It feels like time to write another book, and I’ve got a question for you. I’ve got three projects that I could usefully and quite easily turn into books, and I’m torn between which one to pursue, so I’d like your advice. Which of these would you be interested in reading? Which of these might you pay for? If more than one, which first?
COME ON PILGRIM
In the summer of 2006 I researched and walked the route of the original Pilgrim’s Way, 146 miles between Winchester and Canterbury. Some of it was along established footpaths, some was along major roads, and parts involved trespassing through farms, woods and gardens, as well as working out how to cross major rivers where there haven’t been fords or ferries for hundreds of years. And since the medieval pilgrims didn’t have maps of the route, I didn’t either.
At the time I wrote a blog of the whole thing, which with some editing and about 10,000 new words could be turned into a witty chronicle of a journey that was more physical and emotional than spiritual—though along the way I would try to finally answer the question of why an atheist like me would go on a medieval pilgrimage. Also there aren’t many recent books about the Pilgrim’s Way and its actual course, and it’s a subject that covers the history of Britain and its evolution into the country it is now, so there’s plenty of tasty meat. This would be much, much more than a chronicle of a ramble.
I gave a talk at GameCamp about ‘Videogamesmanship, or how to win games without being any good at them’. It was based on Stephen Potter’s splendid 1947 book Gamesmanship, which is better known as the basis for the Terry Thomas movie School for Scoundrels.
Gamesmanship involves using psychological cues to put your opponent at a disadvantage, unsettling them, breaking their concentration and convincing them that you are the better player, or at least the one who ought to win. Potter applies it mostly to games like golf and tennis, where you have face-to-face contact with the other player, and there’s a sense of sportsmanship and fair play that the good gamesman can exploit to their advantage.
Gamesmanship is a delightful and very funny read, but it’s completely out of date—and in fact is long out of print in the UK. In an era of online games, where twelve-year-olds will teabag your twitching corpse while yelling about how they’ll shag your mum, is there still a place for methods of elegantly outplaying your adversaries?
I think there is. And I think I can get 30,000 cracking words out of it.
Videogamesmanship would cover the art and science of gamesmanship in online and offline play, realtime games like FPSes and RTSes and asynchronous games like Words With Friends, as well as MMOs, social games and mobile games, board-games, card-games and RPGs. Plus the correct use of forums, possibly Twittermanship and Angrybirdsmanship, and of course gameswomanship. If successful it may devolve into a second volume: Internetmanship, or how to win any argument on the internet despite being wrong.
Alas Vegas is the first tabletop RPG I’ve designed since The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen. I did a lot of work on it about eighteen months ago and then put it to one side when real work intervened, and never went back to it. Nevertheless I think it’s good stuff, unlike any other RPG I’ve ever played or read about.
Alas Vegas begins with the player-characters digging themselves out of a shallow grave in the desert outside a large casino city. It is midnight. They are naked. They have no idea who they are or how they got there. The game involves exploring the city, rediscovering their identities and learning what path led them to their sandy graves. At the same time they must work out what this place is, how it works, and how they can escape its clutches.
The game uses a semi-conventional GM-and-players structure, and plays to conclusion in four sessions. The main story has a pre-determined plot—it’s not a railroad but there are key NPCs, events and encounters. However the second story, the PCs’ identities and relationships and stories, is dynamically and collaboratively created by the players themselves as the game develops. At the end the two come together in a stunning climax of revelation and realisation, in an encounter with the shadowy figures who run the place… and just possibly a way out.
Alas Vegas is driven by a cut-down version of the never-before-published narrative system I originally developed in the 1990s to power the Bugtown RPG. The core mechanic is a version of Blackjack played with Tarot cards. The game is short. This is not a conventional RPG: it’s setting and system in a single pack, with no room for supplements or expansions. It is what it is and when it’s done it’s over.
To say more would spoil it, but this isn’t an RPG version of Tim Powers’ Last Call. It’s much weirder than that.
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Okay. I want to write all three of these books, but it’s a question of prioritising one over the others. I could do Come On Pilgrim quite quickly but the other two require an investment of time and resources, so I’d probably have to run a Kickstarter or Indiegogo campaign to fund them. Would you back either? Both? Which one would you prefer?
There’s space for comments below and I look forward to hearing what you think.