I got hired as an intelligence analyst based, I think, on that one connection between me and the company owner. I had a lot of the skills they needed as an analyst, but I wasn’t a programmer. But we connected on gaming and it got me a job as a contractor for a while.

It also has made me a good lecturer at the university, because I know how to tell a story, do it extemporaneously and with energy. I have no issues with people cutting in to ask questions or make observations; it’s part of the game. I think it helped make me very good at what I do. To a lesser extent, it helped me be a good writer (which circuitously, got me my first RPG writing gig with Heresy in 2001, after John Tuckey had read my novel, Cawnpore.)


I really, really don’t give a crap about celebrities. I’ve met a bunch — the Rock, who wasn’t the Rock, yet, but was having a birthday party at the Avona Fire Station I somehow got invited to — so I didn’t realize I’d met him ’til he started using his real name — was a great, friendly guy, even to a nerd that got invited to his party third hand; James Doohan was a great guy to talk about WWII with and as a historian, I wish I’d had another chance to talk with him; Claudia Christian was funny and dropped a lot of dirt about a recent convention here in Albuquerque (I suspect she’s someone that after some time you either really like, or really hate); John Travolta was chatting me up about my bike a few years ago and seemed a likable guy; Claire Danes seemed aloof and a bit bitchy; and I’ll admit, I really like a bunch of the Marvel guys for their actions off camera.

But I don’t know them, so I don’t really care about what they do.

Honestly, if there were any gamer “celebrities” that I would like to game with, it would be a few of the girls from I Hit It With My Axe — a few of them were funny and smart. Otherwise, outside of Vin Diesel, I really don’t know anything about gamer celebs.

Who are these celeb gamers, anyway? (And if any are reading, say hi!)

I tend to like system-agnostic sites, although I don’t mind those that address the genres or systems I play. That said, I think I hit Gnome Stew more than any other site. I came to it partly fro having worked with the ever-gentlemanly Walt Ciechanowski at Adamant, then at Cubicle 7.

I am the king of the defunct system. My go-to mechanics for modern and near sci-fi, like cyberpunk, was — for the longest time — James Bond:007. The last time it was trotted out was for a Stargate campaign, and the rules worked admirably, easily as well as they had when my group first tried them in 1983, and never went back to Top Secret. Similarly, I was playing Space: 1889 or some variant for a decade and a half; long after it and Castle Falkenstein were gone. We were playing LUG Trek and Decipher Trek for years after they folded. (The latter’s still on my shelf.) Cortex, at least the classic (and I’d say, better) version, hasn’t been supported by Margaret Weis since 2010, but its my favored set of game mechanics.

The nice thing about games is you don’t have to stop playing them when the new hotness hits. Some you come back to, some you don’t… I haven’t played any of the above, save Cortex, for five to six years, but my favorite is indisputable:

James Bond: 007 by Victory Games. This was the game that blasted me out of Dungeons & Dragons when Traveler couldn’t. It allowed me to play in settings I much preferred — I was a big mystery and spy novel fan in my high school years, steadily moving away from fantasy. My taste for fantasy was quickly being destroyed by the slew of half-assed fantasy movies in the early ’80s — from Krull to Beastmaster  (but the ferrets!), to the much better Conan franchise.

The rules were innovative — with characters you built to an idea, not created by a set of random die rolls. There were skills, as well as attributes, and they worked together. Tasks had difficulty ratings, and you could succeed at different levels. Combat damage was cinematic, but still more realistic than the armor class of D&D. Guns, cars, gadgets — everything had that name-brand, product-placement flavor of Bond and other action movies — and it ported well into different settings. It could stretch to do cyberpunk and Stargate. It worked with modern action movies, as much as the older Bond fare. It even did Space:1889 alright, if not great.

So there it is. And I hope to be playing it again, in the future.

This one is simple — I threw Space: 1889 and Castle Falkenstein together, borrowing from each for the setting, but mostly it was mating the setting of the former to the rules of the latter. I might be doing it again with Space: 1889 and Revelations of Mars for the Hollow Earth Expedition game.

To do this, I think I’m going to set it in the 1930s, but use some of the Martian races from both books, make Mars more the world of 1889, but with the great machine idea of RoM as the central conceit. It gives me rockets, Nazis, commies, and all the stuff I like from Space: 1889, but with the more Barsoomian feel of Revelations. Now the question is what rules set? Ubiquity is the obvious choice, but I think Atomic Robo’s stripped down Fate will work, as well.

It really depends on the genre, they’re so different.

For modern espionage games, it’s easily the more serious James Bond movies, The Sandbaggers, and action films of the 1980s. It’s what I was watching while cutting my teeth as a GM. It taught me the three act style of storytelling, but also gave me the “action movie” style of plotting an adventure — pick three exotic locales, put together an action set piece unique to them, string the story through. These differing styles — the over-the-top Moore era Bonds and the more realistic Sandbaggers and mystery/spy novels gave my espionage games a high-level of verisimilitude, but we still had big chases, fights, and the product-placement Bond lifestyle.

For science fiction, it was Blade Runner and Road Warrior, more than anything else until Babylon 5 taught me how to do story arcs well. There’s also been a heavy transhuman influence since I read Kurzweil’s The Age of Spiritual Machines in the 1990s. In the aughties, the more “realistic” sci-fi of Battlestar Galactica dovetailed well with my attempts to make Star Trek less clumsy and utopian (read, boring.) It was about that time I went back and watched the best of the Trek series, Deep Space 9. I also learned that big battles are often less important than the human impact (although the simulation-heavy gamers would disagree.) A good example of this would be The Man From U.N.C.L.E. currently on screen. There’s a big chase piece that we see in reflections on a windscreen as the lead character relaxes and reflects on his situation. It’s funny, but it also is subversive for an action movie. They do it again with the big secret base invasion, which is told in a series of split screen cuts that give you what you need, but don’t bog down the story.

In Victorian science fiction, funnily, none of the speculative fiction of the period! Mostly, my inspiration came from the actual history of the time and westerns. Every time I do historical games, i find I tend to weave the characters into real events and let them play. My main inspiration for that style of storytelling was the Flashman series of novels by the late George MacDonald Fraser.

Pulp games set in the ’30s have a lot to thank from Raiders of the Lost Ark and similar movies, especially once I started to mash them up with James Bond and other “pulp” movies and books.

Supers games owe a lot to WatchmenThe Dark Knight Returns, and some of the angsty X-Men stuff of John Byrne and early Chris Claremont, but now also the influence of Marvel cinematic universe.

There’s been a few over the years that have really stuck with me:

The first would have been from 1983: I loved the quality result idea from James Bond: 007  where the lower you rolled gave you a different quality result from fail up through excellent, and that was tied to a damage class that was an expression of your strength, or the muzzle energy of a particular weapon. That the mechanics attempted to actually take ballistics into account, instead of “well, it’s a .45, so that’s a really big bullet” you see in most RPG design. (Case in point, a .455 Webley being more powerful than a .45ACP or a .45 Long Colt….not just no, but hell, no.) The other thing it brought that I loved was the idea of the hero point (or plot point, fate point, get outta death point) where you could soak damage or bend probability to give the game a more cinematic feel.

From 1986, would be the way APs in DC Heroes tied your characters attributes to the weight they could lift, the speed they could move, the time it took, etc. It gave the players a real sense of how much stronger one character was over another, and your roll of a AP8 strength might translate into knocking an AP3 heavy character 5AP in distance. It’s a bit crunchy for most folks taste these days, but then — I thought it was a great way to do supers.

1993: Castle Falkenstein‘s use of ordinary playing cards as a randomizer because, as the rules pointed out, “Gentlemen don’t play dice…” With some tweaking (see yesterday’s post), it made for a really slick and different flavor for the players. You could plan your moves based on your hand… “Well, I’d like to punch him, but I’ve got a king of hearts…let’s go for talking him down.”

Fate’s use of tagging aspects on a scene is pretty nice, but really just places a specific mechanic on someting people kind of did before without needing a specific rule, save now the player could do it, as well as the GM. But I also consider Fate a pick-up/beginners system that just happens to do a lot of things decently.

2005: Hollow Earth Expedition‘s “take the average” (which I think another game had before this, but I forget which one…) where you could take a character’s number of dice, and half it to “get the average” for a test. This sped up play enormously, especially in low-risk situations, or in fights with mooks.

2005: Cortex and the idea of pairing different attributes with different skills as the situation demanded. So you might use agility or strength+unarmed combat, depending on your style; you might use willpower or alertness+interrogation to represent a different style of questionng a subject. Willpower+ discipline or influence could represent a difference in command style between “get it done!” and “I know you’re hurting, right now, and we’ll do what we can, but right now…I need you to move.” Mechanically, no real difference, but I think it aids in crafting your character’s style.

I think the most innovative and fun mechanic has to go to Castle Falkenstein for the use of cards.