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

Fashionably Late

Lester : April 16, 2016 2:20 pm : Announcements, Commentary, Free Games, Game Design

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, 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!

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A Gary Con Aquelarre

Lester : March 16, 2016 8:26 pm : Announcements, Game Design, Spanish

As you may know, I’m currently translating the Spanish role-playing game Aquelarre to English for Stewart Wieck’s Nocturnal Media. (You can preorder here.) The Spanish word aquelarre means “a meeting of witches and warlocks.”

I met with some players at Gary Con this year to try out “The Tale of Shadows” adventure from the Aquelarre game book. This particular adventure was written by the game’s designer, Ricard Ibáñez, and it’s prepared as an introduction for an inexperienced Game Director (Director de Juegos).

As a first-time adventure, this one is very nicely crafted. Ibáñez does a great job of providing everything a new Game Director needs for running a session, while at the same time encouraging improvisation. I won’t reveal any spoilers here, but I’d like to share a few takeaways from the Gary Con event:

  • Any type or mix of characters can work for this adventure. No need to assemble the classic “fighter/thief/wizard/cleric” party mix of some other games. For the Gary Con session, for example, none of my players chose magic or miracles. (Though they did try to pass themselves off as “miracle workers”!)
  • The adventure locale is a historic area bordering Moorish lands, which provides all sorts of reasons for player characters to be there. And the opening premise—a local wine merchant invites you to his home outside the town of Bullas for a private tasting, and to propose some business—gives a natural reason to draw strangers together.
  • Speaking of wine, as the “Final Note” reveals, Bullas is an actual municipality in Spain, with a famous wine festival every October.
  • The writing presents the main NPCs as distinctive personalities—not just stage dressing. It’s very easy to get the PCs involved with their machinations.
  • Like any great adventure, it combines elements of mystery and the possibility (though not inevitability) of combat.
  • The threat itself is “self-leveling,” adjusting to the number of players, which is great for a new Game Director.
  • Ibáñez’s wry sense of humor shines through. (I really hope to meet this guy in person some day. He seems to be a hoot to game with.)
  • Besides the historicity, players are exposed to a few “old sayings” from Spanish; you can’t help but learn something along the way. (Even native Spanish-speakers may learn something from that “Final Note” section.)

My own players sort of trampled the story, taking it unintended directions, and it held up just fine. By the end, they had unknowingly created a dangerous lifelong enemy, which left me wanting to continue with a full campaign! And through it all, they obviously had a great time.

In short, I came away from the experience more convinced than ever that English speakers will love this game setting. As I mentioned in an earlier post, now is a propitious time for an English edition. I’m thoroughly thrilled to be involved. (Thanks, Stewart!)


Going Like Sixty

Lester : January 31, 2016 7:18 am : Announcements, Commentary, Fiction, Game Design, Miscellany, Spanish

The Sixties
So I should be catching 40 winks. Which apparently is the old number for “a lot”: 40 days and 40 nights; 40 years in the desert; Ali Baba and the 40 thieves—though only 30 pieces of silver (Judas got cheated).

Instead, I woke at about 40 minutes past one, and now again at about 6:40, recognizing that today I turn 60. My brain has been “going like 60” (which apparently is the new number for “a lot”) about what this new year holds—this new decade—a new age.

Next door stands my new home, waiting power and water lines, and a bit of interior finish, and a storage unit full of stuff to be moved in.

Upstairs my granddaughter sleeps, waiting for another day of love and attention, and of new words learned—and a future full of Spanish lessons from her grandpa (and maybe some Japanese, and French, and even some Czech exploration together, given that’s part of her own heritage).

Yesterday, in preparation for a rare day off today, I marched through to the end of another chapter of translating Aquelarre. That project will take up much of this year; I’m loving it; and I’m looking forward to seeing what other doors it opens.

I’m at a new point in my publishing career: self-publishing and freelance now. In part it’s a natural unfolding of publishing I’ve been doing for a decade as Popcorn Press. In part, it’s my family saying, “Go ahead and create full-time; you’ve earned the chance.” In part, it’s friends and fans making the D6xD6 RPG a growing success, and backing my novel in sonnets: The Pastime Machine. In part, it’s shifting from promoting poetry as former president of the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets, and focusing more on promoting through publication.

To be frank, my plate is overfull right now. Besides the sheer production work, I’ve some overdue emails to answer, and a few royalty payments to send, and tax season to prepare for, etc., etc.

But today I’m taking off work. I’m celebrating with my family a measure of six decades lived: spanning from the first satellite launch, to satellite smartphone service. Some of those years have been tough. But overall they’ve been joyous. And I’m truly looking forward to the future.



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