Writing Update – May 2017

A short update this month, as there are just a couple of things on which I’ve been working.

List of Projects:

  • The Traitor and the Thief – Rewriting sections before going to first readers.
  • The Broken Temple of Yinak – Completed and published.
  • Origin – Awaiting review and decision on how to move forward.
  • The Revenant and the Reaper – Outline completed, working on chapter-by-chapter plan.
  • The Darkness in the Deep – Outline completed, chapter-by-chapter plan completed.
  • Traveller RPG Project – Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 (see below) completed; final part nearing completion to be published next week.

The Traitor and the Thief

In my initial pass I discovered I had written a couple of sequences that didn’t make sense when taken as a whole, and this required a rewrite of those sections and some switching around of certain events in the book. This has taken me longer than I expected, but I want to take the time to get this right. As the middle book in a trilogy, I want it to be just as exciting as the first and third—I hate that middle-book slump—so if I need to rewrite sections to make it the best book it can be, that’s what I’m willing to do. I expect to be done this rewrite in a couple of weeks, but I’m making no promises.

Other Projects

There has been no movement on the other projects on my list at this point, so there’s nothing much to talk about here.

Traveller RPG: Draconem Sub-Sector

I’m almost completed the Draconem Sub-Sector project for the Traveller RPG. Note that this sub-sector works with any version of the Traveller game, though I’m using the sub-sector generation rules from the original 1977 version of the game. The big difference is that the Third Imperium is assumed not to exist, and that there are space lanes rather than Xboat routes. See my previous posts here and here for more details on this project.

This week, I provide a download that includes a sheet for each world in the sub-sector. Some of these planet sheets are complete, while some still need the Adventure Hooks section to be completed. Take a look and let me know what you think.

If you have adventure ideas for any of these worlds that you want to share, leave them in the comments below and I’ll try to incorporate them into the final download next week. This is a free download, so you won’t get any money or anything for it, except the satisfaction of sharing cool ideas with the Traveller RPG community.

Next week I’ll also upload a full-color sub-sector map with all the details for each planet.

Click here to download the World sheets.


Traveller – The Draconem Subsector

Last week, I decided to create a sub-sector using just the original Traveller little black books from the original 1977 edition of the game.

Again, I want to link to this amazing series of blog posts by Christopher Kubasik where he examines how differently the game plays when one understands and embraces the intent of those original LBBs.

What I’m creating here is a small region of space with a bunch of planets, randomly generated by the tables in Book 3: Worlds and Adventures. My intent is provide a bunch of adventure ideas—not necessarily for each world, but certainly for each cluster of worlds in the sub-sector.

And when I’m done, I’m going to post it here as a download that people can use for their own games.

One of the big elements of my sector is that it won’t resemble that of the Third Imperium, the official setting of Traveller that was published a few years after the game first came out. Instead, I’m going to try to capture the feel of the literature that inspired Mark Miller to create the game in the first place.

It’s going to be pulp sci-fi all the way.

Last week, I generated the Universal World Profiles of all forty worlds in my region of space and I speculated on a couple of options for the first two worlds. This week, I’m going to outline the three major clusters of worlds in my sub-sector and the primary relationships among them.

One thing of note: I do not feel fully beholden to the random numbers that I used to generate the world statistics. If I have an idea that requires I adjust one (or more) numbers for a given world, then that’s what I am doing. In fact, Miller writes in the rulebook, “Finally, the referee should always feel free to impose worlds which have been deliberately (rather than randomly) generated.” The random numbers are to help break me out of my normal thought patterns and give me reasons to rationalize unusual combinations, but if something doesn’t work right, I reserve the right to alter it.

What’s “Back That Way?”

The expectation in the first edition of Traveller was that the PCs were not based in the middle of a well-settled and heavily-patrolled area of space. They were supposed to be on the frontier, out where they could actually make something of themselves. So what is “back that way?”

Rather than some kind of empire—that was already done in the published Traveller setting—I’m going to go in a bit of a different direction. So here are the key points of the setting from which the PCs originally came:

  • Humans settled a large number of worlds, which then developed their own cultures and values.
  • Eventually, explorers made contact with at least a dozen or more alien races. Most of the aliens were humanoid or similar, but there is some truly strange sentient alien life out there.
  • Many of the human planets and a handful of alien planets formed a Federation of Worlds. However, membership was voluntary, and there were many worlds that did not choose to join.
  • The Federation allowed individual worlds to maintain their own laws, customs, etc. However, they were expected to contribute funds into a space navy. Otherwise, it was primarily aimed at encouraging trade and peaceful exchange of ideas.
  • The navy was more like a coast guard than a real navy, primarily engaged in fighting piracy and helping those ships that encountered difficulty.
  • The region of space where the Federation is based is very well explored and heavily settled. There are not many opportunities for someone to make his/her own way—the best option in the Federation is to get a job working for someone else. People who end up becoming PCs find that region of space to be stifling and impossible to get ahead.

Those are all the details I need at this point. The focus isn’t on what the PCs have left behind, but where they are now. The key points above give me a rough sketch and that provides a basis for the PCs past, but I haven’t spent time on details that will never matter to them in the game.

The Planetary Clusters


Here are the three clusters of planets and their basic description. Feel free to refer to the map as you read the following.


Cluster #1: The Investment

This cluster of worlds sits near the bottom left of the star map. It starts with hex 0207 and includes all worlds within 1 hex of it.

Voluntara (hex 0207) is a corporate world, owned by the Stellar Systems Corporation (SSC). The settlement there was originally established due to the presence of various ores that could be mined. Since then, opportunities on the neighboring worlds provided justification to expand their presence, and even establish a naval base (which serves the SSC space navy only).

The SSC quickly discovered Zeno’s Paradox (hex 0108) and set up another mining operation there. The Scout Service had already established a base on the planet from which they occasionally launch expeditions into the unknown neighboring sub-sector. The SSC generally ignores the Scout Service base.

Encransia (hex 0109) was originally settled by a group of humans led by a woman who promised them a better life if they followed her out to the fringe of the Federation. She was a environmentalist and extremely critical of corporate activities. Her administration was recently rocked by scandal, as evidence emerged that she had been stealing from the settlers and was planning on fleeing Encransia with her ill-gotten gains. Some people say that the evidence was faked and she was framed, but she is currently in prison awaiting trial and the planet is transitioning to a new government in preparation for their first free election. Rumors are the top candidate is in the pocket of the Stellar Systems Corp.

Dust’s End (hex 0110) is a dead end. There is nothing there worth exploring, nothing worth taking. Everyone knows that—it’s been common knowledge for as long as anyone can remember. If there was anything there, I’m sure someone would have recorded a space lane between Dust’s End and Encransia, right?

Echo (hex 0208) is not a single settlement, but a series of stations attached to the largest of the asteroids that circle the star in this system. More than ten thousand people work and live here among the floating rocks, mining for precious metals. This system was established long before Voluntara was settled by SSC, and the corporation is happy to purchase the miners’ ore. They’ve got a great relationship with SSC—what could possibly go wrong?

Cluster #2: The Rivalry

This is a rather large cluster that sits at the bottom right of the star map. There are three primary factions in this cluster, based in hexes 0407, 0507, and 0610: two rival noble houses and a religious movement, respectively. While they appear to get along on the surface, various shady and underhanded dealings are going on in order to undermine their rivals.

The first faction is based on the planet Quarlsbury (hex 0407). This settlement was originally established by a noble family, but as the people have come to demand more rights, the Quarlsbury family has become little more than figureheads. Still, they have great wealth and enjoy their popularity with the common people.

Quarlsbury is somewhat cut off from their closest allies due to lack of direct space lanes. Their faction includes the asteroid settlements of Allandros (hex 0509) and the world of Nautoloci (hex 0609), both run by the same bureaucratic government.

The second faction is based on the planet Rynbury (hex 0507). This is another noble family, but they believe in keeping power in their hands of their own people and not sharing it with anyone else. They maintain an alliance with: Stallus (hex 0406), controlled by a member of their extended family; Wembly (hex 0606), ruled by a family that acquired their wealth and power through criminal activities rather than noble blood but who otherwise agree with the Rynbury method of ruling; Yavolin (hex 0608), run by a wealthy merchant who enjoys the admiration of his people, but who worries about the strict religious systems nearby; and Koujatut (hex 0707), a former pirate who founded a settlement with his ill-gotten wealth and now rules the world by controlling citizens’ access to technology.

Rynbury has also recently invaded and has taken over Julliett (hex 0508), an action that has Quarlsbury and its allies demanding the removal of Rynbury forces from the planet. But Quarlsbury is not quite prepared to declare war on their close neighbor, and Rynbury knows it. The people of Julliett are nervous, but not in a position to fight back against their new rulers.

The last faction is based on the planet Galahad (hex 0607), run by a religious organization—the Found People of God—that strictly controls its populace. Strangely, despite the harshness of the religious doctrine, citizens of other planets are starting to embrace the Found People’s teachings. At the moment, the leaders of the other nearby worlds do not see them as a threat (except for the leader of Yavolin), but the Found People movement is growing. The planet of Greenwood (hex 0610) recently overthrew its government to embrace the religious leaders of the Found People.

Less happy are the people of Brandon’s Star (hex 0709), who recently saw their leaders imprisoned by the Found People for “crimes against God.” Precisely what these “degenerate acts” were, no one is saying. But the government is currently under the control of Galahad and tensions are running high in the single settlement on the planet.

The other planets that are connected as part of this cluster—Mindava (hex 0710), Ishtara (hex 0806), Everlong (hex 0807), Quixote (hex 0809), and Hethgra (0810)—are waiting to see which faction comes out on top, embroiled in their own troubles, not worth the effort to bring them into the fold, or all three.

Cluster #3: The Aliens

This is the most spread-out of the three clusters, starting with hex 0604 and involving all the worlds connected by the space lanes on the upper portion of the map.

Newhome (hex 0604) was settled by a group of humans from an overpopulated planet in the Federated Worlds and has been fairly successful. What they didn’t expect was that many of the worlds near them were populated by alien races.

The Kabbulu (hex 0603) live on a world of the same name, and are strange, plantlike creatures that find humor in almost everything humans do. Otiluke (hex 0504) is the home planet of the primitive Wisps—which is the human name for them as their own name is incomprehensible—a race that resembles floating balls of energy that communicate telepathically. Winter (hex 0703) is a frozen planet with a small human settlement of scientists who are studying a non-random pattern of signals being emitted from the planet as waves of radiation. Hantash (hex 0704) is the homeworld of the Tash, highly-intelligent, humanoid aliens that have many traits of birds of prey. Unhallow (hex 0802) is a hot, hellish world that the human settlers are convinced is haunted by ghosts of humans from a destroyed settlement in the distant past. And Trollsden (hex 0403) is a dangerous world inhabited by fierce beasts (nicknamed “Trolls”) that are a bad-tempered mixture of prehistoric ground sloth and grizzly bear, with just enough sentience to have led to a development of a primitive language.

Space Lanes, Not Communications Routes

Players of later versions of Traveller will notice that I am not using Communications Routes. That was a Third Imperium element, and it doesn’t appear here. Rather, the lines that connect the various worlds are space lanes. As noted in Book 3: Worlds and Adventure (1977), “The worlds of a subsector are connected by the charted space lanes, which mark the regular routes travelled by commercial starships. While it is possible for starships to travel without regard to the lanes charted, individuals who do not own or control starships are generally restricted to commercial travel on ships which ply the routes which are mapped.”

What this means for players in this sub-sector is that PCs who do not own a starship can only purchase passage to worlds connected by the space lanes. That means hexes 0110, 0804, and 0807 are not reachable unless the PCs manage to hire or convince a ship captain to take them there. And it won’t be cheap.

Even if PCs do own a starship, unless they have a Generate program on their ship—and starting PCs certainly won’t be able to afford that program—then they can only purchase jump route coordinates in self-erasing cassettes between worlds connected by the space lanes.

And at best, starting PCs who do own a ship will not have a jump drive capable of more than 1 hex at a time. That means, for example, that PCs who get hired on Quarlsbury (hex 0407) to do a job on Greenwood (hex 0610) must travel for a week to hex 0508, refuel (or find a job that gives them the money to pay for the refueling), then another week to hex 0509 (with the same possibility for adventure there), then a third week to hex 0609 (again with a possible adventure) and then to hex 0610. So a trip between four worlds could take a couple of months before they arrive at their destination.

All this means that travel is slow, difficult, expensive, and takes a lot of time. How that translates into the game is that PCs who want to travel wherever they want in the sub-sector need to amass some wealth, get their own ship, and upgrade it with a Generate program. All these things are great motivators to engage in adventures!

This is, of course, exactly as it should be.

So What about the Adventures?

The “Patron Encounters” Table in Book 3: Worlds and Adventures provides the structure I’d like to use for my adventure ideas. This table is used whenever the PCs are hungry for money (which they should be most of the time). When the PCs search out a job, they are actually looking for a “Patron.” And if the dice give the chance to meet a patron, the referee rolls on the “Patron Encounters” table (reproduced below).

As you can see, there are a lot of different possibilities there. Not all of these people are necessarily going to be out to hire the PCs. In some cases, they will be the antagonists—the actual Patron may be someone else entirely. But I’ll provide a series of adventure hooks/ideas that cover some of the options on this table.

So What Do I Get?

Next week, I’m going to post planet record sheets for a number of planets in the sub-sector. Here are the original sheets I did for Bitan and Pirnath, the two planets I discussed last week. (I know the adventure hooks are not done in the format of Patrons. These were the first two that I did and hadn’t decided on that format yet.)

Sector-Planets_Page_1     Sector-Planets_Page_2

As an aside, my friend Jonathan came up with a great suggestion as to why the Pirnath aren’t trying to annex Bitan—they are xenophobes—and that led to my idea that they are all empaths who feel actual pain when they experience human emotions.

Along with the standard UWP data, there will be a short description of the world, and its major allies and enemies. Then the rest of the sheet will be possible Patron Encounters.

Note that I plan to reuse some encounters on multiple, related worlds. For example, a couple of the same encounters for the world in hex 0207 will probably show up on the encounters list for the worlds in hexes 0107 and 0208, because those worlds are close together and there could be multiple ways for PCs to get involved in a particular adventure.

Anyway, come back next week for what is likely the conclusion of this series on Classic Traveller.

Gaming Material – Traveller

I’ve reached a point where I want to make a bit of a change to the material that I’m posting on the blog. Gaming, particularly RPG gaming, is a huge part of my life. While I love writing novels and short stories, I also love to create materials for my favorite RPG games.

So I’m going to be putting my regular Reading & Writing posts on hold for a while and try out something new. I’m going to pick a game and create some material for it over a couple of posts, and then move on to another game and do the same thing, and then another, and so on.

I hope to create some useful material for other gamers out there, while also exercising my imagination in other directions, and having some fun in the process.

Traveller and Early SF

I’ve always had a deep and abiding interest in Traveller, though I’ve never managed to get a real campaign off the ground for any serious length of time. I’ve also been a huge fan of early SF from the 50’s through the 70’s, having devoured books by H. Beam Piper, Heinlein, Asimov, Frank Herbert, Roger Zelazny, Philip K. Dick, and others.

In fact, in last week’s post about books I wish I had written, two of the six books listed sit solidly in the SF genre.

I’ve also been reading a fantastic series of blog posts on Tales to Astound! by Christopher Kubasik, in which he talks about the original three Traveller little black books (or LBBs) that came out in 1977. In those first Traveller products, there was no Third Imperium, the great sprawling setting that was later published for the game. Instead, the GM was expected to make up his or her own setting, just like in the original D&D little brown books from Gary Gygax.

The expectation was that GMs would use their love of SF literature to create a personal setting that included the things they wanted, and exclude that which didn’t appeal to them. The only implied setting in the original books is that there is some kind of centralized government far back that way, and that the player characters are out somewhere on the fringe.

This means fewer representatives of authority, more danger, more of the unknown, and more opportunity for actual adventure.

So, just like my story for April was an homage to Robert E. Howard, I’d also like to write a short or two in the style of early SF greats like Asimov. And so I’m going to combine these two interests into one project.

This week, and over the next few posts, I’m going to develop a sub-sector for Traveller. I’m going to use the random tables to create the base, and then I’m going to look at each world profile that I’ve generated and create something that is not just an extension of the Third Imperium, but a setting that reflects what could be found in the classic SF stories of the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s.

The Draconem Sub-Sector

Yes, I’m using the original Latin name for “dragon” as the name of my sub-sector, at least for now. I may change it once the true character of this region is developed, so it’s a working-name at this point.

I’ve already generated the worlds that will appear in my sub-sector by using the random tables in the Traveller LBBs. Each world has what is called a Universal World Profile (or UWP), and it includes all the numerical data about the world. In order, the information shows:

  • The world’s name
  • The hex number of the world on the map
  • The world’s starport classification
  • The size of the world
  • The world’s atmosphere
  • The world’s hydrographic percentage
  • The world’s population
  • The world’s government type
  • The world’s law level
  • The world’s technological index
  • The world’s trade classifications
  • Whether or not the system includes a gas giant (for unrefined fueling purposes).

I haven’t name any of these worlds yet, so I’m leaving that part TBD for all the entries. I’ll have names by the time I post the second part of this series of posts.

There are forty worlds in my sub-sector. I understand that if you’re not familiar with Traveller and UWP, then this won’t make much sense to you.

  • TBD; 0103; C66761298; AG,NI; Y
  • TBD; 0104; B25191398; PR; Y
  • TBD; 0107; B6685778; AG,NI; N
  • TBD; 0108; B2002228; NI; Y
  • TBD; 0109; D56661192; AG,NI; N
  • TBD; 0110; B6430437; NI,PR; Y
  • TBD; 0207; A78611110; NI; Y
  • TBD; 0208; C0002439; NI; N
  • TBD; 0305; B2425227; NI,PR; N
  • TBD; 0401; A871045715; NI; Y
  • TBD; 0402; X5344893; NI; Y
  • TBD; 0403; C4771778; NI; Y
  • TBD; 0404; E6357874; N
  • TBD; 0406; C47965210; NI; N
  • TBD; 0407; A57264811; NI; Y
  • TBD; 0504; C7668793; RI; Y
  • TBD; 0507; A63355212; NI,PR; Y
  • TBD; 0508; B32456712; NI; N
  • TBD; 0509; B000109917; NA,IN; Y
  • TBD; 0601; C5063516; NI; Y
  • TBD; 0603; D68691296; Y
  • TBD; 0604; A7684418; NI; Y
  • TBD; 0605; C440912911; IN,PR; N
  • TBD; 0606; B6533347; NI,PR; Y
  • TBD; 0607; A150613911; NI,PR; Y
  • TBD; 0608; C311510911; NI; Y
  • TBD; 0609; C36499610; N
  • TBD; 0610; A56848710; NI; Y
  • TBD; 0703; E8862893; NI; Y
  • TBD; 0704; C7431013910; IN,PR; Y
  • TBD; 0707; E7855547; AG,NI; Y
  • TBD; 0709; B2413679; NI,PR; Y
  • TBD; 0710; D99102786; NI; Y
  • TBD; 0801; C5255995; NI; N
  • TBD; 0802; B6436458; NI,PR; Y
  • TBD; 0804; E3538646; PR; Y
  • TBD; 0806; A65361098; NI,PR; Y
  • TBD; 0807; X44291195; IN,PR; Y
  • TBD; 0809; D6954784; NI; Y
  • TBD; 0810; C81074616; NI; Y

And here is the map of the sub-sector:


The grey lines are jump routes only (meaning it’s easier to travel between worlds that have established jump routes than it is to travel between worlds that are not connected in that way). In the original 1977 LBBs, there are no established X-Boat systems of communications, so this just shows the routes most ships tend to take in order to reduce navigational hazards.

Now that I have a sub-sector and all the profiles have been generated, I’m going to look at the various clusters of world in the region and see what interesting things come out of it.

I’ll start with hexes 0103 and 0104.

Here we have two worlds (which I’m going to give temporary names):

  • Bitan; 0103; C66761298; AG,NI; Y
  • Pirnath; 0104; B25191398; PR; Y

The first world in hex 0103, Bitan, is a nice planet just slightly smaller than Earth, with a standard atmosphere and huge tracks of farmland (it’s an agricultural planet). But its population is pretty small for such a world, only 1 million people and its government is a charismatic oligarchy. The tech level is a bit higher than ours, with hovercraft and laser rifles, and more advanced computing power.

Its immediate neighbor, the planet Pirnath in hex 0104, is much smaller (only one-third the size of earth), but with 1,000 times the population of Bitan at 1 billion people. It’s a very dry planet (only 10% of its surface is liquid), governed by a religious dictatorship, and its trade classification is “Poor”. The tech level is the same as in hex 0103.

The immediate question that comes to mind is why the inhabitants of planet Pirnath haven’t annexed Bitan. They need the food supply that Bitan could provide, and they have more than enough people to throw at the problem. With the technology levels being equal, it would seem obvious.

There are a couple of different ways to go here. One is that the government of Pirnath is planning to invade Bitan. They’ve reached a point where their population has grown beyond the point they can feed themselves, and if they take over the larger planet they’ll be set for a while at least. They aren’t going to abandon Pirnath entirely—it has some kind of religious significance to them—but they are preparing to invade and occupy their closest neighbor.

But there has to be more to it than that. Bitan is a nearly Earth-sized planet with only a million people despite having great agricultural capacity. What is stopping its population from growing? And does that same factor play a role in helping them fend off the possible invasion by the people of Pirnath?

Another angle is that Pirnath’s population would never consider invading Bitan for their food. Perhaps their religion requires them to be pacifists. Perhaps the leadership of their government/church is fractured by a dogmatic schism and they have no ability to act as a united organization anymore.

And there is another agricultural world just three hexes away from Pirnath (hex 0107), of the same size as Bitan but with an even smaller population of just a hundred thousand people. That world is Balkanized, so there is no central planetary government at all. Are these a bunch of small settlements, perhaps established by other worlds in the vicinity? Would those other worlds band together if the people of Pirnath decided to expand outward in an attempt to take a more hospitable planet?

As you can see, these are only the first three planets on the map, but there are already countless possibilities, and that leads to countless adventuring opportunities.


Over the next few posts, I’m going to continue to develop this sub-sector. I’ll make decisions on some of the questions I’ve raised above, and develop the worlds—and possibly some alien races—that will make this region of space a great place in which to tell stories, and adventure in a game.

I’m also happy to hear ideas from others who have developed their own region of space for Traveller or any other science fiction roleplaying game. Tell us about your own creations in the comments.

Books I wish I had written

(Or…What Inspires Me as a Writer)

We all have our favorite books—those we read again and again, that speak to us directly and touch something inside of us.

Writers have a slightly weird relationship to novels, especially great novels. Before I wrote my first novel, I could get sucked into a great story and let myself go, enjoying it for what it was and reveling in the world unfolding in the page and in my imagination. But things are different now.

Reading a truly great novel brings me a strange mixture of emotions: joy at finding a story that resonates with me, jealousy that I didn’t think of this idea first (and that I may not have done such a wonderful job with it), interest in the craft that went into the creation of the story, curiosity about the influences on the author both before and during the writing, and others.

It’s rare that I can lose myself in a story that I’m reading anymore. In some ways, I’ve lost something that I can’t ever get back. On the other hand, I know what It’s like to write a novel (or a few), and I’m intimately familiar with the hard work, the emotional roller-coaster, all the behind-the-scenes stuff, and that almost makes up for what I’ve lost.


To be sure, the joy of actually writing—and make no mistake, I do absolutely love the process of writingdoes make up for what I’ve lost when I’m reading someone else’s work. But that’s a different kettle of fish, as they say.

As a reader, I’ve got a list of books that I love. And as a writer, I’ve got books that I wish I had written. The lists certainly have some overlap, but aren’t exactly the same.

And I’m not talking about the obvious books, either. Sure, it would be nice to be the person who wrote the Harry Potter series (and have the money that came with that incredible success), but that has nothing to do with the words on the page.

It’s also hard to put these in a particular order, so I’m just going to go alphabetically. I originally was going to name my top five, but keeping to a particular number was difficult, as you’ll see.

Amber by Roger Zelazny (1970 – 1978)

I’m cheating here a bit with this one, because the first chronicle technically consists of five novels (Nine Princes in Amber, The Guns of Avalon, Sign of the Unicorn, The Hand of Oberon, and The Courts of Chaos). However, these are very short books (all but one are under 200 pages), and these five novels make up a single, continuous story. As I wrote last month, the prose is an absolute joy to read, and the characters are amazing. Zelazny makes the twists and turns of the chronicle seem effortless, and I’m driven to study his style of writing and figure out how he does what he does.

I’m not nearly as much of a fan of the second chronicle, which suffers from some problems. It’s not terrible, but also not a series I plan to ever reread.

Dune by Frank Herbert (1965)

I’ve read Dune too many times to count. In fact, I’ve read every Dune novel by Frank Herbert, and then went on to read every other novel by Herbert that I could get my hands on. But this was the epic science fiction story that started it all, and it has everything I could possibly want in a story.

Herbert himself played with the elements of narration in this book, burying haiku poems within the prose and other fun experiments, and it flows like no other book I have ever read. If there had to be a #1 on this list, Dune would be it.

It’s also great to note that Dune was turned down by over twenty publishers before “a little-known printing house best known for its auto repair manuals” published the book in 1965. It then went on to win the 1966 Hugo Award and inaugural Nebula Award for Best Novel, and is considered the best-selling science fiction novel in history. Yeah, big publishers are the gatekeepers of quality all right.

Important Note: I suggest you avoid the Dune novels that were not written directly by Frank Herbert (which are only the six books Dune, Dune Messiah, Children of Dune, God Emperor of Dune, Heretics of Dune, and Chapterhouse: Dune). I have literally nothing good to say about any of the others.

Ghost Story by Peter Straub (1979)

This is much more than just a horror story, and Straub’s cast of characters are about as real as they get in a piece of fiction. Forget the movie, which simply couldn’t capture the weight of this story (and changed the villain to make it easier on viewers). Sure, Ghost Story is scary at times—in fact, it’s terrifying at times—but it’s a lot more than that, an exploration of how the past can come back to haunt you, both figuratively and literally.

The Great and Secret Show by Clive Barker (1990)

I’ve been a big Clive Barker fan for a long time, and I’ve read almost every one of his books. But I honestly wish this particular one was mine. While the theme of the hidden supernatural world that exists behind the scenes of normal, everyday life is present in most of his stories, this is the one grabbed me and didn’t let go. From the very first chapters in the dead letter office, to the hut of the sorcerer Kissoon that exists in a few looping seconds of time, to the veil that protects the world from the Iad Uroboros, there is so much there. It’s not just what he includes in the book, but all the stuff that its existence implies that really touches me, and it’s masterfully done.

The Hyperion Cantos by Dan Simmons (1989 – 1997)

Like the Chronicles of Amber above, I’m cheating here a little, but it’s nearly impossible to choose one particular books out of all four in this series by Dan Simmons (Hyperion, The Fall of Hyperion, Endymion, The Rise of Endymion). They are all fantastic, and together they make up one amazing story. The Hyperion Cantos (as the series is called) is an epic science fiction story, broken into two parts. The first two novels make up the first half of the story, and the last two novels make up the second half that takes place 272 years after the first half ends. I’ve read a few other novels by Simmons, and it turned out I didn’t enjoy them at all. But that’s okay, because these four books really inspire me as a writer.

The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch (2008)

As much as I love this book, I know I could never write something like this (which makes even more painful because I really wish I had it in me). As the most recently-published book on this list, I’ve had the least amount of time to reread this one (though I’ve already read it three times since it came out). This is an amazing combination of heist novel, fantasy story, and world-building. The dialogue is a joy to read, you can’t help but love the characters even when they’re being annoying, and Lynch makes the complicated plots-within-plots look effortless. Some people feel the sequels aren’t as good, but I think that’s mostly because the next books don’t have that feeling of discovering something brand new that the first novel had. Besides, when your debut is this amazing, it’s nearly impossible to meet fan expectations for any follow-up books.


Looking at the above list, it’s quite a mixture of horror (Ghost Story, The Great and Secret Show), science fiction (Dune, The Hyperion Cantos), and fantasy (Chronicles of Amber, The Lies of Locke Lamora). I hadn’t really given that any thought when I decided to make a list for this post, and it surprised me a little as all my novels so far sit fully in the sword & sorcery sub-genre of fantasy.

Now there are plenty of other individual novels and series that I love, and some I have read multiple times, but I love those purely as a reader. These are the ones that inspire me and, yes, do make me a bit jealous of the skill these authors display. But writing is an ongoing process, and all writers who keep writing continue to learn and grow.

And I’m driven by the combined process of creating and learning that is writing, which is why I see myself continuing to do so as long as I am able.

If you’re a writer, what books have you read that make you think “I wish that one belonged to me?” If you’re a reader, what (ideally fiction) books inspire you the most? Tell us about it in the comments.

Free Fiction – The Broken Temple of Yinak

My first Kaus Kagunvar story is now up!

After editing, it actually came down in word count a bit, so I just missed the technical definition of novella by about a thousand words. But, at just more than 16,000 words, it’s pretty darn close. And more important than the word count is that I’m very happy with how the story turned out.

I love Robert E. Howard’s writing style, and this story is a bit of an homage to him (or as close as I could come to someone who was such a master of raw, visceral storytelling).

As I’ve mentioned previously, this is only the first of the Kaus Kagunvar stories. I have a feeling that I’ll be returning this character again and again over the next few years, as I already have a number of story ideas that I’d love to tell about his exploits on the high seas.

I hope you enjoy.

Writing Update – April 2017


This month I’m going to change around how I do these updates to make it clearer the order in which things are happening. I’m also adding a summary list at the top if you just want to know the status.

List of projects:

  1. Tales of the Undying EmpireKindle and print versions available from Amazon; complete.
  2. The Traitor and the Thief – Manuscript completed, waiting for final pass before going to beta readers.
  3. The Broken Temple of Yinak – Story completed, ready for editing, will be posted in April.
  4. Origin – Awaiting review and decision on how to move forward.
  5. The Revenant and the Reaper – Outline completed, working on chapter-by-chapter plan.
  6. The Darkness in the Deep – Outline completed, chapter-by-chapter plan completed.

Tales of the Undying Empire

With both the kindle version and the physical book available from Amazon, this is now complete. Unfortunately, Amazon is still working on linking the two entries and making sure they both show up on my Author page, but I’ve notified of them of this and it should be corrected soon.

The Traitor and the Thief

This has been sitting waiting for my final pass before it goes to my beta readers. The Broken Temple of Yinak (see below) has taken up more of my time than I originally planned, but I’m ready to get to the final pass now and I will be focusing all my energy on this until it’s out to the beta readers. I’m not making any promises on timing, though, because sometimes I find things that I had missed earlier that requires a bit more work to correct.

But I’m working hard and I hope to have good news next month.

The Broken Temple of Yinak

This is the first story of Kaus Kagunvar, and I wanted it to be just right. And so instead of a short story, I’ve actually written a novella. I hadn’t planned to do it this way, but the story needed to be told in a particular way, and I can’t say I’m disappointed in the result.

So I will be posting this in its entirety next week as my “short story” for the month. I have additional stories about this character planned, and it wouldn’t surprise me if some more of these turn out to be novella length as well.

But other than The Broken Temple of Yinak, I will probably hold onto the other stories and publish them all in a collection once I have enough to make it worthwhile. This is going to take some time, as I’m going to work on them between my other novels. But I really enjoyed writing about Kaus Kagunvar, and I hope you enjoy reading about his exploits.


Not much to say here this month. Once The Traitor and the Thief is off to my beta readers, I’ll review the story and figure out what work needs to be done to get this published. But considering everything else that’s going on, I could see this one being delayed until much later in the year.

The Revenant and the Reaper

I already know how the Undying Empire: Rebellion trilogy is going to end, and I have a fully-complete outline for this book done. I need to work on my chapter-by-chapter plan, but that comes after I take a look at Origin and usually happens right before I start writing (while everything is fresh in my mind and I’m excited to get working on it).

The Darkness in the Deep

Just to be clear, this is a working title only. But this is the next novel in the Tales of the Undying Empire series, and signals the return of Jeyrra and Flasek from The Severed Oath. I already have the outline and the chapter-by-chapter plan completed, and so I’m ready to start writing it as soon as I finish The Revenant and the Reaper.

This Blog

I don’t usually talk about this blog in my plans, other than the short story that I’m going to post. But I’ve been blogging steadily every week since I set out my plan here back in July of last year. I’ve managed to keep it going without missing a single week, and I’m pretty happy with the way things are.

I’ve taken a look at what posts get the most attention, and the clear winner is my posts about stuff I find cool. My posts about The One Ring, Night’s Black Agents, The Conan RPG, and Talislanta: Savage Lands are the highest-viewed posts by far, with my Reading & Writing posts in second place, followed by everything else.

I’m pretty happy with the reads I’m getting on my short stories, despite the fact that the posts about them are pretty low in views—but it’s the stories themselves that matter, so that’s not a big deal.

I’m not quite ready to change anything up here, but I’ve been considering what I might want to add or drop. I’ll keep an eye on things for the next couple of months, and probably make a change right around the one-year mark. Not sure what the change will be, but I know I’ll definitely make some adjustments.

That’s it for this week. I can’t wait to share The Broken Temple of Yinak with you next Sunday.

Talislanta: The Savage Land…still no elves!


Back at the beginning of 1987, a small company named Bard Games released a very cool new roleplaying game called Talislanta. Ads in Dragon Magazine loudly proclaimed “no elves…” and explained that it was for people “tired of ‘look-alike’ fantasy games.”



The world of Talislanta was densely populated with alien cultures, strange races, and fascinating character types (a.k.a. classes). The system revolved around the Action Table, a single chart against which the players rolled to determine the success (or failure) of any action. It was a great example of an early unified system that worked the same way regardless of whether the character was fighting, casting spells, sneaking past a guard, or haggling over prices with a merchant.

The original game was written by Stephen Michael Sechi and illustrated by P.D. Breeding-Black, and Talislanta quickly became known as a great little game with some unique elements in the otherwise Tolkien-dominated fantasy genre at the time. The art was fantastic, and a four-page section showing all the different races and character types became one of my favorite parts of the book. I remember paging through that section, carefully examining each picture in order to determine which character I was going to play.


Unfortunately, I didn’t purchase Talislanta myself in those days—another person with whom I used to game bought all the books available at the time:

  • The Talislanta Handbook
  • The Chronicles of Talislanta
  • A Naturalist’s Guide to Talislanta
  • Talislanta Sorcerer’s Guide

But, things being what they were, the guy who owned the books didn’t find the actual system crunchy enough, and he converted it over to RuneQuest III for the one short-lived campaign I got to play. He also severely limited the racial options (e.g. I wasn’t allowed to play a Danuvian Swordswoman because I wasn’t female myself), and RuneQuest was far deadlier than the actual Talislanta system, which meant the whole high-adventure feel was replaced with gritty and careful exploration.

Sidenote: Many people have horror stories about early GM’s who were terrible at running games, and this guy was my own nightmare. I’ve heard that his other favorite game, Shadowrun, can actually be fun to play, but I’d never know it from his running of the game back in the day. But he hasn’t been a part of my gaming group for a long time now.

Anyway, after the entire party was wiped out by a 20-foot-deep pit (not a hidden one, all the characters died just trying to descend—with climbing gear—into the pit and back up the other side), we moved onto other games. I borrowed the books from the GM for almost a year, but never got to run it myself.

The Talislanta game was quickly followed by a second edition, and then a third edition was released in 1992. This edition moved the timeline of the setting forward and made some changes to the status quo found in the first two editions. During the d20 boom, it even got a Talislanta d20 edition by Wizards of the Coast (when they temporarily owned the game). The fourth edition—called the “big blue book” by Talislanta fans—became the best known and generally most-favored edition. And finally, the fifth edition introduced a Path system for creating characters, and broke the books out into separate volumes again.

In 2010, the original author (and now the sole rights-holder of the game) Stephen Michael Sechi made all of the editions free to download on the main Talislanta website. He felt that he wanted to give the game back to the fans, and hopefully introduce a whole new generation to the Talislanta world. PDFs of all the books can be downloaded legally from the website for free.

And it seemed like that would be it for Talislanta. But it turns out the game with no elves is still kicking.

At the beginning of April, Nocturnal Media launched a Kickstarter for Talislanta: The Savage Land. Sechi teamed up with Nocturnal to produce a whole new Talislanta game. The original game is set in the New Age, “a Renaissance-like period that started a thousand or more years after The Great Disaster, a cataclysm that marked the fall of the once-great Achaen Age.”

Talislanta-The Savage Land Book

Talislanta: The Savage Land is a prequel to the original Talislanta game. It takes place just a short time after The Great Disaster.

Written once again by Stephen Michael Sechi, this new Talislanta game is much more a sword-and-sorcery game than one of high-fantasy. The artwork by David Arenas looks fantastic, and there are some great new innovations in the rules (e.g. the characters can influence the success of their tribes by managing large-scale actions on a Mass Action Table, similar to how the original Action Table worked).

The game will be released for three different rules systems. The first is, of course, the Talislanta system. In this case, they are using the second edition of the game as the base, and incorporating innovations from the fan-favorite fourth edition to arrive at the best possible system for this particular setting.

The second set of rules will be Open D6, the fun system that was found in the original Star Wars RPG from West End Games. Nocturnal now owns West End Games, and so has the expertise to produce a version of Talislanta: The Savage Land for this system.

The final set of rules will simply be the current (fifth) edition of Dungeons & Dragons. Not a great fit for Talislanta by any means, but I’m sure it will open up the setting to more players, and that’s ultimately a good thing.

The Kickstarter is still ongoing until April 30th, and I’m happy to be a backer. With 21 days still to go, they’ve already raised three times their original goal and have more than 800 backers.

Sidenote: I’ve had pretty good luck with Kickstarter so far. I’ve been careful to back projects by companies that have a good reputation, and so far I’ve yet to have a Kickstarter be late, never mind not deliver at all. This is one in which I have a lot of confidence, as the Talislanta-rules version is already completely written, so the risk is fairly minimal.


Now is a great time to get into Talislanta (or get back into it if you haven’t looked at it in a long time). All the rule books are free, and this new game promises to be gorgeous and fun, and open up a whole new era in the history of the Talislanta world.

Did you play Talislanta back in the day? Do you remember the ads in Dragon Magazine? What was your favorite character type in the Talislanta world? Tell us about it in the comments.