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Announcing STAR TREK ADVENTURES: THE KLINGON EMPIRE Core Rulebook

I have a bit of a surprise announcement for a Star Trek project I contributed a little bit to and have only just been cleared to talk about. Star Trek Adventures is releasing an alternative version of its Core Rulebook, told from the perspective of (and entitled) The Klingon Empire rather than Starfleet.

STA Klingon Empire Core Rulebook

 

According to the StarTrek.com press release:

This core rulebook contains the same rules presented in the Starfleet-focused core rulebook released in 2017. The award-winning design team, including 2d20 developer Nathan Dowdell, took the opportunity to edit and streamline the rules chapters based on fan feedback since the game’s launch, and introduce new rules for reputation, honor, glory, and house management. Now, for the first time, you and your fellow players can create your own noble Klingon House and seek out glory. Everything you need to create brave Klingon warriors and fearsome Klingon warships are available for you to use.

In addition to the revised rules, the book contains extensive chapters on Klingon history, culture, politics, military, and planets. Players have more than a dozen Klingon starships to choose from and make their own, creating their own ship to crew and take into battle. Players will be able to play Klingons from most any Star Trek era, including pure-bred Klingon warriors as well as those afflicted with the Augment Virus, the QuchHa’. Fans of Star Trek: Enterprise, The Original Series, and The Next Generation era will all find materials to use in their games and play in any time they choose.

 

The STA creative team headed up by Jim Johnson called on a bunch of Trek Lit writers to contribute various material to the book, with Klingon authority Keith R.A. DeCandido contributing a considerable amount of content. Other contributors familiar to Trek Lit fans include Derek Tyler Attico, Kelli Fitzpatrick, Scott Pearson, Dr. Lawrence M. Schoen of the Klingon Language Institute, and Dayton Ward. My own contributions are relatively minor (several of the Non-Player Character descriptions, just a few pages’ worth), but I’m in there somewhere.

The new rulebook is available for preorder here:

Star Trek Adventures: Klingon Core Rulebook

Buyers will immediately get a free PDF preview version of the book, with the physical book shipping in the fall or whenever it becomes feasible given the current state of the world.

So remember, a Qapla’ a day keeps the Fek’lhr away. Or something like that.

I’m all out of deadlines…

I just met my deadline for submitting a proposal for a new, potentially quite interesting project that I hope will pan out. It’s audiobook-oriented, so in my sample chapters, I tried to write the whole thing without any “said” tags on the dialogue, which is surprisingly easier than it sounds. (I was following advice from something I coincidentally read a while back with tips for writing with audio in mind, though I can’t remember where it was.)

Anyway, now I don’t have any looming deadlines, not for nearly 5 months, anyway. At the moment, I’m officially between projects, and for the first time in a while, I’m reasonably sure I’ll have enough money for the foreseeable future, providing things go as expected. (Well, at least enough to pull back from the brink for hopefully the last time and start paying down my debts.) So you’d think I’d be relieved, ready to relax and enjoy some downtime. Oddly, though, I feel a little depressed about not having any solid plans or projects to focus on (other than new reviews for my Patreon page, of course).

Maybe it’s an aftereffect of the past few months where I had to find something to work on to avoid going broke, so the prospect of having nothing definite on the horizon makes me reflexively worried, even though I don’t need to be anymore (probably). Or maybe it’s just that I’d gotten on a roll writing the sample chapters so stopping now feels unsatisfying. Or maybe I just have fewer distractions from the increasingly horrible news from the outside world.

Anyway, I don’t plan to be idle for long. I don’t know how much downtime I’ll have before I get the go-ahead to start writing my currently contracted project, but I have a whole list of stories and outlines to work on this year that I’ve only managed to check a few things off of so far, so hopefully I’ll finally be able to get started, at least, on one or two of those. I also have a couple of more Star Trek Adventures campaigns to write, though the world crisis has slowed things down for Modiphius so I’m not under any time pressure on those. So I have options.

Meanwhile, just yesterday my editor Danielle and I worked out the back cover copy for Arachne’s Crime, and I think the completion of the cover art and design is the only remaining step before publication. And I know that process is underway. So the book may be out very soon now. Remember, you can preorder it here.

 

Also meanwhile, I just completed my second online order for grocery pickup, which I scheduled for tomorrow morning. I discovered it was possible to customize my order, to disable substitutions for individual items or give specific instructions, so I could avoid unwanted substitutions of the sort I got last time. So I ordered my acid control medicine with substitutions turned off so I wouldn’t get the wrong dosage this time, though if it turns out they don’t have it at Kroger, I’ll have to go across the lot to Walgreens and actually go into the store. But I’ll have my mask and gloves, and I read recently that it’s reasonably safe to be in a public place for under 15 minutes if it’s not too crowded, which it never has been in my experience even before the pandemic.

The other substitution that turned out poorly was that vegetarian kielbasa that was subbed for my favorite veggie Italian sausage. It did too good a job simulating the aspects of pork flavor and texture that I particularly dislike. I tried the first sausage cut in half and served on hot dog buns, as I often do with the Italian; it was tolerable. I then tried cutting it up in red sauce on top of spaghetti, and that didn’t mesh well at all. So I tried to think of something I had that would go well with a pork-like flavor, and I decided to marinate the next sausage in barbecue sauce. That was decent, but not too satisfying. For the last sausage in the package, I’m wondering if topping it with melted cheese would help, but I’m in no hurry to try.

I’m reminded of how, when I was a kid, I would smother the meat my father cooked in steak sauce to make it more palatable. I remember what may have been the first time he had me try ham, and I didn’t like it so I slathered on the sauce, and when he asked me how it tasted, I said “Like hard A-1 Sauce.” I think he found it pretty funny, which might be why I remember it so clearly.

How well do I Bechdel, updated

It’s been nearly four years since my “How well do I Bechdel?” post, where I assessed the gender inclusiveness of my fiction by applying the famous Bechdel test (an imperfect but useful assessment for an aggregate body of work, as discussed in the original thread). I was surprised at how poorly my original fiction came out, since so much of it is female-centric, but the problem was that it was mostly short fiction that often centered on one male and one female lead. Anyway, I’ve had a significant number of new stories and novels published (or due for publication) since then, so I figured it was worth updating the list.

To recap, a work of fiction passes the Bechdel test if it meets three criteria:

  1. It includes at least two named female characters…
  2. who have a conversation with each other…
  3. about something other than a man.

There’s also the related Mako Mori test for works with only one female lead; such a work can pass if:

  1. It includes at least one female character…
  2. who has her own narrative arc…
  3. that isn’t about supporting a male character’s arc.

Of course, as I mentioned last time, passing the test doesn’t guarantee a work isn’t sexist, or vice-versa, since it’s more about the aggregate than an individual work. A great example I came across a while back is the Roger Corman horror movie Forbidden World (1982). The movie passes Bechdel handily thanks to a scene where the two female leads have a lengthy conversation with each other about how to communicate with the monster attacking their lab… however, the entire conversation is conducted while they’re fully frontally nude together in a futuristic shower. Indeed, they’re treated throughout as sex objects and victims. So Bechdel alone is not a definitive assessment. But then, part of the point is that it’s an absurdly low bar to clear, so there’s no excuse for so many stories in popular culture to fail it.

So let’s see how my total body of work stacks up now. My first post covered my published or pending works up through Star Trek: The Face of the Unknown from January 2017. Most of my published works since then have been original, so we’ll start with those. In publication order, and including sold works awaiting publication:

“Twilight’s Captives”: Passes Bechdel. The female lead Madeleine Kamakau discusses the rescue of hostage children with the mother of one of the hostages, as well as with a female alien leader and an alien of a third “brooder” sex using a female pronoun. An asexual, non-gendered alien also has conversations with several female characters.

“Abductive Reasoning”: Fails Bechdel, but passes Mako. A two-hander between an alien female and a human male, but the alien’s pursuit of her own goal (which involves reconciling with her sister) drives the story.

“Hubpoint of No Return”: Ambiguous pass. Nashira Wing and the female alien Tsshar have a conversation that is partly about rescuing the male lead David, but evolves into one driven primarily by Nashira’s own agenda. Passes Mako twice over, as both Nashira and Tsshar have their own independent agendas shaping events.

“Aspiring to be Angels”: Passes. Emerald Blair and a female scientist have several discussions about the driving concepts and themes of the story, with the male lead only occasionally discussed.

“…And He Built a Crooked Hub”: Limited pass. Nashira converses with several female characters about various matters, although her overall goal is to locate and help David. (Also contains a metatextual joke about this very subject.) Not a Mako pass; three female characters (Nashira, Yldai, and Tsshar) have narrative arcs (i.e. storylines that develop and resolve rather than just unchanging motives/goals), but all are about David in some way.

“Hubstitute Creatures”: Limited pass. Nashira argues with a female colleague about her work (though her relationship with a male character is brought up) and discusses a medical matter with a female alien doctor. Mako pass, since Nashira’s personal agenda and narrative arc drive the story.

Crimes of the Hub: The new bridging material added for the collection includes one scene that passes, where Nashira speaks with two female colleagues (one human, one not) about their respective careers.

“The Melody Lingers”: Fails Bechdel and Mako. There are two primary named female characters (arguably three, but one isn’t truly present), but they have almost no direct interaction except through the male viewpoint character, and neither has an independent arc (one is subservient to him and the other is reacting against him). But this is arguably more a feature than a bug, since the intent is to critique and challenge the viewpoint character’s self-serving treatment of women.

“The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of”: Barely passes Bechdel. There are several named female characters discussing the artifact around which the story revolves, but they’re mostly discussing it with the male lead, and there’s only one paragraph in which one woman addresses another. Probably passes Mako, as Captain Veronica Moyo has a clearly defined agenda that, while it ultimately puts her at odds with the male lead, is not specifically about him, and her actions in pursuit of her goals are a primary catalyst of the story’s events.

“Conventional Powers”: Full pass. Emerald Blair discusses multiple subjects (largely her own actions, aspirations, and beliefs) with at least five other women, four of them named (or at least code-named).

“The Cat Who Chased Her Tail Through Time” (Patreon): Full pass. My debut Patreon story is a self-indulgent piece I wrote long ago about my cats, so it has no “onscreen” human characters except myself; but all but one of the cats in the story are female and they interact and discuss a great deal; also, the story is catalyzed by the actions of two female humans based on my two best friends from college.

“The Moving Finger Writes” (Patreon): Borderline pass at most. There are several named female characters, two human and two alien, but the two female aliens only briefly converse to establish their kinship, and all other conversations are with or about males. Probably a Mako fail; several female characters do have their own independent agendas, but their narrative purpose is to support and advance the male lead’s arc.

“They Also Serve” (Patreon): Fail. Emerald Blair is the only female character, and she’s merely the audience for Arkady’s narrative about meeting his husband.

Arachne’s Crime (upcoming): Full pass. There are multiple central female human characters, a female-identifying AI (Arachne), and a genderfluid alien species for which 3/4 of the most prominent characters are female for most or all of the narrative. They have numerous conversations and debates about a wide variety of topics. (Includes the events of “Aggravated Vehicular Genocide,” discussed in my previous Bechdel post, with most of the conversations mentioned there present here as well.)

Arachne’s Exile (upcoming): Full pass. There may be a higher ratio of female-male interactions to female-female ones here, but there’s still a number of the latter, and one of the two female leads becomes a more active driver of the narrative and shares several scenes with a female alien ally discussing various topics (spoilers!).

“Comfort Zones” (Kickstarter bonus): Pass. Has two main female characters who discuss their respective future plans and debate exploration policies.

“Vein Glory” (Kickstarter bonus): Only 2/3 Bechdel pass, Mako fail. Two named female characters who speak to each other, but only about matters pertaining to the male lead.

So… as of my previous post, my original fiction had 6 Bechdel passes out of 10, many of them borderline. Now I make it 18 out of 27, so I’m up from 60% to 67% (and only three unambiguous Mako fails) — a moderate improvement, though it could be better. However, I’ve succeeded in substantially improving LGBTQ representation in my original fiction, since about half of the above works feature overtly LGBTQ characters, 7 feature same-sex romance or attraction (8 if you count an ambiguous same-sex kiss), and three feature characters (mostly nonhuman) of non-binary sexuality. And 100% of my novel-length original works (Only Superhuman, Arachne’s Crime/Exile, and Crimes of the Hub as a fixup novel) succeed at both Bechdel and LGBTQ representation. It’s easier to achieve with novel-length works where there are more characters and interactions.

And now my comparatively few Star Trek works:

DTI: Shield of the Gods: Passes, briefly. Two female Aegis agents discuss their business.

ENT: Rise of the Federation: Patterns of Interference: Passes, though not extensively. Caroline Paris and Kivei Tizahr get acquainted; Devna and Maras discuss various matters (including but not limited to a male character); Tizahr discusses transporter ethics with Regina Tallarico (and two male crewmates); etc.

TOS: The Captain’s Oath: Moderate pass. It’s mainly from Captain Kirk’s perspective and relies on TOS characters, so it’s strongly male-centric, but there are a few Bechdel-passing scenes between female characters original to the novel, mainly Starfleet/Federation personnel discussing their work or crisis situations, though there is also a close female/female friendship depicted between Kamisha Diaz and a Caitian classmate. Mako pass, since several female characters have independent agendas and arcs.

TOS: The Higher Frontier: Moderate pass. As before, most of the passing scenes are between book-original characters, including Reiko Onami returning from Ex Machina, but Miranda Jones has a conversation with Chief DiFalco from ST:TMP, and there’s a scene or two of Uhura reasoning with a (more or less) female community leader of a group of aliens (though a male community leader is also involved). A strong Mako pass, as several female characters’ agendas drive much of the narrative.

Before, 20 out of 23 Trek works passed the full Bechdel test, though all passed at least one part. Now I make it 24/27, bumping up the percentage slightly from 87% to 89%. On the LGBTQ inclusion front, there are prominent/returning bisexual characters in the DTI novella and the ENT novel, although The Captain’s Oath only manages a few incidental references. The Higher Frontier establishes one returning Ex Machina character as lesbian and another as bisexual, but only in passing.

In the case of my Star Trek Adventures RPG campaigns, it’s impossible to assess whether they pass, since of course I have no idea who the Player Characters would be in a given gaming group. But as far as Non-Player Character interactions go, Call Back Yesterday, The Whole of the Law, and Stolen Liberty have only one named female NPC each; The Gravity of the Crime has several prominent female NPCs who interact with each other; and Hard Rock Catastrophe has three named female NPCs, two of whom share a scene but do not necessarily address each other directly (depending on how the Gamemaster plays the scene). So only Gravity is a guaranteed pass; the rest depend on who the PCs are and how and whether they choose to interact with the NPCs.

So overall, a limited improvement, but I think it stacks up pretty well. Since Bechdel is more of an aggregate assessment, it may be unreasonable to aim for 100% success; an overall success rate of 2/3 or more across an entire body of works is reasonably good. After all, the goal is diversity; there’s nothing wrong with stories centering on male leads or a single male-female pair, just so long as they’re part of a wider mix instead of crowding out more female-centric stories.

(Just a reminder that you can find more information and purchase links for these publications elsewhere on the site, by following the menu options up top. And if you read them, please post reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, and the like; the more reviews a publication gets on Amazon, the more its visibility improves in searches.)

Reaching a crisis point

February 29, 2020 5 comments

For the past few years, I’ve been caught in a pattern I don’t know how to get out of.

Before then, for more than a decade, I managed to get by modestly on my income from Star Trek novels and occasional original fiction. So I settled for being a full-time writer and didn’t try very hard to pursue alternatives. Then Pocket Books’s Trek license came up for renewal and was badly delayed, so for more than a year I wasn’t getting Trek work. I kept being told it would resolve fairly soon, and I was expecting income from several other sources that I was told would pay off fairly soon, so I just waited for those payoffs, and they all improbably got delayed at once, so I ended up very nearly broke, coming close to the brink of not being able to pay my rent or my bills anymore.

Eventually, I got help from family and from reader donations, and then Trek contracts started to come through again, but even those advances were not frequent or large enough to do more than let me ease away from the brink for a few months and then wind up back on the edge before I could find other work. Because I’ve been a full-time writer so long, I never developed the skill of looking for other kinds of work. I’ve gotten a few interviews here and there, but none have led to a job.

All of this, I realize, has left me suffering from depression, something I’ve been wrestling with on and off all my life. The closer I get to the brink, the worse my depression and anxiety become, which makes it harder to look for work or find solutions. I keep hoping a new Star Trek contract will come through in time and give me enough of  a financial cushion to find a more lasting solution. But depression doesn’t go away that easily. Every time I do get a novel advance or a loan, I try to take some time to recover emotionally and work on my writing for a while, thinking “It’s okay, I have some time before I have to start seriously looking for other kinds of work.” But because depression makes it harder to work, I always take longer than I expected and lose track of time. And I always underestimate how quickly I’m losing money, because I keep forgetting to account for the massive credit card fees that effectively cancel out my efforts to pay down my debt. And once I notice that I’m too close to the brink again, I start panicking again, and the cycle continues.

I’ve known for a while now that I had to stop depending on Star Trek alone as my lifeline. I needed to reorient my life and find some stability, and just get out of this rut I’ve been in for years. But I was slow to act on that, clinging to the hope that rescue would come in the nick of time as it has so many times before. (Being depressed is weird. I keep bouncing back and forth between “I hate being trapped in this rut and need to make a change!” and “I’m afraid to change anything, I just want to stay in my rut where it’s safe.”)

Now, though, I know that’s not going to happen. I assume that, with fewer Trek novels per year these days, and with the uncertainty resulting from the new Trek shows and the re-merger of CBS and Viacom, I can’t rely on Trek offers coming my way like clockwork, and can’t pin my hopes on something materializing just in time. It’s already too late for that now, with tax time looming. I’ve feared this for years, but have still clung to the old way and just hoped things would go back to the way they were somehow. And as a result, I now find myself at a crisis point where I have to change.

Even before I recognized this, I’d begun making some efforts to look for work. I’ve continued to submit game outlines to Star Trek Adventures and I’ve been working on those, but they pay a lot less than a novel and I have to wait for approval. I’ve made a connection that could potentially lead to other tie-in work, but I’m still waiting for an opening to emerge. I have my Kickstarter coming up for Arachne’s Crime sometime soon, but I don’t expect the royalties from the novel or its sequel to be anywhere near the size of a tie-in advance. I’ve joined an online audio transcription service, though it’s turned out to pay hardly anything. I’ve applied to work for the 2020 Census — no reply yet. This past week I found a temp agency that specializes in creative work and signed up for it, hoping that its agents would help me find work since I’m so bad at looking for it myself; but it turned out that it’s more just an online job alert service that informs me of opportunities to apply for, and I’m still waiting for results. Last night I thought I’d found a good option in a freelancer service called Upwork, but on further examination, it seems I’d have to pay to make bids for work with no guarantee of a return on my investment.

It’s not all bad news. I’ve actually made a few hundred bucks this past week or so, helping to stem my losses slightly. I got paid for a bit of Star Trek Adventures writing that I did last year but can’t announce yet. I got a refund on the last monthly bill I paid after I cancelled my cable, which I was apparently charged in error. And I finally got some overdue Only Superhuman royalties that had fallen through the cracks. But it’s not nearly enough, especially with tax time looming in six weeks or so.

The realization that this time I’m definitely not getting a new Trek contract in the nick of time has been terrifying. When it finally hit me, my depression and anxiety reached levels I don’t think I’ve felt since an epic bout of unrequited love back in college 30 years ago. I’ve been going through ups and downs since then, and I’m hampered by the fact that every time I try to confront the situation to look for a solution, it just brings back my anxiety and makes it harder. (I got maybe 3 hours of sleep last night, tops.)

I know this is a very personal thing to broadcast to my fans, but I realized I need to talk about this for my own mental health. I need to share it with someone, and because of my (inherited) proclivities toward depression and self-isolation, I don’t really have any family or good friends close at hand to unload my burdens on, and haven’t done enough to cultivate what local friendships I do have. I’m not always comfortable talking on the phone, I never got the hang of texting, and I’m too broke to go out much, so my online life is really the only way I have of reaching out to friends and family. And my fans have been a great comfort to me these past few years, through your generosity and patience. You’ve been part of my support structure too, and I’m very grateful. (But I’d be glad to hear from any family and friends who wanted to reach out more privately.)

I’ve been giving serious thought to starting a Patreon page. That way, instead of periodically and haphazardly begging for donations all at once, I could offer my fans regular new material in exchange for small, regular monthly donations. It seems a natural thing to migrate my movie and TV reviews there and start monetizing them. (There is a way to add a Patreon plug-in to an existing WordPress blog like this one, but I’d have to upgrade and pay a fee, and I don’t know if I’d make enough profit to offset that.) I’d also try to offer original fiction content alongside the reviews. I have a few unpublished stories I could premiere there, along with my three published but uncollected stories, and maybe some deleted scenes from Only Superhuman, worldbuilding notes, behind-the-scenes stuff like that. I think I might have enough to provide fairly regular content for several months, and if that were profitable, it would hopefully give me time and incentive to create new reviews and original fiction for the platform on an ongoing basis. My fans have been so generous with your donations that I hope a lot of you would be willing to invest a few dollars per month to read my reviews, original fiction, essays, and the like.

But again, getting a Patreon page up and running and earning a profit would take time, and wouldn’t help enough in the immediate term to get me through tax time. It’s the same boat I’ve been in for years — none of the plans I’ve already made or can make going forward will pay off soon enough.

In the meantime, I’m always open for reader donations, and my book sale and naming rights bonus offer are still on. I hate having to keep pleading to my fans and offering so little in return, which is why I’m hoping to make the jump to Patreon. But I’m hopeful that by now I’ve planted enough seeds that something will start paying off soon and finally help me get out of this rut over the months ahead. It’s just that, one more time (and hopefully for the last time), I need some extra help staying afloat until they can.

STAR TREK ADVENTURES: STOLEN LIBERTY is out

November 14, 2019 5 comments

Today’s the release date for my fourth standalone Star Trek Adventures PDF campaign and my fifth STA campaign overall: Stolen Liberty.

STA Stolen Liberty coverWill Your Crew Dare to Break the Prime Directive?

“This is Interlunar Probe Twelve. We are in immediate distress. We are caught in Zafrel’s gravity well. Our orbit is decaying into its outer atmosphere and we are unable to generate sufficient thruster power to break free. We are in full eclipse from Jinidar and unable to contact Master Control. If any other listener is somehow able to receive this message, please respond and advise! Repeat, this is Interlunar Probe Twelve…”

When the crew responds to a call for help, they soon find themselves faced with an ethical dilemma. Does the crew hold to the Federation principles of non-interference, or break regulations to provide assistance?

This standalone 19-page PDF adventure by Christopher L. Bennett is for the Star Trek Adventures Roleplaying Game and is set during The Next Generation era. This adventure also contains advice for adaptation for use in campaigns based in other Star Trek eras.

Stolen Liberty is available as a downloadable PDF at the following links:

The tagline is pretty similar to the one they used for The Gravity of the Crime, but rest assured this is a very different Prime Directive story, more global in its stakes. It’s also a story I’ve had in mind for a long, long time, a concept I initially developed for my original fiction decades ago, and then reworked into a Star Trek: Voyager pitch back when I took a couple of stabs at trying to write for that show. (It may have been a TNG pitch before then, but I don’t quite recall.) I’m glad I finally got the chance to dust it off and do something with it.

So as of now, all of my completed STA campaigns have finally been published. But I have some new pitches currently awaiting approval, so I’m not done with STA yet.

STA: STRANGE NEW WORLDS MISSION COMPENDIUM is out (plus a blog article)!

STA Strange New WorldsToday’s the day! Star Trek Adventures: Strange New Worlds: Mission Compendium Volume 2 is out now, containing nine missions focused on literal “strange new worlds” — exotic environments and settings for STA players to explore. I wrote one of the nine, The Whole of the Law, involving an artificial world with a dual personality.

To quote from the Modiphius press release:

Star Trek Adventures: Strange New Worlds is available in print and PDF on Modiphius.net as part of our Star Trek Adventures Collection

It’s also available in PDF only on DriveThruRPG.com.

Meanwhile, the Modiphius site has just published a blog piece they asked me to write, talking about my creative process in devising game ideas, and the challenge of creating character-driven stories with no idea who the characters will be.

The book looks good in the preview images, and I look forward to getting my print copy.

STAR TREK ADVENTURES: New campaign now out, two more on the way!

UPDATE 10/18: By an unfortunate coincidence, my STA campaign Hard Rock Catastrophe came out just days after a fatal collapse at a Hard Rock Hotel under construction in New Orleans. It’s been decided that we should change the title for the sake of sensitivity, and I apologize that we didn’t catch this sooner. Hopefully we’ll have the new title sorted out within the next few days.

I’m pleased to announce that today is the release date for my third Star Trek Adventures RPG standalone campaign: Hard Rock Catastrophe, my first STA campaign set during the Original Series era. Here’s the official description:

STA Hard Rock CatastropheUnlock the Mystery of the Rock Creatures!

“Captain’s Log, Stardate 8054.1. We have received a distress call from Rikyu, an independent Saurian colony beyond the Federation border. Planetary governor T’Rimushei is requesting assistance with a natural disaster endangering the planet’s cities, although she was vague on the specifics of the threat. The Saurians are famously self-reliant, so it could be that the governor was embarrassed to ask for help – but I got the impression that she didn’t think we would believe her if she told us more.”

This standalone 22-page PDF adventure by Christopher L. Bennett is for the Star Trek Adventures Roleplaying Game and is set during the Original Series era. This adventure also contains advice for adaptation for use in campaigns based in other Star Trek eras.

Can your crew solve the mystery behind the apparent invasion of giant monsters and stop them before the colony is destroyed?

Hard Rock Catastrophe is available as a downloadable PDF at the following links:

Yes, that’s right — I found a way to tell a kaiju story in Star Trek. You could say it was a… “Passion” project. After the psychological thriller of Call Back Yesterday and the murder mystery of The Gravity of the Crime, Hard Rock Catastrophe is a full-bore action blockbuster which I hope will be great fun for STA players. After my first few pitches were approved, I actually tried to write this one first because I had so much fun with the idea; but the action and logistics proved too big and difficult for me to tackle first time out, so I needed to do a couple of other campaigns first to get the hang of the game mechanics.

Note that there’s a typo in the early release, though a fix is on the way and will be pushed through to all buyers once it’s made. It’s entirely my own fault; I accidentally duplicated Governor T’Rimushei’s Values in the stats for Doctor K’Manehai. If anyone wants to play the campaign before the fix comes through, substitute the following Values for K’Manehai:

  • Science Is My Passion
  • All Creatures Have a Right to Exist

STA Strange New Worlds Mission CompendiumWe also have confirmed release dates at last for my remaining two STA campaigns. Star Trek Adventures: Strange New Worlds: Mission Compendium Vol. 2, containing nine missions including one by me, will be released a week from now, on October 24. And my fourth standalone PDF campaign, “Stolen Liberty,” will be released on November 14.

So every STA game campaign I’ve written so far will be out by a month from now. But don’t worry — I’ve already done a bit more writing for STA and submitted a few more game pitches just yesterday. This is starting to look like a steady gig…

I need a job!

October 14, 2019 2 comments

Remember how I recently vagueblogged about getting some bad news in the mail that I assumed was a mistake? Turns out it wasn’t a mistake — or rather, it was my mistake. Because I tried to save money by doing my own taxes this year, I missed a pretty huge step, and it turns out that I owe much more in taxes than I actually paid. And any prior notifications of my tax debt were apparently lost in the mail, so the first I heard of it was a final warning. This was not a scam; I consulted with the people who usually do my taxes, hoping they could confirm it was a mistake of some kind, but they determined that the mistake was mine and the debt is real.

Which is awful timing, since I don’t currently have a book contract or any steady work. Even if a new contract comes my way very soon, which I hope it does, I can’t be sure how long it’ll be before my next advance. I have picked up some new work with Star Trek Adventures, which will help over time, but it’s probably not enough for my short-term needs, especially with this added tax debt.

So I need to find some kind of part-time work that will help tide me over for now. It’s something I should’ve done well before now, but unfortunately I’m very bad at job-hunting, since I’ve been managing as a full-time freelancer for so long. Plus I’ve been going through bouts of depression as a result of my money problems, which just make it harder for me to get up the courage to look for new work and thus worsen my money problems and my depression. It got really bad last week, since I got sick and was stuck inside and didn’t get much sunlight or exercise. Luckily I went for a good long walk yesterday and I’m feeling better now. Still, I need to break out of this rut I’ve been in. I’m really grateful to my fans who’ve helped keep me afloat with donations over the past year or two, but I can’t keep depending on your generosity. (Although of course my book sale is still going on.)

So I’m putting this out to my colleagues and friends in the industry — if anyone has any work for me, something that can earn me a decent amount of money in the short term rather than months from now, please contact me. Or if any of my friends in the Cincinnati area can offer me or point me toward some part-time or seasonal work, let me know. I’m good at writing or copyediting, I have a lot of experience as a reviewer here on my blog, I’d be open to transcription or data entry work (especially if it’s from home), and I have library and bookstore experience. My resume is here.

Rough week, but some good news

Well, this has not been a great couple of weeks for me. Let’s see… I was feeling sick last week and not up to much of anything. I therefore put off getting groceries for a while, and when I finally felt well enough to drive to the store… I found my car battery had died. So I had to walk to the store instead. I think I waited another day, but I don’t quite recall — it’s a bit of a blur. Also, I somehow lost my receipt on the way home. I had to check my bank account online to find out how much I’d spent.

I’ve glimpsed three roaches or similar large bugs crawling around my bathroom and kitchen over the last week, the first time I’ve had any in quite a while. It gave me an incentive to finally put down a new set of plastic roach bait traps. On the upside, somehow I find my phobia about insects seems to have gotten a little milder, so I reacted to the bugs merely as an annoyance to be dealt with aggressively than as the catalyst of a borderline panic attack. (When I saw the second one, I happened to be carrying a heavy hardcover book. Fortunately the dust jacket proved easy to wash off afterward.)

Anyway, while moving the range and butcher block cabinet (I think that’s what it’s called) around to place the traps, I failed to notice that a glass pot lid was precariously placed. It’s the second piece of kitchen glassware I’ve accidentally shattered in the past month, and the third in the past six months or so. (The first was a Pyrex measuring cup that I’ve since replaced. The second was my last remaining tumbler of a set of four, the main one I used every day since it was the best one I had.) Now I no longer have a lid that fits my large saucepan. And I really wish the engineers would hurry up with developing shatterproof consumer glassware. Or softer kitchen floors.

There’s one more worrisome thing I’d rather not go into detail on since it’s finance-related, but it involves getting something in the mail yesterday that was very alarming to read until I figured out that it had to be a computer error or mixup of some sort, something sent to me by mistake or through a miscalculation, since it’s evidently not a scam but there’s no possible way it could genuinely apply to me. I just hope I can convince the relevant parties of that. I’ve reached out to someone that I hope can provide help or guidance, but I’m still waiting for a reply, and they might not be available right away.

Anyway, I put off dealing with the car because I was just too overwhelmed by all this stuff piling on at once, and I decided to focus on getting some work done on a thing I’m doing for Star Trek Adventures, one of the few bits of good news going on right now. Today, though, I managed both to make significant progress on that STA project and to take my car in to the garage, thanks to a helpful neighbor who gave me a jump start. Apparently the previous battery was kinda cheap and defective, but the guy had the right kind in stock and was able to replace it in a matter of minutes. I wish I hadn’t had to spend so much on it, but it could’ve been worse, and at least I got that off my list of worries, as well as returning some library videos that were due today. So I’m feeling somewhat better today than yesterday.

STA Strange New Worlds Mission CompendiumThe main bit of good news I have to report is that we finally have a firm release date for Star Trek Adventures: Strange New Worlds: Mission Compendium Vol. 2, for which I wrote one of the adventure scenarios. It’s been pushed back several times from its originally expected release date in August, but it’s now solidly on track for a November release, and it’ll be available for order on Modiphius.net as of October 24. There will be a formal press release coming soon, and I’ll post when it’s available.

In the meantime, I’ll be finishing up that other STA thing, and then finishing up a story I’m planning to submit to an open-call anthology. Then I’ll have to see about finding some other work to tide me over until my next Trek novel contract. Maybe I can get some seasonal work in a bookstore or something.

Interview with STAR TREK ADVENTURES manager Jim Johnson

September 10, 2019 1 comment

Morning, folks. Here’s a new interview with Jim Johnson, the editor — and now line manager, congratulations, Jim — who brought me in to write for Star Trek Adventures. If you haven’t tried the game, Jim explains the basics of how it works and how to get into it, and talks a bit about how he’s recruited authors like me.

Interview: STAR TREK ADVENTURES Manager Jim Johnson

 

In other news, the Strange New Worlds mission compendium, for which I contributed one of the adventures, is still running behind the expected release date, but it and my remaining two PDF campaigns should be arriving sometime this fall, possibly October. Stay tuned. And don’t worry, I have a standing invitation to pitch more games, though I have to think of some first.

Shore Leave news — Announcing ARACHNE’S CRIME and ARACHNE’S EXILE!

It’s Saturday night at Shore Leave, and I’m only getting around to posting now since I’ve been busy trying to revise a manuscript by its Monday deadline (lousy timing, I know, but it can’t be helped). I can’t yet say what it’s for, but I do have other big news below.

Anyway, I had a better drive in than expected; there were thunderstorms along my path all day Thursday, but by luck, I managed to stay just behind the tail end of the storms the whole trip, with just a brief period of drizzle in Eastern Ohio and clear skies the rest of the way. I stayed at my cousins’ overnight, worked on the manuscript Friday morning, got into the hotel Friday afternoon, then stayed in my room working until the What’s New in Trek Fiction panel where I couldn’t really talk about anything except the new Star Trek Adventures games I’ve got coming up in the next month or two, theoretically. Meet the Pros was fairly quiet, but I got to talk to writer friends and that was good. Today, I was on a “Batman Turns 80” panel for no particular reason (though it was a nice talk, led by Greg Cox, who — unlike me — has actually written Batman fiction), then I was on two consecutive Star Trek Adventures panels (one about the game, one about how to write/pitch for it, which I wasn’t scheduled for but crashed anyway). Then at 6 came the eSpec Books panel run by the company’s owner/editor Danielle McPhail, and though we literally had an equal number of audience members as panelists (5 each), it was here that I got to make my big announcement.

And here it is: eSpec Books has acquired my duology Arachne’s Crime and Arachne’s Exile. I’ve talked about this project intermittently on my blog over the past few years, though not under those titles. Readers of my original work may recognize Arachne as the name of the colony starship from my first published story, “Aggravated Vehicular Genocide” from the November 1998 Analog, reprinted in Among the Wild Cybers. To quote the story description from my AtWC page:

The colony ramship Arachne accidentally destroys a space habitat of the nomadic Chirrn while its crew is suspended in hibernation.  Even if the colonists can persuade the Chirrn that the disaster was an accident, will they still be held culpable for negligent mass murder?  And can they get a fair trial despite the Chirrn’s mistrust of planet-dwellers?

I always wanted to continue the story of the Arachne crew in the wake of that novelette’s outcome, so I eventually settled on the idea of doing a novel that would incorporate the original story but expand on it and continue the tale beyond it. It turned out that some of the science in the original story (concerning the feasibility of interstellar ramjets) was implausible, so I eventually decided I needed to break with my usual “Keep everything consistent” policy and do a whole new version that would replace the original story in my universe’s continuity. Once I made that choice, it freed me up to make other changes and really add depth to the story and characters. (Most of the original story’s events and dialogue are still in there, though. Consider it an inaccurate account of the same event, superseded by a much fuller and more accurate version.)

The expanded and corrected retelling of AVG is just the first half of Arachne’s Crime, though. The rest of the novel continues the tale beyond the verdict, as the crew of Arachne adjusts to their new status within the Chirrn’s civilization — which includes a number of Chirrn who did not agree with the verdict and have their own ideas about obtaining justice. Both halves let me flesh out the Chirrn’s culture, biology, and psychology much more richly than in the original story, as well as intensifying the human drama far more than in the original tale.

The events of Arachne’s Crime then build to a climax that leads into the second novel, Arachne’s Exile, which opens up the narrative to a more cosmic, epic scope, bringing in more new species and exotic environments, and really fleshing out the big-picture galactic culture and history of my primary SF universe more than anything I’ve had published to date.

The reason I have a duology all ready to go, by the way, is that it was a single really long novel for years, but I was never able to sell it at that length. Eventually I started to think about submitting it to small publishers with word-count limits per volume, which would require cutting it in two, something I resisted for a while because I saw it as one story. But eventually I realized it had been trying to be two stories all along, that there were elements resolved in the first half and others not introduced properly until the second. Cramming them together probably kept the book from feeling properly focused. Splitting the tale into two distinct phases turned out to work much better, tightening the focus of each volume. Also, since the natural breaking point was less than halfway through, I needed to expand the first book to make it a suitable length, which let me flesh out a lot of Chirrn worldbuilding I’d glossed over in my rush to part 2, as well as adding a new climax to make part 1 more of a complete book on its own. I also added new material to the start of Exile to reintroduce the characters and story threads. I’ve always felt that a story told in two or more volumes should be made of distinct parts that work somewhat independently, rather than just being one long story arbitrarily divided by length (which was why I resisted splitting Arachne until I realized it worked better as two connected stories).

The current plan is to run the Kickstarter campaign for Arachne’s Crime in the early fall, with the book hopefully coming out fairly soon thereafter. Arachne’s Exile is expected to follow sometime in 2020.

Just think… this time a year ago, I had only two original books in print, Only Superhuman and Hub Space. Now I have a third (Among the Wild Cybers) with the fourth (Crimes of the Hub) due out very, very soon. By this time next year, I’ll have six original books in print. (Which are either 3 novels and 3 collections or 4 novels and 2 collections, depending on how you count Crimes of the Hub, which is three stories collected and blended into a short fix-up novel.) Hopefully I’ll have copies of all six to show off and sell at next year’s Shore Leave!

My Shore Leave 2019 schedule

The Shore Leave schedule is now online here:

https://www.shore-leave.com/programming/schedule.htm

Here are my panels, with descriptions quoted from the convention booklet:

FRIDAY 7/12:

What’s New in Star Trek Fiction — 6 PM, Salon E/F
What are the latest plans for Star Trek publications?
John Jackson Miller, Dayton Ward, David Mack, Christopher L. Bennett, Scott Pearson
Meet the Pros — Hunt/Valley Corridor, 10 PM – midnight
The usual mass signing event for all the authors, where I assume I’ll be at the eSpec Books table for the convention debut of the Footprints in the Stars anthology. I also plan to have copies of older books to sell and sign, including Only Superhuman and some Star Trek back titles.
SATURDAY 7/13:
Batman Turns 80! — 1 PM, Salon E
2019 is Batman’s 80th anniversary. What is it about the Dark Knight that accounts for his longevity as a pop-cultural icon? And where does he go from here?
Greg Cox, Russ Colchamiro, Christopher L. Bennett, Glenn Hauman, Keith R.A. DeCandido
Star Trek Adventures RPG Discussion & Workshop — 3 PM, Tack Room
The newest Star Trek RPG is running full speed ahead! Come learn more about the game and its upcoming releases from developers and writers. Also learn about professional RPG writing processes and how to pitch adventure ideas for possible publication.
Jim Johnson, Derek Attico, Kelli Fitzpatrick, Christopher L. Bennett, Scott Pearson
Meeting eSpec Books — 6 PM, Derby Room
The publishers, editors, and authors of eSpec Books discuss their new and upcoming releases, including novels by Keith R.A. DeCandido, Christopher Bennett, and Bud Sparhawk and new volumes in their ever-popular Defending the Future and Beyond the Cradle anthology series.
Danielle Ackley-McPhail, Mike McPhail, Keith R.A. DeCandido, Christopher L. Bennett, Robert Greenberger, Dayton Ward
SUNDAY 7/14:
Toxic Masculinity and Its Alternatives in SFF — 11 AM, Derby Room
Panelists explore their own concepts of masculinity as it relates to their writing, as well as how they address toxic gender expectations and stereotypes in their stories and worldbuilding.
Kelli Fitzpatrick, Mary Fan, Amy Imhoff, Dave Galanter, Christopher L. Bennett
Meet the Tricksters — Noon, Derby Room
Trickster characters populate myth, religion, and fiction. How do tricksters influence storytelling and societies? What do they tell characters (and us) about possible ways of navigating the world?
David Mack, Jenifer Rosenberg, Christopher L. Bennett, TJ Perkins

 

As usual, be sure to check out the book vendor’s table on the lower level, where some of my books will be on sale and where you might find me and other authors doing signing stints.

 

 

More STAR TREK ADVENTURES coming this year (and one just released)!

February 9, 2019 1 comment

I just noticed this item on the TrekCore news site:

http://trekcore.com/blog/2019/02/star-trek-adventures-continues-to-expand-in-2019/

It’s an announcement of several new Star Trek Adventures publications slated for 2019 release, including a couple of new sourcebooks, but at the bottom, it mentions the August release of Strange New Worlds: Mission Compendium Vol. 2:

STA Strange New Worlds Mission Compendium

In August, Star Trek Adventures will begin to explore Strange New Worlds with its second mission compendium of the same name. The book will contain 10 original missions to play through, exploring the strangest and most challenging away missions on dangerous planets and weird environments.

Strange New Worlds follows These Are the Voyages in providing fans with adventure material for the game from both Star Trek fiction writers such as Christopher L. Bennett (The Captain’s Oath, Greater Than the Sum) and roleplay gaming luminaries like Jason Bulmahn (Pathfinder).

My contribution to this volume is the fifth adventure scenario I wrote, but it’ll be my first to be released in print instead of PDF form. At this point, only one of my PDF campaigns has been released, but hopefully more will come out in the 6 months before Strange New Worlds: Mission Compendium Vol. 2 comes out.

Hmm. Twenty years ago, I tried to break into Star Trek writing by submitting a few stories to another thing called Strange New Worlds, the annual contest anthology that Pocket ran for 10 years to discover new authors. As it happens, the first one I submitted to was the second volume of SNW. I never got into that SNW (although some of my Trek Lit colleagues got their starts there, including Dayton Ward and William Leisner), but now I finally get into another Trek collection of the same title, more or less.


EDIT: Thanks to Bernd in the comments, I now know that my second PDF game, The Gravity of the Crime, was released just two weeks ago:

https://www.modiphius.net/collections/star-trek-adventures/products/star-trek-adventures-the-gravity-of-the-crime-pdf

STA_The_Gravity_of_the_CrimeWill you violate the Prime Directive?

Welcome commander…  Your orders are go undercover on the pre-contact planet of Kalmur to investigate the accidental death of a Federation observer.

When a Kalmuri experiment into artificial gravity goes wildly wrong, an experimental device explodes crushing everyone within the test lab, including a Starfleet scientist, Lieutenant Li, who had infiltrated the project as an observer.

Sent to investigate this apparently accidental death, your team is confronted by a Kalmuri detective, Lanox, who is convinced the deaths are the result of sabotage.

Can you solve this classic locked-room murder mystery without violating Starfleet’s Prime Directive?

Set during the TNG era, this adventure also contains advice for adaptation to other eras including The Original Series.

Looking back on 2018

December 30, 2018 2 comments

Last year at this time, when I made a post looking back on the year just ending, it was merely to talk about how I hadn’t announced any new writing projects that year, even though I had several things lined up that I was able to announce soon thereafter. In a number of ways, 2018 was a good year for me career-wise. Right at the start of the year, I got to announce my Among the Wild Cybers story collection (including the brand-new “Aspiring to be Angels,” the first Emerald Blair story since Only Superhuman), which came out in August and quickly became one of eSpec Books’ top sellers for 2018. Later, I was able to announce that I was writing for the Star Trek Adventures role-playing game, and my first campaign for them was published last month, though I still have four more coming. (Indeed, the fifth was one I initially missed out on due to a lost e-mail, but then got to write after all when a filled slot reopened.) I sold a new trilogy of Hub stories, which all came out in Analog this year. Pocket’s Star Trek license was finally renewed, and I was hired to write Star Trek: The Original Series — The Captain’s Oath for spring 2019. I sold my first-ever fantasy story, “The Melody Lingers” (which should be published in Galaxy’s Edge sometime in 2019), and I got invited to contribute my first-ever story to a non-Star Trek anthology, eSpec’s Footprints in the Stars; said story has been written and submitted and I hope to say more soon. I even got in a bit of copyediting work, which hardly pays anything but should hopefully open the door for more such work in the future.

Despite all that, though, it’s been an extremely stressful year for me. Due to multiple writing projects being delayed by a great deal all at once in 2017 into 2018, I ended up in a deep financial hole and would’ve been in real trouble if not for some very generous donations from my fans, as well as a few family members. I had little luck finding other work, and it left me very anxious and depressed. When The Captain’s Oath finally came through, my depression made it hard for me to focus on my work, which exacerbated the tight deadline pressure I was under. So writing that book was a struggle. Even once I met my deadline and got paid, it proved difficult to shake off my anxiety, especially since I had to contend with jury duty late last month (which turned out to be far more harmless than I feared, but it was that fear that made it rough to get through), and then try to get past my writer’s block on a new story in time to submit it to an open-call anthology whose deadline was the end of the year. (Wow, just reminding myself of all that is giving me a headache.) I’ve been nervous about my money situation for 2019 and whether I’d be able to line up new work in time. I’ve also been dealing with intermittent hip pain (probably the early stages of arthritis) and a resurgence of my heartburn/indigestion issues, which are both an effect and a contributing cause of my stress.

But suddenly, this past week, a number of things have gone my way. I broke through my writer’s block and finished the new story, which has now been submitted. I’m kind of excited about it; the theme for the anthology led me to dredge up some story notes for a project I came up with many years ago and never got around to writing, and now I realize I’ve basically got a rough outline for what, with a little tweaking, could be a novel trilogy in a whole new fictional universe. Also, I’ve nearly finished the copyedits for The Captain’s Oath, which went pretty smoothly (though I still want to do one more editing pass through the manuscript before I turn it in). With all that stuff cleared off my list, I’m finally free to focus on developing one or two writing projects I’ve been meaning to get around to all year, so I’m looking forward to that. Best of all, though, I finally sold a novelette I’ve been waiting for an answer on for most of the year and had all but given up on. Getting that sale was the happiest moment of the year for me, a breakthrough in a few ways, and I should be able to say more about it in a few weeks, probably.

So I found myself spending a lot of the day yesterday just feeling content. Not overjoyed or euphoric (though there was a bit of that after I got the acceptance on that story a few days ago) — just a feeling of relaxation and inner quiet, a sense of ease and peace that I haven’t felt in a long time. It was refreshing just to sit still in the quiet of my bedroom and feel comfortable inside my own head.

A lot of that came from thinking about what’s coming up for me in 2019. Things are already looking promising there. Aside from The Captain’s Oath, I’ve got “The Melody Lingers,” my Footprints in the Stars story, the new thing I just sold, and one other thing (to be announced) already slated for next year, so I’ve already tied my personal record for the number of original (non-tie-in) works published in a single calendar year (four in 2010 and again in 2018). I’ve got several other submissions already pending, so if I sell even one more of them, it’s a new record. And I’ve still got time to write and sell more stuff that could be published by year’s end. So 2019 might well turn out to be my most prolific year for original fiction ever — indeed, with The Captain’s Oath and more Star Trek Adventures campaigns pending, it should be my most prolific year, period. I’m still not sure how financially secure I’ll be next year — most of the stuff currently slated to come out next year is stuff I’ve already been paid for, and I’m not yet sure what I might get next year in the way of royalties and new sales/contracts — but all that stuff coming out under my name in 2019 should be good for my long-term career prospects. Hopefully this year will be better for me income-wise than the last two, and hopefully it will lay the foundations for more career success later on.

(And just a reminder — you guys can help in that regard by posting reviews of my books and stories on Amazon, Goodreads, etc., and by liking my Facebook author page.)

STAR TREK ADVENTURES: “Call Back Yesterday” is out!

November 22, 2018 2 comments

It’s been a while since I announced that I was writing for Modiphius Entertainment’s Star Trek Adventures tabletop role-playing game, but at last, the first of the adventure scenarios I’ve written has gone on sale! “Call Back Yesterday” is a Next Generation-era adventure available as a standalone PDF campaign, rather than as part of one of Modiphius’s print books. I wrote it to give players a chance to explore and role-play their characters’ backstories and take advantage of the character-development mechanics that are central to STA’s gaming system, since that was the part that most intrigued me as a writer. But there’s also plenty of opportunity for action, for players more into that sort of thing.

STACallBackYesterday

Here’s the official description:

This standalone 21 page PDF adventure by Christopher L. Bennett for the Star Trek Adventures roleplaying game has your Starfleet crew relive past memories, on a strange, abandoned planet.

Can you escape your delusions and uncover what’s really going on?

And here are a couple of ordering links.

The game is available exclusively as a watermarked PDF download, and it comes with a version in the LCARS-based graphical style used in STA’s other publications as well as a version in a more printer-friendly color scheme with a white background.

The Core Rulebook for STA is available here:

I’ve got more games on the way, and of course I’ll announce their releases as they happen.

Shore Leave 40 — my schedule

The Shore Leave 40 schedule is now up at the main site:

https://www.shore-leave.com/programming/schedule.htm

Here are my panels, with descriptions quoted from the convention booklet:

FRIDAY 7/6:

Anthologies – Share The Love — 7 PM, Salon E
What attracts readers to short story collections? Do you prefer themed collections, single author collections, or a Whitman’s Sampler of stories? What draws authors to write for anthologies?
Greg Cox (M), Phil Giunta, Jenifer Rosenberg, Keith R. A. DeCandido, Christopher L. Bennett, Joshua Palmatier, Richard C. White
Meet the Pros — Hunt/Valley Corridor, 10 PM – midnight
The usual mass signing event for all the authors, where Among the Wild Cybers will make its formal debut. I also plan to have copies of older books to sell and sign, including Only Superhuman and some Star Trek back titles.
SATURDAY 7/7:
Science Fact — 9 AM, Derby Room
What really cool recent technologies and scientific breakthroughs or discoveries will shape our near future reality, as well as the way we tell genre stories?
Kelli Fitzpatrick (M), Phil Giunta, Christopher L. Bennett, Glenn Hauman, Mary Louise Davie
Star Trek Adventures RPG — 12 PM, Salon E
Starfleet needs a new crew! Come hear about how you can boldly explore strange new worlds at the game table with friends.
Stephen Kozeniewski (M), Jim Johnson, Christopher L. Bennett
SUNDAY 7/8:
Christopher L. Bennett Q&A — 1 PM, Derby Room
In connection with the Shore Leave premiere of Among the Wild Cybers, the author talks about his 20-year career writing original and tie-in fiction.
So pretty much just Salon E and Derby for me, both relatively small meeting rooms. I wasn’t expecting a huge crowd for my solo panel anyway, not on a Sunday afternoon. But it’s a chance to talk about AtWC and its stories, including the new Only Superhuman prequel story “Aspiring to Be Angels.” Aside from the panels, I’ll probably do a stint or two at the book vendors’ table.

Things are starting to look up

I can’t believe it’s only been three and a half weeks since I put out my desperate plea for donations and was worried whether I’d be able to pay my rent for the month. My fortunes have finally begun to improve since then. The generous donations I received from you, my readers, helped a lot, but in addition, just today I finally got approvals for a couple more Star Trek Adventures role-playing game campaigns I wrote a little while back. And since Modiphius pays very promptly, I should see the money in the bank within a matter of days, which means I should be able to pay my remaining bills for the month on time, and be in a fairly good position for next month.

I’ve even decided to keep my bicycle after all. Now that my situation’s a bit less desperate, I figure the limited amount of money I could get for it wouldn’t be worth the sacrifice. (I’m lucky, then, that nobody was willing to meet my offered price.) I could still stand to make more money if I can, but I feel I have other options now, ones that wouldn’t require giving up so much. And now that I’ve come close to losing my bike, I’m not taking it so much for granted, and I’m starting to feel I should try to get more use out of it again. I could definitely use the exercise.

Meanwhile, I’ve now mailed off all the autographed books that some of you ordered from me the other week. Sorry it took so long, but you should all get your books soon-ish. Of course, I’m always willing to sell more.

Also, there’s still the ongoing Kickstarter campaign for Among the Wild Cybers, now with just 5 days to go and just $77 short of unlocking its third stretch goal. At this point, it looks like the advance I’ll be getting from it will be fairly modest, but who knows? The other day, the pledge tally jumped by over $200 literally overnight, though it’s only gained another dollar in the 2 days since. So it’s impossible to say where it’ll end up at this point. I’m hoping that a lot of people save their pledges for the last day or two of a campaign. But there’s not a lot of time left, folks, plus there are several pledge bonuses that are available only in limited quantities, including hardcover and audiobook copies of Only Superhuman. So if anyone’s been holding off for whatever reason, I recommend acting fast.

As for my situation beyond June… well, as I mentioned the other day, I’ve gotten some promising news on that front, but it’s nothing I can talk about yet. Things might still be financially tight for me a little while longer, depending on how long it takes for things to play out. But I’m now more confident that I’ll be able to make it through, barring emergencies. Although I also have to work pretty fast on a few projects over the next several weeks, and I should probably get back to work on the most urgent one. Still, that’s a better feeling than the borderline panic of just a few short weeks ago. It’s been a very eventful time since then, and it’s only the beginning. And I’m really grateful to my fans for your help in getting me through the roughest patch.

I’m writing for the STAR TREK ADVENTURES role-playing game!

February 17, 2018 2 comments

I’m now able to announce another one of the writing projects I’ve been working on over the past few months. I’m writing campaigns/game scenarios for the Star Trek Adventures role-playing game from Modiphius Entertainment. This is a new tabletop RPG that debuted last year, with a lot of the writing being done by fellow Trek prose authors that I know from the Shore Leave convention, including Jim Johnson (who’s the line editor in charge of the writers), Dayton Ward, and Scott Pearson. So last year at Shore Leave, I asked Dayton and Scott if I could get on board, they put me in touch with Jim, and here I am.

Star Trek Adventures has several different game threads. There’s the Living Campaign, which you can sign up to join at the site, and which has ongoing storylines in the Original Series and Next Generation/Deep Space Nine/Voyager time frames, written largely by Dayton Ward and Scott Pearson. (EDIT: Rather, I’m told that Dayton & Scott created the basic outline of the Living Campaign, but other writers are doing the regular installments.) There are also a bunch of standalone adventures, which are being written by various different authors, including me, and will be available online as PDF downloads. These are self-contained “episodes” that gaming groups can play in one or two sessions, usable for just about any set of characters. They’re usually set in a specific time frame, but most can be adapted for play in different Trek eras if the players desire.  And of course, Gamemasters can buy the Core Rulebook and use it to create their own campaigns as well. Indeed, we’re encouraged to conclude our standalone campaigns with hooks for possible sequels/continuations that GMs can develop themselves.

I’ve never really gotten into any Star Trek or other role playing games in the past. There was that time a while back when a college friend worked with me on a two-person e-mail game we called Dragon Trek, where I played a Starfleet character who got transported into a Dungeons & Dragons world that she ran as the Dungeon Master. It was her attempt to ease me into gaming by combining our different interests into something we could share, and it was fun for a while, but unfortunately she got too busy with family and parenting, so we never really got past the preliminaries. But the character I created for that game was the basis for the T’Ryssa Chen character I debuted in Star Trek: The Next Generation — Greater Than the Sum about 7 years later.

Aside from that, though, I never really got into gaming, particularly Trek games, since it seemed to me that they often tended to focus far too much on combat and war scenarios, which are not my preferred thing for Star Trek to be about. What drew me to the Star Trek Adventures game is that its focus is less on fighting and more on plot and character development, emulating the structure of Trek TV episodes. Character creation is focused less on physical skills and training (since all Starfleet officers are presumed to be experts to begin with) and more on personal attributes like Control, Insight, Daring, Presence, and Reason, as well as personal values and life experience. For instance, the character creation process even includes a step where you choose a couple of important “Career Events” that give your character backstory and inform their behavior in the here and now. I found that so intriguing that I made a point of developing a campaign that would bring the characters’ backstories into play in the main story. (No, it’s not a time travel campaign.)

The goal of gameplay in STA is not merely to gather loot or gain combat experience points, but to advance character development by challenging the character’s values and achieving personal milestones depending on how those challenges are resolved. There are combat mechanics, but they’re a subset of the larger set of Conflict mechanics that focuses more heavily on Social Conflict, i.e. persuasion, reasoning, deception, negotiation, intimidation, etc. Action is presented more in terms of Tasks and Challenges to overcome, which can be anything from winning a fight to upgrading a ship’s system to making a scientific discovery to convincing a hostile alien to make peace. I think the game’s system does a very neat job of converting Star Trek‘s values and style of storytelling into game mechanics. Just in general, it seems like a pretty versatile system.

For those who are curious about such things, you can read more on the website link in the first paragraph, but the game is based on a 2d20 system, which means that it uses two 20-sided (icosahedral) dice, a staple of tabletop RPGs. It also uses a variable number of 6-sided dice (the more the better) as “Challenge Dice” for determining success in Tasks, Challenges, and Conflicts; Modiphius sells specialized dice with Starfleet delta emblems on them, but you can substitute regular 6-sided dice. I actually have a set of gaming dice including 2 d20s and a bunch of 6-sided dice, among others — it’s actually my sister’s old gaming dice pouch from high school, which she left behind when she went to college and I eventually claimed for myself. (I don’t remember whether I had her permission or not, so I might have technically swiped them, but then, my sister got most of her 6-sided dice by swiping them from the family’s board games, so it evens out.) I used them for the Dragon Trek game, but I haven’t used them since. (I even made a dice roller out of a paper towel roll, but these days it’s a pencil holder on my desk.) I thought it might be necessary to use those dice in the course of creating campaigns for the game, but as it’s turned out, I haven’t needed to. Creating a game is more a matter of following the Core Rulebook to determine what the mechanics and success parameters are for a given Task, so I just need to say what you need to roll to succeed; I don’t need to roll any dice myself. I suppose I could use the dice if I wanted to create a character by random means, but since I’m creating characters to fill specific story functions, it’s better to customize their attributes.

Even with all the help from the Rulebook, it’s been a challenge for me to adjust to a new style of writing. I’m used to coming at a story from the perspective of its main characters, to build plots that are driven by characters’ distinct personalities and objectives and values. Now, though, I have to figure out ways to tell stories in which I don’t even know who the main characters are — stories that can be adapted to any main characters and still work regardless of their personalities and choices. That’s not easy to do. One way is to focus on plot and the problems the characters have to solve, while creating room within the plot for individual character development, or alternative paths the plot can take depending on what the characters choose to do or whether they succeed or fail at a task. Another way is to focus on the personalities of the “guest stars,” the non-player characters I create, and how their values and agendas drive events and compel the Player Characters to respond. That’s kind of the way the original Star Trek and most 1960s-70s television approached things — keeping the lead characters constant from week to week and having most of the character development and growth be driven by the featured guest stars. But that’s less satisfying for me. What I’ve tried to do is to design situations that will challenge the PCs to make difficult moral choices, confront their personal issues, or try to win someone over with arguments based on their own core values, then leave them a lot of room to role-play and debate and work through it all, with their success or failure affecting what happens next in the story. It’s been quite a challenge, figuring out ways to do character-driven storytelling in the absence of specific characters. I hope I’ve managed to pull it off.

However, I have done one campaign so far that’s much more of a big action-adventure epic. I actually tried to do that one first, but it was too complex in its game mechanics, so I got stuck. I ended up writing a couple of others first, getting a handle on how the mechanics worked, and then tackled the big one. That one hasn’t gotten final approval yet, but hopefully it will soon. It should be a pretty fun one.

I’m not yet sure when my first campaigns will go on sale, but I’m told it should be within the next couple of months. I’ll let you know when they become available.