Nick LS Whelan Project Roundup

Like most writers I know, I have a bad habit of committing time to more projects than I can feasibly complete. It’s the kind of thing which, intellectually, you know you should avoid. Yet somehow it just…happens. One day you realize its been three weeks since you last touched Project A, and those doodles you were working on in your spare time have become a full fledged project B. It’s a massive drain on my output, and I’ve been making an effort to reign myself in.

On the advice of Brendan, part of that effort is going to be more openness about what I’m working on. This will be difficult to me, as it seems entirely self indulgent. The satisfaction of doing a thing should come when the thing is done. Sharing half-finished work seems like an attempt to steal a little satisfaction for yourself before you’ve actually earned it. But, Brendan has one of the more successful books in the OSR, and is working on a marketing PhD, so what the fuck do I know?

So, cards on the table. Below is a catalogue of every project I’ve devoted a significant amount of time to, and which is still more or less on my radar. I’m not including anything that I’ve definitively abandoned, nor anything which hasn’t progressed beyond being some ideas scribbled down on paper. There are too many dozens of those to share.

I’m sorry if you think this is boring. I’ll make sure something really cool is scheduled for next week.

Ongoing Projects
This is stuff that will never really be “finished.” Projects which will require regular effort from me until some completely arbitrary point when I decide to stop doing them.

Papers & Pencils: This website! Hopefully that doesn’t require any further explanation. Currently it consumes about 9-12 hours of my time each week.

On a Red World Alone: My current campaign, and a frequent topic of discussion here.  Eventually I’m planning to produce a 100~150 page book. It’ll primarily cover campaign setting information, tables, and the various rules adjustments I’ve used. It’s not something I’m pursuing seriously at the moment, but I’ve already written a collective 36 pages of back-end material, just to help run the game. There’s also the play reports, which take a few hours each week.

Dumb Stuff Taken Seriously: Did you know I have a podcast? Well I do! It has absolutely nothing to do with tabletop games, which is why I’ve never mentioned it here before. It’s just me and my buddy Rabbi Tzvi Kilov sitting around trying to find common ground on silly topics. When we’re on top of things, it updates weekly. When we’re not, it updates sporadically. It’s not something that either of us stress about. It’s more of a palate cleanser. An easy way to spend some time chatting with a friend, and feel like something has been accomplished at the end of it. None the less, on a week when we update it, it takes up about 4 hours of my time, between recording and editing the thing.

…Ahem: I write salacious material under a pseudonym. Without rendering that pseudonym pointless, there’s not a whole lot I can say. I make no money from it yet, but I probably get more personal recognition for it than I do for any other project I’m working on. I debated as to whether I should include this, but it’s something that consumes a chunk of my writing energy, so it would seem dishonest not to.

Imminent Projects
These are things I will release this year. Preferably in the first half of the year. I realize I have a terrible track record with deadlines, so you can take that with as much salt as you like. But, if I stop setting deadlines, that’s the same as giving up, and I won’t do that.

Bubblegum Berzerk: The working title for a completely new game that is unlike anything I’ve ever done before. It’s a kind of hyper-masculine, fast paced, guns blazing, science fantasy, dungeon runner, that exists somewhere on the gradient between role playing game and board game. It’s not the sort of thing I would have come up with on my own, but a few months back my buddy Jesse Newman invited me to a one shot. He was running a game he had quickly homebrewed himself, and let me tell you: it was a uniquely entertaining experience. I had never played another game quite like it.

During the whole last hour of the game I was distracted by all the possible rules tweaks that kept popping into my head. Afterwords, when Jesse asked me if I had enjoyed myself, I asked if he would let me co-author a publication with him, so we could  sell it for mad crazy cash money. He said yes.

Since then we’ve been polishing the game up, adding some tables, some custom flavor, some sample adventures, etc. At one point we sincerely thought we could get the thing published before Christmas. Unfortunately both of us had bills to pay, and jobs to work, and that didn’t pan out. But we’re certainly close to having the writing done. After which the art & the layout stuff may take some undetermined length of time.

Be excited for this.

▓▓▓ ▓▓▓▓▓ ▓▓ ▓▓▓ ▓▓▓▓▓▓ ▓▓▓▓▓▓▓ ▓▓▓▓: This is a total copout, I know. The whole point of this post is to be more open about what I’m working on. I can say that right now, this is the project that is devouring most of my time. Roughly 6-8 hours every day, 5 days a week. It’s an adventure module. And, at least in its core concept, I think it’s probably the weirdest thing I’ve ever written.

I don’t want to say any more because I’ve already put a ton of work into how I will reveal this project to the world. The blog post announcing it is already on the schedule and everything. So in this singular instance I’m going to continue playing my cards close to my chest. But I promise: this, and that one thing in the section above, are the only things I’m keeping from you.

As Seen On TV: This is a card game I came up with a few years ago. When I started writing this post, I put it very firmly in the category below this one. At that point I hadn’t touched it in over a year, and had no plans to get back into it soon. The single playtest I’d run had been a crazy good time. But the execution of the game felt sloppy, and I could never think of how to fix that.

Then, as I’m typing up this very summary, I realized something: I’d actually played it much more recently. Not my game exactly, but another game, professionally published, which used an insanely similar resolution mechanic: Superfight.

Using that game to guide my thinking, all of the problems with As Seen on TV just fell away. Over the weekend, when I usually avoid working on projects, I couldn’t stop myself from cutting up paper and sleeving 100+ cards. I’m currently waiting on more sleeves to arrive so I can get the full game put together.

The basic idea is that one player draws some ridiculous problem. The other players then use the cards in their hands to create a ridiculous invention which solves that problem. Then they’ve gotta make an infomercial style pitch in favor of their product. At the end, the player with the problem “buys” one of the products, and that player gets 1 point.

The real trick with this one is going to be navigating the publishing process. I don’t mind self-publishing books, because there are tools which allow me to self-publish a high quality product.  Card games are a whole other can of worms. I’ve never played a print-and-play card game, and I don’t want to ask other people to do so either. That means I gotta be a grown up and find a publisher.

Projects I Will Finish
None of these are part of my day-to-day writing routine at the moment. There are only so many hours in the day, and everything above this point in the list takes priority. That being said, I will not give up on any of it. I’ve spent way too much fuckin’ time on each of these to let them rot away, unread, on my hard drive. As soon as I’m done with one of the things above, something from this section will move up to fill the space.

Miscreated Creatures: The biggun, my monster book. I started working on this fucker at some point in the later half of 2013, which means it has been in serious production for 4 years now. At this point it’s pretty much a textbook example of that book that some pedantic fuck you know is always “writing,” but never actually finishes. I’m just glad I never kickstarted it.

I could write a whole post on the issues with this project alone. But, for the sake of brevity, I’ll give you the Cliff’s Notes on how the last few years have gone.

I completed my second draft at some point in late 2014 or early 2015. The full book. A second draft exists for all 331 monsters. Right around the same time, two things happened. First, I had an accident which caused me to lose most of the skin on both of my hands, and prevented me from doing any writing for a few months. Second, three new monster books came out that I read: Lusus Naturae, Fire on the Velvet Horizon, and Creature Compendium.

Reading these books, and reflecting on my own 2nd draft, I realized I’d made a fundamental mistake. The very core philosophy on which I had based the writing of Miscreated Creatures was flawed. Very little of what I had written was interesting, and much of what I had written was just pointless reinvention of the wheel that was more frustrating than it was worth. I’m not talking about some kind of juvenile “ugh, I hate that thing I wrote” bullshit. The 2nd draft of Miscreated Creatures was legitimately a shitty, unlovable book.

So I started a 3rd draft, and worked at a frantic pace. Within a couple months, I had 70 of the book’s 331 monsters updated, and they are glorious. The 3rd draft is really friggin’ good, and I’m excited to share it with you.

But at this point, still in early 2015, life got in the way. My girlfriend and I hit some serious financial troubles. The kind where you spend a lot of time hungry, and you’re not sure if your relationship is going to survive. Miscreated Creatures fell off my priority list as I spent all my time looking for a job, packing up my apartment, and trying to avoid the next inevitable fight with my ladyfriend. Things finally started to get back on track in late 2015 when I found a job. An emotionally demanding, full-time job that didn’t leave me a lot of energy to write when I got home. I started working on smaller projects. I continued working more or less full time from September 2015, to December 2016. And so Miscreated Creatures still sits,

But after the nightmare that was 2015, I’m finally starting to find some stability in my life. Enough to plan my writing around. My hope is that after those two projects listed under “Immenent” are completed, Miscreated Creatures can go back to being my #1 priority, and I can finally get this beast out the door.

Dungeon Moon: Out of everything I’ve ever done, I think more people have expressed interest in seeing a Dungeon Moon book than anything else. (Though ORWA may have eclipsed it recently.)

The thing is, very little of what I have actually written for Dungeon Moon would work as the basis for a book. It could be repurposed for a book, but I can’t really publish it the way it was originally written, because the way it was originally written was completely unsustainable, and barely usable.

Fortunately, about 7 months ago, I stumbled on an idea that I called Unspecified Dungeon Space. It’s something I’m planning to write about in a future post, but TL;DR it’s the missing piece of the Dungeon Moon puzzle for me. Now my mind is swirling with ideas for how I could put together a Dungeon Moon book. The only thing I’m missing is some space in my schedule. It’ll be a long time before I have that, and even when I do, it’ll be a long road before Dungeon Moon is ready to publish. But when I finally get there, I’m confident you’ll love what I’ve got to share with you.

The Boulder Dungeon: A little less than 2 years ago, a buddy of mine wanted to play some D&D. So I spent 10 minutes coming up with a dungeon, then I ran it for him. He died 3 times, then gave up. Later, I talked about the experience on Google+, and Cecil Howe spontaneously drew some art and maps of my idea. Then he told me to key them, so I did.

The funny thing is that the writing for the Boulder Dungeon is about 80% complete. Both of us fell off the project, but it really just needs a few tweaks and some polish before it’s done. After that it just needs some art, and some layout work, and it’ll be ready to share. But as with many things, all I lack is time. I’m already writing 12-14 hours a day, and can’t really push that any further without breaking my poor fragile little brain.

The Sideways Tower of Slaggoth the Necromancer: Do you remember The Hidden Tomb of Slaggoth the Necromancer? It was the first module I completed and published, and people seemed to like it. Well the sequel has been sitting on my shelf, more or less a complete first draft, since 2014.

The vast majority of the creative work is done: maps, room descriptions, NPCs. It’s a lot bigger, and a lot more interesting than Slaggoth’s tomb, and I’m still excited to share it with you. I just need to find the time to finish it.

The Luncheon: One day in like…friggin’ 2013, I sat down at lunch and I sketched out a dungeon on a pad of paper. Every day for a week I came back to this dungeon and worked on it for an hour before going back to work. I dubbed it the Luncheon, and it was really kinda clever.

I later expanded the dungeon to exist in a symbiotic relationship with a town built above it, full of people who don’t want anyone exploring the dungeon beneath their town. It’s a small, simple project, but one that I think people would enjoy. Like the Boulder Dungeon and Slaggoth’s Sideways Tower, most of the work on the Luncheon is long finished. I just got distracted when I started the second draft.

1,000 Dragons: Like I said in my post about how I structure encounter tables, I think our games need more Dragons in them. I’ve got this whole dragon philosophy that I want to share, how to make them, how to run them, how often they should appear, etc. And because I can’t ever take the simple road, I figured I’d make 1000 examples to help communicate that philosophy effectively.

Currently there’s only about 250 dragons in the book, but that’s a solid start!

Projects in Limbo
I honestly don’t know what will happen with any of these projects. I’ve put enough work into them that I’d like to do something with what I’ve written. But I haven’t written enough to feel bound to finish them.

Anything is possible with these. Some might move up the list over time. Other might end up as much smaller projects than they were initially conceived as. Still others might be rolled into other projects, or just scrapped altogether.

They Came from the Silver Wheel: This is a weird one. One day, someone asked me to run a campaign for them. I said yes, then I sat down and wrote a 6 page player document on the spot. I even made some art for it.

The idea of the campaign was that the players were these semi-brainwashed people who would occasionally wake up standing outside of a giant silver disk. Their job was to collect fuel for the disk on whatever world they landed on–a different campaign setting each time. Once they gathered the fuel, they got back on the disk, the session ended, and the disk moved on to a new world.

The PCs were essentially slaves, but there were some crazy cool benefits for remaining enslaved. Laser guns, hit point boosts, the works. That being said, it’s explicitly stated in the document that if the players want, they can just not return to the disk. They’re not the only ones slaves, so it’ll eventually get fueled up and leave without them, leaving them stranded forever in whatever campaign setting they chose to settle down in. Their cool toys will all break down, and they’ll have to start from scratch in a new world.

I was incredibly excited about the project for all of about a week. I still think there’s a lot of potential in the idea, but I never did end up running the game, so it never really had an opportunity to develop properly.

Serial Killer Board Game: A slasher movie twist on asymetrical war games. One player plays the killer, while the others all play as potential victims. The players move around the board,trying to escape without getting killed, and the killer tries to kill everyone. I’ve come up with a dozen different board game ideas over the years, but settled on pursuing this one because it seemed like the most managable concept.

I’ve got a thrift store copy of monopoly that I’ve chopped up and repainted to experiment with. So far, though, I haven’t managed to make the game even slightly fun. Which, ya know, is kind of a problem.

The Clitoris is the Devil’s Doorbell: One day I found this image, and I showed it to my girlfriend:

The Clitoris is the Devil's Doorbell
Yes, I know it’s fake.

She and I thought it was riotously funny. Then we then spent the next hour or so pacing around each other, talking about what kind of wacky adventure module could arise from that idea. We came up with this horrible hell dildo which could turn a vagina into a portal to hell. And what if the church was keeping it in hiding? And what if a rebellious young nun who had been forced into the convent decided to use the dread artifact?

Long story short, there’s a fairly well researched outline of this idea sitting on my hard drive. At one point I even spent several hours pouring over maps of France looking for a suitable location to set it in. If I ever do finish it (and, of all these projects, this is easily my favorite), it’ll be set in a village based off of Baume Les Messieurs.

SciFi Game: I have a strong dislike for pretty much every Science Fiction RPG in the OSR. I’ve read a few which I’d call decent, but just don’t fit my needs. Others are…dumb, and bad, and awful.  Anyway, a few years back, there was this SciFiRPG which everyone told me was amazing, so I read it. It was not amazing, which made me frustrated.

I got myself pretty worked up over this at the time, so I started to sketch out my own SciFi rules. Something which stuck to the core D&D model, just with different base assumptions about who the characters were and what they’d be doing. I spent about two months working on this in my spare time, before I realized I was distracting myself from more important projects, and that I needed to shelve this idea before it consumed too much of my time.

I’d still love to complete a Science Fiction game, but at this point I think it’s more likely that everything I wrote here will be rolled into ORWA if the players ever manage to find a space ship, and escape mars.

Fallin: Ironically, Fallin is the one project on this whole list which I am almost certain I will abandon, but it’s also probably the single most complete game I’ve ever written from scratch. (With the exception of Bubblegum Berzerk).

The goal of Fallin was to emulate the feel of the best Fallout video games, without ripping them off completely, and without trying to emulate their mechanics in the slightest. At it’s core, the game was a B/X clone, tinkered with until it was barely recognizable.

The reason I probably won’t move forward with Fallin is ORWA. When my players in ORWA discovered the Internet, I was forced me to quickly add some technological elements to the game, so I drew on Fallin. At this point, about 80% of the cool stuff from Fallin is already in ORWA, so it seems redundant to persist with the project.

The only reason I haven’t written Fallin off completely is that there’s still a lot of cool stuff in it that doesn’t fit in ORWA. Most likely I’ll just try to fit it into a later draft. Other stuff may just be lost to the ether. Gotta kill your babies, yo.

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