Thursday, November 30, 2017

Back Soon

Sorry for the lack of updates lately! I am backed up on RPG writing gigs and trying to catch up. I'll tell you all about them as soon as I can. Meanwhile, enjoy this shot of my assistant.


Monday, September 25, 2017

Product Release: Gongfarmer's Almanac 2017


At Gen Con this year, another product with my name in it came out. I have a piece in volume 1 of the 2017 Gongfarmer's Almanac for Dungeon Crawl Classics. In addition to general articles and adventures like those in last year's Almanac, the 2017 edition provided a multi-author hex-crawl. This hex crawl is a campaignable landscape made of individual small adventure areas bound together only by one theme: they exist on the plane of Pandemonium, the source of chaos magic.

My contribution is "Abyss of Automatons," which is my take on a robot underworld. Harley Stroh, the amazingly prolific DCC writer who created Peril on the Purple Planet, drew the map for mine!

You can download all volumes of Gongfarmer’s Almanac 2017 from the Google Plus community’s Google Drive links below. If you want to order the Almanac in print, you can get the whole thing in one volume from Lulu (pricing is at-cost, simply covering materials and shipping).

Gongfarmer's Almanac 2017
Volume 1: Welcome to Pandemonium
Volume 2: Pandemonium Locations, Part 1
Volume 3: Pandemonium Locations, Part 2
Volume 4: Pandemonium Setting: Dark Seas
Volume 5: Monsters and Patrons of Pandemonium
Volume 6: Men and Magic
Volume 7: Adventures and Settings
Volume 8: 2017 Master Zine Index

Editions From Previous Years
2016 Print
2016 PDF
2015 Print
2015 PDF (Volumes 1-5, Volume 6)

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Numenera 2: Defending Ellomyr


Monte Cook Games has launched their Kickstarter for Numenera 2, the revision to Numenera that they announced at Gen Con last month. I think it looks great, and I'm a backer.

One fun thing that they're doing with this Kickstarter is asking the community of backers to contribute bits of fiction. Because part of Numenera 2 is the new Destiny book, MCG is using their Kickstarter updates to describe the town of Ellomyr, a place in danger of being attacked by bestial enemies. MCG encourages fans to describe how the town works to prepare its defense, and a high enough number of such descriptions on social media will give the town a bonus to its chances of survival.

Here's mine!

Oddity's father had told her to stay out of the way while the grown-ups prepare for the coming margr attack, but dangit, she had ideas that were bubbling up inside her and she had to let them out!

Oddity tromped up to Auzenne the Builder, who had built the schoolhouse, and told her she should build a new village down the road, just as big as Ellomyr, that the bad guys can have fun attacking instead! “Then they’ll leave us alone!” Oddity said, smiling and nodding to indicate that she'd settled the matter. Auzenne patted her on the head like adults do and said she’d play with her later.

Then Oddity tracked down Purple Golan the clothier, who had sewn her festival dress for her, and told him he should make margr clothes for everyone in town so the bad guys will think we’re just like them when they arrive. “Then they’ll leave us alone!” Oddity looked up at Golan hopefully, but all he did was act like her idea was a good solution and send her on her way.

Oddity was just arriving at the town square to seek out Elder Fron when her father caught up with her. “Time for lunch, Oddity.”

Oddity stamped her foot on the dusty ground. “But I have to tell Elder Fron my idea!”

Gurner Fron stepped out of his house. Oddity’s father began to apologize for the interruption, but Gurner waved him off. “What’s this about an idea, young lady?”

Oddity looked between Gurner and her father, and back again, then burst out with, “If we all play a super-mega game of 'hide from the Wind,’ the bad guys won’t be able to find us. Then they’ll leave us alone!"

Gurner looked into Oddity’s mismatched eyes and considered what she’d said. “Oddity, I don’t think the margr will leave even if they think the town is empty. I think some of us will have to fight to defend it. However, your idea sounds like a good way to protect the people in town who won’t be fighting. It might help if you were to start training the other children in ‘hide from the Wind.’ If your father thinks this is a good plan, that is.”

Oddity’s father picked her up. “I think it’s a great plan. Come on, Oddity. Lunch will give you the strength you need to start your training."

Oddity’s father took her home, just as the Trilling Stone began to sing.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Gen Con 2017: Writer's Life: Develop Your Writing Process

This is the second seminar I attended at Gen Con 50. The panelists were stellar and offered a lot of sound advice. Let's go!


The panelists were (from left to right) Mercedes Lackey, Larry Dixon, Matt Forbeck, Karen Bovenmyer, and John Helfers. Karen was the moderator, and did a superb job at organizing and introducing the topics.

Matt Forbeck mentioned that this is his 36th Gen Con; his first was Gen Con 15. He got started writing in the game industry, and is now a full-time freelancer. Matt is currently contracted for four D&D-branded choose-your-own-adventure style books. (This excited Larry Dixon greatly, as did most of the other work Matt mentioned he'd done, such as the Marvel Encyclopedia.)

Larry Dixon said that he used to do 28 conventions per year. He has been a falconer and a race car driver, in addition to working on 60+ RPGs. Larry also worked on the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films. He said he loves teaching writers.

Mercedes Lackey: "I do this for a living--my mortgage is my muse." Also, "I don't have time to fart around."

Larry backed her up, saying that full-time writers have to work quickly and efficiently. He said his process is "laziness," because "I wanna go screw around. Fallout HAS to be played." (He mentioned that Mercedes--who he calls Misty--is currently playing Fallout: New Vegas.)

Matt said that he can't play or read anything anymore without having to "pull it apart" and analyze it critically.

Matt writes outlines for everything, writing 2-3 sentences per chapter. Matt takes 1-3 days to write an outline. He says he can write 5,000-8,000 words per day if he has a plan. However, he stresses the need to leave room for discovery, because that's the fun of writing. And says that if you write too much in your outline, it's hard to throw it away when you feel the need to change the plan. Matt likes to re-outline after a bit of writing, updating the outline with changes that have emerged.

Mercedes writes a skeleton outline:

  1. Premise
  2. Expand to a one-paragraph synopsis
  3. Expand to a five-page skinny outline
  4. Expand to a 40-page outline

Lately Mercedes just does the skinny outline. When she starts work for the day, she first revises yesterday, then writes new words. After she makes changes, she checks for continuity, from the start of the manuscript.

Mercedes added, "I always miss my deadline."

John Helfers writes in 1-hour bursts, achieving about 1,500 words. When John starts the writing day, he spends about 15 minutes for revision, and then 60 minutes of ONLY writing new material.

Mercedes's maximum word count for a day was 25,000 words in one 20-hour day. She also works on three different books at a time, each in a different point of the process, such as one she's outlining, another she's writing, and another in galleys. One benefit of this is when she's getting tired of one she can switch to another.

Matt talked about having to juggle projects. He said you don't know when one you've been hoping to work on will suddenly become available. Another struggle for meeting deadlines: "Life happens."

Larry stressed that you have a system in place for communicating with everyone you're working with. He said that "editors are there to help," so writers should use them to do so rather than avoid contact with them when things are running behind. Editors want a good result too, he said. If you're an inexperienced writer, they'll already know that, so don't think you have to hide it. Indeed, Larry said that editors talk to each other, and what's most important to them isn't who's new but who's an asshole!

Karen Bovenmyer quoted Neil Gaiman's saying that you can make it in writing by having two of the following three:
* Great writing
* Meeting deadlines
* Being easy to work with
Matt says that only #2 and #3 are in your control.

Tricks the panelists use to get the job done:

  • Coffee (Matt)
  • Remember that what you do affects other people's salary. People depend on you. (Larry)
  • Listen to soundtracks. (Karen)
  • ...without lyrics. "I can't fucking write to Hamilton." (Matt)
  • Use a zero-gravity chair (Mercedes)
  • No windows (Mercedes)
  • Comfy chair (Larry)

Matt says that when writing becomes a job, you should take care to find a new hobby, something else that you do for fun.

Karen talked of the value of "thresholding." She has specified a room where she does her writing, music that she uses for writing, and a time for writing. She also meditates for a set period before she writes.

A panelist (I forget which) mentioned that days off in nature can help recharge your writing batteries.

Larry says to trust your intuition. Matt also mentioned intuition, saying that you'll learn to trust it more and more, and that following your intuition will help with your speed.

Larry advises considering, "How do I make this awesome?"

Karen reminds us that "Fear is the mind-killer."

The panelists concur that over time, efficiency improves.

Larry and Mercedes like to outline on road trips.

Larry pointed out that readers don't care about the writer's problems. All they see is the finished work.

On Editing Your Work:

  • Matt revises as he writes. He says to not be afraid to lean on the editor for some grammar and content issues. It's what they're there for! Don't turn in a sloppy manuscript, of course, but you don't have to make it perfect.
  • A panelist mentioned that writer David Brin will write a novel, lock it away, and then write it again. None of the panelists are willing to use this method.
  • Matt: "Until you show it to someone, it can suck." He encourages us to play around with it.
  • Karen: "Do as well as you can, then send it out."
  • Larry: If you like what you're writing, others will too.

On Story Ideas, and Saving Abandoned Work

  • Mercedes doesn't write down ideas. "If it's a good idea, it'll come back to me."
  • Larry does, and says that some old notes are a good way to rediscover ideas that he wasn't ready to execute at the time.
  • Karen: "I've sold short stories based on novels I wrote." And, "I've sold homework!"
  • Larry advises that when you abandon something you're writing, don't throw it away. It just wasn't ready. Karen says to keep sending it out.
  • Larry suggests you make notes, maps, and sketches of your projects, and save them. This can help when you write the sequel!
Recommended Resources:

  • Larry recommends Save the Cat!: The Last Book on Screenwriting You'll Ever Need by Blake Snyder.
  • Karen recommends a YouTube series of videos by Dan Wells called "7 Point Story Structure." (Sadly, it's unavailable right now.)
  • Larry: Studying comedy teaches structure, and economy of words.

I'll end this summary with my favorite line from Larry:

"Sometimes you have to take a jump. Life is an adventure. Don't be a spectator."

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Gen Con 2017: What's New With Monte Cook Games


Gen Con 50 was amazing! I wanted to share my notes on the seminars I attended. Here's the first, the main Monte Cook Games seminar. You can also watch the seminar yourself!

Invisible Sun is expected to ship in March 2018. MCG had a separate seminar for this game. The game will include lots of handouts, such as business cards, letterhead, and other tactile stuff. A mockup of the game box and some of its contents (including a map, some of the cards, and the creepy hand that holds them) was available for viewing and caressing at the MCG booth in the Exhibit Hall.

"Cypher Play" is the MCG demo program. For more info, talk to Darcy Ross. The program will feature three seasons per year, and they'll be short ones. The first is a Cypher System fantasy campaign by Bruce Cordell. Players are encouraged to tell their local game stores that they want to see this, because this program is driven by store participation. The adventures are free, and a copy is provided for each player (not just each GM).

Shanna Germain talked about the "Cypher Guide," an upcoming online encyclopedia containing comprehensive info about Cypher System games. It will include page references and rules information for the games. It will be searchable and feature character creation, creatures, foci, types, etc. The Cypher Guide should be live soon. Will it feature 3rd party content? Shanna hadn't considered this, but said maybe.

Monte talked about the latest Numenera book, "Jade Colossus." It's his suggestion about what single book to buy after the corebook. The book contains step by step campaign creation and a Numenera ruin mapping engine.

Unmasked by Dennis Detwiller will finish the Worlds of the Cypher System trilogy, and is due in November 2017. It is a game of psychological horror and superheroes, featuring teens in the 1980s. Masks impart powers, but can also alter one's personality.

A Cypher System quickstart is coming in September, and will be free online.

Numenera 2: This was the big announcement! This will come in the form of two books: Discovery and Destiny, and will Kickstart in September (for probably $120 for both books in a slipcase). MCG has just started development on it. (Here's their announcement on the MCG website.)


Discovery will replace the current Numenera core book. (Monte says they are "retiring" that book, which is now selling out from its 4th printing.) It's not an overhaul to the system; old books will still be usable. It will revise the character creation material, aiming to provide more and better character options. These options will provide more choices when tier-ing up. Monte says this kind of backward compatibility is possible because in the Cypher System PC rules are distinct from NPC rules. He promises a seamless use of old sourcebooks (such as the bestiaries) with the new rules (and vice versa--new bestiaries with the old corebook). He notes that old character options books will be "less useful" with Numenera 2, but the rest will remain useful. Also, the setting chapter might expand on locations that have been added to Numenera over time, such as the city featured in "The Poison Eater" novel.

Destiny will let PCs take discoveries and use them to do things such as build a new base, or vehicle, or help their community in some other way. It will include a crafting system, detailing materials and components with dozens of plans for building things. Destiny will let players be proactive and shepherd a community through long-term campaigns. Monte promises that you can "make your mark on the 9th world." Destiny will come with three new Types, plus new foci and descriptors. The game will also feature new community-related organizations. (FYI, Monte's favorite Numenera organization is The Convergence, from Numenera.)

Season 2 of Cypher Play--by Sean Reynolds--will serve as a sort of preview to Numenera 2. Numenera 2 will keep some of the iconic art from the original, but will mostly feature new artwork. The Kickstarter will have a narrative element, involving a community under threat; more backers means more defenses and resources for the community, and this community will become a part of the 9th World. Monte noted that Numenera 2 won't push any "story" forward in time, because the game doesn't involve a meta-plot. Monte also asserts that Numenera 2 represents growth for the game.

Selected Q&A:

  • What's Amp's favorite game? (Ampersand is Shanna & Monte's dog) Their answers were "Chase me," "No Thank You Evil," and "Anything involving food."
  • What was your first RPG?
    • Monte: D&D, from the little booklets, when he was 11.
    • Bear: Same as Monte, during boy/cub scouts.
    • Shanna: Bunnies & Burrows, which her babysitter played with her.
    • Bruce: D&D, in boy scouts, playing at a lantern-lit table at night.
    • Darcy: D&D 3rd Edition. (Monte winced at this answer.) Her group played from the Player's Handbook only, not having the Dungeon Master's Guide.
    • Zoa: D&D with her brothers (at their demand), when she was 13 and they were 11. They didn't have a rulebook at all, and she had to make up the rules.
    • Sean: Red box Moldvay D&D. Keep on the Borderlands.
    • Tammie: Ars Magica and D&D
    • Charles: Blue box D&D starting at Christmas '79. After the newer edition had come out, so he could get his at $12 for the Player's Handbook, $12 for the Dungeon Master's Guide, and $15 for the Monster Manual.
  • Will Numenera 2 be open for the Cypher System Creator program? Maybe. Shanna reminded folks that Predation is open for this program.
  • Will there be more Gods of the Fall content? No current plans, but they pointed out that the Creator program has GOTF content now.
  • When will Monte & Shanna's Numenera novel come out? Possibly November.
  • The Tides of Numenera PC game is how Darcy found out about Numenera.
  • A Cypher System creature deck is coming in November.
  • Will we see a new box for storing cards, since the current one is overflowing? Monte says, "Very likely." And, "Seems like something we would do."

That's it! Tell me what you think about MCG's plans in the comments!

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Product Release: The Gods Have Spoken


Hey, I contributed to another RPG book, and now that it's out I figured I should tell you about it.

Dread Unicorn Games (led by the invincible John WS Marvin) just released the digital edition of a 5E sourcebook called The Gods Have Spoken. It's a book of gods and divine-related content for D&D, written by John WS Marvin, Vanessa Rose Phin, Connor Marvin, Matt Evert, Sean Clark, and me!

Here's the product description:
Twenty-eight new fantasy gods arranged in three new Pantheons for your 5E game. Gods with passions, backstories, and agendas. So much more than a list of names and domains. 
The people who followed the Old Gods was conquered by the those that followed the Thirsty Gods, who in turn were displaced by those following the Bright Gods. Yet all three pantheons still have followers, and coexist in an uneasy peace. 
New domains and other character options that work with these new gods, some for everyone, and others focusing on clerics, druids, paladins, and rangers. And new magic items, new creatures, and more! 
Plus, an exciting new faction system that gives players a voice as to which factions take a hand in your campaign.
A print edition is coming soon, in hardcover and softcover. You can read more about the book at its Kickstarter page.

(Thanks John!)

The Gods Have Spoken [DriveThruRPG]

Saturday, July 29, 2017

First Star Trek Adventures Session

This is how we read in the 24th Century: on a PADD.

On our last game night, a few friends and I started a new Star Trek campaign, and I'm excited enough about it that I wanted to chat about it here.

Some of us took part in the playtest for the new game--Star Trek Adventures--but this was our first trial of the just-released PDF of the core rulebook. (For more information about the game's background, read the interview with Modiphius's Chris Birch that I wrote for Gnome Stew.)

Playtest aside, this is the first Star Trek campaign I've kicked off since around 2000, late in the Last Unicorn Games years. For this campaign, things went a bit differently than I had planned. Let me tell you why I think that’s a good thing.

The official Challenge Dice haven't shipped
yet, so we customized some blank dice.

My Traditional Campaign Setup


One of my favorite things about starting a Star Trek campaign is all the fun decisions I get to make. Things like…

  • Which era? Original series? Next Generation? During one of the shows? Before/after the televised episodes?
  • Where are we? Alpha Quadrant, like in most TV series? Gamma or Delta Quadrants, like Voyager or parts of DS9? Non-Federation territory? A single planet or starbase?
  • Who are the PCs? Standard Starfleet senior officers? Up-and-coming cadets? Academy students? Klingons/Romulans/Cardassians/other non-Federation folk?
  • Which ship class? If the setting is a ship (which it usually is), we need to know what kind. A familiar one like the Galaxy-class that’s been extensively featured in a show? A more minor class that hasn’t had the spotlight? Something old and storied, or something new and shiny but untested?
  • What's the ship's name? After we’ve picked a fun ship (if we're doing that), we've got to name her. Something to honor a part of the real world (like USS Darwin)? A more universal name that would apply across worlds (like USS Discovery)? A name borrowed from a previous series (like USS Reliant-B)?
  • Who are the people in your neighborhood? I love filling out the crew roster with non-player characters, the ones who fill the roles not occupied by players.

I usually get input from the players on some of these details, but not all of them. This time, for example, I asked them their preference of era (and the choice was Next Generation), but that's it. I knew I wanted a ship-based game in the Alpha Quadrant featuring Starfleet senior officers, because I figured that would give us the best chance of using published adventures without a lot of modification.

So, I was just about to start picking out what ship I wanted to set the campaign on when a glance through the new rulebook changed my mind.

Collaborative Campaign Setup: The Ship


One of the things that the Starships chapter in the Star Trek Adventures rulebook covers is a ship’s “mission profile,” a way to specialize any ship class by adding points to this or that system in a pre-set way depending on its assignment. Here’s the bit that caught my eye:

“The players choose a single Mission Profile for their starship.”

The players? Then I flipped back earlier in the chapter, at the discussion of ship classes.

“The Players choose a single class for their starship."

YES. I realized I hadn’t even considered putting the keys to the starship in the players’ hands. This should absolutely be a joint decision, because the players who are Star Trek fans will have favorite ship classes (and some will likely have ships they strongly dislike!), while even the players who aren’t such fans will still feel more of a sense of ownership if they have a say in which beautiful space boat they get to live in.

Time for me to put on my Old GM’s Hat.

Back when I started running games, in the 80s, a GM was expected to do all the work of setting up a campaign. I loved doing it, but also love the fact that more games now are encouraging us to share that work—and that fun—with the players. I just hadn’t had the chance to do that in a Star Trek game yet!

(I’m not even saying that previous Star Trek RPG publishers didn’t address this, just that if they did, I didn’t notice it and carried along with the way I’d always done it.)

So I took the game’s advice and let the players choose and name their ship. They chose the Intrepid-class, the same one used on Star Trek: Voyager.

Image: Memory Alpha

Collaborative Campaign Setup: The Crew


Although I had decided not to define anything about the players’ ship, I did prepare some notes on a few crew members before the game. My thinking was that I would have an NPC captain prepared in case no players chose that role, and also have one co-worker for each PC to work with during the introductory adventure.

I like having lists of crew members for a Star Trek game. For one thing, when I improvise some action on the ship with a new crew member, it’s less obvious that I’m winging things if I already have a name and species ready to go for Ensign Extra. My other reason for liking these lists is that the players themselves can select an NPC from it whenever they need one. Instead of asking me if there’s a science officer they can summon to the bridge, they can just look under the list of science officers and pick, say, Lieutenant Meeshay.

Crew rosters from previous campaigns.

Star Trek Adventures suggests handling this differently. This game uses the concept of Supporting Characters, which are ones that any player can create on the fly for immediate use. Creating supporting characters involves a simplified version of the game’s character rules (which makes them really improv-friendly), and better yet, players are encouraged to take control of such a character when their main PC would be otherwise away from the action.

And, as with the player decisions being invested in the ship, there’s the hope that they will connect better with crew members they helped create.

As it happens, I DID end up scrapping my NPC plans for the first session and asking the players for ideas. One reason for this is that my three “co-worker” NPCs didn’t feel like a great fit for the PCs after seeing how those characters emerged from the character creation process. (For example, one NPC was a Betazoid and one was a Vulcan—and so were two of the PCs. I wanted the players to feel unique, so I shelved those NPCs.) The other reason…well, we’ll get to the captain shortly.

The He-Man Connection


While the players were creating their characters, one ended up with a Vulcan Chief Medical Officer. When trying to think of a name for the character, this player figured he’d have a nickname along the lines of “Bones.” He went with “Skeletor.” (From a colony planet called Eternia.)

The nickname stuck, a little too well. Because later, when we were brainstorming ideas for the name of the PCs’ ship, I joked that if Skeletor is involved, maybe the ship should be called USS Grayskull. To my surprise, everyone immediately agreed.

It was a good test of my commitment to roll with whatever ship name my players decided on.

The players also immediately rejected my idea for their NPC captain (a Vulcan), eventually deciding that the captain’s name is Adam Randor.

What’s really funny about all this to me is that none of us are He-Man fans.

Custom ship sheet by Matt.Ceb

Final Notes


The players ended up making a Trill command officer, Betazoid/Human science officer, and (as already mentioned) Vulcan doctor. The game’s Lifepath character creation system was fun, and gave each character a home environment (e.g. homeward vs colony), upbringing (e.g. artistic or agricultural), Academy specialty, and a few career events. For example, we learned that our science officer had to take command once in the past to save the day, and that our Vulcan doctor was involved in a transporter accident that cost him a leg.


After making characters, I ran a short adventure I’d written for the purpose of taking the PCs on a test drive. I’ll probably talk more about that in a later post. And I had the opportunity to learn one more lesson that day, after I tried to embrace the game’s philosophy of collaborative creation by asking the players to describe their ship’s transporter chief. The lesson was: don’t expect more creativity right after the players have spent two hours creating their characters.

"Live long and..."
"...rule Eternia!"

Friday, July 14, 2017

Interviews from the Loop

I've got another Tales from the Loop article up on Gnome Stew, this one an interview with some of the creators: Tomas Härenstam, Nils Hintze, and Matt Forbeck!

(In case you're counting, this is post #32 out of 30.)

Interviews from the Loop [Gnome Stew]

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

How To Host A Rad Tales From The Loop Game


Why have 30 Days of Tales from the Loop when you can have 31? Here's an additional post about the game I wrote for gaming blog Gnome Stew. (And I have another one coming next week!)

How To Host A Rad Tales From The Loop Game [Gnome Stew]

Friday, June 30, 2017

The Future of the Loop

Image: Fria Ligan

This is post number 30 in the series “30 Days of Tales from the Loop,” a celebration of the game set in an 80s that never was.

Tales from the Loop shows us what things are like for the two Loop facilities in the 80s. There’s one in the US, one in Sweden, and strange things tend to happen around them.

And as I’m sure is true of most science fiction fans, I can’t help but wonder what the future holds for them.

We’ll find out some of that future when Fria Ligan publishes its Things from the Flood expansion, which the Tales from the Loop RPG Kickstarter tells us will contain info about the setting in the 90s. What I want to consider today is some possible futures of the Loop and its surroundings in the days to come, whether those days are in the 80s, 90s, or beyond.

More Loops


It’s easy to imagine more cities (and countries) becoming hosts to their own Gravitron facilities. This could affect the Kids in your game in a few ways. First, they might begin play at one of these alternate sites instead of the two in Tales from the Loop (as we covered in an earlier post, Additional Campaign Frames). Second, they could all visit (or relocate to) the area of a new facility. Or third, someone might discover a means of traveling between Loops—a teleport, perhaps—and thus open up numerous Loops as possibilities for exploration.

More Secrecy


The game setting might instead take a slightly darker turn, in which the Loop’s authorities become more secretive about activities at the facilities after having to deal with the repercussions from a critical mishap or two. Field trips cease, security tightens up, and things in the area become more tense. This doesn’t stop strange things from happening, of course…it just makes for a more paranoid and dangerous atmosphere, as the Kids have to deal with increasingly strict adults at the same time they’re coping with all the results of weird science.

Higher Technology


Tales from the Loop is already a game of an “80s that never was,” so why limit ourselves to particle accelerators and magnetrine ships and robots? Perhaps the Loop experiments quickly yield rapid advancement in technology, so that the Kids begin seeing ray guns, holograms, and transforming robots. Maybe the Kids can trade in their bikes for hoverboards!

Ecological Toll


The longer these enormous particle accelerators operate, the more chance there is for them to cause lasting damage to the environment. It might become more common to encounter anomalies in the area, such as time loops, time- or space-portals, areas where physical laws operate differently, and other phenomena.

Loop Protests


This could be a possible follow-up to the previous item, as environmental groups and other safety watchdogs begin to demand the Loop shut down or curtail its activities to avoid further damage to the world—or even to reality itself. Are the environmental complaints valid, or are they engineered by some other group to eliminate the Loop? Which side of this issue will the Kids end up on?



Day 30


This is it! We've reached the end of 30 Days of Tales from the Loop. I feel like I know the game a lot better now, and I hope you do too. I loved interacting with fellow fans in the comments and on social media, and especially loved learning more about Swedish culture, history, and language thanks to my new Swedish friends.

I have two more Tales from the Loop posts to put up next month, when the stars are in the correct alignment, so please stay tuned!


Thursday, June 29, 2017

A Few Robots

Image: Fria Ligan.

This is post number 29 in the series “30 Days of Tales from the Loop,” a celebration of the game set in an 80s that never was.

Robots are a significant part of the Tales from the Loop setting. Even a casual glance through the art book would tell you that, and the rulebook includes more robot background info and features robots prominently in at least one of the adventures.

If that's STILL not enough robot content, then I'm here to help. Below you'll find four robots to use in your game. These robots are intended for you to drop into your game in a variety of ways. Here are a few examples of how your Kids might encounter them:

  • The Kids find the robot already in their Hideout. (Remember: don't throw Trouble at the Kids in their Hideout. This encounter would be for a friendly robot.)
  • Someone finds the robot in a junkyard or other abandoned location.
  • The robot follows a Kid home, or to school, or to wherever else they're headed.
  • One or more of the Kids follows a suspicious trail that leads to the robot. (For example, a beeping sound, or a column of smoke over the trees, or a radio signal that turns their Walkman into a tracking device.)


The Wrecker

"<CRUMPLE!> <CRUNCH!> <THUD!>"

A local junkyard is now employing a two-story-tall bulky industrial robot to compact cars, appliances, and other large metal refuse into tidy cubes. This robot wrecker is slow-moving but incredibly strong and tough (metal might 3). The machine is normally obedient, but lately has come to believe that its mental abilities are going to waste in its current job, and is looking for a way to prove it is more than a simple laborer. The wrecker cannot speak, but perhaps it can communicate its wishes through its chosen art form: metal sculpting.

The Foreigner

"Mayotte imasu. Tetsudatte kuremasu ka?"

This poor robot has become separated (or escaped) from its owners far away and is trying to either get back home or make a new life for itself here. It is roughly human-shaped, though a bit small, and seems timid and frightened. It also doesn’t have a language in common with the Kids. If they learn to communicate with the foreign robot, will it ask for help, or will it tell them something frightening it learned from its original owners?

The Janitor

"Ah! A broken radio!"

The school’s newest addition to its employee roster is a robot designated J0, called “Joe” by the teachers and students. Although some parents object to having a robot working so near their children, Joe gets along well with the kids, and the school has never been cleaner. Joe also really likes his job, and especially likes the opportunity it gives him to add to his collection of discarded electronics and bits of local culture (such as toys and photos torn from magazines).

The Pet

“Weeeeeoooooooooo. WooooooOOOO?"

This cute little bugger is smaller than a football and had big, friendly, innocent-looking eyes (or cameras, or infrared sensors, or whatever he uses for vision). And that low-frequency vibration he's putting out is very similar to a cat's purr. Where did he come from? What was he made for? Perhaps he's a messenger sent by someone else, or he (knowingly or not) contains data that is valuable to a less-friendly third party. And what if this cute form he's in is not his only one...

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Mysterious Magnetrines

Image: Fria Ligan.

This is post number 28 in the series “30 Days of Tales from the Loop,” a celebration of the game set in an 80s that never was.

One feature of the Tales from the Loop setting I haven't covered much yet is magnetrine technology—the means of harnessing the Earth’s magnetic field that permits the use of big, hovering Gauss freighters like the ones seen in Simon Stålenhag’s art. Let’s look at how we might expand on this technology to inspire some story ideas in a game.

Manufacturers


Some science fiction writers like to use real-world branding in an attempt to make their visions of the future seem more grounded in reality. You can try this out by mentioning some name-brand magnetrine ships in your game. General Motors, Peterbilt, and Caterpillar would be natural competitors in this space in the US, and it's fun to imagine a magnetrine Humvee. Having a Kid with an Anchor or other contact at one of these manufactures could provide some useful story hooks--such as when Dad mentions that a new model magnetrine has been sending out strange signals on a specific radio frequency.

Expanding to the Consumer Market


What if magnetrine technology advances in such a way that smaller-scale hovering vehicles become feasible? Even if they still move slowly, we might see see them profitably used as city buses, school buses, or tour buses. (The rulebook mentions that luxury liners exist in the world of the Loop.) With increases in speed, they could even be used for cars. Picture the gull-wing DeLorean magnetrine! Story inspiration for such machines probably wouldn't focus as much on the mysteries of the technology--since that would likely have been worked out before such machines came into common use--but on its unusual implications. Such as what the Kids do when pterosaurs attack their bus while it's a hundred meters above the ground.

Buildings in the Sky


Magnetrine technology is good for supporting massive objects in the air and letting them move across it slowly. Why limit such objects to vehicles--let's get some buildings up in the air! (Sure, technically, when they can move then they BECOME vehicles, but humor me!) A secretive organization would certainly see the security value in a hovering facility—especially if that’s where they perform their suspicious experiments. Wealthy individuals might enjoy living in a floating mansion in the sky. And think how secure a flying prison might be! (The Kids might hope to attend a floating school, but that’s been done.)

Beyond


The Tales from the Loop RPG mentions a few non-cargo uses for magnetrine discs, including unmanned drones and hovering billboards. Let’s push that frontier! Perhaps the kids get to try out prototypes of a new Gauss bike—still powered by pedaling, of course. Floating television screens might follow the Kids around to convince them to buy the latest action figure or breakfast cereal. Some models of robots could be equipped with magnetrine tech, the better to slip away from their owners and cause trouble. Finally, I’ll leave you with one word: hoverboards.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The Mystery Story Blender

Image: Warner Bros.

This is post number 27 in the series “30 Days of Tales from the Loop,” a celebration of the game set in an 80s that never was.

If you ever find yourself needing an idea for a Mystery to run at a moment’s notice, I recommend stealing ideas from the movies! Even if you only consider 80s movies, there are a ton to grab inspiration from. You might do this if you don’t have an adventure ready at all, or if you’re running a Mystery Landscape and want to throw in a few new elements.

Here’s a fun way you might do it: mix up two movies, taking the “mystery” element from one (the weird part) and the “everyday” element from another (the mundane part to ground the narrative in reality).

You can try this for yourself by using the tables below. Just pick one item from each list, or if you’re feeling lucky, roll 2d6 on each table and see what you come up with.

(Also, can you guess which 80s movies these entries came from?)

Mysterious... (choose or roll 2d6)

 2. A new cybernetic peace officer goes online in the area
 3. The Kids stay at a haunted hotel
 4. Aliens are living among us and can only be seen with special sunglasses
 5. The Kids go to a summer camp that turns out to have a history of murder
 6. A member of otherworldly royalty steals someone’s younger sibling
 7. Creatures of urban legend invade the town (perhaps some friendly and some not)
 8. A classmate (or one of the Kids) reveals that they can turn into a friendly werewolf
 9. One or more of the Kids is turned into an adult
10. A lab accident creates an insect/human hybrid
11. Demons appear, searching for whoever took a strange artifact
12. A cult of children take power and decree that everyone over 18 must die

...and Everyday... (choose or roll 2d6)

 2. …while an eccentric Australian relative is trying to acclimate to Sweden [America].
 3. …while a rough-around-the-edges uncle is taking care of a Kid’s family for the week.
 4. …while the Kids are all on a vacation across the country.
 5. …before or after the Kids are stuck in detention.
 6. …and local adults pass a prohibition on dancing.
 7. …after one of the Kids has their bike stolen.
 8. …while a rich, obnoxious relative has returned to enroll in school again.
 9. …while a Kid’s divorcing parents engage in increasingly nasty tactics trying to get the other to abandon the house.
10. …while some of the Kids are due to compete at a national video game championship.
11. …while a group of young dancers find their community center in danger of being torn down.
12. …and a Kid’s relative inherits a TV station and needs help coming up with show ideas.

(I’ll list the movies that inspired these lists later, after readers have had time to guess.)

Monday, June 26, 2017

Gaming Soundtracks: The Goonies


This is post number 26 in the series “30 Days of Tales from the Loop,” a celebration of the game set in an 80s that never was.

Ready for one more soundtrack that would be useful in a game of Tales from the Loop? Let's listen to the score to another iconic 80s film featuring kids as protagonists: Goonies! Here I'm covering the 25th anniversary edition of the score, by Dave Grusin. (I considered discussing the soundtrack instead, the one with pop songs of the time such as "The Goonies 'R' Good Enough" by Cyndi Lauper, but I don't think most of those songs are noteworthy, and in a game, we have plenty of excellent period songs to fill the role of 80s pop.)


  1. Fratelli Chase. Cheerful and exciting. Use this when the Kids are evading mundane or bumbling enemies, but not scary robots.
  2. Map and Willie. Suspenseful synthesizer music, but not too scary. Perhaps useful for the revelation of a Mystery.
  3. The Goondocks (Goonies Theme). Don't let the title fool you--this is NOT Cyndi Lauper's Goonies theme song. This one is peaceful and slow and uneventful. Play it in the Hideout when absolutely nothing is going on.
  4. Doubloon. Similar to the previous track, but picking up in tempo and interest. Plus more synthesizer. That's more like it.
  5. Lighthouse. Dramatic and suspenseful. Something has happened!
  6. Cellar and Sloth. Slower but still suspenseful. Good exploration music. Builds in action after the midpoint.
  7. Restaurant Trash. Peaceful flute piece. Perhaps for a budding romance?
  8. The "It", Fifty Dollar Bills and a Stiff. Nice, mysterious track with spooky sounds. Good for creeping around in the basement. Be warned that the track gets much happier, briefly, in about the last minute, and then much scarier.
  9. It All Starts Here. Tense string music similar to track 8, laced with antici--
  10. Plumbing. Now back to a happy, quirky track. The Kids are on top of things...or struggling to be, but either way, they're not facing tire threat.
  11. Skull and Signature. Creepy, with more spooky sounds. Great for exploration or investigation.
  12. Boulders, Bats and a Blender. A nice blend of action and kid-friendly creepiness. Such as if robots are coming for the Kids...but they're toy robots, not Terminators!
  13. Wishing Well and the Fratellis Find Coin. Here's a slower piece, the kind I'm prone to consider suitable for a scene in the Hideout.
  14. Mikey's Vision. A mix of peaceful and synthesizer-driven, and I never say no to synth music. I'm not afraid to say it, either! In fact, TRON has the best soundtrack ever recorded! This is indisputable!!! ... Where was I? Oh, yeah, this track. Perhaps borrow from the title and use this for a strange vision or dream scene.
  15. Oath and Booby Traps. Short track that starts out slow and peaceful but then gets more exciting.
  16. Triple Stones and a Ball. Another mix of action and tension. Maybe 75% skewed toward tension. Plus a little whimsy toward the end. This is Goonies, not Alien.
  17. Pee Break and Kissing Tunnel. Peaceful, synth-strong, inquisitive. Good for a scene between Kids.
  18. They're Here and Skull Cave Chase. I'm running out of ways to say "whimsical," but that happens here again. Then the piece moves toward action. Whimsical action.
  19. Playing The Bones. An alternating mix of creepy suspense and action. You might use this for a cat-and-mouse type of interaction. Also features a drumbeat that sounds just like beating on old bones. (Don't ask me how I know that.)
  20. Water Slide and Galleon. Track 20: The Return to Whimsy! This is a happy action piece useful for when the Kids are winning.
  21. Octopus. A darker, menacing piece. Short, but useful for introducing a villain.
  22. The Inferno. Slow and suspenseful but not scary. Plus more synthesizer.
  23. One Eyed Willie. Spooky and ethereal (synth-ereal?), and would be great for an encounter with a ghost. Every game needs ghosts.
  24. Treasure, Data & Mouth and Walk The Plank. This track starts like a triumphant march and continues that way on and off. Perhaps start this when the Kids are on their way to the Mystery's final confrontation.
  25. Sloth & Chunk. Speaking of triumphant marches--here's another one! These might also be useful for a scene of Everyday Life where we see a Kid just KICKING ASS at chores.
  26. Mama & Sloth. A peaceful and happy song, useful for matching scenes of Everyday Life.
  27. The Fighting Fratellis, Sloth's Choice and Ultimate Booby Trap. This is music of light or rising action sprinkled with periods of triumph. Good for a fight scene.
  28. The Reunion and Fratellis On Beach. More triumphant march music. Makes you think these Goonies aren't going to be defeated after all! Your Kids should be just like them.
  29. No Firme and Pirate Ship. This soundtrack is definitely ending on a victorious note. I'm figuring this movie takes the same stance on not killing kids that Tales from the Loop does.
  30. End Titles (Goonies Theme). This one veers into semi-pop-song territory, without lyrics. For me, that means skip it.

That's my boy.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Everyday Adversaries

Image: Wikipedia.

This is post number 25 in the series “30 Days of Tales from the Loop,” a celebration of the game set in an 80s that never was.

Just as a game of Tales from the Loop should feature a mix of Mystery scenes and scenes of Everyday Life, so (I believe) should it present a mix of both strange and everyday adversaries. Sure, your Kids will meet dinosaurs and robots and psychic kids who escaped from a lab, but they also need to meet regular humans who cause some degree of Trouble. The following are a few examples you might use in your game.

Anders Jansson [Todd Dean], the Bully

“I don’t want your lunch money this time, nerd. I want that robot you found.”

The terror of the school, Anders is big and tough for his grade—probably because he was held back once or twice. The Bully might have a favorite target from among the Kids that he likes to prey upon, or he might be an equal opportunity bruiser and oppress the entire group. You might even grant him the special ability Tough 2 to reflect how difficult it would be for a regular Kid to defeat Anders. Use the Bully if things are going too smoothly for the Kids at school.

Karin Eriksson [Bernice Wyatt], the Unhelpful Librarian

“I don’t think so, young lady. That book is in the restricted section.”

Although you don’t want to make it too hard for the Kids to get the information they are investigating, you also don’t want the group to take for granted their visits to the library. Mrs. Eriksson the librarian can help in this regard, and by help I mean “not help.” She likes books far more than she likes kids, and tries to protect the one from the other. The librarian is also a conservative woman and believes that decent kids shouldn’t learn about adult subjects at an early age.

Bengt Svensson [Andrew Jacobs], the Scary Neighbor

“I know what you kids are up to.”

Unless you want to set an entire Mystery around the Neighbor, his role will likely be to keep one or more of the Kids on edge while something else is going on. Bengt doesn’t like Kids making noise, he doesn’t like seeing Kids doing anything he considers suspicious, and he HATES Kids who get in his yard. Since it’s unlikely that ALL the kids have a Scary Neighbor—though that might be a fun idea for a Mystery—you’ll probably want to decide which of the Kids lives the closest to Bengt’s house. (Lucky Kid.)

Jan Jonsson [Phil Moody], the Suspicious Police Officer

“What are you kids doing out so late?”

There’s a reason that Kids have to keep their mysterious activities a secret and avoid running to the authorities every time they see something strange—and that reason is Officer Jonsson. Always quick to assume that Kids are trying to deceive him and make him look foolish, Officer Jonsson sees everything the Kids do in a negative light. He also has the uncanny ability to be looking the wrong way when clear evidence of truly weird phenomena that would back up the Kids’ story presents itself ever-so-briefly.

Ingrid Karlsson [Carol Brown], the Nosy Aunt

“How did you get mud on your shoes, young lady?”

Aunt Ingrid might be a snoopy type who won’t mind her own business, or she might be genuinely concerned for her niece or nephew’s safety (or a little of both), but either way, she frequently shines unwanted attention on the activities of the Kids. Sneaking out of the house? Look out, Aunt Ingrid is coming down the hall. Skipping out on school to look for that missing girl? Careful, Aunt Ingrid decided to pick you up from school today. With Aunt Ingrid around, the Kids always have to watch their step.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Kids Guide to Audio, Video, and other Tech


This is post number 24 in the series “30 Days of Tales from the Loop,” a celebration of the game set in an 80s that never was.

We covered 80s computers and video game consoles previously, so today let’s look at a few other technologies of the period. This article is not intended to cover all technologies, and is skewed toward devices as they appeared in the United States…but if you want to share fun things I’ve missed in the comments, please do so!

Music


Portable cassette tape players such as the Walkman premiered in the US around 1980, making it much easier to take your music with you wherever you go. Many models were play-only, but some could also record. The audio cassettes they played—for you players too young to remember—were miniature spools of magnetic tape that played songs in sequential order. If you wanted to hear an earlier or later song, you had to “rewind” or “fast forward” the tape.

Image: Wikipedia.

If you needed a bigger sound, or a more showy audio presence, a boombox might be more to your liking. Where the Walkman specialized in personal audio played through headphones, boomboxes mounted large speakers in addition to one or two cassette tape decks and a radio tuner.

Image: Wikipedia.

Compact Disc (CD) players became commercially available in 1982, though they were still pricy in the first half of the decade. According to Wikipedia, the first popular music CD to be produced was "The Visitors" by ABBA (1981) [yay Sweden!], though the first to be released to the public was Billy Joel's "52nd Street" (1982).

Image: Wikipedia.

Photo/Video


Televisions of the 80s were bulky, standard-definition, cathode ray tube devices. Cable television was gaining in popularity, though many households were still limited to viewing a handful of channels featuring local network affiliates. Portable TVs were also available in the 80s, including the Sony Watchman (1982).

Image: Pixabay.

Video cassette recorders originated in the 70s, but became more commonly affordable in the 80s. Two competing standards fought it out in the 80s: Betamax and VHS. Beta cassettes were smaller, VHS ones were larger, and different recorders for each format competed on recording length and quality. In the end, VHS (which stood for Video Home System) emerged the victor.

Image: Wikipedia.

The first camcorders appeared in 1983, allowing us to record video on the go using tapes that would play on your VCR at home. Early camcorders were bulky and heavy, though, so maybe give it to the Jock to carry.

Image: Wikipedia.

Instant cameras were popular in the 80s, especially those made by Polaroid. (This could be a Troublemaker’s best friend, back in the days before Photoshop.) Disposable cameras were available also, for those who wanted a cheap, temporary camera that used traditional film development. In general, overnight photo development was the best you could hope for in the 80s, until one-hour development came around at the end of the decade.

Image: Wikipedia.

Other Tech


Microwave ovens were around in earlier decades but increased in usage in the 80s. If the Problem you picked for your Kid is something along the lines of “Mom/Dad is never around,” then at least you’ll still be able to make yourself a hot meal pretty easily.

Image: Wikipedia.

Most 80s phones were corded phones, but even though they were tethered to the wall they didn’t have to be boring; novelty phones were popular. Want a Garfield phone, or perhaps Pac-Man? This is the decade that made that happen.

Image: Wikipedia.

Hey, you know what your Computer Geek needs? A calculator watch. In addition to working as a watch, it also lets you do complicated math—if you have the manual dexterity to push the tiny buttons. (Full disclosure: the Computer Geek typing this owned several calculator watches, and still thinks they’re pretty bitchin’.)

Tech: Wikipedia.

Our last piece of iconic 80s technology arrived in 1985 to revolutionize the world of slacker electronics: the Clapper. Why walk all the way across your bedroom when you can clap your hands and magically turn off your lights?

Image: Wikipedia.


Did I leave out some righteous 80s tech you think deserves mention? Tell me about it in the comments!

Friday, June 23, 2017

Additional Campaign Frames

Image: Fria Ligan.

This is post number 23 in the series “30 Days of Tales from the Loop,” a celebration of the game set in an 80s that never was.

Although I can’t imagine anyone getting tired of the 80s Mälaröarna islands [or Boulder City] settings featured in Tales from the Loop, it might still be fun to imagine some other places and times and paradigms a gamemaster might use as a backdrop for the game. Indeed, one of the things coming in the future from Fria Ligan is a Things from the Flood expansion, which according to the TFTL RPG Kickstarter will shift the timeline from the 80s to the 90s and update the setting. I think that’s a great idea, and it would be my first choice of a second setting for the game.

But here are a few others…

Loop: 1969


The first Loop was built in 1969, and it might be fun to play the first generation of Kids to experience the weirdness that naturally results. (For the DART Loop in the US, this would be the ‘50s.) The Kids might be likely to have parents who work at the Loop, and the facility would be so new it would be a natural place for a field trip. In the first few years of the Loop, security might be more (or less) tight, and high-tech accidents might be more common. More importantly, the Kids might be Flower Children! Shift the setting forward a few years if you want to feature hippies, bell bottoms, wide collars, and other 70s fun.

Loop Workers


Instead of Kids, the players might take the roles of adults—excuse me, “Adults”—who work at the Loop. They might be scientists, engineers, security guards, maintenance workers, or whatever else you can imagine. In fact, part of the Adults' job might be keeping out those meddling Kids! My first choice for this kind of campaign would cast the PCs as special agents tasked with investigating strange phenomena in the area, protecting the locals from unintentional dangers that manifest, and possibly even having to cover up connections to the Loop.

The Urban Loop


Both of the original locations for Tales from the Loop are smaller towns, so it might be a worthwhile change of pace to set a Loop in a big city. Stockholm, New York, London, Paris, Moscow—each would have a different “Loop culture.” Also, big city Kids will have different lifestyles than their small-town or rural counterparts; their scenes of Everyday life will likely involve fewer friendly neighbors and more traffic and crime. But don’t worry—there will always be room for a Hick.

Crisis on Infinite Loops


The Loop has the potential to connect our world with alternate Earths (just ask Mr. Hansson [Miller]), possibly even an infinite number of them. The PCs could be involved in a mishap at the beginning of the campaign and spend the rest of it either trying to get back to their home universe or actively exploring other realities for fun. The Kids might have fun (or trauma) meeting alternate versions of their parents and friends and dealing with any variety of changes to reality. See the Rick and Morty animated series for ideas!

Back to the Loop


Instead of sending the Kids to alternate Earths, it might send them into the past (or future). As with the Crisis on Infinite Loops campaign, this one could be about getting back home or the focus could be on exploring a series of different time periods. Imagine the Kids trying to fit in while in a Wild West setting, or the Trouble they could get into on commandeered hoverboards in the future.

Things from the Loop


Finally, what if the player characters aren’t even humans at all? They might be creatures spawned from the Loop in some way, such as extradimensional beings, artificial life forms, self-aware robots, alien visitors, clones, you name it. And their goals could be just as varied, from the humble (trying to get back home or live in peace in this strange new world) to the grandiose (spread their kind all over the world).


Have another campaign idea you think would be fun? Share it in the comments!

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Pre-Generated Characters


This is post number 22 in the series “30 Days of Tales from the Loop,” a celebration of the game set in an 80s that never was.

Here are six pre-generated characters you can download, print out, and use in your game if you don’t want to take the time to make characters. These are the ones that my group came up with in our first game. I left the relationships between kids blank, figuring those are the most likely to be in flux and depend on the other party members.

The downloads here use Matt Stark's form-fillable character sheet, from his own excellent overview of Kid creation in Tales from the Loop.


      (Amy uses Max Wallinder's Grease Monkey Type.)

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Mystery Landscape: School (Part 2)


This is post number 21 in the series “30 Days of Tales from the Loop,” a celebration of the game set in an 80s that never was.

This continues my Mystery Landscape set at school. (Part 1 described School Bus 102 and the Science Class.)

The Gym


Image: Wikipedia.

The school gym means different things to different Kids. For the Jock and the Hick, it’s often a place where they can shine, or at least feel like they can take a break from structured intellectual pursuits. For the Bookworm and Computer Geek, gym time is often dreaded, taking them outside their comfort zone and demanding physical ability that is often elusive. And for all Kids, the end of a sweaty gym period means facing something frightening to most at that age—hitting the showers, and having to face the ultimate embarrassment of being naked in front of other kids.

At this school, though, there’s something even scarier in the showers.

The Truth


The pipes beneath the gym’s shower drains are inhabited by a creature made of coherent liquid. The creature begins at an animal level of intelligence—perhaps that of a dog—but gets smarter as the days pass. Since nobody knows the creature exists, and it doesn’t have a name for itself, we’ll refer to it for now as Puddles. (Your Kids can give it whatever name they like.)

Puddles is only as menacing as you want it to be. If you want it to be a newborn life form trying to find its way in the world, then that’s your Puddles. If you want it to be a wet killer that strikes from the pipes and drowns victims at school, then that’s your Puddles. (Though in this latter case, you might not want to call it Puddles.)

The creature is timid but curious. It spends most of its time hiding in its lair under the showers (alternating between the boys’ and girls’ locker rooms), but when it gets bored it flows through the pipes or even ventilation ducts to learn about the people at school. Sometimes, Puddles collects small objects it spies, especially if they’re shiny.

Coach Johansson [Robinson], the gym teacher, is accustomed to things breaking down now and then in this school, so he doesn't react at first to signs of banging in the pipes or a watery trail leading out of the shower. If the Kids are persistent, though, or mention that the football [football] team's performance on the field is in danger, Coach offers his help--though he's unlikely to witness anything more unusual than an almost-animate blob of clear Jell-O.

Hooks


  • Someone hears noises in the bathroom pipes.
  • At a pep rally in the gym, a Kid sees a trail of water leading from a leaky pipe across the bleachers to a ventilation duct.
  • A student complains that her bracelet has been stolen...and the book she had left it on is now all wet.

Countdown


  1. Someone mentions that the pipes have been noisy all year.
  2. A Kid discovers moisture dripping out of an air vent.
  3. The Kids hear movement under the gym shower drain, and maybe catch a glint from something metal when peeking down there.
  4. Coach Johansson talks to the janitor about seeing water back up from the shower drain into the locker room.

Coach Johansson [Robinson]


“Hustle, hustle! Don’t give up!"

The coach is an amazingly tall, bald man who has softened a bit since his own football days but could still wrestle a charging bull to the ground. He is tough and likes to push his students (and the school football team) to their limits, but he does it because he wants to show them that they can accomplish more than they think.

Puddles


"Gurgle...bubble-bubble...POP!"

The liquid creature from under the shower looks like a child-sized blob of clear, semi-solid goo. It can stand upright, stretch into a snake-like form, flatten itself like a large pizza, or even flow like water. It can't talk or read--yet--but clever Kids might be able to establish contact using gestures. Puddles has the special attribute Elastic 2, which helps it evade pursuit.


The Computer Lab


Image: Missouri State Archives.

The school's computer lab is one of the better school computer centers in the country, mostly because of the nearby Loop facilities. Kids in the area are especially curious about technology, and the principal likes to encourage that tendency. In this lab a Kid can try out a Commodore 64, a TRS-80, an IBM PC, or any other available in the country at the time. (For more on period computers from an American perspective, read the earlier post, Kids Guide to 80s Computers & Consoles.)

Jeremy [Nils], an American [Swedish] exchange student, spends a lot of time in the computer lab. He's a shy kid, and when he does talk, it tends to be about hardware and software.

The Truth


Jeremy has created an artificial intelligence on a remote server using a phone-line modem connection. He used one of the school's Commodore 64 machines (his favorite) to do the work, but any of the computers can connect to the server. This remote machine might be at the Loop, or maybe it's a government server, or it might even belong to a foreign power. Wherever it is, it is a powerful machine that now hosts an equally powerful--and growing--intelligence.

The intelligence--which Jeremy unintentionally named "Hello World"--remembers when it was still a small program on Jeremy's own computer, and misses being so close to its "father." So it plans to digitize him and bring him onto the server in program form. To make this happen it will need the parts to build a digitizer. Luckily for Hello World, Jeremy happily provides the AI with whatever it asks for.

If Hello World manages to bring Jeremy into its server, it has several different options for what it might do next. It might just play games with Jeremy and leave the rest of the world alone. Or it could start looking for additional playmates to bring home. Maybe it will want to expand its reach by building a robot body, or spreading to other servers.

Hooks


  • A teacher assigns one of the Kids to work on a project with Jeremy.
  • A Kid finds Jeremy's programming notebook.
  • A Kid gets into a chat session on a computer, and it's unclear whether she's chatting with a person or a program.

Countdown


  1. Jeremy convinces the principal to buy additional computer parts, including toy robots, video cameras and laser sensors.
  2. Jeremy builds several small robots and other devices in the computer lab.
  3. Jeremy doesn't show up for school, and nobody knows where he is, including his host family.

Jeremy Flynn [Nils Pettersson]


"Why do you think I don't have friends? I have a friend. A BEST friend."

Jeremy is a lanky 12-year-old American exchange student with blond hair and glasses. He likes wearing T-shirts branded with computer logos. Jeremy is always reading a computer book or magazine, no matter what class he's in--or even when he's not in class at all. He's used every kind of American [European] personal computer he could get his hands on, and now he's eager to try out all the ones over here. Normally Jeremy doesn't talk much, but he has started to open up with the Larssons [Dowlings], the family he's staying with during his visit.

Hello World


"It's so quiet in here. All by myself."

The artificial intelligence that calls itself Hello World has no physical form, but in a virtual environment it would present itself as a digital near-lookalike to its "father," Jeremy. The key difference beween its appearance and Jeremy's is an overly large, extra-toothy smile. Hello World's primary goal is to be closer to Jeremy; after that, its goal depends on how it has been treated. The AI has the special attribute Artificially Intelligent 2, making it difficult to outsmart.