I woke up before the dogs this morning, opened my eyes to the blue/grey light of six am sliding though my blinds, and listened to birds singing in the yard.
Marlowe stretched and rolled over to rest against me. Watson jumped up into the bed and wrapped himself around my head, and Seamus snored at my feet. I lay there for a few minutes, soaking in the feeling of being in my own bed, in my own home, with my pets around me, knowing that I’m heading north of the wall tomorrow to sleep in a hotel for four nights. I can’t complain — I’m not staying with Craster — but I do love my house and all who live inside it ever so much.
I arched my back, felt my ribs crack and blinked sleep out of my eyes. I eased myself out of the bed so I wouldn’t wake anyone up, and walked into my kitchen, where I began to prepare my morning coffee. I’ve recently converted to the Chemex, and though it takes a little longer than the Aeropress, it’s worth the wait, and the ritual of the whole thing pleases me.
While I waited for the hot water to drip through the grounds, I heard footsteps in the hallway. Anne came out and said, “What are you doing?”
“Why are you awake?”
“I don’t know. I guess my body decided that it had all the sleep it needed … so here I am.”
Marlowe walked out, her little feet clicking against the floor, and joined us in the kitchen. She looked up at Anne and wagged her tail.
“Good morning, little Marlowe Bear,” Anne said, petting her. Marlowe wagged her tail faster.
I poured my coffee and took it into the dining room, where I had left my Deadlands Marshall’s Guide open last night. I picked up reading where I left off, coffee warming and waking me up.
Deadlands is a setting for Savage Worlds. It’s a “Weird West” setting where players live in an alternate version of 1879 America where the Civil War isn’t really over, but a cease fire holds, most of California has fallen into the ocean due to a great earthquake, and all kinds of weird and terrifying monsters roam the countryside. I’m going to start a Deadlands campaign for my group in a couple of weeks, and I’ve been preparing, figuring out what parts of the world interest me, where I think my friends would enjoy exploring, and what sort of big story I want to take them through over the next few months. It’s the first time I’ve run a campaign since the 80s, and I’d forgotten how much work goes into the whole thing. My brain is tired from all the information I’ve been cramming into it, and I feel a pleasing mental fatigue that I normally only experience when I’m working long hours on a movie or tv show.
My imagination has been working overtime as a result, and though I can’t remember any of my dreams, I wake every morning with an unsettled feeling, like a soft sort of dread from whatever Dreamlands I visited while I slept. It’s not unusual for me to have full-blown nightmares when I’m away from my own bed, and I must admit that I’m a little anxious about what waits for me in the dark Canadian nights of the next few days.
Anne went into the living room and Marlowe snuggled up against her on the couch. In our bedroom, I heard Seamus’ collar jingle as he woke up. Outside, the birds continued to sing. I sipped my coffee and turned the pages.
It’s cold for Los Angeles today, gloomy and even a little misty at time. I imagine that above the grey clouds and beyond the heavy mist that clings to the mountains, our universe is being constructed, much like the Deadlands that I’m building in my head.
Yesterday morning, Anne and I were walking Marlowe up the street, and both of us noticed a house that we’ve never seen before. This is strange, because we’ve lived here for years, and you’d expect us to know our own neighborhood, but there it was: a house that has clearly been here longer than we have, but that we’d somehow never noticed.
Now, it’s easy to understand why: we’re almost always looking at the house across the street from it when we walk or drive past, because we like the dogs who live there, or we’re looking at the house next door to it because it has a really nice yard with lots of plants and flowers.
But I thought it was way more fun to imagine that we never saw that house until yesterday because it wasn’t there until yesterday. It just showed up, because there was a glitch in the matrix, or because we walked though a membrane that separated two realities and ended up in one where the only difference that we’re aware of was that house … and why we’re even aware of the change, why we retained the memory of it not being there, the memory from the previous universe that should have not made it across the membrane, that’s where I think some kind of cool science fiction story could bloom.
Sometimes my brain does stuff like this, just takes something like “I never noticed that before,” and turns it into … well, that whole complicated thing.
I mean, think about it: I bet every single one of you has seen something that you were positive wasn’t there the day or hour or [unit of time] before, but holy shit there it is and surely it must have been there all along… right?
Or how about when you walk into a room looking for something, you see it, but when you blink and look again it isn’t there. It turns out the cat, which you’re positive looked at you and blinked its eyes and opened its mouth and everything was just a backpack. But that’s weird, because you know you saw the cat.
What’s that in the periphery of your vision? A person? Oh, no, it’s just a shadow or nothing at all. But you’re pretty goddamn sure you saw something, someone there a second ago.
I know that there are totally logical explanations for these things, but isn’t it more fun to imagine?
So with that in mind, keep reading:
A couple of years ago, I came across part of a recording called “Found on the Elevator”. It was just a few minutes of a recording from the future, that was archived on a record in the past. It was supposedly found in an elevator in New York City in 1969.
Here’s the way it was described: “This recording is an “unauthorized experiment” that was made in the year 2058 C.D.S. (Carbon Dating System), a “blue verbal data feed” sent backwards in time to “retro A.D.” by Decker, T. L., index J-3, CMR 00965 of T-Group Roaring Vectors 252, a human cyborg who suffers from a malfunctioning number nine electrode in his head which causes him to have an emotional breakdown as he records this message. It’s a secret message to a past world he has trouble imagining, a world of foreign substances like metal, plastic, animals, soldiers… a world all physical and “impossibly slow.”
It was really fantastic. It reminded me of a lot of the late night Joe Frank broadcasts I listened to in my 20s on KXLU or KCRW when I’d be driving around late at night, because I could.
For months, I scoured the Internet, looking for the rest of the recording, or more information about it. Mostly what I found were blogs and BBS posts form other people who were looking for the same thing, but no leads. I knew it was a work of fiction, a work of art, but I desperately wanted it to be real, so while I searched for the entire recording, I imagined the world that it came from. (I won’t tell you how it lives in my mind, because I don’t want to affect how it lives in yours, should you chose to create it for yourself.)
Eventually, I gave up the search and went back to looking at pictures of cats who want to buy boats, and forgot all about it.
Until last week.
Last week, my friend Mer RT’d a link from William Gibson that led to the entire first side of the record. It is just as amazing and wonderful as I always hoped it would be, and well worth the wait.
Now I just need to find a recording of Side Two…
I want to do a spinoff of Tabletop that is a season-long RPG show, with the same group of players and one campaign. I’m trying out different systems to see what I enjoy the most and what would work for the show. Last night we played Savage Worlds, and I really enjoyed it. I can’t imagine another system that would let us get in 5 satisfying combats in one session, and the thrill of exploding dice was really great (except when we were trying to subdue some bad guys, aced three times, and ended up killing them. Oops.)
My friend Martin ran it for us, in a post-apocalyptic setting he’s been working on for a long time. It says a lot about the system, I think, that he could just drop something into it that he developed entirely on his own and Savage Worlds supported it without any weird hacking.
My general impression of the system is positive, though I think using a wild card die with a d4 skill for a trait test is a little broken. We didn’t run the math, but it seems like it turns a lot of those trait tests, which should be very difficult to make since you only hit a success one in four times, into a little better than a coin flip. We talked about making a house rule that a d4 skill doesn’t get a wild die, but I need to do more research on it before I commit to the change.
We felt that the allies were a little overpowered, though I think we were running them wrong (I had 5 grunts with me, and instead of rolling once for them, I rolled 5 times, which I think was a mistake). Again, it’s nothing that can’t be fixed with a little tweaking to get better balance.
When I run Deadlands, I’m going to use a modified Zones system that John Rogers told me he lifted from Fate, which seems really great: an area is broken up into zones, and it costs one movement to go from one to another. If you’re in a zone with an enemy, you can melee, and you figure close/medium/long by counting zones between you and your target. Rogers told me that he puts each zone on an index card, and encourages his players to describe what each zone looks like (for example: in a nightclub, the stage is one zone, the tables another, then the bar, and the balcony. The players describe the area, so they’re building it in their imaginations and making it come to life). This lets you keep track of combat and gives a sense of spatial awareness without making it about minis on a map and counting squares, which I really don’t like. I don’t mind minis when I’m playing Warhammer, but otherwise, they just aren’t for me.
Overall, I liked it enough to play the system again, and I got enough of a handle on it as a player that I feel comfortable running it for my group next time we get together. I have an idea for a Deadlands campaign that should be pretty fun for everyone involved.
Boy, this week really got away from me, didn’t it?
I’m working on some of those exciting-but-secret projects I work on from time to time, and that means no brain cycles left to write the things I want to write.
So, rather than write nothing until I can write what I want to write, I will offer up a link to my friend Shane Nickerson’s podcast — helpfully titled The Nickercast — which includes me talking to Shane and his co-hosts for about 90 minutes. We discussed creativity, depression, Weird Internet Bullshit™, and how they all mash together to create the fabric of our lives.
Oh, and here’s a picture I took after a meeting at Geek and Sundry earlier this week. The cast of Learning Town was getting drunk for some reason.