-August 14th, 2013
In August 2003, a publisher no one had ever heard of released a RPG adventure in a format most people still hated in a genre most gamers didn’t play. This month we celebrate the ten year anniversary of Last Rites of the Black Guard, the game that started it all.
It’s pretty easy for me to remember the date. It’s only a month after the birth of my first child, and I was the one laying out the book in the sleep-deprived weeks that followed. I’d only started with 12 to Midnight a few months earlier. It was before Last Rites’ release but after it had been written and the cover art ordered. It was an exciting time. We had little clue what we were doing or what sort of sales we could expect from a PDF-only product. I was invited to join based on my enthusiasm, my having already written Bloodlines, and most importantly my layout expertise. In those early days the 12 to Midnight motto was “Why pay a freelancer when you can make them a partner?!” (I guess it worked because ten years later here I am.) Anyhow, the only catch was that I was (and still am) a gaming hermit. Even in my 30s, I’d never run a game from a commercial adventure module nor did I have any idea what one was supposed to look like. I just made it look how I imagined a module ought to look.
Fortunately we had several things going for us. First was Ed’s kick-ass story. Ten years later it still holds up as a very spooky adventure that ignites your imagination. We also distinguished ourselves with downloadable freebies, most notably our audio files of EVPs (“electronic voice phenomenon”) which could be played by the GM during the game. These were universally loved and did a lot to help earn the game earn positive reviews. Finally, I think the game’s evocative cover made people stop and click to read more. At a time when many “indie press” publishers at RPGNow were still using clipart and stock photography for covers, we invested a few hundred dollars to commission what turned out to be an amazing canvas painting.
Unfortunately, that painting pretty much blew our entire art budget. For interior art Ed suggested that we use “photoshopped” photography. I distinctly remember taking photos of houses, friends, and even kitchen knives for use as interior art. I made them look like polaroids (despite polaroid cameras already being a couple decades out of fashion even in 2003) with little captions as if they had been taken by the heroes themselves. Adding “ectoplasm” or other supernatural effects was by far the hardest part. In the end it might have been a little cheesy, but somehow it still worked.
Having no previous experience, when we published it we really didn’t know how many copies we would sell. We hoped for hundreds of sales but we were prepared to be disappointed with only hundred or so for starters. Boy, were we in for a shock. As I mentioned in the introduction, back then most gamers wouldn’t touch PDF games with a 10-foot pole. Worse, the ones who bought PDFs were mostly fantasy gamers. The horror fan base back in 2003 was tiny compared to today. Call of Cthulhu hadn’t been updated since 5th edition in 1992 and the 6th edition wouldn’t come out until two years after Last Rites. Worse yet, we weren’t even releasing an entire game system but only a single adventure for d20 Modern (a product that itself hadn’t flown off the shelves). As we often lamented in August and September of 2003, “We’re a niche of a niche of a niche.”
But that’s not to say that good things didn’t come. We sold dozens of copies and the reviews were largely positive. Even better, Ed’s game caught the attention of other game designers who sent him private emails of encouragement. Without those messages of encouragement and praise, Last Rites probably would have been both our first and last product. It’s a powerful reminder of how even a small word of encouragement can make a huge difference in someone’s life.
For all the good that came from Last Rites (and there was a LOT), there was one not-so-great thing that we heard over and over again. “Why did you end it on a cliffhanger? When is the next part coming out?” This is where Last Rites’ popularity was its own worst enemy. Like any movie fan can tell you, the longer you have to wait for a sequel the higher your expectations. Even though Ed had some ideas about what would happen next, as the game earned more and more praise he felt corresponding pressure to make sure his ideas surpassed the first book. Before long he felt like anything he came up with couldn’t compete with what fans had built up in their minds.
Here we are ten years later, and people still want to know what happens next. That’s a testament to the power of Ed’s story of a suburban haunting. The good news is that your wait will be rewarded in our upcoming East Texas University campaign book. Inside, you’ll find Savage Tales that revisit the evil Nazi mummy and his Black Guard, finally delivering closure after a decade of uncertainty. Ten years is long enough.No tag for this post.
-July 10th, 2013
Earlier in our campus tour we stopped by the Danford Male Dormitory, so it’s only fair that today we take a look at the Halloway Suites female dorm. Standing here on the sidewalk, the differences couldn’t be more any more plain. While Danford is a modern, five story building, Halloway is more like a vintage Queen Anne-style, two-story bed and breakfast.
Halloway is the oldest standing building on campus, having been built in the 1890s to serve as the only dormitory in a time before the school accepted male students. Of course no matter how well built, few buildings of that age can claim to be completely untouched. Over the years remodeling included the addition of indoor plumbing, electricity, a new wing for a larger kitchen and dining area, air conditioning, and much more.
Sadly, by the mid 1990s Halloway was in terrible condition and universally scorned by female students. Although many people called for the building to be bulldozed and a female version of the Danford dorm built in its lot, history buffs rallied a few wealthy alumni to save the grand old home. With their sponsorship, campus officials hired an architectural preservationist to oversee a major renovation.
Over the next 24 months contractors tore out much of the shoddy or gaudy additions (including–I kid you not–moldy green shag carpet) and restored old Halloway to its original architectural glory. During this period, rumors surfaced that construction workers made more than a few unexpected discoveries such as a “weird design” under some wallpaper and an “unusual symbol” painted on the wooden floor hidden beneath some carpet. One construction worker even claims to have found human remains inside a wall, but campus officials insist that what he was were bones from a trapped an animal.
Regardless of any idiosyncrasies uncovered during renovation, the preservationists did a marvelous job of erasing all signs of Halloway’s bumpy past and restoring it to its former glory. When completed, the building featured beautifully restored wooden floors, comfortable private suites, modest but classical bathrooms, fire safety features, and a state-of-the-art security system. After its grand reopening Halloway skyrocketed from the butt of jokes to the most sought-after female dorm on campus. At only 24 rooms, it is the most exclusive and expensive dorm on campus.
Those ladies lucky enough to be residents of Halloway Suites tend to be an extremely tight-knit group. Sadly, that has lead to unkind things said out of jealousy. Depending on who you talk to, students have claimed that Halloway is haunted, that the residents are witches, or that an invitation to Halloway requires membership in an all-female secret society.
-June 26th, 2013
This 1950s building was constructed during the Dixiecrat movement and named after one of the area’s most well-known military figures, a Texas Ranger who fought in the Mexican and Civil Wars. Unlike other campus buildings that have seen departments come and go, the “Dale Building” was purpose-built for military sciences classes and the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program. It sports an indoor gun range, armory, classrooms, and a small gym with changing rooms and showers. The nearby drill field is the site of morning and afternoon physical training, and it offers bleacher seating for Drill Review. Further to the east is a challenging obstacle course known as the “meat grinder.” North of the building is the “War Zone,” a small outdoor paintball field.
One interesting feature of the Dale Building is that it does not have a single, distinctive entrance. Rather, the large, single-story building features many modest entrances and exits that all lead like spokes to an open, central hub. A bronze statue of Edmund Dale in uniform sternly stands watch at one end of the lobby, overlooking the benches and study tables that pepper the area. Legend says that Captain Dale will fight again should the need arise. A favorite ROTC anecdote is that in 1970 someone upset over the war in Viet Nam stormed into the Dale building and took aim at the first person in uniform. The shot missed, hit the Edmund Dale statue, and ricocheted back to the shooter, who was struck dead.
Of course urban legends thrive on campus, but like many buildings this one is purported to be haunted. Late at night, students leaving the building sometimes meet a sad-looking fellow student in out-of-date uniform approaching down the hall. The students call him the “sad soldier” and he usually only appears once every four or five years. Because he looks so real, most people usually describe their realization that something was amiss only when they noticed that he makes no sound. The ghost morosely traverses the hall and disappears when he enters the central lobby.
The other ghost is Sgt. Alvarez, the building’s first quartermaster. Sgt. Alvarez was a crusty WWII veteran who had lost his leg and was thus passed over for service in Korea. The Sergeant was well known both for his foul moods and foul mouth. He was especially notorious for foul browbeating he would give any students who failed to take care of the equipment he issued them. Sgt. Alvarez haunts the armory, where he sometimes curses at careless trainees.
-June 12th, 2013
Well the Spring semester came to a close and a few thousand relieved graduates crossed the stage at the end of the Roost stadium. Campus was quiet for a few weeks between sessions, but now the summer session is in swing and prospective freshmen are again wandering the campus in wide-eyed innocence. I reckon that means it’s time to resume our own Campus Tour highlighting interesting spots on campus.
Truth be told, most tours for prospective students start at the Edgar Garland Student Center. The student center was completed in 1969 and is a popular campus destination for killing time. From the outside it may look like just another plain, two-story, rectangular building. Inside, students can get their fast food fix in the food court, pick up necessities in the overpriced convenience store, buy and sell textbooks at the bookstore, and avoid studying at the small movie theater or game room. In fact, if you come to college without wheels you can find just about anything you need (or at least the essentials) without ever having to drive off campus.
In contrast to the hustle and bustle of the first floor, the quieter second floor hosts offices related to some student services and various sized meeting rooms used by clubs, study groups, and the occasional couple looking for privacy.
While all of those features are fine, most student agree that the best part about the student center has nothing to do with what’s indoors, but what isn’t. You see, deeper inside lies a huge, open courtyard with a fountain, modest shade trees, and patio furniture. Although the building walls block much hope of a breeze, the trickling fountain offers relief from oppressive Texas heat and lulls studying students into peaceful torpor. The same can’t be said, however, during football season when fans cram shoulder-to-shoulder for raucous pep rallies and ceremonially dunk the mascot in the fountain.
Although campus legend claims that the courtyard is haunted, level-headed naysayers claim the ghostly voices are only an acoustic trick. After all, to hear anything unusual the courtyard must be near-silent–which usually means at late night when the courtyard is empty–at which time one can sometimes detect phantom conversations presumably funneled from unseen corners of the building. The “courtyard ghost” is also a popular and sometimes elaborate prank, making it even harder to know if there’s a kernel of truth behind the stories. Maybe one day it’ll all be explained.
Regardless of spooky nighttime noises, the student center is a designated “safe zone” and is open 24 hours a day. Students who feel in danger after dark are encouraged to take shelter there and call campus security. In fact, a sign at the main entrance reminds students of the “triple s”: seek Shelter, stay in Sight, and call Security. As long as you stay alert and play your cards right, one day you’ll be one of those relieved seniors crossing the stage.
-May 22nd, 2013
That is, if your city is near Indianapolis (mine sure isn’t) and “soon” means August. Yours truly (Preston) will be making my first trip to GenCon this year. Needless to say I’m really excited and I’d love to meet as many 12 to Midnight fans as possible. I’m running three games (Brainwashed, Chickens in the Mist, and Sorority Secret) and to my surprise all three have filled. I’ve tried to leave enough time in my schedule to hang out, try some games myself, and maybe run a pickup game here or there if plied with sufficient incentive. If you’d like to meet up, have a beer, or just put a face to a name (you’re not missing much– just imagine Brad Pitt and we’ll both be happier) shoot me an email and we’ll work something out. In person I’m an introvert so unfortunately I can’t promise scintillating conversation, but I’ll do my best! Probably the best way to find me will be by stopping by the Studio 2 booth, where I’ll check in multiple times a day.No tag for this post.