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.


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).

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.

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.

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.)

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).

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.

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!

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 ( 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.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Numenera Bestiary and the Spurn

I've been working on the Numenera Bestiary for a couple weeks. I haven't had this much fun writing monsters since I co-wrote Libris Mortis. Which, now that I think of it, was the last time I had the opportunity to create an entire new set of monsters without any real restrictions other than theme.

(Numenera? If you don't know, go read this, then come back. I'll wait.)

So, yeah, the Numenera Bestiary. It turns out I get to write about half the creatures that'll be appearing in the product. The very first creature I created has the working name "spurn." (The spurn are, so far, the only monster in my concept collection that have an irregular plural form: 1 spurn and 20 spurn are both correct usage. Later editorial oversight could nix that.)

From afar, a gang of spurn seem nothing more than humanoids in oily rags. But up close, they're revealed as creatures formed of smashed machines, shattered synth, matted hair, drippy sludge, and garbage. Spurn are self-organizing collections of refuse that evolved among the landfills and dumps of previous civilizations over deep time.

I'm biased, but I love the concept. In the Ninth World, even "simple" dirt isn't actually simple. In fact, it's not even called dirt; it's drit, a fine, artificial soil made from microscopic pieces of ancient, unknown technologies and structures. Which makes drit fertile soil for creatures like spurn to spring up, so to speak.

I'm hoping to write about what I'm working on in the Numenera Bestiary in future posts, and give you an insight into some of the ways I'm approaching design. Until then, iadece!

Friday, August 23, 2013

Parking In Seattle

I found out last night about a 'no parking w/in 5' of a driveway' law courtesy of a crazy Seattle homeowner. A necessary law or an excuse for extortion? I guess it depends on the circumstances.

I know how I come down on this particular case. It's not fun to come out of a friend's house to discover your car is mysteriously missing, and you must figure out your next steps with no clue other than the mere fact that the car is gone.

At the end of the day, I'm glad my car wasn't stolen, but instead towed, and that I had the necessary resources (friends to drive me to its new location, cash in my bank account, wits to figure out how to track it down in the first place) to get it back.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Bruce R Cordell is joining Monte Cook Games

Did you hear the big news announced last night at Gen Con? I'm joining Monte Cook Games as a Senior Game Designer! (Click here for official press release.)

Words can hardly express how excited I am to join my friends Monte, Shanna, Charles, and Tammie on Numenera.

Which is fabulous, because how could I not love a game set a BILLION years in the future? Where genetically altered monstrosities, flesh-warping radiation, creatures transplanted from distant stars, and clouds of out-of-control nanobots wander? Where ruins can be found, ruins surviving out of deep time from eight previous civilizations that rose and fell on Earth, some of which weren't even human? Yeah.

Numenera is right up my alley. Sign me up. (Wait, I've been signed up. -FIST PUMP!-) I'll have more to say later. It's going to be a wild ride, and I'm ecstatic to be on board.

Friday, August 9, 2013

I'm Going To Gen Con!

Recent developments mean that I'll be at Gen Con this year!

Of course, I just arrived home from Space City Con, where I got to tour NASA, cosplay as Dr. Horrible and Malcolm Reynolds, make friends and hang out with one of my favorite scifi authors Elizabeth Bear, run three days of D&D, and do all of this while enjoying the incomparable company of my sweetie Batgirl (and my pals Hobo Lord and Lady Gumdrop). You might imagine that Gen Con's got its work cut out for it, if it wants to follow that act.

You might imagine that, but the truth is, Gen Con 2013 is shaping up to be pretty fracking awesome in its own right. See you there?

Monday, July 22, 2013

Seven Questions

I talked with Artificer's Intuition about the 2nd Edition Monstrous Arcana "Evil Tide" adventure trilogy I penned, and other topics. 

An excerpt:

QUESTION: What's the story behind the Evil Tide adventure path? I've never really been able to find any history behind it.  
BRC: The Evil Tide adventure path got its start by being part of a planned series of "coffee-table-like books with lots of great art" (called Monstrous Arcana) that each would feature one of D&D's most notable monsters. Illithids, beholders, sahuagin, for starters. Each of these coffee-table books were slated to be supported by three connecting adventures. Skip Williams had already written the source book Sea Devils. But I was given the opportunity to write the three supporting modules.

All seven questions (and answers) can be found at: 

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Space City Con Aug 2-4 in August

I'll be a gaming guest for Space City Con in Houston, Texas next month. If you're in the area in August on the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th, stop by and say hi!

Along with Robert J Schwalb and Miranda Horner, I'll be running a table of D&D Next each day. Come by and play a game at Space City Con! I promise not to TPK. Much.

While you're at it, you can meet some of the many media guests. If you're lucky, perhaps Jewel Staite will call you a ching-wah tsao duh liou mahng.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Farewell Wizards and Thank You

It’s with mixed emotions that I announce the end of my 18-year run at Wizards (and TSR before that). I gave my notice last week and will be leaving the company.

Art by Arnie Swekel for "The Illithiad"
This isn’t an easy departure for me, both because of my long history with Wizards, and my recent good luck to be a member of the 5E Dungeons & Dragons design team. I’m thrilled to be part of 5E, and proud of what we accomplished: a kick-ass set of D&D rules. The team is on track to carry D&D Next to wide success.

Overall, my years at Wizards have allowed me to work alongside and learn from talented, creative, and innovative game designers, novel authors, and editors (professional editors, my friends, are worth their weight in platinum). Every project and novel was a chance for me to learn something new and hone my skills. Wizards granted me the opportunity to indulge myself telling stories, then gave me the ability to share those stories with the world.

Likewise, working at Wizards allowed me to develop fantastic relationships and enduring friendships. Everyone at Wizards is a superstar, both those presently employed and all those who’ve left before me. I hope that my future adventures will allow me to team up with many of them again for more forays into the dungeon.

But ultimately, every story ends so that new ones can begin. I’m looking forward to discovering what those stories will be.

UPDATE 2015: Since this post continues to draw traffic, let me add that I accepted a job with MonteCookGames (MCG) just a month after leaving Wizards. Together Monte and I wrote The Strange RPG (plus a ton of other stuff since then).

UPDATE 2018: I'm still at MCG! Last year saw the first novel I've written since leaving Wizards published by Angry Robot called Myth of the Maker. And literally the day before almost dying, I wrapped up the design on Numenera Destiny, the new companion corebook that expands Numenera into a two-corebook game. Moving forward from here are more Numenera 2 related projects that will likely see me through the rest of the year. (Though I also got to try my hand at some Invisible Sun design). In 2019, I'll be moving on to begin design on the updated Cypher System Rulebook and The Stars Are Fire science fiction extravaganza! 

Friday, July 12, 2013

Author Affirmation Sword of the Gods

Sometimes, I discover wonderful messages like this in my email inbox that make my day:
Good evening, sir! I wanted to take a moment to tell you how much I have enjoyed your Sword of the Gods series. I'm a PhD student, and don't get much time to read things that aren't journal articles. Once I picked up the first book, I couldn't put it down! It set my imagination free in a way that hadn't happend in years! Thank you for bringing that back to me. I needed it.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Mandated: Ice Vests For All! (And a Carbon Tax)

The recent heat wave saw me tinkering with my latest invention: an ice-vest/chest personal cooling unit. Tinkering conceptually, at least ;-). But the ice vest is a symptom of a much larger climate concern.

Those with more power than I to affect change need to address it: Congress should mandate personal ice vests for everyone!

No, not really. Actually (or, maybe in addition to?), they need to adopt the economists' simple, one-page answer to climate change: tax carbon emissions.

Henry Jacoby, an economist at MIT's business school, says the one thing you need to do to solve the problem is to tax fossil fuels in proportion to the amount of carbon they release. That would make coal, oil and natural gas more expensive. That's it; that's the whole plan.

So simple but yet so effective. Then again, I'd probably want to add a phase in period of 10 years so as not to shock the economy too badly. Otherwise... let's get on this plan, Congress, pronto!

(Oh, and call me if you want more detailed plans regarding my the hybrid vest/chest air conditioner.)

Monday, July 1, 2013

The Importance of Narrative To Everything

Everyone enjoys a good story. I'm sure it's not news to most of you that narrative is important in communicating ideas. But maybe it’s even more important, and prevalent, than you realize.

This blog is designed to remind both myself and other creative types that story is something that exists at multiple levels (and is the blogification of a powerpoint presentation I gave at Wizards a few years ago to an inhouse "better game practices" group).

If you're aware of story, you can use it to your advantage in nearly every creative endeavor.

For instance, a picture can tell a story, but not all pictures are created equal. Some pictures tell stories better than others. That sentence essentially defines an art director’s job; which picture best tells an exciting story?

Which Picture Is Better? 
For many people, the picture on the right is a more engaging picture. (Image is from the cover of the excellent novel Fall of Highwatch by Mark Sehestedt.)

Why? Because the added context allows us to tell a story in our head: Who’s this guy stalking across the tundra, does the woman he’s approaching welcome him, fear him, or want to kill him?

To me it looks like she’s uncertain, and hasn’t yet decided whether the guy is friend or foe. And what’s the guy's deal, and his strange power of the arctic cats? All these story threads engage our attention.

So, What Is A Story?
A story is an arrangement of words and/or images that create life-like characters and events. How a storyteller describes and arranges descriptive events determines how well an audience's attention is engaged.

To sustain that interest, the action of a story often moves towards the resolution of some human need: to feel loved, to be in control of one's life and fate, to avenge wrongs, to overcome obstacles, or to discover and understand the meaning and purpose of life.

In a nut shell, a story re-creates real life in miniature, or in a new context.

What Do People Get Out of Stories? 
By experiencing events in a story, the audience experiences a bit of "life" that can seem more potent and "true" than real life.

Someone experiencing a story can briefly get what they want if they really believe, discover that true love exists, experience inexplicable and fantastic events, and even discover that pain and chaos do have a meaning (as opposed to how in real life, pain, chaos, and loss often seem senseless).

As a story's protagonist resolves issues, the story's audience can experience courage, redemption, rebirth, renewal, overcoming oppression, and so on. A story thrills the audience, and allows someone to live safely outside their own skin without actually having to experience true inconvenience of changing their real lives.

Story As A Tool
Now that we've been reminded of some of the reasons story has power over us, take a look at how story can be used in other contexts. Like advertisements! Good ads have a story to tell. A story resonates with people in one of the ways just described. People remember ads with a good, interesting, or funny story.

This ad ("They Laughed When I sad Down At the Piano. But When I Started To Play") ran for decades essentially unchanged, largely unheard of in the fast-paced world of advertising. Why?

Because it tells a story, engaging the reader's own interest in personal attention and recognition.

Stories in Retail Window Displays
Another example of how narrative is put to good use in ads is in retail window displays.

Barney's has learned to distinguish itself by telling stories in the retail space, a tactic that engages the passerby by engaging the brain's story "circuitry."

But even the merchandize itself can “tell a story.” Storytelling has become buzzword in the world of fashion and branding. Even in labeling: a huge label tells the story of where the fabric comes from, what quality of the dirt the cotton was grown in, the nature of the fabric, its durability, and so on.

Anecdotes: The Power To Influence
Listen to any news program, and pretty soon you’ll hear the thread of a single person come to the fore. A single person's story about how the event affected their life, what they had to go through, and how they emerged different.

Listen to any politician stump, and they’ll try to sway you by telling you the story of some particular person who is suffering with the status-quo, of how that person's life could be improved if only policies were improved. For example, maybe you've heard a politician describe how they’ve recently heard from a "Mom in Michigan," who’s working two jobs to make ends meet, but it just isn’t enough, how one of her son's was wounded in Afghanistan, and how her daughter wants to start college, but there just isn’t money. The politician will promise an answer for this Mom in Michigan. One that’s going to bring her a –Resolution To Her Issues!

Just as all good stories should include. Because stories get inside people’s heads. Stories trigger brain chemistry. Anecdotes are not data—stories do not denote an overall truth, but our brains are programmed to treat a particular anecdote out of all proportion to its importance in a wider world.

The Power of Narrative Over The Brain
Data loses out to anecdote, sometimes even when we're aware of this particular human foible. Facts are easy; and easily forgotten. But stories resonate, they make connections, and thus are easily remembered! Why?

Mnemonics are usually are tiny stories you tell yourself to help fix information in your brain. One of the most common mnemonic is using representative visual images, like a microphone to remember the name “Mike,” a rose for “Rosie.” It's best to use positive, pleasant images, because the brain often blocks out unpleasant stories. Likewise, make these representations vivid, colorful, and three-dimensional — they’ll be easier to remember because we all like a good story.

Want Savant-Level Memory? Tell Yourself A Better Story!
Solomon Veniaminovich Shereshevsky (1886–1958), was a Russian journalist with a seemingly unlimited memory (1968), in part due to his fivefold synesthesia.

“S” had a memory with no distinct limits by any method of testing devised. He could memorize complex mathematical formulas, huge matrices and even poems in foreign languages and did so in a matter of minutes. He used mnemonics.

When thinking about numbers he reported: “The number 1 is a proud well-built man; 2 is a high-spirited woman; 3 a gloomy person; 6 a man with a swollen foot; 7 a man with a moustache; 8 a very stout woman—a sack within a sack. As for the number 87, what I see is a fat woman and a man twirling his moustache.”

His ability to devise mnemonics were aided immensely by his 5-fold synesthesia. So, yeah, S had a great advantage—the stories would just sort of come to him and engage all his senses, not just one or two senses like for most of us.

This Is Your Brain. This Is Your Brain On Stories
When stories are read to subjects in an fMRI machine (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging), interesting patterns of brain activation are observed by researcher Herbert Wray, who notes (paraphrased):

Motor neurons flash when characters grasp objects, and neurons involved in eye movement activate when characters navigate their world.

Readers are not passive consumers of words and stories. Taking in a story is much like remembering or imagining a vivid event.

So a hearing/viewing a story is sort of like really being there. No wonder stories affect our minds so powerfully, and ring true where mere fact devoid of context has such a hard time swaying its intended audience.

What Does It all Mean?
Ultimately, nothing mindblowing. This collection of annecdotes affirms that the better story you craft for your book, for your artwork, for your marketing effort, your article, your speech, or for your mnemonic, the better success you'll have. A story has many elements: plot, theme, character, setting, structure, and style. Any one of these elements, if approached with fresh energy, can set a story apart. But no story can succeed without the most important ingredient: character.

And that character, my friends, might just be you.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Picking Names for your Novel Characters

I have a guest blog entry on Shadowhawk's Shade, a site dedicated to reading and enjoying fiction.

An excerpt:
The name Noddysnarg has no resonance with our past experience, while Jack does. Resonance is something that culture and your past reading give to specific names (as well as names that sound similar to other names or words we know). 
Thus I have to choose a character name with at least some resonance with my potential readers. Which is why Jack is better than Noddysnarg. (Or, if I were writing about goblins, everything I just said still applies, except Noddysnarg would be the better choice.)
When writing a fantasy or science fiction novel where real-world names aren’t used, it’s harder to come up with resonate names. When I face this problem, I deal with it by choosing names that at least sound similar to real names and words that have resonance. 
Take for instance Demascus [ . . .]
Read the whole thing here:

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Does Your Inner Voice Like Pie? How About Cosmology?

Our new neighbors Helen and Matt brought us a homemade rhubarb pie as a housewarming gift. What fabulous neighbors!

However, making the pie touched off something of an epiphany for Helen, which she related to us a week later when we returned the pie plate with a return-pie in it (made by Batgirl). Helen also wrote it up in her blog, which I think everyone who's got a critical inner voice might enjoy:
Recently I baked a rhubarb pie as a gift. It went down a treat for my new neighbors. In return, today they brought back my pie plate with a beautiful berry pie baked in it. In between I had a bit of a revelation about Pi. [Click to read Helen's Pi blog entry]
Which reminded me of a similar revelation I had a couple of years ago. In my case, it wasn't pie that touched off my train of thought about the insidious nature of an over-critical inner voice, it was a pile of Time-Life books:
Last night I was packing up some books—a bunch of 80s era books on stars, planets, and cosmology—that I haven’t looked at since I was a kid. I pondered giving them all to Good Will, but something nagged me. It took a moment to pin the thought down, but it was essentially: “You’re the kind of person that would own these books, so you better keep them.
Really? [Click to read my blog entry Your Story]
Both these blog posts approach the same thing: recognizing whether you have an over-critical inner voice, and by recognizing it, taking the first steps to shushing it.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Want To Get Lucky?

I've long been of the opinion that "luck" isn't random. In my experience, luck is capitalizing on opportunities that come along, instead of ignoring them.

Imagine my vindication when I lucked onto an article by Richard Wiseman, who conducted actual scientific research on luck. As you might guess, he could find no supernatural agency at work. Quite the opposite.

Lucky people generate their own good fortune via four basic principles.

1) Lucky people are skilled at creating and noticing chance opportunities

2) Lucky people make lucky decisions by listening to their intuition

3) Lucky people create self-fulfilling prophesies via positive expectations

4) Lucky people adopt a resilient attitude that transforms bad luck into good.

And guess what--whether you already consider yourself a lucky person, or you think of yourself as unlucky, you can actively improve your luck by concentrating on one or more of these principles, as described in various exercises in Wiseman's article. Give it a shot, and see what happens. Who knows, maybe you'll get lucky.

Article: The Luck Factor

Thursday, June 13, 2013

BOOK REPORT: Predictably Irrational, the Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions

Were you an evil mastermind, you’d use the insights in Predictably Irrational to manipulate the behavior of others to do as you wished.

That's my one sentence blurb on the book. A somewhat longer (but by no means exhaustive) overview of the book follows.

Key Insights Of Predictably Irrational 
    1) Relativity
    2) Decoys, Anchors, and Ownership
    3) Power of Expectations

Decisions can’t be made in a vacuum. Without context, we can’t choose. Which means that when we do make decisions, that decision is made relative to a related piece of information. What that related information is shapes the decision that follows. It can’t logically be otherwise.

Decoys, Anchors, and Ownership 
Someone who understands the relative nature of decision making can design related information that serves as either a decoy or an anchor.

A decoy is designed to make us compare something the decoy-setter wants us to do, think, or buy with something else that seems like a worse action, philosophy, or deal.

An anchor sets an expectation, and as such it is a kind of decoy. It is usually a presented as a price, giving the would-be buyer a sense of how much something should cost. A high price for a bottle of wine on a menu conditions the buyer to be more willing to spend more for any wine bought. A feeling of ownership is a particularly pernicious anchor.

A feeling of ownership magnifies the perceived value of an item, a story or piece of art, or even a concept or ideology over the ACTUAL value of the item by at least an order of magnitude in the “owner’s” mind.

Power of Expectations
Expectations influence not only psychology, but also physiology, like a placebo. For example, when people expect an aspirin to make them feel better, they begin to feel better even if the actual tablet given is a sugar pill. When people expect to be fed, they salivate. When they expect a particular outcome, they are more likely to ignore indications that other outcomes are possible. When people are asked to recall the 10 commandments or any code of ethics before taking a test, they do not cheat even if cheating is easy.

This book offers a trove of psychological truths of interest to anyone with a human brain. It's useful both in understanding some of your own irrational instincts, as well as those of others.

For instance, the book describes how people are drawn to keeping all options open, despite that bad consequences usually follow from keeping all options open too long. It’s true in life, such as when keeping too many romantic partners available instead of concentrating on the one most likely to bring lasting happiness. #SFWApro

Friday, April 26, 2013

Author Affirmation and Sword of the Gods

The following wonderful email arrived today about someone who read my Sword of the Gods books:

"Hello, I just finished reading Sword of the Gods and Spinner of Lies. I usually read reference material, but I have an unexplored passion for the realm of fantasy, so, I decided to read Sword of the Gods; it was the first fiction book I've willingly read. I found myself completely absorbed by the world and the characters. I was so emotionally involved with the characters, Demascus, Chant, Riltana... I Just had to have more when I finished, so I immediately searched for the sequel and gobbled up that book. Now I'm so sad the journey is over!! Are you going to write a third book? I really hope so. I want to thank you for writing the story and letting me take that journey and for unlocking my desire to read fiction!!"

Wow. I am so pleased to hear about this kind of experience with my books! I also had a great time writing them. I think this is what George Costanaza meant by leaving the room on a high note :-).

But to answer the question of the reader, I don't really want to leave the room. I'd consider writing more Sword of the Gods books, but step one is up to the publisher. For the publisher to decide it wants more, I need to keep getting the word out about Sword of the Gods. Certainly this sort of thing helps.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

L-Carnitine And Atherosclerosis

The metabolic pathway for atherosclerosis has been discovered. Sorry, regular meat eaters. (And energy drink guzzlers!) 

The old school thinking of "if a little is good for you, then a lot must be better" has been proved wrong by Stanley Hazen, whose research last year established a link between bacteria in your gut, l-carnitine, and heart risk.

Yes, it's well understood that l-carnitine is crucial. It helps produce all your body's energy by transporting fatty acids to your mitochondria. However, humans produce all the l-carnitine they need. Supplementing with it (and eating a diet rich in red meat) does no good, and in fact, does harm.

Your gut bacteria can be "trained" to digest l-carnitine by eating a lot of it. The more you ingest, the more your gut fauna evolves to digest it. A byproduct of this digestion is a substance that promotes plaque build-up in your veins. 

Instead of accelerated energy, you end up with accelerated Atherosclerosis!

Want to hear it straight from the horse's mouth? Then give this a listen!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

And The Winners Are . . .

A few weeks ago I announced a contest to give away one of my novels performed by John Pruden available on (three Abolethic books, and two Sword of Gods books). 

Well, that contest has run its course, and the three winners have been selected! The winners are as follows:

Ken Hart (@KenofGhastria on Twitter) gets an audio copy of Plague of Spells!

Doug Hopkins (@combatadvantage on Twitter) gets an audio copy of Sword of the Gods (Book 1)!

Randall Newnham (@coffeeswiller on Twitter) gets an audio copy of Plague of Spells!

I'd like to thank everyone who entered for your interest in these books. 

Monday, April 8, 2013

Last Thoughts About JD

JD Sparks, my friend of 30 years, passed away a few weeks ago. Last weekend was his memorial. Everyone got a chance to share some stories. I was especially grateful to meet many of JD's family and other friends, and hear what they had to say.

Here are a few stories about my friend.

I met JD in 9th grade, in a shop class of all places. Back then, he went by Jay. He, Monte (the other kid I met in shop class who liked D&D) and I spent a lot of time in class not paying attention. Instead, we goofed off and played games, like one called Global Thermonuclear Destruction on a map JD had drawn on graph paper. We used the 6 sides of No. 2 Lead Pencils for our dice, possibly also JD’s invention. A much better way to pass the hour than listening to our teacher explain how to sand wood and rivet leather.

The three of us soon moved on to the good stuff--Dungeons & Dragons! In one of our first games (played in my parent’s basement of course), JD’s character gained a –1 penalty to his attacks. He decided that meant that he should act unpredictably. At a bridge over an endless abyss, his character pushed mine over the edge, exclaiming, "I'm cursed!" Though JD went on to become one of the strongest gamemasters I’ve ever had the pleasure to play with, the “I’m cursed!” story remains one of my favorites.

Our group of goof-off D&D players soon grew to include myself, JD, Monte Cook, Richard Bue, Bob Baxter, and Bret Holien. We called ourselves the Hong Kong Cavaliers (and still do). Back in high school when we weren’t playing D&D or some other RPG, spending quarters at the arcade, or reading comic books, we were doing a school-sponsored forensic activity. That meant debate, and for JD and myself, Oratory.

Oratory required that you write an 8 minute speech each year, memorize it, then practice it so well that you could give it like a pro. By our senior year, JD and I traded top places across South Dakota and western Minnesota each weekend. JD could recite from memory the beginning few paragraphs of all our strongest competitors’ orations. And he could still do so TO THIS DAY.

(Bob Baxter and I were debate partners, and we ended up winning the SD state debate tournament our senior year, but that's another story.)

We Hong Kong Cavaliers remained friends all this time, and in the 30 years since I became friends with JD, I’ve gotten to hang out with him several times even though we've never lived in the same state since High School. Last year I organized a semi-regular D&D game with JD and the rest of the Hong Kong Cavaliers thanks to the magic of Google Hangouts. We all got to laugh as, once more, as JD “put up his defenses!” This time around, though, I was the gamemaster, so JD didn’t get a chance to push my character off any high ledges.

Even more often than we played D&D, JD, Torah Cottrill, and I played online video games over the last several years, especially City of Heroes and Guild Wars 2. JD loved those games, and sometimes we ended up in one of those imaginary lands two or even three times a week. If you had a question about how to craft a sword, where to find the best quests, or where the toughest levels were, JD knew it. And he also was such a gracious friend that he got joy out of stocking the guild vault with goodies that the rest of us could use.

JD was a giving, loving, and talented man. I haven’t even touched on his amazing artistic talent, though Torah and I have several of his pieces framed in our home. Whenever I see them, I think of him. He made the world a better place for the 45 years he was part of it. He touched all of us with his art, his humor and wit, and the way he managed to keep a positive attitude when all the world sometimes seemed against him.

He will be missed more than I can say.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Play D&D Next at Norwescon 36

I'll be running a D&D game at Norwescon 36 tomorrow (Friday) south of Seattle. Six seats, three alts. I'll be running with the rules in the  #DnDNext  playtest packet, which you can download for free at However, I'll be providing characters--all you need to bring is dice and something to write with. And maybe some graph paper.

The #norwescon  convention programming director tells me that instead of their standard signup sheet, they will raffle off seats for this game. Max of 6 players and 3 alternates. Players will need to be ready to sit at the table by 5 minutes into the hour or the first available alternate will be placed in the vacant seat.

The raffle will be part of their standard hourly attendance drawing. Which tickets are given to those who participate in games. One ticket for one hour. One ticket is drawn every hour. One daily prize is drawn per day. The expectation is that they will have the 9 players by 12pm on Friday ready for the game.

Norwescon 36 Gaming Schedule

D&D Next Rules Free Download

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Wear Still The Coat

We don't expect the coat that fitted the child to fit the adult without tailoring. Why expect any less of old laws?  

The line above is a paraphrase of Thomas Jefferson's actual quote, edited to fit within the constraints of a 140 character tweet, plus link. Full quote: 

"I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions. But laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors."

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Halo 4: Cortana the Naked

I know I'm late to this party, but I just finished the campaign story for Halo 4.

I loved almost everything about it. But one thing threw me. Every time the A.I. Cortana materialized as an anatomically correct woman wearing no clothing, I lost the thread of the scene as I goggled.

I find it curious that 343 studios would decide to sexualize Cortana by ripping off her modesty. Previous versions of Cortana were unclothed, but weren't naked, AND managed to portray a "real" character with just voice acting and good writing. Why the switch to soft porn? 

Were they trying to make her more vulnerable? Maybe. Cortana was a central character of the story, and one who is failing as her A.I. brilliance burns 10 times as bright, but 10 times as short . . . But it sort of comes across as exploitation. Yes, even though she's not a real person. 

Honestly, I'm not sure where I come down on this. But it was something that threw me out of the story each time she appeared. 

What do you think?