My new favourite writing tool: q10

I have heard of the idea of a full-screen, plain text editor years ago. I liked the thinking behind it, but I always thought that it would feel like going back to the time of WordPerfect (for my younger readers: WordPerfect was the main word processing software in days of old).

As part of figuring out what I want to do with my life, I have decided to start writing more, and finally decided to give one of the distraction-free editors a shot. I settled on q10. I promptly downloaded it, installed it… Then forgot about it for a few months.

q10 Screenshot

Yesterday, I wanted to do some freewriting to clear my head, and I remembered about q10, so decided to give it a try. I was very impressed. I never realised how much of my attention gets taken up by the business that normally surrounds my typing area. While I was never consciously aware of it, writing in q10 felt a lot more relaxed, without all those things to distract me. The only thing on the screen, besides the text is a small strip at the bottom, which lists things like the number of words and pages. I am pretty sure that you can switch the strip off as well.

Checking the website now I can see that q10 does have all the features you would expect from a text editor, accessible through a set of keyboard shortcuts.  I have not used many of them, but that is something to keep in mind for the future.

I really think that q10 is perfect for doing first drafts, and getting ideas together. What it does lack is formatting of any sort, so you might want to use it for the initial writing, and use something else to add formatting afterwards.  For those of you planning to take part in NaNoWriMo next month, I think it would be a perfect tool.

On top of all that, q10 is completely free.

Refining Direction

Going forwards
Changing Direction

I have been thinking a lot about my life and its direction lately. One of the outcomes of all that thinking is The Life List, in which I have listed some of the things that I actually want to do during my life.

I will be putting more effort into this blog, as well as changing its direction somewhat. I am going to try to start writing more in-depth articles, and using it to hone my skills as a writer (yes, I know that I need a lot of honing).

I still need to put in a lot of thought about the exact direction for the blog, but I hope that it will develop naturally as I work on it. I will also put in more effort into actually attracting readers here. I want this to act as a springboard for my future projects.

I will need some help in all of this, so I will need you to let me know if I can do anything to improve, either my writing, my blog, or anything else, for that matter.

 

Project London Review

I first saw Project London’s trailer in 2010 or so, and I really admired the concept of a special-effect heavy movie financed with crowdfunding, and created using free software (specifically Blender). I was very happy when I got the chance to watch the review version.

The movie tells the story of Nebraska Higgins, who sees his father, Arizona (a lot of the characters have place names… We have Arizona, Nebraska, Chicago and Canada… I may have missed some while watching), killed by the Joint Command, a global government formed by earth Governments and alien refugees. Nebraska ends up getting involved with the London Underground, a group opposing the Joint Command, for reasons that get revealed during the course of the movie.

The plot of the movie is solid, and delivers some interesting twists. While I do not enjoy being spoon-fed the setting in a movie, Project London takes a bit too long to actually make the setting clear, and ends up just being confusing in the beginning.

ProjectLondon_Frame-14

The acting leaves a lot to be desired, especially where the minor characters are concerned. I did enjoy Branson Anderson’s, who manages make Jerry an intriguing character, despite not saying a word, and spending the entirety of the movie in a gas mask.

The special effects, which created the main buzz behind this movie involve some very impressive and well done CGI. Unfortunately, when combined with the actors, the special effects fail, and it felt like I was watching a SciFi movie. I am not sure if this was due to the technology used, or due to the actors not working well with the green screen.

Overall, Project London has a good story, but a bit too many flaws for my liking. While its scale is impressive, especially with the low budget and use of crowdsourcing, the overall execution is somewhat lacking. I really hope that other film-makers will use some of the triumvirate‘s ideas to create their own movies, since I think that their model has a huge amount of potential.

Idea for Vampires and Sunlight

This is just something I came up with a long time ago while thinking about the old vampiric weakness to sunlight, hopefully it is an interesting spin on it.

The idea is that Vampires get more sensitive to the sun as they grow older. A newly created Vampire would be able to walk around during the day time, although he would be uncomfortable on a clear day.

The Oldest Vampires are forced to live in absolute darkness, since even moonlight hurts their sensitive skins. They have to work through proxies and agents, never seeing any light.

A city frozen in time

CityScene
MayDay by Wili

This is an idea for a scene, rather than a setting. It should work in any setting that incorporates some sort of magic, although I would really struggle to add it into anything that is even vaguely hard science.

The scene takes place in a city that is frozen in time for some reason, but the PCs and NPCs are still active. It should provide an interesting, if somewhat surreal backdrop… It could work well for an over the top fight scene, or even a chase, as the participants hide behind frozen smoke, or stand still not to be noticed in a crowd of unmoving people…

ConstructionSite
Urban View by AndyK

If you want to expand the idea, perhaps time has frozen in the city a very long time ago, and another civilisation has risen in the city, around the elements of the old frozen time. So, people live in buildings, sharing their home with a family who sits frozen around a table mid-conversation. Perhaps an ma standing by the door is used as a coat rack, and there is a washing line strung between a child’s ball hanging in the air, and her mother calling her home.

 

Save the Future

This is one of those ideas that could be brilliant with the right group, but could just as easily all flat. The  central idea is that the characters are sent back in time from a future alien invasion in order to prepare humanity for when the aliens come. The emphasis of the campaign would be on the characters trying to get the planet united, and using their knowledge of the future and technology to prepare humanity to fight off the coming invasion.

time-travel

Setup

Before the game starts the group should work out a timeline for the setting, with technology developments, as well as social and political events. This will provide them with a lot of foreknowledge when they go back in time.

Playing the Invasion

You can start the game during the alien invasion, possibly even with different characters from the ones that go back in time. It would be a good way of making the stakes clear… And for the last session of the intro, you could have a desperate defence of the particle accelerator as the characters try to finish their transport…

Long Term Planning

The Essence of this campaign lies in the fact that the characters have to think long term. They are trying to shape the entire society of the planet, not a simple task. They do have some advantages, but they are not massively overpowering, so they are going to have to plan ahead. In this campaign, the GM should be responsive to the players, not the other way around, most of the time.

The Butterfly Effect

While the characters will have a very good knowledge of the future (since they will bring historical records with them), over time, as they are active, this will become less and less accurate.

While the players will try to anticipate the results of their actions and changes, the GM should make sure that things don’t always go the way the characters expect.

The Mechanics of Time Travel

Time travel in this campaign is used as a device to get the characters into the past, and I do not really see it playing a big part in the campaign. Players being players, there is always a chance that they will figure out a way to make more use of it.

Whenever somebody travels back in time, a new timeline is formed, completely independent of the original one. What happens to the original timeline, whether it ceases to exist, or still exists in some form is not really relevant, since there is no interaction between the two timelines.

What this means that you cannot really alter your own personal past. If you kill your grandfather, it just means that you are now a murderer, and that there will not be another person like you in the new timeline.

In this setting, while time travel is possible, it is not simple. It requires a large, well designed and calibrated installation, that would take years to build (and that is assuming that adequate financing, land and government permissions are available).

Possible Stories

Most of the stories in the campaign would revolve around the actions of the characters, as they try to set the world right. Here are some ideas.

Convincing Others

If the characters start simply telling people about the coming alien invasion, they are not going to get much support. A demonstration of their advanced technology might sway some, but there is always the risk of the technology simply being confiscated by the government of the country they are in, and the characters getting brought in for questioning. How are they going to get support?

Creating a Conspiracy

It is entirely possible that the characters decide to hide the truth. Perhaps they think that nobody will believe them, or they are afraid of a world-wide panic if people did… Either way, they choose to work underground, hiding their true plans and intentions. Do they establish a cover as a company, or some sort of religious organisation, or something else entirely?

Preventing Disaster

The characters know that some sort of large-scale disaster is coming. Tornado, Tsunami, Earthquake, that type of thing… What are they going to do about it? Will they try to warn people, or prevent it in some way? Or perhaps simply get themselves in position to take advantage of it?

Personal Agendas

Every now and then, it might be good to focus on what the characters do for their personal agendas. If somebody’s mother or wife died of cancer on the original timeline, are they going to try to prevent that, perhaps get her to quit smoking in this one, or try to get her to get diagnosed early enough? Or are they going to spend a lot more time and energy in those areas of research? All of the characters would have lost people they loved in the invasion. Are they going to try to see them? Even though their loved ones will most likely not recognise them.

It is entirely likely that the characters themselves are on this timeline as children. Are the characters going to try to avoid the alternate versions of themselves, or will they try to warn them about the things they might regret later?

Politics

This campaign, by its very nature will delve into politics. The players may want to unify the world to prepare it for the coming threat, but how will they do it, will they try to engineer a single country taking over everything, or will they set themselves up as puppet-masters, allowing the disparate countries to believe that they are not acting in unison? Maybe they will even try to get countries co-operating out of their own interests.

Technology

Another approach that would help is to advance the technology of the world. The characters have a definite headstart. Of course, this will involve a lot of the politics mentioned above, as well as dealing with other companies, nations and entities.

Alternatives

Here are some ideas for spins on the basic campaign outlined above, or ways to spice up the campaign once it has already started.

Other Time travellers

There is always a chance that the characters are not the only time travellers. Perhaps they find out that there are others that have arrived before them, or run into versions of themselves from a future in which their meddling has made things even worse. Or, the aliens send somebody back, since they were so successful, and the invaders want to stop them. This alternative would work well in an already running game.

Alien Infiltrators

In this alternative, the alien fleet has sent advance scouts, which arrived decades or centuries before the main fleet, and infiltrated humanity in order to make sure that they are not ready when the main fleet arrives. This would work well if the players want a direct enemy, and could be used to run a conspiracy investigation campaign, as the characters try to figure out who the infiltrators are.

They might even know some of the infiltrators, from their own time, but what are they going to do about it? Nobody would believe them if they started telling people that the CEO of a major corporation is an alien spy!

Staring Earlier

What if the characters go back in time much further? Ancient Rome maybe, or even into prehistory on the African Savannah. Do they establish themselves as gods, or do they just try to lead their tribe? This also causes a problem for the characters, since they will need some way of ensuring their plans continue even after they are gone. Do they try to establish some sort of lineage or cult to pass on their teaching? This might also work as a generational game, with the players playing different characters through the ages.

Superheroics

For this, you can set the game in a Superhero universe. If superheroes already exist in the world, and are known, the characters would have a much easier time convincing people that the threat is real.

For another take on it, perhaps the characters use their advanced technology to establish themselves as Superheroes in the new timeline?

 

Dresden Files RPG on Kindle Review

Dresden Files RPG

The Dresden Files RPG is published by Evil Hat, and uses their Fate system. The game allows the players to play in the setting of the Dresden Files series of books by Jim Butcher. It is divided into two books: Your Story, and Our World.

Your Story

Dresden Files RPG Your Story Cover

This is the players handbook in a way, explaining the system, character creation, and the basics of the world. It was written in such a way as to minimise the amount of spoilers for those who have not read the Dresden Files Books.

Our World

Dresden Files RPG Our World Cover

Our World is the setting book, and is full of spoilers, so I would not recommend reading it unless you have read the Dresden Files series. It is a very exhaustive overview of the DresdenVerse, and does a good job of explaining the various factions in the setting. It also goes some depth into explaining Chicago, and the various ways you could run a campaign there.

Dresden Files uses the well known FATE system.

FATE Rules

FATE uses Fudge dice, which are dice that have + on two sides, – on another two and the last two left blank. For a roll, the player rolls for of them, totals them up, and adds them to his skill, trying to beat a target difficulty.

Each character also has a pool of FATE points, which can be used in conjuction with Aspects to get rerolls, or to add onto a roll.

Aspects are what makes this system interesting. Anything in Fate can have one or more aspects, for example, a character can have the aspect Tough as Nails, a city can have the aspect All of us are in the gutter, and so on.

An aspect can be used in a variety of ways, enabling the player to add elements to the story, or to gain a bonus when doing something that an aspect could help him with. Using an aspect costs the character a Fate point.

An aspect can also be compelled, which means that it acts as a disadvantage for the character. In this case the character will get a Fate point if they accept the compel.

Character Creation

In the Dresden Files RPG, like in the other FATE Games, character creation is a co-operative endeavour, and it is divided into four phases. In the first phase, the player designs the basic character, with a concept and a trouble aspect. Over the next several phases, the characters are tied together, adding more aspects and ensuring that they all have a shared background.

This being the Dresden Files, some of the characters can be supernatural beings, such as Wizards, Fae and Vampires. The use of aspects helps to keep the powers balanced, so that even default humans can actually influence the game.

Since Magic forms a big part of the Dresden Files setting, there is a fairly involved magic system presented. While it seems complex at first, it does capture the spirit of magic as it is portrayed in the novels. If somebody in the group is playing a wizard, he would have to do a bit of preparation.

The whole game is very good at bringing across the feel of the Dresden Files. I am not sure how useful it would be for somebody who has not read the novels, but I think it does contain enough information to play. If you want to play in another urban fantasy setting, it should be easy enough to use the existing rules to do so.

While the Dresden Files novels are set in Chicago, the RPG includes a good system for city creation, so that the group can design their own city and its supernatural underworld to play in.

Of course, for those who want to play in Chicago and the default setting, the book Our World provides a lot of details about the factions and characters in the setting, as well as several possibilities for using Chicago as a setting for your games.

In the original PDF, they are very well illustrated and laid out, but the kindle versions suffer from some formatting problems, specifically in the side-bars. Either way, they are easy to use at the table.

Overall, the Dresden Files RPG is an excellent version of FATE, well suited to running an Urban Fantasy game. It brings all of the strengths of FATE to the Genre, and allows full and engaging games.

 

 

Low Information Diet

I found this article in my notes, i wrote it originally about two months ago, and never posted it, so here it is: 
 

Inspired by the Four Hour Work week, I have tried the low information diet for five days. The results were very interesting and surprising, so much so that I wrote another article about it. I can recommend it for anyone.

In case you do not want to read the book for some strange reason (you really should, there is a ton of useful information/ideas/inspiration in it, it is one of the very few books I ever read more than once), or you just want to know my take on the process, here it is: (I am including my own personal deviations from Tim’s recommendations.
  • No consumption of social media
  • No websurfing, except as it is necessary to do my work, in which case it will be just enough to get the task done.
  • No reading RSS feeds
  • No non-fiction reading except for the Four Hour Work Week
  • Fiction reading limited to 1h, just before bedtime (I used this to catch up on Hellboy, but you can choose something else)
  • No TV News or newspapers (I never did any of those to begin, so not really an issue for me)
  • Watching Entertainment TV limited to 1h a day
  • Tim includes a five minute check for news at lunch by asking someone if anything happened during the day. I did not use it, as I found that people tended to discuss things with me, anyway.
Here are some of my own refinements:
  • I limited email checking to once per day after 12 O’clock. In the case of my personal gmail account, I just quickly scanned through the important items  (I find that the automated importance determination in gmail works really well).
  • I kept writing updates to Google Plus about my low information diet (I posted from the Google homepage, so that I would not get tempted to actually read my stream). This had several benefits:
  • It meant that I had publicly committed, so that, when I was tempted to quit, I felt bad thinking that I would disapoint my readers (rationally, I doubt that any of them would have really cared, but on an emotional level it feels different than if it was only me that knew about it)
  • It gave me a place to vent my frustrations
  • It provided entertainment for my followers

RPG Review – Kuro

Kuro Cover

Kuro is a very interesting game, with a very original setting. In my mind, it feels like Ghost in the Shell meets The Ring. The game is set in Japan in 2046. After the Kuro Incident, an event in which Japan is protected from a thermonuclear strike by an unknown force, the country is blockaded by the rest of the world, since they believe that Japan has access to top secret missile shield technology. In the meantime, reports of strange events are on the rise, and while most remain ignorant, some are starting to realise that there is something else in Japan trapped with the people.

The first half of the book is devoted to explaining the setting. It presents a Japan isolated from the rest of the world,and after six months of the blockade, the strain on the country is slowly starting to show through. In the wake of the Kuro incident, there are a number of groups emerging in society, as the people try to deal with what has happened.

The book presents a very cyberpunk feel of the future, with ubiquitous computing, where even the poorest person owns a device, and augmented reality and holograms are everywhere.

The supernatural is making its presence felt, slowly and gradually, with most people dismissing the reports as superstition, or a lone maniac.

The book does an excellent job of presenting the setting, and while I am probably not getting it across in this review, the setting does feel truly unique, while being recognisable and interesting enough to play in.

The system itself is only explained later in the book. To resolve an action, the player rolls a number of D6, equal to his stat, and adds a skill, trying to beat the target number, or the roll of another character.

The system is very simple, straightforward, and easy to learn. I do find that it does not really tie into the setting, and does nothing to evoke the flavor and themes of the game. If I were to run the game, I would probably use something like Fate. The system here is serviceable  but a bit bland.

The book closes with an introductory adventure, Origami, in which the characters start of as normal Japanese citizens, and get drawn into some of the events of the world of Kuro. It provides a good introduction to this fascinating setting.

Just for the setting alone, this game is worth the price! Cubicle Seven is planning to release another two books in this setting, and I am really looking forward to them.

Kuro is available from RPGNow.

RPG Review: Left Hand Path

Left-Hand Path White Wolf Cover

I have recently been re-finding my taste for all things White Wolf, possibly due to the Aberrant campaign I am currently in. So, I decided to review Left Hand Path .

Left Hand Path deals with the rebels and outcasts of mage society, those that are isolated from the Pentacle and Seers, often with very good reason. The book is divided into four, dealing with the Heretics, Mad, Scelesti and Reapers.

It starts off by explaining how the pentacle and seers deal with the Apostates, and how to become one, before looking at the individual factions.

The Heretics and Apostates are those that have rejected the teachings of the Pentacle or Seers, but still remain “normal” mages. As such, they seem to be most likely to be used as player characters. There are some good ideas about how to use them as protagonists and antagonists in your stories, as well as several story seeds focusing on them.
The Mad remind me of the Marauders in the old world of darkness, although they do get a very new world of darkness spin on them. They are based on the gothic idea of madness that stems from moral decay, and some of the details about them manage to be disturbing. Ideas are given how to use them in a chronicle, as well as some suggested Mad. I think that they have a lot of potential, but I found the section on them a bit sparse and lacking.
The Scelesti are a bit of a stereotypical villain group, in the fact that they want to end the world as we know it, possibly to replace it with the Abyss. The information in here expands on the Mage rulebook, and presents other factions of the Scelesti, as well as some ideas about their structure, organisation, and practices.
Finally, the Repers are discussed, with a long section on the Tremere, although I find the two new factions intorduced in that section far more interesting, especially the (Legion), which have the right mix of interesting and creepy to be used in most games.
Overall, The Left Hand Path is an excellent resource for any Mage Storyteller, and a very good mine for ideas. It is available for sale from RPGNow.

Recreating life as I go along