One for the Land and One for the Sea

March 22, 2017 § Leave a comment

For the first time in forever, I actually sat down in front of some photo references, drew a picture, then digitally inked and colored it. I haven’t actually done colors in one million years and I’m super happy about how it came out.

This is some spoilery fanart for the Whyborne and Griffin series by Jordan L. Hawk. There are not enough fanarts of these two. I had no idea how to draw Persephone, so I took a guess. Whyborne is much easier!

Male stock is from themalenudestock.deviantart.com, and female stock is from senshistock.deviantart.com. Widdershins belongs to Jordan L. Hawk.

One for the Land and One for the Sea (Color)

PHANTASM(2016) (or Whereas: “I Am Sick Of People Being Sick Of My Shit”)

October 5, 2016 § Leave a comment

“If you are not into the wacky hi-jinks then
why the hell are you into this?
Information wants to be free
charged particles expand through space
then bleed through greedy fingers
and explode in your face
I can’t wait.

Fuck yes, I went there.

What’s about 220 pages, full color, and available right here, for free and forever?

long-ago-somebody-left-with-the-cup This ENnie Award Nominated Motherfucking Roleplaying Game, Biatch.

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The Years Become a Centrifuge

September 13, 2016 § Leave a comment

One moment, it is December. The next, it is September of the following year. You are dumped on your ass, unable to tell up from down, feeling run over by a train. That’s just age, baby. The longer we live, the faster the centrifuge spins, the more we ache when we wake up in the morning. It would be nice to go back to the times when tomorrow seemed like forever away, and it was a real actual eternity waiting for your best friend’s birthday party next week.

I guess this is my way of saying, whoops. Sorry about that.

So, about that posting more often thing…

Lately, there has been a lot of tumult in my life. I’m a great believer in the power of time, and how it heals all wounds, at least if they’ve been seen to properly with first aid (or first aid equivalent) and longterm treatment if necessary. Sometimes, time needs a little help working its healing magic. And sometimes, it just works all on its own. The difficulty is knowing which is which – if you press too hard on something that will heal naturally, you run the risk of fucking it up. If you leave alone a wound that continues to fester… well, obviously, not good. But how do you know when to act, and when to stay silent? (Any ideas, Valjean?)

Some of the earlier tumult has resolved itself, or is beginning to be actively resolved, but as with many things, this has brought about many changes. Many changes have been positive. Many of the side effects have been a real shit sandwich. The result seems to be a cascade of crap I Am Entirely Too Old For.

I would like to write my perspective on some of these things, but I don’t want to make a personal attack on anyone. I want to, as it were, speak out in my own voice – but treat those who have caused me injury with respect. So it may take a bit of thinking on my part to get all the many things I have to say across.

And for the first time I am beginning to feel like I can actually come out and talk about things for real. Actually use my voice. Novel!

I don’t know when I will write these things. I will endeavor to actually do so. I think my side is just as important as anyone else’s, after all, and I am my own best advocate.

“Can we get back to game design? (Please, yo…)”

Not only has this been an insane whirlwind of a year for me personally, a ton has happened on the ETG homefront. Way too much to summarize here. Look out for posts about that in the not-too-distant-future.

Stay sane!

-Mik

Holy Cow!

December 18, 2015 § Leave a comment

Today I was thinking to myself, man, I have a lot of random thoughts in my head. I should probably blog about those thoughts.

Then I remembered, oh hey, I have a blog!

Then I looked at the last time I posted something here. And it turns out, it was almost a full year ago. Oops.

So I figured that now was a great time for a little retrospective, and a little conversation about the future. Why not? The end of 2015 is almost upon us and much has happened.

Be warned: this will probably be a really, really long entry. I’m not sure what’s worse, forgetting to update one’s blog for a full 11 months, or trying to cram those 11 months into one post, so apologies all around. I will endeavor, at least, to make this interesting.

2015 – What a Year!

In some ways, this year has really flown by, and in other ways, it seems like January was an eternity ago. Lots of stuff has happened, which probably contributes to both of those feelings.

The Release of Psionics

Probably the most important thing that happened, and the biggest contributor to my falling of the face of the planet, was the release of Psionics. It is probably the project that I’ve done so far in my life that I take the most pride in. I think it’s what took my layout to something like a pro level.

Psionics was interesting because it was the first thing we’d Kickstarted. We were able to have much better production values because of the Kickstarter success, but we also had a lot more expectation riding on the project. If we didn’t make a deadline or make the product great, we weren’t the only people we were letting down. So making it awesome was extra important.

For three months before the release, I had been working on the layout 7 days a week, from 8 AM to 3 AM. On my birthday, I even requested that I just be left alone to work. On the final week before it went to print, I stayed up for over 72 hours straight. It got to print, it got to Origins, and it looked amazing. There were some issues that had to get fixed after the initial short print run, but they did get fixed, and we got books and goodies to backers.

Now, we’re in the process of completing the final two things that we owe to backers. The Psionics comic book is in production, and the first adventure product is also being written. Both of these products have been given over to folks who are not myself or DTO, so it’s in their hands right now.

Free Releases

Very shortly after Psionics came out, I completed the herculean effort of laying out another product, the DicePunk SRD, in two weeks. I couldn’t have done it without the proofreading help of my dear friend and PR/Data Wizard, Doctor. I also put the SRD up on our website, which I refurbished. I learned during this particular experience that while I wear many hats, website designer/webmaster just ain’t one of them. So one of these days, I hope to hire someone who actually knows how to do that.

The DicePunk SRD is a free product, both in HTML and PDF formats, but it can be bought in hardcopy too for those who enjoy destroying trees for pleasure.

Almost right away after that – or at least, it felt like to me – I laid out the next free product, Epic Space Battles for the Singularity System. (Whew). We were stoked to see that DriveThruRPG had named ESB the Featured Free Product of that month!

Surprising Things

Our very first product release was a game called SPLINTERSPLINTER is showing its age a bit, since it was created when I literally (using the word correctly here) had never used InDesign before and knew nothing about the program or how to operate it. I’d never done art direction before. I’d never proofread a book. I’d never done any of that stuff. So the organization and the look are a bit… janky. But the game itself is still fantastic, and people who play it like it enough to overlook its aesthetic issues.

Those who love the game have been asking us for more supplements, and we finally Kickstarted the next two books in the series: Sometimes Little Wondrous Things and Ugly Things. It was a bit hairy there for a bit, even with the amazing support of family, friends, and fans, but once again, Doctor came to the rescue and both books were funded.

As of now, we are working with freelancers to finish both manuscripts, and for the first time ever, I’m the lead developer on a book! I feel a bit behind on the project, but progress is steady and the freelancers are amazing. But if you’re ever wondering where I am at any given moment for the next few months, it’s probably working on that.

Childhood Dreams

Once upon a time, when I was just a little Mik, there was a show that changed my life. That show was called Mystery Science Theater 3000. To say I was obsessed would be an understatement. I was obnoxious. I taped every episode I could, I quoted it constantly, I collected the collectibles. I wanted with every fiber of my being to work on that show one day.

Then it got cancelled. And not the for-fakeseys cancelled from Comedy Central. I mean for-reals cancelled, from the Sci Fi Channel, from television.

I grew up to eventually get my Bachelors of Fine Arts in Screenwriting with a focus on television/teleplays. So even though I went on to start End Transmission with DTO, I had that in my pocket, along with my childhood dream.

This year, a miracle happened. Joel Hodgson, creator of MST3K, got the rights to the show back and Kickstarted it. DTO convinced me to take my shot – so I did. I pledged at the level that will allow me to help write one episode of the show.

Worst case scenario, I get the experience of writing that one episode and fulfilling Little Mik’s hopes and dreams. Maybe, though, they will like what I can do, and want to see more. Sure, that would make things complicated as far as End Transmission goes, but as DTO said, “that would be a wonderful problem to have.”

So, What’s Next?

Coming up in 2016, I’d love to use this blog a lot more often. Obviously, my main priority is to the work itself – if it comes between getting books to Kickstarter backers and rambling on here, the former is going to take precedence. But sometimes I do have some free time (shocking) and I’d love to spend a little more of it here.

I’m going to be using this blog for more than just work stuff. I’d ideally like this to be a place where I can talk about a lot of different things. Sometimes I might post a book review (I have had one in mind for some time now). Sometimes I might talk about climbing, kickboxing, nutrition, and fitness. Sometimes I might just say something inane. You never know. But I’ll tag and categorize everything so you can skip over the stuff you don’t care about.

2016 is already looking busy, even from here. More releases, more cons, more gaming! But it’s the kind of busy I like.

Stay frosty!

-Mik

The Bad End

January 31, 2015 § Leave a comment

There are a lot of differences between (most) video games and tabletop RPGs. One of the biggest differences is that, in most video games, if your character and your entire party get wiped out, you can go back and try again. Get a better ending. In (most) TTRPGs, if your character and your entire party get wiped out… that could be the end. Excluding games like Eclipse Phase that have built-in save points. Sure, a kindly GM might bend or break reality to keep that from happening. But sometimes, a final boss fight is really, really final.

This is kind of a contentious issue in the TTRPG circles. Some GMs believe that a total party wipeout should not happen. That relying on the dice can create an antagonistic relationship between the GM and players. Or that the reliance on random number generation can result in bad storytelling. But even a “bad ending” can be literary or cinematic – plenty of books and films get downer endings.

Devon’s mentioned before on this blog that we were finishing up the Psionics playtest – which, as previously stated, was amazing. But it ended a little sooner, and a little differently, than we had anticipated. We knew the opposition in this session would be tough – really tough! – and our team went in a bit stupid, a lot underprepared, and pretty cocky too. But we were already at the end of the road, so when things didn’t shake out our way, that was how it ended.

The gig – our small terrorist cell doing their part for the big Easter event – started out well. With no guidance, we found our way to London and into the home of an important board member for an evil pharmaceutical company. We carried him out, obliterating bobbies on our way. We got him to take us to a boarding school in the country that was really a front for capturing and testing psionic children. Our plan was to liberate the kids and flee the country.

But we were coming from the US of A, and hadn’t found a way to smuggle our firearms or our body armor through the airport. And when we arrived at the boarding school, my character took the big-pharma bigwig inside as a hostage, while the others waited outside. What should have been an op with no shots fired went distinctly downhill when we found ourselves surrounded by the SAS, not to mention a special field operative from MI5, as well as a team of psionic badasses from the pharmaceutical company. We put up a good fight, but we were disorganized. I let my hostage escape into a saferoom. Our hardest-hitting team member took a sniper bullet to the face after taking out an armored vehicle full of SAS in the first few rounds of combat. The rest of the combat was reminiscent of headless chickens. Every team member was knocked out or bleeding out or dead by the end of the lengthy scuffle.

Playing through the “bad end” to our team of psychic terrorists, I didn’t feel upset. In fact, I found the ending to be pretty powerful. And fair. So it made me wonder what can make a “bad end” into a good ending? What makes a total party wipeout feel like an anticlimactic and stupid screwup, and what makes it feel like a justified and literary finale?

Part of it, I suppose, must be the timing. A PC cast getting obliterated halfway through a campaign is disruptive. It interferes with the total narrative. So the GM may have to pull a few storytelling strings to keep things moving forward, and put the game back on track. Or maybe the campaign just ends. Players and GM move on to a different game. But if a team of PCs lose, unequivocally, at the tail end of the campaign – going up against the main opposition as a climax to the narrative – it’s no longer a disruption.

It could also be the tenor of the characters. If you’re a heroic paladin-type trying to save the world from something that is absolutely evil, a failure could be devastating. It would mean that good lost and evil triumphed. But our Psionics characters weren’t exactly sterling people. We cared about them, we thought hard about our actions and motivations, and we tried to be “good.” But we killed a lot of human beings. Sometimes innocent ones. Sometimes a lot of them. By accident, or because we felt we had to. In out of game discussions, I mentioned to my fellows that violence had become a crutch for our characters. That we would need to move away from it, before it consumed us as a party. Sure, the folks we were going up against were doing evil things too. But we’d passed a moral event horizon a while back. We might have found redemption, one day, but then again, we might not have.

But a big factor in what makes the “bad end” good, is the dynamic of the group. We were sitting down to play a game together, to tell a story together. Maybe we wanted to win, but we all knew that the chance of “losing” was out there. We accepted it together. We understood that the odds were steep, and no one at the table wanted a Deus Ex Machina to save us. We were going to rise or fall on our own merits. I do think of TTRPGs the same way I think of other games – sports, board games, poker, whatever; the chance for success means something more special to me when there is a chance for loss.

It kind of made me think of Super Bowl XLVII. I’m a longtime Broncos fan, and my mother was always a Colts fan – so in February of 2014, I was watching Peyton Manning screw the pooch with a big frowny face. But my Psionics fail reminded me of him – I wasn’t mad at the game, or the opposition. I was disappointed in myself, but ready to get back in there and do better next time. Why play at all if a win is guaranteed, anyway?

And we were fortunate to have Devon as our GM, who – in spite of my teasing him for his George R. R. Martin-esque propensity for PC death – had never had an ending like the one we got for Psionics. In spite of his talk to the contrary, he does kind of go in for the victorious ending. With heavy losses, maybe, but an uplifting denouement and a chance for hope or a feeling of success. The Psionics campaign ending didn’t really provide that. But what he did do was make it cinematic. Once everyone was down and out and surrounded by SAS, he didn’t just say, “alright, that’s it, the end.” We got a denouement. Not, perhaps, one that left us all with a feeling of hope. But it did give us all closure. I think, when players see their characters defeated, that’s what we’re looking for.

Each character that still had any breath or life left in them got a scene. The first two were offered a chance to work for the pharmaceutical company, which was unwilling to let good Espers go to waste. One accepted the offer. One declined. One ended up on the payroll; the other was executed. Then, the only character who had survived through the campaign from its beginning got his turn. He had a particular beef against this company, since they’d killed his entire family. My character was locked up in a different room, readied for “extremes testing” and death, and my friend’s PC was confronted with a choice – he could beg the man who murdered his family for my character’s life, or he could keep his pride and let me die. He swallowed his pride. He was shot in the head. My character was spared and given a hefty paycheck in exchange for working for these monsters. All loose ends were tied up, for good or for ill, and at least one person was given a shot at redemption (and isn’t that what we all want?).

We don’t get closure in real life. We lose people all the time. To accidents, illness. Sometimes people walk out of our lives forever, or drift away unceremoniously. It’s left open and hanging. It’s an uncomfortable feeling, to have something just end, with no glimpse into the why or the what-happens-next. When we read a book or see a movie where the main character dies, it’s tempered by the afterword. We get closure on that ending, a closure we don’t often see in the real world. Which makes it a story, and not an accident.

Why I Love Psionics

July 25, 2014 § Leave a comment

So once upon a time, when I was a starry-eyed college student, I met a guy who made games. I thought that was pretty cool, because my dad made games too, and as a result, I tended to like gaming a lot.

We met at his LARP, which I fell in love with, but I eventually started playing some of his other games as well. He had a bunch of them that he’d been working on since he was young and, as a compulsive creator, kept making more. Around the time I started really hanging out with him a lot, he introduced me to one in particular – Psionics.

Psionics really struck a chord with me. To this day, it’s probably my favorite game he’s ever made – and he’s made a lot of games! When we first talked about going into business together, this project was the one I most looked forward to; it was also always the one we had slated for a Kickstarter campaign.

He’s asked me in the intervening 8 years what it is that draws me so much to Psionics. I’ve given it some thought – I was never acquainted with Akira, Firestarter, or Scanners before I met him. Psionics was really kind of my first introduction to the genre we refer to as “Brainpunk” (troubled youth with psychic powers vs. the Man). So I had no initial fan-basis for being so enchanted with it.

What I did like about it was threefold. Firstly, as a creator and consumer of media, I’ve always enjoyed the idea of merging the impossible with the now – sure, high fantasy and far-future sci-fi float my boat, but not nearly as much as urban fantasy and science fiction. I love conceptualizing what our world today, as we know it, would look like with the sudden addition of something spectacular and supernatural. Even before I’d ever heard of Shadowrun, my largest ongoing project could essentially be boiled down to dragons vs. helicopters. I often wonder how certain people in my life would react if they were suddenly gifted with the ability to do superhuman things.

Second, I liked the fact that this was not a superhero game. So often, people take psychic powers and couple that with heroics, justice, goodness – or evil, on the other side of the coin. But I liked exploring human beings that, perhaps, would be more focused on their personal survival and well-being than altruism. I liked thinking of individuals who didn’t really have lofty goals or ideologies, who – perhaps – weren’t at a developmental stage wherein their ideologies were fully formed, and considering what they would do with that “Great Power” uncle Ben talked about so much, with an absence of that “Responsibility” part.

Finally, I wasn’t too far out of teenage-hood myself, but far enough out to recognize my own retrospective insanity. Being a teenager means that you are not rational; as a teenager with mood disorders like MDD, I made a lot of mistakes, made a lot of crazy decisions, and took everything (and myself) much too seriously. To bestow a kid like that – like ME! – with dangerous superpowers seemed like the making of a very intriguing story.

When I got through college, Psionics stayed with me – it even became the basis of my senior playwriting showcase. The piece got a lot of interest; in particular, my leading man told me later that he’d had his hopes pinned on that part. When I asked him why, he explained that he enjoyed conceptual fiction because it tends to be a better reflection of reality than anything else – through the distorted mirror of head-exploding, fire-starting, mind-reading, comes real insight on the human condition. I think he probably said it better than I could, and I’m paraphrasing here, but it did make me think, and reflect on my own love of the genre.

The times we live in now are trying for the young. Most of my peers are saddled with debt that will never be paid off, and unable to move into the careers that they trained for due to a glut of workers and an absence of jobs. We’re recovering from a devastating recession and the geopolitical sphere is, in a word, terrifying. Politicians make the rights of human beings their battleground, using rhetoric to take away civil rights and bodily autonomy. We are expected to take up the mantle of adulthood in a world that we’re not ready for. We will do it, because we are adults, and some of us will make a splash and make a change and hopefully make this world much better than we found it.

But these are volatile times. Which makes me think that it’s definitely time for a volatile game, about volatile people, trying to make their way in a very confusing and dangerous world, exploding heads along the way.

That’s Psionics.

And that’s why I love it.

Psionics RPG kickstarter

Art by Ian Llamas

Mik Levels Up!

August 31, 2013 § Leave a comment

So I don’t post much, and for that I’m sorry. Part of it is that we’ve been more focused on conventions than products lately, and I haven’t had too much time for art.

I recounted my experience at Retcon here, and overall, I had an excellent time.

But I wanted to share another part of my life, and that is my outlook on the gaming industry as a woman.

I started a blog, Sh*t Not to Say to Women at Conventions, in response to the convention harassment I have experienced, and seen others experience. It’s slowly building followers, and we’re almost at the 200 mark.

While at GenCon, I met and did a panel with the lovely women at Gaming as Women. (Here’s the skinny on that). Filamena Young, of Machine Age Productions, suggested that I submit an article about my new blog.

I did, and then ran off to Retcon. So when I got back, I was very surprised and happy to hear that I was being invited to be an author for the Gaming as Women site!

Pretty exciting! I know I’m stoked just to be a part of that community of wonderful writers.

So, that’s what’s been going on with me!

On the End Transmission Games front, look out for a new Singularity module that we’ll be releasing for Con on the Cob in October. It’s going to be a busy week for me – laying out the new product, running a 5k, and moving to a new apartment. But I love my work, and even though it gets busy, it’s always extremely rewarding in the end.

-Mik!