Tuesday, December 27, 2016

This Just In: Rogue One Is AWESOME!

So, I'm sitting here basking in the afterglow of seeing Rogue One. My wife, who went with a friend to see it earlier in the week, had told me that there was a surprise at the end, but didn't tell me what it was (and no, I didn't ask, either). Prior to seeing this movie, I diligently avoided the clickbait spoiler rumors and all the other Gawker squawk. The only things I "spoiled" for myself were some minor easter eggs.

At any rate, here's what I have to say about it - no spoilers, no whining, no "critique" as a lot of my fellow fans have already done. Rogue One is awesome. It's different from the other Star Wars movies - not just including its more responsible use of CGI technology - and that's what makes it good. The ending was indeed a surprise - but then again, the entire story was a surprise to me in how it played out.

If you're a dedicated Star Wars fan who hasn't seen this movie yet, I ask that you keep an open mind as you watch it. Keep in mind that everything that happens in this movie is necessary for the story of the original trilogy (as well as the survival of the Rebellion).

To those who have "problems" with Rogue One, who continue to claim that George Lucas, and now Disney, is "raping" their childhood, all I have to say is this: Bite me. It was never your sandbox - or mine - to begin with.

In celebration of this movie, as well as Carrie Fisher's progress/, here's a Rogue One-inspired D6 Star Wars character template, the Guardian of the Whills and the blank character template as well. Enjoy!

These were designed with a number of motifs in mind - namely some of the decor of the d20 sheets as well as the nostalgia of the old Star Wars action figure cards. Yes, a form-fillable version will be forthcoming.

SAD UPDATE: This morning (12/27/16) I read with a heavy heart the news that Carrie Fisher passed away. My heart goes out to my fellow fans as well as the rest of the Star Wars cast for the loss of everybody's princess.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Project Jasper: Hope for Carrie Edition

So, today my wife went out with a friend to see Star Wars: Rogue One while I spent the day studying the backs of my eyelids (I work the overnight shift at an emergency shelter for troubled youth, for the record, so I had to take one for the team). While I was sleeping, 2016 decided it wanted to continue being a dick and I awoke to the troubling news about actress Carrie Fisher. Having already remarked on how nasty the year has been, I had thought about giving this post an especially nasty title. Fortunately, the more rational parts of my mind and heart teamed up and beat down my inner cynic.

As a continuation of my remembrance of Benoist Poire's canine friend Jasper, my latest entry combines my love for dogs and Star Wars with hope and prayers for Carrie Fisher's full recovery. Here I present Jhaspar Gnarr.

Jhaspar Gnarr, Jedi Padawan (22 BBY)
Artwork from The New Essential Guide To Alien Species; Del Rey; 2006
Male Shistavanen

Blaster 3D+1
Lightsaber 4D
Melee 4D
Melee Parry 4D

Survival 3D

Astrogation 2D+1
Starfighter Piloting 2D+1
Starship Gunnery 2D+1


Stamina 3D+2

Lightsaber Repair 3D

Move 10/13

Special Abilities
Night Vision:
Shistavanens have excellent night vision and can see in darkness with no penalty

Force Skills
       Control 2D
       Sense 1D

Powers: Remain Conscious (C), Lightsaber Combat (C/S)

Force Points: 2, Character Points: 5, Dark Side Points: 0

Equipment: Two lightsabers (5D dmg. ea.), Jedi battle armor, Jedi robes, commlink, blaster pistol (4D dmg)

A Quote: "Squad Aurek will move around the hills to the southwest. Squad Besh will flank from the east. Master Taresh and I will lead the charge down the center with squads Cresh and Dorn. Hopefully we can convince General Sanguinus of the error of her ways."

SAD UPDATE: This morning (12/27/16) I read with a heavy heart the news that Carrie Fisher passed away. My heart goes out to my fellow fans as well as the rest of the Star Wars cast for the loss of everybody's princess. This post is still a work-in-progress, and I will post a background and Rebellion Era stats for Jhaspar after an appropriate bit of time.


Sunday, December 11, 2016

Project Jasper: Ayla Buckburr and Jasper

Artwork ©2016 Kraken-Steelklaw
For my first entry in Project Jasper, I thought I'd go with one of my favorite fantasy games, Beyond the Wall. I present to you, Ayla Buckburr and Jasper!

For generations the Buckburr family was renowned for breeding dogs long sought by hunters across the kingdom. Like her father, her brothers, and all her cousins, Ayla, the sole daughter of her father's family, was a budding kennelmaster. Were it not for a chance meeting with Jasper during their shared youth, she most likely would never have seen the lands beyond her home village.

During her 20th summer, Ayla was wandering the woods when she came across a big-pawed, floppy-eared pup of a dog drinking from the stream. Mutually surprised, the two eyed each other suspiciously for a moment before Ayla took the first step.

Calling to the dog, she knelt down and offered a piece of beef jerky to him. Jasper, as Ayla came to call her new friend, wolfed the offering down and licked Ayla's face in appreciation. Ayla quickly offered up her entire lunch, which Jasper made short work of. The two sat by the stream for some time and formed the foundations of a bond through which Jasper told his story as best he could. Sensing her new friend's feelings of loss, Ayla invited Jasper to live with her and the rest of the Buckburr clan.

As Jasper waited outside, Ayla began to work her charms on her parents and older brothers. Bringing the pup into the house, she quickly introduced him to her family. Bartleby, her father, was reluctant to simply adopt Jasper, citing the fact that they already had a breeding pair and their large litter to feed. Ayla won them over however, and spent the rest of the summer tending to her chores and playing with Jasper in her free time. Despite his misgivings, Bartleby quickly came to see that Jasper was something special, for he was brighter than his new kennelmates. Ayla's bond with Jasper grew over the next two seasons. Sadly, that did not last long as Ayla's father sold Jasper to a hunter who turned out to be cruel and abusive. Before long, Jasper escaped and made his way back home, much to Ayla's delight, her father's surprise, and the hunter's anger.

Ayla's father sent Jasper back with his would-be master, but the pup soon found his way back again. This time, however, Ayla hid him away. The hunter, incensed at the dog's defiance, returned to the Buckburr farm with eyes afire. Bartleby tried to convince his daughter to give Jasper back, but she refused to give him up. Frustrated with his daughter's refusal to do what he thought was the right thing, Bartleby gave the hunter his money back. Sadly, it wasn't enough. The hunter, still demanding he receive a dog, took the family's prize dam as he left.

Fearing his business ruined, Bartleby was furious. In a fit of rage, he threw Ayla out of the house and banished her from the family farm. Now homeless, Ayla and Jasper made their way to human lands. Along the way, Jasper taught Ayla what he knew of survival in the wilderness and protected her from wild animals.

The two soon found themselves in a large human village at the edge of the woods. Being the only halfling in town made life hard for Ayla, but Jasper provided her with companionship and protection. At first the pair tried to raise money for food by doing acrobatic and riding tricks in the town square. Sadly, what little they raised was barely enough to feed the two once a day. However, their act had caught the eye of the captain of the guard, who suggested they join the militia.

When the captain of the guard introduced Ayla and Jasper as the newest recruits, the other militia members practically fell out of formation in laughter. Undeterred, Ayla refused to be laughed out of room and board. For the first month, she and Jasper seemed to be nothing more than mascots for the militia. "Small but mighty" they fancied themselves. Ayla, however, was out to prove herself, and Jasper was equally determined.

Ayla fixed up a makeshift saddle and tack for Jasper. At first he didn't care for it, but he soon got the hang of having a rider. The two quickly became able to read each other's body language and improved their synergy as rider and steed. The young halfling also took up archery and found she was most proficient with the bow. Being a halfling, a human-sized shortbow worked well as a halfling-sized longbow. Before long, the two began putting on "performances" for the militiamen, demonstrating Ayla's skill as a mounted archer and Jasper's agility as her steed.

As autumn set in, Jasper and Ayla's bond grew more powerful and soon Jasper was able to communicate with Ayla as well as any other person. On the last full moon of the harvest, Jasper demonstrated another unusual talent of his faerie upbringing. The night of All Saints' Eve, the ghost of a long-forgotten murder victim haunted the village square. Fearing the ghost was an ill omen, the townsfolk began locking their doors and staying in when it was normally a festive time of year. Unafraid of the ghost, Jasper, who had a keen sense for the presence of spirits, aided Ayla in leading the ghost to its final rest in the village graveyard.

During the winter, when goblins began attacking nearby farms in search of food, Ayla and Jasper volunteered to act as scouts. The two quickly learned the best ways to track and avoid the foul creatures and led a band of militia soldiers right to their cave. In the end, the goblins were driven from the region and the pair were hailed as heroes, being made true members of the local militia.

Ayla Buckburr, Halfling Outrider
Class: Warrior-Rogue       Level: 1       Title: Observer      Alignment: Lawful
DEX: 15 (+1)      STR: 10 (+0)        CON: 12 (+0)        INT: 12 (+0)        WIS: 10 (+0)        CHA: 8 (-1)
Hit Dice: d10
Hit Points: 10
Armor Class: 13 (leather armor); 14 (leather armor + wooden shield)
Initiative Bonus: +2           Initiative (DEX bonus + Initiative Bonus + Level): 4
Base Attack Bonus: +1      Total Attack Bonus: +3 (Weapon Specialization + DEX Bonus + BAB)

Skills: Animal Lore, Direction Sense, Stealth
Knack: Weapon Specialization (Bow): +1 to hit, +2 to damage
Special Abilities
     - Fortune's Favor (p.11, BtW)
     - Halfling Spirit (p. 31, BtW) 
     - Small Stature (p.31, BtW) 

Saving Throws
Poison 14 
Breath Weapon 17 
Polymorph 15 
Spell 17 
Magic Item 16

Fortune Points: 5

Equipment: A dagger, a very fine saddle, bags filled with food and rations, leather armor (+2 AC), a wooden shield (+1 AC), bow, quiver with 12 arrows, and 12 silvers

Jasper, Loyal Outrider Cohort
Class: Warrior-Rogue       Level: 1       Title: Observer Cohort      Alignment: Lawful
DEX: 9 (+0)      STR: 16 (+2)        CON: 17 (+2)        INT: 12 (+0)        WIS: 13 (+1)        CHA: 7 (-1)
Hit Dice: d10
Hit Points: 10
Armor Class: 13 (leather armor); 14 (leather armor + wooden shield)
Initiative Bonus: +2           Initiative (DEX bonus + Knack + Initiative Bonus + Level): 4
Base Attack Bonus: +1      Total Attack Bonus: +2

Skills: Animal Ken, Survival
Knack: Fleet (+1 Initiative)
Special Abilities
     - Fortune's Favor (p.11, BtW)
     - I'm A Dog: Dogs have a base AC of 12, receive a +1 bonus to bite (1d4 damage), and have no hands.

Saving Throws
Poison 14 
Breath Weapon 17 
Polymorph 15 
Spell 17 
Magic Item 16

Fortune Points: 5

Equipment: Specially made leather barding/armor (AC+2) 

Design Notes: While Beyond the Wall does have the Village Bear playbook, it doesn't really have anything with regard to playing other intelligent animals in the vein of C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia or even anthropomorphic animals along the lines of Brian Jacques' Redwall series. This is something I intend to write on at a later date, but with this particular project in mind, I went through the Village Bear playbook and basically modified it for a dog by substituting the dog stats from the rulebook bestiary for the bear stats given in the playbook.

Oddly, the Village Bear playbook initially gives the character the Warrior-Rogue class, but later talks about the character's class being Village Bear. In light of the synergy I wanted to establish between Ayla and Jasper, I stuck with the Warrior-Rogue class. At the same time, I thought it better to give Jasper the Animal Ken skill, which I better defined for my games here. In short, Animal Ken is the better choice as it gives Jasper the ability to speak with other animals.

In order to get the pair's backgrounds, skills, and abilities to have the right synergy, I built both characters by hand, picking entries from the tables as I saw fit, trying to keep in mind the fact that the only restriction Ayla faces as a halfling is a maximum STR score of 10. The Halfling Outrider playbook can be found in the free Dwarves, Elves and Halflings supplement or Heroes Young and Old. Ayla's title of "Observer" comes from the article "Scouting for More Options" by Kim Eastland, which appeared in Dragon #161. The full table of titles for the scout class (or in this case the halfling outrider) is as follows:

Level - Title
  1 - Observer
  2 - Spotter
  3 - Pointman
  4 - Outrider
  5 - Vanguard
  6 - Forerunner
  7 - Huntsman
  8 - Spy
  9 - Scout

10 - Master Scout

The stats for the Black Boar can be found on page 3 of The Village. If you want stats for Jasper's would-be master, the cruel hunter, use the stats for the Wicked Hunter on page 2 of Beyond the Cave.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

2016: The Year of 大象爆炸式的拉肚子

Oh, 2016, I'm going to end you... in 30 more days... You've been warned.

As my NaNoWriMo 2016 trainwreck ends, I can only look back and shake my head. Honestly, I don't know if I should laugh or cry. Maybe I'll do both; the question then is which to do first. I started the month so pumped that I was going to dive in and start the hardcore work on Project Frying Pan. Then November 8 turned around and whacked me upside the head with said Frying Pan.

With the exception of my early days of battling depression, I have never before experienced such a poisonous month. Depression and anxiety basically dug a hole, threw me in, and then did their business on me. Fortunately, I've had the support and love of my wife, friends, and family to buoy me and I'm going for a medication check up in mid-December.

This past month we also saw a number of people try to turn the gaming hobby and industry into their personal bully pulpits, pushing their agendas through misguided (and futile) petitions and creating "orangelists" of people who offend them. This has further fueled my exile from local fandom and gaming, which started earlier this year. During this time I've done some thinking; I've come to the conclusion that the situation is not entirely one person or group's fault. In a sense, I gave a group of narrow-minded, petty individuals what they wanted by leaving the convention scene. I'm sure my initial griping about the matter was just the icing on the cake for them, and I've spent the past two months - November in particular as things have built up - keeping silent on the matter while trying to get the bile and poison out of my system.

I was personally torn as to whether or not I should address those subjects here in more livid detail. Instead, I sat on my hands and looked at both situations as lessons on why you shouldn't engage monkeys in shit-flinging contests.

Oh, and then, to cap off the gloom of the month, we lost our favorite Shepherd, Ron Glass, and the Grandmaster of the Kai Lords, Joe Dever.

It's December now. I want very much to look at and experience the last month of this year as a season of light in the darkness of winter. I'm entering the month with multiple objectives I intend to complete most or all of before the year is out, in no particular order:
  • Complete Project Jasper as I promised Benoist Poire.
  • Complete revision work on my GM's reference pack for Beyond the Wall.
  • Work with a co-worker and fellow gamer on a project to engage, entertain, and maybe even educate our shelter clients through RPGs.
  • Further define the universe and characters of Project Frying Pan via a mix of the Cepheus Engine, Traveller, and  D6 systems.
  • Complete the necessary research for Project Frying Pan's plotline.
  • Make more friends - gaming and non-gaming - and have more fun.
  • Pursue River City Shadows in particular and gaming in general with renewed vigor.

In case anybody is wondering, 大象爆炸式的拉肚子 is Mandarin for "the explosive diarrhea of an elephant". Oh, 2016, you're so ironic...

Saturday, November 5, 2016

For Jasper

While I hadn't planned to write a blog entry until later this weekend (as I'm taking a brief break from NaNoWriMo tonight and possibly tomorrow), an item in my Facebook stream caught my eye. The main item was from a friend expressing frustration over how some gamers can be so inhuman... That in itself is a story and discussion in itself. What caught my eye was a response from one of his fellow designers expressing anger and disgust over an incident which hit close to home:
"A couple of days ago, Jasper, my neighbor's dog, one of my best friends with my boys... was roped by a man, dragged away and shot dead because he was deemed an annoyance. I just learned about it this morning.
"(Update: The RCMP was contacted and though there were witnesses to Jasper's roping, there were none for his shooting. No witnesses, no arrest. Sigh. But read on.)
"You've seen me post about Oafy the Chaos Muppet before. I'm brainstorming about a way to make Jasper a staple, a recurring aid or NPC, to the HSD and the Marmoreal Tomb. An icon along with Oafy, something that is awesome for the game, and respectful of who this awesome dog was in life.

"I also call on whoever would be inspired by this to go ahead and post stuff about Jasper, use his memory as a way to channel your love of all our furry friends, and create awesome stuff for the game. Go ahead.

"Stay tuned. For Jasper."
It's no secret to my friends and family that I'm an animal lover. I grew up on a farm with a dog and countless farm cats over the years, and, despite my allergies, will not hesitate to play with a person's pet if they allow it. My wife, who is also allergic to animal dander, is just as much an animal lover as I. Both of us have a burning hatred of animal abusers.

I never knew Jasper, nor do I personally know the person who posted this sad news. At the same time, I have no connection to or experience with the Hobby Shop Dungeon (HSD) or the poster's project. However, I have known the love of several loyal dogs, all of whom I know would have laid down their lives for me. Despite batting 1 for 3 in that respect, I'm going to write some things in the vein suggested by the poster this weekend for one or more systems under the banner of Project Jasper.

Whether or not you know the poster personally; whether or not you have adventured in the Hobby Shop Dungeon or have contributed to the Kickstarter; if you love animals, I encourage you to spread the word and post something for Jasper on your favorite forum or your own blog. If you can spare the money, buy and donate supplies and toys to an animal shelter or humane society near you. Better yet, if you can spare the time, volunteer there. Both you and the animals will be glad you did. I'm sure Jasper would be glad too.

Friday, November 4, 2016

In the Beginning...

"The story so far: In the beginning the Universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move.”
― Douglas Adams, "The Restaurant at the End of the Universe"

I have just spent the better part of my Thursday overnight shift breathing life into a series bible for Project Frying Pan. If there's one thing I have learned thus far in the process, it's this: Creating a universe from scratch is a lot of hard work, even if it's been percolating in the back of your brain for over a year. The sheer act of organizing, clarifying, defining, and just plain expressing it is daunting, exhilarating, and exhausting all at the same time. I have drawn upon my favorite aspects of various authors' universes as well as some of my own unpublished writing to find interesting bits to add.

No worries! I'm not dead yet!

While I will be taking a brief rest from the Project Frying Pan creative process this weekend, it is far from over. While the series bible (Did I forget to mention Project Frying Pan is the first in a series?) stands at an ephemeral eight pages in length, there is more to come and more to develop. The Frying Pan-verse (there will be a better name for it, I promise you), is in its infancy not only in the present, but also in its past and future.

Research will continue apace as I delve into the worlds of astronomy and con artistry. Project Frying Pan may be a science fiction book, but it's still got to have some basis in reality, after all. Of course, that's just a small part of the bigger picture. Historical research as well as some further reading in the genre is needed as well, all of which I look forward to.

Another part of the process is going to be resolving how to set parameters for the development of characters, technology, and all that other fun stuff. Being a tabletop gamer, I've got what I consider a number of useful tools at my disposal for defining things. The big decision is what system (and edition) to use. No system is perfect and part of my brain is itching to pair Project Frying Pan with another ongoing project on this blog.

What's ironic is that this fits Douglas Adams' opening quote to "The Restaurant at the End of the Universe" perfectly. I have no doubt that someone, somewhere is now foaming at the mouth, fingers feverishly poking at their keyboard in an effort to "educate" me on how "wrong" I am to use an RPG as a tool to define my characters and the universe they live in. In fact, that subsection of my aspiring authorial peers is doubtlessly a speck compared to the massive hipster horde pounding away at their keyboards about how whatever system I choose is wrong and how my use of tropes and aspects of other authors' universes is so "derivative" and "unimaginative".

As a writer, I readily acknowledge that there's nothing new under the sun - it's just a matter of what you do with it. That's where the real challenge lies. While I look forward to that challenge, I realize that failure is a possibility, and at the same time, it's a learning experience. No plan survives first contact with reality, let alone "the enemy". A slight change has already been made to one character and I'm sure more changes will be made to Project Frying Pan before all is said and done. The main thing to remember above all is this: "Don't panic!"

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

And so it begins...

So, it's been no secret that I'm a writer or that I write game material and some fiction. However, most of the time I keep what I write secret until it's done or at least until I know nobody is going to steal my ideas. At any rate, I'm throwing my hat into the ring for NaNoWriMo 2016 with a book I'm writing. We'll call it Project Frying Pan. Why? Because in the tradition of George Lucas, I don't want things getting out before it's time. Only two or three other people know the true nature of the project, and I know they'll keep it.

While I have the general idea of the project's plotline set up, have capsule descriptions of the characters, and actually have a head start on chapter one, there's a lot of work to be done on research so I can get things right. These last two months are going to be precariously balanced between my job, home life, my writing, getting some design work done for Beyond the Wall, and a Shadowrun campaign I'm running. I may not get Project Frying Pan done in one month, but I intend to put a good sized dent in it before the year is through.

But enough talk. It's time to act. I've got research and writing to do.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Once More, With Feeling...

...Good riddance to bad rubbish!!

For those of you who don't know what I'm talking about, BoingBoing has reported that everybody's favorite fundie, Jack Chick, died yesterday. While BoingBoing's report claims nobody is divulging his cause of death, the Chick Publications Facebook page announced that he passed in his sleep. Like another of his ilk who was sentenced to prison earlier this year, I'm not going to bother talking much about his misdeeds, save to say that he was a hateful, misinformed man who inspired and misinformed many people to spread his hate and ignorance.

As someone who constantly wrestles with my faith, politics, and the meanings of right and wrong, I know how easy it is to get drawn into doing the wrong thing for what some would claim is the right reason. That struggle doesn't get any easier when you have family and friends who all have differing political and religious beliefs - but it sure makes things interesting from time to time.

In all honesty, with regard to Chick's reasoning (or lack thereof) behind his ignorance and hate, I think the smoking gun can be found in this statement from his Wikipedia page (bracketed text added from the actual FAQ to clarify things):
"On his 'Roman Catholicism FAQ', Chick said he began publishing his theories about the Roman Catholic Church because 'he loves Catholics and wants them to be saved through faith in Jesus[, not trusting in religious liturgy and sacraments.]'."
Having studied theology, I know the theological (and political) reasons behind Luther's 95 Theses. He voiced his dissent with regard to an increasingly meddlesome Papacy which indulged in greed and idolatry in a variety of ways, ranging from letters of indulgence to priests and bishops marrying into powerful families and fathering illegitimate children to gain money and property. Luther wanted to break down the barrier between the people and God's word that was imposed by the church. While that is certainly how Chick's reasoning appears on the surface, his ideas are much more conspiratorial and derogatory when exposed to the light of day.

I'll be the first to admit I'm not an angel. I get angry; I mess up; I stumble; and when I fall, it results in a pretty heavy thud (both literally and metaphorically). I can only hope that now that he's on the other side, Chick has seen the error of his ways because his minions employees have vowed to stay the course.

The madness continues...
My response. For context, start here and read to here. Something Positive is ©2016 R.K. Milholland.

In closing, I'll leave this bit of wisdom from Isaiah 5:20-21 (NIV) for us all, myself included.
Woe to those who call evil good
and good evil,
who put darkness for light

and light for darkness,
who put bitter for sweet

and sweet for bitter.
Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes
and clever in their own sight.
And 2016, I know you did this to try and get back in my good graces. For the record, you're not even close...

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Introducing the River City Wrecking Crew

Original Shadowrun logo by Jeff Laubenstein, Jim Nelson, and Dana Knutson. Photoshoppery by me.

I'm nostalgia's fool when it comes to a number of RPGs. Shadowrun, like Traveller, Pendragon, Cyberpunk 2020, and Call of Cthulhu, is a game that piqued my interest, but I jumped in somewhat late in the game once I had the economic means to buy the books. At any rate, by the time I took the plunge Shadowrun had hit its third edition and it wasn't getting a lot of good feedback due to the introduction of otaku - kids able to access the Matrix without cyberdecks - in addition to the changes made between editions.

So, I just held onto what second books I had and waited. Fourth edition rolled around and I hemmed and hawed, unsure about technomancers and what they could do to the world I fell in love with in the second edition, but it was Shadowrun's 20th anniversary, so I grabbed the 20th anniversary edition of the rulebook and I was hooked - sort of. By this time, the books were hitting the $45.00 mark for the core rules and sourcebooks were $30.00. With Catalyst at the helm, the PDFs weren't much cheaper than buying them in print. At any rate, I took my time and got what I could.

At any rate, having divested myself of the local convention and FLGS gaming scenes, I decided to try and assemble my friends for a hybrid play-by-post/Roll20 game. The majority of the game will be handled in a play-by-post format to accommodate everybody's changing schedules and we'll have an actual live meetup on Roll20 once a month if possible. After getting no input from the group on what to run, I just made an executive decision and BAM! Shadowrun. :)

Why Shadowrun?

Why not? Cyberpunk is a good genre, but Shadowrun has a bit more character, despite William Gibson's opinion. What's that? You want to know what William Gibson thinks about Shadowrun? Well, if you insist.

From an article by Ben Lincoln in The Peak (issue 7, vol. 100, Oct. 19, 1998):
Peak: "How do you feel about the role-playing game systems out there that are obviously based on your work?"
Gibson: "To the extent that there was a Cyberpunk movement-and there wasn't, really, but to the extent that there was, the five or six people who I knew in 1981 who were doing this stuff and had a radical aesthetic agenda, at least in terms of that pop-art form of science fiction, [and] one of the things that we were really conscious of was appropriation. Appropriation as a post-modern aesthetic and entrepreneurial strategy. So we were doing it too. We were happily and gloriously lifting all sorts of flavours and colours from all over popular culture and putting it together to our own ends. So when I see things like Shadowrun, the only negative thing I feel about it is that initial extreme revulsion at seeing my literary DNA mixed with elves. Somewhere somebody's sitting and saying 'I've got it! We're gonna do William Gibson and Tolkien!' Over my dead body! But I don't have to bear any aesthetic responsibility for it. I've never earned a nickel, but I wouldn't sue them. It's a fair cop. I'm sure there are people who could sue me, if they were so inclined, for messing with their stuff. So it's just kind of amusing."

Shadowrun - then and now

*snerk* Whatever. Like Gibson, some gamers deride Shadowrun for its mixing of genres. In reality, it helped to revitalize RPGs by taking two genres and making something new and different rather than another bog-standard fantasy or sci-fi game. Though I'm a fan of high fantasy more in the realm of Tolkien - which includes halflings - Shadowrun still resonates with me despite its lack of halflings. I guess it's because adding magic and faith to a high-tech dystopia gives the setting a bit more hope than normal. Some people seem to enjoy grimdark settings without so much as a glimmer of light. I need light, even if it's a light at the end of a tunnel - and not necessarily from an oncoming train.

Why Omaha?

Just to break the repetition of "Why not?", let me answer that question with another question. Why Seattle? Seattle has been the base setting for Shadowrun since the beginning. Yes, the various editions have covered various other cities, including Denver and Chicago, and some enterprising fans have given their own home towns the Shadowrun treatment. For all that it has to offer, Omaha deserves some Shadowrun lovin' as well.

Omaha - what it is and what it isn't. What it will be once the game is over is another question... :D

For the record, Omaha isn't an oversized farming community. Trust me, I've lived in places like Iowa Falls and Cherokee, and they're both cities that still hold tight to their agricultural roots (at least they were when I left them behind). Omaha is truly metropolitan in a lot of ways. That doesn't mean that it's forgotten its cowtown roots. Even though the stockyards are no longer in operation, agriculture - and beef in particular - are still a big part of Omaha. Likewise, the shadows of Omaha are certainly more than trolls and orks wearing cowboy hats, drinking crappy beer, and listening to country music. It's also more than elves and humans living the high life out in West Omaha.

The history of Omaha encompasses many cultures, the most important of which is that of numerous Native American nations and their lore. Shadowrun lore has centered mostly on Native American nations in the American Northwest - the Pueblo, Ute, Salish, Algonkian (or Algonquian - not to be confused with the Algonquin), Athabascan, Aleut, and Tsimshian. The Sioux are also covered

The Midwest was home to many more tribes and nations than just the Lakota and Dakota Sioux. Just as everything in nature is interconnected, so too are the tribes. That means I've got a lot of research ahead of me, but I plan to enjoy every minute of it.

Omaha is also home to Offutt Air Force Base, Eppley Airfield, and the Union Pacific Railroad, which means that events like the Crash, Crash 2.0, the infestation of Chicago by insect spirits, and the subsequent exodus of Chicago residents has had an effect on Omaha in various ways. So, yes, Omaha has a lot of plot potential in Shadowrun. Of course, I'd be lying if I said I didn't get some help fleshing this stuff out. Mike Fontaine wrote up an awesome sourcebook on Omaha in Shadowrun which I'm helping to edit, and there were several local gamers who also helped me fill in some of the other gaps.

So Here's The Setup...

Tales isn't your average Shadowrun campaign. A lot of times the stereotypical campaign can be described as “mercenary” or “organized mayhem”. “Tales” is intended to be a little more heroic and cinematic. Our heroes and anti-heroes are new or established employees of River City Investigations, a private detective and consulting agency that works both sides of the Missouri River, but is based in Omaha. There will still be organized mayhem, but hopefully for the better, not worse (hence the "Wrecking Crew" bit).


Not a real ad, not a real detective agency. Artwork ©1989 Jeff Laubenstein, from Sprawl Sites (©1990 FASA Corporation, ©2016 Catalyst Game Labs),  no infringement intended. Photoshoppery by me.

There are also a number of themes and concepts we may explore and investigate in the campaign:

  • Black Ops, Hearts of Gold: Although the characters are antiheroes or perhaps even criminals, they still know right from wrong and act for the better of others and the community – even if it means they have to give up the big payoff. Overall, they run the shadows in order to get the big payoff and get out or otherwise improve their situation or the life of someone close to them.
  • Starting Out Small: Rather than starting in media res, the heroes start out small and grow in power; as they grow in strength, the scope of their world grows as does the heroes' influence.
  • Balance: There are many forces in Shadowrun that are purported to be the “ultimate”. Magic. Faith. Technology. Money. While they can impart great power to those wield them expertly, those who do not exercise the proper amount of responsibility and respect can find themselves off-balance. That imbalance can easily lead a person to be blinded and corrupted. Only by achieving balance can one maintain harmony.
  • Strength in Diversity/"United We Stand": In Shadowrun diversity has grown beyond just skin color and beliefs. Trolls, orks, elves, dwarves – and others – have given some cause to rethink their approach toward and philosophy about life. Those same changes have given others all the more reason to cling fearfully to their outdated notions and prejudices. Only by overcoming those prejudices and fears and by embracing diversity can we find strength.
  • The Bond of Family/Power of Love: The turmoil found in Shadowrun's future history has no doubt torn families asunder as well as reinforced the bonds of kinship. Does a hero come from a family torn by strife? Will they find their own dreams at odds with that of a patriarch, a matriarch or sibling? Will they mend the torn bonds or break with tradition?
Of course, there's the cinematic/heroic aspect and other details to consider as well, including Rule Zero.
  • The Rule of Rules: Every piece of tech, spell, metavariant, variant rule, etc. is subject to change or removal at the discretion of the GM. Even if a game element is initially permitted, if it is later deemed incompatible with the campaign, it will be modified or removed. Any characters (PC or NPC) that use that element will be required to adjust to the change (in other words, no grandfathering). The GM will attempt to keep this sort of thing to a minimum (if at all), but sometimes this may happen in the process of keeping the rules appropriate to the campaign setting. Rationale: Some things that may seem like a good idea at one time may turn out to be a bad idea in use. No grandfathering also maintains a consistency with the game setting and prevents people from abusing the letter of the rules if they choose not to respect the spirit.
  • The Pilot Episode: The first adventure will essentially be the “Pilot”. That way if something goes sideways or needs to be altered or “rewound” so to speak, it won't ruin the rest of the campaign. Essentially, this is a variation on Rule Zero (see above) but applies in tandem with Rule Zero.
  • Episodes and Arcs: Like Buffy and Angel, Tales will be mostly episodic but those episodes will get the heroes involved in wider arcs. As a result there will be “villains of the week” as well as the big bad evil guys.
  • Tone: The influences and inspirations of this campaign include The Dresden Files, Leverage, Buffy, and Angel, along with a variety of cyberpunk authors and movies.
  • Layers and Revelations: Rather than dive in with both feet and founder around, we're going to start at the shallow end and walk/swim toward the deep end. This is to allow me – a neophyte Shadowrun GM – and any players new to the system and setting to adjust to the complexities and idiosyncracies.

To kind of further illustrate the tone of the game, here's the theme song for the campaign (George Lynch's "We Don't Own This World) and the end theme (Tomoyasu Hotei's "Tenkuu no Diva"). Some people might not think these songs fit, but if you're looking at things from a cinematic point-of-view, they do. To me, cyberpunk music is more than techno or industrial metal. There's so much more to Shadowrun than gunplay and hacking the Matrix, and as I've said above, there's so much more to Omaha than just beef and agriculture.

So that's the game in a nutshell... a very large nutshell. Whether you're a spectator or a player, watch this space for more developments, chummers!

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Kenny Baker: The Most Metal Star Wars Actor Of All

Gorramit, 2016! Quit kicking me in the feels! And stop stomping on my childhood!

The most metal man in the Star Wars movies. Rest in peace, Kenny.

In case you didn't know, Kenny Baker, the man who put the heart in R2-D2, died yesterday at the age of 81. While I never had the honor, let alone the opportunity, to meet Mr. Baker at any kind of science fiction convention, I have to say I admire the dedication he had to his craft despite the bad deal he physically got from life.

I honestly believe that he was perhaps the most metal of all the Star Wars actors. While Peter Mayhew and Anthony Daniels had to contend with the heat and sweat of their costumes, Kenny had to deal with dwarfism and its associated ills on top of it all. What's more, Kenny's late wife Eileen - who was also afflicted with dwarfism - played an Ewok in Return of the Jedi, so she understood and shared her husband's struggle. In the heat, cold, muck, and bugs, Kenny Baker was more than just a little person in a metal shell. He was the personality and heart of R2-D2. He was metal.

Thank you, Kenny, for the happiness you brought me and millions of other fans. Rest in peace.

Good Riddance To Bad Rubbish

Work has been taking a lot out of me physically and mentally, leaving me with little desire to create and write. In short, the soundtrack in my head has been Slough Feg's "Psionic Illuminations" and occasionally Blue Oyster Cult's "Veteran of the Psychic Wars" played on one continuous loop for the past couple of weeks.  However, the following topic made me sit up and take notice because it's a milestone in the history of the hobby, especially for those of us who started rolling our polyhedrals in the early and mid 1980s. What I'm talking about is the sentencing of Thomas Radecki, one of several individuals who were a scourge and pox on gamers during the satanic panic of those days.

Radecki permanently surrendered his license back in 2012 after he was accused of trading psychiatric drugs in exchange for sexual favors. I'm not going to get into the foul details of this blackguard's misdeeds; you can read those for yourself in the links above. As an individual who has been counseled by a number of upstanding and excellent caregivers in the mental health field I'm disgusted that Radecki betrayed the trust and violated the human rights of his patients for his own sick gain. Thinking of him makes me throw up a little in my mouth even as I write this.

I find it odd and ironic that the 70-year-old Radecki's sentencing to 10-22 years in prison intersects with discussion of the satanic panic and its effects on several popular RPG forums. Why people found it necessary - let alone desirable - to dredge up memories of a terrible time in a lot of gamers' lives, I don't know. Then again, the Internet is a weird place where a lot of people seem to take pleasure in others' suffering.

I was fortunate in that I didn't suffer many (if any) terrible effects from the satanic panic. I lived out in the boonies of northwestern Iowa and kept my gaming to myself; I didn't try to share it with anyone until high school, whereupon I received some pointed teasing from some classmates because they didn't understand it. Other gamers had it much, much worse, not only at the hands of their classmates, but also from "concerned" parents, relatives, and other figures of authority. I use the threat quotes because in some cases the "concern" about "satanic influences" was just another excuse to enact spiritual, physical, verbal, and emotional abuse upon the victim.

This karmic smackdown has been a long, long time coming thanks to the slow-turning wheels of our overloaded and oft-abused justice system. It comes as cold comfort to me - as I'm sure it does for the victims of his direct abuse - that Radecki is finally getting what he deserves only because patience is not one of my virtues. Some figures of the satanic panic have experienced a merciful fade from relevance and prominence, while others remain due to the tenacity of their ignorant beliefs. While the court of law has proven one cannot libel or slander the dead, I won't even bother to speak in detail about Sean Sellers and Patricia Pulling, each deceased now 20 years. Doing so won't undo the harm they did, nor will it affect their ultimate fate.

Having written this, I can honestly say I feel a little better. Hopefully this turn of events brings us closer to ending this painful chapter of our hobby's history and gives closure to those afflicted by it.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

The Silent Sage Publishing RPG Catalog

Welcome to the Silent Sage Publishing RPG catalog. All of the items linked here are free of charge. From time to time, links will be updated to reflect new and improved material. While it may appear small now, there will be more products added in the future.


Flatland Games' fantasy adventure RPG combines rules from the newer editions of the world's most popular fantasy RPG with the simplicity found in the same game's older editions.

SBW1001 - BW1: GM and Player Reference Pack
Status: In revision but available as a work in progress! (Details here.)
You can download the full document here
When adventuring beyond your village, it always pays to be prepared - and that goes for the gamemaster too! In this product you'll find:
  • Color and black and white six-panel GM screens
  • A never-before-seen bonus color GM screen 
  • Regular and form-fillable character sheets
  • Character and adventure tracking logs for the GM
  • Indices for NPCs and monsters in all current material available from Flatland Games
  • Listings for cantrips, spells, and rituals found in the same material, including "Beyond the Wall - Further Afield!
It's dangerous beyond the wall - take this with you! 

Saturday, July 30, 2016

The Point Of No Return

So, a lot of things have happened this week. We've seen an increase in campaign rhetoric from both sides now that the DNC is done; Jerry Doyle, who played Garibaldi on Babylon 5, passed away; and I've decided to no longer do RPG material for profit.

CUE RECORD SCRATCH "Say what now?"

Let me repeat that for you. I'm no longer doing RPG material for profit.

So the big question is: why? I've already made known my reasons for creating stuff as well as my lack of enthusiasm toward the popularity games behind various RPG awards, but there's a number of reasons.

OBS and the Outrage Brigade: This has been a thorn in my side for some time and just recently (tonight, in fact) I reached the tipping point. This wasn't a matter of money or popularity, but of principle. People who have read my blog in the past have seen me voice concerns about OBS' apparent relationship with the hobby's Outrage Brigade, the almost pathological need some people have to find things to be offended by, and the disturbing fact that some publishers use all of this as a way to silence their competition. Of course, that was just the tip of the iceberg. At this very moment, I'm steering my ship toward open seas after seeing the Outrage Brigade lay another turd mine in Postmortem Studios' path.

For those of you who don't want to click away from this entry, I'll give you the abbreviated version. Postmortem Studios has been the target of this activity in the past. This time, the target of choice was Hentacle, a card game that, while it will never appear on my hard drive or shelf due to its sordid and distasteful subject matter, was being sold on OBS' site without issue since 2004 or thereabouts.

Some will openly argue that since the First Amendment clearly states, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances," that the matter is settled. OBS is a private company, not a part of the federal or a state government, and so Postmortem Studios and James Desborough have no legal footing. Unfortunately, it's not that simple. The First Amendment protects the advocacy for and expression of ideas that some may find distasteful, despite its exception for obscenity.

Now before you come at me with torches and pitchforks, let me note that I do have a bachelor's degree in Mass Communication, was a working journalist for close to a decade after I graduated from college to the Real World, and have knowledge of the Miller Test. While the Miller Test is certainly valid, the issue of community standards is the sticky wicket here. There are three things in the Miller Test that need to be met in order to declare something "obscene."
  1. Whether "the average person, applying contemporary community standards", would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest,
  2. Whether the work in question depicts/describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct or excretory functions as specifically defined by applicable state law,
  3. and whether or not the work as a whole lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.
Now, the first two apply to community standards on the local and state levels. The third aspect, however, is the check against the first two; it applies to the national level. In other words, while someone in Rochester, MN, may find an item under scrutiny to be obscene, someone else in Rochester, NY, may not. Want an even more in-depth look at the matter? Check out the article Mike Godwin (yes, that Mike Godwin) wrote on the matter.

Of course, the Miller Test isn't the only issue complicating matters here. While OBS is indeed a private company located in the United States, the gaming community is not limited to the U.S. What may be declared obscene or otherwise offensive here in a variety of states may not be looked upon the same way in a nation across either ocean. Additionally, Postmortem Studios is located in Great Britain. A lawsuit filed against Mr. Desborough here in the U.S. isn't going to go very far unless you have the money to get you a very good lawyer. Additionally, open flames and pitchforks are are not welcome on aircraft - the TSA says so. Good luck keeping those torches lit as you swim across the pond to serve the papers, folks.

Well done, and thanks a lot, OBS. It's been real and it's been fun, but it hasn't been real fun.
That in and of itself would be enough to raise my blood pressure, but wait, there's more! The Outrage Brigade is known for its selective goonery. While they managed to get Hentacle banned, they missed the Lovecraftian expansions offered by Postmortem. One would think that OBS would want to maintain consistency and review ALL the supplements under that line.

In the past, the Outrage Brigade has managed to ban Postmortem's Gamergate card game, a questionably titled supplement for for Skortched Urf's Black Tokyo line, and temporarily banned Venger Satanis' Alpha Blue RPG (it was later reinstated). All of these are items that I will never buy because of their terrible material and premises, but I support the rights of the designers to produce this material. Why? Because it's only a matter of time before even the most innocent of game designers finds their home or workspace surrounded by Outrage Brigade goons chanting "Think about the children! Think about the children!".

Way to go, OBS! You're batting .05-4 here - and that's me being far from remotely generous.

The takeaway from all the above legal blathering is this: Effective immediately, Silent Sage Publishing's current and future RPG offerings will no longer be found on any commercial site and they will be available free of charge. All announcements of future products will be made here and elsewhere online as deemed necessary by management. Appropriate links to sites where the products are available will be provided with the announcement and the links will be archived on this site in a catalog entry.

This will not affect any current or future fiction offerings from my wife and myself; those will be made available from Amazon/Createspace as well as other outlets both online and brick-and-mortar. (EDIT: For those of you wondering where the RPG product links are, you can find the beginnings of the RPG catalog here.)

Pressure To Perform: I don't always do well under pressure. Couple the perceived pressure of the Outrage Brigade breathing down my neck, the pressure of making a profit, and my own lack of a local community, and you can see why this change is necessary. I knew from the get-go that I was not going to become a rich man, no matter how much Beyond the Wall needed a GM's screen and reference pack. The decision to step away from doing this for profit means much less pressure in this and many other ways.

Moving away from for-profit RPG work means I can work with whomever wants to work with me and not worry about dividing up royalties, let alone waiting for the publisher to send the check. It also means I don't have to worry about pricing myself and my fellow designers and writers out of the market.

My perception is that gamers are notoriously cheap, hence a lot of the howling about PDF pricing versus hardcopy pricing. I know my wallet and I bristle slightly at having to pay $24.99 for a professionally made PDF. Also, gamers don't always hold fan products to the same standard as professional-for-profit books and PDFs. After all, Gygax and crew as well as the folks behind Judges Guild put out material that was typeset on typewriters, composed by hand, and mimeographed/photocopied. I'll admit I'm not made of money. I may have to use black and white art inside my products and possibly even reuse art from time to time, but I promise to adhere to a professional standard of quality in my goods.

So, all in all, it's a winning situation for everyone. You get quality material for free, I don't have to worry (as much) about the Outrage Brigade and money, and my blood pressure stays normal so I can produce more good stuff.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Traveling With D6 Space, Part 1: An Introductory Commentary

Long ago, when I was still avidly exploring the realm of RPGs beyond D&D, I indulged my unfulfilled interest in Traveller. It started with the ill-fated fourth edition (Milieu 0) and then expanded to GURPS Traveller (Strephon lives!) and the reprints of the Little Black Books (LBBs) as Big Floppy Books (BFBs). At any rate, I could see that the editions didn't really all jive with one another and set about finding a fix, namely using West End Games' D6 system.

I distinctly remember first finding Jeremy Reaban's conversions of Traveller to D6 Star Wars online and basing my work off that set of conversions first along with material from the green D6 core book. When WEG introduced the three hardcover rulebooks, I worked a little more on them and that was pretty much it. I ran an excellent convention scenario (Rubicon Double-Cross) which combined "Rubicon Cross" and "Exit Visa", but after that I never really ran Traveller except for the Mongoose edition.

Why this was never a thing the world may never know...

Now that Mongoose Publishing has left a bittersweet taste in my mouth and memory (alongside a portion of the Traveller community), I'm more than happy to go back to the D6 system as my go to mechanics for Traveller. Why? Consistency for one thing, also because it's more cinematic and not so stubbornly gear- and hard (-science) headed.

Don't get me wrong, I like details in ship design just fine. CT and MT's systems weren't too bad, MgT's were iffy in some ways, and T4 had some major issues. I didn't even hazard an attempt using any edition of Fire, Fusion, & Steel, as the T4 edition had issues and I didn't know what to make of the TNE system. While D6 Space does have detailed starship design rules, they have their own eccentricities, and to be honest, I just want to run the game and have fun, not figure out how much tonnage and square feet need to be devoted to the frozen watch's cold berths.

That being said, while the two systems are d6-based, things don't always map out directly, which isn't surprising since Traveller has been converted over to the GURPS, Hero, d20 (T20), and Twilight 2000 systems (TNE), all of which required some gymnastics and shoehorning to make even the remotest of fits. Despite my dislike of d20 for anything but D&D, I think the most unusual system conversion I saw was a conversion of the alien races to Alternity in Dragon Magazine ("New Frontiers" by Stephen Kenson in issue #270, to be exact). Still, why there was no attempt to bridge the gap between Traveller and the D6 System during that conversion craze is beyond me. The only speculation I can give comes from a brief discussion within an RPGNet thread about Traveller and a response from Peter Schweighofer indicating that any kind of official D6 Traveller material would be improbable due to West End Games gearing up for Bill Coffin's Septimus RPG at the time.

So what exactly does it take to convert Traveller over to D6 Space? It takes a lot of love, research, massive fiddling with numbers, and some polishing and sanding to get everything just right. Oh, and being a bit insane helps as well - at least that's what Mr. Flibble and the King of the Potato People tell me...

Never doubt Mr. Flibble. It makes him VERY cross...

I should note that in addition to Mr. Reaban's own notes (which have been lost to the ether) I made use of the following material when originally working on these conversions:

I'm sure that's not all the resources I used, but it's a good start. Please keep in mind, this series is NOT intended to be a massive conversion of EVERYTHING Traveller over to D6. It's meant to only be a framework for those who want to give something fun and different a shot. While you'll find in-depth notes on my ideas for D6 Traveller in the next few parts of the series, you won't find anything like a critique of Hiver policy toward meat-eating K'kree, D6 stats for Emperor Strephon or essays on the color of jumpspace.

All material written and posted will be done under Far Future Enterprises' Fair Use Policy, found here.

To quote Wash Hoban, "Hang on, Travelers..." :)

The Traveller game in all forms is owned by Far Future Enterprises. Copyright 1977 - 2008 Far Future Enterprises. Traveller is a registered trademark of Far Future Enterprises. Far Future permits web sites and fanzines for this game, provided it contains this notice, that Far Future is notified, and subject to a withdrawal of permission on 90 days notice. The contents of this site are for personal, non-commercial use only. Any use of Far Future Enterprises's copyrighted material or trademarks anywhere on this web site and its files should not be viewed as a challenge to those copyrights or trademarks. In addition, any program/articles/file on this site cannot be republished or distributed without the consent of the author who contributed it.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Lesson Learned: A Special Message From My Friend And Fellow Author

It's not often that I do this sort of thing in general, but my best friend and fellow author is going through a situation with a bookseller that no author should have to suffer. He felt so strongly about it that he posted a video message to Facebook about it. Someone (management, I presume) was supposed to call my friend and let him know his books were going in the clearance bin before July 13th. That didn't happen, and so a week later (this past Wednesday, July 20th), he went to pick them up. Hastings, which is currently going through bankruptcy proceedings, refused to turn over his books per his contract with them. In fact, they told him that if he tried to pick up his books, the police would get involved.

In a discussion on my friend's Facebook page, it was noted that this hiccup could be related to the bankruptcy proceedings, which could place a higher priority on unsold inventory, instead of sending it back to the publisher and/or author. While I don't know the particulars and fine print of the contract, one would think that a book/entertainment store chain would like to keep its nose clean by honoring the spirit and word of its contracts with any publisher while they search for a buyer for their failing business.

I'm sure there are some people out there right now again going "Why post this? Do you want to poison the well?! Do you want to fail?" As I've explained before, I don't expect my RPG material to be sold in print, let alone be a household fixture in gaming groups. However, I do have a series of science fiction novels in the works and it behooves me to put this out as a warning to my fellow self-publishers - be careful who you do business with. Ask questions of other self-published authors. Also, have someone - namely a lawyer, or at least a paralegal - look at the language of the contract before you sign, and always, ALWAYS, ALWAYS ask questions, especially with regard to returning unsold copies and how bankruptcy might affect this.

That's not to say my friend didn't do his due diligence. He's well networked in the self-publishing community, and I'm sure he asked questions until everybody was tired of typing. Still, things like this happen, and when they do, it leaves a bad taste in one's mouth for a long, long time.

That being said, while my wife published her first children's book ("The Reindeer Tree") through Amazon's Createspace (with help from Concierge Marketing), I can't say enough good things about independent bookstores and the role they play in distribution. The Bookworm here in Omaha has been gracious enough to hold a number of book signings for local, self-published authors, one of which my wife and I attended as publishers. We are very grateful for the help they and Lisa Pelto of Concierge Marketing have provided.

I just wish things had turned out better for my friend.