podcasts, competing for attention, Carly’s music isn’t on my radar. Yet when Max passionately announced this pattern project I was intrigued, suddenly Carly was on my radar, I even watched a bunch of her videos. I then waited, and waited, and now it’s here! What I’ve read of Max’s analysis so far has already resulted in me switching between reading something, then watching a Carly video; the next few days are going to be quite fun.

Besides Max’s great advice on writing, I love recommending his other special projects. As part of the release for the movie Chronicle, Max released The Death and Return of Superman video. I’ve watched that video many times, as well as linked it to so many of my friends. Overall I like comics, so it’s no surprise that I’d love both of these products, as well as Max’s Superman: American Alien series, which is a delightful low powered take on the Man of Steel. Yet despite not being a fan of watching professional wrestling, I thought Max’s Wrestling Isn’t Wrestling was spectacular, funny, and a beautiful summary of why professional wrestling is a legitimate storytelling art form, especially when done well.

Every time I’ve watched Wrestling Isn’t Wrestling, the ending really moves me. I think the build-up and release is masterful, a documentary equivalent of Chvrches: Clearest Blue; I’m sure Max would appreciate that association 😉

While a few people accuse Max of being any number of things, only a fool would dismiss his passion. I have found this project to be another example of Max’s attention to detail, as well as keen insight in to narrative. I now listen to Carly with a newfound depth, for me, like Max, there is something more to her music now, and I want to keep digging. I have avoided spoilers, just hinting at Max’s remarkable analysis, dive in and check out the fascinating The Jepson Pattern, A Scar No One Else Can See #ascarnooneelsecansee. You can also read Max’s scripts, or visit a collection of his notes at: http://www.maxlandiswrites.com/

 

My Reflections on #RPGaDay

Despite how much time I ended up spending on RPGaDay, I don’t regret taking part, it was fun and interesting. If you are not familiar with #RPGaDay, then please read this page first. The full list of my answers for each day can be found in my menu’s RPG section.

Before the event had started I had been unsure about participating. I always have too many projects, and due to the time factor I’ve avoided getting too involved with Twitter. The alternate questions were what sealed my participation, although it’s quirky that I didn’t use any of them in the end; I plan on answering them over the weeks to come.

Whilst I knew I would typically spend too much time over-thinking my answers, a task I thoroughly love/hate, I’d be saved by having a daily deadline. Since a few friends knew I was taking part, I had a nice amount of self-inflicted peer pressure to keep me on target.

For me RPGaDay proved to be an overall interesting experience. I’ve cut some negative points out, to keep things within the spirit of the event. I learned about some new games, and interestingly that Kickstarter is even more important to help with RPG advertising than I’d thought. It was also great to get so many different answers to the same question; I was quite intrigued by this, since it is a rare occurrence.

Due to equipment, time, and health reasons I didn’t record any video answers for the event. I may still record my answers, even though the event has passed and I’d be lucky to get one viewer. I agree with the premise that videos and blogs should be made with viewers/readers in mind, but also with the acceptance that maybe only the maker views them.

For me the RPGaDay event proved to be a great reminder of the different experience levels, and preferences, that the RPG hobby contains. An easy or dull answer for one participant could be hard or exciting for another, some of the answers draw attention to these differences, and the positive spirit of the event helped remind everyone to not be too judgemental. I had been planning on writing about psychology, RPG history and the transient nature of the hobby, but I have lots to write already and Runeslinger’s post does a great job of summarising things, so read that instead. 😉

Dave Chapman and Anthony Boyd (Runeslinger) have made this great video:

Bestseller Experiment & Gingerbread

Back in April I wrote the Bestseller Experiment podcast in a post called Writing Curious/Crazy Experiment. If you are unfamiliar with the podcast then I’d recommend reading that first.

Since April a lot has happened with the two Marks, I’m not going to write any major spoilers here, although a minor spoiler is perfectly fine 😉 As their big deadline approaches the work on their novel has continued and really blossomed, along with an ever increasing sense of urgency. So the chaps were recently surprised by needing to make a major decision, whether to release the work under their own names: Mark Stay & Mark Desvaux, or a pen-name, since the story has a female lead, and their names are clearly male. Once again the two Marks do a wonderful job of discussing the situation, as well as presenting feedback from their editor. Given that there is no easy answer for this dilemma, the drama of this curious experiment has reached an interesting twist; definitely check out Episode 48 for more information.

It was a surprise to receive a bonus episode last Friday, they normally come out on a Monday. Episode 50 was to announce a writing competition with the charity Gingerbread:

We’re the leading charity working with single parent families. Supporting, advising and campaigning with single mums and dads to help them meet their family’s needs.

The competition is:

Are you an aspiring writer with experience of single parent family life?

We’re thrilled to be launching the ‘One in Four’ new writer competition, in partnership with Trapeze Books and The Pool. Together, we want to find a new talent to write a novel that celebrates single parent families.

I was raised by my father in a single-parent family, so I have plenty of personal experience in regards to the sorts of problems that a single-parent family faces. In particular the time and financial constraints, as well as the social stigma, which exists even to this day. My own story has what sounds like a scene from a movie: when I was very young my dad had to go to court to fight a custody battle with the state, which was planning on placing my sister and I into the care system. I assume this is no longer the case for single-parent males, but this highlights an important point about how it is easy to assume social stigmas have been beaten back in our lifetime. In reality I have no idea, and maybe it hasn’t, because so many social stigmas still exist, as well new ones being added. Like most things in life, we typically take an interest when it affects us, since we all normally have so many concerns already. Another thing to research 🙂

Fortunately for me, a few months ago I made notes about a character from a single-parent family in my current writing project, so I was immediately hooked on the idea of entering this competition. The Bestseller Experiment episode’s conversation highlighted how writing about such personal experience could be emotionally difficult, but also rewarding. So another project has been added to the pile, but with an all-important deadline, so the top of the pile it goes.

If you’ve ever pondered whether to give writing a go, even a few seconds, then I highly recommend checking this great podcast out, all of it 😉

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http://bestsellerexperiment.com