Current Projects

I’ve been a bit distracted from writing tasks lately. I bought into the second Kingdom Death: Monster Kickstarter and received my copy of the core game a while back. It’s really quite a fun game, and given how high-quality the miniatures are I kind of wanted to paint them up nicely after I assembled them. I was pretty happy with the results of my first couple, so then I decided I wanted to give them fancy bases, instead of just flat black ones.



My KD:M miniatures are still a work in progress, but by then I’d accumulated a fair few bits and pieces and I’d seen online that some people had crafted proper versions of the game terrain that gets set up on the board. I thought that looked really cool, and kind of really wanted to enhance my own game with some. There are even some really cool 3D printed pieces. So I started expanding a bit in preparation for that.

Of course, getting into the KD:M terrain meant that I saw a lot of other miniature terrain. I’m an avid tabletop gamer and I’ve always thought miniature terrain and stuff like dungeon tiles are really cool, but I’d been away from games that would use them for so long that I’ve always thought it was a waste of time for me to do anything with it.

However, I’ve recently also gotten back into Dungeons & Dragons, and am currently running a 5th Edition game that I’m really enjoying. I have some more game ideas I’d like to get into in the future, too, so I ended up spending way too much money on tools and bits and now I’m working on buy and crafting pieces of terrain for future D&Ding.



So, yeah. I’ve been busy, just not with the sort of thing I really should be busy with.


I’m pretty happy with how Blackened Hearts turned out, and given the surprising amount of success and feedback it’s gotten I’ve been thinking that I might want to follow it up with another LARP scenario. I’ve got a mess of notes now for potential scenarios I could write, but I’m not completely sure what I want to actually commit the time to working on just yet. While I have a bunch of different ideas, at the moment I think I’m narrowing in on two in particular:


Ghost Hunterz

A kitschy, low-budget cable TV show crew go on-location to a building where a series of horrific murders were committed years ago. The place is rumoured to be extremely haunted, so the crew, including a supposedly psychic medium, is hoping to communicate with the spirits and film some supernatural phenomena. After little success early on, once the clock strikes midnight the doors of the building lock and the world outside the windows is enveloped in darkness, trapping them inside. The producer assumes that their ‘psychic’ is running some smoke and mirrors deal, but is all for it if it gets them some good footage. Of course, the ghosts are all-too real… and one of them is a killer.



This one has what I think is a pretty interesting central mechanic/conceit—half of the cast are unable to interact with or perceive the other half directly (because they’re ghosts). Communication between the two distinct groups is done indirectly through the use of ghostly powers. The ghost characters can wander around, interact with each other, and eavesdrop on the living freely, while living characters strictly instructed to completely ignore the ghost players’ presence, unless ghostly powers are used. An Ouija board is the primary medium, but there is also interference with recording equipment, poltergeist activity, and even possession. I’m also considering a mechanic for the ghost killer to be able to start murdering the living people (and for them to subsequently become ghost characters) but I’m not quite sure how to pace it out yet.


Glory to the Crown

A bored, low-tier noble of a magical steampunk empire has come to a mining facility, along with representatives from the powerful Church and Academy, to tour it and make a decision on whether it will be shut down now that its richest veins have all been exhausted. The tour is interrupted when workers suddenly break into an ancient sealed chamber, filled with amazing discoveries. Dangerous readings cause the resident radiologist send the whole facility into a quarantine lockdown, trapping everyone inside until help arrives.



The central mechanic/conceit of this one is that there are a number of potentially very valuable, very important objects that have been discovered, but no one has complete direct access to study them until after the quarantine is lifted. Each object has a number of properties, and each property affects the value of the item differently. The idea is that the academy and church players will try to find out what information they can, and make deals with the noble to try to obtain what they think are the most valuable items, without over-committing their resources.

The facilities’ workers have a bit more access to the discoveries, but have their own motivations and desires and may try to strike deals of their own with the church/academy. There are also secondary major plots involving an undercover agent of the rebellion who can turn the whole thing on its head if they get enough other characters to support them, and the pending decision on whether or not the facility will be closed (threatening the workers’ livelihoods).


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Blackened Hearts released!

The pirate live-action roleplaying scenario I’ve been working is finally complete and published. I’m actually quite surprised at how long it took me to get it all put together, worked, reworked, playtested, torn down, written back up, polished, and finished — part of that was simply me being unmotivated and easily distracted, but a lot of man-hours still went into the production.

The final product is 62 pages long (A4 format) and weighs in at almost 30,000 words, which is basically half a novel. I’d say it took me just as long from start to finish as it does for me to write and publish an actual book.

The whole thing was basically a new experience for me. I don’t normally write roleplaying material for public release, though I’ve been running various different games for sixteen years and have written a lot of stuff for personal use in that time. On top of that I’ve only really played in a handful of LARPs.  I’m more of a tabletop roleplayer, though I really enjoyed all of the LARP scenarios I’ve played in.

The first LARP I ever played in was the playtest of an excellent Warhammer Fantasy scenario called Sunset Claws (available here), written by my friend the inestimable Steve D. Steve is a great local game designer and player that was really welcoming to me when I first started making forays outside of my own little roleplaying group and into the wider Australian RPG community.

I knew literally no-one else at the playtest and have always suffered from a great amount of social anxiety, so the whole experience was a bit nerve-wracking… At one point I had gotten so far from achieving my character’s goals and was so lost at what to do next in this sea of people I didn’t know, that when the next person pulled me into a private conversation I just laid all of my cards on the table and begged them for help, actually on the verge of tears. This other player wrapped me into their plans and we ended up together on basically what was a “winning” side of the evening, having accomplished all our goals and gotten away with it.

Despite my near-breakdown and social anxiety, I ended up having an enormous amount of fun. Once Sunset Claws was released properly I ran it again myself, as a birthday event, and when Steve D wrote a sequel of sorts I participated in the playtest of that as well.

Afterwards, I tinkered with the basic format of Sunset Claws to create a similar “Very Special LARP Episode” for my own gaming group, a live-action session of the tabletop game I was running at the time. It was loads of fun. One of my players wrote another LARP, a steampunk one, again based on the same basic framework.

I’ve played in and ran a couple of other scenarios over the years as well, but I kept coming back to the simple rules I’d first encountered in Sunset Claws as pretty much my ideal.

Sunset Claws is where I started when I began writing Blackened Hearts, and I feel like I did a good job of replacing and updating the mechanics, customising them for the type of game I wanted to write, and just generally making the rules better than they were when I found them. I’m especially happy with the Crease/Tear mechanic I devised for pacing use of characters’ abilities throughout the scenario.

When I was writing, I gave a lot of thought to how complex it should be, plot-wise. You want enough complexity that everyone has plenty to do, but not so much that it becomes overwhelming and players don’t have time to do what they need to do.

The basis of the scenario is two major plots, each of which everyone can get involved with as they affect everyone on the crew: one is a bit of political intrigue around the captaincy and the other is the potential existence of a supernatural threat. If the cast is just the “core” eight characters, there is also a single side plot that characters get involved in. With that few players, the intrigue and action focuses very heavily on the two major plots.

If the full fifteen characters are used, however, I felt that there simply wasn’t enough material to keep everyone busy. To address this, each character beyond the core eight either adds a significant additional complication to an existing plot, or introduces an entirely new small side plot. This makes things increasing more chaotic as more people are added and I’d say that if you want the scenario to really shine you should definitely pull together a full cast of fifteen than going with just the core.

I think I ended up striking a good balance and the feedback from the live playtest seems to bear that out. I received a lot of great feedback from the playtest and made significant changes not only to the characters but the underlying mechanics of the game based on it. You can’t see exactly how well a game will work while you’re writing it — you need to chuck it at actual people, see how it survives contact with real players, before you can get a proper understanding of how well it’s put together.

A note on gender: “Are you a girl or a boy?” “I’m a pirate!” “Well yes, but what’s in your pants?” “Spanish doubloons!” All characters have been written as gender-neutral, so players are free to pick whichever gender they feel most comfortable roleplaying as when choosing a character (or to leave it ambiguous).

This is something that a few people have responded positively to, so I feel it’s worthwhile taking a second to talk about it.

In previous parlour-style LARPs I’ve played in, pretty much every character was written to be a specific gender. Normally, a small handful of characters would note that they could be easily genderflipped and would provide an alternate name to be used in that case. I’m not sure if this is consistent acrossmost LARP scenarios, it was just something common to every one that I’ve personally played in.

I had noticed, from past experience, that doing it that way could result in some minor issues and confusion when it came to picking roles and remembering who is playing who. For example, some people just aren’t comfortable playing a character of the opposite gender in a LARP so it throws up a barrier to picking certain characters for them. For genderflipped characters, it can be tricky (especially if playing with strangers) for everyone to remember that a particular character, who is referred to as male with a male name in your role descriptions, is being played as a female character with a different name.

When I first started coming up with the character list, I decided to try and head off these problems by writing a handful of characters as gender neutral. I starting trying to work out what the split would be — what would be more convenient for most groups? 5 male, 5 female, 5 neutral? I wasn’t too sure. I was fiddling around when I realised that I couldn’t think of a decent reason why I couldn’t write all of the characters as gender neutral and just let each person sort it out for themselves.

Overall, I think it works well. If and when I write another LARP scenario, I’ll probably handle characters the same way.

I’ve actually already got a few short notes on things I think probably could be done better, but seemed like they would create a lot more work for fairly small payoffs. If and when I get more play data and feedback, I’ll definitely consider taking the time to revise the scenario and release an updated version. Until then, I’ll leave it as-is and other people can have a bit of fun with it and let me know what they think.

Blackened Hearts is available as a Pay-What-You-Want download from DriveThruRPG — please head over and grab a copy!


Blackened Hearts

The story so far…

It is a fine day for larceny upon the high seas indeed! The Devil hisself must have blest the crew of the Black Kraken with his own luck—how else could it be that you would happen upon the fat Spanish treasure galleon the Urca de Lima, separated from her escort and crippled by one of the worst storms that ever scoured the ocean? Then again, even in these most favourable circumstances, the Spaniards fought long and hard before you finally took her. The Urca de Lima now trails behind you, a small prize crew doing what they can to keep her limping along just long enough to get to the port of Tortuga.

It’s been clear sailing all week all the way back to Tortuga—almost suspiciously easy-going and peaceful, in fact—and without much to do the crew’s been going stir-crazy thinking about how they’ll spend their ill-gotten rewards. In fact, the Captain’s arranged for an early share of the loot to be divided amongst the crew. Those who aren’t needed to sail the ship are able to enjoy the rest of the evening with a little bit of early gambling and drinking, so everyone is in high spirits. All that’s left now is to enjoy the rest of the evening as you coast into port, and maybe swindle some of your fellows out of their share.

Wait, what’s all this about a curse?

Blackened Hearts is a live action roleplaying (LARP) scenario for 8 to 15 players plus a Game Master (GM) that runs for approximately two and a half hours, not including set up and tidying afterward.

In a LARP, you take on the role of a character and physically act out that character’s actions, pursuing their goals and interacting with other players while remaining ‘in character’. More specifically, this scenario is a parlour-style LARP, meaning that the area of play is confined to a relatively small area and the focus is on roleplay and intrigue rather than combat.

Blackened Hearts uses a very simple set of mechanics to govern what a character is able to do in the context of the scenario. It is designed to be played with the assistance of a GM who will facilitate the game.

The download package includes a main document that outlines everything you need to know to play and printable PDF versions of all material that need to be printed prior to the LARP.

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Eidolon: I Actually Did A Thing

My time off from my full-time employment is rushing toward a close. I have less than six weeks remaining before I head back, and I feel like I don’t have a lot to show for it. My intention was to write my next two books in the ten months I had off. Instead, I’ve got two partially-written first drafts, neither of which is close to being finished. I don’t know if I’ll make significant progress on either of them before I have to rejoin the daily grind.

At the beginning, I was working extremely well. The first couple of months were easily my most productive — maybe even more productive than the entire period after them. Then I had some recurring issues with my chronic depression playing up quite badly, which threw me off and it’s been an extreme struggle to try to get back into basically anything at all. On top of that, I had to move house in the middle of things so there were other things that delayed and stressed me and just sort of made everything a lot harder.

I did manage to write five short stories, all of which are available for free on this site and others. Some of them I’m honestly not overly fond of, and some of them I actually think are reasonably good. Even so, they’re fairly small things and I don’t really consider them significant accomplishments.

Just today, though, I stopped working on an actual Thing that is now basically finished.

A while ago, I’d been talking to my sister (an actress who graduated from the New York Film Academy a little while back) who mentioned that there aren’t a lot of scripts around for small, local directors who are looking to produce things, and suggested that if I wrote a script, she would be able to pass it around her contacts and we could all maybe do a thing together. I had a bit of a think about it and set down some base guidelines that I thought would be important if what I wrote was ever going to get filmed — I’d need to write something that would be cheap to produce, used minimal sets and actors, etc. An idea sparked right away, but it took a while for me to actually do some serious work on it.

I went through a couple of drafts, sent it through to my normal set of beta readers, did some reworking, and a week or so ago I sat down with a few people and we did a proper table read of the script. I made more edits based on feedback received from my ‘actors’ on the day, as well as going through the recording of the table read several times and making even more changes based on that. Now I think I’m basically done with it. I’ve sent it off to my editor for another read, just to catch any typos or other small mistakes that may have slipped through, but once he gives it the all clear I’ll be passing it along to my sister, who has some directors she’s planning on approaching with it.

I don’t want to share too much of the contents, except to say it’s a horror script that should turn out a film about 15-17 minutes long. I wrote a very short blurb because I am in the habit of doing that with anything that I write these days, thanks to the short story competitions I’ve been entering, which I’ll also share:

No-one believed Allison was innocent. Her fanciful story about her parents being murdered by a monster from her childhood imaginings was a delusion at best; or a poorly thought-out lie at worst. That’s what the jury decided. They were wrong.

I don’t think it’s a great blurb, but it gets across the gist.

So yeah. I did a thing.

I have no illusions about the likelihood of it actually being picked up by a director, but it is a Finished Thing I can add to my list of other Finished Things and feel a bit better about myself. On top of that, writing a script was very different to writing a novel or a short story. Dialog works differently and you have to take a much more visual approach but also cut everything right back and not have any more description than is necessary. I’m glad I spent the time writing it, and feel like I learned some stuff along the way.



I’ve got one other side project that I have a fairly firm intention to complete before returning to work. I’ve talked about it on here before: Blackened Hearts.

We had the original first playtest way back in June, which I was exceedingly happy with. There were a lot of changes that I wanted to make, most of which I’ve now made, and I wanted to package it up in a professional-ish quality set of documents — again, most of which I’ve written and done. There is one major part I need to do still that will probably be quite a lot of work, but the bulk of the project is actually done. If I worked on it with any sort of real regularly, I would have been done by now.

As it stands, I need to (1) finish reviewing the character role descriptions and re-organising the item and power cards, (2) write some short, basic examples in the GM section for the end-of-game denouements, and (3) come up with new powers for more than half of the characters [this is the big one].

Once I’ve done that and put together everything in a convincing-looking package, it’ll go to my editor for checking. After that, I’ll be looking for someone else to run a playtest of it. Honestly, I might even just release it then if I’m happy enough with it, and once I manage to organise someone to run a second playtest I can always update/reupload the PDFs later if there are more changes/tweaks I want to make.

I’m not ever going to be super happy with how much work I’ve gotten done this year, but having at least a couple of big Finished Things under my belt at the end of it (and the short stories as well, I guess) will at least go a long way to making me feel like it hasn’t been a complete wash.

This afternoon I’m at least going to make an effort to get some more Blackened Hearts work done. We’ll see how I go.

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The Key of Allen

This story was my second round entry in NYC Midnight‘s 2017 Flash Fiction Challenge. The writing prompts that I had in my brief were: Fantasy | A Dry Riverbed | An Allen Wrench.



Elora stifled a shriek of surprise as a whip-thin blade flicked past her ear, nicking her cloak and coming to rest firmly against her neck. ‘Yield, thief, and I will be merciful,’ the warrior said, her voice quiet and hard as steel.

‘Talawen,’ Elora mumbled. ‘It’s… it’s me.’

Her older sister straightened and blinked in surprise, peering through the darkness of the gilded hallway. ‘Elora? What in all of Faen do you think you’re doing?’

‘Shh!’ The younger woman waved her hands desperately. ‘The guards will hear!’

Talawen hesitated briefly, but dropped her sword to her side and her voice to a whisper. ‘Is that the Key of Allen? How did you even get it out of the treasury?’

Shifting the uncomfortable weight of the artefact strapped to her back, Elora set her jaw and averted her eyes. ‘I’m taking it to the fortress.’

A look of exasperation flickered across Talawen’s face. Grabbing her younger sister by the hand, she dragged her down the hall toward her bedroom. Elora allowed herself to be led, trying to still the trembling of her hands.

Once they were safely out of the halls, Talawen closed the door behind them and walked over to her balcony doors, drawing back the curtains to let silvery moonlight spill across the room. She paused a moment as her eyes adjusted, then opened the doors and walked outside into the cool night air. Elora followed.

‘Mother has made her decree,’ Talawen said. There was no heat in her voice, only tiredness. ‘Preparations are already underway. We leave a week hence. You know this.’

Elora walked over to the edge of the balcony, unshouldering the Key of Allen and resting it against the white marble balustrade. She stretched her arms, feeling the relief of the muscles in her already-aching back. The Key was a dreadful, imposing thing: a thick rod of shining black metal fashioned into a perfectly hexagonal shape. It was featureless and unmarked save for the last third of the rod, which had been bent precisely perpendicular to the rest. Were it straight it would measure more than two full inches, almost as long as Elora was tall.

She gripped the railing with both hands. ‘We can’t just leave. This is our home. Our people have lived here since they left the forest.’

‘And the Queen has decreed that we will return there. It isn’t your decision to make.’

‘Leaving won’t protect us! The forest of ancestors is too far for us to travel there safely. How many will die before we reach it?’

Talawen sighed. ‘The flow of the river powers the wards that protect us. Unless the water returns soon, we will no longer be hidden. The fell beasts of the field will prey upon us. The humans will find us. What other choice do we have?’

Only a week ago, Talawen’s balcony had commanded a breathtaking view of the river whose flow protected their kingdom. On a fine day you could see clear across the glittering waters to the shore beyond. Now all that remained was a tiny trickle of mud, a bare whisper of the once-powerful torrent that had carved out the now-dry riverbed.

The hairs on the back of Elora’s neck prickled as she looked upriver. Though it was concealed by distance and darkness, she could still sense the foreboding presence of the grim citadel that now spanned the river, diverting the water from its natural course. She pictured it in her mind. Stark, blocky parapets of enormous size and long ramparts that allowed only the barest trickle of water through.

The construction was many hundreds of inches long—perhaps even a thousand!—and, given that it rose from the deepest parts of the riverbed to the height of the shore, at least forty inches tall. That the humans had raised such a fortress in a single day was a testament to the power of their dark and terrible magics.

‘Grandfather’s journal—’

‘This again?’ Talawen interrupted. ‘Mother told you we cannot rely on those stories.’

‘Grandfather’s journal,’ Elora repeated stubbornly, ‘says that the human child he befriended bestowed the Key upon him as a gift.’

‘Yes. And?’

‘He said it was a tool. One that could be used to build things, but could be used to unmake them as well.’

Talawen shook her head. ‘Even if that were true, we don’t know the first thing about their magic. You aren’t human. You can’t just wave one of their tools of creation and hope it does something.’

‘Look at it.’ Elora rested a hand on the black metal. ‘It looks large to us, but to a human? It wouldn’t even be the size of a finger. It would be tiny. I don’t think it was forged for them. I think was for us. Maybe Allen—whoever he was—knew that we would need it one day?’

‘That’s still not enough to risk the whole kingdom on!’

‘But I think I know how to use it! It’s a key. It’s always referred to as a key. If there’s a key…’ She paused, waiting for her sister to follow her thought.

‘…a key implies a lock.’ Talawen grimaced, but nodded reluctantly.

Elora turned to look at her sister, a look of fierce determination on her face. ‘I will take the Key to the fortress and I will use it to undo what the humans have done.’

Talawen looked at her for a long time. ‘All right,’ she said eventually. ‘Give me a few moments to gather my armour.’

‘You’ll come with me?’ Elora blinked, surprised.

‘Of course.’ Talawen sighed again and allowed herself a tight smile. ‘What kind of a sister would I be if I let you go alone? We’ll do this together.’

Minutes later, they were gone.

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White Storm

This story was my first round entry in NYC Midnight‘s 2017 Flash Fiction Challenge. The writing prompts that I had in my brief were: Sci-Fi | A Weather Station | A Slice of Pizza.



Dani stared at the slice of pizza in horror. The station was quiet, bar the constant muted shrieking of the White Storm raging below. The whole habitat seemed to convulse, rolling on the atmospheric currents like a ship on a storm-tossed sea.

The motion sickness pills the institute had helpfully provided barely made any difference at all. It had taken Dani three months to acclimate to the station’s constant pitching and lurching. The White Storm was more violent than any other weather system Dani had experienced during the last eighteen months aboard the Rhea habitat.

Then there was the isolation. Shipping out to a remote monitoring station in Saturn’s upper atmosphere hadn’t bothered Dani too much to start with. The first fifteen months had been mostly fine. Communication with Earth or the Mars colony had a three-hour delay, which wasn’t so bad. Jocasta, the station’s virtual intelligence, was designed with emotional responses to mitigate the loneliness. She wasn’t perfect, but she helped. He painted in his spare time using a virtual reality interface to simulate his loft back on Earth, complete with paint and canvases.

Then the White Storm had started, two years early. Dani should have been long gone and Rhea’s systems would have become automated for the duration. He wasn’t supposed to be here.

After the first week, radio and plasma interference had reached the point where any signal in or out was scrambled. Dani was completely cut off. It had taken a few more weeks to sink in and for him to realise that — even with all of Rhea’s instruments — there was no real way to predict how long the storm would last. Though most recorded historical White Storms were over in a handful of weeks, the 2010-11 storm had lasted for 267 days.

A little over five months later, the storm still showed no sign of abating and Dani started to crack.

It was little things at first. Hygiene dropped by the wayside. At the seven month mark his clothes had started to feel so tight and abrasive that he’d crammed them into the waste disposal unit and incinerated them. Jocasta alerted him that his behaviour was becoming erratic. He disabled her for being mouthy.

At eight months Dani created what he considered his masterpiece. He’d remembered seeing abstract works created using the human body as a brush. Headset on, he greased himself up with heaping handfuls of virtual paint and flopped about on the cold metal floor until he accidently crushed his left testicle. It hurt so badly he’d gotten into the emergency kit’s medical morphine. Things had progressed from there.

Dani became fixated on food. He missed proper Earth food. There was variety in his diet and some was even relatively tasty, but there were no hot chips, no steaming bowls of risotto, no pizza.
No pizza. That was the worst one.

So he started to experiment. He was a scientist, after all.

This had proven to be a mistake, Dani realised as he stared at the gooey mess of rehydrated macaroni cheese, bolognese sauce and chunks of irradiated meat that was now splattered across his keyboard. The tortilla had failed him.

The towel he grabbed to clean up with was woefully insufficient for the task. Tossing it aside, he used his fingers to scrape at the hot gunk between the keys. He bent over to lick them — fingers and keys both — clean.

It wasn’t until he looked up that he realised he’d been pressing keys the entire time. The measurements from the previous five months were gone. Just gone. The bottom fell out of his stomach. Hands shaking, Dani closed and reopened the database. Nothing.

The backups, then. Oh, no. Dani closed his eyes and started to rock back and forth gently as he remembered last month’s attempts to ‘streamline’ the station’s backup procedures and the mess he’d made of the hard drives. There were no backups, not anymore.

Recorded in those observations had been a complete refutation of the current theory about the White Storms’ origins. Rhea’s instruments had measured the precise mechanism. It had all been there, laid out in the data. It was something that challenged their understanding of atmospherics and could hold the key to accelerating the slow terraforming of Mars.

The Cassini nanosatellites orbiting the planet were monitoring the storm as well, but the data they were able to collect was of limited use compared to the wealth that Rhea was capable of recording. Capturing the details of the White Storm was the realisation of Rhea’s purpose. It was the culmination of tens of thousands of man-hours of work by a hundred different agencies. And he had fucked it all up.

The storm might continue for a few more months and Rhea would gather plenty on its ongoing effect and end, but all the data on the storm’s conception and build-up was lost. White Storms were rare, occurring once every 20 to 30 years. That was how far back Dani had just set all of meteorological science. Dani was done. Finished.

Or was he? A fevered plan started to form in his mind. He’d already spent months analysing the data. New information could be used as a baseline. There was no way he could remember every detail, but he had a pretty good idea of what the trends had been. Besides, Dani was a scientist, wasn’t he? A meteorologist, at that. He could just make it up. Make it all up.

Pawing at the keyboard again, he reopened the database. New data was already being recorded, measurements taken every few seconds. All he had to do was reconstruct five months’ worth of information before the storm finished and communication resumed with Earth. Hell, he could probably just program a randomiser, plug in a few variables and it’d be able to fill in the data in an hour. Simple.

Dani began to laugh. A few moments later, still tapping away at the keys, he began to cry.

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LARP Playtest Successful

A couple of days ago I ran the initial playtest for Blackened Hearts, the parlour-style LARP scenario I’ve been working on. While there were a few hiccups here and there, overall the night was a pretty definitive success. The players all enjoyed themselves and I got a lot of positive responses (it feels good when people like/enjoy a thing you did!). As the GM and writer, I noted several things throughout the night that I wanted to add or fix in a revised version, and I got some valuable notes on individual characters by distributing a short feedback survey after the game.

A fair few characters need very little work except for polishing. The ones that had the most potential issues flagged in the feedback survey were ones I already had my eye on in my pre-playtest notes, so it was nice to have some of my own suspicions confirmed. There are one or two things that I’m not sure a single playtest can adequately inform — one character is a cursed spirit possessing a member of the crew and their player said they found it almost too easy to create havoc and spread their curse without any suspicion falling on them, but that might have just been a lucky break for them with other players just not picking up on hints or sharing information. I’m probably going to leave that plot completely as-is for now and see how follow-up playtests go to see if its an actual recurring issue or a one-time thing.

A big thing that I’m still not fully decided on is a replacement for the REFRESH mechanic. One thing that sort of bugged me in Sunset Claws and its sequel was the way the single-use powers are hoarded until later in the game — barely anyone will use a power in the first hour because what if you need it later? My solution in the first draft of Blackened Hearts was to mark most “single-use” powers with REFRESH. When you use a power card, you fold it in half and crease it to show it had been used. If it was marked with REFRESH, for 15 minutes after the GM calls the half-way point you can turn it in to the GM to get a new one. This encourages players to use these powers during the first half of the game, without them missing out on having them in the second half.

There’s an obvious problem with this re: GM access, but in actual play it wasn’t as difficult to manage as I’d worried. The biggest issue is a queue forming as people line up to get their cards switched — even though when I made the half-way announcement I asked that people not queue up, a couple of people still did. I had a discussion after the game with a few of the players who pointed out the issues with it, and I tend to agree. It only took a minute or two to sort everyone out, but it was an undesirable interruption in the action.

Then again, the only alternative that I can see actually working properly during play is to have time-specific power cards — i.e. have duplicate power cards that specifically can only be used in the first or second half of the game. However, the problem I see with this is (combined with the pretty consistent feedback that most characters need an extra power card) … I’m worried that each player having four or five power cards instead of two or three will be a bit of a card overload, and there is a potential issues around mixing up which card you can currently use.

At this stage, I really want to go to Steve D, who wrote the mechanics that I based mine on, and see what his opinion on the whole thing is. I’m just not quite sure what to do at this stage, but I don’t want to abandon it entirely as I think pacing the use of powers throughout the LARP is a desirable outcome.

I’ve still got a long way to go on it, but my road map going forward looks like:

  • finish making a full list of all of the changes and additions I want to make;
  • write a proper introduction, a guide to pre-game preparation, and GM notes on how to run the game;
  • construct an actual vaguely professional-looking draft document to import the original stuff into;
  • work on actually revising and adding to the bits I’ve already written;
  • do a quick once-over to make sure I haven’t missed anything and to catch any minor errors; and
  • submit it through to my editor for a proper review, then make any changes based on his feedback.

Once all that is done, I’d like to run a second and third playtest — we had an almost full group for the initial playtest (14 players), so I’d like to stress-test it with the minimum (8) to make sure its still fun with fewer people. Then I’d want to do a final playtest, again with as many roles filled as practical. I’d want few (if any) of the original playtesters in these subsequent tests, so maybe if an upcoming convention coincides for when I want to run it that would be a good option. Otherwise, I’ll have to do some networking and see who I can find who’s interested. Ideally, I’d like to be able to hand off the draft revised version to another GM and get feedback on my GM sections from someone running it, but I don’t know if that’ll be able to happen… maybe I can ask around on RPGnet.

All in all, I’m pretty happy with Blackened Hearts so far and I think it’s already comparable in quality to the scenarios that inspired it. I really want to take it that extra step forward and make it into something I can really be proud of.

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Upcoming Deadlines

I’m reorganizing myself a little and trying to focus on a couple of deadlines that are looming large on the horizon. I’m still working on game development stuff in Unity and struggling to make headway on my next novel, but the below are additional projects with real world deadlines that will impact me negatively if I miss them.


Blackened Hearts (10 June 2017)
I’ve organised an initial play test of Blackened Hearts, the pirate LARP I’ve been writing, to occur on 10 June. I don’t want to be writing the damn thing right up until the day of the event, so my deadline to entirely finish the play test documents is a week prior. Currently:

  • 10 out of the 15 character roles have been written up and had an initial editing pass, so they’re pretty much play test ready, and the other 5 are still in varying stages of completion;
  • the rules document that is to accompany them is about 66-ish% done — I did the initial write-up ages ago and have edited it since then, but there is now some extra stuff I need to add to it and I want to include a section on pirate gambling games that people can play during the LARP;
  • the item cards are 90% done and ready to print, there’s just a few last-minute additions I need to make to finalise the document;
  • the power cards are woefully underdone… I’ve got basic one-line descriptions written for about 75% of what I intend to include, with no actual cards finished yet.

Immediate goals: Today I intend to finalise the item cards and finish up at least one character role. Then, I’ll be angling to finalise another two character roles by the end of Friday and make a start on the power cards, with a view to completely finishing the LARP by the end of next week.


The Big Issue Fiction Edition (5 June 2017)
The Big Issue is accepting public submissions of short stories of up to 3,000 words for their next Fiction Edition — this is a paid gig if you’re accepted, so I’d really like to make it in. Submitted stories need to be previously unpublished, which means I can’t just use one of the ones I’ve already written and posted here. I need to work out what I want to write about and write the full thing. They only accept submissions by post, not email, so I don’t want to be writing right up to the deadline. Even if I don’t get accepted, it’ll at least give me another story I can post up here.

Immediate goals: Today I am going to read last year’s Fiction Edition, so I can see what sort of things they tend to accept. I’ll try to have a full concept and outline hammered out by the end of next week. Then I’ll try to finish it the week following.


Not Actual Deadlines

On top of those, there’s a couple of other things I’d really like to do in the upcoming weeks:

  • An as-yet-unnamed script for a short horror film I’ve bee working on (about a third of the way done) that I’d really like to finish off before my birthday (18 June); and
  • I want to commission some cover art for the short stories I’ve published on here so that I can package them as freebies on Amazon’s Kindle store as well. As they’re just going to be free, I’m not looking to spend a lot of cash on the art — I’m thinking minimalist, simple covers (Google minimalist book covers if you want to see the sort of thing I mean). I’ve got professional artist friends, but I don’t think what I’m looking for is worth their time or rates so I might just grab an artist off Fiverr. Again, I’d really like to do this before my birthday.

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Morning Routine

I had the idea for this story kicking around in my head for about a year or so. After the NYC Midnight competition I felt like writing another short piece, so I went ahead and finally wrote it. No prompts or anything.



Tamlin slowly drifted back into consciousness. Rolling over, she snuggled into the warmth of the blankets, smiling at how cosy she was. There was no alarm to force her out of bed, no schedule for today that she had to fulfil. It was her favourite part of life these days: being free from routine. She stretched, reaching up with her arms and arching her back until it felt like she was about to pop.

On bare feet, she padded over to the windows that spanned the wall opposite her bed. She threw open the drapes, letting the golden light of the morning sun stream into her bedroom. Lingering for just a moment, she smiled again as the light played over her skin, warming her. Tamlin loved the sun. It made her feel energised.

Squinting, she looked out at the city beyond the windows. Dawn’s orange-gold fingers played over the silent buildings and streets. It was quiet. Peaceful. Serene. Nothing moved in the city below. Not that she could see, anyway. Above, clouds lazily crawled their way across the sky. It was going to be another lovely day.

Shrugging out of the thin shift she’d worn to bed, she paused at her wardrobe, hand hovering over its contents in indecision. It was a nice day out, so something light? She made a selection, pulling it over her skinny frame, then stood in front of the mirror. The dress was a warm yellow that reminded Tamlin of the sun, and was covered in prints of tiny white flowers. She spun a little, letting the dress fan out, and giggled. It was cute.

On her way out, she scooped up a wicker basket from the corner of the room. Admiral Fluffybutt had fallen over—she straightened the dun-coloured stuffed rabbit so that his head peeked out over the edge of the basket. He wouldn’t quite stay put so she had to prop him up with the loaded handgun next to him. Once he was sitting nicely, she tucked the basket handle into the crook of her elbow and strolled out the door.

Crossing the small apartment, she paused only to slip on a pair of strappy white sandals that she’d left by the front door and retrieve her enormous, jangling bundle of keys from its bowl. She then made her way down the hall from where she slept, in 71, to 73. Tamlin fumbled with her keys for a moment, then unlocked the other apartment.

73 was a disorganised mess. There was a single long slab of bottled water, still sealed in plastic, on the kitchen counter, and cardboard boxes filled with pill bottles piled on the floor. Tamlin took a pair of scissors from a drawer and snipped at the plastic, carefully liberating a bottle of Pure Spring Water. Opening it, she took a sip and made a face at the plastic flavour that had seeped in.

Tamlin started to retrieve pills from each of the bottles that sat in a neat line on the counter next to the water. Iron, because she didn’t eat meat. Calcium, because she didn’t drink milk. Fish oil, because it’s good for the brain. Multivitamin, because she was sure there was some other stuff she needed but she wasn’t sure what. One after the other, she swallowed them with a small mouthful of water. She made a face after each one, trying to stop herself from gagging on the pills. Blech. She’d always hated taking pills.

After she was done, she popped a chewable vitamin C tablet into her mouth and crunched it between her teeth. It’d help her not get sick, plus it was a tasty treat to reward herself for being a good girl and taking her pills. The half-empty bottle of water went into her basket.

She exited 73, locking the door behind her, and crossed the hall to 74. Inside, a slight breeze ruffled the curtains that framed the smashed windows, carrying a vaguely unpleasant odour with it. Tamlin walked over to them and sniffed. It didn’t smell like burning outside today, which was good.

In the kitchen, Tamlin pulled out one of her big jars of vegetables. She unscrewed the lid, wrinkling her nose again at the sharp vinegary smell, then carefully drained the liquid into a big gallon bottle she kept for that purpose. She emptied the rest of the contents of the jar onto a plate, then tucked into the mix of pickled tomatoes, carrots, cucumber, and cauliflower with a fork. She was mostly used to the flavour now, though sometimes she got really bad acid reflux and had to take tablets to settle her stomach.

After breakfast, the empty pickling jar joined the water, keys, gun, and Admiral Fluffybutt in her basket. She’d already decided that she’d visit Harris this morning—he loved jars, and she could still spare a few. She locked the door then headed to the stairs at the end of the hall. The door here was locked as well, but she had a key.

The stairs led up to the building’s roof access, another door. Sitting on a hook nearby was a large, floppy hat. Tamlin picked it up as she headed outside, pausing in the light to let the sun warm her again. She let out a small sigh of contentment, then put her hat on and went to inspect the planter boxes.

There were a dozen of them in a pair of neat rows, remnants of the community garden that had once flourished on the rooftop. Tamlin had taken over their care. She was surprisingly good at it, she thought. The various vegetables were growing and healthy, some almost ready for her to harvest and stuff into the pickling jars downstairs.

She went to the other side of the roof, where bright blue tarpaulin stretched between the small ventilation turbines. The big five-gallon bottle she’d placed directly underneath the weighted hole in the middle of her water collection system was empty. It hadn’t rained in a few days, but that was okay. There was enough water downstairs to last her a week or more—she was more concerned about her garden.

All seemed well out here, so it was time to go see Harris!

Tamlin headed back inside and down the stairs, passing her floor and continuing downward until she reached the first floor. There was an open atrium that connected the ground floor with this one, so she strolled over to the balcony overlooking the lobby. Putting her basket down, she leant over the railing. ‘Harris! Good morning!’ she called out.

Below, a gaunt figure peeled itself from the barricaded front door it had been plastered to and shakily lurched a couple of steps toward her. The tall man made a gurgling snarling sound in the back of his throat. His face was a mass of shredded meat and dried blood.

‘Hiiii, Harris!’ Tamlin waved excitedly at her neighbour.

Harris flailed his arms in her general direction in response as he went through his normal routine. He stumbled underneath the balcony, losing sight of her, and Tamlin heard some thumps as he searched for a way upstairs.

The stairwell was well barricaded with a dozen pieces of furniture that Tamlin had hauled down from the apartments above, and would take more than a single person to force open. The front door Harris had been pressed against was barricaded firmly from the inside, as were all the windows. He must have already been sick when he’d hid in the building, sealing himself inside. There was very little chance he’d ever escape the lobby on his own.

Tamlin waited patiently as Harris fumbled about, the gaunt man eventually coming back into view once he’d finished trying to get up to her. He stretched upwards, reaching toward her, and made another gurgling growl of frustration.

She grinned and pirouetted, letting her dress flare out. ‘Aw, thank you very much, Harris! And how are you this morning?’

Harris attempted to jump, his fingers brushing the bottom edge of the balcony. He lost his footing as he landed, collapsing into a heap. Tamlin laughed as he pulled himself back up. ‘Now now, you know you’re sick. You gotta stay down there until you get better. If you behave, though, maybe I’ll climb down and get that door open for you so you can go outside!’

He replied with another snarl, stretching his arms out again and straining to reach her. She shook her head. Silly old Harris. Reaching down to the basket by her feet, she grabbed the empty pickling jar from breakfast.

Gently—carefully—Tamlin dropped it down toward Harris. His grasping hands lashed out immediately, snatching it from the air. He immediately lost interest in her, his attention now focused on the object clutched tightly in his hands. Leering down at it, Harris seemed to consider the jar for a moment before he started mashing his face against the top, as though trying to shove his head inside.

She wasn’t sure why he liked the jars. He just did. ‘Make this one last, okay Harris? I need to find some spares before I can give you any more.’

He ignored her. Eventually, he would smash the glass and it would join the other pieces of glass discarded on the floor of the lobby. The small growls and snarls issuing from his throat echoed in the jar, making the whole thing seem a little comical to Tamlin.

Sitting down at the edge of the balcony, she let her legs dangle down. They were easily within Harris’ reach if he decided to try to grab her, but Tamlin wasn’t afraid—he was having too much fun playing with his new jar. She leant her forehead against the railing and watched him for a little while, smiling at his antics.

After a few minutes, she stood up. ‘Okay, Harris, I’m gonna go visit Mrs Childers now. Chat later, okay?’

She scooped up her basket and headed around to 21, unlocking the door with her bundle of keys. Inside, she walked to the bedroom window and opened it. Crawling out onto the fire escape, she took a moment to survey the area below her.

Once she was assured that there was no one around, she started to climb the stairs down to street level, holding on with both hands to steady herself. The counterbalanced stair swung downwards, propelled by her weight, until it thunked gently on the ground below. It was a bit awkward to climb with the basket still tucked in the crook her of arm, but she took it slowly and eventually reached the bottom.

Before she left the last step she grabbed a nearby loop of rope, tied around the bottom of a drainpipe running the length of the building. As she’d done a hundred times before, Tamlin knotted it around the bottom of the stairs to keep them from swinging back up and leaving her stranded on the ground.

She stepped into the alleyway and took a moment to straighten and smooth her dress. Keeping an eye on her surroundings, she strolled casually toward the street. Apart from the sound of the breeze sweeping along some errant papers and Tamlin’s sandals tapping lightly on the pavement, it was silent.

She approached the gutter, then paused and carefully looked both ways. Left, right, then left again. The street was deserted. There were only three cars in sight—two parked neatly by the side of the road, and a third that had been crashed into the building opposite her. She hadn’t seen anyone actually driving around in a very long time, but she’d been taught to be careful when crossing the road.

Safety requirements satisfied, Tamlin crossed the street and headed toward the crashed car. As she rounded the side of the vehicle, Mrs Childers came into view. The old woman had been crushed between the car and the wall and almost completely cut in half. One arm had been caught as well and was now nothing more than a knobbly stump attached to her shoulder.

The old woman shuddered as she noticed Tamlin. Mrs Childers reached out with her good hand, fingers contorted into claws, her severed stump also straining around to wave in her general direction. The old woman’s mouth was open, but the only noise that came out was a barely-audible wheeze.

Tamlin tutted softly, standing just outside of her reach. ‘Hello, Mrs Childers. You need to be careful. You’re already really hurt, you should sit still. You know that you’re stuck. It’ll only make things worse if you wriggle around like that.’

Predictably, there was no response. Tamlin watched the old woman’s features contort in frustration as she strained against the car.

‘It’s nice to see you, too. I’m sorry I don’t visit you too often, but…’ A wide smile on her face, Tamlin reached into her basket. ‘I brought you a friend so you aren’t so lonely out here! Here, his name is Admiral Fluffybutt!’

Holding the stuffed rabbit where Mrs Childers could see it, she carefully leaned forward until she could drop him just where the old woman would be able to reach him. Mrs Childers made no attempt to take the rabbit, still fixated on trying to throw herself forward at Tamlin.

Tamlin frowned. ‘I really hope you feel a bit better soon. Take care of yourself. Goodbye for now.’

At the side of the road, she checked both ways again, just to be sure, then headed back to the alley. She would normally do a little bit of exploring to see if she could find any useful things to bring home, but didn’t really feel like it today. No, today was too nice a day to go scrounging around. She was going to go play on the roof, or maybe even read a book. Before that, though, she should check in on Martin as well.

Tamlin nodded to herself as she climbed back up the fire escape, the counterbalanced stairs lifting up behind her. Back inside, she climbed the stairwell down to the third floor. At the far end of the hall from the stairs was a janitorial closet. Tamlin set her basket to the side of the door and unlocked it, easing the door open carefully.

Martin sat inside, propped up against the back wall. His ankles were bound tightly together with duct tape that Tamlin had wound around and around them, and his arms were securely tied behind his back as well, fastening him to a heating pipe that stuck out from the wall. He couldn’t really move, except to wriggle around a little bit excitedly when he saw her, and the duct tape across his mouth meant he couldn’t talk or really make any sounds at all apart from muffled grunts.

Martin was a couple of years younger than Tamlin, so he was littler and she’d been able to tie him up so he’d be safe when he’d first gotten sick. She could see his jaw working behind the duct tape, as if he were trying to say something, but knew that if she took it off he would just try to bite her again.

‘It’ll be okay, Martin,’ she reassured him. ‘Sorry it’s so dark in here when I go away, but it’s safest for you to stay put, okay? I don’t want you to get hurt.’

The boy wriggled some more and made a muffled ‘mmurrrhhhfff’ noise. Tamlin reached out and gently ruffled his hair. He leaned into it, as though enjoying the contact.

‘You’re lonely, huh?’ She sighed softly. ‘I’ll bring you a friend or two to keep you company, okay?’

Leaning in, she hugged her brother awkwardly, wrapping her arms around his writhing body and holding him tightly. He pressed his face into the crook of her neck, jaw still working.

‘I’m happy you’re still here. One day you’ll be better, okay? Then you can come up and you can eat pickled vegetables with me and we can play like we did before.’

Tamlin pulled back and looked at him, cocking her head to one side, as though listening to something. Then she smiled. ‘Love you, too.’

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A Prisoner’s Dilemma

This story was my second round entry in NYC Midnight‘s 2017 Short Story Challenge. The writing prompts that I had in my brief were: Historical Fiction | A Tunnel | A New Father.



‘Hey, Hank,’ Willard whispered under his breath. ‘Ain’t you only in for a five bit? Why you wanna escape for?’

The two men were almost painfully close together, shoulder-to-shoulder. The tunnel was high enough to crouch in, barely, but it was easier to lie down and crawl while they were scraping away with their stolen spoons. It was cool down here, under the prison, and the air stank of sweat and dry earth.

Carefully, Hank took a handful of loose dirt and tucked it into his undershirt against his stomach. ‘I knocked up Ethel not long before I got sent over. Carl came by a couple of weeks ago, told me we had a girl. Dottie, Ethel called her.’

The other man snorted. ‘Well congratulations.’

‘I been in here ten months. Ethel ain’t come to see me, not once. Carl told me she says she don’t want nothing to do with me, not while I’m under glass. My dad sat in the cooler eight years while I was growin’ up and I ain’t gonna do the same to Dottie. I gotta be there for her, Will.’

‘Right, I got ya,’ Willard said. A second later he chuckled softly to himself.

Hank stopped, glaring blindly towards the bank robber in the darkness. ‘What’s funny?’

‘Ah jeez. Nothing. Sorry. You ain’t the only one here ‘cause they’re dizzy with a dame, is all.’ There was still a smile in his voice.

‘I’m not…’ Hank absently turned his digging tool over in his hand as his jaw worked, trying to find the right words. ‘I just gotta be there for my daughter, okay? Ain’t gonna just sit in the cooler while she grows up. Can’t.’

Willard shifted, moving another handful of dirt. ‘Sure, sure. Hey, you run with us after we’re out, you’ll be rolling in kale. That’ll change her mind quick. You’d be surprised how many broads’ll size up as a worker for the right amount of scratch. And if she don’t, forget about her. You’ll have your pick.’

‘Look, Will, that ain’t what I’m about.’ Hank could feel the bile rise up in the back of his throat. He’d been nine when his own father got out of prison; a stranger that had swaggered back into his mom’s world like he owned it.

Hank had been excited at first—his dad had bought him a shiny new bike, a real expensive one. He hadn’t realised it was a bribe, not ‘til later at least. Just one of many his father had used to pay his way back into their lives.

‘Yeah, we’ll see,’ said Willard.

Hank could tell that Willard was still smiling and it pissed him off. He dug into the tunnel wall with a renewed burst of energy, stabbing at the hard-packed earth. It’d always been just like that. His dad would disappear for a few days and come back with even more money. He’d buy them some things, then spend the rest of his time out with Johnny Barleycorn.

Young Hank hadn’t been able to sleep. He’d just lie awake and listen for when his dad got home, slurred and stumbling and pitching for a fight. Sometimes his mom was lucky and the old man would pass out before he got too bad. Sometimes she wasn’t.

‘Careful!’ Willard hissed, nudging him with a shoulder. ‘You wanna bring the bulls down on us?’

Hank dutifully subdued his movements, setting his jaw and pushing away the memories of his childhood. The minutes trickled by in relative silence, broken only by the scrape of spoons on hard earth and their breathing.

After a while a grinding, metallic noise came from behind them. Dim light crept shallowly into the tunnel and Hank could actually see his hands in front of his face again. It was time to change shifts. He handed his spoon to Willard, who grinned at him. ‘See ya.’

Taking care not to grind his knees or elbows into the dirt, he wriggled backwards, lifting himself into a hunched crouch and shuffling back toward the tunnel’s entrance. At the end he stood up, his body just narrowly fitting up into the wallspace. The hole they’d chiselled in the concrete bricks was a tight fit, but Hank flopped through it like a fish, just as he’d done dozens of times before.

The cell was small and cramped. There was a set of bunk beds bolted to the floor on one side, a toilet and tiny washbasin against the opposite wall. Joey stood over him, giving him a quick nod of acknowledgement. Hank hurriedly stood and moved out of the way as Joey moved the toilet back into place against the wall, hiding the tunnel entrance behind the cistern.

Straightening his uniform, Hank carefully brushed away the traces of dirt clinging to the black and white stripes. As usual, some was ground in and wouldn’t come out ‘til he could get it washed, but they were cautiously confident that they were safe so long as the bulls didn’t look too closely. At least, they hadn’t been caught out just yet.

Joey stepped across the cramped room and lifted himself onto the edge of the top bunk, legs dangling down while he kept watch out the door. The bank robber couldn’t see the corridor properly from where he was, but he didn’t need to. Harry Pierpont sat across the way two cells down, watching from where he was, and Louis was down the opposite way, looking bored as he leaned casually against the blank wall. Joey could see both of them from where he was and they had worked out some simple signals to warn him about guards or other problems.

Feigning nonchalance, Hank strolled out the open door and started his walk around the perimeter of the cell block. He didn’t see the guard until it was too late. Rounding the last corner before the yard, Hank walked right into the heavy-set bull coming the other way.

‘Watch it, prisoner!’ the man snarled.

A meaty palm slammed into the middle of Hank’s chest, pinning him against the wall. The bull’s other hand was already hovering over the heavy truncheon at his waist, ready to administer the precise level of beating its owner deemed necessary.

Hank mumbled out an apology, heart pounding in his chest, almost choking on fear and the stench of cheap cigarettes on the guard’s breath. There was a tickling itch at his side and he realised with horror that some of the dirt tucked into his undershirt had spilled out onto the guard’s shoes.

The other man’s eyes drilled into him, daring him to make a wrong move. Hank looked down and away, desperately willing the other man to just move on, praying that he wouldn’t notice the dirt. After a few moments, the guard snorted in amusement, apparently satisfied by Hank’s easy submission.

Hank almost fell over when the bull let him go and walked off. He took a deep breath, trying to steady himself, but his mind was racing. If he’d been caught just then, his life would have been over. Escaping…when he did escape, was he going to feel like that all the time?

He forced himself to start walking again, putting one plodding foot in front of the other. He’d been so desperate to not have Dottie start her life without a father, he hadn’t really thought through the situation he’d be throwing himself into. He’d be a wanted criminal for the rest of his life—would he even be able to provide for Ethel and Dottie without running bank robberies with these guys?

Joey, Willard and Louis had robbed a half-dozen banks between them. Willard had even killed a copper during one of his escapes. If they broke out together, he’d be one of them. Probably for the rest of his life.

At the far end of the cell block was a tiny metal drain with thick grating across it set into the concrete floor. Hank looked around, pretending to stretch, then leaned against the wall next to the drain and slid down to sit by it. If he stayed in here, though, Dottie wouldn’t have a father for the first four years of her life. Worse, if Ethel kept refusing to come see him, she might move on. They could both disappear and he wouldn’t even have a chance to do right by them. Then again, would Ethel want anything to do with Hank if he was a wanted man? She was angry enough at him as it was…she might even just report him.

The grating over the drain was welded in place, the spaces between the metal so small that you couldn’t even get a finger between them. That was fine for his purposes, though. As Hank sat and thought, he slowly removed the dirt he’d tucked into his undershirt a bit at a time, tipping it down the drain whenever he felt it was safe enough to do so.

As he let a fistful of dirt trickle into the drain, a thought occurred to him. A long while back, he’d heard about some guy in the big house getting his sentence commuted—five years slashed right off for an early parole release—for snitching on other prisoners when they were planning an escape.

Hank wasn’t a violent offender and, so far as the warden knew, he’d been a model prisoner since day one. Escaping from prison may have been a reckless plan, but maybe these guys could still be his ticket out of here. An icy knot formed in Hank’s stomach and a voice in the back of his mind was yelling that he shouldn’t even be considering this. He’d be putting himself in a lot of danger by betraying these people. And yet…

Could he do it? Could he really drop a dime on the others?

He’d have to be careful. This was Willard’s second escape attempt. He’d organised a play three years ago with some other saps. They’d failed, obviously, and he’d had another eight years slapped onto his sentence and spent a year in bing as punishment. Will hated solitary.

Hank had never found out exactly what had happened to Arthur, the guy Will blamed for the bust. Anyone who’d actually been there avoided talking about it and, the one time it’d come up, Willard had seemed oddly satisfied with himself in a way that had made Hank really uncomfortable. They’d probably throw Willard right back in bing if he got caught again. If he found out that Hank were responsible…he remembered Will’s creepy smile and shuddered to himself.

When the dirt was all gone, swallowed up by the prison’s plumbing, Hank eased himself back to his feet and headed back toward the other side of the cell block. As he walked, he watched Louis straighten up and wander away from his lookout post. Ten seconds later, Hank was standing where Louis had been, pacing slowly back and forth.

He swallowed hard, making up his mind. Carl was supposed to come to visit again tomorrow morning. When the bulls came and got him, he’d wait until they cleared the block before letting them know he had important information for the warden. He’d ask to make a deal. Joey and the rest were dangerous felons—Hank was certain he’d be able to get a commuted sentence for flipping on them. All he’d need to do was survive until he could get out on parole, which would hopefully happen sooner rather than later if the warden played ball.

Hank nodded to himself. He’d do this right. Earn his way back into Ethel and Dottie’s lives. Not with lies, crime, and dirty money, but by acting like a responsible father. All he had to do was survive.

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Unity and Numenera

As at least one person keeps reminding me, I haven’t made any posts over the last two weeks. This has been due to a combination of factors that have distracted me from my regular schedule…

Unity, of course, is a major part of that. I fell into a programming rabbit hole and got caught up spending a lot of time putting together a test environment for a game I’ve been thinking about making for a long time, the working title of which is The Stygian Marsh. Honestly, even after spending all of this time working on it, I don’t have a whole lot to show for it. I could have thrown together something much simpler — I mentioned in my last post how amazed I was at how easy it is to churn out something crap in Unity.

The game is set in the Greek Underworld, circa the 1800s — the player wakes up in the Stygian marshes, where the five rivers of the Underworld mingle, with hazy holes in their memory thanks to a dip in the Lethe. The first notable area that the player finds is Melinoë’s Refuge, a saloon/bar on stilts in the middle of the marsh, run by the Greek goddess of nightmares and ghosts. The idea is a dialog-heavy exploration game that primarily revolves around interacting with interesting characters in a Western-themed take on the Greek Underworld, working out why you’re there (turns out you’re not dead) and currying the favour of the powerful beings that call this place their home to reach your goal (once you remember what that is).

Anyway, I’ve put in quite a few hours making Melinoë’s Refuge as best I can, as well as doing some preliminary work on getting the dialog and menu system all sorted out. I’ve put a couple of screenshots of the place I’ve been working on below.

There’s also a kitchen, storeroom, and private room at the back, though those are a bit more incomplete. So far, I’m pretty happy with it, but it’s difficult to get a hold of free or really cheap assets that are worthwhile enough to bother with. My next big challenge is character models — as I said, this is supposed to be a dialog heavy game, so obviously you need people to talk to. Unfortunately, free/cheap character models are even more difficult to get than other assets. I’ve got a program called MakeHuman that I’ve started experimenting with that seems pretty good, but a major hurdle there is still going to be having appropriate attire for my NPCs.

Anyway, that’s what I’ve been doing with Unity. I’ll be trying to get back into a more regular writing schedule this week, while still not abandoning what I’ve been working on.

The other big thing that’s been distracting me is that Torment: Tides of Numenera came out last week.

So yeah, at home all day it’s easy to get distracted by TV, movies, and video games. I’d mostly been successful at resisting that, until this one dropped. TToN is a spiritual successor to what is still my favourite game of all time, Planescape: Torment. Among other things, I can give PST credit for getting me into tabletop roleplaying (my biggest hobby) in the first place, as one of the first things that got me interested in D&D was looking at a copy of the 3.0 Psionics Handbook in a store because it had githzerai in it.

I backed TToN when it first launched on Kickstarter and have been patiently waiting for four years for the damn thing to be released. I was not disappointed. Over the past week, I’ve clocked 29 hours in the game.

TToN is, of course, a deeply flawed game. There are a lot of issues with the mechanics, and the second half of the game feels very rushed compared to the polish of the first half. Still, it’s a lovely tribute to everything good about PST… the setting is weird and wonderfully colourful, with layers of complexity that keep you interested as you pull together information and knowledge that helps propel you forward in the plot. The companions, while not quite as good as those in PST, and still very well-realised characters with fun personalities and satisfying story arcs of their own. The quests, and complex web of possible solutions to various situations, are well written and interesting. The music is atmospheric and is very reminiscent of the PST soundtrack. In fact, there is almost too many references and too much that is reminiscent of PST — there were a few times where I sort of went ‘…really?’ at something’s  inclusion.

It isn’t as good as PST. I mean, PST isn’t that great a game, but I don’t think TToN is going to stick with me and provoke fifteen or more replays the same way that PST did. Still, I am one satisfied customer — my only disappointment is that it wasn’t longer (finished?! already!? but I want mooooore!).

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