Class Notes: The View from Here

-November 21st, 2012

There’s a lot I’d like to say right now, but the more time I spend blogging the less time I’m working on Degrees of Horror. Hopefully when it’s returned to Pinnacle I’ll be able to spend more time elaborating on the revision process. For now, I’m still shooting to finish up before the next Class Notes so I need to keep my nose to the grindstone.

The first 8 chapters are pretty much locked in. Ed is still working on the adventure generator, so I’ve skipped ahead to the next chapter– my old nemesis the Plot Points. The best I can say is that when I’m done with this chapter it’s a short downhill ride to the end of the book. For the plot points, my big focus is on slashing the word count and applying revisionist history to early adventures that bubbled up in later ones. In other words, making sure everything is consistent.

In other news, most of you have probably heard about Facebook’s throttling of Page exposure on your timeline. I read an interesting analysis by a social media company claiming that Page status updates that included a hyperlink were less likely to appear in your news feed than ones that didn’t. You’re probably aware that I post a link to every Class Notes on our Facebook page, but I also sometimes post updates that don’t make it here for one reason or another. Saturday I posted a note letting everyone know that I was shutting down our forums and encouraging everyone to post on the Pinnacle forums instead. I see that Saturday’s post (without a link) got twice the page views as the last Class Notes link. So if you’re reading this because you saw a note on Facebook telling you to come check it out, that’s why.

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Class Notes: Crunch Time

-November 14th, 2012

In the week since I last wrote, I’ve done so much stuff I can hardly remember. Off the top of my head, I’ve statted out about a dozen archetypes, reviewed all the Edges and Hindrances one last time for consistency, clarified how Jaded, Hardened, and Recovery works with Fear Effects, and generally organized, shuffled, and condensed the first 45 pages of the book.

The goal is to be completely done by the end of Thanksgiving weekend. Yes, THIS Thanksgiving weekend. Of course if I can’t make better progress than 43 pages a week then it’ll take me four more weeks instead of one, but past a certain point it should get easier. This last week has been all about the mechanics– largely character creation and setting rules. Soon I should be breaking free to the gazetter and various adventures, which will be a different kind of editing– mostly about making things succinct as possible. Also, I did the last two chapters (66  pages) after Ed stepped back, which means we weren’t leaving things for one another to fix later. With a few small exceptions, those two chapters are already clean.

Anyhow, that’s all for now. It’s crunch time at 12 to Midnight, and I should be editing.

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Class Notes: Lap Completed

-November 7th, 2012

As reported Monday night on our Facebook page, I officially reached the end of the manuscript! Yeah me! Mark that as one giant leap closer to being done. Granted, my “sprint to the finish” took 60 days instead of the original 30, but I got a LOT done. Speaking of getting a lot done, does anyone want to guess how I celebrated reaching my goal? If you said “By immediately starting on unfinished business,” then you guessed correctly.

Since reaching the end of the beastiary, I returned to the very first page of the manuscript, where I’d left myself some notes on things to run down. In particular, I took a fresh look at spirit possessions and exorcisms. Possessions are a horror mainstay, and in a game heavily laden with hauntings, seances, and the like it’s important to get it right. In the previous draft, we explained the mechanics of possession in the beastiary under the Ghost entry. As I worked on the entry for demons though, I realized it made more sense to have a unified “possession” mechanic for all creature types.

Then obviously if you’re going to have possessions then you need exorcisms, right? In Degrees of Horror characters can perform exorcisms using their Faith skill or using a rite of exorcism. In the old version each method was reference separately (in separate chapters, no less) with no mention of the other. Now right below the paragraph on possessions I’ve included a corresponding section on exorcisms. It explains the game mechanic in general terms and describes advantages and disadvantages of using Faith versus magic. Finally, it points to the “Rite of Exorcism” in the magic chapter and describes the mechanics of the Faith method.  This will make it way easier for you and your GM than when we had it spread out across the book.

After getting possessions and exorcism tidied up, my next step was to take a fresh look at seances. I would have sworn that we had a big section in the ghost hunting area about seances, but apparently I was wrong. Sooooo, that was my next job. In the process, I had to take into account some of our new Weird Edges– specifically the Psychic Sensitive, Psychic Communicator, and Psychic Channeler. By the time it was done, I’d folded the Psychic Communicator mechanics into the  baseline seance mechanics. From there, Psychic Channeling (renamed from channeler) became a bonus to the basic seance roll and I clarified the Psychic Sensitive. That’s pretty much how revisions to Degrees of Horror are going to go from here on out. Everything is interconnected, so fine tuning one area usually means chasing down two or three other rabbit holes to make sure everything is still in agreement. Honestly, it’s fun.

Finally, I wanted to acknowledge my writing partner’s return to the keyboard. Ed’s teaching workload has lightened up enough that he said he could take care of some our unfinished business. In particular, he is returning to the adventure generator. That chapter has been his “baby” from the very beginning, and those of you familiar with Ed’s adventure generator writing for Reality Blurs will definitely like what he’s doing here.

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I’m trying to get back into the habit of posting a Class Notes update whether or not I’m done with a plot point. In this case, it’s “not”. Even so, I actually feel pretty good about how things are going. Considering I was on a camping trip for three nights last week,1 so actually I feel like the 800+ words I’ve written for this plot point is decent progress. There’s a decent chance I could finish in the next day or two.


  1. Camping in Texas in July is an endurance trial. Just sayin’.
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Since I do my editing from multiple computers, I keep my Degrees of Horror files stored on the cloud so that I can access them from wherever I happen to be. I’ve developed my own versioning system so that if I delete a line or paragraph that I later want to restore I have the option of going back to an earlier file. With 25 gigs of online storage, keeping multiple versions of a MS Word document isn’t really a big deal. The plot points are in chapter 10 (for now, anyway), so the naming convention is Chapter 10 – Edit ppXy, where “X” is the plot point number and “y” is a version. For instance, for plot point 5 I have three files– Chapter 10 – Edit pp5a, Chapter 10 Edit pp5b, and Chapter 10 Edit pp5c. There’s no hard and fast rule for when I add an increment, but usually it’s after I’ve made noteable progress. Most of the plot points have gotten as far as C or D before I finish it and move on to the next one.

I explain all of this so that you understand what I mean when I say plot point 9 got up to version “i”.

This one was deceptively hard to write. In fact, I began version A exactly one month ago. It was a completely new plot point, but I started with the benefit of a pretty decent outline. The problem was two-fold. First, I was afraid that it would be too linear, or easy. The second was that this plot point is a mini-mystery, and it’s really hard to create a mystery and seed all the clues in 1,500 words. In fact, I didn’t even come close to keeping it under my word count. Here are the numbers:

Plot Points Completed: 9 of 12
Pages: 39 of 46
PP word count: 2,480 of 24,678

You’ll see it’s just a hair under 2,500 words. I have a whole new level of respect for writers of mystery short fiction. Nothing is harder than brevity…as you can often tell from the length of my Class Notes.

Anyhow, this adventure went through a LOT of iterations. At one point I had a false trail that ended in a boobytrap (which in retrospect was too deadly), and for a long time the antagonist had a crippling disease that required frequent medication. In the end I had to rethink the path of the adventure and simplify the antagonist for the sake of space, and it still ran long!

All of that being said, I think the final version is pretty cool. One of the great things about writing about Pinebox for so long is that we’ve really created a depth to the setting. On the flipside, as a reader I love being rewarded for being a fan of a series by seeing how a later book ties in to plots seeded way earlier in the series. I think fans of Pinebox will enjoy seeing old characters, places, or plots referenced throughout the plot points. You won’t be at a disadvantage if you’ve never played a Pinebox adventure before, but hopefully if you have then you’ll enjoy some “Oh, wow!” moments as you make the connections. They say writing is a process of discovery, and I had my own “Oh, wow” moment when I discovered some of those connections myself.

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