Jinxed in Jersey: a LARP about climate change

buildings collapsing

You are 50 miles from your final destination. You left western Massachusetts with a near-full tank of gas. You planned on refueling in southern Connecticut, but every station you’ve passed is empty.

You surge forward into New York state. The opportunity to refuel decreases sharply with each exit you pass. Every few exits, the needle drops lower. You have enough gas to make it to Morristown, but what then? Will normalcy be restored by Sunday, or will the shortages have worsened?

You consider trying an alternate route. If you drive far enough from the highway, you might have some luck. But if that doesn’t work, you’re stuck. Far from home, far from your destination, out of fuel.

Do you turn back now, or continue on?

We turned around when, about 40 miles from the convention, we realized that one tank of gas could get us in, but not out, of Morristown. We had been forewarned about fuel shortages in northern New Jersey, but we had not anticipated the scale of the problem. When electricity was restored, everyone ran to refuel at once. Northern New Jersey ran out of fuel, so Jersey folks set off for southern New York; southern New York ran out of fuel, and New Yorkers set out for Connecticut. And so on and so forth…

This road trip was a sobering experience; a reminder that climate change is not a problem of the future. If you live in one of the areas hit hardest by Hurricane Sandy, then you’ve seen the damage yourself. The storm left more than 8 million homes without power, canceled nearly 20,000 flights, and has caused an estimated $50 billion in damage. This weekend, more than 900,000 homes and businesses in New Jersey were still without electricity.

As power is restored throughout metropolitan areas, impatient drivers are piling into long lines for fuel. On our drive through north Jersey, the only serviceable gas station we passed had at least 50 cars lined up, drivers waiting and glaring.

Across the country, the effect of climate change will vary regionally. Everywhere, there will be a marked increase in extreme weather events. These will taken the form of storms, floods, droughts, heat waves, and a colorful mashup of other unpredictable “acts of God.”

What this means for the future of this country – for the future of this planet – is beyond the scope of this piece. I can’t predict the full impact of climate change, nor do I know how quickly certain changes will take place.

This is what I can say: This weekend, climate change impacted your community. If you did not personally feel the impact, you weren’t looking.

Mobile Frame Zero: Rapid Attack

So, the cat’s out of the bag. For the tenth (!) anniversary of Vincent Baker’s Mechaton, I’m working on Mobile Frame Zero: Rapid Attack. I’m working with Vincent, his son Sebastian, and Lego superstar Soren Roberts on a few new rules, a bunch of instructions, a setting, and a bunch of advice for both construction and play. Like all things LEGO™, it will be fun to make what’s on the front of the box, plus we’re making certain that it’s fun to repurpose the parts to make your own robots, factions, and even rules hacks.

I got a chance to try the new basic rules at Metatopia this last weekend, playing couple of games with Dave Leciston, Mark Andrews, Michele Mishko (who subbed for Bill Refsland when he had to attend to con duties), Mike Miller, and Rich Flynn. Here are some highlights. Many robots died for this playtest.

All told, the con was really interesting, if event-packed. There was little time for socializing, which suits the intentions of the con, but I really wish I’d had the time to hang with some of those folks some more.

More photos available on Flickr!

If you’ve got Mechaton already and would like a PDF of the Metatopia experimental rules, please give mee your email address in the comments!

Kodrek: Now in a Volume Near You

I’m very pleased to say that all Kodrek sets have now been sent! Some folks may have already gotten them.

I’m really looking forward to hearing about peoples’ games — video some and show me! — and how they house rule the game. It’s designed with some deliberate flexibility and commentary on what taking advantage of each piece of flexibility does.

Thank you, Human Contact backers, for encouraging me to finish this game. I’m really thinking about publishing it for real now.

Kodrek rules, version 1.0

The 1.0 rules of Kodrek are complete! I’ll be sending boards out to all the Kodrek-level Kickstarter backers just as soon as printing is complete.

The timing means that I’ll also be entering the game in the 1000 Year Game Challenge. It’s got some stiff competition!

Kodrek is a game with a funny background. It comes from an actual game of Human Contact. Because HC is about cultures and their expressions in contrast with other cultures, we needed a game that summed up the part of the culture we were soaking in during a particular scene. In this case, it was an Academic (a bit of a dick, that guy) who was gambling. Now, keep in mind, the Academy doesn’t have money; its members trade in ideas because of their post-scarcity environment. So the guy was gambling with money that he was manufacturing. But he considered all the marines and pirates around him murderers, so he figured it all came out it the wash.

My specification was that it be a three-way game with shifting alliances. Vincent wanted it to be a game where you committed to plans in secret and then revealed them to each other, then dealt with the consequences. You can actually see the scene in Human Contact on page 84. We described the triangular board, the move-slapping, and that was about it.

After the game, Rob had to go home and Vincent and I went for a walk. We kept going back to the board game idea and rough-sketched play. I’ve thought about it for a few months and have come up with these final rules.

The game has a lot of variables and the rules discuss some of the things you might do differently if you lived with a different clan. I look forward to seeing the variants that players come up with!

I’m considering publishing the game. For the time being, it’s Creative Commons, Attribution, Noncommercial, Share-Alike though I might loosen it up a little bit, allowing commerical products and derivatives once I’ve decided.

Download the rules here!

Readercon is how I wish all conventions were


Readercon is fucking rad. It’s a four-day literary science fiction convention in Burlington, MA (I didn’t know there was a Burlington in Massachusetts, either!), up route 128 where Autodesk and Adobe live. It’s the sun of the solar system of events that take place in Corey Doctrow’s Eastern Standard Tribe. It’s a miserable land of industrial parks and highway exits and I can’t wait to go back next year.

Carrie and I went together, not knowing exactly what we’d find. For me, it was sort of a fact-finding mission. I wanted to know if they were my people; the kind of people who think about the differences between Philip K. Dick and Bruce Sterling, not just as authors with bodies of work, but as what they have to say about the societies they live in. Panel after panel — only a one-hour break for dinner, people — was about gender, empire, race, sexuality, and the human central nervous system. I stayed each day until my brain was full, but much of Saturday night was spent in the company of other science fiction authors, drinking beer, talking about ideas. I got to shake a couple of very famous hands and am very excited to explore some new fiction.

I also got to play a game of Orange Book Shock: for the first time in a year or something. Ish and Greg picked me out of the crowd with their own copy of the book and we squeezed in a couple of hours to spin a weird little yarn about passenger pigeons that were hypnotized to carry memes through a New York City post-memetic apocalypse. Greg’s protagonist, Bill, was the last independent pigeon man in the city, while Comcast had consumed the entire Empire State Building, turning it into an enormous rookery. He was convinced that his last independent opposition, Phil, had the cure to the plague that was killing all the pigeons. Phil knew for certain that the plague wasn’t real, but was using Bill’s fear to get him to sell out to Phil. In the end, they used their memetic tricks on each other until they both believed that the pigeon plague could only be tamed by getting a regular treatment from the Empire State Building. The plague, of course, was a memetic one for humans — there was no disease, just a communication-controlling corporation that wanted a couple of putative indies around to do their memetic dirty work.

As you’d hope from these things, I came back charged up to read and write. I have a shiny newly-signed copy of Trouble on Triton by Samuel R. “Chip” Delaney, who’s a much weirder and more fun person than I imagined. I’ve also got a copy of Visions of Tomorrow: Science Fiction Predictions that Came True, edited and signed by Thomas A. Easton and Judith K. Dial, which is good fun. Along the way, I picked up a copy of Norstrilia, by Cordwainer Smith, which is his lone novel, the rest of his corpus being in the form of short stories and articles on psychological warfare for the CIA.

The biggest takeaway, though, was my immediate, stammering, giggling fanhood of Vandana Singh. After a panel on the place of colonialism in science fiction (rooted as it is in the imperial age and tales of trips to foreign and savage lands), I ran up to the dais and gushed at her. I’m so pleased that it didn’t put her off. I asked if I could give her a copy of Human Contact, and bless her astounding dignity, she asked if I would sign it for her.

I’ve got one of her books on Kindle now and another coming in the mail. Tonight’s my first change to sit down and read it. That her work is at the top of this rarified reading pile is a testament to how much she moved me with her incisive thought and warm, vivid prose.

I’m hoping I get to participate in the con next year. I’m nervous about asking them as though I was asking the whole con on a date.

Connecticon is great fun.


I just spent the last weekend at Connecticon with Emily Care Boss, Robert Bohl, Epidiah Ravachol, and a ton of really awesome people. Thousands of them, in fact. We played some games, sat on a couple of panels, and sold some games.

Connecticon’s got a real concentration on making stuff. The costumes are ubiquitous, handmade, and amazing. There are drawing and sculpture classes. The Artist Colony has passionate and skilled artists who make funny, creative things. My favorites are the minicomic called Unpopular Species by Dandelion Studios and the prints of Chen (pronounced like “Chanukah” not “China”) from Botodesigns. Unpopular Species is a small field guide to animals that are ugly, poisonous, or grotty, while Chen’s work inserts robots, anthropomorphic cucumbers, and other cute critters into traditional prints, doing her own screen printing. She even custom printed me a shirt in the color combo I was after. I’m wearing it now. It’s quite silly.

My games of Human Contact were fantastic. One of them ended with the literal human sacrifice of the three Envoys. They were thrown in a volcano. The society in question had determined that human sacrifice was a real problem and had developed artificial intelligence for the purpose of sacrifice. Now, as capitalism took over the culture, they noticed that AI sacrifice wasn’t making their lives better. Fortunately, there were these new guys… This was about 6 months into their first encounter with the society, and the Envoys had determined that their hypercapitalism and problematic religion gave the society a decade or so before total economic collapse. The only tools they had were an underground of rationalists (who didn’t have to be underground before this monkey business started), a theocrat who was secretly atheist, and the leftover bits of technology that the Envoys had left. We had some hopes they’d be able to rescue themselves before the Contactor showed back up and everything went to crap.

Emily, Eppy, Rob and I also ran a panel on independent game design and publishing. We talked about a couple of RPGs, but there were multiple people with board game designs they were working on. It was a very exciting panel. One woman named Mary was in my breakout group and had three really powerful board game designs she was incubating. I hope she pursues them.

James Carpio invited us on a whim to his panel on GM issues and it was a really fun time. There were two kids in the front row, both high school aged, who I fully expect to be generating their own games and thoughtful articles in a couple of years. They were looking hard at their game of Dark Sun and thinking about both its social and technical aspects as related issues. They had some really thoughtful advice for other attendees, too.

Thank you my fellow players for making some really good science fiction, thank you to our panel attendees for being lively and smart participants, and thanks to James Carpio for making us so welcome to play our games, Rym and Scott for giving us opportunities to run panels, and Connecticon in general for its high energy and creativity. I had a great time and look forward to doing some really fun stuff with you next year.

The Contactor Spooky Motion At A Distance

Want to see something neat? This is Scott Dunphy’s Contactor, Spooky Motion At A Distance. The game’s got some really neat features! The expedition has already failed once — they got to their intended colony, only to find it dead, with evidence that its inhabitants came from somewhere else! Does that mean that a Rectifier will follow them, only to find no evidence of their having been there but their Bridges?

Scott told me about this in the course of discussing a Human Contact story repository. I started working on a wiki a while back but abandoned it because I couldn’t get my chosen wiki to not be a pain in the ass. I’ve since messed around with a couple more wikis but would love help getting one working well.