Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

Space Hamsters To Return

January 5, 2022 Leave a comment

So it looks like Spelljammer is coming back.

In case you missed it, Spelljammer  was a setting for second edition Advanced Dungeons and Dragons1 which introduced wooden space-ships and let players ‘set sail’ to other worlds (other D&D settings). 

Now you may wonder how that works. Most D&D worlds are pseudo-medieval after all, how does all the space stuff work? The answer is magic. Powerful devices called spelljamming helms ‘power’ the wooden ships and gravity works in a way convenient to the plot. They also borrowed ideas for 2nd Century AD astrophysics2 to add phlogiston and crystal spheres; basically oceans and mountains but ‘in space’. Because fantasy.

The setting blends 1950’s era pulp sci-fi with age of sail style fantasy. So we get pirates, buccaneers, mysterious ports and so on. The setting came out in 1989, a messy time for D&D. The company owned the rights to Amazing Stories3and Buck Rogers4at the time and this informed the game. They’d taken the things that had inspired Star Wars such as John Carter of Mars and added swashbuckling pirates and high fantasy magic.  It was an amazing idea.

Of course, the initial boxed set was a mess. Not enough setting and too many rules, lots of cardboard. The supplements where better and it’s big move was to give the brain-eating squid monsters known as Mind Flayers their own evil space-ships, that looked like horrific sea beasties. On the other hand, it had Giant Space Hamsters. Which worked exactly the way you think they would, big tubes to crawl in and everything.

It did well enough. It also almost became it’s own ‘Video Interactive Boardgame’ – TSR had produced one for vanilla D&D called DragonStrike and Spelljammer: Wildspace would have been next, had the company not headed into financial difficulties. Instead all we have is this:

Spelljammer sort of went away as the game moved on, but was not forgotten. Later editions couldn’t resist dropping it in as an Easter Egg here and there and Third Edition did get a mini-supplement in an issue of Dungeon Magazine. Spelljammer ships have appeared in a couple of the adventure supplements for D&D Fifth Edition as well (I won’t say which ones because of spoilers). The new Baldur’s Gate video game also features something very familar to fans of Spelljammer. 

So why am I saying it’s back? Well there’s two massive clues. One is that Wizards of the Coast recently released an article on their ‘Unearthed Arcana’ blog heavily features beasties from the old Spell Jammer game, as well as a few things from elsewhere. (You can find it here if you fancy a quick look.) These articles tend to ‘test the waters’ before a book comes out.

The other massive clue is a lovely sneak peak we got recently in a “Future of D&D” panel. It seems that one of the books features Boo on the cover. Now Boo is the hamster companion to Minsc, one of D&D’s iconic heroes. But he’s not just any hamster. He’s a miniature giant space hamster.


It also doesn’t hurt that lead designer Chris Perkins admitted to having written screen plays based on another old property, Star Frontiers. Which is Spelljammer adjacent, sharing a lot of the feel and mood of the setting. So it really looks like D&D Fifth Edition is about to boldly go into some sort of wild space like setting. It’ll be fascinating to see how this effects more up-to-date D&D settings like Eberron and Ravnica. Will we see the Vox Machina crew take on Space Pirates? We’ll have to wait and see.

1: Nothing terribly advanced about AD&D – the ‘advanced’ was added so Gygax didn’t have to share royalties.  Confused the heck out of me when I was 11 and put loads of kids off. Nice one Gary.

2: The word astrophysics is doing a lot of heavy lifting here.

3: Amazing was a big deal when it came to science fiction back in the day. Deserves it’s own post

4: TSR produced a Buck Rogers RPG. It was much better than it had any right to be.

Categories: Games, Geek, Reviews, Writing

Remember, Remember

November 5, 2011 1 comment

Sydney hated having to work weekends, but the Department of the Environment had tight deadlines, and no else would do it. Sydney was always doing the things no one else wanted to do. Part of the problem was that they were short-staffed. Sydney had learned not to describe the problem in those terms, mention the word “short” and someone would snigger to themselves about his stature. At 4 foot nothing, he was the shortest adult in the building and people’s tendency to treat him like some sort of mascot was irritating in the extreme. He twitched at the thought of it, wrinkling his nose in disgust.

The filing cabinet had become over-filled long ago, and the teetering stack of paperwork was so tall that Sydney had to use the extra long step-ladder. Stretching across to get that vital file, he over reached and lost his balance, causing a small avalanche of paperwork to flood the tiny office. Sydney tumbled gracefully, avoiding the worst of the disaster. As he stood amongst the debris, he looked down and uttered the mildest of oaths in frustration. In the storm of paperwork, the battered old transistor radio had become dislodged again, and had smashed against the floor, breaking into many pieces.

Ignoring the mess of paperwork for the time being, Sydney picked up the broken device with great care, dutifully sweeping up the broken pieces into his arms. Plonking the bits on his desk, he set to work; the radio was an old friend, having been brought back to life many times thanks to Sydney’s diligence, hard work and technical know-how. In a matter of minutes, it was whole again, and taking a moment to take a deep breath, Sydney turned it on.

The radio leant a tinny quality to the music it played, but it was still good. An old tune blurted out, and the song was one that Sydney was not expecting. It was a novelty song, and it took Sydney back a great many years. Remember, it said, remember. And in Sydney’s mind, a great flood of suppressed memories came flooding back.

He recalled the days, so many years ago, when the bright eyed men in the red coats came for his home. They came with shovels and hounds, and they didn’t seem to care that he and his brothers where people, with a language, a culture and loved ones. The strange men only saw the fur and the long noses. They wanted something to hunt and his kind were simply in the way. It was illegal, of course, but no one much cared. In desperation, his Uncle had gathered the clan around him, and begun to read the words from an ancient book, one long ago discarded from the libraries of man.

Sydney remembered; he recalled how his paws turned into hands and how his legs became slightly longer. He could still see the look on the faces of his brothers and sisters as they all transformed. He remembered the task he was set; to change the world, carefully and steadily, to make mankind care more about where he stood. And then, and only then, he and his kind could return to the world.

Categories: Original Fiction, Writing

Writing about Writing. Well I never.

November 1, 2011 2 comments

Well, National Novel Writing Month started today, and good luck to anyone who’s using it as an excuse to give their writing aspirations a kick-start.

Now, I’m sort of participating, in the sense that I’ve a been taking this writing business seriously for a while now and I’ve a bucket load of work to do. The way I currently work is shockingly wasteful, mostly because I’m self-employed and thus have most of the day to myself. This, alas, does not mean I can sit around playing video games and reading books. Y’see, the more non-writing things I have to do in a day, the more efficient I become with the actual discipline of applying my arse to the chair, my fingers to keyboard and my brain to creating a story.

My method, such as it is, can be easily broken down into three ‘P’s. Plodding, Planning and Panicking.

(c) The Rut @

I've actually had this conversation, sort of.

Plodding is essentially where I do anything but writing. Usually, this is doing something that has nothing to do with writing, but, if I’m lucky, happens to pay well. I keep a notepad handy while I either procrastinate or do something useful, and slowly accrue a sense of what I need to write today.

Planning is more useful. It’s either editing previous work, or making extensive notes as to what needs to be done. Finally, Panicking is where I realise I’ve not done my 500 words for the day, and rush to get them done. Typically, I get much more than 500 words done, but still, it’s the panicking that’s the key. Someday, I’ll develop a more disciplined process. Promise.

So, what am I writing about? Well, in case you really want to know, here’s my next few months, roughly sketched out.

Rockets, Rayguns and Really Nice Tea is a LARP project I’m running and I’ve a lovely team of very talented writers, and we’ve reams of plot to create and write, as well as a whole world to fill in and expand. With larp, the more background detail you can throw at the players, the better, because it means the players are more likely to find something they can run with. It’s already turning out to be lashings and lashing of fun, and should occupy my spare moments well into the new year and beyond.

I’m also working on a submission for Circalit’s Immersive Writing Lab Competition. It’s an exercise in world building, which is something I love to do, and do anyway. I do like to write to a brief, as it gives me a structure and a deadline, and that helps me move from the plodding to panicking stages of the process pretty swiftly. So when I see a competition like this one, I go for it.

I’m also working on a variety of Steampunk based short stories. Partially because it’s excellent practice for Victoriana1 , partially because more than a few small press publishers want Steampunk shorts to sell to the e-reader market, but mostly because writing alternate history fiction is an awful lot of fun.

Oh, and I’m writing a book. It’s a slow beast, and it’s initial incarnation was rubbish, so much so that I scrapped it and started again (same world, better story.) It’s a decidedly English piece of modern fantasy, and I’ll not bore you with the details until it’s ready, which should be sooner rather than later.

1: Victoriana is yet another LARP I’m involved with, though thankfully only as one of the writers this time. The lovely lunatic in charge of Victoriana is Mike Smith, of Ruin Mikey’s Life fame.

Categories: Writing

The hardest part…

October 1, 2011 1 comment

This weekend, I should find out if I’ve been commissioned for some writing work. (It’s not just one thing, it’s a handful of jobs). In any case, I should find out more over the weekend.

I came back to writing professionally because I missed the regular creative challenge, and the validation of being published. I came into to with no illusions as to how hard it was. The reason I write is because it’s part of who I am. The reason I try to get published is because I crave an audience.

What I’d forgotten about was the waiting. The seemingly endless waiting. You work, you sweat, you spend days changing words on a page into something that people want to read, and then you send it out into the world. And wait. And wait some more. It’s not easy.

Rejection, in this case, is almost as good as a commission. A rejection letter means that the people you’ve sent it to have at least acknowledged your existence. This isn’t being needy, this is part of how it all works.

A rejection letter is a sign you’re on the right track, because it’s far more likely that if your work is no good, you’ll simply be ignored. It’s nothing personal, of course, but it never feels like that. It feels like you’ve taken something you’ve created and then sent it out into the world to be eaten by wolves. Novellist and script-writer James Swallow once described the typical response from a publisher as a crushing maw of nothingness, and I agree with him very strongly on this. But of course, it’s nothing personal. And every failure is simply fuel to the marvellous engine called “Being Better”.

So as well as writing, I’m waiting. Patiently. And trying hard not to check my inbox every five minutes.

Categories: Writing

New Blog, Same old nonsense

August 14, 2011 Leave a comment

After years of blogging on Livejournal, I’ve finally made the leap to WordPress. Partially because LJ has become unreliable, mostly because I want this blog to focus on fresh things, so I may as well start a new blog as I change my lifestyle.

I’ll still be posting links to this blog via LJ, and I may mine the old journal for some stand out articles.

So welcome to my new blog. Expect the usual reviews, commentary, bat-shit ideas and the odd bit of fiction. And I mean odd.


Categories: Writing