Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

League of Utah Writers – Spring Conference – and a Pulp Fiction Class

Posted by Rampant Coyote on March 29, 2017

I’ll be teaching a class with David West a week from Saturday (April 8th) at the League of Utah Writers Spring Conference. We’re currently scheduled for the first hour. The spring conference is a short one–not quite a full day–but it’s also inexpensive and a great chance to network and learn from local writers. The classes cover a range of topics on the craft itself, business, networking, goal-setting, and all the other things that touch on success in the writer biz. Or any creative biz, really.

If you are a local writer (or aspiring writer) in the vicinity of the Salt Lake area, I recommend it. You can get more information here:

League of Utah Writers Spring Conference

As for this class… it’s an expansion on one I gave last year at the Spring Into Books event. This will be a longer class, with more opportunity to delve into details. I’ve had an extra year of practicing what I preach, writing & selling stories, interviewing people, researching, and rubbing elbows with modern pulpists. I brought in David West with his wealth of experience to help teach the class.

Even more interesting is that the landscape has changed in the last year. A couple of years ago, when I started really digging into the subject and researching how the publishing industry and storytelling had changed over the years (partly because I’d had so much fun writing steampunk stories), there didn’t seem to be much traction with actively embracing the pulp aesthetic. That was totally okay, because although technology, culture, and even language has changed a lot since Lester Dent’s time, the whole point of the pulps was to tell entertaining stories that people enjoyed… and that editors would buy. That absolutely still applies, and the result might not even be something one might immediately think of as “pulp.”

However, since that time, I’ve seen a lot of new markets for “pulp” style short-stories appear. A lot more champions have appeared pushing for a movement to embrace the pulp aesthetic and push it forward today. It’s getting traction, from people with ideas and attitudes sometimes at odds with each other.  There’s a growing interest. Call it a movement, a revolution, or just another blip of passing interest in a revival, but it’s interesting how much difference a year makes. Whatever the case, I’m happy to be here, and to work with David to share what we’ve learned.

Filed Under: Events, Writing - Comments: Read the First Comment

Genres vs. Descriptors – A Better Way?

Posted by Rampant Coyote on March 27, 2017

So in games, literature, film, and TV we often talk about genre (and subgenre). It’s an overused term with lots of different meanings. In programming, we call it “overloaded.” In a broad sense, it is a category for placing a product where people who are seeking similar products can find it. This is, on its face, a valuable role. If I just finished playing Pillars of Eternity and loved it and wanted to play another game like it, how would I find it? Well, a list of other games in the same genre is a good place to start.

The problem is pretty obvious to anyone involved in the Computer Role-Playing Game scene (the category / genre for Pillars of Eternity)… it still means you are drinking from the firehose. Same deal if I finally read Lord of the Rings and thought, “Wow, that was neat, I wonder if there are any other books like that out there…”

Yes, in either case, prepare to be buried.

In the past, I’ve tried to define the RPG “genre” and draw the defining boundaries around it… only to acknowledge that it still wasn’t perfect. There is no perfect. This was mainly in reaction to some sites categorizing games as RPGs that were nowhere in the neighborhood of RPGs, but they had elves and dragons in ’em. Well, that, and trying to categorize everything is my own little brand of craziness. (My other brand of craziness is deliberately trying to push those boundaries once they are defined, so maybe I really just want to watch the world burn.)

Our normal approach once a genre becomes overwhelmed is to break things down into sub-genres. But… that becomes problematic as well. Lois McMaster Bujold and others have done a terrific job of demonstrating how Science Fiction really isn’t a “genre,” it’s more of a setting. You can have a hard-boiled detective Science Fiction story, but it’s going to be a challenge because you have to do the SF worldbuilding at the same time as telling the detective story. But which box and sub-box does it belong? And while Torchlight II and Age of Decadence are both role-playing games, how alike are they, really? While a gamer can enjoy both, there’s a really different feel to both of them. And while The Martian (film) is in the same broad category of Science Fiction as Star Wars, it’s a lot closer in feel to the based-on-a-true-story drama Apollo 13.

Categories and sub-categories are a poor way to do things, but are better than nothing. It’s a benefit to marketers and to the audience, but it could and should be better. Is a book a romance novel with paranormal elements, or a paranormal book with heavy romance? Do you put it in both categories, thus increasing the size and decreasing the usability of the category? Back in the days of bookshelves, there may have been no other way. In the computer age… I dunno. It seems like we could do a better job of sifting through the related elements – descriptors rather than genres. But chances are, whatever alternative we discover will be proprietary and inconsistent. But Misha Burnett has a couple of ideas.

While there are some areas where as creators we’d want to tread lightly – or pick our battles with more focus – I do think that the indies have the advantage of being able to go out there and BREAK SOME RULES. So… let’s have more of that. In the meantime, here are some interesting discussions by some very indie-minded folks about the role of genre… what it should and shouldn’t be.

Tom Knighton – A Genre By Any Other Name

Sarah Hoyt – Romancing the Genre

Jasyn Jones – Genre Walls Will Destroy Your Story

Misha Burnett – Enough with this Genre Foolishness Already



Filed Under: General - Comments: Read the First Comment

Good Crunch, Bad Crunch, No Crunch

Posted by Rampant Coyote on March 23, 2017

I’ve written about this before, but I’ve recently encountered some people who have responded to the stories of crunching (particularly in the games industry) with a universal backlash that all crunch is bad, and that you should never crunch. In my mind, his equates to an admonition that you should never, ever work hard. And that makes zero sense to me.

Look, going back to the bad ol’ days (and no, I’m not so old I had to live through those… 🙂 ), if you didn’t work, you didn’t eat. The crops needed to be planted. You needed to go back out and hunt and put meat on the table. The decisions were pretty straightforward.

Things are less direct now, but the same rules still apply. You do what is necessary for you and your immediate family.  In the grand list of priorities, these should be on top. Other relationships follow from that. Now, there are some jobs where you put your life and safety on the list to save and protect others, and that’s a whole ‘nother story. But most of us aren’t saving the world in our day-to-day duties. We’re earning a paycheck.

Now, when you put it all in that perspective, how hard you should work and crunch becomes a little bit simpler. There are always variables and things you don’t know. But if your the detriment to your health and your immediate family’s happiness exceeds the probable short-term and long-term benefits, it’s time to reevaluate. That’s bad crunch.

If the potential benefits are high and exceed the sacrifice–nice overtime pay, bonuses, a small extra effort yields significantly better job security, you have a stake in the business and hitting those deadlines means money in your bank account–then it’s good crunch. Or at least not bad crunch.

I recently had an experience with the day job where we had to put some pretty long hours into a project prior to a trade show. It was rough. We were unveiling a new technology, a new product line, and a whole new platform for us. It was a big deal. Then I was called away to work the show, which was yet more long hours. But by all accounts, it paid off. We were noticed, made a splash, and our phone is ringing with people calling us. I have a stake in the company. This is potentially very rewarding to me down the line, but at the very least it means my usually-not-too-crunchy job that I really enjoy sticks around for a while. In my mind, a couple of months of craziness was worth it.

There are forces in the world that will try and confuse your priorities and your goals. Make you think that you should treat your employer and fellow employees as family. Make you worry about your reputation in your chosen industry will be crippled if you don’t put in 70+ hours a week for the next two months. Your own pride driving you to neglect what’s most important in life.  Your fear of having to find a new job, or fear of allowing your fledgling business to fail. All of these may have their place in the priority scheme, but their importance can be easily distorted. You should also be concerned about whatever forces are trying to distort them, and to what end.


Everyone has to evaluate things differently. As examples: I don’t have little kids at home anymore. I don’t have to worry about babysitters if I come home late. I don’t have health issues that make it difficult to put in some extra hours. I have two side-businesses I run that get neglected during crunch, and I have to weigh the opportunity costs. I work in an industry where ageism is a problem, and I’m not getting any younger. These are all factors for me. Yours will be different.

Anyway, all this is to say that the backlash against all crunch and any crunch is a natural reaction to abuses that have been made, especially in the tech industry and video games biz. THIS is where the problem lies. I’ve worked at abusive companies. The games industry, in particular, built a reputation and culture for superhuman effort during a time where all the employees had a direct stake in the success of their games, and even a moderate hit would make them a small personal fortune. When their stake was reduced, the culture remained, encouraged by the new stakeholders. This was true in much of the computer industry. There has been a LOT of “bad crunch” out there.

But crunch happens. The need for crunch happens, because of mistakes, because of sudden opportunities, or just because nothing ever goes as planned. As your stake and potential upside for you and your family increases, rolling up the sleeves and putting in the extra effort may be worth it to you. As long as it’s for the right reasons and also within reason, crunch isn’t a terrible thing.

Filed Under: Biz - Comments: 3 Comments to Read

Rogue One merged with A New Hope: Some thoughts and my own little headcanon

Posted by Rampant Coyote on March 22, 2017

Stop now if you haven’t seen Star Wars: Rogue One. Unless you don’t mind spoilers. The video includes the last couple of minutes of Rogue One, and I mumble on about it a little bit . You have been warned.


One last chance…


So… Rogue One won’t be out for home release for a couple more days, so I don’t want to consider too deeply how this guy obtained the footage. BUT… he did what we were all did in our minds at the end of Rogue One. He merged it into the original film that started it all, Star Wars (AKA Star Wars Episode 4: A New Hope), with only the briefest of transitions to indicate some time has passed – minutes or hours. Now we can skip the opening crawl.

It’s not perfectly seamless, but it’s very, very cool… and says a great deal about how the well the filmmakers staged the end of Rogue One.

Watching the two together, I reconciled a few issues in my own mind. In Rogue One, Darth Vader takes an active role, trying to prevent any escape and stop the plans from getting out. They’ve only got a shuttle’s worth of Imperial Stormtroopers to work with, so he really has no choice. He’s got to act fast. He fails. A corvette gets away… one of the most common ships in the galaxy.

From there, he has to go back to a star destroyer, and we know from the other movies that tracking a ship through hyperspace is difficult. But they manage to do so. The damage has already been done, but now they cripple the Tantive IV. Game (apparently) over. As C3PO says, “There will be no escape for the Princess this time.” Vader’s a bit more leisurely, and has a star destroyer’s worth of Imperial Stormtroopers this time. He lets those guys attack against a much more organized defense, but the end is all but inevitable.

As was this video, eventually.

I imagine the video being taken down by Disney’s lawyers is also inevitable, so enjoy it while you can.

There are a couple other pieces of headcanon I have now developed since seeing Rogue One. One is… the rebels are now in possession of the only full set of plans that includes the Death Star’s weakness. The Empire now knows that Galan Erso sabotaged the design of the Death Star and gave it a critical weakness, but they don’t know exactly what he did. They want those plans almost as much as the rebels do. Now, they can keep the weakness secret until they can figure it out themselves, so destroying all trace of the plans is an acceptable Plan B.

While that’s the official priority, Darth Vader’s got more interesting fish to fry. For one thing, he wants the location of the secret rebel base–although it would seem like he’s got prisoners from the remains of the fleet at Eadu who might know the answer to that one. I’m going to assume that time is of the essence, and that most of the rank-and-file soldiers have not been told the name of the planet or where it is on the star charts. They just have a base on a moon around a big ol’ gas giant, one of zillions. Princess Leia is guaranteed to know the details, and focusing on her means they can find the base before the rebels relocate their HQ again.

I imagine Vader is also very interested in why she was on her way to Tatooine. It’s kind of in the middle of nowhere, not on the way to anywhere else.

Okay, the other bit of headcanon I’m considering adopting. Why the gunner is ordered not to fire on the escape pod? That’s an oldie. Everyone assumes that the guy was a laser gunner. But there were tons of those guys. What if this was one of the tractor beam operators? They are pulling back any potential escapees? They don’t have many of those, they are short range only (established in other movies), and they don’t want to commit to dragging in a decoy while another pod with someone carrying the plans gets away.

Okay. Yes, I devote time and brainpower to thinking of these things. I won’t apologize. I’m a geek.

Filed Under: Movies - Comments: 2 Comments to Read

D20 Traveller Bundle

Posted by Rampant Coyote on March 21, 2017

Okay, this is kinda cool. I liked the D20 version of Traveller (called Traveller20 or T20), though we only played once. I’ve been a fan of several versions of the game. The “Bundle of Trouble” has a bunch of PDFs of the T20 game available now for pretty cheap… cheaper than the original hardback core rules cost me several years ago.

Traveller20 Bundle Offer

For those unaware, Traveller is one of the earliest and most successful space opera science fiction RPGs. Now, it’s rooted in the science fiction scene as it existed in the late 1970s, which isn’t a bad thing… but it’s way more inspired by literature like H. Beam Piper’s Space Viking , E.C. Tubbs’ Dumerest Saga, and Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series than by Star Trek or Star Wars. Although as one person noted to me back in the 1990s, even by those standards some of the rules for starship construction were pretty dated. Like the tremendous amount of space that had to be devoted to control panels. I’d haven’t checked to see if that’s been modernized in this (relatively) newer version (nor am I familiar with the even newer Mongoose rules).

The biggest advantage and limitation of this version is, of course, the adaptation of the D20 rules system. Their version is a pretty substantial modification of the open gaming standard, so it’s not quite a slam-dunk as far as being familiar to players of other D20-based games. The adaptation helps retain the Traveller feel to things, and it allows pretty decent character progression… something that was kind of missing from the earliest version of the Traveller rules. I personally think its better balanced than the original D6-based system, but I can’t remember how it would compare with Megatraveller. But it comes with some of D20s baggage. It’s been a long time, but I don’t remember it feeling too shoehorned in, so at least the rules were modular enough to allow the character system to change with little impact overall.

Also available – for a few more days – is a Space: 1889 bundle. Sort of a proto-Steampunk / early pulp SF RPG with strong roots in Jules Verne, Edgar Rice Burroughs, etc.  I was curious about it, but I have never played it. This is revised edition using a different rules system as a basis. I snagged it (because!) but I can’t comment on it.

Space: 1889 Bundle Offer

More fun stuff for your dice & paper enjoyment. All I need now is… TIME!

Filed Under: Deals, Dice & Paper - Comments: 2 Comments to Read

FanX 2017

Posted by Rampant Coyote on March 20, 2017

Friday and Saturday, I was at FanX, the sister-convention for Salt Lake Comic Con. FanX is a little smaller and more focused on the celebrity visits. We had some great ones this year. Sadly, Stan Lee had the flu and couldn’t make it, but he did Skype in for his panel. Hopefully he’ll be able to make Comic Con this fall, as he’s planning to retire from hitting the cons after this year. He’s only 94 years old, so I don’t see why he’s retiring yet, but ah, well… 🙂

I got to see (and get a picture with) Zachary Levi of Chuck, Tangled, etc, Weird Al Yankovic, Christopher Lambert and Adrian Paul of the Highlander film and TV series, a panel full of New York Times bestselling authors, and a discussion about the “dark side of the paranormal” about some of the perils and more terrifying things faced during ghost investigations in Utah.

And of course, I was out on the floor selling books. As usual, we’d combined forces with several Utah authors, especially those published by Xchyler Publishing. It got a little crowded at times.  You can see me here with the first anthology that included one of my stories (Terra Mechanica), and one of the most recent (Cirsova #4).  Unfortunately, I didn’t have any physical copies of Altered States II: A Cyberpunk Anthology on-hand. I am nearly out of copies of Cirsova, but I’m looking forward to getting #5 in a few weeks!

When I wasn’t doing all of that (as if I had more time!), I did a little bit of shopping, although I only saw a fraction of the exhibitor floor. I also chatted with other authors, which is always fun.

And then there are the costumes… One of the cool things about these cons is the cosplayers-they are part of the fun. It’s funny referring to characters in the plural, like, “Look at the Spider-Men,” or, “Hey, it’s a Peggy Carter.” Some of the costumes are really amazing. It’s also fun seeing panelists and authors in costumes. On Saturday, Dan Wells wore a Captain America costume, making a point on a panel of how taking oneself seriously as an author has different meanings for different people, as he was wearing Captain America pajamas. Shannen Crane Camp cosplayed as Elizabeth Comstock, and I was lucky enough to be there when she wandered by our booth. Her brother is off to the left as Booker. Their cosplay was awesome, and it’s always great to see Shannen again. If you have any doubt at all of her geek cred, just look her up at Comic Con or FanX. She goes all out, every time. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her face-to-face when she’s not in costume, come to think of it…

It was exhausting, even for being only two days long, but it was lots of fun. It’s funny for me how as a kid I wanted to go to these (much lower-key) conventions when I lived in the DC area, but I couldn’t afford it. Then I moved to Utah, and there was not much happening on the local scene forever. And then suddenly, it exploded, and while FanX and Comic Con are kinda huge, in a lot of ways going to these or the other conventions feels a little like a giant family reunion.

BTW… on the author / story front: I’ve started putting together a mailing list for just my fiction. It’s totally separate from the gaming email list. If you want to keep up to date on what I’m releasing next or what special deals are available, please sign up. At some point in the not-too-distant future, I plan to have full-on books released, but  in the meantime I’ll keep you posted on what stories are coming out where. You can sign up here:

Sign up for Jay Barnson’s Tales newsletter.




Filed Under: Books, Events, Short Fiction - Comments: Be the First to Comment

Starfighter Inc – “Hard SF” Space Combat?

Posted by Rampant Coyote on March 17, 2017

Starfighter Inc is supposed to be a “Hard Science Fiction” space combat game. I’m intrigued, but for me, they will definitely going to have to jump through some hoops to rationalize it and make it fun. Hard science fiction can be extremely dramatic and interesting. But as a space-fighter combat setting, I see it being as far removed from modern air combat as modern BVR (Beyond Visual Range) air combat is from the early World War I dogfights. Highly incompatible with the pew-pew-pew.

“Hard SF” space combat … to me… sounds like: “Launch missile or spread of kinetic weapons. Wait six hours. Before you can confirm it’s killed, something blows you up that was launched at you hours ago.” Any kind of significant damage to your ship would either kill you immediately, or you’d die of cold or asphyxiation hours before rescue arrives. Although really, it’d be computers doing all the fighting, considering the distances and accuracy involved. Humans would just be targets.

Space is frickin’ harsh, even under optimal conditions, and human beings are poorly adapted to it. The distances are literally mind-boggling. They are so huge and beyond our frame of reference that we really only understand them on a mathematical level. Thus the speeds involved are astonishing. Unless they are actively working to match velocities, two objects passing each other in space will do so at “blink and you missed it” speeds.  Nothing like that slow pass in the Firefly pilot.

Anyway – so I’m a little hesitant about the “hard science fiction space combat” thing. Space combat WITH some hard science fiction mixed in? Hey, cool. I’m totally there. And that’s what I’m expecting this one to be.  I’m not saying it can’t happen. I’m just saying I expect them to bend some rules and make up some weird justifications to make it work. As a marketing  concept, “Hard SF realism” doesn’t really do it for me.

All that being said… they’ve got some people with some awesome industry experience behind them, who have worked on some science fiction combat games I’ve really been impressed with: The X-Wing / TIE-Fighter series, Mechwarrior 2, Crysis, etc.   So … I’m definitely giving them some credit for coming up with a cool, fun game, but that’s in spite of the premise, not because of it. I’m just trusting that when the push comes to shove, the realism will be sacrificed for fun. That’s not a big stretch – these guys ain’t newbs.

Of a bit more concern for me, personally, is that this is multiplayer only. They describe it as “Counterstrike meets World of Warships… in Space.”  Which is a cool concept, but I’ve played very little Counterstrike and none of World of Warships because I’m not really an online gamer.  Not anymore. No patience for it.

But I’m still going to be watching this project with interest, just to see how the “hard sf” angle pans out. I expect it to “soften up” a great deal before release, and I hope it’ll be fun. In the meantime… what are the best mission-based (a la Wing Commander, X-Wing, etc.)  out now? I’m tempted by House of the Dying Sun.

If you are interested in Starships Inc, the crowdfunding campaign can be found here.

Starships, Inc. Kickstarter Campaign




Filed Under: Game Announcements, Space Sims - Comments: 3 Comments to Read

Appendix N and the Real Story of Pulp Fantasy

Posted by Rampant Coyote on March 16, 2017

Okay, I promised a little more about Appendix N: The Literary History of Dungeons and Dragons by Jeffro Johnson this week. Last time, I discussed the ramifications on “old-school” gaming style, how the bibliography in the Dungeon Master’s Guide suggested a much wider scope of story and fantasy that early versions of D&D tried to encompass, and how Jeffro’s book provides a wealth of advice for players and game masters based (sometimes loosely) on ideas from these stories.

Setting all the gaming stuff aside… if I can… the book can be enjoyed by non-gamers completely on its own as a discussion of older fantasy and science-fiction (science-fantasy?) stories. Some of these stories originate from an era before the walls of genre and subgenre were erected… largely as marketing efforts by the magazines to carve out their particular niche in the pulp field. Some of the others are trippy works from the 1960s and 1970s dealing with drugs and / or an overpopulation apocalypse. Actually, there’s a good deal of post-apocalyptic fantasy throughout the list. Future fantasy?

In fact, most of the discussion about this book in the corners of the Internet declaring the #PulpRevolution have nothing to do with gaming, and everything to do with how this book has helped people rediscover a legacy of speculative fiction largely forgotten today. It’s exciting on two levels. First of all, rediscovering the past is always fun. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, for those who have survived on a diet of big-publisher science fiction and fantasy for the last thirty or so years, these older stories are as significant as the “indie revolution.”  It’s the discovery that these stories ever existed, and are so different from what has replaced them on modern store and library shelves.

Maybe it should be as much #PulpRevelation, huh?

Now, I grew up reading older stories from the “pulp” era.  These stories were from way before my time, but I didn’t know that. I read a lot of older books as a kid, because they were used books or the ones I found in the library, before the publishers started bloating the size of books (because the increase in size was a negligible increased expense on their end, but they could charge more for them). While my geeky friends were gushing over Lord of the Rings, I was reading Conan. (I loved LotR too, but I preferred Conan). At some point, I discovered Doc Savage, and read several of the novels, with no clue there were so frickin’ many books. In some cases, I really had no idea how old these stories were. I was barely a decade old myself, and so everything was old. In a couple of cases, I sought out stories as a teenager based on references in D&D, particularly Fritz Lieber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser series.

In other cases, I was later to the show, but still familiar with them before reading this book. I discovered Leigh Brackett a couple of years ago, and I’ve been enjoying her work ever since. She left behind a TON of awesome stuff, and I’ve only scratched the surface. Before that, I started reading the Barsoom and Tarzan stories from Edgar Rice Burroughs, and found them pretty riveting, nearly a hundred years later. And of course, I started digging into the old pulps myself, going beyond the “best of” reprints and reading some of the less-memorable stories of the era from digital scans of the originals… even collecting a couple of originals myself. And yeah… not everything from the pulp era was gold. But it has more than convinced me that the dismissive attitude of people towards pulp – using it as a derogatory term – is way off-base.

So I’m not completely unfamiliar with the type of stories mentioned in Appendix N. Few fantasy fans would be… Lord of the Rings is one of the series on the list. None of it came as a surprise to me. But there was a lot I haven’t read, and had no idea what they were. I have only started to delve into the stories mentioned in the book, but it has added a bunch of books to my already-oversized “to read” list.

I think like Jeffro Johnson and many others, I’d heard the name of Abraham Merritt (A. Merritt)  only in passing, and had no idea what a luminary he was in the pulp era. I bought and downloaded a collection of his work immediately after reading about him in Appendix N. I’m reading “The Moon Pool” right now, published nearly 100 years ago, and while I understand it’s an earlier work and not his best, I’m really enjoying it. It may have influenced H. P. Lovecraft’s later work. It starts in familiar territory for fans of movies like King Kong or the 1999 version of The Mummy. Or D&D players. Exploration of ancient ruins, something evil lurks behind / deep within, modern man vs. ancient magic (or in this case, ancient technology)… classic stuff.

But there’s a lot more like that (and better) reviewed in Appendix N.

The general view of the book, from the perspective of a well-read fantasy fan and gamer, seems to be: “Holy crap, I didn’t know this stuff existed, and it’s awesome!” That’s been my feeling delving back into some of the pulp-era stories as well. That’s probably why this book resonates so well with me. It’s like delving into an ancient treasure vault. Some of the more interesting notes from the books cited here: Besides less genre distinctions and more of a blend of science and fantasy, the fantasy also tends to be less dependent on secondary worlds. A lot of it takes place in our own world, either in a time of legend that has been forgotten in the modern era, or in a future time when our own modern world has been forgotten. This is interesting and inadvertent theme that parallels the theme of the book, I think, considering how many works here were once popular and seemingly permanent fixtures of the literary fantasy landscape, and have now been dropped down the ol’ memory hole.

Many people have taken this book as a call to return to some of the pulp roots and traditions, with which which I joyously agree. I do take take exception to any antagonistic stance towards hard SF and the products of the post-pulp era, because I love that stuff, too. How could you not, after watching or reading The Martian? I think I got dust in my eye reading Brad Torgersen’s Spirits With Visions in the 2113 Anthology, which was 100% hard SF and full of heart. I heartily agree to tearing down the genre walls, but not the stories that reside within them.

But for the most part, people are looking at this and saying, “Why can’t we have more stories like that today?” Twenty years ago, the answer was simply because it was too risky for publishers. But nowadays, the indie side of things has really taken a hold, and while there may be many reasons to go with a traditional publisher, there isn’t the necessity that there once was. I think we are seeing, and will continue to see, more works that embrace a similar aesthetic, creativity,  a willingness to take risks, and an emphasis on stories that entertain the reader. Not stories written to look and sound like they came out of a 1930s pulp magazine, but those written the way a pulpist would write if they were around and working today, with modern language and style but a pulp attitude.

If the audience is there, I think we’re going to see more and more of that.

Filed Under: Books, Retro - Comments: 4 Comments to Read

Heading Out to FanX 2017

Posted by Rampant Coyote on March 15, 2017

FanX in Salt Lake City is a little more abbreviated this year — only two days instead of three. All things considered, I’m really okay with that. As usual, I’ll be a vendor this year, working the Xchyler Authors & Utah Authors table, but at least half of the time I’ll be wandering around the expo floor spending money, or hitting the events. It looks like most of the events at FanX this year are celebrity-related. Sadly, I probably won’t be able to catch Stan Lee on his final year of the con circuit… a vendor pass doesn’t allow me to get into the lottery to see him, and they couldn’t rent out the arena across the street like they did last year for Mark Hamill and William Shatner.

I did actually buy a photo op for the first time ever… my family and I will be getting a picture with Zachary Levi. I was a latecomer to the TV series Chuck, but I really enjoyed it once I got caught up. I’ve liked him in other shows too, although if you blinked you might have missed him in the second Thor movie.

Anyway – it’ll be fun. If you want to catch me, the easiest way will be to find me at booth 713 – the Xchyler / Utah authors booth. It will be a busy place with a lot of other authors there, but it will be my “home base” for the con, and I’ll be there several hours each day. I’ll be selling / signing books, and pretty much talking geek. 🙂  If you want a paper copy of the double-sized Cirsova #4 with my story “The Priests of Shalaz,” I’ll have six of them for sale. I’ll even deface ’em with my signature if you want. I wish I had copies of issue #5, but that one’s not quite out yet… #4 is still the latest issue.

I pretty much sold out of everything at Winter Faire and had to reorder everything. I didn’t get huge quantities, but I’ll have a few copies of the Xchyler anthologies – Mechanized Masterpieces 2, Terra Mechanica, and Beyond the Wail. I’m out of copies of Sibyl’s Scriptorium, but we may have some copies on the table.  That’s the advantage of being at a combined table with several other authors. There will be a lot of books from many other authors there, so come check it!

It’s going to be a good weekend.


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Appendix N – Breaking the Old-School Fantasy Game Code

Posted by Rampant Coyote on March 14, 2017

For the Frayed Knights games, I really wanted to capture the old-school spirit of not just computer RPGs, but also the style of tabletop D&D games I remember playing and envisioning as a kid. Things were different back then. If you read the old modules (both by TSR and third-party publishers), the original rulebooks from the 1970s and early 1980s, and the articles and letters in early issues of Dragon Magazine, its obvious that there was a different feel to the game back then. Working on Frayed Knights, I tried to get in touch with that feeling.

But I still always felt I was missing something. Now, I think I found it. Amusingly, it comes about because of my rediscovery of classic pulp fiction. I love it when my passions converge!

A couple of weeks ago, I read Appendix N – The Literary History of Dungeons & Dragons, by Jeffro Johnson. This book is based on a series of blog posts where he provided a literary critique of the stories that Gary Gygax included in Appendix N of the 1st edition Dungeon Master’s Guide. These were the stories Gygax claimed had the greatest influence on the game.

Gygax wrote, “Upon such a base I built my interest in fantasy, being an avid reader of all science fiction and fantasy literature since 1950. [These] authors were of particular inspiration to me. In some cases I cite specific works, in others, I simply recommend all of their fantasy writing to you. From such sources, as well as any other imaginative writing or screenplay, you will be able to pluck kernels from which will grow the fruits of exciting campaigns. Good reading!

I read a handful of these as a kid. I was a much bigger fan of Conan and Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser than I was of Aragorn. I loved Andre Norton. While I never read A Face in the Frost, I loved  The House with a Clock in Its Walls and the rest of the Lewis Barnavelt series as a kid by John Bellairs. And of course, the Amber series was a must-read for fantasy fans back then. More recently, I’ve been reading the Barsoom and Tarzan stories by Edgar Rice Burroughs, and for the last couple of years I’ve been on a slow-burn binge read of Leigh Brackett’s stories.

Gygax followed up by stating, “The most immediate influences upon AD&D were probably de Camp & Pratt, R. E. Howard, Fritz Leiber, Jack Vance, H. P. Lovecraft, and A. Merritt; but all of the above authors, as well as many not listed, certainly helped to shape the form of the game. For this reason, and for the hours of reading enjoyment, I heartily recommend the works of these fine authors to you.

As I grew older and became college-age (and pretty much ignored 2nd edition D&D), I bought into the common assumption that Lord of the Rings was by far the largest inspiration for Dungeons & Dragons (outside of real-world mythology), and that Gygax cited the longer list as a butt-covering move due to TSR’s legal clashes with the Tolkien estate. Now, after reading Jeffro’s surprisingly detailed and extensive book, I’m pretty convinced otherwise. I think Gygax was being sincere. I knew of the Vance connection (especially when people describe D&D’s unique and much complained-about magic system as being “Vancian.”), but even as a fan of Lieber, Howard, and Lovecraft, I wasn’t really sure how big of an influence they really were. Jeffro goes well beyond literary criticism, and really demonstrates how he believes these stories impacted the game, it’s style, and how some of the apparently stranger or more confusing design decisions may have been an attempt to accommodate these kinds of stories into the game.

It’s an eye-opener. A lot of talk lately has been about how people have suddenly rediscovered pulp because of his book (or the original blog posts), which is something I’ll talk about later this week. But from a game-design perspective, as a guy trying to infuse a game with that old-school flavor that I feel has been lost over the years, this has been a gold mine. It explains so much, and I think it’s helped me “crack the code” and understand the source of some of this “old-school feel” I’ve struggled to define – drawing inspiration from the same sources.

In some ways, it makes me feel like fantasy RPGs have become too hidebound. I know that’s not really the case, and that designers at the very least have tried to push the boundaries and do things that went beyond Tolkienesque elves and pseudomedieval Europe. But those are a hard sell. Players (myself included) are pretty grounded in a generation of fantasy literature that consisted primarily of Tolkien and books that wanted to be like Tolkien that came out of the 1980s and 90s. I think we’re coming out of that nowadays, but its a slow drift as readers seek “something different” not realizing just how different things were before Tolkien was retroactively discovered. That legacy remains, codified in later editions of D&D and in generations of players. It’s like we’re playing a copy of a copy. (Ummm… Analog copies, for younger readers, suffer from inevitable degradation from the original source… and a second-generation copy was often of pretty poor quality).

For some concrete examples cited in the book: The fantasy source material was a lot more fast and loose with the boundaries between genres. In part, because there were no boundaries when some of these stories were written… genres were created as marketing distinctions. A lot of the fantasy back then wasn’t “second world fantasy,” but took place in our own world, with explanations of how the history become lost in the mists of legend. A lot of the fantasy stories cited were actually post-apocalyptic stories of a future Earth after technology has been lost… again, a blending of subgenres. The roles of the paladin and the thief were pulled a bit from certain pulp fiction stories, and the concept of alignment was a lot more concrete in a couple of these books.

But some of it is more of a feel and flavor thing, and that may be as much an artifact of the authors as of the era the stories came from. There was more to it than the high-fantasy / low-fantasy divide Brandon Sanderson talks about. But even more of it was simply the breadth of the gaming experience D&D was expected to (imperfectly) fill, which filtered down to the kitchen tables of those of us who never played with designers via rules, adventures, supplements, and articles. Over the years, we narrowed that experience down, and then scratched our heads at why the rules didn’t fit perfectly to our more limited game.

On top of all of this, Jeffro uses these reviews as a springboard for some decent advice for running and playing D&D (or any tabletop RPG). While it seems he intended this to be more of a fifty-fifty discussion about literature and gaming, it does seem the gaming parallels are secondary. Someone who has no interest in role-playing games can find a lot to discover and enjoy here, and in fact most of the discussion about the book lately has nothing to do with gaming at all. But the primary audience originally was gamers, and those who love slinging real or virtual dice and fighting imaginary dragons will benefit from this book the most.

Like I said, I’ll have more to say about this book later, from a more literary perspective. But as I’ve got another dungeon level to work on tonight for FK2, I’m happy to have read this book and gotten more in touch with that elusive style I’ve been trying to recapture. And my “to read” list has expanded considerably. But that’s not a bad thing.

Filed Under: Books, Design, Impressions - Comments: 7 Comments to Read

No Man’s Sky – Am I Ready for More Punishment?

Posted by Rampant Coyote on March 13, 2017

New computer. New update for No Man’s Sky. Am I ready for more punishment? I guess I am.

However, the new installation meant my old status was not recorded. So I started over from scratch, instead of in my new galaxy. I’m actually okay with that, even though my starting planet had already been discovered by someone else. I did lots of discovering and naming my first time through.

The game has changed a bit since I put in my seventy hours last year. I never got to play with the big 1.1 update, because that’s the point where my computer started dying. So there’s a lot that’s new to me.

However, during a “quick” 3 hours or so of playtime this weekend, a lot of my old tricks still worked. Repairing my ship didn’t take long. Making a few hundred thousand credits in about a half-hour at my starting station was pretty easy. Although nowadays, it looks like I have to grind faction a bit to get blueprints that I need. That’s interesting.

The problem with just ‘exploring the universe” in No Man’s Sky is that it doesn’t take long before you learn that there’s not much to explore. There’s a whole lot of visuals and background and ships flying around and random events that make it feel like there’s stuff going on, but ultimately it’s just a big, random universe devoid of meaning. Sad, but … duh. I doubt either the 1.1 or 1.2 updates really address this. New equipment and ship specialization and ground vehicles are cool though. Something to play around with for a little while, at least. I don’t think I’ll be making the hardcore slog to the center of the galaxy this time around, though.


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Indie Games: The Floor Hits a New Low

Posted by Rampant Coyote on March 10, 2017

I went to the nickle arcade a couple of weeks ago with my family. We had a great time, playing a bunch of classic arcade games. Some of the more popular games required two, three, or even four nickles to play. Which is still a lot less than the $0.25 they were originally slotted for (which, for the older machines, was worth closer to $0.50 in today’s money.)  The arcade pretty much made it’s money on the entrance fee… I imagine the money earned by the machines pretty much covers maintenance and not much else.

But although I have many of these games – in many cases in their fully emulated splendor – at home, there’s something different about playing Dance Dance Revolution at the arcade, or shooting aliens in Galaga with the actual controls. So… it’s fun. I definitely enjoyed it.

Even that pittance that I plunked into the machines that day is way more than any of these games in this bundle…  it’s 46 indie games for $1. The “Dollar Ultra Bundle” at BundleStars.com. So, we’re talking a little over $0.02 a game. After Bundle and the publisher take their cut, we’re probably talking maybe $0.01 per sale going to the developers per game.

Now, I like cheap games as much as the next person, but I really have to scratch my head at this one. I mean, I totally see the value of bundles, and of deep discounts for marketing efforts, and all that good stuff. But I can’t figure this one out. Marketing-wise… with 45 competing games, how do you even make sure you game gets noticed here? With so many sequels included in the list, it’s not like giving a game away for free to encourage sales of the sequels. Even if the bundle sells amazingly well, the income for the developers is tiny.

All I can think (especially given the $0.99 base price of the games) is that this is shovelware in the extreme. Or that the publisher is going out of business and is shooting for one last hurrah to squeeze out a few extra hundred dollars… if they are very lucky.

So yeah, I’m baffled. And I’m amazed that the “race to the bottom” in indie games has not yet hit rock bottom. They just pulled out a shovel and dug a hole to go deeper, I guess. Maybe there’s a strategy here I don’t understand. Or maybe the developers are FREAKING AWESOME and each of these games took 1 guy only 1 day to make them, and this is a low-pressure way to  pay for the small pizza for the next game-in-a-day competition. Or maybe they all have malware or spyware in them and are making their money that way. I don’t know.


Filed Under: Indie Evangelism - Comments: 5 Comments to Read

MMOne: vomit-worthy VR Motion?

Posted by Rampant Coyote on March 8, 2017

I will never be able to afford it. (“Recoup my initial investment in six months?”) But I want one. It would be good for my diet… I would never hold down a complete meal again. Worth it.


Filed Under: Virtual Reality - Comments: Read the First Comment

WITCHY EYE released

Posted by Rampant Coyote on March 7, 2017

Author D J Butler is a talented storyteller, which is the important part here. He’s also  a lawyer, a corporate trainer, a scholar, and a very tall fellow with an epic mustache. I think the latter is where he gets his super-powers, like if Samson was played by Tom Selleck. Just saying. But I ought to get back to the point.

Witchy Eye is his first novel published through Baen. I haven’t read it yet–I’m waiting for my pre-ordered copy to arrive–but the buzz I’ve heard is that it’s excellent. It’s “Flintlock Fantasy” set in alternate history Appalachian territory, with magic based on regional folklore of the era. THIS IS SO AWESOME!

The blurb:

“Sarah Calhoun is the fifteen-year-old daughter of the Elector Andrew Calhoun, one of Appalachee’s military heroes and one of the electors who gets to decide who will next ascend as the Emperor of the New World. None of that matters to Sarah. She has a natural talent for hexing and one bad eye, and all she wants is to be left alone—especially by outsiders.

But Sarah’s world gets turned on its head at the Nashville Tobacco Fair when a Yankee wizard-priest tries to kidnap her. Sarah fights back with the aid of a mysterious monk named Thalanes, who is one of the not-quite-human Firstborn, the Moundbuilders of the Ohio. It is Thalanes who reveals to Sarah a secret heritage she never dreamed could be hers.

Now on a desperate quest with Thalanes to claim this heritage, she is hunted by the Emperor’s bodyguard of elite dragoons, as well as by darker things—shapeshifting Mockers and undead Lazars, and behind them a power more sinister still. If Sarah cannot claim her heritage, it may mean the end to her, her family—and to the world where she is just beginning to find her place.”

Today is the “book bomb” to try and move it up the charts.  If you are so inclined, you can check it out now at Amazon, or direct from Baen if you’d prefer, or on iBooks:

Witchy Eye by D J Butler on Amazon

Witchy Eye direct from Baen

Witchy Eye on iBooks


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Spring Sale at GOG.COM

Posted by Rampant Coyote on March 6, 2017

In case you haven’t already bought out the whole store (I feel like that some days), GOG.com is having a big Spring Sale. Sadly, most of my wish list wasn’t for sale, but hey… Dungeon Rats! We’re good! Anyway, check it out, and enjoy.

GOG.com Spring Sale

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Quadrilateral Cowboy Wins IGF Grand Prize

Posted by Rampant Coyote on March 3, 2017

I was looking forward to Quadrilateral Cowboy for a long time… a weird, retro-future cinematic cyberpunky adventure game with cube-headed people about hacking set in the 1980s.

For a while, I was even afraid this project by Blendo Games was dead. It took four years to complete after its big splash in 2013. They finally released last summer, and the game has proved worthy enough to take home the grand prize and the Excellence in Design awards from IGF this week! Congrats and well deserved!

Congrats to the other winners and nominees this year!

The 19th Annual IGF Awards


Filed Under: Indie Evangelism - Comments: Be the First to Comment

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