• News!

    The Pastime Machine is just $4 from its "Liz Danforth" goal!

    • Friday night D6xD6 has open seats!

  • Current Projects!

    The Pastime Machine: An ongoging novel in sonnets roasting Wells, Dante, & more!
    (Support here.)

    Aquelarre: I'm translating this dark classic Spanish game to English. (Preorder here.)

  • Suggested Reading

    Final Failure: Eyeball to Eyeball
    Zen of the Dead - cover

    Grim Series: poems
    edge of the pond
  • Dice Games…

    Available from SFR, Inc.
    Dragon Dice game


    Daemon Dice game
  • Brief Bio

    A 2-term past president of the WFOP, 4-time Origins-winning game designer, and former HWG JavaScript teacher, retired from educational publishing to produce poetry, fiction, & games via Popcorn Press.

  • Featured Products

    Role-play in your favorite novels with the D6xD6™ RPG!

    Sword fight with a specially illustrated poker deck!

  • Other Card Games …

    Monster Con card game
    Invasion of the Saucer People card game
    Wolf Man's Curse card game
  • Random Wisdom

    “The man who is master of his passions is Reason's slave.”

    —Cyril Connolly (1903-1974)

    Why I Will Never Be Buddhist

    By Lester | April 19, 2016

    Bouddha bureau.jpgBy Michel Desrochers – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

    A significant difference of perception exists between West and East.

    In the West, understanding is based on essential definition. We find it in Plato’s cave: the idea that everything we see is a distorted shadow of some Platonic archetype. The essence of reality is ideal forms—an essential “cat,” or “dog,” or “chair”—which our world renders imperfectly in specific examples that vary from that essence to some degree or another.

    We also find it in Christian theology, starting with our Fall from perfection in Genesis, but even more particularly in John 1:1, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,” and John 1:14, “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.” The lowercased flesh is merely a temporary incarnation of the uppercased eternal Word.

    This concept of an “essential nature” is behind our understanding of the “soul” that makes us each unique, and not coincidentally why learning something’s “true name” lends magical power over it (traced through Medieval alchemy all the way back to Platonic thought).

    In the East, on the other hand, no word could ever encapsulate the eternal. Consider the first two lines of the Tao te Ching, “The Tao that can be spoken is not the eternal Tao. / The name that can be named is not the eternal name.” While an external, eternal reality is assumed to exist, it can never be fully grasped. The goal of existence, then, is not to regain some lost ideal, but rather to accept the flux and be at peace.

    And this is why I can never be Buddhist. Buddhism is not a stone to be clutched. And even if it were, one cannot swim with a pocket full of stones. I’ll never be Buddhist because I always already am.

    Topics: Commentary | No Comments »

    Fashionably Late

    By Lester | April 16, 2016

    Graveyard Shift coverI’ve been role-playing for ages now—pretty much from “the beginning“—and gamemastering for nearly as long, besides reviewing, designing, and publishing RPGs. I’ve played thousands of sessions, hundreds of different game titles, with hundreds of different people—and still discover some delightful new nuance of role-playing from time to time.

    The most recent “aha” moment came during a Gary Con session of Angela Roquet‘s “The World of Lana Harvey, Reaper’s Inc.,” using the D6xD6 RPG rules.

    The D6xD6 RPG is a fairly experimental one-stat system that adapts well to lots of different settings. Its core rules are free online at www.d6xd6.com, with five sample settings. A couple dozen other settings based on novel lines I admire are available as add-ons.

    One of those novel lines is the Lana Harvey setting, starting with Graveyard Shift (which is free on Kindle). It deals with the adventures of a group of junior reapers (including the titular Lana Harvey) trying to survive the perilous machinations of gods and demons in the afterlife.

    Sometimes, for a break, they go shopping.

    So when Angela and I started working on the role-playing chapter for this setting, we talked about including fashion as a special rule. Basically, whenever a character enters a scene, the owning player has to take a moment to describe the character’s clothes, hair, makeup, and accoutrements. I “tried it on for size” with a group of complete strangers at Gary Con.

    To say it went over well is an understatement. From my perspective, it seemed as if I’d discovered a secret key to the gamer psyche. Everyone at the table went into great detail about his or her character’s wardrobe—from the guy with the combat boots, ripped jeans, Ramones T-shirt, and razor-blade earrings; to the fruit-hatted temptress in a slinky red dress with black stiletto heels and death’s-head dueling pistols; to the blonde in an electric blue skirted business suit and pumps; to the gal in cowboy hat and shirt, blue denim jeans, and cowboy boots; to “Christopher Lee in a cowled robe—with sword cane.”

    Let me be clear: There’s no game or story benefit from this description; it’s purely for fun. And every player went full tilt. Their descriptions made me grin, even laugh out loud, and the details made the ensuing action so crisp and convincing. I can’t wait to play again!

    Topics: Announcements, Commentary, Free Games, Game Design | 1 Comment »

    Ancestor Spirits

    By Lester | April 11, 2016

    —Lester Smith

    Jason stalked across the yard, a haunted expression in his eyes.

    “Grab your toys and get inside, Linda.”

    She stooped and clutched her raggedy bear, gazed up at him.

    “It will be okay, Linda,” he said. “Let’s just hurry and get inside.”

    He quickly helped gather her blocks and cars, tossing them into a plastic bucket, then took her free hand and marched her up the stairs, across the porch, and into the house. He set the toys on the hall rug, turned, and locked the door, pressing his hands and head against it.

    The daylight dimmed, and a breeze sighed across the porch. It set the bamboo chimes to rattling like bones.

    Let us in, Jason, he heard it whisper.

    “Never,” he muttered.


    Don’t disobey us, Jason, it insisted. Do as you are told!

    “I will not.” He planted his feet more firmly.


    You need to be disciplined, Jason. Spare the rod and spoil the child. You need respect!

    He remembered the whippings of his youth, the angry welts left by his father’s frenzied switch—themselves the echoes of whippings by his father’s father, and countless generations before …

    “Respect is earned,” he growled.


    The wind whipped up, and the light darkened further.

    Who are you to judge us? You are our offspring! The fruit of our loins! What makes you think you can choose your own way? Fool! You cannot oppose the weight of ages. You are what we made you!

    “I am nothing like you!”


    “Goddam it, Linda!” He spun toward her, fists clenched, teeth grinding. “What? What!”

    She sat down hard on the rug, pale-faced, eyes wide with tears.

    “Daddy, I’m scared,” she whispered.

    He turned away, slumping his head against the door with a sigh. The ghosts had fooled him. They had found their way inside after all.

    “It will be okay,” he lied.

    Topics: Announcements, Fiction | No Comments »

    I’m pullin’ a boat!

    By Lester | March 19, 2016

    Me, my jeep, & Chris's new boat in downtown Loma

    Me, my jeep, & Chris’s new boat in downtown Loma

    Took a break at lunch to pick up a used fishing boat from David City for my son-in-law while he’s at drill with the Army Reserve.

    I can’t say whether it’s the first time my Jeep has pulled a boat, but it’s the first time as “my Jeep.”

    A windy drive on a cold day spitting snow. Three days from now, they’re predicting 73°! Last week hit the mid 60s. I love Nebraska.

    Topics: Announcements | No Comments »

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