Thursday, August 30, 2012

Dream Journaling

Just a little extra post about Dream Journals. 

When I started working on Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space I had a core group of genius people who helped bash the game system I'd worked on into shape. It's no surprise that when I started working on WILD, I called upon some of them to fire some of the stranger ideas I'd been having for the game system at to see what they thought. As always, they've been an awesome help. 

One of these particular gaming gurus echoed a thought I'd been having about having a site that would compile real dreams that could be used to inspire adventures, encounters, and the just plain bonkers happenings that can occur in dreams for their games. Inspired by his suggestion, I've set it up. There's not much on there yet, but if you head over to WILD DREAMING you can see the start of it. In the future, I hope that players, DreamMasters and just those interested can submit actual dreams to me and I'll write a little bit to give DreamMasters some ideas to use in their games. There is a dedicated email address for this In the meantime, I'll keep adding some of my own weird dreams, and the dreams of people I know, to get things going.

If you'd like to submit one, do bear in mind that it'll be completely anonymous, the names should be removed before you even send them to me, just use a single initial if you like. And also bear in mind that not only will it be put on the website, but I may include some of the cooler ones in the main rulebook when it surfaces.

Above all, don't try to make things up. Keep them real - dreams are usually stranger and more bizarre than anything you could make up. Just eat a banana before you go to sleep, keep a notebook and pen handy, and get dreaming.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Revisionist History

I wasn't sure if I'd be posting this week, Mum's funeral was last Friday and I wasn't sure if I'd be up to writing, but as with all things, I find writing keeps my mind occupied - distracted from any harsh realities.

Distracting myself did have a small advantage last week - I was back in mum's house, clearing the last of my stuff and I was trying to sleep. The house was empty, and my room was just about cleared - it had that horrible echo that empty houses have when they have been stripped of any clutter or personality. Sleep was not coming to me. I lay there in the bed that was too short for me, my feet hanging into the space where the old bookcase used to be, and I resolved that I should do something productive with my mind - solve a problem that had been bothering me for a few months - in order to keep the brain cells busy so that I didn't really think about the enormity of what was actually happening in real life.

The problem I'd been having was character creation for WILD. The game delves so deeply into the character's psyche and personality, where your hidden hopes and fears may bubble to the surface of your dreams, that the character creation needed more than just "I'll roll some dice". I needed a "Life Path" system to create the character, but I wanted to tie it into the rest of the game and how it works...

Then it suddenly came to me - WILD was going to use cards. Not traditional gaming cards, or playing cards. They weren't going to come into play often, just in those strange cases when the dreamers lost control of the dream and things started spiraling out of control. When logic went out of the proverbial window and the characters would find themselves in one of the many repeated dreams that everyone experiences - flying, being chased, finding yourself naked in public, at an exam you haven't prepared for, fighting giant spiders, driving a vehicle that's out of control.

These cards could be used to create the character. I won't go into great detail, and you'll probably think it sucks, but when you hear the full scope behind it, how the cards work, and how character generation works, I think you'll like it. The player is very in control of things, and should form the character how they'd like, but it also adds a small interpretive random element to spice things up, to ensure that every character doesn't end up the same.


Anyway, the funeral went well. As well as funerals can. It was tough, but my family was there, my wife was by my side, and some of the Eight turned up. In fact, there were many tough and upsetting bits to the day, but I really filled up at the sight of some of my old gaming buddies turning up to help me and the wife through this. I hadn't seen some of them in many years, and some had travelled many miles to attend, and just the thought of the effort they'd put in to come and pay their respects to mum, and to look after Debs while my sisters and I went off to the crematorium for the second smaller service... well, it just proves what true friends are. Thank you guys.


On the subject of the Eight, Pete pointed out that I missed an element to my previous post - about writing the Ghostbusters adventures. Spooky Science, the first adventure I'd written, I initially passed to Pete when it was finished, and he re-typed the whole thing, correcting my horrible grammar and fixing the typos before we sent it off to New York.

Pete was the DM for my first D&D, and ran Runequest, later writing his own gaming system called Odyssey (which produced some of the most satisfying games I've ever been in a player in). He also wrote a number of the comics I ended up drawing, including Ninja Secretaries from Beyond Dimension X, and the sequel to my original solo comic "Drowning in Darkness". So Pete was the first person I turned to when I thought about submitting my writing to a games company.

Pete must have gone off for his degree when I started on Back to Transylvania and the subsequent efforts, but I'm sorry I forgot about your involvement in the first one, Pete! It was over 25 years ago! I'm going to blame my age and leave it at that...


That's it for this post. I'd just like to thank everyone for their kind words of support over the last few weeks.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Roll Your Own Life (8) - Ghostwriting for the USA

First of all, may I just say thank you to everyone who offered their condolences and their offers of support after last week's blog post. I'm coping as best I can with plenty of writing distraction, but it's going to be a hard couple of weeks ahead, so this'll be a rather large post to tide you over until my return.

A little self portrait I did at the height of
my Ghostbusters writing in 1987
Onto happier thoughts, but still just as nostalgic, I left the history of my gaming with the decision to contact West End Games about writing for their awesome roleplaying game, Ghostbusters (see "Roll Your Own Life 6"). I was obsessed with the film, and loved the game. This was back in the time when VHS tapes of movies came out to rent before they were available to buy, and my copy of Ghostbusters was a new rental copy that my local video store let me purchase by paying them a little every week until I'd paid the mammoth £85 price tag.

I wrote a letter to West End Games and gushed about how cool and funny their game was, and they kindly supplied me the necessary release forms for budding authors. I saw this as a huge "Go For It!" sign, and promptly set to work.

The problem I had was that my life revolved around gaming and watching movies. So a lot of what I started writing was parodying movies in some way. Also, this was at a time that may seem alien to some... it was B.I. - Before Internet.

Writing was a laborious task involving a huge electric typewriter (not electronic, just electric) that had fans and stuff built in to keep it from overheating. It was about the size of a Volkswagen and when you needed to change the ink ribbon, the front lifted up like the hood of said car. Everything was typed up (double spaced), corrections made with those little Tippex Correction Strips, and then it was all photocopied and posted as a huge mass of A4 paper by airmail to New York to be read by those cool guys at West End Games.

So, what nonsense was I turning out?

The cover I did for Spooky Science.
This is a black and white photocopy
from 1986
I wrote two big adventures. The first was called "Spooky Science", a parody of Call of Cthulhu, Indiana Jones and Weird Science. 45,000 words of bizarreness where an automated computer system attached to the containment grid goes mad, a fitness cult open a portal to unleash their god, Yogurt-Soggoth, onto an unsuspecting New York, and the Ghostbusters have to escape from the Temple of Yogurt in an epic chase involving shopping trollies. I seem to remember the finale involving New York being flooded in yogurt, and the Ghostbusters arrive on the scene on wet-bikes.

Flicking through the photocopies of the manuscript that I'd recently uncovered, it isn't baaaad...  it's just filled with typos, and it's a little derivative. Mulu Pram, the high priest of Yogurt-Soggoth was an obvious rip-off, but it was a bit of a laugh, and a satirical dig at the fitness craze that was big at the time. I blame Olivia Newton-John. Hell, we all loved Olivia Newton-John at that time.

Anyway, I packaged it up, sent it off, then waited the expected three months for a reply from WEG.

I called New York, which in the days before Skype and Facetime was a costly and scary affair from the UK, and talked to someone at West End Games to confirm it had arrived okay. Then, a couple of months later, I received a reply. It was very positive, but explained that they'd already published a food-based adventure (with the first official scenario, Ghost Toasties) and I saw it as an encouragement to go ahead and write more.

The cover I'd supplied for Back to
Transylvania. Really, not good... (1987-8)
The second of the adventures I finished was "Back to Transylvania", a bizarre time travelling adventure where, through a freak accident in history, Dracula had started a vampire plague and the Ghostbusters had to travel back to 1859 in a time-travelling DeLorean to take on the dark master himself, to prevent the world becoming overrun by vampires.

Again, it drew heavily from Hammer movies, Back to the Future and even had a moment where the filming of the TV series Moonlighting was interrupted and Bruce Willis became a vampire (the scene that initially tips the Ghostbusters off that there's something strange in the neighbourhood).

The scenario also introduced new rules for having non-human Ghostbusters (mainly to include Scooby-Doo as a player-character) and a basic magic system.

Again, I photocopied it, and posted it off to New York, and eagerly awaited a response.

And again, I had a really nice response from the guys at West End. I'm sure it was Greg Costikyan who wrote to me (or it may have been Bill Slavicsek) to let me know what they thought. I have the letter somewhere (though it's in a pile of stuff that has moved since the "moving everything out of mum's house" thing happened), but I remember what it said even now, nearly 25 years later.

It said that "you can obviously write, but..." and then went on to explain that Bruce Willis and Scooby-Doo's owners may sue for using them in a comedy adventure like this. While I understood what they were saying, about not using real people or copyrighted characters, the key thing was that letter said I could write.

I'm sure it was Greg Costikyan (and if it wasn't I'm sorry, and this is directed at you) who wrote to me, and without that positive reply I would never have continued writing. I'd have just packed it in there and then, got a boring job in retail (this is called irony) or something, and given up. So whoever it was who wrote to me, thank you.

The cover to an adventure I didn't finish, based
on John Landis' fake movie title
"See You Next Wednesday" (1988)
Encouraged by this, I kept going, but I didn't get every far. I started work on a new scenario called "See You Next Doomsday" which was going to be a fairly basic zombies and "Evil Dead" inspired story, as I'd just seen Evil Dead II and the idea of a Sam Raimi style comedy-horror with the Ghostbusters sounded awesome to me. The title came from John Landis' "See You Next Wednesday", a non-existent movie that appeared in the background of a lot of Landis' films, which in turn inspired the RPG group's name.

I came to a grinding halt a handful of pages in, when I was inspired to do a different game... based upon the movie "A Nightmare on Elm Street" I ran a proper horror game (strangely, using the Indiana Jones RPG system from the original TSR game) which involved going into peoples' dreams and facing their night-terrors. It seemed to go down pretty well, so I thought about changing it and doing it a little more light-heartedly as a Ghostbusters scenario.

Again, taking its title from another John Landis movie, I started work on "Into the Nightmare", but real life interrupted, and I found myself a real job. It wouldn't be until many years later that I would go back to writing RPGs based on dreams...

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Roll Your Own Life (7) - Family Values

Sorry I missed a blog post last week, when you read this one everything will become clear.

I wanted to take some time out of the usual chronology of my life in gaming to talk about family. My parents were always very supportive of my gaming habits - in fact, when it comes to "The Eight", I think most of our parents were incredibly happy that we were playing D&D or gaming. I suppose that when you're raising a teenager it is reassuring to know that we were simply at each other's houses, sitting around a table with cups of tea, stretching our minds with games of fantasy rather than hanging around on the streets, drinking and shouting at cars, or whatever the typical teenagers in a small coastal town do when there's nothing better to occupy their time.

Our mums were fantastic. Usually, in the middle of a game they'd pop their heads around the door to check we were okay and to take requests for cups of tea, cake or biscuits.

When I left school and signed on for a year, spending almost every waking hour hunched over an electric typewriter writing scenarios to try and get published with West End Games (more on that in a future blogpost), I never had any hassles about getting "out there" to get a job. They may have grumbled to each other, but I didn't have any hassles to my face at least - maybe they were just happy that I wasn't being a lay-about and was being creative.

Me, Mum and Dad at my graduation, 1995
As time passed, and I went to art college, they were proud that I'd continued to feed my creative drives, and although the comic publishing empire I tried to forge failed after a year, when I started writing RPGs again, they continued to be encouraging. As each book came out they attentively looked for my name in the credits. To them, it wasn't a game-book. It was a book. Their son had been published, and I'd heard tales of my dad showing one or two of them off to the unsuspecting townsfolk in my hometown.

My dad died just a week after I signed the contracts to work on the four books that would be the new edition of Conspiracy X. He never knew about it, as he was asleep for the last week after a long battle with cancer. As you can imagine, I was devastated at his passing. The core Conspiracy X 2.0 rulebook is dedicated to him. I spent almost every second of my time working on ConX as a way of dealing with the loss - I did the most unhealthy thing you can do I suppose, I just worked through it, focusing my attention on the world of Conspiracy X, the aliens, the conspiracies, the paranormal, because if I thought too hard about the real world, the harsh truth of losing my dad would hit home and I'd become a mess.

But I kept going. Mum was an inspiration. She was determined and stubborn, and kept going through every hardship. She was paralysed in the legs by polio at the age of 7, and met my dad (who was a medic in WWII) when he was assigned as her physiotherapist when she'd grown up. She could walk (with assistance) until after my dad died, then, despite being wheelchair-bound, she still continued to be one of the most positive and cheery people you could meet.

Me and Mum, at my Dad's 70th in 1992
Mum continued to be supportive of my work - both the day-job in the bookstore and the writing RPG books. When I started work on Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space, she was very excited, although she never watched the new series (not after Jon Pertwee left), just the tales my meetings with the BBC and travelling to Cardiff made her proud. I'm sure half of the time she was convinced I was actually writing the series itself, but a reminder every so often about "those games we used to play in the back room with the guys?" and she'd know what I was doing.

She was taken ill while I was at the screening/press conference for The Avengers (link to my blog post about it), so I've been taking every opportunity to travel back to visit. Even then, she was more concerned about me spending money to travel and taking time off of work to see her than in her own health.

Mum died last Friday, peacefully in the company of my sisters and me. I'm getting through it by doing what I did before - writing. Though even writing those last couple of sentences were hard. If it wasn't for the support of my amazing wife, my family, the Eight, and some very good friends, I think I'd still be a gibbering mess. At the moment, if I distract myself well enough I can get on with the day, but things still hit home when I least expect it and I just want to throw up, fall asleep or both in a desperate attempt to cope.

So, that's why I haven't been online for a while, and may not be as active on here as I was before, at least for the time being.

However, before I wrap up this post, I have a little request for you. When you've finished reading this, do me a little favour - if you're lucky enough to have your parents still with you, just give them a call. Tell them you love them. If you're not in this lucky position, but have someone close to you - family, spouse or dear friend - give them a hug and tell them how much you appreciate them.

Thank you.