Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Best Game in Years

I'm back from Gen Con 2014. How was it, you ask? In a word, fabulous.

Many things contributed to Gen Con's fabulousness this year, including the many honors accorded to MCG (10 ENnies), the launch of a game near and dear to me (The Strange), as well as the rush I always get attending a convention filled with people who love games and geeking out as much as I do. (Plus, the entire MCG team hit it out of the park, as Monte describes here.) As it happens, it was also Batgirl (Torah Cottrill)'s first Gen Con, which was also grand.

However, the thing that really pegged the fabulous meter for Gen Con 2014 was that I also ran an RPG that has the distinction of being the most fun I've had GMing a game IN YEARS.

Really?

Yeah, really. Here's why.

We wanted the game I ran (and the game Monte ran for Numenera) to be a premiere experience for the players. The players were people who either made a high-level Kickstarter pledge to be there, or who made a winning bid during our charity auction to be there.

As it turned out, some of them were such amazing people that a couple had also volunteered to GM other games of The Strange at Gen Con. Before we discovered the overlap, I was also slated to run the same adventure (Eschatology Code) for the premiere game. We worried the experience wouldn't be as premiere for those players who were also running the same adventure themselves. So I wrote a new adventure especially for them called The Hum: Welcome to the Grand Bavarian (The Hum will also soon become available to the MCG Asset Team to run as demos across the world).

Did I mention these were amazing players? Everyone there was excited and pumped to be at the table, an experienced RPG player, smart, funny, and just as importantly, they were all gracious and pleasant people.

Finally, it probably doesn't come as any surprise that over the past several years, every game I've run was a playtest. (Either DMed when I was still working as a designer on 5E, or GMed after I joined MCG and started designing The Strange.) If you've ever playtested a game, you know the drill. Play ten minutes, then stop when someone points out a problem. Hash that out for 30 minutes before you get to play another ten minutes or so before someone else calls a halt to deal with some new irregularity in the game. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat...

Fast forward to the convention. The Hum was the first RPG session I've game mastered IN YEARS that wasn't a playtest. It was just a regular RPG session. It was filled with players who weren't there to polish the game. They were there to entertained by me and The Strange. I hope they were.



Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Gen Con 2014 Schedule

I'll be at the MCG booth (booth 1653) at Gen Con at the following times (Monte Cook will be in the booth at the same time as me, which is convenient if you're looking for dual signatures on your copy of The Strange!):
Thursday: 10a-Noon, 2p-3:15p 
Friday: 10a-Noon 
Saturday: 2p-4p 
Sunday: 2p-4p

These are the times you can and should come by and say hello, or if you want something signed, this is when I'll be ready to oblige. I'm happy to sign anything, new or old. (Including copies of the D&D 5th edition, also out in time for Gen Con!)


I'll also be at the following seminars:

The Numenera seminar is on Thursday at 1p-2p 
The Strange launch event is on Saturday at 11a-1p

Both of those two events require tickets (but they're free). 

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Welcome to The Strange

The launch date for The Strange RPG is in August! As that date approaches, +Monte Cook and I will be writing a series of blog posts about the game, including this first one: Welcome to The Strange!

http://www.montecookgames.com/welcome-to-the-strange/

Lead Artist Matt Stawicki

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

June Kickstarter Message to Backers of The Strange

The Strange corebook is approaching completion. It went to press last week, and we just turned over the final proofing revisions to the printer. So it’s a good time to give our backers a taste of how the fulfillment process will work. This process kicks off in July, so we’ll share the specific details in our next Kickstarter update, but here are the broad strokes.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Spine Tingle: Is it a relic of a tailed ancestor?

Every time I'm somewhere near the edge of a long fall, a tingle descends my spine. It's always happened, so I haven't really thought much about it. Some people tell me they don't get that feeling in high places, though others do. Recently I wondered why.

And I came up with a hypothesis: the spine tingle at edges might be a relic of a tailed ancestor that had an autonomic response to prevent falling out of a high tree, which was to curl its tail around a branch. Since I don't have a tail, all I get is an atavistic spine tingle.

So what's next? I know! A series of experiments generating data to help prove or disprove my hypothesis. You know, science! However, that sort of experiment would probably requires funds, fMRI machines, and monkeys. Three things I'm fresh out of. (Though maybe I don't need monkeys--the ancestor was likely pre-hominid. But I like this picture.)

Does anyone know of someone looking for a doctoral research thesis topic in genetic anthropology? I might have something. And of course, if it turns out this is a subject already studied and researched by someone else, I'd love to know that, too.




Saturday, May 3, 2014

Longevity Clause

In honor of my 46th birthday, I present my short story "Longevity Clause," which shows one possible repercussion of rampant life-extension science. I wrote this a couple years ago. If I were to rewrite it today, I'd probably make Sawyer a vigilante instead of an agent of the state. (Wow, I really like that idea, so much that I've just decided I will rewrite this that way. Someday.)


LONGEVITY CLAUSE
By Bruce R. Cordell
She looked twenty-five, but who didn’t? Looking young wasn’t a crime. At least, not until you failed to appear for your Readjustment.
Sawyer kept his eyes trained on the woman. Axe over one shoulder, she surveyed a prodigious stack of firewood. Her neck tattoo and buzz cut made her look nothing like the dusty image of Michele Ballorin supplied by AgeCrime.gov.
Which was why Sawyer relied on the facial recognition app in his contacts. The app was invested with algorithms honed from decades of social media tagging. With a beep, a green square framed his target’s face. The lensware indicated the woman was a 99% match for Ballorin.
Sawyer grinned. It was too early to celebrate, but what the hell. He settled back in his blind and popped the lid on the cooler. He extracted a can of batch-blessed fizzy soda marketed as “sacrament on the go.” Sawyer didn’t drink it for its promised spiritual balm; he just liked the taste. That, and the caffeine-quercetin kick.
Ballorin had flouted the law for decades. Her bounty had, year after year, had climbed into nosebleed territory.
When you became an age evader, steadily mounting bounties assured that someone like Sawyer would eventually show up and make things right. Ballorin had been an age evader for fifty-three years. Which meant she was actually 153 years old, not twenty-five. Unlike most laws on the books, there was no statute of limitations for Readjustment dodging; quite the opposite.Surprisingly, Ballorin had consistently eluded them, and more importantly, him.
Until now, he thought, nursing his carbonated, antioxidant-infused drink. He’d had to call in every last favor, but he’d found her secret retreat a week ago. This morning, he’d completed his preparations.
Ballorin finally finished her firewood project and went inside. He kept watch as night descended and activity in the compound gradually ceased.
Sawyer shimmied down from the platform he’d surreptitiously erected in the lodgepole pine. He retrieved his pack, then checked his Sig Sauer auto-trank and Glock 9mm.
Plan A was to enter unnoticed, tranquilize the woman, and extract her without any of her friends the wiser. All were age evaders, but Sawyer only cared about Ballorin. This was his last chance to bring her in. He knew the compound floorplan, he’d memorized the occupants’ routines, and he was well aware of his own capabilities.
Sawyer yanked his mask down over his face, and crept up to the fence. On his belly, he snipped a hole in the wire and wriggled through.
“Hello, Sawyer.”
Oops. He scrambled to his feet as a floodlight snapped on, pinning him in its blinding beam.
“Don’t move,” said the same female voice.
“Ballorin? Michelle Ballorin?” he asked, blinking. If he could get her talking, distract her for even a few--
Hands seized him from either side. He struggled, then relaxed when the barrel of a large caliber weapon pressed against his head.
“You set me up,” he accused.
Ballorin’s silhouette appeared through the light, axe plainly visible on her shoulder. She said, “Of course. You’ve hounded me for years. And given your situation, it was only a matter of time before the famous Sawyer Kenyon showed up to do his thing. So we prepared.”
Prepared? He wondered. Hopefully Ballorin wasn’t prepared for Plan B.
The woman continued, “Why do you hunt us, Sawyer? Why’re you so vindictive? We have a right to live.”
“You have lived,” he said, “in youthful health for a hundred years. More. Now it’s time to make way for the next generation. The rejuvenation clause is made for people like you, who’d otherwise gather enough influence to avoid Readjustment, and over the centuries, concentrate political power over the short-timers. Everyone has an appointed span of time. It’s immoral to claim more.”
“Quite a speech. Sounds like you’ve found religion.”
Had he? Maybe so. All the “sacrament on the go” he’d consumed over the last week might have been an unconscious yearning for spiritual comfort, instead of the ironic gesture he’d intended. He didn’t believe in a magic man in the sky . . . but he’d turned one hundred two months ago. He’d taken Readjustment. Senescence, so long held at bay in his cells, gathered velocity like a plunging satellite. This would be his last bounty.
He said, “By accepting rejuvenation, you accepted the whole bargain. I’m here to see you follow through.”
“Then you’ve failed.”
“Nope,” he said, recalling the shaped charges he’d carefully set around the compound during the week. “Truant bounty is dead or alive.”
Ballorin charged, axe coming off her shoulder in a lethal arc. But she’d wasted her best chance.
“Detonate,” commanded Sawyer. The voice-activated lensware followed through on its pre-programmed instruction.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Using Real-World Photography As Adventure Prompts

GMs are always on the lookout for good adventure prompts, and sometimes those inspirations come by way of great fantasy or science fiction art. But why limit yourself to merely make-believe when it comes to inspiring ideas to stun and amaze your players? Especially when the real world offers a wealth of wonderful and idea-generating locations, as gathered into collections by photographers and various other online curators over the years.

I’ve located a short selection of such photography collections, and provided a few adventure prompts to go along with one of the pictures presented in each link. The adventure prompts are suitable for Numenera, but also for The Strange (so keep this link in your bookmarks).

Friday, April 11, 2014

How Story Gives Life to Game Mechanics

Game mechanics are meant to simulate and model elements of a story to create an RPG. 


A story without game mechanics can’t be an RPG. Without game mechanics of some sort, you haven’t got an RPG, though you may have an interesting narrative. So mechanics, yeah; you need them, and preferably good ones. But sometimes mechanics are over-valued, which isn’t great. In fact, an RPG that puts game mechanics before the story that the mechanics are meant to simulate begins to lose its way.

Here’s why:

 http://www.montecookgames.com/how-story-gives-life-to-mechanics/

Friday, March 7, 2014

Guest Blog over at MonteCookGames.com

My latest blog entry, "Ordering Art for Games" is over at MonteCookGames.com, where I describe the process from a game designer POV. In addition to one of first art requests I ever made, way back in 1995, I also give a look behind the scenes for The Strange corebook we're getting in art for as I type this!

http://www.montecookgames.com/ordering-art-for-games/




Sunday, December 22, 2013

A Brief History of Me and Computers

A short trip down digital memory lane, courtesy Batgirl Claus getting her son Sebastian a refurbished Mac laptop for the holiday, which got me thinking... I've had a lot of computers in my life!




1983 - 1986 
Apple IIe and "dumb" terminals
My parents got an Apple IIe for the household. Around the same time, I learned to program in BASIC, courtesy of our high school computer program (which involved a room of terminals which connected to a mainframe across the street I never saw). This was a magic time, one filled with several different text based D&D-style adventure games I wrote (and various other programs assigned by the school). On the IIe, I also played Sir Tech's Wizardry, Digdug, did my first writing with a wordprocessor called Bankstreet Writer, and played with the Koala pad, which was sort of a precursor to the mouse (and a drawing pad, to boot).

I'd be remiss not to mention the Commodore 64 owned by my friend Brett during this period. Many hours playing Ultima and some video game emulating the Hunt for Red October...

1986 - 1990
Macintosh Plus
College was an oddly computer-lite period of my life, save for a few times I accessed the computer lab in the library to write a paper. They had Mac Pluses, and I was enthralled by the 'point n click' elegance of it.

1992-1995

Macintosh Classic
Variety of PCs using Windows 3.0
The time had come--I wanted my own computer. My pal Monte had a Mac Classic and printer he wanted to sell. This was when I really learned how to experiment on an operating system to learn all its in and outs.
 
But in 1992, I started work at NeXstar (originally Nexagen) Biopharmaceuticals. One aspect of my job required spending a lot of time on a variety of PCs hooked up to DNA synthesis machines. Which was, honestly, far more computer than was required, but they were convenient for input. Right around 1992 was when the internet was really getting going, and ALL these computers were hooked straight into it. Which meant that during my free time (and nights and weekends) I immersed myself in MUDs and MUSHes (and learned a fair bit about coding C-style languages in the process).


1995-1997
Macintosh Performa 6300
TSR hired me (supposedly to code MUDs and MUSHes, branded for D&D), but nope. I stayed on to write D&D the old fashioned way, and used the Mac Performa to do it.

1998-2000
Gateway PC computer GP6-350 pentium II 
Wizards bought TSR in 1997! The first computer they started me out with was a ... I don't recall, sadly. Some sort of Mac I'm imagining. But probably the reason I don't recall is that I'd decided it was high time I buy another home computer, one with the chops to play "real" games. Which meant it was time to buy a PC. I chose a Gateway with 3 gigs of hard drive space! This cost a cool 3 grand. But I got a lot of enjoyment out of it.

2000-2002
iBook 300 Tangerine Clamshell
Then those beautiful iBook clamshells came out, and I HAD to have one. And I did. My first lap-top, and still the one I love the most--it was ergonomically perfect. It had a retractable handle!  (I still have this computer, actually, though it's stored away for some future project when I retrofit it with modern hardware.)



2002
iBook G3 Snow
I can't recall why the clamshell wasn't cutting it anymore. I may have become a crazed computer buyer, or maybe the comercials got me. Maybe it was the firewire, and I needed better hardware to make movies? Maybe the jump to OS X. That might be it. But it wasn't enough, because a year later, I gave it away to a friend (who I believe still uses it today to serve music for his home theatre system).

2003-2008
Powerbook G4 Aluminum 17 inch
I'd definitely drank the Kool-aide. I was so enamored of the concept of this machine that I PRE-ORDERED it. I'd never done that before. I even shot a short film to commemorate the unboxing! However, this computer lasted me 5 full years, when the hard drive gave out. I sold it for a few hundred dollars, remarkable given that it didn't work.

2008-2013
Macbook Pro 15 inch
I loved me some Powerbook, so even though they changed the name, I bought a replacement when my previous one gave it. I used it myself for 5 years, and it is still being used in this household, being almost daily fought over by Batgirl's kids ;-). But in 2012, I wanted something more modern, and more portable

2012 - to present
Macbook Pro 13 inch
The screen's smaller than my 17 inch, but I have a 2nd monitor set up from the home office where I do most my work. Right now, though I have it set up next to Batgirl's 17 inch Macbook pro unibody, and it looks a bit tiny. But it still gets the job done. I'm hoping for 5 years of solid service like the last 2 (though as I say, the last macbook is still going!)










Friday, November 22, 2013

Thank You! THE STRANGE is coming!

Thank you again for your support of The Strange! We’ve said it many times, but it’s still completely true: We’re utterly blown away by the interest and enthusiasm that you have shown for our project over the last five weeks. It sincerely means a lot to all of us.


Thanks for backing, and for making The Strange such a big, vibrant game line. We’ll never forget that you helped make that happen!

Check out Charles Ryan's thank you message on behalf of all MCG!

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1433901524/the-strange-a-tabletop-rpg-by-bruce-cordell-and-mo/posts/671947

Friday, November 15, 2013

Last Week of The Strange Kickstarter


It's been an exhilarating, amazing, and slightly exhausting month.

We are now officially in the last week of the The Strange Kickstarter. Even though the effort isn't over, I've been working with Monte Cook on design for the actual The Strange RPG; we've got a lot of material to write! Of course in addition to that, I've been helping the rest of MCG run the crowdfunding campaign. That includes a helping hand in writing some of the various updates (though Charles Ryan is mostly the man behind the curtain on those), creating sneak peeks on that aforementioned design, fiction (a short story called The Paradox Room: Four Winds that's in second draft, which I need to try to finalize by Monday), several ongoing efforts to raise awareness that we're actually holding the campaign for the many who remain unaware, and of course, almost hourly monitoring of the pledge level.


Like I said: exhilarating, amazing, and slightly exhausting :-).

Sometime very early this morning we hit the goal that unlocked deluxe leatherbound edition of the The Strange corebook. Everytime we hit one of our stretch goals, we feel an amazing high! Which is followed within a few hours with wondering how we can best put out the word that another, newer stretch goal has been announced. You get the idea :-).

This also includes doing interviews for folks kind enough to offer us the chance to talk. Which means I've done more fun and interesting interviews in the last month than I've done during certain entire years of my past career! For instance, the great podcast Metagamers Anonymous (hosted by Prismatic Tsunami) just released today the podcast interview I did yesterday!


I'm not complaining. Far from it. I just wanted to offer people a sense of the kind of things going on behind the scenes. (A glimpse that represents about 15% of the effort, given that I'm just one of the five awesome team members making up this company, and everyone of them is working themselves silly on this project, as well as several other Numenera-related projects also ongoing--for example, Shanna Germain is even now finalizing the amazing Numenera Ninth World Bestiary).

That, and I wanted to say thank you. The attention we've received for this kickstarter is amazing, and humbling.

Everyone who has backed us and/or who spread the word about this effort to their friends has given us a gift: The ability to create another year of completely new RPG material, this time, set in The Strange.



Sunday, October 20, 2013

Want A New Avatar?

If you're looking to try out a cool new avatar for your Facebook, Twitter, Google+, or other social network, take the 7 questions in our How Strange Are You? quiz! You'll discover whether you're an ally of Ruk, Ardeyn, or Earth. Then download the badge for your faction and make it your avatar!

Behind the Scenes: whichever faction of The Strange achieves its goal by the end of The Strange Kickstarter (https://www.bit.ly/TheStrange) will get an extra full-color illustration by lead artist Matt Stawicki, and all backers will receive the art as a desktop wallpaper. Further, all allies of that faction will be able to vote on the contents of the illustration.

(As of the time of this writing, Ardeyn holds onto its lead with 45% of the votes tallied. Earth remains second at 32%, while Ruk trails with only 23%. Can Ruk get back into it? Only if more people take the quiz! Tell your friends; they can take the quiz even if they're not backers!)

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Something Strange On The Horizon


After I left Wizards, I started putting together an outline for a sci-fi novel. But then MCG made me an offer to join the team. So I pitched my novel idea, except as a game called The Strange. And guess what? Monte and Shanna loved it!

Which leads us to where we are today, just a couple months later. We’re going to launch a Kickstarter for a new game, co-designed by myself and Monte Cook, called The Strange (UPDATE: We launched it here!). The Strange uses the Cypher System game engine. As you probably know, the Cypher System also powers Numenera. What's cool is that The Strange is going to allow us to use the mechanics in some new and very exciting ways.

When you play The Strange, you'll be able to translate between different worlds, called recursions, that have been seeded "around" Earth. Yes, that's right: Earth. The game setting includes modern day Earth. The image showing the Space Needle in Seattle is no whim. But in some recursions, sorcery, super-science, and even stranger rules of existence are all too real.

Be ready. Something Strange is just on the horizon!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Nalurus and Numenera Design Esthetic

One of the creatures I'm working on for Numenera Bestiary has the working name Nalurus. The unedited* description follows.

A nalurus looks like an ordinary person, but one who always wears a hood or mask. It may be pretending, even to itself, that it's still human, despite the terrible infection it survived but still carries. The nalurus's infection is transmitted by sight. If a living humanoid or related creature sees a nalurus without its hood and looks full upon the disquieting lines, spirals, and geometric shapes laid out in ridges across the creature's face, the awful pattern imprints on the victim's mind. Something in the interplay of information, refraction, and the physical structure of the victim's brain itself sets off a cruel and rapid chain reaction. What begins as a pinkish nose drip ends when the victim's brain completely liquefies and exits the victim's head from eyes, nose, mouth, and ears less than a minute after the infection occurred.

My concept for the nalurus was born from my real fear of a disease called Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease (CJD). CJD is an incurable and fatal brain disease that is caused by a type of protein called a prion. Prions are misfolded proteins that infect other nearby proteins merely by being close enough to incite those proteins to misfold. It becomes a sort of chain reaction that, over months, dissolves the brain. Obviously, over a billion years, it's gotten more aggressive . . .

But telling readers all about CJD in the Nalurus monster description itself, or the science behind some other monster I'm writing, despite it being my first instinct to do so, isn't actually the way to go to maintain the Numenera design esthetic. It turns out, I needed to deprogram, and I'm thankful the MCG team was there with the design and editorial insight that allowed me to do so. At the end of the day, Numenera is a game designed to inspire a sense of wonder, mystery, and weirdness in its players, not explain the science of how prions misfold, the underlying mechanism behind spurn evolution, or how an amber monolith might be able levitate for so many thousands or even millions of years. For most people, those specific explanations will come across as technobabble. Revealing the entire answer to a mystery is sort of like telling a joke, then before anyone can appreciate it, following up with "The reason that's funny is because [proceed to ruin joke here]."

We (I, Monte, and Shanna, if they'll allow me to speak for them) are not suggesting that a designer shouldn't have such background information in his or her back pocket, possibly even to reveal the edges of in a monster description if it seems right to do so, or indeed, available for some other purpose (for instance, such as a blog post like this one). We're just saying that the main body of a Bestiary monster entry itself isn't the best place to pull back the curtain, at least not all the way and certainly not every time.

*Unedited, pre-layout, and truth-to-tell, working version of the monster. The name could change, or for reasons, we might decide this monster shouldn't go in the Bestiary.