A pair of old six-sided diceIn the fall of 1984, during a layoff from General Electric, I sold a “capsule review” to Steve Jackson’s Space Gamer magazine. A month later they accepted my “Mind Duel” board game. Within a year, I was working full-time as a designer and editor for GDW, then TSR, with a bit of freelance for FASA, West End, Flying Buffalo, and others. Nowadays (after an interlude spent in educational publishing) I’m publishing myself—and other people—via Popcorn Press.
Photo by sean_hicken

No. Seriously. Read This.

Lester : January 4, 2016 3:09 pm : Announcements, Fiction, Game Design, Review

Reading over your shoulder

One serendipitous benefit of creating the D6xD6 RPG has been sharing some truly great novels by other writers. Promoting them is a win-win-win situation:

  1. You, as reader, get pointed to great fiction (often free), vetted by a fairly picky guy with a long history in publishing.
  2. The authors get some extra exposure which, in a sea of new titles, can’t hurt.
  3. I get the enjoyment of sharing some of my favorite reads and playing in their worlds.

Let me share six specific titles that are among my favorites. You owe it to yourself to read them now. (Thank me later.)

The Ancient: In this kick-ass, action-packed story, seven Babylonian demons awaken in modern New Jersey. Mass destruction ensues. An eternally resurrected warrior known as “The Ancient” recruits a couple of unfortunate present-day sidekicks to help put down the seven. The author has a wry sense of humor, despite the dark tale.

Angelfire: I don’t often reread a book (what with so many new things), but I’m currently rereading this one, and finding it utterly satisfying again. The author’s take on angels trapped here on earth, battling an endless hidden war against demon-possessed humans, with blades and elemental “bloodink” tattoos, is simply unique.

Peter and the Vampires: In a completely different vein, this collection of four stories for fourth-graders has everything to satisfy an adult as well. This volume finds 10-year-old Peter moving to his crotchety grandfather’s house, where he and his mischievous new friend Dill first face dead men, then vampires, then a changeling, and then a swamp monster. Loads of fun!

Wild-Born: The first in a “pentalogy” of stories about a secret war of psychic powers in modern times, this tale is sometimes tragic but always heroic, and deeply moving. It’s another on my “read it again” list (as well as being one of my favorite role-play settings).

Stray: This is quite simply one of the best science-fiction tales I’ve ever encountered. Amazingly well conceived, this cross-dimension story is frankly like nothing else I’ve ever read, though I’d rank it with Andre Norton and C. J. Cherryh in terms of sci-fi vision.

Graveyard Shift coverGraveyard Shift: Part of the “Lana Harvey, Reapers Inc.” series, this tale of a lowly reaper inadvertently caught up in intrigue and war for control of the afterlife—but who still finds time to go shopping—is an utter hoot. I binge read the entire series over the holidays and can’t wait for the next installment. (Watch for a D6xD6 RPG “World of Lana Harvey, Reapers Inc.” treatment relatively soon!)

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A Simply Super Dice Game

Lester : December 17, 2015 8:56 pm : Announcements, Game Design

Today I took a big leap: I launched the SuperPower SmackDown! dice game on Kickstarter. It’s a daunting adventure with a high goal. I’m fervently hoping it will fly.

The premise: What happens when two superpowered heroes meet for the first time? They fight, of course!

Using Speed, Strength, Mind, Gear, and Mutant abilities, two or more players battle it out. It’s a quick-and-easy push-your-luck game, but with surprising depths of strategy possible.

Note: “Superhero” is a registered trademark held jointly by Marvel and DC Comics. Hence my carefully worded text.

That having been said, would you be my hero and help spread the word? That would be super!


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Aquelarre: Bona Fides, Modus Operandi, & Mea Culpa

Lester : November 8, 2015 1:38 pm : Announcements, Game Design, Spanish


One benefit of having been around awhile is having met some people. Game publishing has given me some European connections, and when one of them mentioned last year that Nocturnal Media had licensed Aquelarre for English translation, I said, “Wow. I’d love to somehow be involved!”

Shortly thereafter, Stewart Wieck contacted me on Facebook. I gushed about the game, translated some pages as a sort of job interview, and began looking at where to fit it in the schedule. (At the time, I had a day job occupying most of my hours. In June of 2015, I resigned to move to Nebraska for family, and to focus on projects like this one.)

For what it’s worth, I met Stewart ages ago at Gen Con, shortly after he and his brother Steve launched White Wolf magazine. Their quiet confidence (all chutzpah; no braggadocio) impressed me then, expressed in an illustration of a wolf holding a dragon by the throat. (I was working for TSR at the time, and the symbolism was not lost.) I met the two again later when they partnered with Mark Rein-Hagen for the launch of Vampire: The Masquerade.

Since then, I’ve come to know Stewart’s brother via DriveThruCards and DriveThruRPG. This Aquelarre translation is my first opportunity to work with Stewart himself, and I’m thoroughly enjoying our communications.

Spanish Bona Fides

I love languages. (Besides Spanish, I speak some French and German, and have been studying Japanese for the past few years.) Spanish hooked me in fifth grade, and I’ve pursued it ever since, through middle school, into high school, and then college, where I earned a Spanish minor. I’ve worked persistently to keep it up, carrying a Spanish bible, reading Spanish games, and surviving on Spanish once during a visit to Barcelona.

While I’m no U.N.-level Spanish interpreter, my reading comprehension is solid, and I’m a meticulous sort by nature. Given the time requested (a main purpose of the Aquelarre Kickstarter), I’ll be able to devote heart and soul to the project and turn out a faithful, loving translation.

Game Publishing Bona Fides

Besides a love of Spanish, part of what I bring to the task is a respectable history of game publication. I’ve designed and edited products for GDW, TSR, FASA, WEG, FBI, and others, as well as reviewing professionally. Projects I’ve worked on maintain fans, licenses, and new editions to this day. Which is to say, I’m passionate about games and good game design.

Aquelarre as history and legend fascinates me, and I’m enjoying digging deeply into it for this translation. The game system itself has stood the test of time, so I have no intention of revising it. My task is translation, pure and simple.

Modus Operandi

In translating the game text, I open a PDF of Aquelarre, copy a section into a Word document, and then begin reading and interpreting a sentence at a time—from the top of my head. If I encounter an unfamiliar word or phrase, I then turn to a Spanish dictionary. If that doesn’t suit, I turn to a Web search for instances of the term in use elsewhere. As much as possible, I preserve Aquelarre‘s original Spanish sentence structure, to maintain the setting’s unique tone and character.

After making a complete pass through one section, I then reread and revise the English version for smoothness. Sometimes at this point I break very long sentences into shorter ones for clarity. And I may reconsider a phrase, to see if there’s a common English expression to suit. As any translator can tell you, and Google translate demonstrates, languages don’t match up word for word. Sometimes, especially in narrative sections, interpretations must be made.

Once I’ve finished a chapter, I pass it along to Stewart for review and commentary. While prepping the Kickstarter, for example, we had a lengthy discussion about what Spanish game terms to keep and what English ones to adopt. At first, my intent was to retain all the PC characteristics as Spanish, with English in parentheses—e.g. “Fuerza (Strength).” That came to seem impractical, but I’m sure more such conversations lie ahead.

When I finally translate the last page of the game in the coming months, I plan to read back through the entire manuscript again for unity before handing it all over for proofreading. (Did I mention being meticulous by nature.)

Mea Culpa

One thing I’ve learned in three decades of publishing is that the human brain cannot actually multitask. You can easily find studies online to prove we process linearly, and that “multi-tasking” is actually hopping from subject to subject, which disrupts concentration. Even college English professors show a marked decline in spelling, grammar, and punctuation when processing new information—especially in a rush.

That’s my only excuse for the transcription error on the example English PC sheet. Habilidad (literally “Ability”) should clearly be “Dexterity” (or even “Adroitness”) on that sheet. Resistencia could be interpreted as “Stamina,” but before committing to that over “Resistance,” I’d like a chance to translate the whole book.

Which brings me back to the Aquelarre Kickstarter project. You’ve seen what a gorgeous book the original Spanish edition is. You”ve learned something of the history and mythology it presents. You’ve seen a few sections translated to English from our sheer love of the game. Your backing will allow us to finish and polish that translation. I offer my sincere thanks for that support.


—Lester Smith


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