New additions

Salem studying the laptop

At the start of October our cat, Selina Kyle Fisch (yes that was her full name, but we called her Selina), passed away. She was 20-years old, and had a long life. The past year had been rough, and her age was showing. When we made the difficult decision to put her to sleep, we thought it would be a very long time that we would be ready for a new pet. However, life is strange, and two weeks ago we brought home three kittens.

Salem, Kyle and Agatha were litter mates, and thus brothers and sister. They were born outside, and were found outside. Slowly we have made them feel comfortable, and slowly they have begin to trust us. Salem was the first to make the move, and now he has discovered the joy of being pet. Agatha is getting ready to be next. She slept with us last night, along with Salem. Kyle is still skittish, but he sleeps on the bed and attacks our feet.

It is strange having such young cats. They are full of energy, curious, and a constant source of amusement. It is also rewarding to work with kittens, to teach them to trust, and slowly see their attitude change toward us.

I know, someone writing about cats is not “fun,” but for me, it is. The death of Selina really hit me hard, and it did so, because she had been my companion these past months while I’ve been unemployed. For the past month, the loneliness was a lot. Now, I have these three little nut jobs.

The tools I use

I’ve been a bit silent of late. Dealing with life, as well as knocking out a lot of Rogue Games projects.As I work on these projects I realized how many specific tools I rely on to do my work. These tools have become the default tools I use, and pretty much all my work centers around them. The more I work with them, and the more I build up my dependence on them, I realize that I do not know what I would do without them. So what tools do I use? Here you go. 


  • Scrivener (site): Without a doubt this is my go to writing tool. It has replaced my use of a number of word processors. All my writing takes place here, and I only export the document out when it is time to send it to editing. Since using this writing has been easier, more organized, and most importantly, productive.
  • Pages (site): This is where I do the rest of my polishing, editing and the like. I’ve been using Pages since the first version, and to be honest, it has gotten better and better. Hell all of iWork is used, and I’ve never seen a reason to use Office. With the Mac I bought last year, I never even installed Office. For what I need, Pages is perfect.

Knowledge Management

  • DEVONthink Pro (site):  I started using this a few weeks ago. It was a trial, because I was curious. I take a lot of notes, as well as do a lot of research, and up until recently I managed all these bits in a Bento Database I designed. The database worked fine, but soon iI outgrew it and needed something more. I looked at DEVONthink, and within an hour of using it, I bought it. I am now slowly scanning all my paper notes and copies, and will be building a online database for all my research. I am glad I tried this, because this soon going to be my must use app.

PDF Storage

  • Papers (site): I do a lot of research. A. Lot. I try to be as paperless as I can, and because of this, I have a lot of PDFs. They became so unmanageable, I soon was looking for another tool to make PDF storage, organization and retrieval easier. Again I created a Bento database, but this was not an option. That is when I tried Papers, and man, I am glad. Not only does is store and organize PDFs, it is a great management tool for research.
So there you go. The four apps that I use and work in every day.

Still here.

So, I have been silent. Nothing is wrong, just busy. With the cat passing away the first weekend of this month, I and Ariana have been dealing with the lost. The house is empty now, and I miss my little buddy as I got about my day and write. It is funny how much you do not realize until it is gone, how nice the house feels with a cat. She was a calming presence, and no matter how bad things were, all I had to do was pet her head and the pressure would fade. She was my buddy, my confident and friend. Strangely as this month has gone by, Ariana and I find ourselves talking about bringing in a new cat. Make that two cats. When this will happen, I do not know, but I think it will happen sooner, rather than later.

Rough few weeks

So, why have I been so silent lately? Life.

I usually keep a lot of stuff private — believe it or not — but this time it is too hard to keep quiet.

For the past three weeks our cat had been having a very rough time. She was sick, and it seemed as soon as she turned 18, the warranty gave out and she begun to break down. On Saturday, 10/2/2010, Ariana and I had to make the difficult choice to put our cat to sleep. Saline Kyle Fisch is no longer with us, and she leaves a large footprint in this life. She was the best cat anyone could hope to have, and I will forever miss her presence in this house. Especially now, since I have been unemployed, she was my little buddy, and loved to hang out with me while I write.

Ok, I cannot go on, needless to say, things were a bit slow this weekend, and today is really the first time I felt like getting on the computer.

I am going to be silent for most of this week, but I will be back up to speed by the weekend.

Types of Settings

In Shadow, Sword & Spell: Basic we introduced The League of Merchants. this “setting” if you will was designed to serve as the proving ground for heroes. the region is ideal for earlier adventurers and offer many opportunities for Gamemasters to set their own adventurers in, as well as expand to their hearts content. however, over time heroes grow powerful, and they begin to wonder what lies beyond a small region. their desire is to explore.

The pulps, from which much of Shadow, Sword & Spell’s inspiration comes from is rich in the tradition of exploring the world. Think of Howard’s Conan, or Kull and the stories where his heroes explore the larger world and discover adventure. Even in more “modern” works such as Moorcock’s in which Elrich wanders the Young Kingdoms in such of his lost love (Cymoril), his peace (Tanelorn), and for opportunities. World spanning is important, especially if the hero is searching for land to claim as their own, a throne to take, or new markets to buy and sell goods.
Unlike SS&S: BasicExpert has a setting. Unlike BasicExpert’s setting is larger and offers many opportunities for GMs to use. LikeBasic this setting is only barely detailed. A lot is left blank so you can take it and create what you want. Where we describe aspects of the setting, this is done in broad strokes. We do this for a few reasons.

First a fantasy game without a setting is not useful. A setting helps give context to the rules, but also serves as an example for Gamemasters when creating their own. In addition a setting helps give a tone to a game. Think of Game Workshop’s Warhammer Fantasy Role PlayTSR’s GreyhawkDave Arneson’s Blackmoor, or even Judge’s Guild City State of the Overlord (as I type this I realize I have just dated myself). These settings stand the test of time, because of not only the tone, but the hook. The hook for a setting is important, and should be summed up in one succinct sentence. For example, let’s use Warhammer Fantasy Role Play. What is the hook? A grim world of perilous of adventure. That hook is a perfect descriptive element and when kept in mind, helps you create adventures and other items for your players.

Another reason a setting is useful is that it helps set a baseline that players ad Gamemasters can use in their games. This baseline provides not only inspiration for players in creating their characters, as well as for GMs in creating their own adventures.

Finally the other reason to provide a setting is that it is fun top create a world, no matter how large or small it is.

Setting Design

Before diving into the setting let’s talk about the nuts and bolts of setting design. Setting design is easy, as well as offers numerous rewards. However when faced with a blank piece of paper, many world builders fall into two groups:

1. World builders with stage of fight
2. World builders with too many ideas

There might be other groups, but over the years these are the two groups that commonly appear. What follows are the guidelines and lessons we’ve learned over the years. There might be other ways to approach setting design, and our methods are not the only way to follow, but through the years this method has worked for us. Before writing any history, drawing any map, or naming any feature, you need to ask yourself a simple question: What type of campaign do I want?

The answer to this question is important and the answering of it helps guide you in the building of your world. 

Is your campaign going to be centered on exploration? if so is it trekking across massive landmasses like some fantastical Marco Polo or Lewis & Clark? 

Is this going to center on oceanic exploration where new lands are discovered? 

Is war going to be the focus? 

Are two kingdoms at war? Cities? Tribes? 

The answer to this help guides your in the creation? How? For two kingdoms, you need to come up with the bare bones of who rules, why they are fighting, and what the two kingdoms look like geographically. For two cities, these same questions are useful as well, but you are more confide to the area. For tribes, the area is even smaller.

With the answer to what type of campaign you want, the process of creation begins. Often this is seen as a daunting task. It isn’t. World building is just as enjoyable as creating adventurers, running a weekly game, and devising clever encounters to pit against the player’s characters. where the struggle comes in, is the type of campaign you create. when you boil all the advice down, all the options, and the possibilities, you are left with two types of settings: encyclopedia and sandbox. each has their plusses and minuses, and both are very rewarding.

Encyclopedic settings are setting where you strive to detail everything. Encyclopedic settings are the one that show off the creativity of a Gamemaster and the thought that goes into one often serves as a springboard for other ideas. Another advantage is that the Gamemaster is ready for any question a player asks, and creates a richness of detail that makes the world seem alive. The downside of this is that often the bulk of this material never comes into play. 

Though nothing goes to waste, per-say, the details do go to waste if they never leave the confines of note filled notebooks. Players might not even care to ask what the lineage of a certain ruler is. Their concerns are more primal like who is paying them, how do they afford a new sword, or how they can learn a new spell. Examples of Encyclopedic Settings are found in sprawling multi-volume fantasy epics such as Robert Jordan’s Wheel of TimeJ.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the RingsRaymond E. Feist’s work, andTSR/Wizard of the Coast Forgotten Realms (originally created by Ed Greenwood). These settings are rich and brimming with detail, however, most of this detail is not needed. So, should not create a setting like this? No. Go for it, but keep in mind that often the bulk of your creation is for your own enjoyment.

So if an Encyclopedic Setting is one of the spectrum, a Sandbox is the other. 

What is a Sandbox Setting? It is a setting where you purposely leave areas empty. Instead you think about the area where you plan to have your adventures take place, and you flesh it out in broad strokes. One example of this is The Merchant League found in Shadow, Sword & Spell: Basic. That is a sandbox. Only the bare minimum is written up and as your adventurers explore details are figured out. Growth is more spontaneous and details are created as players ask question, or as you need them. 

Sandbox campaigns are rewarding in that everyone has a hand in shaping the growth. However some GMs find them daunting because they often have to “wing it.” This is a good thing, because some of the best creations are the ones you make up as you go along. The key to a sandbox is that all you need are a few notes, as well as a notebook which you can jot down what you create.

Shadow, Sword & Spell is a sandbox. It is designed this way to serve not only as an example, but because we want you to make it your own.

I Live

August has been one of those months where I do not remember if I am coming or going.

I got sick at GenCon, and by the end of the week I was feeling like crap. I went to the doctor when I got home, and found out I had not only a sinus infection, but an ear infection. To make this even better I had bronchitis. 
Yeah, it was a fun time.
I am finally feeling better and slowly getting back up to speed. This is a good thing.
I have a shit load of writing to do.

Kitchen Creations

I like to cook. Scratch that, I love to cook. I also love to bake. Lately it is baking which is what I have been experimenting with. From my own breads, to cookies, to cake, I’ve been living in the kitchen, cooking and baking. One of the things with any cooking or baking, after awhile you let your creativity get ahold of you and you try something of your own.

I make a pretty mean Red Velvet Cake. With that recipe down, I’ve tried Blue and Green Velvet. This was nothing huge, but it was me, trying something for the hell of it. Then you start toying with different bread styles, different approaches to the baking of bread.

So then I start thinking really outside of the box (well not that far, but stay with me) and wonder what if I try bacon with a baked good? I mean, I remember eating french toast, or pancakes and the sausage or bacon would have maple syrup on it. This was a taste that I always liked, but thought it would only work for breakfast. Undeterred, I thought about using bacon in a sweet of some type. I love baking cupcakes, and I thought, what if I went with bacon either in or part of the cupcake? More thinking — I do this a lot — and then I thought crumbling the bacon on top of a maple frosting. Liking this, I then had to come up with the most important part, the actual cupcake. Then it hit me.


Vanilla Poundcake.

It is sweet, but not too sweet. It would have the texture of a pancake, and would not over power a maple frosting, or the bacon.

So I experimented with pound cake, and after a few tries (all of which my wife’s coworkers ate) I found the perfect poundcake recipe. This morning, I baked my first batch. I present them to you:

Vanilla Poundcake Cupcakes with Maple Frosting and Bacon.

This is the first attempt and it went better than I thought. I need to cook the cupcakes a little less. I also might try pancetta, because I think the spicy flavor will cut the frosting. I also think of mixing the bacon in the frosting, or frosting the cupcakes and roll the top in the bacon. Regardless for the first attempt, this went far better than I thought it would.

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