Kickstarters, Cards and Fiction, oh my!

As those who follow me on social media will know, I’ve launched a kickstarter with my friend and US business partner, Andreas Walters, who also helped with the production of The Mechanical Bard: Ninth World Tales, a collection of short stories set in Monte Cook games Numenera roleplaying game setting.

Both of these launched recently, and I’m super excited. I’ve mentioned the The Mechanical Bard before, but for those who don’t know about the kickstarter, let me give you some background.

Andreas and I where working on another 3rd-party supplement for Numenera, having already worked together on Ninth World Assassins and currently working on a few other projects as well. During the development of this particular product, we began coming up with various tables for rolling up NPCs and I remarked that I wish I had something like that to hand while writing, so I had a quick set of ideas I could just draw from a deck of cards without needing to get too distracted with using web-based generators or rolling dice against lookup tables and scanning down them to find my option. The idea of a really simple to use, tactile way of generating NPCs on the fly really stuck with us, and so we decided to spawn of a separate project from scratch based entirely around that concept. What we worked on over the next few weeks was starting to become really exciting and we realised we wanted to go all in and make it the best product it could be – 300 hundred cards, across 8 different categories, including Relationships, Goals, Physical Traits and Personality Quirks, all with individual artwork, to lend some visual inspiration to the text as well. To do that though, we need money – hence a kickstarter.

If that idea piques your interest, please do check out Non-Player Cards on Kickstarter, or checkout the mini-site I set up over at nonplayercards.com

As mentioned, we finally launched The Mechanical Bard: Ninth World Tales, an anthology of short fiction set in the Numenera roleplaying setting sourced from the Numenera fan-community. I’m proud to have written 2 stories that are a part of it, and to be published along side some author really great authors. The book is entirely free in electronic format, as our gift to the Numenera community. The print version which should shortly be available is released as near to at-cost as possible as well. You can find The Mechanical Bard: Ninth World Tales on DrivethruRPG.

Gamemastering in Numenera

I’m not a particularly experienced GM, but I’ve been doing quite a lot of gamemastering of Numenera games recently, so I figured it would be a good idea to write about my experiences, both to share some hopefully useful information with other budding Numenera GMs out there and also just get some ideas for my own improvement out of my head.

To start off, lets get something out in the open:

I’m incredibly lazy.

As a GM I do exactly 0 prep. I don’t make up encounters beforehand, I don’t plan out stories, or scenes or any kind of interaction at all. Why not? Because it’s one hell of a lot of work and quite frankly I’m blown away with awe by the GMs that have the time and energy to do that during the gaps between actually running their games. I’m a busy person and I can barely find time to do much of anything, let alone plan ahead for a game which might not even end up using any of the stuff I work on, due to a little thing called ‘free will’.

This isn’t to say I go in with absolutely no ideas. I’m using musing with half a dozen or more half-formed nebulous concepts bouncing around in my skull but anything in the way of plans or grand, multiple session spanning epics written down on paper or computer are alien to me. As such, all my games are run almost entirely ad-hoc, improvised on-the-fly as a response to the players. Even when I’m running a pre-written adventure out of a book, I’ll mostly improvise, only deferring to the book during lulls in activity at the table to refresh myself on the rough adventure plot and maybe some creature stats.

A lot of my improvisation also comes down to the fact that I have an absolutely terrible memory for facts. I’m good at remembering patterns, but little chunks of factual data like names, places characters stats, etc, elude me most of the time. Planning ahead for that doesn’t really help unless I’m constantly reading from my notes, but I prefer not to read from a book while GMing, because it makes delivering the content fall a bit flat in my opinion. That’s more a failing in me for not being able to read aloud very well, rather than with the concept of reading from a book, though I will say I also prefer to be able to retain eye-contact with the players and address them directly, rather then looking at a page. GMing isn’t just reading, speaking and idea generation – it’s a performance role.

So, now you have a rough idea of where I am coming from, you’ve either buggered off, thinking I’m talking out of my arse, or you are intrigued and wish to learn more. For those of you still with me, let me continue…

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Baru, My New Numenera Character

In the new Numenera game I shall hopefully be playing in this Friday, I shall be playing a simple-minded giant called Baru, a Foolish Glaive who Performs Feats of Strength.

Baru is a simple-minded, friendly young man in his late twenties to mid-thirties that works on his parents farm. He is huge and eats like an aneen, a fact that his parents are finding hard to reconcile with their meagre earnings on their failing farm. Already they have had to sell their animals and Baru tills the fields, dragging the plough himself using his immense strength. It’s simple work, so Baru enjoys it because he likes being outside in the sunshine.

His brother, being the more enterprising sort, sometimes takes Baru down to town to have him perform great feats of strength for the amusement and amazement of onlookers, occasionally earning them some shins in the process, but still it can only help so much and the farm is still failing. After much soul-searching his ageing parents decided to send Baru off with his brother Zigg to find their fortune and maybe bring something back of worth or use so that they might revitalise the farm. The parent don’t hold out much hope, but with the fields ploughed, they can hold out without Baru and Zigg until next ploughing and also don’t have to shoulder the huge expense of feeding Baru. Maybe a journey will knock some sense into the boy, his parents hope.

Eventually, Zigg and Baru became separated and Baru found himself wandering the Steadfast alone, looking for something that could help his parents. He didn’t really know what that might be, but he was sure he’d know when he saw it.

What most, including Baru himself, don’t know, is that Baru isn’t simply dimwitted. Due to some quirk of the Numenera half of his mind is floating around in the data sphere, doing whatever it does out there. Sometimes in moments of lucidity it reconnects to his meat-brain, but most of the time that portion of brain-power is simply unavailable to him. However, it might explain his uncanny luck – perhaps his subconscious out in the global data network manipulates nanites and numenera in the subtle ways available to it to help out his body in meat space. Whatever is going on, it doesn’t concern Baru. He’s always been this way, and the strange dreams he has are just dreams, as far as he is concerned.

Book Accomplishments

As part of my drive to not be a mopey “I deserve nothing” bastard, I figured I’d highlight some of the things I’ve directly been involved in. By directly involved, I’m counting actually authoring stuff, or acting in an official role in the books production some way (so I’m not counting myself just being a ‘backer’ of something, like in Kickstarters for example). My brain would love to tell me that I’m just being self-indulgent and boasting, but I just think it’s nice to share things I’ve done with people. It’s also nice to make public some of the small pieces of ‘proof’ that real things have actually come of my work. This isn’t a complete list, but it’s most of the things I feel proud to have been a part of that I actually have physical, real-world copies of.

books

From the top-left going clockwise, we have:

The Mechanical Bard: Ninth World Tales

The Mechanical Bard: Ninth World Tales is the name of the Numenera Fiction Anthology I founded along with other members of the Numenera fan community. It’s a collection of 6 short stories sourced from authors within the Numenera fan community and hopefully, assuming all the licensing can be sorted, it will be available in PDF and print. This is a test print copy for my own personal use and it isn’t available publicly yet (but hopefully soon!). The book contains two short stories by myself, one of which can already be found in the wild on Ninth World Hub, and I also wrote the introductions to nearly all the stories within. The introductions are told in the style of preambles by the Mechanical Bard, a fictional narrator of the tales within the collection. Soon there will be a website to accompany this that will hopefully become a place where the whole Numenera community can share fan-fiction together.

Ninth World Assassins

Ninth World Assassins is a supplement for Numenera focused around (surprise!) assassins. My contributions to the project were mostly in an editing capacity (though not proofreading) and providing feedback, the odd bit of re-writing and some contributions of actual text to the book in a number of different places. On a side note, Andreas Walters, the publisher and author, is a great guy and you should expect to see more things from both us working together in the future and he also has managed a lot of the publishing gubbins with The Mechanical Bard.

Do: The Book of Letters

Do: The Book of Letters is a supplement to the roleplaying game Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple, a delightful, child-friendly, story-telling game by Daniel Solis which I backed on Kickstarter. Gameplay revolves around people sending letters to the temple asking for help, and those letters form the basis of the ‘missions’ the players (as pilgrims) go out to complete. During the Kickstart there was a call for submissions of letters from the backer community, so I submitted one and it was picked for inclusion in the games supplementary letters book. I think this was my first ever piece of published game writing.

Rails 4 Application Development HOTSHOT

Onto the more technical side of things, I acted as one of the Technical Reviewers on Rails 4 Application Development, a book that covers developing several different kinds of applications, from Pinterest clones to simple video hosting and streaming sites. The book gives a lot of great insights into building more web applications with Rails 4 beyond the typical “to-do list app”.

Learning Devise for Rails

Another book I was a Technical Reviewer for, in fact, the first one, this book covers learning to use the Devise gem for authentication on your Rails application. It’s for beginners, so doesn’t get super advanced, but it’s great if you are just starting out and want to get to grips with the systems Devise provides.

Triad: Hath Three Parts Wrought

Triad is my first (and only) completed NaNoWriMo novel. As a result, it’s terrible, but it has a lot of good ideas. For a long time I’ve had the ideas of a world about which fiction could be written or within games could be run, but it existed almost entirely inside my head. The novel was a way of getting those ideas out onto paper, so as such it can be a bit info-dumpy at times and obviously being a NaNoWriMo novel and pants-ed the entire way through, it quickly becomes ludicrous. However, the raw, unedited draft is available publicly on the internet if you wish to offend your eyes with terrible writing. This print copy was created using the free CreateSpace offer winner of NaNoWriMo get, just so I could have a nice physical print for editing. However every time I look at the story I physically cringe from the awfulness, so it’s yet to go through a rewrite or edit phase.

Imposter Syndrome

I suffer terribly from imposter syndrome. Well, by my inexpert self-diagnosis anyway. I feel like a fraud most of the time and find it hard to ever accept praise or recognise my own accomplishments.

Intellectually, I’m aware that I have achieved things, and that I’m not a failure or useless, but that doesn’t stop the constant nagging feeling that perhaps I’m just being prideful for even thinking that or that everything I’ve achieved has been a matter of luck or because those judging it as an achievement just don’t know any better or are just ‘being nice’.

Quite frankly, it’s fucking awful feeling this way and I hate it. I want it to stop but I don’t know how. Praise often involves being the center of attention, at least for a little while, and I really don’t like being in the spotlight. Naturally, hating something means I’m loathe to do that to others, which is why I tend to be pretty shy a lot of the time, because I don’t like to put someone on the spot because I know how that feels. Sometimes empathy is a bitch.

I guess this blog post is the equivalent of old adage “the first step is admitting you have a problem”. I have a problem, and it’s destroying my ability to be happy. I’m a little afraid that without it, I wont have the same drive to try and achieve things I do now, but then again, striving to feel like I’ve achieved something but never feeling it is probably worse than actually feeling a sense of achievement about things, or more accurately feeling a sense of achievement without the feeling being accompanied by guilt and self-doubt.

Yes, it’s stupid. I know these feelings have no basis in fact. Sadly knowing that doesn’t stop them from being there anyway.

I deserve to feel good about the things I’ve achieved. So fuck you, brain, fuck you.

Boss Battles in Numenera

I recently responded to a call for advice over at Ninth World Hub regarding how easy a party of players can take out a single enemy. While combat isn’t the focus of Numenera in general, that doesn’t exclude the possibility of “boss battles” or powerful, singular enemies to fight. If you do want to focus on combat, if only for a small moment, you will find that the player characters are extremely effective combatants.

With effort, cyphers, powers and abilities and the fact that characters have (starting at Tier 1) around 30 health, it’s really hard to take a player out or make them feel threatened or afraid for their lives before they can take out a single enemy. That’s in a 1-on-1 scenario, typically you’ll have a party of 3 or more player characters, so when you are throwing a single bad guy at them the odds become even more skewed in the players favour. When a single tier 1 player can, in a single attack, so upwards of 6 damage a round, with multiple players that’s a lot of damage to absorb to survive even one round. If you are aiming for an epic battle, you need something a bit tougher.

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Adventures in OAuth with Laravel 4.1

I’ve been playing with Laravel 4.1 recently for a project and I wanted to allow people to login using their various social media accounts (I’ve opted on the “big 3″, Twitter, Google and Facebook). As it turned out, it’s been a bit of a chore due to a lack of clear documentation and examples, but I’ve managed to figure it all out and thought I’d share with the rest of the class.

In order to do the oauth, I used the artdarek/oauth-4-laravel package. However, the latest version of this package at the time of writing uses an older version of the lusitanian/oauth package. This is a problem because Google are currently changing how their scopes work and this new methodology is only supported in the newer versions of the package. In order to make sure I was using a package with the correct version of lusitanian/oauth, I used this fork from github: https://github.com/ciaranmaher/oauth-4-laravel

In order to use this, I needed to set a custom repository in my composer.json so it would use the fork in preference to the mainline version:

From this point, it’s relatively simple to use the oauth-4-laravel package. You just need to sign up to the various places to get your OAuth client keys and secrets. For twitter, that’s https://apps.twitter.com/, for Facebook it’s https://developers.facebook.com/ and creating an app (once you’ve done that, you can get your app ID and secret). For Google, go to the developer console and create an app.

The basic usage instructions for oath-4-laravel are more or less fine, but I found the Google auth failed for me unless I made some changes:

For a decent twitter example, you can look at the tickets on the oauth-4-laravel github. This one is quite helpful: https://github.com/artdarek/oauth-4-laravel/issues/7#issuecomment-40059229

Finally, nothing tells you how to handle errors or the user cancelling an authorisation request. By default, the examples end up redirecting back to the same URL that started the request, making it look like you app want take no for an answer. Sadly, not all the services respond to cancellations/errors in the same way, but here is what I did for the ones I used:

Put the relevant code in the same place where you first grab the auth code (i.e. the call to Input::get(“code”)) and now you can handle cancelled auths.

Hopefully that’s enough to help kickstart your work with OAuth in Laravel. I wish these things were clear when I started on it!