Janitor’s Log

Back when they Kickstarted this thing, there was a contest for a book of short-short stories. I didn’t make the cut. 🙂

Stardate 021631011956

“In space, no one can hear you yawn,” I thought, as I crawled through Jeremy Tubes, checking lint traps, in the dead of the night watch.

That’s when the first impact rocked the ship, and klaxons started howling.

I heard an automatic hatch clang and seal ahead of me. Without further thought, I started scuttling assward as fast as knees and elbows could piston. I’d been locked in a Jeremy Tube during an emergency before. The power fluctuations had felt like biting insects in every orifice. No way I was going through that again.

I exited feet first into the ship’s holotheater and slammed and dogged the hatch.

The ship rocked with another explosive impact. The lights flickered, then stabilized.

“Right,” a British accent broke in, “what’s all this then?” The ship’s Hologram appeared before me, done up as a London Bobby. He waved a nightstick in my face. “What are you hooligans up to now?”

“I don’t know!” I snapped. “You’re the one with instant access to the main computer. You tell me! Call up a damage report!”

He stepped back, at attention, and stared at me a moment. Then his eyes went blank, losing their normal faux sparkle as he concentrated on tapping into the ship’s primary systems. His Bobby getup faded, revealing a naked physique like a mannikin, and his voice went all mechanical.

“Alien missiles. One. Two. The first struck primary crew quarters, behind the bridge. The captain is dead.”

My spine suddenly felt like jelly. “What about the First Officer? The Admiral?” I whispered.

“Last logged in their quarters, presumed dead,” he stated, emotionlessly.

I staggered backward, bracing myself against the bulkhead, and slid to a seat on the floor. “Can you hail the bridge?” I choked out.

“It was the target of the second missile,” he replied, flatly.

The hull vibrated with another distant explosion. A terrified cry suddenly filled my brain, then silence. That would be the ship’s Telepath.

“That hit Engineering,” the Hologram reported. The lights dimmed. “Power now at 49 percent.”

Suddenly the hatch to the Jeremy Tube above me cycled and reopened. A head popped out. The Cyborg.

“Ah. Excellent!” He said brightly, staring down at me. “At last. A human officer. Until we can raise someone else, I’m afraid you’re in charge, Sir!”

I gazed dumbly at him as he slid from the tube. He took a moment to straighten his uniform, then turned to the Hologram.

“Get a bridge simulation set up here,” he said, “to serve as an auxiliary. We’ll need to respond to the alien ship in kind, if we want to survive long enough to get the main drives back online and buffer the shields.”

The Hologram nodded, and bridge controls began materializing out of thin air. The Cyborg turned back to me.

“Are you with me, Sir?” He asked, offering a hand to help me to my feet.

I coughed. Swallowed. “Uh. Yeah. Sure,” I answered, taking his hand. “Just to be clear though, I get combat pay for this, right?”

Here’s a Pinapple

Photo by Kobby Mendez on Unsplash

I’m grateful to report that each of the bookmark titles received another 5-star rating on DriveThruRPG yesterday. My one-person operation may be small, with relatively small exposure, but its ratings remain encouragingly high, which, thankfully, keeps me motivated and focused.

Because maybe it’s the heat disrupting our normal sleep habits at Chez Smith, or maybe it’s time to reevaluate my meds. Whichever, it’s been tough of late, encephalopathically speaking. Something like Frodo’s “thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.” But more accurately, diffuse, like fog on a window, vaguely aware that the things inside are concrete and real, but so disconnected from them. Sometimes mustering the energy to even want to coalesce can be exhausting.

Not complaining; just reporting. (Jennifer says that’s become my catchphrase.)

In any case, I’m grateful for a family who know when too much too fast becomes overwhelming, and who send me to my room.

For friends who accept my sometimes cancelling events day of, when it becomes evident I just can’t deal.

And for fans who keep me feeling relevant and accomplished. My particular religious upbringing makes it difficult to accept praise. But every rating, review, comment, message, Facebook chat or group page interaction, every thumbs up on a YouTube video, every photo from a convention, all that stuff feels like an ongoing conversation. And as an extrovert, I feed on that interaction.

It gives me purpose to write, and the writing brings focus. It’s why my MD concludes every visit with, “So, are you still writing, still publishing?”

Please don’t get me wrong. I’m not looking for sympathy. Not fishing for compliments. Not making a sales pitch.

I’m just saying thank you. You know who you are.

The pineapple was just to get your attention.

Julia Baily, Spiritualist, Bounty Hunter

Photo by Taylor Brandon on Unsplash

I’ve been delving deeper into solo gaming the past few years, including solo role-play, which falls into two categories.

Category one is programmed adventures for systems like GURPS, RuneQuest, etc., and lesser known RPGs such as Risus. You may know these as “pick-a-path,” “which way,” or “choose your own adventure” books. I have quite a few of those adventure books on my shelves, unplayed, because who wants to refamiliarize themselves with a different RPG just to use them?

The solution has been to play them with on-the-fly conversion to a flexible system I’m familiar with: my D6xD6 RPG.

Category two is oracle-based adventuring, using a card deck, a set of dice tables, or other randomizers. There are plenty of great oracle systems out there, usable with pretty much any RPG you like, some of them with their own rules built in.

But for this, I’ve been using my Bookmark HP RPG, because the 1-10 scale is intuitive and character design is quick and easy, supporting storytelling without getting in the way.

And I’ve started a YouTube series exploring both categories, most recently the adventures of an Old West bounty hunter named Julia Baily, guided by the ghosts of murder victims. Check out the various videos for an introduction to the various programmed adventure settings and oracle systems, some musings about role-playing in general, and of course a bit of demo of my RPG rules in action.

Let me know what you think, with comments there or here. And thanks!

Some Un-Conventional Advice

Based on decades of professional game demo experience, and grad school teacher training, I would say that the best way to kill role-play enthusiasm for new players at a convention event is (a) pre-gen characters and; (b) rules info dump up front. Saddle players with those at the same time they’re supposed to be engaging with the unfolding story, and you’ve made role-play a chore.

Look, I get it. In most game systems pre-gen characters are a necessity, because there are so few hours in a convention demo slot. Which is why as a player myself, I quit going to those sorts of slots.

Conversely, the best way to engage players in a new RPG is:

  1. Let them create their own characters;
  2. Role-play until the first needed dice roll;
  3. Explain how dice work for actions;
  4. Role-play with that knowledge until combat breaks out;
  5. Explain how actions work in combat;
  6. Role-play to the adventure’s conclusion;
  7. Give players a memento of the session—the character they just created, to dream about playing its future adventures.

This is why D6xD6 and Bookmark HP RPG bookmark and biz card character sheets exist. First, to emphasize just how quickly and concisely you can design a character, and second, to fit the unique character you designed in your wallet or a book. I’ve seen countless 8½ x 11 inch character sheets in convention trash cans because they start to bulk out folders, or spill from the backs of books. (Even the D13 RPG is designed for generating characters quickly at the table.)

Running convention events, I’ve seen this approach succeed repeatedly, virtually inevitably. Some free advice from an old hand who just likes to see people succeed and have fun.