-January 16th, 2013
Having recently celebrated my birthday, I’ve had cause to muse over the peculiar benefits of growing older. I was reminded of one such benefit a couple days ago while flipping through some game books that I’d nearly forgotten buying. Tucked within the pages were some some post-its with hand-written notes for Degrees of Horror.
Like the thrill of finding money in the pocket of a jacket you hadn’t worn since last year, writers get to enjoy the “found money” of old stories and notes from years gone by. Sometimes we say “I wrote that?!” and other times “I wrote THAT?” Either way, it’s usually entertaining. The notes I found this week were a mixture of plot point notes and ideas for Savage Tales. I wrote a LOT of notes about the plot points, mainly because that’s what demanded 80% of my creative energy. Those notes ended up on all sorts of paper scraps over the years. One day it might be fun to scan them in for “director’s commentary” but in the meantime those notes are seeeeeekrit.
I can, however, share the Savage Tale ideas I’d jotted down then lost between the pages of that book. I suspect these particular ideas were ones that Ed and I came up with together because some of the elements seem like the kind of twists he would introduce.
Cram: A student is selling a drug he claims help memory retention. Unfortunately, it makes people either violent, psychic, or dead. It also works.
Cry Baby: During a party on the Red Bridge, an NPC is found floating in the river. Clutched in her hand is a child’s toy.
“Have you seen my mommy?”
Twins – good/bad
- Break into time capsule
Practical Joke: Time capsule being opened tomorrow and a new time capsule buried. A group of frat guys/dorm guys decide to see what’s there first. It’s a chain letter. They find someone else on site trying to get there first– the son of someone who hid evidence to a murder in the original capsule.
I like these ideas, but obviously the notes just caught the essence of the idea so that I could go back later and flesh them out. Here’s how I’d treat them today:
Cram: The gang is pulled into a mystery when a dorm-mate goes on a violent, destructive spree through the dorm– ending at the heroes. Once subdued, the character begins reciting his physics textbook in an uncontrollable flood of words. If the gang asks around, the NPC’s friends note an abrupt academic improvement, bouncing from being on academic probation to breezing through his classes. Near the time of the change he also took a job and perpetually claimed to be broke. A search of his dorm room turns up a handful of pills on the floor, apparently spilled from their hiding place in a candy wrapper. As the heroes search the room, the NPC’s dealer arrives to clean up any evidence, leading to a confrontation. Will they take his offer to buy “Cram” themselves, or turn him in?
Cry Baby: During a rave on a remote, dilapidated bridge in the Big Thicket, the heroes discover an unconscious NPC floating in the stream below. She clutches a child’s toy in her hand, and upon being awakened asks “Where is my mommy?.” The NPC has been possessed by the ghost a child who was murdered 17 years ago. She and her mother were killed by her stepfather and their bodies dumped in the stream. They came to rest against the bridge’s pilings and their bones are scattered beneath the silt. The spirits are restless and took the opportunity to briefly possess a passed out party-goer to spread clues about their murder.
Practical Joke: The demolition of an old building on campus revealed a hidden time capsule, leaving many on campus excited to learn its contents. From the photo in the campus newspaper, the gang recognize a symbol etched into the lock-box as a occult rune of demon-binding. With the box’s public grand opening scheduled for the next day, the gang’s only shot at stopping a disaster is to get their hands on it tonight. Unfortunately, a group of practical jokers have the same idea, only they plan on replacing the box’s contents with a live frog. It’s a race to a potentially deadly prize!
From these brief ideas you can see that Degrees of Horror offers plenty of opportunity for adventure outside the classroom and even off campus. It also offers adventures involving the occult, demonic foes, and restless spirits, and even intoxicated practical jokers. What more could you want in a game?Tags: Class Notes, Degrees of Horror, writing
-January 9th, 2013
Over the last month or so, I’ve had a couple of people ask on forums “What is Pinebox? Is there a gazetteer somewhere?” I realized that a lot of fans have come to Savage Worlds since we went silent, so maybe this is a good time to bring everyone up to speed.
12 to Midnight became the first Savage Worlds licensee back in 2003 when we released Last Rites of the Black Guard. This haunted house adventure set the stage for the type of adventures we would become known for — modern day adventures in which the heroes are ordinary people thrown into supernatural mysteries.
The setting for Last Rites and subsequent adventures is the town of Pinebox, Texas– a rural town in the heart of East Texas with more than its share of weirdness. We’ve given away the setting basics here on our website. Just look to the right and you’ll see a link for Pinebox Campaign Setting. In fact, you can learn about Pinebox in two different ways. We started out with the gazetteer/almanac style common in our hobby, which is great if you want to hit the highlights in a hurry. I didn’t feel that it really gave the setting justice though, so several years ago I wrote the Jennifer Ridge transcripts– a series of travel reporter interviews with Pinebox locals. You’ll find the entire series on that Pinebox Campaign Setting link and I highly encourage you to give the whole thing a read. It’s so effective at conveying the setting’s essence that it also appeared at the beginning of our fiction anthology Buried Tales of Pinebox, Texas. If you like what you read in the Jennifer Ridge transcripts, Buried Tales is a great way to dig even deeper into the setting.
In addition to the free setting information here on our website, Pinebox has been expanded through our published adventures: Last Rites of the Black Guard, Bloodlines, Skinwalker, Brainwashed, The Beast Within, and our wildly popular convention game Chickens in the Mist (yes, for real). We also collected some “loose” Pinebox adventures and released them as Ed’s Midnight Tales and Jerry’s Midnight Tales.
Our latest project was by far our largest. Degrees of Horror is a complete Pinebox campaign set on the campus of East Texas University. Between the time that we started the book and when we finished it, we had switched from being a licensee to becoming a studio directly under Pinnacle. All of the 12 to Midnight partners have full time careers (aside from RPGs) and family obligations, and revisions to our first full campaign book took a serious delay due to health problems and “life”. Now though, the book has been returned to Pinnacle for review and a place in the production queue. As I mentioned last week, we also have ideas for supplementary support material for the campaign and we have another haunted house adventure ready, so Pinebox’s future is bright. Or should I say dark and twisted? [Mwuhahahahah!]
If you’re new to Pinebox, I really hope you’ll give the Jennifer Ridge transcripts a read. They’re free, so that’s hard to beat. If you have any questions or comments, the best place to post is on the Pinnacle forums.
Special thanks to Kristian on the Savage Worlds Fan G+ community for the idea for this blog post.Tags: Class Notes, Pinebox
-January 3rd, 2013
It’s traditional at the death of the old year to reflect on the past. For 12 to Midnight, 2012 can be summed up as the year we finished the revisions for Degrees of Horror AND the world didn’t end. I’d call that a pretty good year.
Now let’s look ahead.
I know y’all want to know when to expect Degrees of Horror. Before writing this I consulted my Magic 8-Ball and it said “Uncertain”. Publishing is a tricky business with a lot of moving parts, even more-so for RPGs which tend to be art-heavy. Publishers have to line up their books well in advance, creating an ever-shifting queue of projects that need editing, art, layout, marketing, and so on. Pinnacle undoubtedly has other games in the works ahead of ours, and they don’t pump books out a revolving door just to meet arbitrary sales quotas. It’s their dedication to quality that makes us so relaxed about having the book in their hands. So yes, the release date is “when it’s ready” and that’s totally cool.
Now that we have that out of the way, what ELSE should you expect from 12 to Midnight? Ed and I have brainstormed many ideas for Degrees of Horror extras- from EVPs to an ETU website. Once the game is released, we’ll see how much interest you have in those game-enhancing goodies. I know many, many people enjoyed the EVPs for Last Rites.
Those are just ideas though. What’s actually on paper is another Pinebox adventure called House on Dale Island. Ed calls it the his “Mt. Everest of haunted house adventures”. That game is completely written and I would expect it to be released a reasonable amount of time after Degrees of Horror.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, Ed and I are also in the early stages of writing more Pinebox fiction. We’ve both been making notes and barring any unforeseen complications I’ll probably start my first new short story within the next week.
Beyond that we’ll write the things that you, our fans, want us to write. Please shout out and let us know what you want to see from Pinebox.Tags: Degrees of Horror, News
-December 19th, 2012
Just a quick note to let you know that I’m taking a break from the weekly posts through the remainder of the month. It’s a busy time of year, compounded by what seems to be an oncoming cold. I hope everyone has a wonderful Christmas filled with fun, laughter, and plenty of games! See you in January.No tag for this post.
-December 12th, 2012
As I mentioned a week or two ago, Ed and I have been batting around the idea of writing new Pinebox short stories to be collected into a shared world anthology. The general idea is to create a “Scooby gang” of characters who would appear in a variety of adventures set on and around the ETU campus.
Since I don’t have anything new to report with regard to Degrees of Horror, I thought it might be fun to do a little character creation exercise. Maybe the character will get used in the anthology (IF said book ever gets off the ground) or maybe not, but either way I hope it’ll be a fun experiment.
For this character I’m using my new, favorite idea generator called Story Forge. It’s a tarot-style card deck marked with broad story-telling themes. I absolutely love it. I won’t go into great detail about how it works– just follow the link and watch a couple of the demonstration videos.
To get things started, let’s say our incoming ETU Freshman’s name is Johnny Doe. I have a vague idea for a character who epitomizes “nice guys finish last”, but we’ll see what kind of writing prompts the cards give us.
Card 1: Character’s mother- Imbalance
This could be interpreted many different ways, but I’m going to go with a mental disorder such as manic-depressive.
Card 2: Character’s Father- The Doctor
I wavered between small town MD or dentist, but let’s go with MD.
Card 3: The strength of their relationship- Weakness
Wow! That’s an interesting dynamic. Story Forge advises to re-draw any cards that don’t make sense, but I like making difficult connections. I’d say the strength of their relationship is their co-dependence. Mom needs the doctor to help her manage her condition and he needs to feel needed.
Card 4: The problems between them- Industry
The doctor’s responsibilities keep him busy, leaving him less time for his wife’s needs. This resulted in lots of conflict at home, maybe driving his mom to “self medicate” through alcohol.
Card 5: Circumstances of the character’s birth- Desire
It’s nice to know that the flame still burns, huh?
Card 6: Complications, if any- Epiphany
The card’s description says “In an overwhelming instant, the true nature of the universe and one’s place in it are revealed”. Probably not terribly relevant, but if we want to weave it back into the narrative we could say that dad was forced to choose between being present at his son’s birth or saving the life of a patient elsewhere in the hospital. His acceptance of his responsibility as a healer that night led him to become a workaholic (Industry in card 4), at the expense of his family life.
Card 7: The universe’s influence on the character’s nature- The Relative
Now we get an interesting twist. Mom was sometimes difficult to be around and dad was always gone, so Grandpa became a major influence in Johnny’s life growing up.
Card 8: Early Strengths- The Criminal
Um… did I say I liked making difficult connections? This is hard to weave into the narrative we’ve started building, but let’s give it a shot. My guess is that he went through a shoplifting phase as a young teen–maybe even inspired by Grandpa’s stories of his wild youth. In this case it’s a strength because a) it became a coping mechanism for his strained home life, and b) ironically, his dreams of becoming a master criminal taught him self-discipline, obsessive planning, and careful observation.
Card 9: Early weakness- The jilted
Whereas card 8 was a total departure from how I imagined this character, card 9 is exactly what I’d envisioned. Many of us have experienced love gone awry as a teenager, but for him it became a repeating theme.
Card 10: Education- Poverty
This card doesn’t make a lot of sense at first, but if you consider that he grew up in a small, rural town with a poor public school then his formal education opportunities were probably limited.
Card 11: Belief foundation- Wrath
I’d say Johnny hasn’t benefited from a structured home environment and his experiences with teenage love have left him heartbroken and bitter. He carries anger inside and believes “an eye for an eye” is the best policy.
Card 12: Life experience- Infidelity
Ouch. Bending this back around to “the jilted” makes perfect sense. As a teen in high school, both girls he dated ended up seeing other guys behind his back until the gossip caught up. These experiences are shaping him into a distrustful “lone wolf”.
Card 13: A shaping experience in recent times- The monster
I’m sure a lot of times this card is interpreted figuratively, but in our case we’re going literal. Let’s bring this back around to Wrath. During his senior year, Johnny found out that his girlfriend was cheating on him. He wanted revenge but his personal motto –Never get caught– gave him pause. While trying to use a “curse” he found on the internet, he instead accidentally summoned a wraith. Through sheer luck, he disrupted the summoning before it could kill him.
Card 14: An experience that left scars- Chastity
Let’s just weave this in with Jilted and Infidelity. His relationship with his teen love was chaste, whereas her infidelity wasn’t.
Card 15: The state of the character at the beginning of the story- Gnosis
Described as “A firm understanding of the difference between good and evil allows one to choose with certainty, but one must still make that choice.” I’m going to tie this in to his encounter with the monster. He realizes now that true evil exists, which makes the heartache of his love life a minor quibble by comparison. Johnny can continue a path of hard-hearted Wrath, or he can try to find a new way.
I’d say we have a pretty good handle on this character, wouldn’t you? It would certainly be enough to start role-playing, even if some of the backstory about his parents never comes to light. We could probably summarize Johnny like so:
Johnny Doe grew up as a troubled teen in an upper-middle class home with self-absorbed parents. For a time, he applied himself to theft the way other boys studied rocketry or video games, but a couple of close brushes with the law convinced him to “retire” and find other pursuits. Although not friendless, a chain of teenage heartbreaks turned him bitter and angry toward romance. However, a life-changing encounter with the supernatural caused him to re-evaluate the course of his life and he is looking for a new beginning at ETU.
If I were statting out Johnny for Degrees of Horror, I’d give him Lockpicking, Fighting, Guts, Healing, Investigation, Notice, and Stealth. I’m adding Fighting although his history doesn’t directly call it out because Wild Cards in a Horror setting need it, if only for the Parry. If I had to justify it in his back story, I’d say that after giving up theft he turned to martial arts for excitement. For hindrances, I’d give him Loyal (Minor) and Vengeful (Minor) but there’s a lot of wiggle room in there, as is the case with Edges.
To be honest, Johnny didn’t exactly turn out to be the “nice guys finish last” character I’d been considering. However, he’s certainly interesting! His breaking and entering skills might just come in handy and his bad luck with love would be fertile ground for great secondary plots. What do you think?Tags: character creation, writing