Thursday, August 15, 2019

Welcome to an alternate reality where I'm a guest of honor!

I swear I didn't have that much to drink and yet I wake up as a Gaming GOH for Con the Cob

I've got a few panels already lined up and I'll update as the times fill in. (And don't worry, I'll be running games too.)

 Making Aliens in 5e (Esper Genesis): Interactive 
What is the difference between a fantasy monster and sci-fi creature? How does a game master portray such creatures in their alien habitats? And what makes such critters good challenges in 5e? Christopher Robin Negelein, one of the writers for the 5e sci-fi game of the ENnie nominated Esper Genesis, answers these questions and more as the audience helps conceptualize a sci-fi organism that will appear in a future Esper Genesis adventure. 
World building in the Cypher RPG: Interactive
The cypher mechanic is one of the most fun and spontaneous aspects of game play in the Cypher RPG. But many times a GM comes up blank on how to thematically fit cyphers into their next campaign. The audience and Christopher Robin Negelein will create a bespoke setting where the cyphers play an integral part of the world. Christopher, AKA Ganza Gaming, is a Cypher System Content Creator with multiple 5-star PDFs and Electrium-level sales on DriveThruRPG.Com and a game/story writer for Esper Genesis (sci-fi D&D 5e.)
Professional RPGs vs Genre Fiction World building
Raymond E. Feist, China Mieville and GRRM are authors who have mixed their creative passions for TTRPGs with fiction. But every medium has different needs when it comes to world building. Come discover and discuss these differences and how to tackle them with Christopher Robin Negelein, who is a game/story writer for Esper Genesis (sci-fi D&D 5e) and Cypher System content creator.

Also Alligator Alley Entertainment got this bad boy out. My man, Rich Lescouflair belted this out. It as a few words of mine too, so get the PDF before the beautiful hardcover tempts you in a month or two. 

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Cypher Spotlight: The Bug Hunt

There is a growing number of Cypher Community PDFs -- and Creators – out there. I thought I’d start shining a light on the cool, daring and crazy stuff that’s worth your time. 
A quick note, though, a lot of these creators are learning their craft as they go. And it’s a lot to learn, frankly. They are semi-pros learning the ropes, so to hold them to the same level as creators who are part of an experienced team when it comes to typos and graphic design makes me feel like that’s punching down. (And it’s a bit like me throwing glass in my rock home to be honest. Wait, that’s not right, but it’s still a mess.)
On the other hand, though, I’ll be lauding the good stuff when I see it. So I’ll be judging that sort of thing more on a Needs More Practice, Got it, and Dang!
So we are off! The first one up is the Tier 2 Bug Hunt: The Children of Argent adventure/mini-setting from Stephen Seibert and Charlotte Irrgang. 
The overall presentation of the product (and PWYW pregen PDF) is pretty much in the Got It category. The setup is cool, something I’ve been toying with so it makes me a little jealous that Stephen and Char got there first. Also, the art is fairly solid.
The adventure and mini-setting is designed to be read all the way through first with the adventure and maps to be more like solid reminders of what happens next. It’s not much in the way of hand holding, but since most of Cypher is about improving and adapting on the fly it’s an easier sell to this crowd.
It’s the post apocalypse with the spin that our end came from strange intelligent bugs that see humanity as either food or tools to be controlled. It’s a world of evolving xenomorphs set in the modern day with all of the crazy tropes that go with it. So it’s up to you and your redneck friends to just effin survive. A victory is re-calibrated to just slowing down the tide, not kicking them off our planet.
Genre-wise, that puts it more in the horror category than the post-apocolypse set up suggests. In that vein, there’s lots of suggestions on GMIs angle towards plot twist than “crit fails.” Even more clever, the Insanity rules take the Horror Mode/Void rules from the Cypher Rulebook and combine them with GMIs that IMHO work just a tad better than the original [a tip of the hat there to the Bug Hunt crew]
The setting material offers tips and temptations to run the game as a short campaign with guidelines for tweaking Types to fit the mood better. Some may have wanted whole new Types for the game, but I can tell you from personal experience that not only are Types a challenge to build from the ground up (I’ve done several) just laying them out can be a chore that eats up your time. From a semi-pro with a day job perspective, it’s not a bad judgement call.
I’ll wrap up with a Dang! shout out for the character sheet design. They look spot on professional and even the pregens are form-fillable, Kudos.
If you are a Cypher creator or a big fan of one, reach out and let me know what you want to see next!
And for those new to my Pateron, you might wonder who the heck am I?
You can find me on DriveThruRPG as Ganza Gaming with 19 of my own Cypher Community Content PDFs including the “infamous” Mortal Fantasy. This is where I'm making worlds for agnostic systems and 5e and giving supporters a look behind the curtain on TTRPG industry. 

Spooky Dwarves and other strange, strange things

You'll know this sort of social post that goes around.
It goes on about how everyone buys a famous brand, but they never support a friend who is trying to get their own company off the ground. Support local, support your friends and family. It gets worse for writers and their non-reading ... associates.
Co-workers, fam, whatever, not only do these people sort of roll their eyes at the little package of paper, cardboard and glue in your hand. They ask for a free copies. Not that they intend to read it, mind you. Just so it sits on their shelf to brag about knowing a guy who writes. And even if I was foolish enough to agree to give them a free copy (can a person who designs a car give away a free car?) I'd have to ask my editor for said free copies for non-reader types. Not a great way to keep that professional relationship going.
Here soon In the Shadow of the Mountain hits shelves and is already on the interwebs with12 short stories of Horror in Secondary Worlds of High Fantasy. For us D&D types, it's Ravenloft-style fiction. When you're done reading the third story, Runes, dwarves will freak you out. 
Runes, will be my latest published short so if you liked my vignettes in Esper Genesis and like Horror, you'll enjoy this. But if you don't like Horror, I've got good news for you. I've written a thing or two here and there.

My other printed short The Icy Death of Doctor Furious, can be found in Origins and Endings, Vol. 2 and is about modern pulp as you can get. 
And if you look on my Amazon Author page, you'll see that I self-published several short stories -- and narrated my own audiobook -- a few years back. 
These stories range from Dying Earth (I'm looking at you Cypher) to serialized zombie to monster hunter to dark fairy tale and more. 
Check them out and if one tickles your fancy, don't hold back! Buy it and rate. Pleeeese rate it.
Love what you’re reading? Not only can you get the Cypher goods early, but also discover exclusive
early 5e content, world building and related fiction on my Patreon! You can also check me out at

Friday, January 4, 2019

The First Step Down The (Game Designer's) Road

I assume that only GMs read my posts, but just in case … Spoilers for Changing Seasons! 
Inspiration to make a new game setting can come from anywhere, especially if you’re talking about mini-settings. Pint-sized PDFs that can inspire a whole campaign. 
This month, I created one pretty much by accident, but first a journalism history lesson. In newspapers, stories have an “inverted pyramid” format with important broad strokes up top and descending down to less important details last. Most people assume  this is so you can read the first paragraph it you are in a hurry. 
The truth, though, goes much deeper and is rooted in different bits of technology.
When the telegraph and early telephone were around, reception sucked and lines could go down unexpectedly. If you didn't send the important news first, you had half a story. 
Not only that, but in  the last decade of the 20th Century New a paper layout was literal. You laid out strips of news stories on a page that already had ads at the bottom. If a story can too long the designer could Trim it to fit, safe in the knowledge that The last paragraphs were a minimum loss.
The lesson being that technology and formats highly impact what writers  do. As you can see, I changed the header of the Changing Seasons adventure in just under a day.
We went from:
(Left header) Cypher Adventures, (Right header) Fantasy
(Left header) Emperox's Road,  (Right header) Changing Seasons.

In a lot of products, the left header is for the name of the game line or the current book if it's big enough to have several chapters. If you open your Cypher book, you’ll see that format. 
For keyword searches, Cypher Adventures maybe a great idea, but it’s not very exciting. I needed something that sounded cool, might inspire me for further adventures and be distinctive. I already had an adventure in mind that involved some sort of changeling and doppelganger, so that eventually inspired the title fo the adventure itself, Changing Season. 
That made me think, what could further enforce the theme. Cicadas were a random thought and suddenly, I had giant, body-snatching cicadas. After that, the adventure pretty much wrote itself. 
That still didn’t solve the “Left Header sucks” problem, though.
The weather in Florida is going from life-sucking humidity to pleasant-to-be-a-human cool right now, so I’ve been taking walks and doing some of my thinking. Walking by the road, I think about what it would have been like to walk down an ancient Roman road back in the Middle Ages and BAM! I now have the idea using a road network as a mini-setting. And a lot of others would have left it at that, as a slight nod to real history. 
Part of world building is asking, “What’s next? Why is this thing really important?”
In a world filled with supernatural danger and far from civilization, would a paved road really be that much of an asset? The road would have to be something special to make it worthy of being the centerpiece of the setting. 
Thus, the Emperox Road has each cobblestone inscribe with a glyph or a rune, warding the road not only from regular wear and tear, but also (allegedly) the supernatural. To a vampire, crossing the road would be like crossing running water. 
You notice that I threw in allegedly. If it’s one thing that gets RPGs and GMs in trouble, it’s absolutes. Once players think they have immutable law in the game world, they will try to use it to their advantage, which is great. But when such things go from clever thinking to routine crutch, the game experience can start to suffer, either from the silliness of the cliche to outright boredom for everyone at the table. (This bit is highly subjective. Perhaps the silly bit becomes the in-joke everyone loves.)
So there’s a short paragraph in the adventure that insuiates that while the Emperox’s Road can general protect you, or even a town from minor supernatural dangers, there’s no guarantees. Stronger entities can muscle their way in. Parts of the road are failing or that it’s all superstition anyway. 
Regardless, the glyphs do nothing for mundane bandits, murading armies or Bugbear chieftains.
The lonely Emperox Road also give a sense that most places are their own, bits of civilization just barely connected to other bits with long stretches of wilderness in-between. For GMs, this is a great set up for running adventures without sweating local politics. It’s also great for a game designer because it means that adventures can be pretty much stand alone, no need to set up a large scale map and also increases the odds of a GM’s impulse buy.
So at this point, you can sort guess that when a writer or game designer says that inspiration can come from pretty much anywhere it’s an understatement.
Changing Seasons hits DriveThru in December 2018.
Love what you’re reading? Not only can you get the Cypher goods early, but also discover exclusive
early 5e content, world building and related fiction on my Patreon! You can also check me out at

Friday, December 21, 2018

Initial Inspiration - Triton's Call

 Judas priest, this is going to be a mess because Triton's Call has come out of decades of different inspirations, gaming experiences and gut instinct about the gaming industry. It’s all over the map, conceptually so you’ve been forewarned. 
Any time you step away from fantasy, as a game designer, you take a huge risk. 
As point of proof, the award-winning Ken Hite and we have a little shared habit as I’ve interviewed him over the years. I start a question with something like, “What do you think of the latest changes sweeping the RPG industry?” and he stops me cold right there.
He patiently sighs and says, “This is the part where I remind you that these ‘changes’ are only happen to a small portion of the RPG crowd. The vast majority of them are enjoying D&D and will continue to do so. But I will be happy to give you my opinion about those changes you’re talking about.”
Ken himself is one of those designers making changes as he tweaks and plays around with a system call Gumshoe, which tackles the situation of the players missing their perception check when the GM has an important clue hanging around. It’s a question that’s important to Ken since his RPG love is Call of Cthulhu, a game where investigation and research is a central theme. 
On a more personal note, one of the longest games I’ve run was Mage, which was the Matrix and Urban Fantasy/Horror seven years before the movie. And before that I ran GURPS Horror game. Three guesses who wrote terrorizing beauty.
I’ve even fiddled around making a game where graffiti was the source of magic (based on futhark runes) and read, but never got to play, Unknown Armies. 
Fast forward to 2016, I ran a End of the World RPG game. The set up is our current world that has you, as your own PC, going through an invasion scenario. The four books in the series take invaders, like the Gods or our own Machines, who push us back into the stone age.  The book I picked was Aliens, which included aliens … from Atlantis.
Funny thing, I’ve always wanted to run a comic book RPG about an Atlantis AND my first trunk novel was an Urban Horror novel about conspiracies, pretty outsiders and Atlantis bio-tech. (Maybe I should have lead with that.)  Needless to say, I enjoyed running that game and kept trying figuring out how to revisit it. 
I also like giving GMs options but if you already have my Cypher PDFs, Mortal Fantasy and Cruel Stars, you already know that. I also loved the tool kit approach that allows GMs to run the same concept in a dozen way. And especially after reading Hite’s Night’s Black Agents, it proved to me that such multi-genre book would work. (Thanks to Stephen, who motivated me to  expanded Triton’s Call to include fantasy)
Both goals are also a great way to expand the appeal of a book that already has the deck stacked against it for not being pure High Fantasy. 
So all of these separate obsessions have all rolled into a single  inspiration for a game. 
In these early days I see the toolbox taking the GM through the process of narrowing down their game to a sentence, something similar to our Cypher fans (or would that be Cyfans?) The different blanks in the sentence would define different aspects of the genre, action and the timeline. 
All things are subject to change but for example: 
The characters have discovered they have ____ Atlantean bloodline, but their kin are involved in a _____ conspiracy and have planned an _____ invasion that will happen _____. 
After working through the book, a finished sentence would look something like this.
The characters have discovered they have mutant Atlantean bloodline, but their kin are involved in an International conspiracy and have planned a psychic invasion that will happen soon.”
This will be just one tool, though. I still have to iron out that Trident of Power yet.
Love what you’re reading? Not only can you get the Cypher goods early, but also discover exclusive early 5e content, world building and related fiction on my Patreon! You can also check me out at 

Friday, December 7, 2018

Initial Inspiration - The Reaches

By Christopher Robin Negelein
For many GMs, tabletop RPGs are a gourmet meal. For many players, RPGs are comfort food.  
Over the years, I see lots of GMs hunger for a bit of variety in what they do. They want to try new game systems or even new genres. 
The challenge, though, comes from their players being quite happy with the status quo. They may say they want something different, but what they really mean is “different, but the same.” 
I actually had a love/hate relationship with AD&D for a long time because it was always an uphill battle to fight the inertia at the game table to try something else. That changed a little when White Wolf hit the scene, but the new thing quickly became the next old habit. 
Esper Genesis tackles this issue by putting a familiar game engine into a different genre with new classes, races and star ship rules. And it’s paid off with me constantly hearing things like “now I can finally get my Traveller/Gamma Word campaign going,” or “Now my players will let me run a much wider gamut of things at the table.” Though it’s not a secret that D&D has had science fiction in its veins since the early days.
What’s less obvious is that it has quite a bit of the Wild West/Weird Western as well. The core set up (a group of traveling misfits who braved the lawless wilds and are forced to save town from a local terror as a matter of survival) is right out of Spaghetti Westerns and Joe R. Lansdale. 
So there have been a few attempts to make D&D Westerns, and they followed the same philosophy of new classes. But when it came to races, Dwarves where often prospectors and Orcs wore sombreros. That last bit is a tad tone deaf in 2018. Regardless none of them caught on despite letting wizards cast spells with their six shooters. (How cool is that!)
Then I read Joe Abercrombie’s Red Country and my head exploded.
The story is set in his First Law grimdark fantasy setting, which would feel familiar to any Game of Thrones (Song of Fire and Ice) fan. A secondary world where blood, sweat and ambition put subtle and low-key magic in the backseat. Red Country took us a place called the Far Lands that was almost a pure Western in a fantasy world -- and the result was an interesting weird spin on Fantasy.
On the surface it seemed to be an easy formula:
  • Pistols = throwing knives and hand crossbows
  • Shotguns = heavy crossbows
But there was much more going on as I dug in. 
 As you can see
I really appreciated how he did the trick and there was some buzz at the time about how he was going to reinvent the fantasy genre, but since then he hasn’t revisited the Far Lands since.
The great thing about being a writer, though, is that if you can’t find something you want to read then you have a another reason to write.
So putting ten-gallon hats on elves and having wizards do some spell-slinging didn’t catch on. Maybe it’s time for another approach, give players something that's “same, but different.”  They can have their elves and rangers but discover a new fantasy landscape that intrigues them because it has some oddball features and challenges. Something the OSR crowd has been enjoying for years. 
Those features will be the likely result of tweaking the setting to allow GMs to bring their Wild West adventures into the game and keep their creative juices flowing. 
So that’s my goal. A setting that on the surface can be played with as a fantasy game with a truly strange new land for players to explore but also inspires GMs by letting play around with a genre and a campaign they ordinarily wouldn't be able to pull off. 
I’m aiming for the sun, let’s see how much I get burned.
Even the grid can not save myself from the horrors of my own artist skill!
P.S. Yeah, I've been working on this idea for a while now.
Love what you’re reading? Not only can you get the Cypher goods early, but also discover exclusive early 5e content, world building and related fiction on my Patreon! You can also check me out at

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Welcome traveler!

If you've come here from the Cypher Unlimited video, many thanks. It only takes one click to get to a creator's blog from a video or guest blog or an article, but few ever do.

So, wow. I have your attention. ... [Shoves a stack of books and games off the chair and gestures you to sit down.] What do you want to know? This used to be my blog for my fiction career, but it's been revamped for a more multi-media approach.

That world, multi-media, sound good. It really means that I've just put my fiction skills, along with a dash of other skills, to keep creating new stuff. It seems to be working.  So enjoy some of what we got going on here for now, but be warned -- it's changing.

This month, my boys and I at Alligator Alley Entertainment will be assessing new projects, I'll be the Line Developer on at least one project. I'll also be doing a Pateron that will not only give you updates, but also take you through the process of creating some additional pet projects. Some of that will make to the blog at a later date, some of it maybe Pateron only. Still figuring that out.

Beyond archiving that, I'm to archive more and more stuff that I used to have on the old Nerdstravaganza podcast website. Want to see a proto-steam punk novella of Roman refugees in Warring States China? Let me know.

So things are looking crazy for the rest of this year and into the next, take a seat and enjoy the ride.