Writering and Gaming (30/6/2010)

Posted in News

A few weeks ago I was at the UK Games Expo, last stop on an unplanned and impromptu little tour of panelling events that was accidentally co-incident with the release of King of the Crags. Or at least, it appeared accidental to me. This involved, never mind getting in free to something I’d have paid to visit, but being actually paid my expenses to show up. This is immensely cool, so thank you, UK Games Expo for that fleeting moment of feeling important.

In most panels I do[1], the subject of role-playing games gets raised at some point. Questions like ‘how did you get started as a writer’ or ‘what was the first story you wrote’ can’t get an honest answer without straying into the land of Dungeons and Dragons. Anyone who’s spent much time on my website won’t be surprised (what, you haven’t been reading Diamond Cascade, The Chronicles of the Anti-Kvothe)? When I mention D&D, I’ll get a reaction that, broadly, is one of three:

  1. Wow! Cool! He’s one of us!
  2. Whut?
  3. Eeeiieee, he’s one of them! Someone please teleport me to another panel.

I’m not proud to be a D&D player any more than I’m proud to be a five-a-side football player or to be someone who drinks coffee. It’s not something I feel any need to stand up for or justify, it’s a just a thing that I’ve done for the last pushing twenty-five years and would be quite happy to do for twenty-five more. Still, that last reaction does surprise me. I know that, to people who’ve never gone near a role-playing game, the whole concept can seem a bit strange. Making up stories and pretending to be someone else? Isn’t that a bit creepy? But guys, gals, I’m a writer now. Making up stories and pretending to be someone else is almost what I do for a living[3]. Is Salman Rushdie creepy because he makes up stories? Writers get let off because, well, apparently simply because we’re writers. Somehow we’re allowed. So if you can make a living from it, that’s fine, but if you simply do it for fun, that’s creepy[2]? I don’t get that.

The strangest thing, though, is that I never get reaction 4)

4) Well, duh, obviously spending years and years designing and then road-testing story-lines that need to be robust the the incalculable whimsy of a party of player characters who are under no obligation to follow your nominated plot-line and indeed will frequently go to great lengths to avoid doing so, obviously that’s going to teach you a thing or two about story design, and don’t even get me started on how self-evident it is that having to build a consistent and believable game-world might, y’know, help just a tad. And as for characterisation? It’s like in the name, dude! Role. Playing. I mean seriously, bro, it’s so patently obvious that RPGs are the perfect sandbox for anyone with a passion for stories that it’s like totally an insult to my intelligence that you even mention it.

Roleplaying games won’t necessarily make you a great story-teller, but if that’s what you want to be, they’re a great sandbox to play in while you’re learing.

The last person to give me one of those ‘you just fumbled your charisma check’ looks for mentioning RPGs had previously been extolling the virtues of giving a page in your notebook to each of your main characters for a description and a few notes on their habits and personality. Or, as we call them, character sheets. I didn’t say anything.

[1] One might argue this has something to do with the panels I sit on and the events I attend, but hush.

[2] I am old enough to remember a time when, apparently, we were all satanists. Fortunately, the rest of the world largely grew up.

[3] About half a living.

Into the Wild Once More (28/6/2010)

Posted in News

Weird. Today the corrected proof for The Thief-Taker’s Apprentice went back to Gollancz. I find proof corrections are the very worst part of the process of making a book. Partly because proof-reading is a different sort of reading and not one that I particularly like, and partly because I inevitably find clunky sentences and repetitions of words that I really REALLY wish had been sorted out at the copy edit stage.

The weird thing, though, is handing over the final paper manuscript knowing full well that there’s a review already published (yay – two more authors to add to my growing collection of people I have failed to be[1]) and copies have been on sale on e-bay for a month.

And yes, Clare, you can have some more.

[1] Failing to be other authors is easy. I succeed at it without even trying. In fact, I’m so good at it, I think I’m going to start a collection. Although I suppose the real art is to publish something under a nom-de-plume and then fail to be yourself.

Diamond Cascade: Finally, after so many tries

Posted in DC

Alturiak 8: For anyone planning a career as a thief, bandit or other profession that is likely to get you hunted by a posse of irate armed men whose treasure you’ve stolen, here’s a clue. Don’t run off into the night across open country after a heavy snowfall. It’s cold, the going is hard, and you won’t get very far. However, if you absolutely MUST go, then at least do SOMETHING about the monstrously obvious trail in the snow you’re going to leave behind. I mean, hello, fly spell? Pass without trace? At least a switchback and a false trail or two.

So Stalker and The Gnome. So good at running away and hiding that even we tracked them down before the middle of the next day. The fire and the thin little column of smoke were the biggest give away, at least after the trail in the snow and the fact that they’d basically followed the one road out. So we catch up with them. There’s a little bit of a ruckus for a moment as The Gnome kicks off and lobs a spell in my direction and I lob an arrow back and then we’re all like Stalker, dude, what was all that about? and Stalker is all, Ha HAA! I have a power you cannot imagine now, which was a bit odd and a frankly bit lame, and so we’re all what are you talking about, dude? I mean, could we at least talk it over next time before you do over half the town guard, and we’re not mentioning the fact that several of us would probably have happily joined in a night-time wealth-enhancement caper or two, but only not mentioning that because we’ve go a couple of town magistrates with us, and there’s a certain level of wondering whether we bring Stalker and The Gnome in like we’re supposed to or do we turn on the magistrates, only that would make us all outlaws in Osmuld, which wouldn’t be great, and anyway, Stalker is the nephew of the king now, apparently, so wouldn’t that be OK because they’d just let him go in the end and let’s face it, none of us liked The Gnome anyhow, and I’m paying a little bit of attention to all this talk but mostly I’ve got my eye on where Stalker’s loot bag is stashed. It’s all a bit uncertain where this is going and who might actually side with whom…

Until Shifty slips around the back and sticks a knife in The Gnome’s ribs and it’s all downhill from there.

Stalker goes for Shifty, the magistrates go for Stalker, I’m piling in trying to separate them, thinking… I don’t know what. That I might save The Gnome from bleeding to death? That Shifty is every bit as much a murderous bastard as Stalker? That I might stop anyone from killing anyone else? Could have done nothing and watched. Didn’t. All I can say as to the whys of that is that no one else did die and that somehow, in the confusion of the melee, Stalker’s treasure bag wound up on my horse without anyone noticing how it got there.

So now we’ve got him. Question is, what, by all the gods, do we do with him? He’s a murderer. He’s the king’s nephew (possibly) and he’s what passes these days for a friend.



Dragons For The Win (22/6/2010)

Posted in News

I have become a single dad, and a rather unwell one at that, for the week, so this will be short. Gemmells: Hurrah for dragons and congratulations through gritted teeth to Pierre Peveral and The Cardinal’s Blades for kicking my Adamantine butt in the Morningstar award. Also noted that the Empire, winner of the main Legend award probably took a lot of people by surprise, but was probably the most Gemmell-esque novel on the shortlist. So, justice. Also, for those of you who weren’t there, you missed the opportunity to get the ENTIRE GOLLANCZ OUTPUT for 2010 for a little over £200 in the auction.

Order of the Scales went to my editor late last week, this week is proof-reading The Thief-Taker’s Apprentice.

Also, am watching with amusement as the old football powers of Europe struggle their way through the group stages of the World Cup and start to crash out. It seems to me that we all expect England, France, Germany and Italy to dominate their groups and when they don’t we mutter at how bad they were with perhaps not enough regard for the ‘lesser’ nations that keep thwarting their progress. Serbia, New Zealand, Algeria and South Africa might not have the same talent available, but that’s clearly not the end of the story and often their passion and desire have made them a joy to watch. Makes me wonder whether the same can be said of genre fiction writers. Are we all trying to be George RR Martin? No, we’re doing our own thing. We’re playing the same game, that’s all.

Blah blah. I can haz sleep now?

Diamond Cascade: The Madness of Gnomes

Posted in DC

Alturiak 7: I’d really like to think it was some sort of dark magic, but it wasn’t. I’d like to say it was OK. All the stories of the epic heroes have gaps in them. And then Diamond Cascade got to wherever he was going. They all gloss over the dull bits where nothing much happens. And for some reason Stalker and The Gnome weren’t with him any more. That doesn’t smack of nothing much happening. I suppose I could make up something heroic for them, but there are too many people know the truth for that. A whole town of them. Don’t talk about it, that’s probably the way. And then Diamond Cascade got to wherever he was going. And spin something dramatic from whatever events occur there and never mention who’s dropped out of the story and why.

So what really happened? I’ve seen it before. Tired, bruised, bloody band of heavily armed wanderers come in to a small border town late in the day. Town guard take one look at them, don’t like what they see, and demand that swords are handed over, oh and by the way, that pair of wolves you’ve got, they’re dangerous wild animals and they’re not coming in. Now if you’re me, you’re thinking yeah, whatever, all I want is a tavern with some half-decent wine and a bed with a passable mattress and if I’m in luck, someone to warm it with me. Maybe, if you’ve got an old head with a bit of wisdom, you can see their point. There’s a war on. Band of strangers wander in. Could be anyone. Could be who they say they are, could be agents of the enemy, here to slaughter the night watch and open the gates in the middle of the night to gods-know what that’s out there. But then maybe, if you’re Stalker, what you’re thinking is that the sword you’re being asked to give over to some stranger is the one thing that;s kept you alive for the last week. You’re thinking that there are corpses of a dozen slimeys and thuggers out there, and that your sword still has their blood on it. So you answer back, no, you’re not having these swords, why don’t you have a couple of gold coins instead, go enjoy your evening and leave me alone. And then if you’re the town guard, you’re thinking no, that;s the sort of thing that a band of enemy spies would try, so no, actually, now you;d be much happier if this gang of over-armed strangers was locked up in the cells until you had a chance to find out a little more about them. And now you’re Stalker again, who’s stared at death one time too many in the last few days, and no, you’re not giving up your sword, not to anyone, not for anything. And then the next thing you know, before anyone can do more than stare open-mouthed in disbelief, someone idiot draws and there are five dead guardsmen lying around the gate.

The Gnome pitched in, warped the gates and the two of them fled back out into the night. There’s a span of snow on the ground and a lot more comes down in the night. Chances are they didn’t get too far. The rest of us, we had over our swords and meekly spend out night in the cells. So much for a bed and a bottle and a woman. In the morning, they kick us out. Chuck us back outside the gates and close them behind us. Surprisingly generous, really. Other places might have hung us simply for someone to hang. It’s pretty clear that we’re not getting back in unless it’s with Stalker and The Gnome in chains between us. I can’t even bring myself to ask what the bounty is fro bringing them back. Don’t know whether I want to or whether I want to let them go. But we’ll go after them, that much is for sure. Don’t know what we’ll do when we catch them, but we’ll go after them. They’ve got our loot.


Cake And Orange Juice (15/6/2010)

Posted in Critical Failures

I was at a children’s party over the weekend. The Sithlings get invited to enough that I have a pretty shrewd idea what to expect, but for those of you who don’t know, it goes roughly like this:

Most of the children will know each other. They are all ‘friends,’ although being children, they will occasionally have fallings out over nothing much and acts of random meanness may occur. Little alliances are routinely formed and then broken. However, to start with, none of this matters. Energy levels are high. Excitement fills the air. The odd little setback or contretemps is quickly resolved and forgotten.This lasts for about fifteen minutes, the exploration-of-the-new-environment stage. There may be a few minor upsets, trips, falls, random acts of perceived injustice and so forth during this time, but they are isolated and quickly repaired.

This is what we parents (behaviour regulators in the normal course of things) think of as Golden Time: They’re all off playing together, doing whatever they do that generally seems to involve lots of running and climbing and shouting, but that’s all fine because they’re doing it without any supervision, and there are few words more glorious to the parent of a small child than ‘without supervision.’

Play continues, increasingly more frantic and manic games develop as they bolt on more and more ideas to whatever basic aliens-vs-predators or plants-vs-zombies game they started out with. Restraint falls away; everyone’s playing flat-out, all striving to be the loudest, the best, the leader, the strongest, getting more and more excited and more and more hyper on less and less energy.

Eventually the inevitable happens, somewhere around the hour-and-a-quarter mark. Someone trips someone else up.  Someone’s invisible friend says something to someone else’s invisible friend. Someone gets thumped. Someone pushes someone. The shouting turns to tears and the next thing you know there’s a whole gang of children shown up all crying and pointing and telling you who did what to whom and how no one is their friend any more and how they want to go home and mope in their room all day listening to My Chemical Romance, only emerging during the hours of darkness.

No, wait, that last bit comes later.

So their little worlds go from utopia to horror-filled nightmare-of-social-injustice in the space of a minute. But fortunately, we are prepared, because we know this is going to happen. So we sit them down around a table. Ten minutes of calming down, a slice of cake and a big glass of orange juice and they’re ready to again.

Anyway, we were having our peace and quiet before the inevitable crash. I was sat with a friend I haven’t seen for a little while who does stuff to do with money, so I asked him what I’ve been asking everyone who can spell ‘bank’ of late: Where did the money go?[1]

We reckon it went roughly like this:

Most of the bankers will know each other. They are all ‘friends,’ although being bankers, they will occasionally have fallings out over nothing much and acts of random meanness may occur. Little alliances are routinely formed and then broken. However, to start with, none of this matters. Energy levels are high. There’s lots of shouting and waving bits of paper. Excitement fills the air. The odd little setback or contretemps is quickly resolved and forgotten.

Eventually the inevitable happens. Someone trips over a string of bad debts. Someone pushes someone. Everyone’s invisible moneyfriend falls out with everyone else’s invisible moneyfriend. The shouting turns to tears and the next thing you know there’s a whole gang of bankers shown up all crying and pointing and telling you who did what to whom and how no one is their friend any more and how they want to go home and mope in their room all day listening to My Chemical Romance, only emerging during the hours of darkness.

Seven trillion pounds. Most expensive cake-and-orange-juice ever.

[1] I once had this silly naïve little thought that banks ran short of money when they lent it to people and didn’t get it back. But no. We’re talking about stuff that’s not actually real, but serves a useful purpose as a psychological prop. That sort of money. So, in essence, they run short of money when their invisible friend falls out with someone else’s invisible friend. And that, I’m afraid, is as good an explanation as most of us are ever likely to get.

Diamond Cascade: The Making of Kings…

Posted in DC

Stalker the nephew of a king? Hard to credit, all things considered, but the soldiers seemed to believe it. They called him Corren. Same name we heard in Neverrest. For better or worse, we’re in the game now. Stalker with a crown? King Stalker? The possibilities are endless . . .


The Worth of a Man (8/6/2010)

Posted in News

As I write this, there are two ARCs of The Thief-Taker’s Apprentice available up on eBay. One of them is signed, the other is unsigned. The difference in price is considerable. My thoughts on this are conflicted. Along the lines of:

Wow. That’s a lot of money for a book.

So my signature is worth that much? Coo.

To someone else.

Which bit of NOT FOR RESALE isn’t clear?

The book isn’t out for NEARLY THREE MONTHS yet.


I’ve signed exactly two ARCs of The Thief-Taker’s Apprentice. Signed them at Forbidden Planet. I’m really quite sure I haven’t signed any others, and, well, the fact that it’s got a date on it kind of dots the i’s and crosses the t’s quite nicely. So, Britobooks, now I know who you are. The question is, do I mind?

On one level yes, simply because ARCs state that they are NOT FOR RESALE and so selling them on e-bay is riding roughshod over the wishes of the publisher, who presumably supplied said ARC free and gratis and entirely at their own expense. And my publisher is my friend and if you upset my publicist, you upset me in a big sticking together all-on-the-same-team group-hugging kind of way.

But should I care? Exactly how does an author, lose out? So what if it’s on sale on eBay? Seriously, is there anyone so desperate to read The Thief-Taker’s Apprentice that they’re prepared to pay five times the recommended retail price just to get it three months early? No. So it’s going to go to a collector who’s only interested in it because it’s an expensive and a rarity. In fact, signing the ARC is a marginal win for me, isn’t it, since it pushes the price up and ensures that the book isn’t bought by a casual reader who might otherwise have bought a copy from a shop. Since that ARC would otherwise presumably have languished in a box and might now be read, leading to the (unlikely, perhaps, but still extant) possibility of enthusiasm, further book purchases, reviews, etc., strictly I think I should be pleased it’s on e-bay instead of in a box.

Well I’m not. Publication day is three months away, the ARC is in ‘fine unread condition’ (one therefore assumes no review will be forthcoming[2]). Britobooks, you have cost me nothing, but  your don’t-give-a-shit attitude is rude and makes my publicist sad. I wave my private parts at you, fart in your general direction and speak your name to my friends in Her Majesties Revenue and Customs. However…

Let’s suppose, for a moment, that Britobooks, whoever he/she is, had in fact read the ARC and had reviewed it (and is simply waiting, as asked, for a few days before publication before releasing their review into the wild) and had waited until after publication day[3]. The ARC has served its purpose and a surfeit of ARCs, after all, is a problem… So if it’s sold on e-bay, who exactly loses? If an ARC is read, reviewed and then sold after the first edition is in the shops, frankly why should either author or publisher care? [1]

(Progress report: Working on the last rewrite of OOTS. Can’t decide if it’s a disordered mess or the best thing I’ve ever written. Possibly both. Aiming to submit to my publisher around about the day of the Gemmells).

[1] My personal preference would be for spent ARCS to find their way to charity shops and be read several times more rather than languish on the shelves of a collector, but hey, you take the trouble to write a review, I’m not going to complain.

[2] Also, from a quick stock check of other signed proofs in their store, I can also reveal that I’m worth about a quarter of an Abercrombie. I find I can live with that.

[3] Late edit: It’s been pointed out to me that early release of ARCs into the wild like this then leads to the possibility of pre-release torrenting of the book, and that surely does hurt both author and publisher.

Diamond Cascade: And My Other Name Is…

Posted in DC

Alturiak 5: Even as Diamond Cascade and his brave friends prepared the defences that would hold the orcish hordes for those precious few hours, a ray of hope descended. Soldiers from Osmuld, a small party of mounted men watching the borders. Appraised of the situation and of the desperate plight of the Halflings, these brave men at once offered to stay and add their swords to Diamond Cascade’s own. A fine offer, yet one that was refused. Let them ride, away to spread the word, let them rally the brave swords of Osmuld against the invader, let them spread the word of Diamond Cascade and his deeds so they might inspire others to follow in his path. Let the tale of one brave sword and noble heart that stands in the invaders way forge a hundred, and those hundred each forge a hundred more! Let righteous might and thunder rolls through these hills and scatter evil to the sea!

Swayed by the wisdom of Diamond Cascade’s words, the good soldiers of Osmuld quickly galloped away to sound the alarm and call forth the good swords of the north, but it is not before the mystery of Stalker’s memory is solved: It seems he is none other than Lord Corren, nephew of the King of Osmuld himself! This joyous news flooded our hearts, and as the sun set, we steeled ourselves to face the orc once more. Nor did they disappoint us. Goblin wolf-riders, drawn to our lures. Long and hard Diamond Cascade and his valiant fellows fought them off, slaying many. Many a wound was taken too, yet in the end, Diamond Cascade prevailed and the orc was turned away. For good? No. But for long enough for the poor beaten halfling wretches we had seen on the road? Yes. Tired, battered, bruised, bleeding, yet with soaring spirit, Diamond Cascade and his friends turned north once more to Osmuld.

We find ourselves a hill overlooking the refugee road. A place we can defend. We set some traps and some alarms and wonder why we are doing this. I don’t think half of us know. But I do.

I reckon I was fifteen years old. You lose track of time in the army, and what with half of us trying to make out we were older than we were so we could join the regular foot and the other half pretending we were younger than we were so we didn’t have to, it all got a bit confusing. We’d been fighting for most of the summer. We’d been pushing the slimeys and the the thuggers back. Didn’t know much about where we were. March here, march there, draw battle lines, a mad few hours of fighting, that was about it. Even the locals hardly knew whether we were pushing forward or pulling back, and I came from the other side of the island. But I’d say we were winning. We’d had a few skirmishes and one hard pitched battle and we’d come away intact. I’d seen a lot of dead slimeys by the end of that summer, a lot more of them than of us. Most with our arrows sticking out of them.

Late summer. We were on the march again. Hard and fast, off to some town called Barresford. Never heard of it. What I can tell you now is it’s a place you can cross the river that marks the border Osmuld. We’d pushed the enemy right back to where they’d come from. Didn’t know that then, though. Two days of marching, all the time being told we were up for the biggest battle yet, that this was going to be the end, we were going to trap the enemy and slaughter him, put an end to the slimeys and the thuggers once and for all. We’d driven them back, there was nowhere left for them to go and now we’d dam the river with their corpses. That sort of thing. We were ready.

We were a day late. They’d crossed the river already. Mostly. Twenty thousands soldiers, waiting for us on the other side. An advance force had arrived, though, a few days earlier. A thousand men. Freed the townspeople and told them the war was nearly over, that the last horde of the enemy was about to be broken, right on their doorstep. Whipped them up into a mad fervour. So when the horde came and the Osmuld regulars still hadn’t arrived yet, the townspeople and that one regiment of the King’s Guard, they stayed. Didn’t run away like sensible folk, but stayed and fought.

They were slaughtered. A thousand men-at-arms, as many again men, women and children. All of them. Slimeys didn’t have time to do much more than kill them and then set the place on fire; they knew we were coming and they knew they couldn’t face us. So they heaped up the bodies or just left them where they lay and torched the place and crossed the river. We caught up with them while the rearguard were still holding the town. Fought them through the ash-blackened streets, choking in the smoke and the stink of burned flesh. No battle lines drawn, no choreographed cavalry charges. No mercy, no remorse, no quarter, no pausing for breath. Just raw hate.

Barresford. It’s reek sank into our clothes. We stank of it for weeks. Burned flesh.

The slimeys, when they come, are cautious and disciplined. Not the sort of slimeys we’ve faced before. If they were anything else, I might even have some grudging respect for the way they fought. It was a long, bloody, brutal skirmish in the dark. I don’t know if we even killed any of them. Hurt a few, and they hurt us too. In the end they withdrew. Don’t know why. As soon as they were gone, so did we. We did our bit. Barresford or no, I’m not dying for bunch of lazy fat halfgits.


Racing to Twarmageddon (2/6/2010)

Posted in Critical Failures

I think I came close to some sort of mental collapse when Guilliermo del Toro quit The Hobbit. Not because of the event itself (bad enough), but because everyone, EVERYONE had to announce it. Even days later, my twitterstream was still reading something like this:

eastingspaghettibolognaisetonightDELTOROQUITSHOBBITfacebooksucks DELTOROHOBBITSHOCKisrealiskillsomemorepeoplebutnoonecares GUILLIERMODELTOROTOLEAVEHOBBIT!!!

Alright already. Can I not mourn in peace? Fortunately the Twitter servers didn’t collapse into an information black hole, there was no naked banality unprotected by a sense horizon and the four 140-character horsemen of the twapocalypse didn’t emerge to systematically convert the world to moronic matter at a subatomic level. Although I gather it was a close run thing.


I’ve been playing a Shadowrun game on and off for the last couple of months while our regular GM moves house, sorts his plot out and my Diamond Cascade posts catch up with where we’re actually at. Shadowrun, for those who don’t know, is a point’s based game which allows you to take certain inconvenient character traits in exchange for better skills at stuff. Things like having a bomb in your head that will explode when someone yells ‘Oi! Dickface!” at you, for example. Everyone should have one of those. Particularly people who drive Audis and BMWs. They should have really big ones [1].

Anyway, I’m a mathematician. Presenting someone like me with the opportunity to min-max a system I’ve never played before is a bit like going up to a crackhead, giving them a big lump of crack and then asking very nicely if they’d mind just looking after it for a bit and not smoking it. Fortunately this is a system that doesn’t allow you to go completely mental and end up with an immobile brain-in-a-jar with enough psychic powers to dissolve an entire planet into its component atoms every twelve hours or so (I miss you, Champions, I really do). So I have a media addiction. My character must spend two hours a day, every day, mindlessly surfing the internet. For this, I have earned myself half an extra point of charisma. Or logic. Or intuition. Or something. What a race of supermen we could become if the real world worked like that too, instead of the other way round.

[1] Sorry Dave [2]

[2] Yes, it did occur to me that you’d end up blowing yourself up too. Sometimes that seems like it would be worth it.