Friday, January 22, 2021

A New Week, A New Era (Hopefully)

Hey everybody!

[Cross-posted from my Patreon]: Like me, I imagine most of you are relieved to be where we are. We've got a brand new (old, heh) president in the White House whose associated officials no longer have to watch their back for sprouting knives when talking about serious issues (Fauci, I'm looking at you).
As I was just remarking in a private message (you know who you are), the "new" norms of open racism, reality denial, and ugly aggression aren't actually norms after all. The cover has been pulled back, revealing that it's ugly all the way down. Here's hoping that makes an impression on a lot of folks at the margin. (I know at least one on who it has, anecdotally.)
Take care, and be kind to your mind if you can. I'm certainly trying to in the face of all the various things that have come my way lately. Peace.
[Photo by Kien Do on Unsplash]

Friday, January 15, 2021

Grading yourself on your response to the Pandeminsurection

Greetings from 2021!

If you're reading this, I just want to let you know that I value you. Your support, yes, but also you as a person. Stay strong, my friend. Find those moments of peace. Try 5 minutes of meditation if it's not something you're already doing. Look at the window at some trees and do some slow breathing. We can't control events, but we can control how we respond to them to some extent.

If I were to grade myself on how well I'm responding, I'd give myself ... well, I suppose it varies by day. I'm going to say 7 out of 10, on average.

I hope you're doing at least as well.

In other news, I've dropped Chapter 15 of my novel here at my Patreon. Take a look!

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Rune of Reconciliation


Mid-December brings with it a couple of active tabletop roleplaying game Kickstarter campaigns that I'm involved with.

First, we have my friends (and employer) MCG's Heroes of the Cypher System campaign, in which I'll be writing a sourcebook about people with powers called The Origin. As it happens, I wrote a preview here, which takes the form of some secret communications on the dark web. This campaign ends in two days, so if you wanna get in on the super fun, the gap is narrowing

Next, my friend Peter Schaefer is running a TTRPG Kickstarter for his new setting and game system called The Well. The Well utilizes a new, lightweight game mechanic directly integrated into the story of your PCs exploring the abandoned crypts of your people's ancestors, putting down the undead abominations that have risen from their remains, and escaping with as much loot and as few scars as possible.

As it happens, I'll be writing some short fiction for The Well, as unlocked by the very first stretch goal.

You have about two weeks to check out The Well at the time of this writing.

P.S. Wanna see an excerpt from the short story "Rune of Reconciliation" that I've started? Head over to my Patreon, where I've dropped it as a public post!

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Sweet 2021 Action

My friends, 

It's December 2020! I don't know about you (though I can guess), but I'm ready for some sweet 2021 vaccine-deployment-and-new-administration-attention-to-critical-issues action. That's a mouthful. What do you think of my new portmanteau? Probably needs some trimming. I'll leave that for the editor. (JUST KIDDING!)

Ready for another chapter in The Ark of Broken Dreams? Well, ready or not, here you go:

[Photo by William Daigneault on Unsplash]

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Liminal Shore

A land of secrets, beyond the farthest seas—Liminal Shore brings an entirely new, previously unexplored region to the Ninth World, unlike anywhere you’ve ever been. Here, everything lives!

This book has new cyphers, artifacts, and creatures, all flavored by the unique nature of the Liminal Shore.

It brings several new sapient species, including three suitable as PCs. Play a winged caterpillar-like creel, a shelled wholkin, or a mysterious, fungoid spirant.

Finally, two complete adventures introduce your characters and enable them to explore and understand this strange new land.

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Expanding Subjective Time

Working from home isn't new to me. I've done it fulltime since 2013 when I left Wizards and joined MCG. But with the additional social restrictions of the pandemic, things have been different. One day just seems to blur into the next, and recalling what I did two days ago let alone two weeks ago is difficult. I'm sure that's true for a lot of us late.

When you’re a kid, three months seems like an eternity, because it’s all new. Almost every experience is novel. But as you get older, time seems to go faster and faster. We wonder where a month has gone, or even a year. You may have even speculated that's because it only seems that way because so many things that happen to us as adults are things that have already happened to us, perhaps many times if we have a regular job and live in the same place.

Recently, I've been on a kick to read outside my regular sci-fi/urban fantasy wheelhouse; I recently read Madelaine Albright’s latest memoir, for instance. After that, I selected Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything. I figured maybe I would learn a few methods to improve my memory. 

As it turns out, the Moonwalking with Einstein is actually more that, diving into a high-level overview of how memory works. An objective measure of how much I'm enjoying it is how many times I'll randomly quote a section to Batgirl. (Her enjoyment may differ.)

The book describes author Josh Foer's own journey into learning about memory. During this "odyssey of the mind," he meets and befriends all sorts of super-interesting people. In fact, I'd say the author displays a Hunter S. Thompson-esque talent for making these characters larger than life, which is enjoyable in its own right.

The text describes two types of memory explicit and implicit. Explicit memory is a specific memory of something that happened, like how you might remember that one time you had that bad interaction with your boss. Implicit memory is knowledge, like your knowledge of language, how to divide numbers, or that you like (or dislike) icecream.

Explicit memory is constantly shrinking, thanks to implicit memory. The way implicit memory works is that the more we do a certain activity over and over, the more likely that additional but similar memory gets classified as “more of the same" by your brain. When a new memory gets that tag, the memory is far more likely to be tossed out. It doesn't need to be stored, according to your brain. It's not new; you've already go it covered under implicit memory.

Anyway, in the process of learning how a memory palace actually works, (as opposed to how I incorrectly thought it worked), one of the interviewees (a British memory champion named Ed Cooke) talks about how he hoped to expand subjective time so that it feels like he lives longer. The idea is to avoid that feeling at the end of the year ‘where did all that time go?’

And I'm like 'YES!' This is what I want, too! Lockdown or not, I'm tired of wondering how the previous year could have possibly passed so fast. Even though I'm still not quite finished with the book, I've taken at least one inspiration from it. I'm going to expand my subjective time by seeking chronological landmarks. 

All of which is to say, I'm going to try a little harder to do more new things more often, really. Starting with reading outside my regular wheelhouse... oh. I guess I've already begun.

[This article was cross-posted from my Patreon. If you'd like to support my fiction-writing, please check it out!]

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Foreshadowing Vs. Telegraphing

In this modern age of peak tv, plentiful podcasts, fantastic co-op options for computer RPGs, and of course good ol' tabletop RPGs, I don't read novels and short stories at the pace I once did. When I was younger, I read pretty much during every spare moment.

But, I still read. At my slower pace, I have the luxury of picking and choosing novels that others have already read and recommended. Often, those novels are fantastic. Apart from pure enjoyment, these novels usually have something to teach me, too. Like for instance how The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers let me know that a sci-fi novel could take its time to focus on character interactions and still be quite enjoyable. Or how All Systems Red by Martha Wells showed me that a very short novel (technically a novella) can be both enjoyable and successful.

A book I finished not too long ago taught me the difference between foreshadowing and telegraphing.

I've been an avid user of foreshadowing for a long time. Usually, my foreshadowing gets added into my manuscript later, after I've introduced some twist or unexpected path forward for the POV character to take. Then I go back and add a bit a foreshadowing to avoid a sense of deus ex machina later. Generally speaking, foreshadowing should be used lightly, not to bash the reader's face in with a warning of imminent danger.

Unfortunately, that's what telegraphing does. 

Telegraphing is using foreshadowing so much that the reader can't help but notice. For example, the prose "If only I knew then what was in store for me when I walked out the door," is probably just fine if used only once. But if some variation on that is used prior to each and every new scene, it becomes comic. It becomes telegraphing.

Enough other gold lay in the aforementioned book that taught me this lesson that I finished. But the only way I was able to get through the novel was to turn it into a drinking game (as I noted on Twitter). Each "I did not know then that one day," or some variation, DRINK!

Books in my queue I look forward to reading (and maybe learning something from, too): Agency (sequel to William Gibson's Peripheral), Revenger by Alastair Reynolds, Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir, and False Value by Ben Aaronovitch.

[This article is cross-posted from my Patreon. Please take a look?]

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

The Importance of A Writing Critique

Last night I was expecting some hard love on the chapter of Ark I submitted to my Writer's Circle (pictured here).  After all these years, I still get a bit anxious ahead of receiving feedback from my peers on what I've written, whether it's fiction or RPG. And yet I keep being part of one, because of course, not doing it would be far worse.
Bruce, Torah, Sarah, Peter

Why? Several reasons. Here are a few.

Critiques force at least one more revision. Of course, I'm always doing a little polishing, but there's always one more chance to get a chapter or piece in shape right before you send it off for your critiquers to apply their hairy eyeballs. You'll still end up doing a second draft later on (if you're writing a larger piece). But this doesn't hurt.

Critiques grant you a wider perspective. I try to encompass the perspective of my characters, but in the end, I'm just one person. What my characters think—and how I portray their internal thoughts—is probably a bit narrow by definition. Having other people bring their perspective allows you to open up details or smooth over tripping points that I just figured was common knowledge or that I read past without 

Critiques provide accountability. I'm always looking for mechanisms that encourage me to keep to my deadlines (e.g. the recent creation of my Patreon!). A writing group can provide another impetus to keep moving forward. Because, let's face it, it's awkward if you've gone five months without writing anything and there's nothing to critique. In a group, there's subtle pressure—friendly, one hopes—to get back to your keyboard and write.

Oh, and what about the group's reaction to that chapter? Well, dear readers, they had their issues, but of course, these are all issues I am now going to fix, and make the chapter better.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Chapter One, Ark of Broken Dreams

Photo by Adam Bixby on Unsplash
My Patreon has been active for a full week!

(If you missed my last post, TL;DR - I need deadlines to keep me honest about the two novels I've started but failed to finish in the absence of someone having expectations that I'll ever finish.)

So, it's time I roll out a perk reserved for Collaborators, Co-Conspirators, and those on the RPG Consultant tier—a full chapter of a novel in progress. w00t!

Chapter 1 of The Ark of Broken Dreams:

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Bruce Launches a Patreon!

Guess what? I’m writing another novel. Wahoo! Two novels, actually, but it’s taking a lot more time than I’m used to. What gives?

In the past, and with the aid of deadlines imposed by my previous publishers, I've published 10 novels. 
Shelf of previous novels
Without a deadline imposed on me, I've finished… 0 novels (though I've started two).

See the problem? I've got the aforementioned 2 novels I'd like to complete, but it's easy to let my RPG-writing day job take up all my "writing spoons" without a novel-writing deadline to motivate me to make mental space for both.

WHICH IS WHY PATREON COULD BE JUST THE TICKET! (Ahem.) Please consider joining me. I'm always looking for a good accomplice, collaborator, or co-conspirator.

In addition to other Patreon perks for my patrons, I’ll be providing excerpts from in-progress novel chapters, short stories, and game design work, as well as occasional thoughts and strategies on writing fiction and RPGs. Most perks will be for patrons. But not always. In fact, this being my launch day, I face the prospect of getting the word out to anyone who might want to lend a hand. So, I’m sharing this excerpt widely! (And you’d have my thanks if you helped me spread it around a bit, too!)

Excerpt The Ark Of Broken Dreams:

The shadowy stairs and a man who wasn’t there dissolved as I opened my eyes. Bird song and dawn light feathered the pine canopy overhead. My hammock swayed a bit, probably momentum left over from a bit of unconscious thrashing. Realization calmed my quick breaths and thudding heart. My shaky laughter filled the campsite. 

Across from the dead campfire in her own hammock, Shiela Gilbert watched me, her head poking from the top of her sleeping bag. “Why so happy?”

I smiled, actually glad to see her for once. “I just had a nightmare that scared the living shit out of me. I’m laughing because it wasn’t real.”

Her mouth quirked as she considered. “Hmm. Haven’t had one of those for awhile.”

Field geologist Shiela Gilbert was a no-nonsense achiever with little tolerance for ephemeral “crap,” as she called it. Things like the interests and concerns of other people, for instance. Or whatever nonsense they dreamed about at night. What got her excited was the discovery of new mineral deposits, stratification, subduction zone maps, and other things geological. Otherwise, she tended to tune others out.

“I still get bad dreams,” I admitted. “From time to time.” Though not usually ones so real. The dream reminded me of when I was a kid and stayed up late watching Creature Feature. A habit that had inevitably led to nightmares: blood stains on the floor that wouldn’t come out, mud men that pulled you underground to some unspeakable fate, and dead faces staring in through second story windows.

Although the nightmare I’d just had was completely new. I’d been watching something called “DEVILTRY” on tv. The show’s title had animated, then slithered right out of the screen into the real world, morphing into a sort of demonic dragon-thing. Whose teeth, though made of letters, were horrifyingly sharp. I ran, only to come face to face with something on the stairs.

You know those specks that sometimes float on the surface of your eyes? The little phantom dots, floating around that you can never quite focus on? That’s what the man coming down the stairs was made of. 

Yeah, like I said. A bad dream.

Thanks for reading! Please check out my Patreon at

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.

Late Mention: (The following book was published after I wrote this article).
The Stars Are Fire, MCG 2019. Since working at MCG, I've written a huge number of gamebooks. A few of them are more "special" to me, including The Strange, Gods of the Fall, and now this new book, The Stars Are Fire. This sourcebook allowed me to explore my lifelong love of science fiction, and give homage to my special appreciation for hard science fiction, too. I included all kinds of resources for GMs wanting to run a science fiction RPG one-shot or campaign, and given that it's a 224 page book, those resources are extensive.

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