My second novel, Death and Doubling Cubes, has launched! You can now take a journey with Aladdin, Anya, and Aegenor through space, into the human mind, and deep into memory.
Learn the secrets of the creature Memnor, and join the adventure as our heroes try to stop it from taking their memories...
Featuring beautiful art by Rachel Johnson, and two bonus short stories after the main novel, this is a book you wont want to miss!
You can buy it right HERE:
Death and Doubling Cubes is a return to the Universe of 10,000 Dawns, but revolves around a different cast of characters with far different goals, personalities, and problems. Its a great read, so go check it out!
I did an interview with the Elkhart Truth Newspaper about my new novel Death and Doubling Cubes.
You can read the interview HERE.
Remember to buy Death and Doubling Cubes when it goes on sale on 6/29/17!
My second Novel, "Death and Doubling cubes is ready to go! I'm so excited you'll all get to read it soon. Feel free to use the facebook-sized banner above to help spread the word! Here's the full press release:
On June 29th, 2017, author James Wylder will release his second novel, “Death and Doubling Cubes.” The new book will take readers on a thrilling sci-fi adventure, taking them across the solar system and deep into the human mind. Told in the form of a report by an investigator into the novel’s events, the story follows a pair of teenagers fighting a strange creature called Memor that can steal people’s memories, seeking to gain the collective wisdom of all beings. Despite their conflicting upbringings, Aladdin, Anya, and Aegenor have to band together to stop Memnor, and save the minds of everyone they care about.
The novel features cover design and illustrations by Minneapolis artist Rachel Johnson, the illustrations fitting seamlessly into the book as investigative illustrations by the narrator. “I was amazed by how Rachel captured the feel of the characters, giving the book the aesthetics of golden age pulp sci-fi and comics with a modern twist,” author James Wylder said.
The novel was edited by Gwen Ragno, and will be published by Arcbeatle Press.
James Wylder is the author of the popular Doctor Who poetry book, “An Eloquence of Time and Space”, as well as two other poetry collections. Starting in January, he became the host of the live fiction show and podcast “Tales by the Blue Light” in Elgin Illinois through the Southgate Media Group. He has written several produced plays, and released one short story collection, as well as one other novel, “10,000 Dawns”. A resident of Indianapolis, James was born in Elkhart, Indiana, and is an alumni of Hanover college. Further info can be found at jameswylder.com.
He smeared paint over his face, the contacts had already gone in and an aide was spiking his hair up. The character formed in the mirror, red eyed and of no human color. More paint is slapped onto his back. Like the Tin-Man from the Wizard of Oz, he is completely covered up by costume and paint. He rises, and waits for the show to begin.
I first learned about the band Limp Bizkit as a child when I found a heavily scratched up copy of their album “The Chocolate Starfish and the Hotdog Flavored Water” in a parking lot. My parents let me keep it, since it was the censored version, and it was the first CD I owned that wasn’t the Beatles or Classical music. The album was almost unintelligible lyrically, as the censoring and scratches removed so many of the words it was very hard to follow. Here’s a good example of some of the lyrics of one of the songs as censored”
“Its a ___ world in a ___ place/ everybody’s judged by their ___ face. ____ Dreams. ___ Lives. ____ Kids with some ____ Knives.” -Hot Dog, Limp bizkit.
Now subtract maybe 10% of the words out of that from CD scratches and you have the strange art album I listened to over and over. I had no idea what the missing words were-- what was the meaning of the songs? It was only later that I learned what they were, and was massively disappointed. The songs weren’t quite as deep as I’d hoped, or imagined. Even so, Limp Bizkit held a weirdly special place in my heart: despite the lyrics being inane, there was something brutally honest about them. Like reading the first draft of a poem where someone has left all the emotion and honesty on the page without bothering to cut out the badly worded bits yet. It was raw and honest in a ways that more polished and dare I venture “good” music wasn’t. I was fascinated.
Under all of that though was some sheer musical brilliance. The drummer, John Otto provided a solid core, and the mixer/sampler DJ Lethal gave the band a fresh electronic edge. The band’s guitarist, Wes Borland, created clever and creative melodies under the lyrics, and the band’s bassist Sam Rivers played hard running and catchy baselines that carried the music forward in perpetuity.
Sam Rivers seems a decent guy, I actually talked with him on the phone for a few minutes once (more on that later) but it was Wes Borland who really captured my imagination. He performed in costume, slathering body paint on himself, making his body look ethereal and strange. Where other metal bands focused on looking either mega-dark or casual-cool, Borland looked completely different from anyone, even his own band. He changed up his own look constantly, finding amazing new visuals and abandoning them as soon as he’d mastered them. He was cross-breed chameleon peacock, ever changing and ever shifting to new forms. I was mesmerized. And then he did something that changed my artistic vision.
He left the band.
It wasn’t just that he left Limp Bizkit, though getting out of it certainly changed things, but it was what he did outside the band that really shifted my gaze. Instead of making the same things, Borland’s projects veered creatively into whatever the heck he wanted to do. There was “Duke Lion Fights the Terror” a comedy music album that told a loose and ridiculous story about a knight going on a quest to defeat foes like “the Blood Red Head on Fire”, and there was “Black Light Burns” his industrial music project that produced two strong studio albums, an album of covers and instrumentals, and then an album that plays as an alternate soundtrack to an art film. He also painted, producing some amazing works (my favorite is “This Guy’s Going to Eat Me Cause I Just Chopped My Head off” which is both playful and dark, while being artistically beautiful.) The sheer variety was wondrous. There had been this block in my head up to that point that an artist does one thing for the most part, that they were blocked into a genre. You wrote sci-fi. You painted and sculpted realistic figures. You wrote popular fiction. You drew comic art. You played rock. You played classical.
“Why stay in one spot?” his art whispered to me, “Just do all of it.”
So I have. The urge to try new things, to veer wildly, has stuck inside me. After my first big success, “An Eloquence of Time and Space”, a Doctor Who poetry book, there was a lot of pressure to just become a poet who wrote books where I wrote poems about every episode of TV shows. Financially, I probably should have. I should have sucked it up and crapped out books that I didn’t care about and raked in the cash. But I created “Eloquence” because I had a deep urge to, and creatively pushed myself for a year to complete it. When it was done, I’d learned all I could from it. Every now and then I consider doing another one (a Star Trek one might still happen in a reduced form someday), but I needed to do something different. So I started trying to really refine my prose writing, and began work on the project which has become 10,000 Dawns.
I am restless, but I finish my work. I want to create. I want to try new things.
And that came from Wes Borland.
Most people I know would assume that love came from David Bowie, but I only really got into Bowie after I was already deep into Borland’s work. Bowie’s self-reinventions and recreations were a strong source of inspiration for me as well, and have continually pushed me forward, but it wasn’t where it started. It started with a guitarist in a band largly regarded to be terrible.
When Wes Borland left Limp Bizkit, the band carried on and made an album called “Results May Vary” with a new guitarist. The album is the most cohesive thing Limp Bizkit ever made: the songs have a consistent tone and flow throughout them, and the lead singer Fred Durst’s bare-faced poetry lyrics take center stage. But at the same time, the album pulls back too much, putting forth the worst sin of the band: their eye-rolling machismo.
Limp Bizkit’s lyrics are often notably sexist in that, “I’m a nice guy, women should like me, and I’d be nicer if it wasn’t for all those %$3@ing women” way that plagues a lot of music from the early 90’s. “Results May Vary” ends up taking this to a new level with a lead single about stalking a girl. Not that the albums before it were paragons. As time goes on, the lyrics have aged worse and worse. The songs bring back fond nostalgic memories, but also a there’s a cringe-worthy undertone I didn’t notice as a teenage boy. You can’t go home again. Or at least you can’t unsee sexism. Or at least I can’t.
The aesthetic lines their music videos throughout their history: scantily clad backing dancers wearing Durst’s trademark backwards baseball cap pop in and out, ornamentation gilding the dandelion.
Borland rejoined Limp Bizkit later on, and they produced music pretty similar to their old catalog on their last release “Gold Cobra”. The lead off video from the album has an older, grayer, Fred Durst dancing in front of a group of young women in sports bras, athletic shorts, backwards baseball caps, and ski-goggles. A man skateboards up some concrete. A woman in a bikini and boxing gloves jumps up and down, letting parts of her body jiggle in front of the camera. Durst points at a woman’s butt as she dances. My eyes roll far into my head. I see my synapses. They’re somehow managing to roll their own figurative eyes. These aren’t young men anymore, and its hard to watch as they replay the aesthetics of their youth with utter sincerity, even as they film the video in noticeably cheaper filming locals than the ones in the videos they’re trying to mimic. You have to wonder how much reflection there was on the past, on what was and what will be, or if they simply stepped out of a time capsule doe eyed and blinking into the harsh light of the 2010’s.
There are simply too many reasons to cringe.
They have been working on a new album together since 2012. It hasn’t been released yet, and there is no launch in sight.
Meanwhile, Wes Borland, after a birth and a divorce, left Los Angeles and moved to Detroit with his new girlfriend Queen Kwong, who is the lead singer of her own band. Together they record and tour, and restore the house they bought in that city. He seems happy. Good for him.
Not long ago, he put out a new album made by no one but himself. There are no lyrics, and none of his trademark guitars. Its purely instrumental, with the concept that its the soundtrack to a movie that doesn’t exist, and its wonderful. Playful, experimental, different. Unique. Its what I love about art, the new and the weird. Something unsafe that can fail massively and burn to the ground. Something new.
I hope to make art like that. I hope to lead a fulfilling and moral life. I’ve never done anything as popular as the music Limp Bizkit made. I doubt any of my books have sold as well as the least of Borland’s solo work (though well, “Eloquence,” maybe). When I talk about how influential Borland was on me, I think people misunderstand that it was simply an influence on me when I was an angry young man hopped up on hormones an unable to grasp my own sense of the world, listening to angry music to temper my internal rage. Its hard to explain in short passing how he was such an influence on me as a writer. But he was.
I’ve wondered what he’d think of my poetry, prose, or plays. He might think they’re shit, honestly. I have no idea if I met him if we’d get along at all. I’ve felt in his art a kindred spirit, but a spirit isn’t a personality. I have no pretensions he’d like me. I got to meet another writer with a big influence on me, Garrison Keilor, a few years ago and I was very annoying I’m sure. Still, if there’s any living artist I’d want to meet, it would be him. Even so, I have no idea what I would say.
When Borland rejoined the band, Limp Bizkit bought a pre-paid phone and let die-hard fans call it. Different members would pick up and talk to fans for a few minutes. It was a great little treat for people who had stuck with them through thick and thin. I talked to Sam Rivers, the band’s bassist. I told him I’d never seen one of their shows. He said I should, naturally. I still haven’t. Time ticks on by, and where we end up changes. I’ve moved to Indianapolis, Borland is in Detroit. There are passing phone calls, and dreams of meeting our idols someday. But time drags the memories of our past work out in front of us. Lines we regret writing, things we didn’t understand in the past that make us cringe and moan. Being an artist means being a living breathing person who changes and is reborn, while stepping though concrete and leaving a trail of your footprints that you’re unable to wipe away. The worst you can do is be a timecapusule, to stand in the footprints you left and let your shoes sink into them.
Time may judge us, our work may fail us, but if we keep making art, there is always the hope we’ll be judged by the future rather than the past. I had one big success with “Eloquence”, and I’ll work for another one. Even if what I make is awful, I’ll keep marching forward. Time is chasing us all, so like Wes Borland, I’ll throw new paint on my back and take up a new song. I’ll toil and work, and craft, and write. Something will come of it. Something new.
That’s what being an artist is all about.
Bryan is a longtime friend of this site, and has done lots of interviews with me in the past. Its my pleasure to show you Bryan's new project: an awesome Comic Book Kickstarter you should all back!
Please introduce yourself Bryan!
Hello, I am the writer and creator of BareBones: Nice Nice Guys Finish Dead and I also run the entertainment site BareBones Ent.
So, tell us about your comic book?
The story is a dark, brutal and realistic take on the tradition superhero story. I feel that it really answers the question that if a victim of bullying acquired powers how would it change them? Would they fight for the greater good or seek revenge?
You’re a music blogger, what made you decide to merge that love with comics?
I have always been a big fan of both and have always been a writer so it kind of fit. I initially was just trying to create a mascot for my company and then my creative juices started flowing haha.
Who is the artist on the comic?
This awesome artist, Joseph Arnold, out of Colorado. We found each other on Reddit. I saw some of his prints and was sold on this print he had of the Power Rangers that was really sick. I knew my book needed him as the artist.
Why did you choose Kickstarter?
Kickstarter has really become such a great platform for comic creators, and we didnt have the money to fund ourselves.
Has this been an easy road so far or a struggle?
The comic part of it has been pretty easy, but the Kickstarter has definitely had a huge learning curve.
What’s the hardest part about this process been?
Bringing people in, for sure. You can have the best project in the world but it doesnt matter if no eyes are seeing it.
Does this comic relate to your own experiences with the music industry and scene?
Nope, not really. This all just came from my own mind.
What makes your comic special?
I think that it is a completely different take on traditional stories. Joseph and myself are trying to bring a whole new feel in the art and writing. How this series goes on, I don't think there is much else like it.
What were your main inspirations from comics?
Hmm..good question. I would say a big comic inspiration would be Polarity from Max Bemis that was released by Boom!
What about from music?
Nothing really from music. If you know movies though, later books are inspired some by Darkman.
So, you run BareBones Entertainment, could you tell us about that?
The site is an entertainment site that interviews bands, writers, etc. We also do reviews and features.
If you could get the finished comic into the hand of one musician: who would it be?
Max Bemis from Say Anything. I think he would dig it.
Where can we find your Kickstarter to back it?
I did an interview with L.S Engler, the editor of "World Unknown Review" about the story I wrote featured in Volume 3 of the publication, "To Catch a President"! I talk all about sci-fi, upcoming projects, and the story itself. Check it out below:
You can also pick up a copy of World Unknown Review Volume 3 at Amazon:
One experiment I tried last year was to create a Convention-Exclusive short story collection called "Tales From the 10,000 Dawns" to help build interest in 10,000 Dawns during my touring, especially since the novel hadn't been released yet. There was a lot of interest in the book from people online, but I decided to stick through the "Convention Only" gimmick. Now though, I've sold through nearly all the copies of the book I had printed, and with the 10,000 Dawns novel is in print, the book has served its purpose. There's not really a point in me printing more copies of it.
However, I know some of you didn't get the chance to see me last year at cons and wanted the book, so I'm going to be offering it online for a limited time (the month of March) exclusively on the Createspace.com estore. I'll probably offer up a few copies during raffles and giveaways in the future, but largely if you haven't gotten a copy this is the last chance to get one.
If you can't get one, don't fret. All the stories in it will be reprinted somewhere else in the future. Heck, a lot of them are available to read for free online. Of course, some of them will be reprinted far in the future, so if you want an advance look at some future stories, here's your chance to get a sneak peek!
The book isn't perfect though, its rough and rushed nature definitely shows, and there are some frankly amazing typos. I'm proud of it for what it did in helping to spread 10,000 Dawns, but its time is done. Time to put it to rest. But if you want to technically own every 10,000 Dawns book every printed, here's your chance to own a piece of history. I won't be offering it for sale again. So act now.
You can buy "Tales From the 10,000 Dawns" at the link below:
"Tales From the 10,000 Dawns" features fiction by Rachel Johnson, Jo Smiley, Jordan Stout, Elizabeth Tock, Miguel Ramirez, and James Wylder, with cover art by Rachel Johnson featuring designs by Annie Zhu. The book was edited by James Wylder.
For those wondering, I'm going to be doing many fewer conventions this year. While I absolutely love touring, my schedule has been brutal since I started, and I'd like to spend more time creating and releasing things.
So this year year I'm going to be focusing on the craft of my writing and trying to boost my online sales, as well as working on my monthly live fiction show in Elgin, Tales By The Blue Light. I know no episodes have been posted online yet, but they'll be up soon!
I still have a few conventions lined up though, so check me out at them! :)
Hall of Heroes Elkhart Comic Con, March 11th-12th
Def-Com 3, Defiance Ohio, April 1st
WHOlanta, Atlanta Georgia, May 5-7
Also, while not confirmed yet, its very likely I'll be at: CONsole Room, Minneapolis Minnesota, May 12-14th (fingers crossed!)
I also plan on picking a handful of Wizard World shows to attend, St. Louis being the only one I feel certain I'll be signing up for.
This year should be a flurry of releases though, expect lots of new material to read (the anthology "10,000 Dawns: Poor Man's Iliad" by itself will be enough, you guys should be very very exited about that!) and I'll be much more available here on my site.
Today, we have something a bit different, because first off yes you are getting a brand new surprise 10kd story today, but its in cheering support of someone on our team: my beloved friend David Koon. We were roommates in college my Senior year, and he's been supportive through the worst times of my life. He's a wonderful person, and deserves all the best things. He's also one of the writers on 10,000 Dawns with me, and the creator of the character of Graelyn Scythes.
Well, guess what, this weekend for him something amazing is happening. Dave is in Dublin Ireland for the Magic the Gathering Pro-Tour. He's worked hard to get there-- and he absolutely deserves to be there. Dave has a skill at card games I wish I did, and I'm no spring Chicken. At the college we both went to, my freshman year I cleaned up at the tournaments that were held, won tons of prizes. Infamously, I once walked out a tournament with two full boxes of cards I'd won. So lets be clear here: I was good.
Then Dave arrived and beat me at Magic over and over again.
He's a skilled, talented, and creative player, and he finally has the chance to show the world that. I know he's going to, and I absolutely believe in him. I'm cheering him on every step of the way, and I hope you will too! If you want to leave Dave encouragement, please do so in the comments below. He'll see them.
Cheer him on. He's gunna do great.
Now then, to celebrate Dave's card tournament prowess, lets take a little detour into the 10,000 Dawns...
The Card Player, by James Wylder
Arch flipped his hand around, there were perks to being a cyborg, and caught the card he’d thrown in the air with his other hand. The rest of the table was clearly impressed, though Arch knew the trick was really pretty easy for him. He then set down the card, and turned it upside down to show he’d activated it to produce boons, which were used to play cards in Magician: The Hammering. He chose the card from his hand, and laid it down: Zeduba’s Chopsticks. On its own the card was useless, but in combination with a few other cards in the game, it allowed him to gain infinite health, and deal infinite damage to the other players in the game at the same time. Those cards were all in play.
“Well, you win again,” John Vice sighed.
His wife Miranda, who had lost half an hour ago, was reading a book, “Yeah, good game,” she droned.
“Do we want to play again?” Lametrius asked.
“No, I think its time we head back home,” Miranda said.
Arch put a question mark up on the screen like oval where his face would have been, “Its mid afternoon.”
“Yep, time for bed, bye,” Miranda said, dragging her husband out behind her.
Grumbling, he followed, “What was that all about?” he asked after they’d gotten a bit from Arch’s place.
“Game night just isn’t fun anymore, Arch wins every game of Magician: The Hammering we play. His deck is perfect.”
“I’m sure its not perfect...”
“Name the last time he lost,” Miranda countered.
John thought. She had a point, “Okay fine, but what are you going to do, kick him out? He’s got a computer in his brain you can’t just tell him to pull it out. He can optimize his decks well, that’s not his fault.”
“What we need to do,” Miranda said, “is find someone who can beat Arch at cards.”
“What, like a master tactician like Kinan?”
* * * *
“You want me to play a card game?” Kinan said in her monotone, “To beat Arch, because you can’t beat him?” Kinan gestured at the table in front of her, where she was mapping out probabilities for which realities in the 10,000 Dawns be taken over by the Council next, and listing ways to save each one. “Perhaps, I might have more important things to do?”
“Yeah okay sorry bye,” John said quickly, dragging a protesting Miranda out behind him.
She pulled her hand away from him as they exited Kinan’s planning room, “Okay, so maybe she’s trying to stop the destruction of the multiverse.”
“So I suppose that takes priority.”
“So I guess we’ll go with plan B.”
“You did not tell me we had a plan B.”
* * * *
Graelyn stroked her cat Mister Sprinkles as she sat on her bed, she had a tablet open to a science book on one side of her, and another with sheet music on the opposite side. She seemed to be going back and forth between them at her mind’s whim. John and Miranda were sitting cross legged on the floor of her room, because Graelyn only had one chair and it looked so impeccably in its place in the order of her room neither of them wanted to disturb it.
“I’m not really sure why this is important,” Graelyn said.
“Its killing game night,” Miranda replied.
Graelyn shrugged, and scrolled down through the music. “That key-signature is just unfair, who would do that? That’s just--”
John cut her off, “Grae, listen. Arch loves tabletop games. He loves them a lot. But if he can’t get challenged, what will that make him?”
Graelyn didn’t look up from the music, “The best gamer on all of Spiral.”
The Vice spouses sighed in unison.
“Think about it this way,” Miranda said, “If you do this, John will make you all the peanut butter blossom cookies you want. For a month.”
“For a whole month you’ve got to-” he saw his wife’s expression, “be absolutely right that I will do that.”
“And I’ll make you tamales, real ones not printed ones.”
“No mole sauce, its boring. I want them spicy. And you need to make a cat friendly one so Mister Sprinkles isn’t left out.” Graelyn picked up the cat as she said that, dancing him around on her lap to the cadence of the words.
“Whatever, Gringo. Do we have a deal?”
Graelyn nodded, and saved her spots on both tablets before shoving her glasses back into her face and staring intently at the pair. She clasped her hands together, letting the cat finally escape to wander around the room aimlessly.
“So, tell me about this game.”
“Well, its only the most popular Trading Card Game game in the universe,” Miranda began.
“In fact in most universes, once you get far enough into the future.”
“Yes, John, anyways, in the game you play a Magician trying to hammer down their foes with spells. Your goal is to deplete the other magicians’ health scores till you win. To do that, you can play monsters that attack your foes, play spells to attack them directly, or power up your spell hammer which can lead to an alternate win condition if you power it up enough.”
“So, wait, you’re magicians? Like, poof, rabbit out of a hat?” Grae asked.
“No, you’re really wizards, but don’t worry about that part,” John said.
“Why isn’t it called like: Wizard: The Spellening, or Magic: the G--”
“Don’t worry about that part! Look, the main point here is that Arch has figured out how to break the game consistently. He can’t lose. The worst thing is the way he’s playing his deck requires such fine and meticulous gameplay that most of us just can’t remember all the different ways his deck can adjust to problems,” Miranda rubbed her forhead, and then gestured to John who took off his backpack and opened it up to reveal a bag of cards, “Those are all the cards you can play with in the game right now, we left a list of the cards in Arch’s deck in there too. Can you beat him?”
Graelyn nodded, “Of course I can beat him. I can be the best at anything I set my mind to.”
John and Miranda exchanged a look, that conveyed the eyeroll they didn’t want Graelyn to see.
“Leave the cards. I’ll get to work immediately. Mister Sprinkles,” she said, putting a hand on her hip and pointing at the cat, “we’re going to win us a card game!”
“Meow,” said the cat, towards an empty mug.
* * * *
The cards were laid out over nearly the whole floor. She’d memorized most of them by now, and she lay in bed staring at the ceiling going through card combinations. It wasn’t going well. By all accounts, Arch had found the best strategy. And by that, it wasn’t just the single best strategy, but a cascading sequence of inter-playing strategies that could take over from each other if another ones failed.
They weren’t wrong, Arch had broken the game in a way a normal person couldn’t. Graelyn knew if she played the same deck against Arch, she’d lose. Not because Arch could think better than her, but because Arch could memorize possibilities better than her. She felt like a chess grandmaster trying to beat a computer that had learned every possible move in the game.
Graelyn pulled her glasses off and rolled over, shoving her face into her pillow. She was going to embarrass herself. She was awful, and terrible, and after telling the Vices she’d wallop Arch, he’d annihilate her. Waves of self doubt rolled over her, and the cat walked over her back just to rub it in.
“Goodbye cruel multiverse, I can’t even win a cardgame,” she said unintelligibly into the pillow.
“Mrow,” said the cat.
“Arch is the best at this, he’s too good!” Graelyn rolled over again, spooking Mister Sprinkles who left off of her back onto the cards. One card flipped up, and caught Graelyn’s eye.
“Ursine Bear,” a boring common card that had no special abilities. She could only sort of make it out with out her glasses, but she recognized the vague shape of the art.
“Of course,” Graelyn said, grinning, “I should have thought of that first.”
* * * *
“Graelyn is challenging me? But she doesn’t play Magician: the Hammering. I tried to get her into it and she kept picking up her cat and pretending it was singing Phil Collins songs.”
“She is. She’s got an amazing new deck, with a strategy you haven’t seen coming.”
Arch would have raised an eyebrow if he had one. He was certain he’d calculated every card interaction perfectly… But then again Graelyn was very clever. She walked into the gaming room, wearing her usual skirt, tie, blouse, and blazer combo, but in brown instead of blue today. On her lapel was a bear pin.
“Hey Arch, ready to lose?” she said nonchalantly.
“Nice pin,” Arch replied.
“Thanks, so are we rolling a die to see who goes first?”
“I’ll take odds,” Arch said.
“I’ll even it out then,” Grae replied.
Grae won the roll. He watched her first turn play out. She set down a Tarpagorn upside down, which meant it would produce boon points for her every turn. It was a weird choice though: Tarpagorn was a powerful card. Some of the best combos in the game used it. Arch tried to think of a way to play it from its spot as a boon card, but there was no way to do that that wasn’t needlessly complex. It would take too long to set up. Unless she was going to stall him?
“I play, Ursine Bear!” Graelyn said.
Everyone in the room looked either confused or disappointed. Arch was the former. That card was useless. Aside from the fact that it was a bear, it had nothing that made it useful or interesting at all. Grae passed her turn, and Arch played his usual first turn play: Arch Heathen of Pro-Raphealites upside down as a boon card (when it was upside down it had text that flipped over with it at its usual bottom, that let it produce an extra boon point, so it was a great way to start the game), and then use that to play Despair of Haunting Millions. So over all, a good first turn.
Turn passed to Grae. She drew a card, and…
“I play Cupboard Bear,” Grae said.
Aha! Two bears? That… Bears didn’t do anything. Arch combed through the possible combos of bears. There was nearly nothing distinct to them, and even less that wouldn’t be better done with a different card.
“I’m… Really confused as to what you’re doing Grae.”
She smiled, “Are you afraid this is getting too… Hairy?”
“I just don’t understand your strategy.”
“I think you’ll find a way to… Bear it.”
“Are you really going to make puns about this?”
“No need to get up at paws about it!”
“Look Grae, if this is just a joke… Look I know the Vices set you up for this, they aren’t exactly subtle. You can back down.”
Graelyn made a dismissive gesture, and then pulled out a pair of sunglasses from her pocket, “I’m sure I’ll be able to,” she slid them on over her glasses, “claw my way to the top.”
Arch racked his brain. What was her strategy?
“I attack with Ursine Bear.”
“Fine, I take it,” he needed to figure out what she was doing. Grae kept attacking him with her idiotic bears while she played seemingly random and unconnected support cards, and counter-hammered (which stopped him from playing a card he was about to) the parts of his combos he needed to win instantly. The bears were a distraction, they had to be. At one point, she played Tim-Man, which was a powerful card definitely, but then she didn’t attack with it next turn, just used her bears.
He destroyed some of the bears, but she didn’t seem to mind, just played more. What did she have up her sleeve? Turns went by as he went through the options. She played “Crocotta’s Hollow” which gave all Croccotta cards a bonus, but Grae didn’t even have any of those in her deck! At least that he’d seen yet? He worked tirelessly to destroy the things that weren’t the bears as she played them, so maybe her own combo simply wasn’t coming together…
Eventually, Graelyn announced an attack from her bears, and Arch realized he was about to lose. He set his hand down and nodded.
“Good game… I don’t know what you were trying to do though. What was your strategy? It seemed like your deck was just...”
“Random cards and a bunch of bears?”
“Yeah, yeah that’s what it looked like. So what were you trying to do?”
Graelyn packed up her deck, putting it into her bag, and taking her needless sunglasses off dramatically, “I was trying to distract you with useless cards and then beat you to death with the most boring cards in existence. I figured you’d be expecting me to come in with a master strategy of card combos to outwit your own, but that’s impossible. Your deck is too good and you’re too good at playing it. So the only thing I could do was to make you worse at playing it by making you have no idea what I was doing and then hitting you with cards you didn’t think were threats.”
Arch stared at her for a moment, then broke out into laughter, “Okay, that was pretty great. Congratulations Grae, you did a good job. I did not expect that strategy.”
Graelyn threw her arms out wide, “Of course. I aim to inspire.” She turned to the Vices, “And you two. I want the cookies and tamales now that I beat Arch so he doesn’t ruin game night for you anymore.”
Arch narrowed the aperture of his camera, “Wait, wait, waiiiit everyone hold up here. First off, you bribed my best friend with food to beat me at Magician: the Hammering?”
The Vices looked awkward.
“And,” Arch continued, “you didn’t just tell me I was making game night not fun? You could have just told me. I can tone down my processor to not outmatch you on an analytic level.”
Graelyn turned around in her chair, “Wait you guys seriously didn’t tell him?”
The Vices looked at each other.
“Time for bed Miranda?”
“Sounds great John.”
“It is literally just after breakfast,” Graelyn said.
“Never too early!” John replied, as he and Miranda zipped out.
Graelyn shook her head, “So Arch, another game?”
Joyful fireworks played out over the screens of his skin, “I hoped you’d want to. But… Can you not play the bears?”
Graelyn pouted her lips, “You don’t need to be ursine about it.”
“You don’t have to make this grizzly!”
“What, are things getting a little… Polar-ized?”
“Just get your damn deck out.”
She shuffled the cards together, “Lets see who wins this time. If I lose I’m sure I’ll just grin and… Bear it.”
They rolled to see who would go first. The game was on, just bearly.
There’s a certain pride some RPG Gamemasters take in killing off as many player characters as possible. A pride in death so narrow in its execution and so pusillanimous in its formidability as to astound graveyards. It’s talked about with a respect and steel to it: these are real games, with real threats, with real stakes, where you can feel the grit between your teeth.
It's also absolutely boring.
RPG’s contain two concurrent elements that run in tandem with each other. That they function together is a bit of a miracle, but without either they lose the whole. These two elements could be called the RP (the roleplaying) and the G (the game). On the one hand, you have a group of players performing and developing characters who explore a fictional world. On the other hand you have a framework that runs the characters, a stage for them they cannot exit, a game with rules and boundaries. Every RPG group will have a different balance of these two elements, after all no two people are alike and it's perfectly fine that they’d have different interests from each other Some groups will weigh towards the RP: they’ll focus much more on the interaction of the characters, their lives and developments. Some groups will focus more on the G: playing with the rules of the game, and defeating the challenges that come across them using the game mechanics.
However, if this mix gets too out of balance, you may as well not be playing an RPG anymore. If you get too focused on RP, you might as well chuck the dice and rulebooks out the windows and just sit around talking in character for a few hours. If you get too focused on the G, you might as well chuck the rulebooks out and get out a board game. To be an RPG, both elements are there to some extent. The balance may shift, and vary, but there is always some of both.
But the topic here is of course my distaste for killing player characters off. Lets clarify that first, shall we? By this I don’t mean player characters shouldn’t die. By all means, if the characters do something reckless or dangerous there should be consequences to that. If the drama of the game is reaching a climax, even more so. But that’s not what I’m referring to: I’m talking about the idea that Gamemasters should strive to kill players throughout the campaign, and follow through on it. This mentality can cause more problems in a game than I think many Gamemasters realize, and I’ve sat through many campaigns where Gamemasters were unknowingly making many of their players miserable, and surprised when they started dropping out of the game, skipping sessions, or simply going through the game zombie-like, performing rote actions without passion.
So what’s going wrong here?
The simple answer is: different players have different preferences on what the balance of RP and G are in a game. There’s more to it, but let’s start there. Players who desire more G will get bored if too much of the game is just sitting around talking and interacting, players who desire more RP will get bored if too much of the game is just number crunching and die-rolling. In an ideal world, Gamemasters would be able to find groups consisting solely of players whose play style in an RPG closely mirrors their own, but in reality this nearly never happens. Most gaming groups are friends, or mutual acquaintances, and making these people unhappy can have consequences outside of the gaming table. Thus is extra important for Gamemasters to be aware of it, because when badly managed this can cause rows in real life, or more commonly a grumbling drifting apart.
This is at its most aggravating though, during player deaths.
Developing a character is hard. Most players aren’t able to simply drop into a character and begin playing that person in a developed way. Many experienced players have a few characters they can drop into quickly, or a few traits they can play up well to start, but this is window dressing over actual development. Even most actors take time to drop into a role, developing the role over rehearsal to understand and create a character they will perform. Some have mastered certain stock characters they can play on command as well, but that’s different from creating a new character to play.
If a player’s character is dying over and over, just as they are trying to develop that person, this teaches the player that developing a character isn’t something that’s rewarded in the game. For a player more concerned with RP elements than than G elements, this can be kill the whole experience. After all, if you are less concerned with maximizing a character’s potential to survive encounters than developing their backstory and continued personality, then it's less likely they are going to survive an encounter. Ironically, this means a character that’s less developed as a person might survive longer than one who seems more fleshed out and real.
I’ve played and Gamemastered for nearly two decades, and I’m only 27. In that time, I’ve seen a lot of frustration with character death. Every player at some point loses a character they care about, and that’s just part of the nature of RPG’s. You’re telling a story, and in stories just like in real life, people die. Character loss can drive games, can be genuinely moving, or ridiculously memorable. Sometimes players can be upset at the simple fact that a character in a game can die, and learning to let go of that character can be a valuable learning experience for a person. In the right circumstances, the death of a character can even be hilarious. But what character death shouldn’t be is frustrating. It shouldn’t feel like a punishment for players who simply want to play the game differently than their Gamemaster. Ideally, we could all find groups that perfectly match our own playstyles. In reality, most of us would rather play with our friends even though they might have different tastes.
So I don’t kill characters for no reason, and I don’t take pride it in when I do. My goal isn’t to show off what a powerful Gamemaster I am, it’s to tailor a game to my players they can enjoy. This means making sure that games I run have both the RP and the G. For the record, I’ve definitely run into games that were imbalanced towards the RP that left G players bored to tears, but there have been far fewer of them than the reverse. A good game is going to give something to all of its players, even if the balance isn’t what every player would like ideally, there’s going to be something there for them. With experience a Gamemaster can learn to tailor the experience of their games so that players can each have the experience they want in a session, mixing up a variety of encounters and objectives that let different players have their moment to shine. No Gamemaster will be perfect at it, but it’s something to be aware of.
So Gamemasters of the world, tailor your games to your players, not just to yourself. You have to play with the group you have, not the group you want. If your group is happy with how it is, great, don’t change it. But if you’ve been noticing problems, or remember a person who used to be super excited about joining your game and then stopped coming, think about what you offered them at the table. Was it what they wanted? Was it something you could provide?
Cause chances are, there’s a great player out there who just wants to develop a character’s life rather than optimize their combat statistics who is just waiting to liven up your table.
Poet, Playwright, Game Designer, Writer, Freelancer for hire.