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.

The ENnie-nominated Buried Tales of Pinebox, TexasIf you follow 12 to Midnight on Facebook (and you should!), then you heard last week that Buried Tales of Pinebox, Texas has been nominated for an ENnie award. We are pleased and amazed and thankful and humbled that our project was selected as one of the top five products in the Regalia category. Our book is in the company of some truly top notch products and publishers, and we think that speaks a lot to the quality of the fiction in Buried Tales. We owe endless thanks to editor Matt McElroy and all the contributors- Jason L. Blair, Preston P. DuBose, Trey Gorden, Derek Gunn, Jess Hartley, Shane Lacey Hensley, Charles Rice, Monica Valentinelli, David Wellington, Ed Wetterman, J.D. Wiker, and Filamena Young. We also owe thanks to YOU, our fans and readers, for supporting 12 to Midnight and Buried Tales in particular.

Now comes the part where we ask you to support us just a little bit more. Voting is open, so when you head that way to cast your ballets, please think of Buried Tales when you get to lucky number 13! We realize that chances are small for a little indie publisher like 12 to Midnight to win against the heavy-hitters in our category, but if you genuinely like Buried Tales we hope you’ll take a moment to cast your vote. A vote for Buried Tales is a vote for ind(i)ependence!

While we’re at it, let us recommend a few other products for your consideration. The Hellfrost Beastiary by our friends at Triple Ace Games has been nominated in the Best Monster/Adversary category (#8). Mysteries of the Hollow Earth by Exile Games was masterfully edited by Jodi Black and is nominated for Best Supplement (#10). Finally, our friends and new “parent” licensor Pinnacle Entertainment Group has been nominated for the Fan Award for Best Publisher (#21). No one could be more deserving.

Edit: We neglected to mention the talented Jess Hartley (who also just happens to be a Buried Tales contributor) has a nomination in the category of Best Blog (#18) for her One Geek to Another.

Fire Sale

-April 30th, 2010

We haven’t done a very good job of promoting this, but today is the last day of the big 12 to Midnight fire sale. Due to Pinebox’s adoption by Pinnacle, we are discontinuing our d20 System line of Pinebox and fantasy titles. We’re also discontinuing our Savage Worlds line of military horror titles. All those titles are 50% off through today. Grab them before they’re gone!

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Cover for ETU: Degrees of Horror.Believe it or not, we began working on ETU: Degrees of Horror back in 2007. There were times when we were prolific, and times when we set it aside for several months. Now that the first draft is done and we’re working on revisions and refinement, we wanted to reward our loyal fans for their patience while we worked on this book. This sneak peek covers all of chapter one, much of the character creation chapter, character sheets, a new mechanic for creating inventions, and a pair of adventures you can play. The layout is something special for the teaser, and shouldn’t be taken as representative of the final book. We’re calling this a “beta” because we’re seeking your input on the rules, but be assured this 32 page PDF is just the tip of the iceberg!

ETU: Degrees of Horror sneak peek