-April 25th, 2012
It’s Class Note Wednesday (a term I just coined moments ago), which means it’s time for my weekly update on where things stand with Degrees of Horror. Unfortunately this week I can’t report the completion of edits on plot point six. After catching (and mostly recovering from) The Plague™, the last 7 days were devoured by t-ball, Girl Scouts, Cub Scouts, in-laws, and Masonic lodge. Even so, I have made some progress.
After the edits came back from Pinnacle, we decided that the original Plot Point 6 was too weak to try to save. Instead we’re promoting one of Ed’s “Midnight Tales” to Plot Point status. Although Ed’s basic premise remains the same, I’m having to make adjustments so that the adventure serves a purpose in the overall plot point campaign.
Also, when this adventure was a Midnight Tale, Ed gave the GM a lot of freedom to create encounters leading up to the dramatic conclusion. As a Plot Point though, my next step will be to flesh out earlier encounters (“Act 1″ and “Act 2″, so to speak) so the GM can take the plot point and run it with minimal preparation.
One of the things fans really dig about Savage Worlds is the ease of playability and the low prep for GMs. For writers though, Plot Points and Savage Tales are a constant balancing act. On one side we want to give GMs enough information to run a gaming session with only 15 minutes of prep, but on the other side the intent isn’t to write scripted adventures. (Even though that’s what 12 to Midnight is known for.) How much is enough? How much is too much? Different GMs have different ideas (and needs), but we’re doing our best to strike a sensible balance.
Anyhow, I don’t regret all the little bits of life that kept me from finishing plot point 6 this past week. It’s what being a husband and a father is all about. However, I am going to make a stronger effort to use my down-time wisely and get this sucker finished.
Check back next week for an update on plot point six AND Class Notes on ETU’s basketball arena, the Roost. Due to space constraints we cut a lot of good “flavor text” about the Roost from the book, so I’m looking forward to sharing it with you here!Tags: Degrees of Horror, ETU, plot points, writing
-April 25th, 2012
If you visited the site last week you might have found something alarming. At least, it was pretty alarming to us. 12tomidnight.com was hacked and the website disabled. Actually, it could have been significantly worse than it was. The hacker wiped the logs (presumably to cover his tracks), deleted all the e-mail accounts, and deleted a key folder that kept the site running. However, we haven’t found any evidence that he planted malware the website (and if he had then his disabling the website would have been counterproductive), nor did he mess with the databases that drive our website and forums. Obviously we were able to restore the deleted folder from a recent backup, which means no data was lost.
If you visited the site last week and got a “site not found” message, have no fear. 12 to Midnight is not dead, and I fully plan on continuing my weekly Class Notes on Degrees of Horror.Tags: hackers, News
-March 28th, 2012
Another week, another update. First, let’s look at the numbers.
Plot Points Completed: 4 of 12
Pages: 22 of 371
This time last week I was really concerned that I wouldn’t have much to report today. In fact, I made almost no progress up through the weekend. However, on Monday I ended up staying home with a sick kid and was able to get in several hours of writing between trips to the doctor and pharmacy. So this week you have my sick son to thank for my finishing the next plot point.
I’m very pleased with this new adventure and have to admit that it blows the doors off the old one. I’d love to gush about it in length, but I refuse to spoil the surprise. I’ll just say that it evokes the setting perfectly. It’s a “12 to Midnight” adventure through and through. It clocks in at 1,300 words minus the antagonist’s stats2. I’m guessing that will put it around 1,500 words, which was the length of the last one.
Plot point length is a tricky thing. I told you earlier that we’re having to reconsider the “everything but the kitchen sink” approach and really trim things back to a reasonably sized book. If you look at plot points across various Pinnacle setting books, you see some barely longer than a single column and others that run three pages. Once I’m done with the chapter I’ll probably make another pass to look for fat to cut, but hopefully I’m not too far out of the norm.
GlenMac and Jackson
Last week Jeremy suggested that I talk about some of the people and places that make up Degrees of Horror. This week I’ll talk about a pair of iconic 12 to Midnight characters – Professor Glen Maclanahan (aka “GlenMac”) and Jackson Green. These two characters originated as the alter egos of two 12 to Midnight founders. If you’ve ever GM’d a Pinebox adventure, you’ve seen sidebars in the voices of these popular characters.
In Pinebox canon, Maclanahan is a professor of folklore at ETU and Jackson is his graduate student assistant. Both characters are fascinated by the paranormal and fortunately Pinebox offers no shortage of opportunities for investigation. GlenMac keeps an office full of ghost hunting equipment, which he and Jackson use to try to document the supernatural. The professor has even been known to lend his equipment to other trustworthy students as long as they promise to share their findings with him. While GlenMac sometimes comes across as a bit absent-minded, his encyclopedic knowledge of the supernatural has gotten he and his protege out of more than one tight spot.
Some people look no further than Jackson’s trademark cowboy hat and pickup truck, underestimating the grad student’s keen wit. The outgoing young man can often be found at his favorite hangout, the Pizza Barn, where he enjoys chatting up the young co-eds. However, under the easygoing exterior is a young man who has also been shaped by several deadly encounters with the paranormal. Under certain circumstances, Jackson loses his easy smile and gains an intensity that borders on paranoia–although all too frequently justified in the end.
Both characters make appearances in the plot points but they also make excellent NPCs for game masters who want to run their own campaign. Either character could just as easily serve as mentors or jealous rivals. Here are a few off the cuff adventure ideas using these characters.
- The heroes bump into GlenMac and Jackson while investigating the same haunted dorm.
- GlenMac gives a lecture on the rare mummy being exhibited at the campus museum. A few nights later, a break-in results in the theft of the sarcophagus while the mummy is left behind.
- Jackson and a hero vie for the attention of the same co-ed.
- GlenMac goes missing while checking reports of Sasquatch sightings in the Big Thicket.
- Jackson offers to tutor one or more of the students in exchange for help carrying around all his ghost hunting equipment one night.
That’s it for this week. I’ll be back next Wednesday with a new update and a new look at life on the campus of ETU.
-March 14th, 2012
Last week I foolishly said I’d come back here and tell you about editing the plot points, so now I have to live up to that promise. See? The accountability is working already!
In the original draft, I tried to weave 3 separate threads throughout the 12 plot points. The idea was that each plot point would have at least 2 of the 3 elements in them and everything would come together in the end. To an extent, that’s how it worked. However, the end result was a very densely packed plot that relied heavily on the GM to interpret back story and character backgrounds to fill in the gaps during the sessions between plot points. In retrospect, I might have pulled off my ideas with a scripted campaign, but it was too ambitious and required too much backstory to work as a plot point campaign.
Part of the problem I had arose as a side effect of structure I’d adopted for the campaign. Unlike just about any other setting, in Degrees of Horror character ranks correspond 1-1 with the campaign itself. What I mean by this is that Novice characters are Freshmen, and Freshmen generally achieve the next rank after one year of classes. With rank being so integral to the setting, it made more sense to me to evenly distribute plot points across each “year” of college. The more traditional and open way of plot point campaigns is to have one plot point that launches the campaign, followed by a series of others that are introduced at GM convenience (and sometimes non-linear), and ending with a suitably dramatic endcap plot point.
By contrast, the plot points in Degrees of Horror work like seasons in a television show. Within each rank are an equal number of plot points which inform the tone for the “season”. As part of the over-arching theme of maturing into the role of hero, the first plot points in the first season de-emphasizes physical danger over investigation, with each subsequent rank raising the stakes.
On one hand it’s a fitting structure for this campaign. It really reinforces the player ranks and the sense of steady progression through college. On the other, it tied my hands in how I told stories. Being a verbose guy with ambitious plans for a grand plot, I had a really hard time working within the limited number of plot points at my disposal. For instance, in the first draft I had a big event planned that would shape the entire Fall semester of the Senior year. Yet the structure dictated that I only had 3 plot points for the entire Senior year and the last one had to wrap up the entire campaign. At best that gave me one to launch the event and another to give closure, leaving nothing in between. One of these days I’ll tell you about it, but for now I’m keeping it in my back pocket. There’s always grad school.
Anyway, I started the revision process by looking at the entire outline and–like the rest of the book–distilling it down to its essence. This was the process I worked on last Fall; sweating over an outline of the entire campaign. In some cases it meant deleting large chunks of plot. (As a matter of fact, in the plot point I’m working on right now I deleted the entire first page. It now begins with nearly last section–a secondary plot in the original–followed by new material.) In other cases it meant condensing the timeline and simplifying the back-story. Not a single plot point is going to remain untouched, and some are getting completely jettisoned in favor of new ones.
Now comes the part where I really come clean. What follows is an actual, concrete progress report, and it will become a regular staple in future posts. Thus far I’ve completed editing the back story leading up to the Plot Points, plus the following stats:
Plot Points completed: 2 of 12
Pages: 19 of 381
So… now what? I’ve given you an idea of where things stand with Degrees of Horror, and I’ve given you a peek (albeit a vague one) into editing the plot point campaign. What do you want to hear about now? E-mail me or post something in the comments. I won’t talk about specific plots or the inner workings of Pinnacle, but just about everything else is fair game. One way or another, I’ll be back next week to talk about something– even if it’s just a quick note to give you a progress report.
- The page count will probably rise and fall over time as I add and delete. In the original draft all character and creature stats had been referenced by page number in another chapter. Our editor wants to see at least some of them inline, so that may actually increase the appearance of the page count. ↩
-March 9th, 2012
Part of me can’t believe it’s been over year since the last post on this website, but another part of me believes it just fine. I hope to resume an occasional game design journal here, if for no other reason than so that you can keep me accountable. However, I can’t really resume posting without addressing the elephant (or chupacabra) in the room. What happened to ETU?
Loyal 12 to Midnight fans will remember that we were working on a giant campaign book for the Savage Worlds system, based on Pinebox’s very own East Texas University (ETU). The actual name of the book is Degrees of Horror. In it, wet-behind-the-ears freshman are introduced to a world where ghosts and monsters prey upon the ignorant, but even heroes have to take final exams.
So what happened? My writing partner Ed and I worked on the book literally for years. Over time, it became apparent that the company 12 to Midnight was losing steam and that Degrees of Horror might be our very last book. Consequently, we wanted it to be our very best. We held (almost) nothing back. We poured nearly every cool idea we’d had for Pinebox into DoH. By the time we handed it in to Pinnacle in the spring of 2010, Degrees of Horror had become the “everything but the kitchen sink” of campaign books.
The effort to pull the book over the finish line took a lot out of both Ed and I. In a lot of ways, we felt like we’d just finished a marathon. Both of us are married with children and, unlike many of your other favorite game publishers, we both have full time jobs as well. The writing on 12 to Midnight books always came AFTER a full day (or week) of work. After nine years in business, we were all exhausted. Turning in Degrees of Horror felt like an enormous weight had been lifted.
Roughly six months later, the edits started coming back to us from Pinnacle. Our editor had a huge task. We’d given them “everything but the kitchen sink” when all they needed was a game about college students learning how to grow from victims to heroes. The majority of the edits come down to helping us distill the book back to its essence.
So here we are. It has been more than a year since the edits started rolling in. We started off strong (frankly just wanting to put the book behind us) then slowed down again. Without going into all the details, let’s just say life has a habit of getting in the way. Also, it’s a lot easier to pull those late nights in your early 30s than in your 40s. In 2011 weeks went by without either of us opening the files.
I think the turning point came over the Christmas holidays. We started picking up momentum again and I’ve been working on the book fairly regularly. We’re up to chapters 10 and 11 respectively, so we ARE making progress. My new routine is to get up at about 5:15 am and work for an hour before the kids get up. It seems to be working.
So that’s pretty much where things are with Degrees of Horror (aka, “ETU”). We’ve put too much of our lives into this book to not finish it, so it’s not a question of if but when. I feel good about the progress we’re making, and I know the book is going to be much, much better for the effort.
Next week, I’ll talk about my experience editing the plot points–without actually giving away the plot.Tags: Class Notes, Degrees of Horror, ETU, writing