Tabletop Report

So, in the last few months I’ve mentioned here and there that I was spending my spare time getting a tabletop campaign ready to go. My first time being a game master, and as you’re about to find out, also running a custom tabletop rule system completely of my own design.

Yup. I couldn’t find a good system for what I wanted to do, so instead … I made one. Over a good six-seven month period. And, as of January, I have taken on the role of DM in my DnD group and have been running a campaign playtest. I’ve noticed that other authors have put up their tabletop experiences for fans to read, and since I’ve been posting these on a Reddit sub dedicated to the universe the campaign takes place in anyway, it’s only a little more work to post these here for the enjoyment of those of you that play tabletop.

Now, before we get any further, I have a quick disclaimer: The universe that this tabletop is set in is the Gears of War universe, which is owned by Microsoft. I do not own Gears of War or make any claims to that effect. That’s wholly Microsoft. I’m using the setting for my game because, well, first you can’t copyright imagination and second, Gears of War is one of my favorite universes of all time.

I do, however, own the tabletop system we are using for the campaign, as it is 100% my own creation. See, despite a small demand over the years for a Gears of War tabletop system, or at least something that could work, nothing has ever been made or worked. There’s been no official tabletop release, and attempts to modify other well-known tabletop systems such as actual DnD, GURPS, Pathfinder, or any number of others into the universe has just led to a system that, well, wasn’t Gears. Failures, in other words. Knowing and having read accounts of these attempts, I knew when I volunteered to run the group’s next campaign that I was going to need to build a system myself. New rules, new stats, new everything. And though it is built to bring out the cover-heavy flavor of Gears, it could just as easily be adapted for any other cover-specific game, like X-Com for example (and come to think of it …).

Basically, Gears is owned by Microsoft, and I’m not claiming any ownership there. This homemade rulekit, character sheet set, and everything else? Totally mine.

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Being a Better Writer: PoV Strengths

Welcome back readers, to Being a Better Writer! Yes, it’s a day late, but I warned you guys. Unfortunately, I have that part-time job, and sometimes that means they want me for most or all of Monday.

Now, a quick update! Prior Alpha Readers, as in, those who have Alpha Read for me before! You should have an invite to the Shadow of an Empire Alpha in your inbox. If you have not received one, then something has gone wrong, please get in touch with me so I can update your contact information or pull you from the list if you’re no longer interested.

On that note, if you’ve not been an Alpha Reader before, or have elsewhere an are interested in being an Alpha Reader on Shadow of an Empire, contact me as well. The more critical eyes I have on this, the better. As always, I want this story to be the best it can be, and that takes some solid effort.

Last note, then we’ll jump to the meat of the post. There’s a new feature coming soon to this site. I’m not going to say exactly what it is, but if you’ve kept up with the news of my projects these last few months, you’ve heard whispers and mentions of a side project almost a whole year in coming that’s finally hit. It’s not another book; I’ll tell you that up front. But it will be something you guys may enjoy hearing about. Which is all I’ll say for now.

So, news is done. Let’s talk writing!

So today’s topic is, as almost usual these days, a request topic. I don’t recall which reader specifically requested this one (sorry), but it’s a good topic that, in light of some discussions I’ve seen online that all but floundered on this same point, seems to have come at a good time. Today, we’re going to be talking about PoV, or Point of View.

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Shadow of an Empire Editing Rolls On

Not much to say today, folks. Work on alpha editing Shadow of an Empire is rolling on, about halfway through the first pass now, and that’s been keeping me pretty focused. I’d forgotten how fun this universe was to play in. If you read the short story Ripper from Unusual Events, then you’ve already had an early taste of what Indrim has to offer. Shadow of an Empire is a lot bigger, though, being an epic novel. Ripper was just a short story. Still, if you’re looking for a preview of what’s coming and don’t want to support on Patreon, grab a copy of Unusual Events and pay close attention when you read Ripper. Might be you’ll see some faces from there in Shadow of an Empire …

Anyway, things are pretty quiet on the site front mostly because I’m just plugging away at the editing process. Oh, and Monday’s Being a Better Writer post is going to have to be on Tuesday, as I’ve got a long shift on Monday. So heads up!

Last but not least, I thought I’d throw out a comment made the other day on a discussion forum about books that turned to “High brow literature” versus “low brow literature,” as I feel it’s a good comparison. One poster was asserting that they only read “high brow” quality stuff, and none of the “low brow” stuff that’s popular and read in large numbers, because they wanted to “experience quality.” I made a comparison response that, I think, worked pretty well. Here goes, cleaned and trimmed a little.

Millions of people drive Toyota Corollas. They’re known for being a quality, dependable car that lasts and performs it’s purpose with simplicity that to most is elegant in its simplicity. It doesn’t need Walnut-trim door handles. It doesn’t need a special shifting pattern, or even a manual gearbox. It’s a car that does exactly what it’s supposed to do without any fluff or unneeded complexity.

Then you have something like a Rolls Royce or a Bentley. A “high quality” car designed with the purpose of “experience quality.” And sure, it might be nice to ride in one from time to time, but it’s a car with brakes that cost as much as a Corolla that the driver will never use. Walnut trim on the door handles that looks nice but otherwise adds little but the look. Suspension that confidently assures you that you’ll never feel a single moment of discomfort provided you keep the car on specific roads it’s meant to travel and not anywhere else (yes, read into that).

Point being it’s nice to ride in one occasionally, but much of what it is, while pretty, is superfluous to actually being a car. But you still have car enthusiasts that look down on Corolla drivers for not having a “quality car” like a Rolls Royce, Bentley, etc.

All they’re really doing half the time is spending ten times as much to make an otherwise simple journey in ostentatiously overblown “comfort,” away from “dangerous roads” and “lowbrow designs.”

IE there’s a time and place for a luxury ride in a nice car or with a high quality book, but don’t be fooled into thinking you’re somehow superior to the majority of Corollas out there delivering the same end-goal and scenery without the Walnut door handles.

I thought it was a pretty good comparison. Look, there is something nice about reading an overly verbose and flowery book once in a while, a title far more concerned with the flow of its language than the intelligence of its characters or plot. But you don’t need those things to have a good story, one that provokes thought or carries the reader down an unknown road (and often, the more “high brow” stuff sticks to the same roads repeatedly rather than going anywhere unexplored). Both can get you to the destination: one with “luxury experience,” the other with a bit of character and sometimes even some daring when it makes a detour off the normal path.

Anyway, back to work! Gotta get Shadow of an Empire ready for its big debut!

By the way, if you’re a prior Alpha reader, check your inbox for your Alpha Read invitation and get back to me. A couple of you haven’t responded yay or nay yet, so the invites are just floating in the limbo.

BaBW: Sympathetic Villains Follow-Up

Well readers, I made a mistake. Not a massive one, but a mistake nonetheless. Kind of a relieving one, too, since I’d been waiting for this shoe to drop for a while now (I had to screw up with one of these posts eventually). But I did screw up.

Monday’s Being a Better Writer post? The one on Sympathetic Villains? I overexplained it. I spent far too much time covering what was a relatively straightforward concept, and in the end, confused a few of my long-time readers quite spectacularly. It was my own fault; the post should have been about half the size. So this, right here? This is a correction, which will now be linked at the beginning of the aforementioned post. I overdid it, and I’m going to add some clarification, starting immediately.

I did not mean that your stories shouldn’t have characters—protagonists, antagonists, or otherwise—without grey areas. Grey areas can be wonderful places to explore as a point of conflict between characters. Sands, I use them in my own work; look no further than Colony to find a range of characters with goals and objectives that are all at odds with one another but very much riding the fine line of what is a gray area and what isn’t (also, if you haven’t yet, you really should read it).

I also wasn’t trying to say that a story had to have a hero-villain relationship. This one I just didn’t make clear enough … which is my fault, because several times I used protagonist-antagonist to break the monotony of repeating myself with hero-villain, without realizing I was leaving that open to be a tripping point.

Heroes and villains are types of protagonists and antagonists, but I was not trying to say that all protagonists or antagonists had to be heroes or villains. I’ve written to the contrary before. A hero is a type of protagonist, a very specific one. As is a villain. And you can have a story with one, the other, both, or neither.

So, what was the point of Monday’s too long post? A simple topic I made overly complex, so here goes: The term “sympathetic villain” is not the same as an empathetic villain, but far too many writers conflate the two and end up mistaking how a villain is supposed to be presented. Having an empathetic villain does not mean that the audience must agree with the villain, or that the villain is as “right” as the hero. Having an empathetic villain means that the audience simply understands and can follow what pushed the villain to where they are.

That’s it. I simply wanted to tackle a distressingly common misconception conflating sympathy with empathy. But I dropped the ball and ended up confusing quite a few readers, hence this clarification post.

Nothing is wrong with protagonist stories, or antagonist stories. Or grey areas. The only wrong I was trying to correct was to nudge young, new, and confused writers back on the right track with sympathetic versus empathetic.

And in the process, I ended confusing a bunch more. Whoops.

Hopefully this addendum has cleared up a few things. Again, apologies for the mistake with the Monday post. An error like that was bound to happen eventually, so I’m kind of glad to have gotten it out of the way, at least for another four or so years.

Speaking of which … I’d best get started on that. Until then!

Being a Better Writer: Sympathetic Villains

URGENT: READ THIS FOLLOW-UP IF YOU READ THIS POST! It clarifies a few important things.

… are a mistaken understanding.

Okay, that’s a strong statement as a lead-in for today’s post, but it has merit! Welcome back to Being a Better Writer, the weekly writing guide post where we discuss, well, writing topics of all kind.

Today’s topic, Sympthetic Villains, is another request topic. It’s also a topic that I knew would inspire a bit of controversy when I tackled it, particularly among newer writers, because of the amount of misunderstanding I’ve seen concerning it. Misunderstanding that comes from, unfortunately, the name itself and the oft-mistaken misuse of two similar but different words: sympathy … and empathy.

See, a lot of people use the former when they mean the latter. And, to be fair, the two share similar meanings. Sympathy is defined firstly as “feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else’s misfortune,” and empathy is defined as “the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another.”

Pretty close, right? Well, you’d think so until you saw the second, third, or even fourth definitions (depending on the dictionary) of sympathy, which move from “feelings of” to “sharing understanding” or even “agreeing with.”

Uh-oh. Can you see where the the use of the wrong word can cause a problem for young, newbie writers yet? Or even for more experienced authors? The problem is that while empathy means understanding a character’s perspective, sympathy means agreeing with it.

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Alpha Invites and the December Patreon Supporter Reward

Hey readers. Max here with a pair of quick updates.

As of moments ago, the Alpha Reader invites to prior Alpha Readers have been sent out via e-mail for the Shadow of an Empire alpha! Check your inboxes. If you’re not a prior Alpha reader, but would be interested in becoming one, drop me a line with a rundown on what you know of the position and what you expect it to be like, and I’ll take a look.

Got it? Good. Shadow of an Empire is on its way at last! Woo!

Right, so second bit of news. Are you a Patreon Supporter? If so, hop on over to the posts page for, at last, the December Patreon Supporter reward! Yeah, it’s late. Jungle, remember? Anyway, this one’s a good one. An early look at the first three chapters of Shadow of an Empire. Yup. You can read the first 50 or so pages right now! What are you waiting for? Get going!

Not a Patreon Supporter? Well, that’s easily solved …

That’s it! Oh, and if you’re new enough that half of what was said here flew past in a blur of confusion, check out the Current Projects page to get caught up!