I backed the third edition of CHILL (and so should you)

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When Pacesetter put out the first CHILL edition way back in the ’80′s, I snapped up a copy. For those of you who watched my Kickstarter video from last year (oh, shit, a year? must finish books) you might have noticed that box on the shelf behind me. It’s been 30 years since it came out, but while I have never played in a genuinely good Chill game, I still remember it fondly.

When Mayfair put out a second edition in the early nineties, I started snapping those books up. They were fun to read, for the most part[1], and suggested a great many story ideas, most of which I never got to use[2]. Someday, maybe. Someday.

Still, this was the ’90s, when The X-Files was all anyone talked about. It should have been the perfect moment for the game to break out. Unfortunately, the fear checks never really worked, and the horrors in CALL OF CTHULHU bigfooted all over the traditional monsters in Chill. People were more interested in Deep Ones than haunted houses, apparently. The game never sold as well as it should, and when Mayfair had a break-out hit in SETTLERS OF CATAN, they dumped rpgs in favor of board games and have never looked back.

There was an attempt some years back to put together a third edition; I was part of the crowd reading through the rules and discussing them. Sadly, people suck, and the nasty sarcasm I got when I dared admit that I sometimes ignored a die-roll to make the narrative work, convinced me it was more stress than it was worth. Much later they tried to raise $45k to print the rulebook, but it never happened.

Part of the reason I never quite had a successful game is my own weakness as a GM (excuse me… “CM”). Part was that the game required a certain willingness for players to face an enemy that was more powerful than they were[3] which had to be investigated before it could be fought. Part of it was that the players were unused to NPC interactions that didn’t mimic the might-uber-alles bullying that came with lawless murder hobo fantasy campaigns. Part was just an unwillingness to get in the spirit of things.

An example of that last:

Me: “The last thing you need to do for character creation is think up the first time you came into contact with the Unknown. It can be a haunting, a vampire attack, whatever.”

Player: “Uh, well, okay. I was walking down the street and I saw a werewolf driving a pizza-delivery truck.”

Me: “Dude.”

Player: “What?”

Sophisticated role-players, we were not. Suffice to say, I made several attempts over the years with different groups, but it never really came off.

However, I quite liked the way the rules handled creatures’ powers as though they were spells. I liked that you roll percentile dice for skill checks. I liked the idea of SAVE[4], the organization dedicated to fighting the supernatural[5]. I liked the genuinely scary creatures in the main rulebook. I even liked the weird psychic powers the PCs could access.

It was also nice to see that they broke the “rules” with regard to the creatures. I was raised to color inside the lines, and that attitude extended to pretty much everything, including the “rules” of monster movies: vampires can’t cross running water, ghosts have a task they needed to accomplish, werewolves could be killed with silver. There were boundaries! It was all laid out!

Then came Chill, which offered that sort of monster, along with other kinds. You could have werewolves that didn’t give a shit about silver or vampires that could walk in the sun. It didn’t matter, as long as it was interesting. For me, who had always broken rules on the sly because breaking rules meant trouble, the game was a bit of a paradigm shift, creatively.

Plus, for a guy who loves spooky horror but hated the sadistic pain movies and books of the 80′s (and who still hates modern grimy torture porn), Chill gave me some control. It let me imagine the stories I wanted.

That’s why, yesterday, I backed the third edition of their Kickstarter even though I can’t really afford it. The playtest materials are gorgeous; this is really the best art the game has ever had, and a quick glance at the rules is very promising.

It also looks like they’ve fixed the issue with fear checks.

Anyway, the materials they’ve already made available have me excited for the project. I hope they blow the doors off their goal and start funding a bunch of supplements or whatever.

Hell, I might dig out the adventures I was working on twenty years ago to see if there’s anything salvageable in them.

So, if traditional horror rpgs sound good to you, back them. You’ll at least have a chance to look at the playtest, with plenty of time to change your mind (you won’t change your mind).

[1] I was sorely disappointed by the “monster manual” for the game, called Things, but I’ve read enough horror game supplements to know how difficult it can be to make up a long list of horror creatures that are a) inventive, b) scary, and c) set the right tone.

[2] On Twitter, someone suggested that the playtest sampler for the 3e Kickstarter had a bit of Child of Fire in it, but in truth the influence goes the other way. The idea of a family (a whole community) that can’t remember one of its own comes straight out of the main rulebook for 2e. I read about that creature almost fifteen years before I started CoF. If you back the Kickstarter, you’ll get to see for yourself.

[3] In fact, I converted one of the creatures for 2e Chill (a mist mummy, which is a creature that spreads pestilence) directly into Champions so a five PC superhero team could fight it, and damn if it didn’t have blisteringly high points.

[4] aka Societas Argenti Viae Eternitata or The Eternal Society of the Silver Way, which was explicitly changed from “White Way” in the Pacesetter version because it sounded like an offshoot of the Klan. See also: The Dresden Files TV show changing the “White Council” into the “High Council”.

[5] In first edition, it was an actual functioning society that sent people out to investigate shit. The second, naturally, turned things all grim and dark, because 90′s. The new edition seems to have a rebuilding theme, which is welcome.

Playing Football and Erasing The Self

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Ta-Nehisi Coates is writing about his decision to stop watching football games because of his concern about head injuries.

Part of this is my own mix of spirituality and atheism. I generally think of the ghost not in the machine, but as the machine. My body is me, and while my brain is particularly important, when I dislocate an ankle I have injured part of myself. Anyone who is being honest about football knows that injuring people is part of the game.

One summer during my college years, a friend of mine broke my ankle during a particularly rough basketball game. Me, I thought it was just a bad sprain and didn’t seek treatment, After a week, I wrapped up the injury, went to my day job, and got back out onto the court. It was only months later, after numerous re-injuries, that I had it x-rayed.

My right ankle is still a problem to this day. It hurts when I walk too much, it aches in certain kinds of weather, it even hurts if I drink too much alcohol. I can’t imagine the effect of ignoring injuries to my brain.

Unlike Coates, I don’t really follow NFL news anymore, so I didn’t know that John Abraham, who is apparently one of the league’s best defensive players, retired for a year because of “severe memory loss,” but is now planning a return.

Maybe I’m being a bit of a writer about this, but to me, memory is self. It’s one thing to destroy the parts of the body that let you walk, or wipe your ass, or sit upright. It’s something else to destroy all the memories that make up your life. Whatever it is that drives players to wreck themselves for the sake of a win seems, in Abraham, to be the pursuit of a living suicide.

If that were the story of a movie or a novel, it would be LEAVING LAS VEGAS. A tragedy. Since it’s real life, it’s something people will make people jump out of their seats and cheer.

Abraham can do what he likes, provided no one convinces a court that his brain damage had made him unable to make his own decisions. Fans and casual viewers can do what they like. So can I, and what I like is to leave the TV off on Sunday morning and afternoons, so I don’t have to see men drive themselves into self-annihilation.

ADDED: Has anyone brought up the issue of brain damage and violent tendencies with Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson?

Writing and physical pain

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Last night I was trading tweets with a writer who has been having serious pain for a long while, and we joked about how much it would help her to know my wife.

And it’s true. My wife does sports massage (as I’ve mentioned before) and she takes away pain for a lot of people. Folks fly from the east coast so she can work on them, because they just can’t find anyone as effective where they are. She’s worked on sports stars, rock stars, and movie stars, along with office workers who went from never doing any kind of exercise directly to Crossfit, and who can barely walk around.[1]

Anyway, I mentioned this to my wife and she immediately responded with “Where does she live?” because obviously her first idea was to work something out with this author. Sadly, the answer was “Not nearby.”

After that, her next recommendation was this book: Pain Free at Your PC by Pete Egoscue, although she said Pain Free for Women: The Revolutionary Program for Ending Chronic Pain is even better.

It’s been a few years since I glanced into these books and I can’t find them now, almost certainly because they were loaned out and never returned, but I remember them as being fairly free of woo-woo [2] but heavy on recuperative movement. And I don’t mean “My wrist hurts; I have to do wrist exercises.” It’s more focused on healing specific issues through changes in the entire body.

Also, anyone who is having chronic soft tissue pain right at this moment might find some relief doing a vasioflush, which is really just the alternating application of cold and heat, described in more detail in this post I wrote for Charlie Stross’s blog.

Obviously, these recommendations will only work for people with soft tissue pain: posture problems, overuse of certain muscles, muscle imbalance, muscles that are very weak and tight, that sort of thing.

You don’t have to live in this kind of pain.

[1] And, frankly, after twenty years of doing the same thing every day, she’s become a bit bored with it. She would write a book if her learning disabilities didn’t make that all but impossible. I’d help her if my work load weren’t so heavy. She would teach if she had any inclination to be a teacher (and if teaching in the massage world weren’t so filled with weird guru types). It’s a shame, because she’s extremely good at what she does, but it’s a physically demanding job and she doesn’t have anywhere to go next.

Of course, if The Great Way does really well, she won’t have to worry about that anymore, but no pressure on me.

[2] Woo-woo is defined here as “You must align your energies with the universe” -type talk. And while the two books I’m recommending here are fine, some of his later work is less helpful.

Scrubbing a certain word from my blog

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I’ve always hated the words “pron” and “pr0n.” It always seemed like prudery. Nihil veritas erubescit, I say.

Well, no more. I still don’t blush at the word, but I won’t be spelling “pron” correctly on this blog any more, not even when I use it jokingly to refer to writer pron or whatever.

See, WordPress’s Jet Pack plugin allows me to see the search terms that Googlers use to find my blog, and many of them are searching for child pron. What fucking moron types “little girl pron” (spelled correctly, mind you) into a Google search box?

Unfortunately, I can’t do anything to report these people (I hope Google can) but I can at least change my site so that search engines will (eventually) stop sending them here, where I occasionally talk about my son. So I’ve spent the last hour searching my blog and deliberately misspelling That Word, even when it appears in fiction samples. The only place I haven’t changed it is in URLs inside links, but I may scrub those, too, eventually.

[Update: per advice from Twitter, the URL links are gone, too. I had to drop two old posts into the trash until (if) I can work out a way to reinstate them with permanent short link/redirects.)

Now you can listen to my son’s music

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My son put his music on Soundcloud, which is apparently a place where people can post their music for free, where you can listen for free. If you’re the sort of person who goes for electronic music in general or dubstep in particular, give it a listen. He recommends people start with the song “Cavernous” although I think that one, while it has a strong drop, isn’t as strong as some of the music he hasn’t uploaded. It certainly has an unpromising start, IMO, but it’s his music.

And lest we forget, he’s 12. so please don’t be rude about the work he’s doing.

Writers inspired by D&D, from the NYTimes

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Everyone’s linking to this NYTimes piece about a whole generation of writers who were influenced by playing D&D when they were young, and they offer a nice, broad cross-section of writers. It’s not just sf/f people, but literary writers and playwrights and plenty of others, too.

It’s a nice article, if a bit fluffy (which, what else would I expect, given the subject). I’ve said before that gaming had an influence over me, especially because it taught me that the characters I was so used to seeing in movies, books, and on TV did not seek advantage as ruthlessly as characters played by actual people who were invested in their success. The old standby is the spy escaping from a holding cell, knocking out a guard, and not taking anything from the guard’s body, not a weapon, communicator, key, nothing.

More interesting to me is that the authors seemed to have a much more theatrical/improvisational experience in their gaming. We spent So. Much. Time. going room to room killing things, with little more story than that. In fact, we’d play so much that it was impossible to make up an actual story, and when I tried I often found the players utterly uninterested in exploring any of it.

By the way, we played “The Fantasy Trip”, not D&D, because we though the armor class rules were incredibly stupid.

Anyway, I continue to believe that, with the right players and genre, an rpg session could be worthwhile art. Not just “I bash the orcs” sort of thing, but an actual exploration of character in a partly improvised narrative, with added random outcomes due to die rolls and an earned ending. They could even do the closeup camera thing for the die rolls, the way poker shows show the players’ hands. The two-part Tabletop episode was a good proof of concept, even if they didn’t take the narrative beyond “I swing my mace at the skeleton.”

If you watch that video (I thought it was interesting) you’ll see that the story is compelling when the players have their characters talk like themselves. When they try to talk pseudo-medieval fake fantasy stuff everything becomes stilted and awkward.

Anyway, I’m a little envious of the writers in that article, because the games I played as a kid never managed to pull together any kind of story. In college and afterwards, things were better, but not in those early formative years.

Yesterday’s birthday celebration

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How many places around the U.S. (around the world, even) would be amused that yesterday’s high temps set a new record for July 1st: 94F, over a previous record high of 89F? In many places those numbers capture temps in the early morning, not the high for the day, but those places also have central air or even just air conditioners. My apartment in Seattle has no insulation and it doesn’t circulate air well, unless it’s a very windy day.

Anyway, we broke out the fan for the first time, but I still had an outbreak of heat-induced urticaria. (I keep meaning to blog about my health issues but never seem to find the time.)

My main birthday gift was a day when I didn’t have to do any work at all. The trash had been taken out, the floor cleaned, the toilet scrubbed, the carpet vacuumed (all by me the day before) so I had literally nothing to do around the apartment. I took a day off from my writing responsibilities, too. All I wanted to do was sack out on the couch and watch the extended LOTR movies.

You guys, I was really surprised by how much I was looking forward to this. Yeah, I do things that are fun or that count as goofing off, but they always come with a portion of guilt.

Yesterday was a day off from guilt.

Also, when I watch most movies I’m tempted to look at Twitter or have a comic book open next to me, but LOTR had my attention from the start. I managed to sit down close to my start time (which was 7am) and aside from looking at Twitter messages during DVD changes or checking the World Cup score for the Belgium match, I was offline most of the day. The movies themselves were engaging enough, even after multiple viewings, that I had no urge to turn away or fill dull time. What’s more, my wife–who generally has zero interest in Tolkien or other kinds of fantasy–was nearly late for work because the movie was so absorbing. I started the movies just after 7am and finished 8:30pm, and now I want to reread the books and replay the Lego game.

Weird thing: my kid is going through one of his bouts of late night wakefulness, where he sleeps all day and stays up all hours of the night. In fact, when I woke this morning, I found a plate of bacon, eggs, and toast waiting for me. My wife explained that she woke at 4am and found the boy wide awake in the kitchen cooking. He wanted to make a prepare breakfast for me, despite not being a kitchen person.

So, he dug up some YouTube videos for making scrambled eggs with bacon (and the video suggested boiling the bacon until the water steamed off and it could be browned in the skillet). Yes, by 6:45am, everything was stone cold, but while the bacon was a little bland, it was pretty good. Well, it was better than you could expect from twelve-year-old who never cooks and could barely sleep.

Dinner was delivery from a favorite pizza place. Lunch was a meatball sandwich on a fancy baguette, followed by the birthday cake cantalope-free fruit salad. See:

Inside the bag was a bottle of fancy rye whiskey. It was a good day, you guys, even if I did squeeze in a little writing work at the very end of the day.

I am 49.

I’m looking forward to Tuesday

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I’m looking forward to Tuesday, but not for any of the reasons you might think. Nothing will be completed or released. I’m not going anywhere. No one is coming over.

In fact, it’s my birthday.

Well, not my real birthday. That’s already passed. July 1st is the day I celebrate my birthday (I moved it because my wife and I were born on the same day, and it sucks to share something like that).

This year, the plan is simple: Up early, to the couch, the full Lord of the Rings extended trilogy, which I got for Giftmas a few years back. That’s it. Nothing else.

Well, except for a big fruit salad (I don’t like cake) and delivery pizza. And my son’s headset mic muted so he can’t bicker with his pals in co-op games. But it’s 13 hours of movie or something, and I’m going to do nothing all day but watch.

It’s been a long time since I could really take a day to myself. Usually I have work to do (or work I ought to be doing, guilt guilt). If it’s a family day, we’re going somewhere my wife wants to go, to a park or something. And when I do goof off, I’m always kicking myself it.

That’s why I’m really, really looking forward to a full day of doing nothing. I sorta can’t wait.

Five Things Make A Post

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First, my Father’s Day was pretty great. I asked to get no gifts and didn’t receive any but the cards were wonderful. We also went out to brunch. My wife is pretty cool on the idea of going to a restaurant for breakfast–and my son actively hates it–so this is something I sorta love but get to do only once a year. And yeah, I ate more than I should have.

We went some distance to a little place called Mulleady’s, mainly on the rule that we could get things we never make at home, like blood pudding, boxty, scotch eggs, and other things we didn’t order. Sadly, marrow wasn’t on the bfast menu, but maybe another time. One downside of going there is that it really doesn’t many people before it becomes uncomfortably loud.

Second, you may have seen news articles everywhere recently claiming that bike share programs increase head injuries. They’re wrong. Head injuries fell after bike share programs were introduced, but they didn’t fall as fast as other kinds of injuries. Therefore, according to the media, head injuries rose because, among those injured, a greater percentage of them had head injuries.

It’s statistical fuckery. To quote the linked article: “A more critical view would be that the researchers went looking for evidence that bikeshare programs are dangerous, and upon failing to find any, cherry-picked a relatively unimportant sub-trend and trumpeted it as decisive finding.”

My wife rides almost every day and she always wears her helmet. When I rode (back in my office job days) I wore a helmet all the time, too. We also have lights, reflective vests, and all the safety gear that people make fun of. But it’s important to remember that nothing makes the streets safer for cyclists than having a whole lot of cyclists on the streets.

Third, I’ve sent out copies of The Great Way in hopes of getting blurbs for them, and the first two have come back. Both are wonderful and make me feel like dancing around my apartment singing “I Feel Pretty.”

Fourth, I’m currently at work revising my pacifist urban fantasy, and never in my life have I had so much trouble making headway. My revisions are creeping along at a pace barely better than my first draft days. Stuff is difficult, you guys.

Fifth, I bought the first edition of CHILL (by Pacesetter) way back when it first came out. I bought the second edition enthusiastically, and when I made that six-figure deal for Child of Fire, I rewarded myself by buying up all the Chill books I didn’t already own.

Even though the game is pretty much unplayable.

Pacesetter’s first ed. was fun and had simple game mechanics. Mayfair’s second edition improved on things, but still couldn’t deal with Fear checks. You could prep a haunted house, prep the monster that would be there, arrange the clues the players needed to find or the person they needed to save, but what you couldn’t do was predict who would pass a Fear check. If all the players made it, the monster would not be able to stand against them. If only one made it, that player would have to face a villain designed to challenge a party while his compatriots ran screaming into the streets.

It was impossible to create a balanced confrontation, because you could never tell how many players would make that Fear check (the first thing to happen in every encounter), so you didn’t know which would stay in the scene.

And let’s be honest, any time a GM takes control of a player it sort of sucks, especially if you make the run in terror.

So, none of the games I tried to get off the ground ever went anywhere. My friends had no interest in horror games, since they’re pretty much the opposite of jokey power fantasies, and the only truly successful Chill game I ever ran was with my six-year-old son, and it was one session.

Still, it was great fun to read, and now I’m foolishly excited to see that, after a couple of false starts, there’s a third edition on the way. The previous attempt at a third edition got as far as informal play tests, which I took part in until assholes drove me away, but I’m hopeful for this. I don’t even know anything about the game, but I’m foolishly hopeful.