Thursday, June 13, 2019

Top Ten Best Books, As Self-Selected By Their Author

A few people have asked me to identify, out all the material I've worked on and or written, my top ten favorites. Ok, that's a fair question. But it's a hard one. Not so hard as picking just one favorite, which is probably, "Whatever I'm currently working on!" Still, it requires me to take a little time to think about it. My credits bibliography has grown a long tail over the last 25 years, so can I possibly pick just ten? Maybe. As an exercise in self-reflection...

So alright. This is my stab at choosing the ten favorite books that I've written myself, in no particular order (other than from most recent to oldest). Plus a little curation to go with each. This is a blog, after all!

Numenera Discovery and Numenera Destiny, MCG 2018. Working on these books, and Numenera Destiny, in particular, was a monumental effort. Coincidence I went to the hospital the day after turning over my contribution? Probably, but it makes a good story. Given Numenera's central place in the MCG product offering, and how much I love science fantasy, this choice picked itself. How can't you love a setting set a billion years in Earth's future? (Obviously, this is the second edition of an earlier book I had nothing to do with; but this one adds an entirely new volume, which I was very much a part of, as was the entire MCG team, a group of harder-working, talented, and kinder people I've rarely known.)

Jade Colossus: Ruins of the Prior Worlds, MCG 2017. My love of dungeon crawling goes back to dungeon geomorphs of 1E fame and the random dungeon generator in the 1E Dungeon Master's Guide. In many ways, Jade Colossus is a love letter to that system in the first DMG, because it debuted the Ruin Mapping System, which is 40+ pages of crazy random dungeon generation fun (and it's what we based our new Ruin Deck on, too). NOTE: A 5E conversion guide for Jade Colossus is going to be made thanks to our Arcana of the Ancients campaign!

Art: Lie Setiawan
Gods of the Fall, MCG 2016. What can I say, I poured my heart and soul into this, and I was blessed with a new artist to the MCG stable, Lie Setiawan; and a graphic designer/art director Bear Weiter, both of whom brought this book to life in a way I could have hardly hoped for. Combined with my message of "take a broken world and try to fix it" (as newborn gods in a fantasy world where the old gods all died out in a catastrophic event) definitely stars on this list.

I had a somewhat lighter schedule in the two months leading up to writing this book, which allowed me some time to really think about what I wanted to say, and better yet, brainstorm with the MCG design team as well as my amazing partner, Torah Cottrill, who really helped me define what a true catastrophe in heaven might look like. To learn more about Gods of the Fall, check out this Gods Of The Fall FAQ.

Art: Matthew Stawicki
The Strange, MCG 2014. I left wizards to write a science fiction novel where I could explore another explanation for the Fermi Paradox using the accelerating expansion of the universe as an underlying clue. What's dark energy? Well, some say it's a realm known as the Strange...

Things didn't go exactly to plan because my friend Monte asked me about it, then suggested we write a game for it together. Which we did, launching two entire MCG game lines, the first being The Strange! (Which in turn set the stage for the Cypher System itself, building off Numenera.) It took a little while, but the novel that launched it all was finally published, too...

Lo and behold Myth of the Maker.

D&D 5E, WOTC 2014. D&D RULES! (I am so blessed to have had the opportunity to be directly employed by TSR and then WOTC for ~18 years writing mostly D&D.) A lot of transition occurred at Wizards during the very long development period of this fabulous project. And after putting several years into it, I ultimately left a year before publication. Obviously, the D&D design team hit it out of the park, and I'm lucky to have been part of it for as long as I was.

Sword of the Gods, WOTC 2011. Though this two-book duology (Sword of the Gods and Spinner of Lies) faced several publisher-and-market-related issues resulting in them being my poorest-selling books out of all the numerous Forgotten Realms novels I'd previously published (noted in the side-bar to the right under "My Novels and Short Stories"), the duology also represents my best novel writing work at that time. They benefited from all the previous years of mentorship and editing advice lavished on me by Wizards' novel publishing department, especially my editor Susan Morris. That department was dissolved just as I was finishing the first book and starting the second (hinting at those issues I mentioned). But despite it all, these are probably my favorite novels... though see my thoughts about The Strange (and Myth of the Maker) above. Though, hey, call out to Darkvision, ya'll.

Expanded Psionics Handbook, WOTC, 2004. I love psionics so hard my car vanity license plate is PSIONIC and it has been since October 2004 when I got a Prius (which I still drive today). I also wrote an earlier Psionics Handbook for 3E, but this expanded edition really brought the rule system forward in a meaty way that lots of people really enjoyed. I know I did.

Art: Todd Lockwood
The Sunless Citadel, WOTC 2000. So many hours of thought went into planning this one, up to and including the name itself (which came to me on a long road trip), the nature of the threat at the center, and all the many and varied kinds of encounters that would go into it. At one point, 3E designer Jonathan Tweet asked me if I would please change the name of my new evil plant creature from twig-wight to something else, because by his lights, "wight" meant undead. Made sense; I called them twig-blights instead (an even more fitting name). And hey, look, DMDavid has it noted as a favorite, too!

(I'd count the follow-on modules I wrote for this adventure path as part of the evolving narrative that started in Sunless Citadel, which is Heart of Nightfang Spire and Bastion of Broken Souls.)

Return to the Tomb of Horrors, TSR, 1998. You know how I got handed this plum of an opportunity? Because everyone else's schedule was full, and that's how things happened at TSR back in the day. Well, I recognized that opportunity was knocking, and I spent every waking hour imagining how this would play out. Though it all sort of crystallized when I sketched out the overall shape of the adventure on a legal pad: Necromancer outer shell, original tomb, mouth/gate leads to a cursed city of sleep, and there to the negative energy plane and the fittingly titled Fortress of Conclusion.

Art: Jeff Easley
Gates of Firestorm Peak, TSR 1996. The one that started it all, baby! I've talked a lot about this over the years, most recently here on my blog. Plus, external validation (on a top 10 list here) is always nice! Though lots of people never really realized it, this was supposed to be a "Player's Option" adventure, using special rules that the bulk of D&D players probably didn't have. So, I adopted an adventure format that was aimed primarily at anyone who had regular D&D rules, plus a few additional considerations for those using D&D Player's Option material for each encounter. That ended up working really well. Most of the people who bought and played this didn't use Player's Option rules. The few bullet points appended at the end of each entry for Player's Option aficionados didn't bother anyone.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

My Norwescon 2019 Panel Schedule

Hey, I'll be at Norwescon starting tomorrow. If you can stop by one day, come by and say hi! My schedule (the panels I'll be on) is something like so:

Charlatanry and Chicanery: GMing on the Fly
2:00pm - 3:00pm @ Cascade 9
Jaym Gates (M), Bruce R. Cordell, Crystal Frasier

Fantastical Beasts and How to Write Them
3:00pm - 4:00pm @ Cascade 9
Bruce R. Cordell (M), Mary Robinette Kowal

What are RolePlaying Games and Where Do I Start?
10:00am - 11:00am @ Cascade 11
Bruce R. Cordell (M), Dylan Templar

Stepping Behind the Screen: Overcoming GM Anxiety
6:00pm - 7:00pm @ Cascade 9
Bruce R. Cordell (M), Kiva Maginn, Lee Moyer, Christen N. Sowards

Technology at the Gaming Table
4:00pm - 5:00pm @ Cascade 5 & 6
Gabriel de los Angeles (M), Bruce R. Cordell, Matthew Moore

Working in Games Real Talk
6:00pm - 7:00pm @ Cascade 7 & 8
Bruce R. Cordell (M), Crystal Frasier, Kiva Maginn, Christen N. Sowards

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

My D&D Selfie

I wasn't sure what pic to use for my #DnDSelfie until I came across this picture, which is sorta perfect, given both my smartphone cover and situation: this was taken in 2013 right after the office party Batgirl threw for me when I left my 18 year career with Wizards/TSR and Dungeons and Dragons behind to try something new.

D&D Selfie 2013

And yeah, the #DnDSelfie tag awesomely demonstrates that the stereotype of #DnD players as socially incompetent male nerds is TIRED and OVER. Huzzah! That said, I just rewatched the SNL clip. I gotta say, I admire the passion & joy these guys have; they got no fucks to give about conforming

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Wonderful and Terrible: The Medical System in the US of A

The medical system in the US is wonderful—I got "science fiction" non-invasive treatment over a year ago for blood clots in my lungs, making a full-recovery in days, if not hours.

And the medical system in the US is terrible—I just got another bill for my treatment from over a year ago; apparently, even though I went to an in-network hospital approved by my insurance company, one of the doctors who saw me is "out-of-network."

So the US medical system can apparently "balance bill" me the full amount charged by that doctor. Over a year later (no bill previously sent.) After I've been making monthly payments over the previous year on my in-network high-deductible out-of-pocket bill.

I mean, I'm glad I'm alive. I can't bitch too much. But holy shit we need some reform and we need it now.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Origin of the Far Realm in D&D

Cover art by Jeff Easly.
I was hired by TSR in 1995. Within a month, I was tasked to "Write a D&D adventure that supports all our new Player's Option materials." Oh, and one that would have a couple double-sided poster maps and lots of punch-out creature tokens. The only other thing already established was the name: The Gates Of Firestorm Peak. (A title suggested by Roger Moore, I believe)

Prior to this, my writing CV was a few sections in a Spacemaster supplement, and probably a hundred new creatures in a Rolemaster bestiary. (Oh, and thousands of lines of code, including lots of descriptive elements, in various MUDs and MUSHes). But I was up for the challenge!

Though I was slightly worried that creating a Player's Option D&D adventure would pigeon-hole the material too narrowly. So I adopted an adventure format that was aimed primarily at anyone who had regular D&D rules, plus a few additional considerations for those using D&D Player's Option material for each encounter. That ended up working really well. Most of the people who bought and played this didn't use Player's Option rules. The few bullet points appended at the end of each entry for Player's Option aficionados didn't bother anyone.

Which is to say, I was freed from having to focus on the rules, meaning I could design an adventure that was exciting to play, within an all-new environment that was a fusion of regular fantasy tropes with concepts a bit further afield: Lovecraftian concepts combined with Lamarkian ones, in particular.

Cover art by Fred Fields.
Somewhere in that stew of things becoming weirder and weirder as I designed toward the center of the mountain, the Vast Gate came into being. Crafted by Elder Elves during a previous epoch for exploration, it was eventually hidden away when they realized that their portal leading to a place outside of time had worked all too well. The place beyond time was the Far Realm, and to the sensibilities of those from a dimension of just three spatial and one temporal dimension, it was a place of horror.

My next project, The Illithiad, allowed me to further flesh out my notion of the Far Realm, and what better creatures to do that with than illithids? So in the lore text, I floated the rumor of how an ancient magical craft capable of traveling outside of time, crewed by sorcerers, found its own way beyond the edges of the cosmos, encountering the Far Realm for mere moments, before falling back into regular space and time. Humans on the craft were normal at first, but each and every one of them was soon revealed as being infected by an illithid larva, thus forming the first illithids a long, long time ago.

Over almost twenty years of design work, I continued to scatter bits and pieces of the Far Realm into D&D. The culmination of it all, at least for me, was my Abolethic Sovereignty Trilogy which brings the Far Realm front and center by the trilogy's end. Elves once again had a part to play, primarily by my half-elf protagonist Raidon Kane who battled both personal and cosmic horrors, as well as an ancient clan of elves in watchtowers all along the border of reality, guarding against incursion from a realm not their own.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

How I Remember Grandma Cordell

We lived a quick bike-ride along a dirt road between fields to my grandma's house. And we loved going to my grandma's house!

It was a working farm, in that my grandparents raised all kinds of livestock. Including chickens, sheep, and cattle. So there was all kinds of territory to explore--old sheds smelling of machine oil, decrepit farm machinery found out in a pasture, the steep sides and crawdad-filled deeps of a dugout, shadowed interiors of "old growth" shelter belts where you could always find a handy walking stick from windfall, and lots more.

That was all great. But what was really wonderful was seeing Grandma Cordell. She was always so, so happy to see us. She demonstrated that in words, hugs, and as was probably most appreciated by us kids, FOOD! All different kinds, from meals, to snacks, to candy and dessert. Mayonnaise and Velveeta sandwiches were my favorite, but you couldn't go wrong with marshmallows on toothpicks dipped in Karo syrup! Of course, there was also apple butter on toast, cold cuts, and yep, actual candy. For a kid who was always voracious, it was like heaven.

Grandma also loved games. We played all kinds of paper and pencil games, like tic-tac-to and Dots & Boxes, plus card games like Go Fish. Later, Grandma's love and facility for word-find games was awe inspiring.

My grandmother currated a constantly evolving art wall in her basement. The white washed cement cinder blocks of the foundation created hundreds of rectangular canvases that she asked us to fill, one every few years, with whatever we wanted. Over the years that wall filled with life filertered through crayon by dozens of growing children and  grandchildren, cousins, in-laws, and friends. It was always an honor to be given another pristine space to fill with art. Or at least in my case, earnest childish scrawling :).

Grandma and Grandpa had a lively relationship. Sometimes their back and forth would really make me laugh. Like this one time, Grandpa Cordell said something he thought was funny, who knows what, but Grandma didn't.

So she rolled her eyes and said, "Oh, go jump in a lake."

"But I can't swim."

"Well, you better learn!"

No matter how much fun visiting Grandma was, sooner or later, we had to leave. Which meant it was time to wave goodbye. This worked best if you were driving or being driven, of course. Grandma would start waving from the driveway in front of her house, then move inside to the front window, then finally on to the side window as we got farther and farther away. And of course, we waved furiously back all the while. "Bye, Grandma! Goodbye!"

Whether it was food, games, or a chance to let our freak-art-flag fly, Grandma Cordell was amazing because she lavished attention on us grandchildren. We didn't realize it back then, but she always put us first. It delighted her to do so, and of course it delighted us to be the complete center of attention for those brief periods we were with her. Like we were royalty visiting, or guests in a foreign land where everything was candy, games, and love.

That was my experience of Grandma Cordell. I looked forward to going to her house more than anything else when I was young. That time is long over, of course. But not in my memory. She lives on there. If I close my eyes, I can still see her grinning, welcoming us into her kitchen. And of course waving, waving goodbye.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Real Insurance Saved Me. Now It's At Risk

I had a medical emergency earlier this year. Without affordable individual insurance, my 50 years of savings would have been wiped out.

Now it's a pre-existing condition, to use a term from a few years ago. Which means if I were to suffer a similar incident again and we move back to junk insurance, I'd have to declare bankruptcy.

Real insurance is the only reason I'm not living paycheck to paycheck, with no financial cushion. It allowed me to leave Wizards of the Coast in 2018 and try something riskier.

As Chuck Wendig says on Twitter, "Vote in November like your life depends on it. Because it just might."

Friday, July 27, 2018

Your Best Game Ever

A tool book for tabletop roleplayers. No matter what game you play or how long you’ve been playing–have your best game ever!
Your Best Game Ever is not your typical RPG sourcebook. It’s not a book with adventures, spells, creatures, or magic items. It’s not a book for characters at all, but a book for players! If you play or run roleplaying games, this book is for you. Inside this gorgeous hardcover book, suitable for your coffee table or your gaming table, you will find advice and suggestions for enhancing your RPG experience at the table and away from it. This is an insider’s look at everything that goes into the hobby—finding a group, making a character, running a game, creating adventures, finding all the right ideas, hosting a game…and that’s just for starters. 

If that sounds even slightly intriguing, check it out here

Or watch Shanna explain here:

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Gen Con 2018: My Schedule

I will be at Gen Con this year, and I hope to see some of you, too! Here's where I'll be.

1 pm WRITING FOR RPGs (Marriot: Boston)
What is life really like as an RPG writer? Bruce R. Cordell talks not about design craft but instead shares the processes and tips he's picked in his twenty-three years writing for RPGs.

2 pm DISCOVERY YOUR DESTINY (Lucas Oil Meeting Room 4)
Get the inside story on the design & development of Numenera Discovery & Destiny. Monte & the team take you deeper into the Ninth World than ever. Bring your questions!

6-8 pm AN EVENING WITH MCG (Union Station: Iron Horse)
Come hang with Team MCG! Join us to celebrate another great year, & the launch of two flagships projects: Numenera 2: Discovery and Destiny, and Invisible Sun.

Join me as Savion Clay and the others from MCG's groundbreaking Twitch stream, The Raven Wants What You Have, play a live game of Invisible Sun—and the audience plays a part, too!

4 pm SIGNING AT MCG BOOTH in the exhibitor's hall

6-7:30 pm Writer Symposium dinner

8:30-midnight Author Hangout


1 pm FROM RATIONS TO FEASTS (Marriot: Ballroom 1)
What will people eat in the future? How will it be packaged? What should fantasy adventurers bring on their quest, and what will be served when they feast with the king? Elizabeth Bear, Bruce Cordell, Daniel Myer, and Aaron Rosenberg discuss.

2 pm HOW TO HAVE YOUR BEST GAME EVER (Lucas Oil Meeting Room 12)
Join members of Team MCG to get tips on having the best RPG session ever. There will be GM tips, player tips, & game stories with a positive spin

5 pm SIGNING AT MCG BOOTH in the exhibitor's hall!

1 pm SIGNING AT MCG BOOTH in the exhibitor's hall

4 pm-10:15 pm MCG Booth teardown and pack out (Oof!)

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Watch us play Numenera in this new livecast series on Twitch!

If you're wondering what Numenera is, or just want to watch a bunch of excited people (that being me, Monte, Shanna, Darcy, and Sean) play an RPG game, this is for you.

To get you started, watch the first session right here (make sure you expand to full screen so you can see the art panel details, and turn it up just a bit to hear the weird forest background music):

If you like what you see, mark your calendars! We'll be playing this game every other Tuesday at 5 PM PT for the next several months!

Friday, April 20, 2018

Path of the Dead

Lantern in hand, Elandine walked the Path of the Dead under the light of the Seven Moons. Their cold radiance splintered on the raised road that wound for miles through the queendom. Crypts honeycombed the rampart beneath their feet. In those metal-clad and lightless cavities, the dead of Hazurrium were interred, from the lowliest beggars to royalty. According to tales told over campfires, the souls of the dead sometimes ventured up from the Night Vault to walk the Path of the Dead, looking for their loved ones to bid them goodbye.

“You won’t find her, Your Highness,” murmured Navar, who followed a few paces after the queen.

“I know,” the queen replied, her voice almost too soft to hear.

~text from Myth of the Maker, a novel of The Strange ~art by Cathy Wilkins.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Building Bridges Of The Mind

Being open to seeing how someone else thinks about things is a thing I'm still learning how to do. It's essential if I want to change someone's mind. Well, not change minds per se, but maybe make someone else realize that just maybe their views and mine really aren't that far apart, once all the divisive chaff is cleared away. To do that, my mind needs to be open enough to see alternative views, too, in order to see where we can go from there.

Artist:  Richard Tuschman

Saying that is one thing, doing it is harder. Which is why I'm still trying to figure out how to speak with people who I don't agree with in a way that doesn't immediately anger them or put them on the defensive. Or—at even more imporantly—allow trigger words or phrases to do that to me. If I engage in that state of mind, nothing good is likely to come of it. Because being angry and outraged (whether unconsciously or consciously) only pushes away the person you're supposedly trying to compromise with. If I'm going to address a problem, I want to find common ground. Being angry and outraged lights up the circuits in the brain in a way that seems "right" in that moment... but I don't think it really leads to compromise and good outcomes.

Here's an example to put some of this in context: if my hypothetical eight-year-old daughter tells me she's scared to go to sleep because there's a monster under her bed, I don't tell her "Sally, you idiot! Don't you know there's no such thing as monsters?"

Why? Because telling Sally she's stupid for believing as she does just adds another problem to the first one, because now Sally is mad, sad, and defensive IN ADDITION to believing that there is a monster under her bed. Plus, demeaning her intelligence is just mean. No parent willingly wants to be mean to their child. Nor should we willingly want to be mean to other people,.

Because hey, they're someone's kid, too.