New Year, New Job

This week I started my new job at Crytek, working as Franchise Narrative Director for Hunt: Showdown. I am pleased to say it was a great first week. I like the team I’ll be working with and I’m looking forward to doing great things with them.

Leaving Red Storm, Joining Crytek

This pretty much says it all.

After 23 years, I will be leaving Red Storm Entertainment at the end of December and starting work at Crytek to work on their horror game HUNT: SHOWDOWN. I am incredibly excited about this new opportunity, and I am looking forward to joining the team that has already done so much great work creating the world of HUNT.

I am nothing but grateful to Red Storm and Ubisoft for the opportunities to learn and grow they have afforded me over the years, but this was an opportunity I could not in good conscience refuse. It’s literally everything I’ve wanted to do in a game for years.

I’ll be staying in North Carolina and working remotely, and I look forward to sharing more with you as things progress.

 

Nevermore RPG Stretch Goal

My old White Wolf running mate Ian Lemke is Kickstarting a tabletop RPG of American Gothic Horror called Nevermore. You can find the details here. And among those details is a stretch goal whereby yours truly will be writing some short fiction for the game. So if you’re a role-player and love horror, check it out!

Firefly Rain News

Once upon a time, I published a novel called Firefly Rain. It was my first original novel – I’d published four previously as tie-ins to a couple of White Wolf games – and I was and am very proud of it. It came out as the lead title for the short-lived Discoveries line from Wizards of the Coast, and garnered some good reviews, most notably a starred review in Publishers’ Weekly and a Booksense pick. It even sold reasonably well, but Wizards shut down Discoveries before we could do a paperback edition. Gallery Books was kind enough to pick up the rights for a paperback edition, and that was that.

Until now.

As of today, I have the rights to Firefly Rain back. With luck, that means I’ll be doing something with those rights and putting out a new edition. I don’t have a timetable, but for the first time in a long time, it feels like things are moving in a good direction.

Like I said, I’m proud of the book. It’s a personal story about the promises one makes to family and the price of not keeping those promises. If you’re looking for blood and guts, you’re not going to find them here, but if you want a slow-burn ghost story, you might enjoy it. The book was inspired by a trip to my ex-wife’s family farm and a moonlight walk, where the line of shadow at the property line was sharp enough to cut with. From there I got the image of a farm bereft of fireflies when all the land around was lit up, and that turned into the novel.

So wish me luck. I’ll keep you posted.

Five For Writing – Fred Wan

There are rules lawyers, and then there’s Fred Wan, who wears two hats as a talented game writer and as an actual lawyer. A core part of the storytelling team for Legend of the Five Rings over many years, he brings his wit, wisdom, and charm to Five for Writing

1-What’s the overlap between your day job and your writing?

There is simultaneously a lot of overlap, and no overlap at all, between legal writing and gaming/fiction writing.

The big point where the two don’t overlap at all is that real life doesn’t try to create a narrative—we as people do. A case might have evidence missing, odd events that don’t match the overall pattern of behavior, or a weird hodgepodge of facts that defy being summarized in a just a few lines. Additionally, in fiction, I can create facts to fill my design and narrative objective—whereas in real life, I have to work with the evidentiary
record that’s on hand.

But having said that, a lot of techniques and frameworks translate between both disciplines. The idea that each component in a piece of work needs to both stand alone and contribute to the themes of the work as a whole rings true in all my writing. Ultimately, effective communication requires me to know what messages I want readers
to take away from my work. The choice of what I passages and images to put in to my writing—be it a legal document, short story, character dialogue bark, or set of tabletop rules–needs to be informed by what I want to emphasize and what I want a reader to take away.

2-You were part of the story team for Legend of the Five Rings for an impressively long time. How did that collaboration work?

A lot of my L5R work required me to be in tune with what various stakeholders were doing, what they wanted, and how they were doing it. I was the liaison between the Brand team, the CCG Design Team, the RPG Design team, the Story team proper, and the playerbase as a whole—because of the unique nature of L5R as a brand, the
players were active stakeholders in how the games and universe developed. Each had different objectives, and each had different tools and techniques to accomplish those objectives.

Collaborating in that environment meant listening to each, understanding what they wanted, then translating that into terms and concepts that other stakeholders could understand and implement. L5R—like any multidisciplinary or multi-stakeholder setting—needs people who are functionally multilingual.

3-Your work has crossed over between CCG and TTRPG releases. How do you balance the two?

In general, my philosophy was that both product lines described the same universe using different languages. So the issue wasn’t “balancing” them per se, but trying to make sure that the same characters, factions, and conflicts were narratively consistent even though they were being described in two different games. The equilibrium point
wasn’t trading one off against the other, but trying to make the concepts and stories be mutually supportive.

Where conflict or inconsistent portrayals were unavoidable, I tried to have the CCG and TTRPG point at specific geographic locations or time eras that were different—“this is true of THIS part of the Empire, covered by this expansion in the CCG, but might not be true of THAT part of the Empire, covered by this TTRPG supplement”. However, there was also an element of players each having their own takes on what the themes of in-game Clans or the setting as a whole should be, and that different players wanted different things from the brand, and different proportional influence from the CCG and TTRPG. My team and I often asked ourselves “ok, we can’t fully satisfy everyone, but can we satisfy most or all reasonable requests?”. I’d like to think we managed to do that most of the time, if never perfectly.

4-What says good tabletop RPG writing to you?

I’m of the view that in a good TTRPG game session, the players and GM collectively and corroboratively tell a story. The details, tone, and flow of that story should be responsive to what they all want. A TTRPG is ultimately a game where everyone involved is responsible for making the session welcoming, fun, entertaining, and
hopefully thought provoking for all participants.

Good TTRPG facilitates that. The narrative portions should help the group determine what kinds of stories the setting is best placed to tell. The rules should support the feel of the universe it is set in. Ideally, the game even helps explain how the rules help tell the story, and why*.

Ultimately, a TTRPG ruleset is a set of tools. Great tools help the playgroup accomplish what they want to do, efficiently and cleanly. Different playgroups want different things. Good TTRPG writing knows who it’s target audience is, and fulfills their needs. Ideally, they also say something about us, and our relationships with each other and the world.

*For example, the Hit Point system in D&D implies that even a badly wounded, tired PC can still function at full ability. That implies that D&D is more high fantasy, more heroic, than a system where someone who is badly hurt performs worse.

5-Where do you think the form (TTRPG) is going from here?

I think we’re going to be seeing much more meta-examination of the norms and assumptions that were baked into early RPGs. Implicit norms, such as bioessentialism, are currently the topic of discussion by many designers. We’ve got a generation of players and devs who grew up with games, have high game literacy, and are fluent in the languages of the various major settings and rulesets on the market. Now we’re seeing people look at TTRPGs critically, not just to point out what’s bad, but to identify what could be better—and many of them are rightly demanding those changes.

That process of improvement is not without its own flaws, because changes often have problems of their own, but I genuinely believe that we’re working towards TTRPGs with narrative content that is more consciously written to facilitate storytelling AND avoid accidental problematic aspects, and rulesets that are no more complicated than
necessary, and elegant.

I’m kind of looking forward to what’s coming, and getting used to being surprised.

Five For Writing – Matt Forbeck

It’s GenCon week, which makes it the perfect time to talk to the legendary Matt Forbeck. A game designer, best-selling author and all-around nice guy, Matt has untold credits to his name. Here, without delay, is his Five For Writing:

 

1-What’s it like to have written literally all the things?

I find that I haven’t quite written all the things, but the things that I haven’t written get harder to reach. I like to write in all sorts of genres and categories, mostly because it keeps me from getting bored and stale with any particular one, and that (hopefully) keeps my writing fresh and fun — at least to me!

It’s also part of a diversification strategy. If the work or audience for one particular kind of writing dries up, I have others I can tackle instead. It keeps me from having to worry too much more than normal about how I’m going to help feed my kids and <ahem> help put them through college.

2-You’ve written for TTRPG, video games, novels and more. What’s your favorite form, and why?

I like writing in all kinds of formats, and I’d hate to have to actually choose among them. They each have their own strengths. With video games, I get to work with (sometimes massive) teams and watch other folks bring my words to life, but I don’t have much control if any over the final product. With a novel, I get total control over everything, but I don’t get to rely on anyone else’s talents but my own.

Comics and tabletop games make a good balance between those two extremes. I get to work with a small team, and a lot of my vision shows up on the page. Tabletop games can get really complex, though, and require more skills than just writing, which lets me work other parts of my brain. Comics have some of the most stringent parameters. Writing for those is like writing 22-page haikus.

If I had to choose one, I’d probably go with novels, mostly because I like my independence. Video games pay a lot better though!

3-What are the different writing muscles you need to use for your different types of writing?

With video games, you often have to focus on the dialog over everything else. It’s one of the things you have the most control over. You can also wind up writing reams of background information that no one outside of the team ever sees, but they need that so they all know what the end result is supposed to feel like.

That dovetails nicely into tabletop games. With TTRPGs, you don’t have to worry about the dialog much at all, but you focus on that worldbuilding instead. You need to give the game master all the information about how things work so they can make decisions on the fly that ring true to the world they’re playing in.

Novels and comics require you to deal with worldbuilding, but character motivation and plot are often more important. Dialog helps sell all that and make it sing, but it needs to rest on those other aspects as a foundation.

The key to the whole thing — no matter what you’re writing — is developing a keen sense of storytelling. If you can keep a table of friends engaged with a story over a few drinks, that’s the core talent. You can learn the other skills to move into other flavors of the craft.

4-You’ve brought one of your sons into the family business. What’s it like working with him?

I love working with my son Marty, and my son Patrick is studying video game design in college, so he might wind up joining us at some point too. In addition, Nicholas helped Marty and me out with a TTRPG adventure that should be announced sometime this fall.

Marty is a sharper student of stories than I was at his age. He knows the tropes and references to other media inside and out. Part of that’s him growing up in the internet age, and the rest is his own natural love of stories.

It’s great to work with someone you know so well. You can skip over a lot of the explanations you’d have to offer someone else, and we’ve developed our own kind of shorthand that comes with being part of a tight-knit family.

My wife and I have apparently raised him to be unafraid to question us, and that’s really helpful too. He can skewer one of my lousier suggestions with a simple arch of an eyebrow and a single “Really?”


5-You’re one of the movers and shakers behind the Diana Jones Awards. What trends are you seeing in the tabletop industry that excite you?

The tabletop games industry is more vibrant and pervasive today than ever. The days of having to explain to adults what D&D is are largely over, and I see lots more people from a far more diverse section of the population not only enjoying games but creating them too.

That’s one of the things we’re trying to encourage with the Diana Jones Award. We recently formed into an official nonprofit and are applying for 501c3 status. The main impetus for that is so we can expand our Emerging Designer Program, which aims to bring new game designers to Gen Con to introduce them into and to the larger world of tabletop games.