ETU Horror for the Holidays cover

With semester exams looming, what will your ETU students do over the holiday break? We have the answer, with a brand new ETU adventure. Horror for the Holidays is inspired by the true story of the last man to be lynched in Texas, a bank robber who disguised himself as Santa Claus during the robbery. This adventure by Owen Lean is ideally suited for Freshman or Sophomore ranks but the action can be easily ramped up for higher levels. They’d better watch out and better not cry, or your students will be wishing for a bit less of this Christmas spirit.

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ETU Kickstarter Final Tally


We at 12 to Midnight can’t thank you enough. You’re going to love East Texas University…to death!

ETU: The Final Countdown

-June 11th, 2014

We are down to less than 24 hours on the Kickstarter campaign for East Texas University. Your faith and generosity has been inspirational, to say the least. At the time of this post we have more than 715 backers. Thank you.

In addition to the East Texas University game and the Degrees of Horror Plot Point Campaign, let’s just recap what you’ve unlocked so far.

  • The ETU original soundtrack, “Trouble in Texas.”
  • Ten full-color, full-page, ready-to-play archetypes, with Figure Flats.
  • Creature Feature — La Bruja : Art, background, statistics, Figure Flats, and several adventure seeds featuring the terrifying Mexican witches!
  • Figure Flats I – Heroes of ETU: Two full pages of “printable miniatures” including students, faculty, and civilians.
  • A Body Was Found…: A 12-page ETU storytelling adventure using the Protocol
  • Last Rites of the Black Guard
  • Electronic templates to print your own customized handouts including a welcome letter, Dean’s List, academic probation, ETU diploma, and blank ETU letterhead.

The next stretch goals are

  • Figure Flats II – Horrors of East Texas (800 Backers): All the critters from the book, including chupacabras, ghosts, an assortment of wicked demons, and more.
  • Return of the Chickens in the Mist—Murder Most Fowl! (900 Backers): Follow-up to the original hit adventure, Chickens in the Mist.

I know some people avoided the Kickstarter because they were turned off by basing stretch goals on the number of backers rather than dollar amount, but I hope those who are on the fence recognize that backers for this game are set to earn excellent rewards. Even if we don’t get another single backer I’ll consider this a successful campaign. That being said, I hope you’ll share the news with your friends and fellow gamers to give them a chance to get in on the free loot. We would love to “have” to give away the new figure flats and the Chickens in the Mist sequel.

Again, thank you for your support and encouragement over the years. We know you’re going to love the game and can’t wait to hear your frightful stories.

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I’ll be honest. I kinda assumed I was whistling in the dark with these updates. After all, we hadn’t posted anything new in over a year. Other than those who hadn’t dropped it from their RSS feed, who would bother to keep coming back? Apparently Jeremy does, and I wanted to give him a shout-out for sending us a word of encouragement. It really means a lot, Jeremy.

Today I’m going to talk about how so many people seem ignorant of the supernatural activity in and around Pinebox. Before I do that though, let’s dispense with the weekly status report.

Plot Points Completed: 3 of 12
Pages: 20 of 38

You’ll notice I finished the new draft of plot point 3, although actually that was no great feat since I was much of the way through it last week. The next one will be a total rewrite. The original had the potential to be a fun adventure, but as I was revising the outline I realized that it was weak in delivering supernatural action. The new plot point is going to be a lot more fun for players while driving the plot arc forward, but since it’s a brand new adventure I’m not sure how long it’ll take me to knock out. I have a basic outline, but the devil’s in the details.

But enough excuses. Let’s talk about Pinebox and ETU. Since the setting is supposed to reflect the real world, how is it that characters (both PCs and NPCs) seem to encounter ghosts and monsters on a regular basis without the greater world seeming to take notice? In the age of cell phone cameras, how can anyone deny the evidence? Different modern horror settings have different ways of explaining it away, including magical veils, mass amnesia, and so on. Here’s how it works in Pinebox.

Look Away, Baby

One of the big reasons the citizens of Pinebox don’t seem to recognize the danger around them boils down to willful ignorance. But don’t judge them too harshly. There’s a measure of safety in choosing not to notice the supernatural. Often, when you take note of the spirits and creatures just beyond our periphery, they take notice of you in return. Consequently, deflecting evidence of the supernatural becomes a self defense mechanism, and it is one that generations of locals have honed to perfection. Those who refuse to look away either rise to become unacknowledged guardians of their friends and family or they become an object lesson in the wisdom of  just fitting in.

It has been said that we use our logic to justify what our emotions have already decided.  Guided by an undercurrent of fear at being “noticed”, witnesses in Pinebox commonly convince themselves of more “logical” explanations such as an elaborate hoax, visions brought on by carbon monoxide poisoning, poor lighting, alcohol, or any number of other excuses.


You’d think that a single picture would blow the lid right off Pinebox’s many dirty little secrets. Yet, a side effect of the Internet has been to sharpen our skepticism to a fine point– as well it should. All too frequently the quality of photo manipulation leaves only our common sense with “proof” that an image is faked.

In Pinebox, those who face the darkness stand alone. When presented with a photo of a ghost, bigfoot, or chupacabra, isn’t your very first instinct to think “hoax”? The Internet and Photoshop has ensured that no photo or video, no matter how realistic, will convince a normal, rational person of the supernatural. The heroes might even keep a blog documenting–with photo and video–all the weird happenings in Pinebox, but at best such a site would receive notoriety mainly among paranoid conspiracy theorists and hipsters playing along for irony.


When all else fails, in swoop the Men in Black. If you’ve played Pinebox adventures such as [redacted to prevent spoilers] then you might have encountered these individuals. While they don’t follow the traditional physical descriptions of the MIBs, these teams have been known to swoop in and erase evidence of a paranormal event. We’ve never spelled out who they are, who they work for, or their ultimate motives. This was intentional on our part because we wanted to keep things as open and flexible for the GM. Once you start defining something then you limit it.

That being said, in Degrees of Horror book we do crack open the door a bit wider and give you a look at certain human agencies that seek to influence paranormal events. Some operate for their own gain while others are more benevolent. Many operate at an entirely different level than the everyman-turned-heroes who make up the PCs in a typical Pinebox campaign. As such, what sometimes appears as an inscrutable monolithic organization to the players are actually multiple groups with shifting allegiances and conflicting goals each jockeying for the upper hand.

In fact, just about the only thing these groups each have in common is a deep, abiding desire for secrecy. Secrecy allows them to continue pursuing their goals, so the less the public (and their rivals) know, the better. Most groups actively cover up evidence of the paranormal, although their methods vary as widely as their motives.

So there you have it. Even in the modern world, it’s nice to know there’s still room for the unexplained. Though, you’d better consider the ramifications the next time you try to get someone to believe you about your run-in with a ghost in Mom’s Diner.

What Ever Happened to ETU?

-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.