Software Review: Scrivener

OMSFSM, Scrivener! I love it so much!

I wrote War of Ashes: Fate of Agaptus on LibreOffice and it worked well enough, but by the time the manuscript got to about the 50% mark, it started being a real chore to revise and restructure. By the time I finished, it was 221 pages that we were passing back and forth between writer and editor to handle in LibreOffice and MS Word, and it was rather unwieldy.

Towards the end of the process I downloaded Scrivener but I was too far along to try converting the document. However, when I worked on the Open Content materials from War of Ashes later on, I tested a variety of more advanced writing tools (mostly distraction-free editors and LaTeX-based power tools), with the most promising being LyX and Scrivener.

In the end I decided that Scrivener was a good option for me. It was powerful, flexible, inexpensive, multi-platform, easy to learn thanks to its great tutorials and manuals, and supported by a vibrant community.

When I say inexpensive… The macOS, Windows, and iOS versions go for $40, just enough to cover minor support costs, and you can download a free trial version. The Linux version (that’s the one I use) is free because it’s unofficial but the user community is very helpful, and I ended up sending my $40 as a donation because it was worth every penny.

It has so many features and so much flexibility to work the way you want. I use it right from the planning stage to create my structure and outline, and to gather my writing resources: publisher’s guidelines, references, examples, cheat sheets, lists of names, notes I jotted down, etc.

I use its metadata features to add notes to each section such as keywords, actions needed (“Write examples of play,”) references cited (“Top Secret, TSR, 1980,”) status (“first draft”), or who will be a collaborating author on this section.

I have Scrivener set up to save the draft in my working folder and create a backup on Dropbox, in addition to using iDrive for my regular computer backup. On top of that, every time I stop working for the night or reach a significant milestone, I compile an export version of my draft in .docx format and post it for my publishers on Google Drive so they can follow my progress, and have a work product in hand if anything happened to me.

But I kind of got used to its ease, and I forgot what an improvement it was! Except that when I stopped to take stock of my progress tonight, I looked at the page count and realized what a chore the current drafts would be to handle on a basic word processor. In addition, I had reworked several individual sections of the Tianxia Rules Companion this weekend and instead of being a major hassle to locate the sections to edit in the middle of a manuscript, it was a breeze. So I just had to say a word for useful software!

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New Releases: Harlem Unbound, Sins of the Past Revisited

Today I take a quick look at a couple of new releases in two different genres: horror and superheroes. Both can be used to expand an existing campaign or as the backbone for a whole new campaign. These will be overviews, not full-fledged reviews since I have not had a chance to run either campaign.

Harlem Unbound

Cover of Harlem Unbound

If you want Cthulhu Mythos horror that flips the standard Lovecraftian view of minorities on its head, putting them in the roles of heroes who must struggle against cosmic horrors while also fighting for a chance at equality, this is the sourcebook for you.

Harlem Unbound is a 274-page sourcebook for Cthulhu Mythos role-play written by Chris Spivey and published by Darker Hue Studios, which provides setting history, locations, characters, adventures, and game-master advice for the Harlem neighbourhood of New York City during the 1920s, the era known as the Harlem Renaissance.

System-wise, elements are detailed for play with both Call of Cthulhu 7th Ed. (Chaosium) and the GUMSHOE system (Pelgrane Press). In fact, you can play it as a GUMSHOE standalone, it contains the necessary rules; or you could play it with a GUMSHOE game such as Trail of Cthulhu, Fear Itself, The Yellow King, or The Esoterrorists.

However, the materials offered in Harlem Unbound are rich and well-formulated so that in my opinion, there should be little trouble adapting them to another system of your choice. Mechanics are the least of your worries—doing the material justice in play is the GM and players’ true challenge. This is exactly the game supplement you need to run adventures in the vein of The Ballad of Black Tom (Victor LaValle) or Lovecraft Country: A Novel (Matt Ruff).

The art is of course strongly influenced by luminaries of the Harlem Artists Guild and precursors. Some of it is not my cup of tea (the gorier images), but it is nevertheless well done. I am particularly fond of artist Nino Malong’s contributions.

If you missed the Kickstarter funding campaign, you can still pre-order Harlem Unbound on Backerkit.

Sins of the Past, Revisited

Sins of the Past Revisited - coverThe original Sins of the Past adventure, published back in 2010, is one of the best scenarios ever written for the superhero game ICONS. Since its release, however, the system has undergone a revision and expansion published as the Assembled Edition in 2014.

Sins of the Past, Revisited is a 52-page adventure written by Theron Bretz, illustrated by Dan Houser—the same team that created the original edition—and published by Ad Infinitum Adventures for ICONS Superpowered Roleplaying: The Assembled Edition.

It does not only update the mechanical bits to reflect the most recent version of the game; it offers new material, game-master advice, and notes on the playtest games. There is more art and new maps, everything a GM needs to run exciting scenes of superheroic action.

To top it off, if you prefer to run ICONS using the original rules, this comes with the 2010 version of the adventure for free. This means you can enjoy the new materials without major system adjustments.

The adventure connects modern-day superheroes (and villains) with those of the Golden Age. I think the adventure might have the most impact if its chapters were introduced one at a time over the course of a long-running campaign, when some of the GM characters have become familiar figures of the game setting. This could create fantastic buy-in for the players, inviting their characters to shoulder a legacy.

You can get the PDF on DriveThruRPG, and I understand that the print version will be available soon.

Atwood read the blueprint

Nolite te bastardes carborundorum. [Don’t let the bastards grind you down.]
— Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale.

The Handmaids have entered the Texas legislature.
Nan L. Kirkpatrick‏ @nanarchist Mar 20:
The Handmaids have entered the #txlege. #sb415 #fightbacktx pic.twitter.com/Fpa9cNGHR0

The rate at which proposed  regulation, crafted by the American Far (“Christian”) Right, targets women’s most basic rights has been accelerating over the last several years. Bills that used to be outlandishly unthinkable are now commonplace, what with the Republican Party having wholly embraced the right-wing fringe, especially in its Dominionist flavour.

A protest against proposed draconian restrictions on abortion last week at the Texas legislature was only the most recent to draw parallels with Margaret Atwood’s 1985 dystopian novel about an ultra-Christian future of gender-regulated servitude, The Handmaid’s Tale.

Of course, the upcoming release of Hulu’s series based on the novel has also brought the book to the forefront of pop culture again, but the novel has been increasingly mentioned in news, streams, threads, and conversations about the Right’s treatment of women.

Earlier this week I was reading about the original critical reception to Atwood’s landmark book. It was darkly funny to learn that some reviewers — like the New York Times’ Mary McCarthy (Feb. 9, 1986) — felt its premise was too unbelievable to be successful:

“Surely the essential element of a cautionary tale is recognition. Surprised recognition, even, enough to administer a shock. We are warned, by seeing our present selves in a distorting mirror, of what we may be turning into if current trends are allowed to continue. That was the effect of ”Nineteen Eighty-Four,” with its scary dating, not 40 years ahead, maybe also of ”Brave New World” and, to some extent, of ”A Clockwork Orange.” “

“It is an effect, for me, almost strikingly missing from Margaret Atwood’s very readable book ”The Handmaid’s Tale,” offered by the publisher as a ”forecast” of what we may have in store for us in the quite near future. A standoff will have been achieved vis-a-vis the Russians, and our own country will be ruled by right-wingers and religious fundamentalists, with males restored to the traditional role of warriors and us females to our ”place” – which, however, will have undergone subdivision into separate sectors, of wives, breeders, servants and so forth, each clothed in the appropriate uniform. A fresh postfeminist approach to future shock, you might say. Yet the book just does not tell me what there is in our present mores that I ought to watch out for unless I want the United States of America to become a slave state something like the Republic of Gilead whose outlines are here sketched out. “

It’s worth reading the entire review, it seems like a point-by-point comment on current news, 32 years after publication. It’s hard to believe these days that McCarthy found A Clockwork Orange’s dystopia more likely than the one in Atwood’s “palely lurid pages.”

[Edit: Here are some very current topics touched on in The Handmaid’s Tale which I jotted the last time I read the book:

    • Patriarchy and kyriarchy
    • Rise of religious fundamentalism
    • Feminist reactions to pornography
    • “Freedom to” versus “freedom from,” and safety versus liberty
    • Abortion, contraception, and reproductive choices
    • Self-determination, ownership of one’s body
    • Right to take one’s own life
    • Environmental degradation
    • Surveillance and information technology
    • Gun control
    • Sexual orientation and choice
    • Non-reproductive sex
    • Citizenship
    • Poverty
    • Access to education, knowledge as power
    • Status of and relationships between U.S. and Russia
    • Public apathy and the creep of authoritarianism
    • Isolationism
    • Televangelists and the Christian media industry

And I bet I missed some.]

Partisanship has been increasing over the past 25 years. The Republican Party now controls the U.S. Presidency, Senate, and House of Representatives, as well as the “trifecta” (governorship + both State congressional houses) in 25 state legislatures, the senate in 12 more states, the house of representatives in six more states, and governorship in eight more states, and soon the ninth and deciding seat on the U.S. Supreme Court. The trend is clear, and it is frightening.

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Credits: Photo by Nan L. Kirkpatrick, as seen on Vulture.

Mouse Guard Must-Have

photo-sep-08-4-48-55-pmI’m very late in discovering this, but the hardback compilation Mouse Guard: The Black Axe is a must-have for all readers of the Mouse Guard comics (David Petersen, published by Archaia) and especially for players of the role-playing game based on the comic, the Mouse Guard RPG (Luke Crane & David Petersen).

It’s full of information about what the Guard Mice do, the art is as inspiring as ever, and the book offers a nice appendix full of maps, illustrations of locations, genealogies of famous mouse clans, etc. (You can see examples of location art here, but the ones in the book are different and contain much more information.)

Day 15, Cycle 5: Representation

I had an interesting reading experience yesterday. I’d been waiting for a certain graphic novel to be on sale and it suddenly was, so I downloaded it. The first page hit me like a ton of bricks, and I thought “She’s like me!

I remember being a kid, of course, and being excited when I could find adventure books featuring girls. And I keep picking up and circulating stories on social media, illustrating how important representation is. But I didn’t expect at my age to feel it again as a raw emotional response. And that’s only a small taste of what it is to a child — maybe a girl, brown-skinned, amputee, autistic, trans — who sees themselves represented for the first time!

It gave me a fresh desire to help in any way I can to lift the cloak of invisibility society has thrown on too many people.

ComicsNChemo

War of Ashes: Fate of Agaptus is a 2016 ENnie Nominee!

ENnies 2016 Nominee
The 2016 ENnie Awards nominees were just announced and War of Ashes: Fate of Agaptus has made the list in four categories:

  • Best Art, Interior
  • Best Family Game
  • Best Rules
  • Product of the Year

It’s up against high-quality, popular releases but it’s so nice to be on the list. (Now I know that at least four people read it!)  ^_^

I am so very fortunate that on my first professional writing gig in the role-playing world, Evil Hat Productions let me create a book the way I wanted to, with the support of their fantastic knowledge and staff resources. It doesn’t get any better!

War-of-Ashes-Pageheader

How to discourage me from playing your game – Part 2

Aw-noThis is the second of a three-part rant discussion on things publishers do that turn me right off their role-playing games.

[Edit: Traduction française disponible chez ptgptb.]

Naturally, a single mistake probably won’t do it unless it’s ginormous and egregious, but a few too many and I’ll move on to the next game on my long wish list.

2. Readability

A big challenge in role-playing games is that they are usually read several times in greatly differing circumstances.

  • The leisurely reading you do on the bus when you just received your book from a Kickstarter campaign.
  • The selective reading you do to familiarize yourself with the setting and make a character for next Friday’s meeting with your gaming group.
  • The studious reading your friend is doing to prep for that same game as game-master.
  • The frantic reading in the middle of a game session to locate a particular piece of information or interpret a rule.

I know first-hand how difficult it can be to address all these needs; for example, a book may be perfectly well organized to present the setting information in an orderly fashion, but make it a nightmare to retrieve in a hurry at the game table. Today, I want to examine the ease of reading proper, all the kinds of reading we do when we are not actually playing.

Continue reading “How to discourage me from playing your game – Part 2”

Spotify Playlist: American Gods

american gods

A few years ago, Bridget McGovern at the TOR Books blog put together an exhaustive soundtrack to go along Neil Gaiman’s novel American Gods: “The Complete American Gods Mix Tape”.  I added all the tunes I could find, which is the vast majority, to a Spotify playlist.  I was thinking of this playlist because Christmas features at the centre portion of the book, so it’s seasonal.  Unfortunately, Spotify does not allow custom images for playlists (it’s only been a top user request for 3.5 years!) but I’m nothing if not stubborn.  Hence, sharing through my own blog so I could have a representative image when I post the link!  Enjoy.

Spotify playlist: American Gods Mix Tape.  If you want more about the novel, here are some thoughts and links from my previous posts.

[Edit: Now includes the long-missing Beatles songs, just released on Spotify.]

american-gods-mixtape1

Temple Handshake

I told you a few days ago how beautifully the art for Do: Fate of the Flying Temple (a project I’m managing for Evil Hat Productions) was coming along.  Here is a gorgeous two-page spread from Dionysia Jones; you can also read Art Director Daniel Solis’ discussion from initial description and visual reference to finished art.

Doublpage-Spread-Pic-B---Temple-Handshake

The Dystopian Universe RPG!

DURPG-Cover-Mockup-600pxHuzzah, I can finally talk about this project.  I’m project manager for Evil Hat Productions on a new dark science-fiction role-playing game powered by Fate Core. The setting is The Dystopian Universe, licensed from Travis Worthington at Indie Boards & Cards, and you may be familiar with it as the setting for several other games including The Resistance, Coup, Coup: Reformation, Coup: Rebellion G54, One Night Revolution, etc.

The game is written by Anna Meade and Brian Engard, with system development by J.D. Yearsley.  Applications for the first public playtest just opened today and will remain open through November 30.  (Here is a link to the application form.)

Corruption. Betrayal. Intrigue. Just another day in Paris Nouveau.

In a cyberpunk, dystopian future, the citizens of Paris Nouveau are no more than indentured servants. Virtual reality has come at a cost they can never pay, a tradeoff of freedom for technology. But there are freedom fighters who reject the system, unplugging from the illusion and working to make things right once again. They are La Résistance. Rise up and defy the corporations in the Dystopian Universe RPG, set in the same universe as The Resistance, Coup, and One Night Revolution from Indie Boards & Cards.

The Dystopian Universe RPG is a stand-alone game that uses a customized version of the Fate System. Within these pages, you’ll find:

  • Playsheets for nine character archetypes with tie-ins to the cards found in other Dystopian Universe games
  • New aspect rules to help reflect the intrigue of the Dystopian Universe, where no one is exactly what they seem
  • Two new systems to help GMs escalate conflicts based on character actions: blowback and the Vigilance Track
  • New equipment rules using Fate points from a character or from their supporters at La Résistance.
  • A streamlined modular system for creating missions, along with sample missions to get you started

The Dystopian Universe RPG: Vive La Résistance!