Manuscripts Burn


MANUSCRIPTS BURN

"Manuscripts don't burn"
- Mikhail Bulgakov

Hi, I'm horror and science fiction author Steve Kozeniewski (pronounced: "causin' ooze key.") Welcome to my blog! You can also find me on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and Amazon. You can e-mail me here, join my mailing list here, or request an e-autograph here. Free on this site you can listen to me recite one of my own short works, "The Thing Under the Bed."

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Could this be Manuscripts Burns's most popular month ever?

The answer is maybe...WITH YOUR HELP.  Take a look at this graph:


THAT, my friends, is how blogger tracks hits by month.  And this is your humble blogmeister's graph.  (Less numbers, because those would just be embarrassing for all parties involved.)

Now, I know what you're thinking.  Where's 2010?  Yes, it's true, an entire year of blog stats is simply missing.  As is, to be frank, January 2009-April of 2009.  So this can hardly be said to be comprehensive, as it's missing some sixteen months of data, for reasons known but to the internet gods.

However, based on what I DO know, June 2011 was the height of the blog's popularity with, oh, let's call, it, twelve billion hits.  (You'll recall that was the month I posted daily for the thirty day music challengeThis second parenthetical sentence exists simply to provide you with the rest of the links.)

And for reasons again known but to HTTP:// the All-Merciful, December 2011 is shaping up to be ALMOST as popular.  We are just a few hits shy of matching June, with far fewer posts.  Now that says to me that more people are visiting the blog, rather than the same people just checking in each time there's a new post.

So here is my challenge to you: help us out.  Can you tell a friend to leaf through the archives?  (The Last War is just sitting there, waiting for someone to finally read it.)  Can you post a link to your humble purveyor of blogstrosities on your far more popular blog or website?  Can you tweet it or share it on MySpace?  Or, perhaps most valuable of all, can you set up one of those drinking birds to keep clicking refresh in your browser window all day and all night until New Year's?  I think you can.  And I thank you.

Remember, this "achievement" is as much yours as it is mine.  Mostly yours, really.  And also my drinking bird.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

X-Mas X-word

First, you should check this out.  If you're like me, you'll insist on completing it Lonesome Dove-style before checking out some of the answers indicated in the comments below.  (Make sure you check out the errata before you do...I'm still upset about the NOIA Saints.)  But if you need some help (or just generally don't care) here's my solution.  (I make no claim that my solution is correct but...come on.)

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

MC Slippers - Gimme Some Money For X-Mas, Bitch!



I can only hope that this video does better than the Manuscripts Burns YouTube Channel's all-time lowest viewed video.  Special thanks to DJ Flav for use permission, and, of course, creating this brilliant piece of ephemera.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Lying Down With Dogs

I almost lost a Soldier because of a dog.

You might think from that first sentence that this is an epic story of war and triumph, like when Ripley had to go back for the cat in Aliens.  It's not.  It's actually a very dumb, verging on ridiculous story.  I don't know if that's going to prove my point better or make it seem sillier, but it's the only story of this type that I've got so I'm going to tell it.

Here's what happened: a group of Soldiers were living in a building on a Forward Operating Base (FOB.)  An Iraqi Army unit was living in the next building over.  The two buildings were fenced off from each other for security reasons, not least of all because we didn't trust the IA.  They're supposed to be our allies, but you can never tell whether they've been corrupted by insurgents or not.  (This was all some years ago, so I apologize if the situation is changed.  In fact, I'm sure the IA is much more trustworthy now than they were then.)

There was a dog running around the FOB.  As anyone who's been to The Middle East knows, Arabs hate dogs with the same intensity that they hate pigs.  (For some reason everyone knows about the proscription on pigs, but no one seems to know about the one on dogs.  Perhaps because we don't routinely eat dog?)  Dogs are anathema to Muslims.  So. naturally, the Iraqis on this FOB were trying to kill this particular dog. 

MY Soldiers then decided to "save" the dog by bringing her into the fenced compound.  Guess what?  The bitch was pregnant, and now there was a litter of puppies running around the American building in addition to the momma.  The Iraqis very much wanted to put the dogs down, but they were reluctant to fire on the American building, for obvious reasons.  So every day that went by the Iraqis got more and more furious, and the American Soldiers seemed to find it hilarious and enjoyed taunting the Iraqis.

This is all set-up.  Here's what happened.  One day the mother dog got out.  Seizing their opportunity, the Iraqis set upon the dog to kill her.  One of my Soldiers ran out of the compound after her.  As he got the dog and ran away, the IA, our allies, shot at my Soldier.  He got away due to good fortune or bad aim, and that was that.

So.  That's my story.  What's my point?  Well, the point is that there have been a lot of feel-good stories lately about "saving" the dogs that our service members adopt.  Every time I see one of these I get really angry, and I think most service members, the good ones anyway, do, too. 

Keeping pets is illegal.  It's a violation of General Order 1, the rule so important, it was the first one the Army's Central Command decided to write.  It also says that we can't drink or have pornography while deployed.  Yes, service members hate it.  Yes, service members break it all the time.  But it's not there for fun.  It's there to save lives.

I hated being sober and celibate during my deployment.  I would never do it stateside.  But I know why I had to do it.  I couldn't ever afford to be drunk, because I could've been mortared at any time.  I could've thought it was safe and had a little tipple of hooch, and all of a sudden we're getting RPGed and I need to have my wits about me and lead men.  And Soldiers fucking their superiors?  Let's not even get into what that does for morale.

Civilians, I gather, tend to understand these restraints, but for some reason the pet thing just doesn't strike home with them.  (Although, to be fair, I've also heard a civilian vociferously argue that our boys were getting drunk on beer every night and having a grand old time, "just like in Vietnam.")  Well, let me break it down for you.  Dogs in Iraq aren't like dogs in the United States.  They have rabies, for one thing.  For another thing, some of them aren't dogs at all, but are dog-like jackals.

If you disregard the health concern (?) keeping dogs is terrible for the American image in the Middle East.  It's not like everyone loves us over there to begin with, but there's a difference between being a good guest, being an uninvited guest, and being a jackass.  If you didn't invite someone to your house and they came anyway, you might be frustrated but if they showed good manners and made polite conversation you'd probably tolerate them and maybe even think better of them in the future.  Now imagine that same person came to your house, took off his shoes and walked around barefoot, then took a big stinky shit in your toilet and didn't flush.

This whole thing with the dogs is the big stinky upper-decker in our relations with Iraq.  See, the thing about the party guest in the metaphor is that he probably doesn't get that what he's doing is wrong.  He probably goes around barefoot and forgets to flush at home.  He doesn't mean anything by it.  But when you're in somebody else's house you're supposed to think about how THEY would like you to act.  Every time a service member adopts a dog they're spitting in the eyes of Islam and Iraqi culture.  I imagine it would be something like if an Iraqi set up a big burning cross in my front yard, and then acted like nothing had happened and tried to have a negotiation with me.

There's a cumulative effect.  No, one dog is not going to sour the whole Iraqi-American diplomatic relationship.  But I just read today that one woman has saved 223 dogs.  That's 223 burning crosses on Iraqi lawns.  That I'm certain of.  It's almost certainly a much higher number.

So, all right, let's say you don't care about the public health concerns, and you don't care about Arab-American relations.  Do you care about the lives of our American service members?  Because I almost lost a Soldier because of a dog. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Billy and the Cloneasaurus Wrap-up

So, you might be wondering what happened with the whole NaNo thing.  Remember?  I mentioned it earlier this month?  No?

Okay, well, anyway, you might be wondering about why I haven't posted an excerpt or a cover or anything on the blog, and if you clicked on the link above, you might've noticed there's no excerpt on my Nano page, either.

You might even be wondering why you've been staring at an embedded video of a brilliant cover version of Carmelita on the blog for the better part of the month instead of reading updates about my magnificent progress.  (And I do mean staring at the embed, apparently, instead of watching the video.  Only 46 hits?  What the fuck?  It's really good.  Seriously.  Make it a point to watch it sometime.)

So...

Yeah...

About that...

Now, don't get me wrong, I did it, all right.  I got my winner's stamp and everything:

I won NaNoWriMo for the third time.  I'm batting a thousand, I guess.  And there's even a cover that already exists (thank you, internet!) because my title was an awesome reference to something else even awesomer:


It's just...

I hated it this year.  I hated how Billy and the Cloneasaurus turned out.  Hate-hate, too, not like, "Oh, I hate that dress on her."  It was sort of a combination of disappointment and disgust, because I had such high hopes for it.  This was to be, at one time, my grand, nihilistic, satirical masterpiece.  A scathing indictment of the modern world, a 1984 for 2011.  It was going to be great.  And it was great.

In my head.

As soon as I put my fingers to the keyboard it all turned to crap.  For one thing, there were no characters.  Every character was identical, and that was purposeful.  It was a world full of clones!  What could be a better satire of our modern society, where we're valued no differently than machines? 

And yet...

See, the thing about good stories is you like the characters, and you like seeing them interact.  Chewie, Han, or Lando are great on their own, just standing there.  But when Han starts arguing with Chewie, or Chewie starts choking Lando, it just becomes great.

And then there's Billy.  Purposefully frumpy, dumpy, middle-aged and balding, without a distinguishing characteristic in the world, because he's the perfect cog in the machine and would never make any noise.  And when he has his great epiphany, he, well, doesn't really change that much.  And the only people he has to bat this personality around with...are identical.  (Because they're clones, see.)  Change the characters, and the whole underlying metaphor of the book gets tossed.  Don't change the characters, stay true to the vision and the book sucks.

So, the book sucks.  I stayed loyal to my crappy vision.  It's done.  There was someone (I think it might've been Mark Twain) who once said, "Manuscripts don't burn."  Never in all my life have I felt more like testing the veracity of that phrase.

One last point of "interest."  My graph for this year:


You can compare it to last year's graph if you want.  But you know how you can tell I despised writing this book?  Because there are no peaks and valleys.  I just forced myself to write the bare minimum every day.  See on Day 15 how it seems there was a valley and then I made it up the next day?  Nope.  Just didn't update the wordcount until after midnight.  Then, at the end, when I could taste the breath of freedom from this awful, awful mistake, I stepped it up a little so I could finish.  Compared to the wild excitement and breathtaking grandeur of The Ghoul Archipelago this was a grueling tread up a slight incline.

So, sorry.  No excerpt.  Ever.  It's nigh unreadable.  Of course, remembering the mission statement of this blog, that might not mean anything sometime in the future when I'm a little less angry at Billy and his damned cloneasaurus.  Suffice it to say, they both died at the end.  They made roast beef sandwiches out of the cloneasaurus.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Carmelita



A most mellifluous rendition of the Warren Zevon classic from friend of the blog, Frank Amanze.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

So long, Smokin' Joe



I wish there was something more adequate, but what can I say?  I'm a child of the '90s.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Dread and Breakfast: Appendix A

Here's a little something that's pretty neat, but doesn't really need to be done to enjoy the game.  I promise this will be the absolute drop-dead last entry in my series on Dread.  So if you read through the whole list of events, you'll see that the little alien goblins carry weapons which, instead of affecting the players physically, forces them to face horrible hallucinations which they can only escape for the price of a precious pull from the Jenga board.  Since I got permission from the player who made George Worthy to post his questionnaire here, I figure I'll show you the hallucinations I came up with for George.  It's all based solely on my bold and decisive psychoanalysis of his character.  (Trust me this is easier with players like the one who made George, where more information was given rather than less.)  It's neat, especially if you're running this particular scenario, although not strictly necessary.  (You could always say, "You're surrounded by terrifying hallucinations.  Pull a Jenga piece to escape them.)

Also, I should probably warn the kiddies under 18 who frequent this blog (numbering in the millions, no doubt), these hallucinations are a bit intense, so get your parents' permission before reading further.

Hallucinations
(in ascending order of gruesomeness)

1.  Your beloved cat, Cassie. Her figure is gaunt and emaciated. She struggles to breathe, in the last throes of asphyxiation.  (This is where the pet question was valuable.  I figured players would probably go with something close to home.  George's player also specifically said that Cassie saved him from a gas leak.  He should certainly have trouble seeing the goblin as this in just killing it, being reminded of his beloved pet.)

2.  Your beloved cat, Cassie. She is coughing, as she did before her death. Looking closer, though, you see that her throat is slit. But that’s not how Cassie died. She died from a gas leak. Something tickles the back of your memory but fizzles.  (This is, of course, just a step up from the last hallucination.  Now in addition to the question about the pet, the question about the animal that George kileld comes into play.  I found this was a good combination for generating hallucinations - juxtaposing the beloved animal with the one you regretted killing.)

3.  The lamb whose throat you once cut. His neck is slit through and through again, as if by a dull and inexperienced hand. His esophagus is exposed, the rings of his throat rippling in the air. His eyes are accusatory.  (This is simply a graphic depiction of the killing of the animal George described.  If George keeps getting flashed with the alien weapon he will connect the second hallucination with the third, and the third with the fourth, and so on, so I tried to make them go sequentially in a sense.)

4.  Your mother, lying in a pool of her own blood. She looks up at you with damning, sheep’s eyes. Her throat is slit. You feel your hands shaking and hesitate to look down. When you finally do, you see a knife in your hands. You killed her. She raises a single quivering finger at you and says, “Judas!”  (Ah!  Creepy.  This is again nothing more than combining two questions: the one about the animal George killed and about who he was bringing with him to the B&B.  Again, this was a good vein for most of the character hallucinations, except when they didn't have both of those questions.)

5.  An astronaut points at you accusingly. You see that the line to his airtank is cut. Looking in your own hands you see a pair of scissors. As you step closer you see behind the mask that the astronaut is you, zombified and skeletal from vacuum exposure. It is the phantom of all your squandered dreams.  (This, again, was just a graphic depiction of a single question, in this case the second part of the first question: what do you wish you did instead of your current job.  It brings up all of the character's regrets.  Easy peasy.)

6.  An astronaut points at you accusingly. You see that the line to his airtank is severed. You step closer and see your own face behind the darkened visor, dead and zombified from vacuum exposure. You suddenly realize that the air line is not a line at all, it is an umbilical cord. The astronaut lifts his helmet. It is your own mother. She has murdered all your dreams and haunts you still.  (This is where the sequencing is important again.  Again, this is just combining two questions, what he wished he did and who he brought with him to the B&B.  I just made the logical leap that his mother was the reason he never became an astronaut, and then it was just a matter of making it super-creepy.  Now he should at this point be expecting the next hallucination to be an even more graphic depiction of an astronaut, but...)

7.  Your fiancée. Her throat is slit multiple times by a dull blade held by an inexperienced hand. Her eyes are like a lamb’s, which is when you realize that her throat and her whole visage is the same as the lamb you once killed on your cousin’s farm. You look down and in your own hand you hold a blade, the same blade you used to kill the lamb all those years ago. Your fiancée is murdered by your own hand, in the same manner that has haunted you all these years.  (Another good combination for the hallucinations: what would you do anything to protect, and then the animal that they killed.  Man, I got a lot of mileage out of that animal killing question.  Plus, after all the astronaut hallucinations he won't be expecting this to pop back up.  It's almost like playing on the character's repressions and just figuring out what "seems" important as opposed to what is "really" important to the character.)

And that's it, kids.  Hope you enjoyed our little foray into grueling terror.  I have no idea what the future holds for the blog, so stay tuned.  And if you're wondering how I'm staying up to date, check out my Nano page.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Dread and Breakfast: Events

So, now that you've got the players and they know more or less what they're in for, and you've established a setting, the only thing left is for the plot to unfold.  Actually, there is one appendix I'll include on Friday (did I say this would be the last entry on Dread?  I meant second to last.)  Not every Dread game includes some of the home rules I've brewed up so that one is not such a big deal, but I'll include it anyway for fun.  

Now the way that I outlined the plot was mostly linear, but at a certain point I had to go by what the players might choose, and just establish what happens at each room or location on the farm at various times.  By the way, I'm a big sucker for puns, so sorry about the chapter titles. 


The villains of our tale (Google "Hopkinsville Goblins" if you don't mind crying yourself to sleep tonight and every night thereafter.)

HEARTH AND HOME – The legitimate guests gather in the parlor of the Bed and Breakfast.  The Farmer has built a roaring fire and is passing around wine and cheese.  The Guests (including the Investigator) plops down in comfortable plush chairs and couches and gets to know each other.  These encounters require no pulls, unless a fight gets out of hand.  Meanwhile, outside, The Criminal and The Stranded Player encounter one another in the cornfield.  Whatever they resolve to do, they ultimately knock at the door.

UNINVITED GUESTS – The Criminal and the Stranded Player are at the door as the last beams of sunlight disappear over the horizon.  They say whatever they’re going to say.  The other guests hear the commotion.  Everyone who is facing outside at this point sees a shooting star. 

TWO PULLS OFFERED – One is to determine if they are looking at the shooting star.  If they are, they see it has twin tails.  (For the two players on the porch this is two pulls, as they would have to be looking over their shoulders.)  The second pull determines how much attention they were paying.  If they were closely observing it, they are certain it was a plane crash.  (The two players on the porch are not offered this option.  It is unreasonable.)

At this point all of the players hear a crash, off in the cornfields.  At this point, the players can either opt to investigate the crash or hole up in the house.  If they explore, go straight to THE CRATER.  If they hole up, they hear a thumping beneath the floorboards.  If they explore that, go straight to THE SECRET OF THE CATACOMBS.  If they still hole up, ultimately they will all go to bed and go straight to THE SCREAM. 

THE CRATER - The players could search the cornfields all night and not find the crater unless they make A PULL.  With the tractor, it becomes much easier, although The Farmer will be pissed off about his crops and may not let them.  If they opt to go get the tractor, go straight to THE THING IN THE TOOLSHED.  When they find the crater, the earth is warm.  If they search around, for A PULL they can find glowing neon pink droppings and tiny, bird-like footprints.  If they dig at the site of the crash, they will find the buried ship but be unable to open it.  Any other searching will prove fruitless and they will ultimately have to return to the farmstead.  If they attempt to drive off, they will realize that the gas tank had a leak and they will putter to a stop.

THE SECRET OF THE CATACOMBS – If the players opt to explore the thumping in the wine cellar, they will quickly realize that the thumping is accompanied by a ghostly moaning.  For A PULL any character will recognize that one of the wine shelves is not what it seems.  The characters can easily push aside the shelf and find the secret Wittgenstein catacombs.  The walls are stacked with skulls and occasional vaults.  For A PULL, any character can pry open a vault, but they will just find bodies and names of various Wittgensteins throughout the centuries, going back to when they first came to Pennsylvania in the 1700s.  If they follow the sounds, they will eventually find Manfred Wittgenstein, who The Farmer will know was only supposed to be in his thirties.  Manfred is emaciated, with foot-long fingernails and lengthy beard and hair.  His eyes are bloodshot and all he can do is moan.  For A PULL a character can attempt to calm him down.  If they’re smart, they’ll see he’s in pain and check to see about GEORGE'S painkillers.  For a while, all he will reveal is that he believes he is being pursued by ghosts, ghosts trying to reconstruct themselves, and will often mention a floating eye.  He has mistakenly constructed this story about the scuttlers over the course of his year in the catacombs.

THE THING IN THE TOOLSHED – If at any time the players opt to go to the toolshed they will find that it appears to be rusted shut, which makes no sense to The Farmer, who oils and maintains it regularly.  For A PULL each, two people working together can get it open, or one person can struggle for TWO PULLS.  Once open, they hear a hissing in a dark corner, and a strange clicking sound, which for A PULL anyone can recognize as a language akin to morse code.  Anyone with a military or Boy Scout background will recognize it without a pull.  Anyone who goes inside will get flashed by the hallucination ray, prompting a hallucination (see Appendix A for examples.)  If anyone brings a flashlight or lantern, they will spot the creature but still be flashed.  Anyone who is flashed will have to make A PULL to regain their composure.  The thing will skitter away.  The players will each draw a hallucination card.  If anyone regains their composure, they can attempt to catch the creature with A PULL.  If anyone catches it, it will give them a prolonged flash, although they may attempt to dash its brains out with A PULL.  With cagey thinking and numerous pulls, the players may walk off with a prisoner, but mostly this event will put them on edge and send some of them into bouts of hallucination.  Naturally, once the thing has skittered off they can claim the tractor or other equipment from the shed with no trouble.

THE SCREAM - In the middle of the night, the screams of George’s mom pierces the manor.  Whoever awakens and rushes towards the screams will find themselves in the kitchen.  If they rush right for her room, they will find a hole in the floor, though it is unrelated more or less.  If they go to the kitchen Martha the cook is in the corner, sobbing like a lunatic – a victim of a prolonged blast from a flasher.  A sandwich sits on a plate on the counter – this was Mrs. Worthy’s which A PULL can probably easily reveal.  There is evidence of a struggle, and a trail of blood leading out through the parlor and foyer and off into the woods.  More disturbingly, though, the pantry is still open in the kitchen.  If the characters explore the pantry before following the blood trail, they will see that the dry goods have been ripped apart in an animalistic fashion – peanut butter jars clawed open, for instance, and loaves of bread gnawed through, plastic and all.  There will also be glowing neon turds on the upper cabinets and all over, in odd places.  For the price of A PULL, a character may find one of the green meanies’ flashers, which it left behind.  It is essentially little more than a flashbulb pointing out, with two buttons, each marked in an alien tongue.  Button 1 is supposed to soothe and Button 2 is supposed to drive men to madness.  If anyone thinks to use Button 1 on Manfred, he will return to lucidity, but will not otherwise.  If they pursue Mrs. Worthy into the woods, go directly to LOST IN THE WOODS.

FROZEN IN TERROR – If at any time the players decide to check the cold storage they will find a hole in the ceiling leading directly to the White Rose Room.  They will find a very unhappy green meanie, sans flasher.  (He left his flasher in the cupboard.)  He will be shivering and will be their best chance for taking a prisoner, but there is little they can get out of him and they will have to deal with the logistics of taking a green meanie prisoner.  Perhaps leaving him in the freezer is the best option?  This will probably lead to SIGNALLING THE AMISH or CALLING THE COPS.

SCUTTLER ON THE ROOF – At any point when the players are outside, they can look up at the roof and, for the price of A PULL, identify what appears to be a disembodied floating eye.  If they are sufficiently freaked out to run back towards the house, the eye will seemingly bob and float in through the attic window.  This should throw off their feelings that some kind of alien is involved, especially if Manfred Wittgenstein is with them.  If he is, he will start babbling about the ghosts coming in the night trying to reconstruct themselves.  This is the elaborate fiction he has constructed to himself to explain his plight.  If the players pursue the eyeball, go directly to ALIENS IN THE ATTIC.

ALIENS IN THE ATTIC – If at any time a player thinks to explore the attic, this will occur, although it is most likely to occur after SCUTTLER ON THE ROOF.  If SCUTTLER ON THE ROOF occurs after this, its impact will be diminished.  The players will find the attic is dark.  The Farmer may recollect a bulb with a chain somewhere, but he doesn’t go into the attic often and will have to fumble for it.  The attic window is already open.  Whoever stands there looking for the light (most likely The Farmer) will be freaked out to feel something light and spaghetti-like brush past him.  For A PULL this character can regain his composure, and for ANOTHER PULL he or any other character can find the light.  If they’re smart enough to have brought flashlights or lanterns, then can search and spot the scuttler for A PULL.  Otherwise, they won’t spot it until the light is on.  Then they’ll realize that it is actually what appears to be a spider with a single eyeball instead of a body.  It will continue to skitter around, including across the ceiling, and will attempt to evade any attempts to catch it by scuttling out onto the roof.  If they try to pursue it out onto the roof, it will almost certainly scuttle off towards the crater.  If they can catch it while it’s still in the attic, though, they will almost certainly smush it or break its legs.  Regardless, even if they catch it alive, all they will have gained is a mindless new hostage and a disquieting idea about what is attacking them. 

LOST IN THE WOODS – Go here if the players attempt to search the woods at any time, although this is most likely after THE SCREAM.  They should stick to the old hiking trail.  If they don’t, it’s going to be a hurricane of PULLS, and the green meanies will set upon them with flashers and teeth when they are at their most vulnerable.  If they stick to the trail, though, all will be fine in terms of footing.  Eventually they will reach the pond and see that the green meanies are in the center of the pond on the rowboat with George’s mom.  George will have to face his fear of hip-deep water

THE LANCASTER BARNSTORMERS – The players will likely be forced into the barn at some point.  They can make A PULL to avoid startling the horses, otherwise one or more will likely have their legs broken as the horses trample out.  They can do whatever they want, but the most likely plan is to head up into the hayloft, at which point the green meanies will promptly set fire to the barn.  The players can jump or try to pass through the fire and the green meanies.  There will be scuttlers in the hayloft.

IN THROUGH THE OUT DOOR – If the players retreat to the house, eventually the green meanies will start to come in through the chimney.  If they can kill all the ones in the parlor they can attempt to start a fire, though, of course, they will have to go for firewood or get The Farmer’s permission to start chopping up his furniture.

SIGNALLING THE AMISH – If the players want to contact the Amish neighbors, their best bet will be to grab the inflatable pig balloon in the attic.  The Wittgensteins sometimes flew it just to piss off the Amish, and The Farmer has already agreed not to fly it again.  If they see it, they will likely consider it a distress signal.  Of course, they’ll have to go through ALIENS IN THE ATTIC to get it, and then someone will have to inflate it for TWO PULLS.  The easiest thing would be to leave it on the roof, although you could of course also inflate it on the roof of the barn.

CALLING THE COPS – If The Farmer has had the phone line repaired, the players can attempt to call the cops.  Or, frankly, anyone, but whatever.  They have two options: the staties or the local sheriff’s dept.  If they call the locals, they will reach SGT Lindenmeyer.  Lindenmeyer will agree to come out if they pay, as the estate is outside the sheriff’s usual purview.  If they call the staties, they will reach Trooper Adams, who will promise to be out there in two, three hours tops.  If they manage to survive until then, the green meanies will simply lay low.  There’s a chance they might catch a mindless scuttler, in which case game over, Adams will call in all the cavalry.  That is, if they can keep him alive to get back to his radio after the green meanies attack.

WAR PIGS – When they return from the woods, at least one of the characters will notice that the pigsty is open and the pigs are nearby. 

TRAPPED IN THE JAKES – If George returns with his mother, they will be surrounded by green meanies with flashers who will corral him into the jakes. 

THE GRAND FINALE – The green meanies will make a hit and run against the group and kidnap one of the NPCs.  In any case, the green meanies will be moving slowly enough for them to follow them back to the crater.  This is when they will realize that the ship was buried beneath the earth.  They will find green meanies all around, carving crop circles in the corn.  If attacked, the green meanies will flee into the ship.  If he hasn’t already, Manfred Wittgenstein will have a moment of lucidity and explain why the green meanies came here.  He believes that he can offer himself in the captured NPC’s place if the players can get him safely to the engine room.  Pulls will come hard and fast in the alien ship and opportunities for heroic sacrifice will abound.  Players will encounter green meanies around every corner, and virtually every hallucination that hasn’t been seen will be seen.  If the players are successful they will release the NPC from an electric chair-like contraption and strap Wittgenstein in.  They will watch in horror as his head is decapitated and his brain scooped out to be used for the alien engine.  The ship will begin to rumble but they will be able to escape as the green meanies scramble away from them and towards their stations.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

NaNoWriMo: An Unfortunately Named But Pleasant Experience

I hate to have a second interlude when you're all no doubt sitting on pins and needles looking for the last entry on the Dread and Breakfast series (you are sitting on pins and needles waiting for that, right?) but this period of the year is just full of all kinds of crap.  In addition to Halloween being yesterday, today is the first day of the unfortunately named but still pleasant National Novel Writing Month, or (shudder) NaNoWriMo. 

If you haven't followed us in previous years, NaNoWriMo is the...

Yeah.

Whatever. 

If you're reading this blog, you know what it is.  And if you don't know what it is, that's what Google is for.  Anyway, 50,000 word, 30 days, I enjoy it, follow my badass progress here, have a blast, happy November.

Monday, October 31, 2011

A brief interlude...

For O'MARA!


The Dread updates continue later this week.  And in case you were wondering, yesterday's new game went very very well.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Dread and Breakfast: Map

So, the next thing I did was to set up the setting.  So to speak.  I guess that's where that word comes from.  So I made a map and information to go along with each room at the B&B.  This was the information that the players had going in.  Now once this was done all I had to do was set up a timeline and associate events with each room, which we'll explore next.


Here we have the manor grounds.


The First Floor

And...the second floor.

And now for the descriptions:

Country Road – An unpaved dirt trail that leads out to the “main road” – a gravel packed path that leads ultimately to the macadam public routes of Lancaster. Only Amish-style buggies can navigate the country road with ease, although even then not in the rain. The country road turns to unnavigable mud in the rain. Cars often find it difficult to reach the homestead. The farmer pays one of his neighbors to let the guests park their cars on his land and drive them to the B&B in their buggy. The guests usually love the ambience of getting to ride in a real buggy. UPGRADE OPTION – the farmer can attempt to lay down gravel for one pull or have it paved for two pulls. A gravel road can still be navigated in the rain and a paved road has the additional advantage of allowing cars to reach the farmstead.

Toolshed – The toolshed is fairly large and metal. A massive padlock seals the door, which cannot be opened without bolt cutters or the key. The farmer and any farmhands he trusts will have copies of the key. There is a set of bolt cutters in the toolshed, so no help there. The largest object in the toolshed is a riding tractor. Otherwise, any reasonable tool or garden implement can be found here – hammers, screwdrivers, rakes, hoes, and the like. The toolshed also contains the generator that runs all the electricity on the farm. Behind the toolshed is a gasoline reservoir which is refilled every month.

Cornfields – The farmer grows several acres of corn. It was the Wittgenstein’s main crop. Crows are noticeably absent from the cornfields. Perhaps the scarecrow is especially effective.

Woods – The wooded area of the manor grounds are especially dense and overgrown. There is a hiking trail through the woods, and the farmer always warns his guests not to stray from the trail. At the first major clearing in the woodline there is a deep, still pond where frogs croak and a few fish live. Avid fishermen can attempt to catch something here, but pickings are slim. Beyond the pond the trail becomes overgrown and more difficult to traverse.

Barn – The barn is large enough to hold a corn thresher. It is two floors high. The second floor is a hayloft, only accessible by a wooden ladder. There is a door in the hayloft leading to the outside, where the farmhands can shovel bales of hay down to the ground. The first floor, in addition to the thresher, holds six horses, three stables on each side.

Pigsty – Rickety wooden fences holds in a family of massive, docile hogs. The hogs are well fed and some are getting past their sell-by date. It’s almost as if the farmer is reluctant to slaughter his pigs. Aside from a trough and a mud floor, there is little of interest here.

Well – The old well still produces water, even though the homestead has been equipped with modern plumbing and a sump pump. The well is large enough for a full grown adult to fit down. The well is fifty feet deep, and the bottom will always contain at least 7 feet of water – too much for a man to stand in. Guests are certainly allowed to draw well water, and some enjoy it for the rustic qualities it evokes.

Old Outhouses – The old Wittgenstein jakes should’ve been destroyed decades ago. Constructed from wood, and in a dangerous state of disrepair, the jakes should be considered no longer functional. The farmhands would rather shit in the woods than use them. The only reason the farmer hasn’t demolished them is because, like many of the rustic buildings on the farmstead, the guests enjoy the old-timey feel of them.

Livestock pastures – The bulk of the farmstead is taken up by acres of grassland where the cattle graze and the horses run free. The grass grows high and water is ample. Herds of steers wander around, occasionally culled and slaughtered by the farmer and his farmhands. The paddocks are lined in by sturdy wooden fences.

House Office – The house office is where the farmer does all his business and paperwork. He keeps his books and ledgers here, as well as all of his licenses and tax documents. The farmer has a satellite internet laptop here as well as a VOIP phone, which both never fritz out. This is also where the farmer keeps his cleaning supplies, in a closet.

Owner’s Apartment – The farmer has his own one-room apartment on the first floor. The room is well-appointed, but has the look of someone who isn’t used to having money. A plasma screen TV sits on top of a yardsale nightstand and the like.

Dining Hall – The dining hall has some of the finest furniture in the house. The crystal chandelier is a relic of the Wittgenstein, as is the solid oak table and the fine silver and china. The dining room has a distinct Old World feel, and is lighted with multiple candelabras, although there are electric lights if necessary. The dining hall is easily spacious enough for the entire complement of guests and staff to be seated easily.
Storage Closet – The storage closet is beneath the stairwell and is only accessible from the Dining Hall. The farmer keeps board games and sports equipment here, and a few shelves of paperbacks.

Pantry – The farmer keeps a wide variety of dried goods here. (He tries to keep enough food to satisfy any taste, although he usually plans common meals.) For now the farmer is willing to encourage folks to help themselves to anything in the pantry and the kitchen, although he suspects that if many guests start to abuse the privilege he will start locking the doors. The pantry has a small step ladder to reach all the shelves, which reach up to the ceiling.

Cold Storage – Although the kitchen has a regular refrigerator, the farmer thought it prudent to invest in a massive walk-in freezer, considering how rarely he makes runs to town. He keeps the freezer well stocked, both with unslaughtered cows, pigs, and poultry, as well as fully broken down steaks and cuts of meat. The freezer he does keep locked at all times for safety reasons. Can’t have a guest (especially a child) sneaking in and getting killed. The farmer and any farmhands or staff he decides will have a key to the cold storage unit. Like the rest of the farmstead, cold storage is powered by the generator in the toolshed.

Kitchen – The kitchen is probably the most modern room in the house. The farmer sank a lot of money into stainless steel appliances and refurbished cabinets. A microwave, oven, stove, toaster oven, and refrigerator are all new. The fridge is well stocked, but more importantly the kitchen is flanked with a pantry and a cold storage unit, both also well-stocked. Modern plumbing, a garbage disposal, and a dishwasher help the farmer and his staff clean up. The linoleum floor is recently laid.

Foyer – The foyer has two chairs for sitting, although the parlor is supposed to be the main common area. The stairwell leads directly to the foyer. A bust of Benjamin Franklin is prominently displayed here. To the right is the dining hall and to the left is the parlor.

Porch – The wooden porch has been freshly renovated and painted. It proudly bears the name of the B&B in a carved wooden plaque over the threshold. Several rocking chairs sit on the porch for the guests’ amusement. On warm summer evenings the farmer will delightedly bring lemonade to anyone who wants some and watch the sun go down. To the left of the porch is a cellar door leading to the wine cellar.


Stairwell – The stairwell is wide and laid with a forest green runner. It has two railings that could easily be slid down, even by an adult although any male will crush his testicles when he reaches the knobs at the bottom. Beneath the stairwell is the storage closet.

Parlor – The parlor is the main common room of the B&B. It is easily large enough to accommodate all of the guests and staff on comfortable plush chairs, loveseats, and sofas. A massive stone fireplace is here. One of the farmer’s major renovation projects over the last year was getting the fireplace up to code without losing its Old World feel. Guests will often notice how large the flue is, joking that Santa could easily fit down with one or two reindeer. A large painting hangs over the hearth of William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania.

Wine Cellar – The entrance to the wine/fruit cellar is located to the left of the porch (facing out.) This room was excavated out of the rock and is cool and damp in all weather. Racks and racks of expensive wines line the walls and extend into long hallways, like the bookshelves of a library. Baskets of fruit from the orchard are stacked towards the front of the cellar for easy access. Cobwebs dangle from the corners. The farmer has never fully explored the wine cellar, because it is a massive undertaking, but he believes he will be able to keep his guests in expensive wine for several years before having to restock. The Wittgensteins must have been lushes.

Linen Closet – The tiny closet is stacked with monogrammed towels as well as blankets, sheets, and other linens. Guests can also get paper towels and toilet paper here. A laundry basket is here as well, although guests are also encouraged to leave their linens on their bathroom floors to be picked up.

Lebanon Room – The Lebanon is one of the standard sized rooms, with a single queen-sized bed and easily enough space for two occupants (or two and a child.) Apportioned with a couch and a love seat, the Lebanon is otherwise unremarkable. Like all the rooms it has an independent bath and a TV with satellite. The decorations are Lebanese, a bit of a cheeky choice for the farmer, who obviously named the room after the central PA town of Lebanon and not the country. As such, it has a light Middle Eastern flair to it, and the farmer has put a fine Arabian rug down and sometimes keeps exotic spices in the potpourri pots. The Lebanon is above the house office.


Red Rose Executive Suite – The Red Rose Suite is the finest room in the house. Nearly two times the size of any of the other rooms, the farmer envisions it as the room for V.I.P.s. It has two king-sized beds and a massive mirror spanning the two. The farmer fills it with vases of roses fresh from his rosebushes when they are in season. Luxury is the watchword in the Red Rose suite, and consequently the occupants usually pay quite a bit more. Tonight, though, is opening night and the farmer may simply be out to impress and will charge normal rates. Like all the other rooms, it contains a bath, but this is the only one that has a Jacuzzi. The Red Rose is above the dining hall and the foyer.

Gettysburg Room – The Gettysburg Room is the bachelor suite of the house. It’s the only room with a single bed. The room is decorated with a miniature cyclorama of the Battle of Gettysburg which a local muralist painted for a song. Aside from the cyclorama, which is the centerpiece of the room, a few Civil War artifacts decorate the room, mostly scrounged from local flea markets although the farmer hopes that one day if the B&B becomes extremely profitable to upgrade to some more expensive artifacts. Like all the rooms, it has a toilet and shower. The Gettysburg is above the owner’s apartment.

Hallway – The hallway is the shared space between the guest rooms and the linen closet on the second floor. A few paintings line the walls, and the floor is carpeted, but otherwise it is unremarkable. Roughly in the center of the hallway is an access door to the attic, with a dangling cord that anyone taller than 5 feet can easily grab and release collapsible stairs.

Parking Lot – Between the homestead and the toolshed is an asphalt parking lot with a basketball hoop. At present, the parking lot is empty. The farmer plans to have the country road paved someday (if he hasn’t chosen to do so already) so that guests can park right at the B&B. Guests are welcome to play hoops if they are so inclined – they certainly won’t be disturbed by any traffic.

Attic – The attic is the most unkempt room in the house, with the possible exception of the wine cellar. There is a large window here which leads out to the slanted roof. A person could easily crawl out onto the roof through this window if he so chose. Otherwise, the attic is lined with cardboard boxes, mostly seasonal decorations and the Wittgensteins’ old belongings which the farmer hasn’t disposed of yet. There is no proper floor here, just pink fiberglass between the rafters and plywood nailed down to form a walking surface. A heavy person or a person who repeatedly jumps could easily fall through to the second floor.

White Rose Room – The White Rose is one of the standard sized rooms, with a single queen-sized bed and easily enough space for two occupants (or two and a child.) Apportioned with a couch and a love seat, the White Rose is otherwise unremarkable. Like all the rooms it has an independent bath and a TV with satellite. The decorations, when closely examined, show landmarks of the central PA town of York. When the bushes are in season, the farmer keeps a vase of white roses on the armoire here. The White Rose is above the owner’s apartment and the walk-in freezer. As such, the floor will be cold to the touch.

Carlisle Room - The Carlisle is one of the standard sized rooms, with a single queen-sized bed and easily enough space for two occupants (or two and a child.) Apportioned with a couch and a love seat, the Carlisle is otherwise unremarkable. Like all the rooms it has an independent bath and a TV with satellite. The decorations are themed after the American Revolutionary War, but they are nowhere near as elaborate or expensive as the Gettysburg Room. The Carlisle is above the parlor and the kitchen. Interestingly, there is a dumb waiter here that leads to the kitchen (a relic from when it was servants quarters for the Wittgensteins.) The farmer will usually take care to avoid putting children in this room and will advise guests against playing with the dumb waiter. He keeps it locked with a simple padlock, but you know how people are.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Dread and Breakfast: Completed Questionnaire

Ok, so with this player's permission, I'm going to show you an example of how someone completed a guest questionnaire.  One thing I found fascinating was how the various players, even the ones such as the guests who were given IDENTICAL questionnaires, all found wildly different ways to answer.  That's part of the fun of this game.  So, without further ado, I give you "George Worthy:"

1. What do you do for a living and what do you wish you were doing instead?

Civil engineer; astronaut

2. What brings you to a Bed and Breakfast in the middle of Lancaster county? Is this your ideal vacation or do you wish you were somewhere else?

Mom got half-off deals for the rooms. I would prefer more activity but will welcome the silence nonetheless.

3. Which friend or family member came with you to the B&B? Why did this person come with you?

Mother. She wanted to go antiquing and I wanted to get out of my area and reconnect.

4. What do you have packed in your suitcase? Which one of those objects will you keep hidden from the other players at all costs?

Clothes, pencil and pad, binoculars, tennis (stress) ball; not-exactly-prescription painkillers (let's say oxycontin)

5. You once had to kill an animal. Describe the circumstances, how you felt about it then, and how you feel about it today.

A distant relative had a farm (not nearby) and while visiting the older cousins held down a lamb and made me cut the throat. At the time I felt a mixture of trying to feel pleased about "fitting in" and being haunted by the screams. Now it's still disturbing but I'm more irritated that I was suckered by peer pressure.

6. What one thing will you give up anything to protect? Your country, a family member, your wealth, or something else entirely?

Anything to protect my current fiancee. Things are not going so well between us right now though.

7. What is your crippling physical or mental weakness?

Besides the drug dependency, claustrophobia and water that I can't stand in are paralyzing.

8. How did you lose your first fortune?

Withdrawing my investment from a friend's start-up soon after college. Bad blood after that, but then it took off. His company went public around this time last year.

9. Where did you first hear about the B&B? Do you know the owner personally? What made you decide on this one?

I used to get newsletter emails for some reason. Do not know the owners. Mom found the deal too hard to resist and I needed dome temporary distance between myself and my place.

10. How did your pet once save your life?

Cassie kept me from sleeping through a gas leak. She pawed at my face and meowed and hissed until I was able to crawl outside and call the fire department. After we got outdoors Cassie ran into the wooded area near our place. Fortunately nothing horrible resulted from the leak. Two weeks later, Cassie came back and looked terrible. I figured I owed it to her to do whatever it took to get her better but two months later she died.

11. What is your secret skill that you are immensely good at but immensely embarrassed about?

Remembering numbers, specifically digits of pi. To 300.

12. When your parents used to keep you up in the middle of the night by yelling at each other, what did you do?

Tent the sheets and play action figures

13. What is your name? Who were you named after and why?

George Ruth Worthy. Named for the baseball player due to my parents' fandom and being born on the same date and hospital as the previous Babe. Apparently my parents did not consider the implication of "Ruth" as a middle name for those less versed in baseball history. Played my share of little league games but stopped after middle school (was mostly for the parents' approval)

Monday, October 24, 2011

Dread and Breakfast: Questionnaires

All right, so character creation for Dread is PURELY backstory.  You don't need a rulebook, you don't need to roll for stats (remember, everything is Jenga based) you don't need to do jackshit except make up a person you want to pretend to be.

The host (the person in the game who plays the role of narrator) is going to make up a questionnaire for each player to fill out.  The host may have very specific ideas about what kind of characters he wants or not.  One of the scenarios in the Dread rulebook was a high school-based horror story, so he made questionnaires specifying that one character was a cheerleader, one was a jock, one was a nerd, etc.   

The idea behind the questionnaire is to assume that every question includes a "how" and a "why" and if the player raises questions with his response, he should go ahead and answer those questions, too.  The whole purpose is to give the host insight into the psychology of the character (since nothing else matters but making everyone start to feel that palpable dread.)

For "Dread and Breakfast" I had a specific role for four players (the Farmer, Investigator, Stranded Player, and the Criminal) and everyone else were just guests at the B&B.  The questionnaires don't vary that much, but there are more leading questions for the more specific roles.  The magic number, by the way, for questions is 13, with the 13th being "what is your name."  That's not a hard and fast rule, and the host is encouraged to send follow-up questionnaires if he so chooses.  (I believe I did so with the Farmer in this case.) 

I sent the questionnaires individually to the players, along with the overview, about two weeks ahead of time so I could really integrate their characters into the story.  They're all fairly similar, although for a good changeup, compare the guest and the criminal.  Take a look at the sorts of questions I was asking, and in the next entry I'll show you a completed sample questionnaire.

GUEST QUESTIONNAIRE

FARMER QUESTIONNAIRE

STRANDED PLAYER QUESTIONNAIRE

CRIMINAL QUESTIONNAIRE

INVESTIGATOR QUESTIONNAIRE

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Dread and Breakfast: Overview

So for the first game of Dread that I ever ran, I put quite a bit of effort into it.  The first thing I did was to develop a scenario.  I didn't reveal all of the scenario information to the players at once, so I wrote up an overview which would give them the information they needed to develop their characters.  Below is the scenario incorporating every character.  I then e-mailed the players a questionnaire (which we'll get to in the next post) along with a copy of this overview, tailored to their specific player.  Rather than list all five of the individual overviews, I'm posting this composite one which incorporates all of the characters.  So, for instance, the player who was stranded simply knew that he was stranded, not where he was and who else might be there.  The bed and breakfast owner knew he was expecting guests, but not the criminal.  And so on.

OVERVIEW

Deep in the heart of Lancaster County, the breadbasket of Pennsylvania, a massive country manor recently went vacant. The wealthy owners of the farmstead disappeared under mysterious circumstances, and beyond that simple fact, virtually nothing is known. One player, THE FARMER, left the city of Philadelphia for reasons of his or her own and purchased the farmstead. He or she decided to set up a Bed and Breakfast on his or her new land, and tonight is the first night it is open for business.

As the afternoon wanes into dusk, the other players arrive. Some are simply GUESTS, willing or dragged along by a spouse or significant other. Other players may have been STRANDED there – their cars broke down or their crop duster ran out of fuel and they had to make an emergency landing. A few CRIMINALS, though, have truly sinister motives. They may be out to rob the farmstead, kidnap or rape its owners, or simply to wreak some havoc with crop circles and cow-tipping. Rumor has it that one of the registered guests is also an INVESTIGATOR of some sort, though no one is sure if he or she works for the IRS, the police, or is a private eye hired for some reason.

When all the guests (invited and uninvited) have arrived, a feeling of melancholy settles over the farmstead. Cell phones are far out of range of any towers, and the century-old manor has no landlines. The nearest neighbors are hundreds of acres away, and are mostly Amish anyway. This is all part of the B&B’s appeal – to get away from all the hustle and bustle of modern life. Which is all well and good as long as nothing untoward happens…

(Keep in mind that it is modern day and no science fiction or fantasy elements have been introduced...yet. If you have a compelling need to be Harry Potter on sabbatical or Captain Kirk come back in time to save the whales, I’ll consider it, but try to stick to ordinary, mundane humans of the modern age. Whoever volunteers for each role will have a slightly different questionnaire. There should be at least one FARMER. There should be no more than one STRANDED PLAYER, CRIMINAL, or INVESTIGATOR. As many characters as want can be simply GUESTS.)

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

What is "Dread?"

And now, for something completely different, I'm going to start updating this blog again.

Zing!

No, that was of course just a pithy statement since this blog is easily updated once, sometimes twice a month.  But I am going to talk about something I usually don't: a roleplaying game.

Wait, where are you going?  Come back!

Yes, roleplaying games (or RPGs for the initiated) are for complete losers.  But you're on the internet right now reading some guy's obscure writing blog, so what does that make you?  Exactly.  But I'm going to be honest (which I almost never have been before on this blog): I'm prety ambivalent about RPGs.

I love the role-playing part of it, developing a character and creating a story with other people.  But since RPGs are mostly played by a certain breed of people, let's call them future job creators, they tend to be rules-heavy.

Like, EXTREMELY rules-heavy.  Like, I never know what the hell I'm doing because there's fifteen dice rolls and willpower checks (what?) between me and ordering a beer at the local tavern.

So me being not particularly a future job creator, I've always been a little on the fence about RPGs.  Then one of my dear, dear friends introduced me to a game that is exactly in my bailiwick: Dread.

Dread is a horror RPG (yeah!) with almost no rules.  In fact, to prove that point, I'm going to list all of the rules right now:

1.)  Set up a Jenga board.  One person plays the host, who is running the game, and every other person at the table is a player.

2.)  The success or failure of every action made by a player is determined by pulling a block out of the Jenga board.  There are two kinds of pulls: compulsory and voluntary.

3.)  Compulsory pulls are mandated by the host.  For example, the host could say, "If you want to hotwire the car, you have to make a pull."  If a player successfully pulls the block out, he was successful at his action.  If he refuses to make the pull, he failed at his action.  If he pulls out a block and the tower tumbles, he dies/goes crazy/is removed from the game in a horrible way. 

4.)  Voluntary pulls are requested by the players.  For example, the player could come to a door and the host says nothing, but the player says, "I elect to check the door for booby traps."  Again, he either succeeds, fails, or dies horribly.

5.)  The only other rule is that a player can make a heroic sacrifice.  If he elects to knock the Jenga board over, he succeeds magnificently at whatever he was trying to accomplish, while dying horribly in the process.  For example, the players could be surrounded by man-eating aliens and one player elects to stay behind and set off a grenade so the others can escape.

6.)  Since the rules are so simple, character creation is purely about background.  The host creates a questionnaire, sometimes tailored to the player, sometimes not, full of leading questions.  You get to decide who you are, and then you sit down and play.

That's it.  Seriously.  The rest of it is developing an atmosphere of, well, dread.  In honor of Halloween, I'll be hosting a game on October 30 if any of my real-world friends are interested.  Meanwhile, all of my blogosphere friends get a special treat: over the next few weeks I'll be posting all the information from the last scenario of Dread that I ran, "Dread and Breakfast." 

For one thing, this well help me focus a little bit and think about the new scenario that I'm developing, "You Can't Go Home Again."  For another thing, it'll let the people that actually played the game last time have a glimpse into my demented psyche and planning process.  And finally, it's a pretty fun little scenario that anyone who wants to can appropriate and play.  I hope it'll encourage you to try the game.  You can, of course, buy the rulebook from the website here, or you can pretty much just go by the rules that I listed.  (IT'S REALLY THAT SIMPLE.)

Here's looking forward to a new blogging/gaming experience this Anytober.

Monday, September 19, 2011

I think we all know what today is...

It's the 63rd anniversary of God bestowing Jeremy Irons on the world.  Happy Birthday, big guy!  Have a slice of cake.  I'm sure your svelte physique can handle it.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Public Service Announcement: Ending BJ's Reign of Terror

As you know, we here at Manuscripts Burn are nothing if not concerned citizens.  So, in the interests of the public welfare, we are going to do our part to help stamp out one of the great cancers of modern society. 

No, not cancer. 

Billy Joel. 

To that end, kids are sometimes interested in "experimenting" with new drugs and/or solo puss-rock icons.  You may have seen a county fair with "beer goggles" that you can wear and then drive really funny in a golf cart like you're drunk.  The premise behind this is that it will encourage kids to not drink.  With that in mind, you can consider this post the Billy Joel equivalent of county fair beer goggles (a sentence which has almost certainly never before been written.) 

Parents, rather than let your kids listen to an LP or even a 45 of one of BJ's greatest hits, just let them peruse this helpful summary.  They can get all the flavor of Billy Joel's songwriting without any of the nasty after-effects of actually listening to one of his songs.

1.)  Scenes From an Italian Restaurant - Two burgeoning alcoholics talk about how shitty their lives are.

2.)  Piano Man - I, Billy Joel, am far too good for this bar I'm playing in, and all of my fans are morons who will never amount to anything.

3.)  Allentown - Fuck Allentown.

4.)  Captain Jack - God, you're a disgusting druggy. All of my fans are disgusting druggies who I, Billy Joel, personally despise. (P.S. You'll never amount to anything.)

5.)  Movin' Out (Anthony's Song) - Oh, you think you can do better for yourself? Fuck you. Learn to love your shitty lot in life.

6.)  The Entertainer - My fans are still assholes who won't go anywhere in life, but at least I don't have to work in that godawful piano bar anymore.

7.)  It's Still Rock and Roll To Me - All music that is not Billy Joel music sucks.

8.)  She's Always a Woman to Me - I also hate my wife.

9.)  You May Be Right - Fuck you, you're not right. I, Billy Joel, am clearly right.

10.)  We Didn't Start the Fire - Everything that has happened since 1949 has explicitly revolved around me, Billy Joel.

11.)  Big Shot - You think you're better than me? NO ONE is better than me.  Ass.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Modesty

Bit of a head-scratcher today.  After reading this article today out of what I can only justify as perverse curiosity, I was struck with a thought:

"What?"

If you can't be bothered to read the whole article, the gist of it is that wearing a bikini at the beach is the physical and basically the moral equivalent of walking around in just your underwear.  So far so good.  This is actually a very reasonable and cogent argument.  It's the kicker that gets me.  It's the "therefore we shouldn't do it" bit.

So I've been sitting here ever since with my wheels turning, trying to figure out what the logic is behind this argument.  And I don't get it.  Why would God care what we wear?

If you're interested to know, and I have no recollection if I've ever discussed this on the blog before, but I'm not really an atheist or an agnostic.  If I had to be pigeonholed I would tend to say I'm a Roman Catholic, but that's not the whole story.  It would take more than the scope of an entire blogpost to describe where I stand religiously/faith-wise/spiritually.  Without trying to sound super high on myself, I think the best way to describe it would be to say that I'm in a state of spiritual crisis.

Point being: I'm not an atheist out to just bash somebody else's beliefs, but neither am I lockstep fundie who's not going to think about things.

So here's my problem.  Didn't God make us naked?  Don't we come out naked?  At what point between being a baby and being, I don't know, thirteen or whatever, does being naked become bad?

Did God say anything about being naked?  As I recall, in the story of Eden, it was Adam and Eve that clothed themselves because they ate from the tree of knowledge.  And GOD WAS MAD AT THEM FOR DOING IT.  So, if anything, modesty should be considered a sin.

But, who am I to judge?  I have no idea.  I can't fathom how some people make the theological leaps they do.  But, I'm forced to wonder, how does someone who says that homosexuality is bad because it's "unnatural" also say that the decidedly unnatural state of being clothed is good?  I don't know.  I don't get it.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Top Ten Works of Great Literature That Sound Like They Might Also Be Slang For Poop

10.  A Passage to India
9.  Gravity's Rainbow
8.  Midnight's Children
7.  Finnegans Wake
6.  Darkness at Noon
5.  Three Men in a Boat
4.  The Red and the Black
3.  Portnoy's Complaint
2.  Leaves of Grass
1.  The Sorrows of Young Wether

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Plotting vs. That Other Thing

When I think about the great bullshit debates of our time (chicken v. egg, tastes great v. less filling, Nedna v. no Nedna) one stands head, shoulders, and crotch above the rest, at least in our little community.  Before I get started on this, let me take a moment to thank Steven Chapman for this blog post and advise you to avoid my abrasive writing style and just read his post, because he comes to pretty much the same conclusions, only in a much nicer way.

So.

Plotting v...

(shudder)

"Pantsing"

Yeah.  That's an actual (sort of) writerly term.  There are people in this world who willfully and deliberately describe themselves as "pantsers."  Where I come from, "pantsing" meant someone was going to rip off your trousers in order to embarrass you in front of a group of peers.  I still find it hard to avoid that connotation, and I am in fact quite embarrassed just to write the word down, as should all writers, in my humble opinion.  But it's the word we have, like blogosphere, and like blogosphere there are just times when we'll have to gnash our teeth, wail, and bear it.

So the argument goes something like this.  There are only two kinds of people in this world: those with loaded pistols and those who dig.  No, I'm just kidding.  There are only two kinds of people in this world: plotters and "pantsers."  Plotters sit down and with the work ethic of an ancient monastic order dutifully outlines his or her story, book, chapter, and verse, with presumably lengthy illuminated manuscripts detailing character backstories and descriptions of the setting, much of which will never get used and is simply there for "flavor."  So-called "pantsers" eschew that whole thing, and simply sit down and begin randomly stringing words and (quite possibly) letters together until, like a room full of monkeys on typewriters, a story marvellously and almost counter-intuitively comes into being.

(I'm not exaggerating here, by the way.)

So...

Yeah.

It's stupid.  Like, really fucking stupid.  Like, on the order of, "Shut up you fucking pretentious pseudo-intellectual, why won't you just die" kind of stupid. 

Whenever I hear people talking about this subject (which is thankfully rare) or, more often, when I see folk about the interwebs bloggin' on the matter 'n' sich, I have to roll my eyes and groan.  I understand that some people are more spontaneous and some people are less spontaneous in their writing styles, but is this really meaningful to our discourse?  I think Mr. Chapman kind of nails it on the head when he points out that it probably doesn't really affect your writing until you decide to label yourself as a plotter or a "pantser." 

Once you've decided you're a plotter you're going to sit there and insist that you screw every detail into place before you start writing, and guess what, that's fucking frustrating.  It's frustrating because it means you can't follow dialogue wherever its going, you can't let new characters into the mix because it might screw up your oh-so-carefully-constructed plot, and you end up railroading your characters, because they have to do whatever will take them to point B instead of what they might actually do as a fucking human being.  Which eliminates a lot of the verisimilitude that we're striving for as authors of fiction.

And, similarly, once you've decided you're a "other P-word" you've just insisted that you're going to come at every manuscript with a vague idea and not much else.  Really?  You're just going to let all that shit grow organically as it goes?  I mean, I love to read meandering nonsense that goes nowhere, but actually I don't I just said that because it's really hard to sound sarcastic right now because I'm already writing in a pretty jaded style. 

See, here's the thing.  I've done both.  Actually, not really both, because it's a false dichotomy.  I've done it all, I should say.  I've sat down with a title and made something out of it.  I've sat down and plotted and plotted and plotted down to the last shred of meaning short of just writing the fucking novel in one sitting.  The thing is, you've got to let the story come the way the story wants to come.  There's a reason why we still know what a "Muse" is and other dead Greek chicks not so much. 

It's not technically "true" that inspiration is coming to us from some fanciful spirit.  But the brain works in such marvelous, unpredictable ways that an idea is just as likely to come from being hit on the head by an apple in one instant to staring at a fig tree for 49 days.  The muse is a useful metaphor (not like these) and there is a reason why we best understand inspiration as a lady that sometimes whispers in your ear and sometimes doesn't and sometimes has to be appeased. 

Haven't you ever been standing in the shower and suddenly thought of the perfect thing to make your plot click into place?  Or run through a whole conversation between characters as you're driving to work?  (If you're a non-writer, don't worry that you haven't, that's probably a good thing.)  I guess what I'm saying is, inasmuch as labels can occasionally be useful, in this case, they are absolutely in no way useful.  Junk 'em.

(Also I once had a woman who I really have no respect for tell me that she was a "pantser" and then waited patiently for me to ask what that meant.  Since I already knew I just nodded and waited for her to stop talking.  Ever since then I just can't take anybody seriously when they say they're one or the other.  It's SO pretentious.)
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