Tag Archives: Multiverser

#273: Maintaining Fictional Character Records

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #273, on the subject of Maintaining Fictional Character Records.

At this point I have written six novels and am watching the fifth go into publication in online serialized form.  As with the work of many other authors, the books themselves form a series, with characters continuing their stories from book to book.  One of the challenges of such a collection is maintaining character consistency, that is, making sure not only that the characters stay “in character”, but that they don’t change in the details, from hair color to high school to siblings to skills and equipment.  It’s easy as an author to forget something you decided three books before about a character, so it’s good to have a method for keeping track of it all.  You don’t want to find yourself saying that a character can’t do something he did before, or that he did something long ago you already said he didn’t do, or that he abruptly has or does not have some possession previously established otherwise.

This is my method.  I’m sure that it has some unique features, and I’m equally sure that other authors have different methods.  However, if you’re contemplating writing something that might have a sequel, you’ll want a method of your own, and mine might be helpful at least to get you on the right track.

I think if I were more organized I would probably keep the character records up to date as I wrote, adding details to the records each time I used them in the story.  I don’t do that, mostly because while I’m writing I’m not thinking in that direction, but in the direction the story is taking me.  This has meant that in the editing process I’ve had to go back and change something that was contradictory because I forgot between chapter one and chapter twenty-one that I had made a particular statement about a character.  That’s alright–that’s really a large part of what story editing is about, catching the inconsistencies and making them consistent.  Thus I don’t start work on the character records until I’ve done at least one read-through edit, and then I try to do them as part of the editing process.  Thus I begin with document one, the near finished draft of the book.

Before I start, I make sure I have another set of documents, one for each character whom I believe is going to reappear in a later book.  I have been wrong more than once–that is, having introduced a support character in one book, I unexpectedly brought him (or her) back in a later one, and had to go back to the previous book to build a starting character sheet.  Because my stories are based on Multiverser, I use one of the formats I have used for character papers in game play, which gives me an organizational structure; and because these are word processing documents, it’s easy to edit them.  The particular format I use begins with the character’s full name followed by nicknames and aliases, then a section of attributes rating how strong, smart, agile, and so forth, the character is, and a physical description.  I then list all the skills the character is known to have.  The game system gives me a solid organizational structure, because I can list technological skills, body skills, and magic and psionic abilities each in its own sector and use the game’s “bias” system to keep them orderly and find what I’m seeking.  Below that is equipment, which is probably my weak point because I list it in the order it is first mentioned in the text, and thus if I’m seeking something I sometimes have trouble finding it particularly if the character has a lot of possessions.  At the end are notes that don’t fit anywhere else, such as details of character history, known character traits and beliefs, and similar items.

Going from the book to the character sheets is a two-step process.

The first step is that I read the book and consciously attempt to notice every mention of any skill, possession, or personal detail for each of the characters I’m following.  This has to include both positive and negative details–that is, negative in the sense of that which is established as not available, such as that Bob Slade more than once noted he was never a Boy Scout and Joe Kondor doesn’t have a watch.  For each such item, I open that character’s record sheet and go to the bottom, typing the chapter number and what the item is.  Since I’m recording the chapter numbers (and my books have a lot of short chapters) it’s easy for me to relocate the reference later if I’m not sure what my note means.  I do all the characters on one pass, and so once I’ve finished the read-through I have multiple character records with a lot of chronologically-organized notes at the bottom.

The second step is to work from those notes, by opening the character reference paper in more than one window, and making entries in the appropriate sections of the upper portion of the sheet; I usually but not always include the chapter references for more information.  The notes can include things like whether a weapon is loaded, if an object broke or was repaired, and sometimes that a particular object was given away.  I don’t delete the note entries, but instead italicize the ones already included; having them makes it easier to track some information using a search function.  I do the characters one at a time, focusing on each until it is completed before moving to the next.

Because Multiverser is a game and the novels are in some sense an extension of it, I have a third step:  I create web page versions of the character sheets to provide to the fans so they can use the characters in games.  I don’t make these as complete as I would were I actually using them in a game, but I update them for each book.  That requires creating a new HTML file for each character for each book, and then matching the information in the new HTML file to that in the word processing document–but since I can save the previous file as a new file and then edit the new one, this is mostly about finding the new details.  I do not include the end notes in the web page versions, but regard the word processing files as the “official” records which I reference at need, the HTML files as the public publications of them.  Also, sometimes in the process of creating the new sheet I find errors in a previous one–most commonly omitted items.  I fix these in the new sheet, but not in the previous one.

Those character papers are available online, which is really so that my readers who want to use the characters in play can see the details about them but in this case gives you the opportunity to look at the format.  The headers including the pictures in the HTML versions are not part of the word processing files, as they are not needed in those.  (The pictures are present primarily because they make sharing on social media more effective.)

#269: Versers Arrive

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #269, on the subject of Versers Arrive.

With permission of Valdron Inc I have previously completed publishing my first three novels, Verse Three, Chapter One:  The First Multiverser Novel, Old Verses New, and For Better or Verse, in serialized form on the web (those links will take you to the table of contents for each book).  Along with each book there was also a series of web log posts looking at the writing process, the decisions and choices that delivered the final product; those posts are indexed with the chapters in the tables of contents pages.  Now as I have posted the fourth, Spy Verses,  I am again offering a set of “behind the writings” insights.  This “behind the writings” look may contain spoilers because it sometimes talks about my expectations for the futures of the characters and stories–although it sometimes raises ideas that were never pursued, as being written partially concurrently with the story it sometimes discusses where I thought it was headed.  You might want to read the referenced chapters before reading this look at them.  Links below (the section headings) will take you to the specific individual chapters being discussed, and there are (or will soon be) links on those pages to bring you back hopefully to the same point here.

There is also a section of the site, Multiverser Novel Support Pages, in which I have begun to place materials related to the novels beginning with character papers for the major characters, giving them at different stages as they move through the books.

This is the seventh and final mark Joseph “young” web log post covering this book, covering chapters 127 through 147.  These were the previous mark Joseph “young” web log posts covering this book:

  1. #218:  Versers Resume (which provided this kind of insight into the first twenty-one chapters);
  2. #226:  Versers Adapt (covering chapters 22 through 42);
  3. #235:  Versers Infiltrate (covering chapters 43 through 63);
  4. #243:  Verser Redirects (covering chapters 64 through 84);
  5. #257:  Verser Relationships (covering chapters 85 through 105);
  6. #265:  Versers in Motion (covering chapters 106 through 126).

History of the series, including the reason it started, the origins of character names and details, and many of the ideas, are in those earlier posts, and won’t be repeated here.

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Chapter 127, Brown 151

The challenge here was that I didn’t want Derek to solve it all, and I didn’t want it to be simple, but I didn’t want him to be completely useless in this, either.  At first I had the notion that he was going to find video footage of Sammie removing her journal from its hiding place, but then I thought that this was both too much to give him and something he would have noticed at the time, so I abandoned it.  I also realized that I had a problem with a video bug that went with her into her quarters, as it would mean he certainly had footage of her in her sleepwear, probably also in various states of undress, which was problematic.  On the other hand, he probably only gave security the footage relevant to the espionage case, so it is possible no one realizes he has it.


Chapter 128, Kondor 131

I started this with a view to filling a bit of time while Bob and Shella were approaching.  The esoterica into which it wandered was all pretty much chance.


Chapter 129, Brown 152

The recollection that teenage girls sometimes practice writing the name they think is going to be their future married name came to me abruptly as the connection that would bring Derek into the action of finding the girl.

I did a search for common Romanian surnames, and picked Dalca because it was relatively simple and alliterative.  It was on a list of what I took to be the most common thirty-five names in Romania.  Constantinescu was also on that list, along with quite a few other “escu” names, which apparently is the Romanian “son of” ending.


Chapter 130, Slade 131

I had written this chapter and stopped, thinking I was going to add more to it.  When I returned and reread it, meaning to consider how to continue it, I decided that the end was good, and I should leave it that way.  I had not yet decided from whose perspective the meeting between Slade and Kondor would be presented, but I thought this was not the chapter for that, so it defaulted to the next chapter in this story, which would be Kondor’s.


Chapter 131, Brown 153

I pondered how Derek could find the information on Dorin without having it be too simple, probably for a day or so, then jotted a note just before going to bed.  It read, “Romanian police computers were not connected to the Internet–but Interpol was, and Derek could access that fairly easily using his own credentials.  He then put in a formal request for information on a Romanian citizen going by Dorin Dalca, estimated at twenty years of age, living somewhere in Bucharest.  Criminal record, last known address, known associates.”  I used that for the basis of this chapter.

I was telling my Patreon supporters that I was nearing the end of the first draft but would have to edit, and somewhere in the back of my mind I was collecting notes for things to check while editing.  Between writing that note and writing this chapter I went back to the beginning and started the edit–I often have to give myself albuterol treatments with a nebulizer, which requires one hand and not much attention, so I can read but can’t type very well; I thought that reading the book and making edits was something I could do while inhaling vaporized medicine, and so make good use of the time.

On the read-through edit I thought of an alternate way for Derek to get the information, but was undecided as to whether to replace the Interpol method or add this (which would mean Romanian police records getting two requests on the same person, and might raise suspicions), so I decided to make a note of it and consider it again later.  The thought was that if the police relied on paper records and faxes, Derek could hack the phone company computer and route one of the fax numbers of a small police office to himself, then put in a request as that police station.  It was complicated, though, by the fact that he would have to write the request in Romanian on a standard request form he didn’t have.


Chapter 132, Kondor 132

I knew I was going to have trouble with Kondor in this world, because he doesn’t believe in magic and he has to reconcile his beliefs with the realities around him.  Of course, Slade and Shella are quite at home with magic, and won’t think twice about using it in front of him, which they do.


Chapter 133, Brown 154

I put this together slowly, trying to work out what had to happen before I had Derek involved in rescuing Samantha.  A planning session seemed to be the first step, and when I started the planning session the problems of the rescue became apparent.  The solution also became apparent, so I turned my attention to that.


Chapter 134, Slade 132

The new tension in Kondor’s life is that his companion Zeke doesn’t exactly disbelieve in magic, and that starts here.

Shella is always better at magic than Slade, and in this particular case we know from For Better or Verse that he used this spell for very short range viewing while she waited well outside the city and watched their movements for several hours, so her ability is already demonstrably better with it.

The speed of casting is built into Multiverser:  as your “skill ability level” increases, there are specific points at which you become twice as fast and then three times as fast (as your original speed) at casting spells.  Shella is probably twice as fast as Slade, who is an amateur at this against her professional ability.


Chapter 135, Brown 155

I had written this short chapter in its entirety, in pieces, but wasn’t happy with it, wanting the story to move forward faster.  I sat on it like that for several days, and then persuaded myself that it would be better to end it here and pick up after writing a Kondor chapter.  Part of it was that I could skip forward to the part where he was trying to look through the windows, and part of it was the realization that shorter chapters would give a feeling of acceleration toward the end of the book.


Chapter 136, Kondor 133

I started the party walking, and it occurred to me that people who don’t know anything about magic would think of ways to use magic to make things easier–like traveling through the desert.  Joe isn’t going to think that way, because he believes it’s not magic, but Zeke is new to everything, and so he will be full of questions, and “isn’t there an easier way to travel” is certainly one of them.


Chapter 137, Brown 156

For at least a day all I knew about this chapter was that the blinds would be drawn if the girl was there.  I began to paint a picture in my mind, Samantha found Dorin, Dorin’s handler was unhappy, she was bound and gagged in a chair, and then the handler leaves but tells Dorin to wait twenty minutes for him to be elsewhere, then kill her some way that won’t be messy, then leave the apartment unlocked and go somewhere where he will be recognized, and someone will come deal with the body.  Then I realized that they would be speaking Romanian, and Derek wouldn’t understand them.  It also occurred to me that city windows are often barred, which became a complication.

I decided that the Reptile House people would want to tag the departing handler, so with that framework I set about having Morach solve the problems I had envisioned for him.


Chapter 138, Slade 133

I was moving the group across the desert, making it seem that they had some distance to cover, and preparing for Derek to join them.  I knew how that was going to work, but I had to get his story to fit with theirs, so I took them slowly.


Chapter 139, Brown 157

This is the setup for Derek’s final chapter in this world.  I had originally envisioned him going in as Derek, with the full reptile house team fully armed, but I realized that there were a lot of good reasons why that would not happen, and why it would not be perceived as necessary, so I decided he would have to be Morach.  After all, the bow is the only weapon he brought, and it is a weapon he can use without raising the problem that he killed a Romanian citizen.


Chapter 140, Kondor 134

I had several times considered what it would be like to be inside the bubble during a sandstorm, and I knew the book would end with the travelers approaching the city, and fairly soon.  I decided the best observer for telling this experience was Kondor, and that I should do it here to make what was otherwise a dull travel chapter interesting.


Chapter 141, Brown 158

This was the way I had intended for Derek to go:  taking a bullet to protect Samantha.  I had originally envisioned him leaping into it sideways in full size, but the story had forced me to bring him here as Morach, and the only way he would be able to take multiple bullets in that situation would be to be flying at the shooter–otherwise he would simply sail past the line of fire, and Samantha would be hit.


Chapter 142, Kondor 135

I had envisioned this scene, in which Bob sees Derek’s equipment appear but Kondor misses it, and I knew it was going to have to be told from Kondor’s perspective, so we have an extra Kondor chapter.


Chapter 143, Brown 159

I had been wondering how to bring Derek into this world, and then recalled that he was at stage 2 when he entered Why Spy–the dream state.  There was no reason to take him out of it, so I played with that a bit.  I recognized that he had left the world as Morach, but had insisted on having Derek’s clothes brought on the raid, so he would be able to change.  The clothes themselves wouldn’t be too much for Morach to carry, but there are at least two and probably several cans of energy drink, and they are rather heavy.  So it was obvious that he would have to travel as Derek.


Chapter 144, Slade 134

I was not certain what was going to happen in this chapter; it was possible that the book would end, but there was too much, I thought, to fit in one chapter.  I decided that this would give the feel of the wait, and saw in my mind Zeke pulling out a deck of cards to suggest playing poker–something which earlier it was established Kondor did not do on the base.  That led to the dialogue, and the quashing of the idea of playing poker with someone who could read your mind, and from there into video games, and then into a somewhat awkward silence.  At that point, I thought that the next chapter could be Derek, his arrival, and beginning toward the city, and then Kondor could tell of seeing the city and coming to the gate, a scene my mind had rehearsed quite a few times but which had not been put to paper at all (so if I die within the next few hours it will be something no one ever knows).

As I was re-reading this, it struck me that when Lauren meets Zeke there will be at least the question of his religion.  That caused me to think about it, and I started jotting a conversation in the notes on the next novel to include then.


Chapter 135, Brown 160

I had set it in my mind that it would take Derek the full night to walk to his gear, but then it struck me that this might seem odd to the reader, who wouldn’t understand why it was so far.  I thus decided that the reason is that a drive that didn’t seem that long covered a lot of distance, and even with the removal of the city obstacles it would be a long walk back and on loose sand which would slow his progress.


Chapter 146, Slade 135

This chapter was rather organic–I knew where it started, and I let it grow.  It simply has to integrate Derek into the group and establish where they are going next, and when.


Chapter 147, Kondor 136

I wanted the scene at the gate to be told from Kondor’s perspective, because it would seem the most odd to him that they were expected.
The story is suspended here, because it has always been the plan that the Arabian story would be central to the next book.


This has been the seventh and final behind the writings look at Spy Verses.  If there is interest and continued support from readers we will endeavor to publish the next novel and behind the writings posts for it.

#265: Versers in Motion

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #265, on the subject of Versers in Motion.

With permission of Valdron Inc I have now completed publishing my first three novels, Verse Three, Chapter One:  The First Multiverser Novel, Old Verses New, and For Better or Verse, in serialized form on the web (those links will take you to the table of contents for each book).  Along with each book there was also a series of web log posts looking at the writing process, the decisions and choices that delivered the final product; those posts are indexed with the chapters in the tables of contents pages.  Now as I am posting the fourth, Spy Verses,  I am again offering a set of “behind the writings” insights.  This “behind the writings” look may contain spoilers because it sometimes talks about what I was planning to do later in the book–although it sometimes raises ideas that were never pursued.  You might want to read the referenced chapters before reading this look at them.  Links below (the section headings) will take you to the specific individual chapters being discussed, and there are (or will soon be) links on those pages to bring you back hopefully to the same point here.

There is also a section of the site, Multiverser Novel Support Pages, in which I have begun to place materials related to the novels beginning with character papers for the major characters, giving them at different stages as they move through the books.

This is the sixth mark Joseph “young” web log post covering this book, covering chapters 106 through 126.  These were the previous mark Joseph “young” web log posts covering this book:

  1. #218:  Versers Resume (which provided this kind of insight into the first twenty-one chapters);
  2. #226:  Versers Adapt (covering chapters 22 through 42);
  3. #235:  Versers Infiltrate (covering chapters 43 through 63);
  4. #243:  Verser Redirects (covering chapters 64 through 84);
  5. #257:  Verser Relationships (covering chapters 85 through 105).

History of the series, including the reason it started, the origins of character names and details, and many of the ideas, are in those earlier posts, and won’t be repeated here.

Chapter 106, Slade 124

I needed to do something with Slade, so I brought him to a white camp.  The idea of having him suggest he thought he had returned to Vargas’ camp developed as I wrote, but I still don’t know where this section will take me.


Chapter 107, Brown 143

I had not intended a confrontation between Derek and Williams, but it seemed that my timeframe was going to require it, so I thought I should make it dramatic.  I expect Williams to order Derek arrested, but Derek will act preemptively.


Chapter 108, Kondor 125

Kondor now has Zeke with him, which I had not previously envisioned.  I’m setting up the terms of their relationship and the character of the new associate as I go.


Chapter 109, Slade 125

I was still to some degree struggling with the Slade story, and now I had committed myself to a quick end with Kondor so I had to start thinking seriously about how to get them into that last world without a repeat of the random death bit.  I didn’t yet have it.

I stumbled into the new moral issue mostly from looking for some interesting dialogue, but once I saw it I spent a couple days trying to get it right.


Chapter 110, Brown 144

I had worked out most of this while writing the intervening chapters, trying to figure out what would most likely happen.  I knew when I finished the previous Brown chapter that his “pre-emptive” action would have to be telling the security officers to arrest Williams before Williams said to arrest him, and that was the timing issue.

Somewhere in my mind I realized that this would disrupt the room, as everyone was distracted by the unfolding drama at the security window, but I decided that this was something Derek would ignore and thus could be omitted from the narrative at this point.


Chapter 111, Kondor 126

I didn’t need Zeke to accept the situation fully, but simply to accept that for the moment he did not have a better explanation, and that the present task was to survive.

I don’t know whether Kondor has the equipment for a solar water collector.  He has a camp shovel, but he needs a plastic sheet and a pot.  I have been working on character sheets for my characters, so I’ll have to go through his equipment list.  The usual plastic sheet is a ground cloth, but he has a tent with a floor so he might not have one.  On the other hand, he might have a space blanket, which would also work.  He cooks, so he must have some kind of pots or pans, but they won’t be very large.  I’ll also have to consider what Zeke has in his gear, which at the moment is a roughly two hundred pound duffel of everything he takes when he moves to a new post.


Chapter 112, Slade 126

I needed to find a way to knock Slade out of the universe without giving the reader the feeling I was repeating myself.  It had not yet come to me, but then, I also had to move Derek forward to a place where he could be killed, and it wasn’t going to be on this mission.  The plan on the desert world is to bring them to a medieval Arabian city (somewhat sketched in my mind), to have Slade and Shella join Kondor and Zeke en route, and have Derek arrive just as they are approaching the walls.  So I had at least a little time for Slade while I finished with Derek and figured out how he verses, but I needed to be thinking in that direction.

I had a lot of problems with the Slade Manor idea, not the least of which was that he had a small chest of treasure and would have to expend quite a bit of it to buy the kind of mansion he wanted, even close to enemy territory, and my time to tell this story was getting shorter so I was going to have to pull him out.  So he would have parted with a lot of treasure and gotten very little in return for it, and I couldn’t justify doing that to him.

This dialogue was written over several days, as I couldn’t figure out where Slade was going.  I had thought of the part about how in the midst of a war they rarely were in any danger of being killed, but before I wrote it I played a game of solitaire and thought of the card relationship part, so I inserted that first and then turned to the surviving a war part.


Chapter 113, Brown 145

I put a lot of thought into whether Colonel Simpkins was part of the plot, but two things deterred me.  One was that it seemed unlikely that he would be included; the other was that it would mean Derek was going to die too soon, unless I could stretch this significantly.  I still am wondering whether someone should come tell him he is free to go, and then shoot him as “killed while trying to escape”, but again it will be too soon for him to arrive in the next world.

I started wondering while writing this whether to create a world for one of the characters based on the Clue® game, but then was faced with trademark issues, and wondering whether I could get around them with name changes.  I would replace one of them (either Green or White, depending on for which I could find a better replacement) with Grey, possibly replace Colonel Mustard with Captain Musgrave, maybe use Miss Lavender and Miss Rose, Professor Plumb, and the deceased host might be Mr. Soma or some other foreign name.


Chapter 114, Kondor 127

At this point I need Kondor to survive in the desert credibly; I need the reader to feel that he is doing things that are not merely striking in a random direction in the hope of finding civilization.

The use of a stick to determine which way is east by the shadow created by the path of the sun, and the solar water collector, probably both came out of a 1960s edition of the Boy Scout Fieldbook (not to be confused with the Handbook); I have never used either nor heard of anyone who did, but then, they are techniques for survival situations.  The shadow to determine latitude was my own thought, although I recognize that it is mostly about the curvature of the surface of the planet and significantly affected by the seasonal shift of the tilt.


Chapter 115, Slade 127

It was at this point that I figured out how to get Slade out of the present world, and to give myself a few chapters to accomplish it so Kondor could do a bit more of his desert survival and I could start maneuvering Derek to a departure point (which I had not yet solved).


Chapter 116, Brown 146

I had originally thought this would be two chapters, one which ended with Derek suspicious that the release might be a set-up and the other in which the Colonel came to him.  However, the first would have been too short, and once it ran the second part made no sense unless the first was a set-up.  It’s a few chapters too soon to take Derek out of this world, and I have not yet determined how I’m going to do it.

I also toyed with the idea of Derek being thanked by the Ambassador, but I realized that the situation is entirely too awkward in too many ways, and I didn’t see a way to make it work.


Chapter 117, Kondor 128

I lost part of this chapter.  I had started writing it during a storm, so I did a quick save at one point, and then I wrote more.  I had other things I should have been doing, and my time was slipping past, so I decided I would leave it and return–but when I closed the document I accidentally hit the “no” when it asked to save it, and didn’t have time to go back and try to remember what I had written.  I’m still not sure whether I had anything good that I lost.

One of the actresses who played a companion on Dr. Who once commented that there were only so many ways you could say, “What is it, Doctor?” but that this was the essence of your part:  companions exist so the Doctor can explain to someone what is happening so the audience knows.  We don’t have that problem with books, because at least for the primary characters internal perspective permits us to convey what the character is thinking and feeling, but as I started to integrate Zeke into Kondor’s life I started to feel like his role was becoming something like a Whovian companion.

I added the line about electrolytes and water soluble vitamins maybe an hour after I wrote that paragraph, when I returned to work on it more.  It seemed to me that it made him sound more like the doctor he is.

The cheese and crackers might owe something to Gumper’s Four-man Meal Packs®.  One of the lunches contains Velveeta® with some kind of cracker, although I’m only guessing that it’s saltines.  I remember that another contained Spam®, all of them contained a powdered spread that became something like jelly when mixed with water, and there was some kind of cracker which in at least one collection was Melba Toast®.  They had the virtue that in their sealed plastic bags they kept well over long trips even if the canoe swamped.


Chapter 118, Slade 128

I talked this through with Evan, because I knew exactly what was going to happen but not how to convey the story to the reader.

I had arranged for Slade to flash his chest of wealth at the mess tent, and figured more than one soldier would have seen it.  One, or maybe two, would believe that that was enough wealth to set them up for life, and then some–but they would not be so foolish as to suppose they could take Slade alone.  Thus they have the problem of deciding how many people they should trust to help them–more people increases the chance of success but decreases the size of the share.  Then they have to follow Slade and Shella out of the camp and ambush them.

The problem is that my perspective rules forbid me from giving the reader anything not known to the viewpoint character–in this case, Slade.  If it went to plan, five or six men would get around Slade and shoot him with flintlock rifles.  They would not expect trouble from Shella–she’s a woman, after all.  If they kill him by surprise, he is out of there–but the reader never knows what happened, and I’m trying to avoid the impression that it was a random death in war, so I have to let the reader know what is happening somehow.  That means a confrontation, so someone will explain something.

Obviously the ambushers are not going to initiate a confrontation; their plan depends on surprise.  That means Slade has to confront them.  However, six ordinary soldiers armed with flintlock rifles–Slade and Shella have defeated considerably more potent enemies, and indeed Slade has taken out worse than that himself, even before he faced the snake (trained armored prison guards with kinetic blasters).  Once he knows they are there, it is difficult to make his death credible, particularly if he has Shella assisting.

I kept wanting to have Slade throw the dagger, but knew that that would leave him a weapon short, so I saved it for a moment when in doing so he would be able to take the weapon from the person he killed.  I think the fight works, as Slade gets weakened a bit at a time and ultimately kills or injures all five of his attackers before falling.


Chapter 119, Brown 147

Getting Derek back to London would be quick and easy, and there would be a brief debriefing which I didn’t have to cover.  Then to get the timing right I was going to have to launch him on another mission quickly, which meant finding something different, and then kill him in the early stages.  What that is I don’t yet know.  The Why Spy game scenario recommends that referees take popular spy movies, begin with the set-up, and bring the character into it at a likely starting point.  The problem for me is coming up with a scenario that won’t be obviously plagiarized.  On the other hand, if I can find one that is dangerous enough up front I can finish it before it has moved far enough to be recognized.


Chapter 120, Kondor 129

I again marked the arrival of Bob Slade in the story of another verser, partly because I didn’t want Kondor to be surprised at his arrival but at the same time I didn’t want any confusion over why he wasn’t moving to meet whoever it was.


Chapter 121, Brown 148

I spent a few days trying to devise a new mission for Derek.  My parameters were problematic.  I wanted it to be something that made sense for him, but had a good chance of getting him killed.  The idea that Samantha would vanish looking for Dorin was not as obvious to me as it seems in the text.

I then balked at the American name.  When I give passports to player characters in this scenario, we always establish the names on them up front so that we have them, but when I did it in the book it was not at the time important.  I had tossed around a number of names in my head–John Smith, Jim Bond, Pete something–and then thought of making him John Quincy Adams, after the fourth President of the United States.  I dropped the unusual Quincy (although for a moment I considered making it Quentin to preserve the middle initial) in favor of the more common David, partly so I could make the joke about how it didn’t sound like an American name to C, who of course would think it sounded like a common British name.

I also wanted to send him in as not who he was but as someone else, and that would only work if I connected him to a different embassy.  The American embassy had advantages that he would have no trouble with the accent and I could involve the Reptile House, both because they would know him on sight (helping confirm his identity) and because they’re a good team that I rarely have used so maybe I could put them into action.


Chapter 122, Slade 129

I had long been thinking about the fact that if the soldiers killed Slade his treasure would go with him, and realized that he would find that quite funny.

I realized that the flintlock rifle would go with Slade; it was in my head several times.  This seems more like a piece of junk that encumbers him, but I’m not yet sure that Shella won’t find a use for it.


Chapter 123, Brown 149

This was an obviously great idea from the perspective that it made sense for it to happen and for Derek to be sent into it.  The down side was that that was pretty much all I had–Ambassador’s daughter left to look for her lost boyfriend who was really a spy, and did not return.  Further, I have to move it forward quickly enough to get Derek to a dangerous spot soon, but I’m not sure how.

I do have the advantage that with so many independent teams working on it at once, Derek could easily get a call that says she’s been found and then respond with the team to the location, cutting out a lot of the bothersome searching part.


Chapter 124, Kondor 130

At this point I have Slade and Kondor in the same world, and although they don’t know it the reader undoubtedly does.  That lets me return to the system by which I alternate Derek against both of them, moving his story forward more quickly than theirs.

The oscillating movement is something I worked out by thinking it through while writing it.

I also needed to make it seem as if it took Slade and Shella a while to reach Kondor, so this is sort of a waiting chapter to create that sense of waiting.


Chapter 125, Brown 150

I had forgotten when I wrote this that it was supposed to be lunch.  At first I thought no, it’s just a meeting, and the statement that he was having lunch with the Ambassador was the cover for the meeting.  Then I decided that the cover worked better if food was actually served, and Derek had just flown in from London (several hours, if memory serves) and would be hungry and thirsty.  Coming up with American food was easy.

Most of Derek’s ideas come from television shows I’ve watched, but I tried to sort them into the obvious ones and the less obvious ones.

It quite honestly had taken me so long to write this that I did not recall what kinds of “bugs” Derek had planted on Samantha, but I needed for there to be a way to get an image of Dorin so I decided I would make sure on the rewrite there was a camera and a GPS tracker in addition to an audio bug.


Chapter 126, Slade 130

I knew that Shella was going to use magic to provide food and shelter.  The connection to having learned the spells from Bethany was fairly obvious once I thought about it.

The discussion of appropriate courtesy was something I stumbled into.


This has been the sixth behind the writings look at Spy Verses.  If there is interest and continued support from readers we will continue to publish this novel and the behind the writings posts, and prepare the fifth novel to follow it.

#257: Verser Relationships

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #257, on the subject of Verser Relationships.

With permission of Valdron Inc I have now completed publishing my first three novels, Verse Three, Chapter One:  The First Multiverser Novel, Old Verses New, and For Better or Verse, in serialized form on the web (those links will take you to the table of contents for each book).  Along with each book there was also a series of web log posts looking at the writing process, the decisions and choices that delivered the final product; those posts are indexed with the chapters in the tables of contents pages.  Now as I am posting the fourth, Spy Verses,  I am again offering a set of “behind the writings” insights.  This “behind the writings” look may contain spoilers because it sometimes talks about what I was planning to do later in the book–although it sometimes raises ideas that were never pursued.  You might want to read the referenced chapters before reading this look at them.  Links below (the section headings) will take you to the specific individual chapters being discussed, and there are (or will soon be) links on those pages to bring you back hopefully to the same point here.

There is also a section of the site, Multiverser Novel Support Pages, in which I have begun to place materials related to the novels beginning with character papers for the major characters, giving them at different stages as they move through the books.

This is the fifth mark Joseph “young” web log post covering this book, covering chapters 85 through 105.  These were the previous mark Joseph “young” web log posts covering this book:

  1. #218:  Versers Resume (which provided this kind of insight into the first twenty-one chapters);
  2. #226:  Versers Adapt (covering chapters 22 through 42);
  3. #235:  Versers Infiltrate (covering chapters 43 through 63);
  4. #243:  Verser Redirects (covering chapters 64 through 84).

History of the series, including the reason it started, the origins of character names and details, and many of the ideas, are in those earlier posts, and won’t be repeated here.

Chapter 85, Slade 117

The consideration of invisibility versus insignificancy is on one level filler, something to make it seem as if it took some time to reach their room.  It also reflects Slade’s character a bit along the way, as he ponders this.

The confrontation with Mlambo was not foreseen; I was creating this as I went.


Chapter 86, Brown 136

At this point I decided that I couldn’t use the name of the real Ambassador Harris, so I changed it to Morris.  I don’t know how old his daughter actually is, but I think the distance is pretty safe.  I know nothing about the real ambassador that is not available on the Internet to a cursory search.

On the name “Dorin”, I did a lookup of the most common given names in Romania, and it was second.  Andrei was first, but Andrei seemed such a universally common eastern European name, and Dorin had the benefits of being extremely rare in the United States while being credible as a given name to American ears.  It sounded like a foreign European name.

As I was writing it, I realized what the next twist should be.


Chapter 87, Kondor 118

A “widget” is, apparently, any undefined material object produced or inventoried in a manufacturing economy.  The word is used in such fields as law and economics in the sense of “it doesn’t matter what this is, only that there is something being made, stored, marketed, or sold.”  It thus appears quite a bit on exam questions.

I was exploring something for Joe to do, some reason for him to be here other than as a holding world.  The idea that he might discover pilfering in supplies crossed my mind.

I often tell people that “never” is too big a word, at least in the contexts in which it is often used.  Someone will question whether someone else “never” arrived, and I will observe that what they mean is “not yet” (particularly if it’s about someone coming home).  Joe’s context is different, but it’s still too big a word–he could catch someone stealing, it just would not be easy.

The theft of the vorgo is told in Old Verses New.

Joe faces the problem that even when we don’t believe it we tend to think of situations in terms of why we are there, as if there is some reason behind such events.  He keeps reminding himself that it’s not true, but also falls into the pattern of believing it is.

The discussion of the social activities was backwritten when I reached the place where I realized I’d been ignoring it.

On the read-through edit I thought of the value of electrical generators, and envisioning them portable led to vehicles, and then to water purifiers, which led to pumps, all inserted at that point.


Chapter 88, Slade 118

For a while this was the last chapter I had written.  I had started Joe in his new world, and just about here moved all the Brown chapters forward and began working on Derek’s next assignment.  I was not certain what I was going to do with the Slades, even as to whether they would stay in this world or leave it, but I was comfortable with where the story had gone.  If it were not that I needed to bring Bob to the next world with Joe and Derek, I might have ended his story here for a while.


Chapter 89, Brown 137

I did an Internet search for most popular candies in England.  I had forgotten that Cadbury was an English candy company, but there were several (delicious sounding) Cadbury candies available, plus some others that sounded enticing.  I also found Jelly Babies, and a place online to order them, so I might be trying to put together a collection of promising English candies sometime in the future.  I saved the page.


Chapter 90, Kondor 119

Reading over the last few Kondor chapters since his arrival at Fort Porthos, I came up with a direction, what was going to happen.  Someone is going to sabotage one of the main supply warehouses on the base, planting a bomb which Joe will discover and remove, but will not be able to defuse.  However, for a few chapters I’m going to have to stall that, let him settle into the base a bit.

When I started doing the backwriting to get Kondor involved socially, I recognized that I had ended the previous Kondor chapter with the statement that Vargas needed to see him, and had failed to follow up on that.  I had not had any particular ideas for that when I had written it, and now from a considerably later perspective I found myself trying to make sense of it.

There was more backwriting here, as I introduced Lieutenant Smith in the company of several other officers.  I had decided as I progressed that Smith needed to be one of the people in munitions supply, so I put him there at this point.


Chapter 91, Slade 119

I pondered long what to do with the Slades at this point, and I still don’t know–but I had a couple of good thoughts.  The first was to have Colonel Mlambo invite them to stay for dinner and avail themselves of the room for the night.  My son Kyler suggested that most players in the position in which Bob found himself wanted some downtime, a place to rest and relax, and I was mindful of the fact that General Vargas expected him to return for the next trial.  I suddenly got the notion that with his small chest of valuables he might be able to buy a small manor somewhere, rename it Slade Manor, and return to the trial with validation of his claimed identity.  So that’s the direction I struck next.


Chapter 92, Brown 138

I needed Derek to pick a particular path, in order to bring my next twist into the story.  In order to get him there, I needed to explain why he did that, instead of any of several other obvious possibilities.  That could be accomplished by the direction in this chapter, of listing the possibilities and considering the problems.


Chapter 93, Kondor 120

I had set this up to be a Joseph Kondor chapter, and then pondered what to write for several days.  The problem was that I knew where I was going with both Slade and Derek, and what some of the intermediate steps were, but with Kondor I knew only what the next big event would be that took him out of this world, not what would happen before that to bring him to it.  So I decided to delay Joe and go back to Bob, who probably really had the most to get through before I removed him.  It would create the feeling that very little was happening with Joe, which wasn’t exactly true but was the right feeling.  Then when I started backwriting I decided I needed Kondor chapters, and inserted one here.  The off-duty relationship stuff was what was really needed, and this was all about that.

This also got me thinking about a companion for Kondor–not a love, but a sidekick sort of companion.  I liked the rough sketch of a personality I created here for Zeke, and was thinking in that direction, trying to figure out when I could integrate someone like that into Kondor’s life and how to do it.  I became more intrigued by the idea, and returned to fill in some description.


Chapter 94, Slade 120

As mentioned, I had set up a Joseph Kondor chapter, and then pondered what to write for several days and wrote this instead.  Thus this was originally chapter 93, and then got bumped.  Not much happens in it.


Chapter 95, Brown 139

When I added a Kondor chapter as 93, this got bumped from 94 to 95.

I toyed with several British-sounding names before settling on Richard Lloyd Williams.  He was a minor character, but he needed a name.

Research is so convenient today.  I was going to have the meeting in a bakery, and place it near a street corner near the embassy, but when I called up the map of the area it brought up markers to several eateries, including an Orygyns Specialty Coffee, about a minute’s walk from the embassy, which looked like as good a place as any.


Chapter 96, Kondor 121

I had skipped Kondor because I knew what was going to happen but not what was happening.  I had decided he would reach the next world first, but that it couldn’t happen quite yet.  Then I restored Kondor in chapter 93, and this got bumped from 95 to 96, and from Kondor 120 to Kondor 121.  I had not yet written chapter 93 when I made this 96, but had some ideas percolating for the social interaction part.

I began formulating the possibility that Zeke would go with him–even came up with a reasonable explanation of how that happens–so I decided to go back and give him more of a description.  I also expanded their relationship here.


Chapter 97, Slade 121

When I added a Kondor chapter as 93, this got bumped from 96 to 97.

I debated for several days whether to attempt to create the dinner conversation or merely reflect on it after the fact.  I decided that I really couldn’t duck it–at this point it was in a sense critical to the story, even if nothing would come of it.  So I had to figure out what they would say to each other, and the starting point seemed to be that Slade had made that suggestion about the conspiracy to keep the war going to provide a unifying common enemy.

In Mlambo’s statement about what “we” all are taught, the first version that went through my mind was “as all blacks are taught”, but before I got to typing it I realized that he would not say that.  He doesn’t think of himself as “black” but as “normal”, part of ordinary humanity.

I realized as I was writing this that in order to say what I wanted to say I was going to have to push Slade out of his vocabulary a bit.  To get there, I decided that if Shella provided a couple words for him when he needed them, the readers would overlook the rest of the stretching.


Chapter 98, Brown 140

When I added a Kondor chapter as 93, this got bumped from 97 to 98.

The three Romanian expressions Derek uses are the only three I remember from my own three weeks in Romania (not true–I remember that something like “freeshka” means dessert).  They mean idiomatically, in sequence, “what does this cost”, “thank you”, and “you’re welcome”.  I never saw them in print, but since Romanian is written in the Cyrillic alphabet I would have to transliterate them anyway, so I’ve provided a phonetic representation of how I would say them, figuring that’s how he would say them.


Chapter 99, Kondor 122

In my reconstruction process when I decided to get Kondor more socially integrated, I also moved this chapter up from 99 to 98, and of course it was renumbered Kondor 122 and then bumped back to 99.

This came together in pieces.  First, I thought that it would help stall things if they found a missing person with a name similar to Kondor, that they might think was misfiled.  I was thinking Joseph Sanders.  Then I decided that he must be a captain and a doctor, which doesn’t seem a stretch as M.A.S.H. gives the impression that all doctors in the army hold the rank of captain or better.  I decided he would be lost in transit, that he left his original location and never arrived at his destination, without any clear indication of what happened.  In the next steps I decided that his destination was the other Colonel Roberts (I had to look back to find B Company), that his first name was actually listed as John, not Joseph, and that he had come from a combat area.  Then I decided that Company B was an operation whose primary job was retasking personnel who for whatever reason were leaving their present assignment but staying in the military.  That meant that if Kondor was Sanders, he was probably being sent there so they could find somewhere else to send him, and Roberts could make the argument that he could use the man here now for a while until they found that other job.  That got me where I was.

The last decision was that it wouldn’t be a formal meeting but an informal passing on the grounds.


Chapter 100, Slade 122

This had been chapter 98 before I started reordering things to accommodate more social interaction for Kondor.

I had come up with this plan to create Slade Manor already, and now I put it in the book.  I was expanding on the detail as I went.

When I went to reference the trial, I realized I didn’t remember the name of the officer who raised the matter.  I typed the title “Lieutenant” and then put in the “what’s-his-name” to show that Bob didn’t remember either, and then went digging.  I noticed that the name did not appear at all during the trial, but the rank of Captain did, and that it wasn’t until Slade was discussing his departure plans with Vargas that the name “Captain Lee” appeared.  I had Shella provide it, and Slade repeat it with an emphasis on the rank.


Chapter 101, Brown 141

This had been chapter 100 before I inserted the extra chapter as 93 to facilitate Kondor’s story.

I’d moved Derek into a difficult situation, and now I had to get him through it.  Thus I had him consider his options.  I did a check of what psionic skills I would permit in this world under the rules of the game, but then decided that the only one he had tried was the mind reading (which is his best) and that he probably wouldn’t rely on the others without testing them.  I had specifically given him the darts because I knew this was coming, but had to figure out how to make it work–and what Derek would do next.


Chapter 102, Kondor 123

This had always been chapter 102, and after I added the extra chapter 93 I moved this up to keep it in that spot, as part of getting the extra space for Kondor’s social interaction.  It had been Kondor 122, increased to 123.

I was not exactly filling space, but trying to explore how I was going to get to my big exit moment in this story.  I had determined that someone, some anti-United faction somewhere, was going to plant a bomb, probably in the ordinance storehouse, and that Kondor was going to find it and, not being trained in defusing bombs, remove it from the building, only to be killed when it detonated.  I thus needed to start setting up a credible base for such an attack.

I also realized at this point that I was making a mistake in the Kondor story, because he wasn’t interacting with the other soldiers.  I realized it because as I was writing about the lack of racial tensions I thought it would make Kondor uncomfortable to have a white girl in the cafeteria show an interest in him, and the other soldiers encourage him to get to know her–and I recognized that there was no indication that he knew any of the other soldiers.  He had no friends here; other than the commander and his two top officers, all the people were faceless.  That was going to require some backwriting to fix.  I added material to chapters 81, 84, 87, 90, and then inserted a new chapter 93, bouncing a lot of chapters one place and resequencing some to bring Kondor back into step with the others.

Again I added the social sequence later, and I was creating it as I wrote.  Mary’s drink went from soda to coffee to hot tea to hot chocolate in seconds (tea was actually typed and deleted) as I tried to give her the right personality on the job.

It was also at this point that I went back and added the security detail at the munitions supply warehouse, so I could introduce Lt. Smith earlier and have him where I wanted him.


Chapter 103, Slade 123

This had been chapter 101, but I moved it when I reorganized to make more time for Kondor’s social interactions.

The problem I faced with the Slades at this point was that I had to get through a lot of probably less interesting stuff without either boring the reader or giving the feeling of having skipped it.  In Thumbwars one of the funniest lines is when after not having actually rescued Princess Leia they are leaving the Death Star with her and she says, “I escaped somehow.”  It’s funny because it’s so wrong, plot-wise, and that’s what I’m trying to avoid here.

I had decided that Slade was going to claim to be a refugee, a Lord Slade from a manor further north that had been overrun by the blacks, who had grabbed a small bit of his treasure and was hoping to find a new home.

I did the combat scene so it wouldn’t seem like they simply leapt to their new location.

I actually was stuck in the middle of this chapter for several months.  I tried to enlist two people to come aboard as co-authors and give me ideas, and ultimately simply decided that Shella would answer the question about what food they had, they would eat, and they would continue.  While I was writing that I realized that they really wouldn’t have much food, and the only obvious way to get more would be to head for the white lines, so I pointed them that direction.  This was also when I decided to go back and add more to the Kondor story, although actually I had finished this and started writing the chapter which now stands as the previous chapter before I did that.

As a boy I had noticed that the bread and rolls my mother purchased from the “real” Italian bakery had very thick hard crusts.  I later noticed that the common rolls in Romania were worse.  Decades later I realized that this protected the soft interior from vermin, and I would wager also kept it fresher.


Chapter 104, Brown 142

I had thought through a good part of this chapter and the next while expanding the Kondor story, but couldn’t quite make it all work right.  The e-mail was an abrupt solution to the first problem, and then I split the next part to another chapter.


Chapter 105, Kondor 124

I was going to make this two chapters, but it unfolded so swiftly and smoothly that I realized breaking it would give me a very short second chapter.  I was now committed to taking Kondor to the final world.


This has been the fifth behind the writings look at Spy Verses.  If there is interest and continued support from readers we will continue to publish this novel and the behind the writings posts, and prepare the fifth novel to follow it.

#249: A 2018 AnimeNEXT Adventure

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #249, on the subject of A 2018 AnimeNEXT Adventure.

Last year in An AnimeNEXT 2017 Experience I reflected on being a guest of the convention–a minor guest, listed as staff, but brought there because as a role playing game designer I hopefully add something to the experience of convention goers.  I’m looking at it through a different lens this time, hoping to give something of my own experience.

I suppose the story really starts months ago.  Last summer, shortly after my guest appearance at AnimeNEXT, I was hospitalized for emergency surgery and lost quite a bit of time recuperating.  Complicating it greatly, two days after I was hospitalized my wife fell and broke a hip and a foot, and was also hospitalized for emergency surgery followed by extended rehabilitation.  In what would have been a comedy of errors had it not been so serious, three of our sons were working at cross purposes trying to resolve issues with the house so that we would be able to maneuver in it while convalescing, with wheelchair and walker and such, and when I came home in the middle of this it was in an uproar.  I don’t know that I contributed much to it, but after perhaps a week my wife came home, and I was there for a few days helping her get settled before I returned to the hospital for another couple weeks and she was struggling to get along without me with the help of two of those boys and a neighbor friend of theirs.  We took a long time to convalesce, and things are still not entirely normal–which meant, among other things, that I had serious doubts about whether I would be able to get to the convention myself, and whether she would be able to manage without me for a few days.  She still doesn’t drive, even though she’s back to work, so I have to drive her.

I’m not sure whether it was the last week of April or the first week of May, but one night when I drove my wife to work the most reliable car we have broke down, and that put a dent in our transportation.  I had one of my sons pick me up, and used a different car in the morning to retrieve my wife from work, and AAA towed the car to the nearest AAA approved service station, which happened to be a few blocks from home, which was quite convenient since work is fifty miles away.  I was beginning to worry that I wasn’t going to make it.

Why should I worry?  Well, if you read the aforementioned linked article, you know that I was present in 2014 and 2017, but that in 2015 and 2016 last-minute disasters prevented my attendance.  I thought we were potentially facing another, particularly since one of the cars on which we rely belongs to a son who spends the school year driving around the country in a company car and then uses his car, which is legally my car so that he doesn’t have to pay insurance and garage fees during most of the year just to have it, for the summer.  So I was anticipating losing a car, on an uncertain date, complicating transportation further.

Then a few weeks prior to the convention I ran out of printer ink.  I was in the middle of printing the first draft of the next novel for online publication, and I’m collaborating with someone on this one, so an exchange of printed pages has been part of the process.  Printer ink might not be that important, but it is important, and with the car in the shop (for the entire month) and an expected cost estimated with a variable of about two hundred dollars more or less, I had to be careful about spending money.  HP makes a reliable all-in-one printer which I’ve been using for near a couple decades now, but they have a policy of underpricing their printers and then overpricing their ink cartridges.  Complicating it further, apparently the cartridge mine uses has become less commonly used, so that it wasn’t on the shelf at my local Walmart when I finally decided I needed to buy one.  The convention was two weeks away, and I went online and found a place that sold their own replacement cartridges, and ordered some.  They arrived about a week before the convention–and two out of two black cartridges were defective, in different ways.

I will credit SwiftInk for great customer service.  Their online help gave me suggestions for trying to make them work (cleaning the contacts), and when these failed promised to ship replacements immediately, which they did.  Unfortunately, those replacements did not arrive until after the convention began, so I had no print capability.

If somehow you don’t know, I go to conventions to run Multiverser, the roleplaying game I co-authored with E. R. Jones.  I take a stack of books; they’re out of print, and I don’t have any copies of the rules other than my own, but I have several of the world books and a couple others.  I also have a small (probably twenty-two pocket) file case in which I have a lot of papers, including unpublished worlds that I use, worksheets for magic skills, and on-the-fly character creation papers.  As noted, last year when I returned from the convention there was a lot happening, and I wound up hospitalized not too long thereafter, and never gave another thought to those books and papers.  At least they got put away–the suitcase that I used was left in the living room until one of my sons decided to move it outside to get it out of the way, and when I found it this year it was ruined.  It went through my head a couple times in the hectic days before the convention that I ought to find the books and papers and make sure I had everything, but then part of me was uncertain I was going to go at all, and part of me recognized that if I didn’t have printouts of the needed papers there wasn’t anything I could do about it anyway, not having printer ink.

Complicating it further, as the date approached it became known that my wife, who works alternate weekends, would be working that weekend.  At first I thought that was the kibosh, but I realized after mulling on it for a few days that the convention started early Friday, with staff arriving starting Thursday night, and ran through Sunday morning; Sunday was the quiet day, generally.  If I could check in on Thursday night I could be active on Friday and up until lunchtime Saturday, get home in time to get organized and have my wife at work Saturday night.  I was not able to get confirmation for that from, well, anyone anywhere, but it became my plan, at any rate.

Transportation was settled a couple days in advance.  The car that was in the shop was going to be finished that Thursday, and my son whose car it is and I would retrieve it and bring it home.  He and his wife were interested in playing at the convention, so they were going to drive me in and back; as it turned out she was feeling ill the day I had to go, but he still did the driving for me (again, thank you).  He dropped me at Bally’s, where I was billeted, and I told him to stay in Atlantic City until he heard from me in case something went wrong.

Something did go wrong, but first I stood on line for probably half an hour.  I was very irked when a young and not unattractive girl took advantage of the attentions of a young man to cut in line right in front of me, but stifled my passive-aggressive tendencies and waited until it was my turn.  Then they asked for my ID.  I had not driven myself to Atlantic City, and I did not have a current copy of my license on my person.  With all the hospital visits and doctor offices wanting my ID, it got separated from my wallet and I wasn’t carrying it.  I had two older licenses, but the hotel would not accept these despite the fact that they were photo IDs, because they had expired.  They were not unsympathetic, and attempted to call the person running housing for the convention, Connie Ngo, but Connie didn’t answer her phone.  I was stuck.  I couldn’t keep my driver in the city all night, but I couldn’t send him away without knowing I had a room.  I texted him to return to get me, and started toward the exit; but I remembered that I had Connie on Messenger (because I had wanted to confirm that there would be no problem with checking in on Thursday night), so I messaged her.  She responded to the message and called the desk clerk, and I was approved and given a room key.

We were four to a room, technically, but only one of my roommates had arrived, and one had had to cancel at the last minute, and the remaining one I did not see until Friday night.  My roommate introduced himself by first name only, and I admit that it takes me several tries to learn names, and I only saw him awake one other time when I was barely so myself.  He offered a variety of snacks he brought from home.  I stuck one of the two key cards they had given me in a pocket and tossed the folder containing the other on the dresser, and never saw it again, but I slept with the card in my pajama pocket and kept track of it all day (I have this freaky thing about losing keys).  I laid claim to one of the beds and slept until morning.

At this point I’ll say a few words about the hotel.  I was in the Sheraton last year.  The room at Bally’s was considerably nicer.  I think the room itself was larger, and it had a couch large enough for a bed in addition to the two beds (and the first roommate had brought his own cot) so we didn’t have to share.  The bathroom is larger, with a large shower stall.  I had some concern that there were no safety railings inside the shower (I’m getting old, and am not always completely steady on my feet), but that’s often the case.  The Sheraton, as I recall, had a shower/tub, but I’m a bit tall for most bathtubs and so prefer showers.  It was overall a nice room.  I do not know, however, whether that’s because all the Bally’s rooms are nicer than the Sheraton rooms.  I was in the Garden Tower, and it may be that those are better than the standard rooms.

One thing that bothers me, though, is that if you wanted WiFi you had to pay for it separately.  McDonalds and Walmart can manage to give their customers free WiFi.  I’m not sure why one of the biggest casino hotels in one of the major resort centers in the Western Hemisphere can’t manage such a trivial amenity–but indeed I was reminded that the same rule held at the Sheraton last year.  I’d have used it to watch Netflix on my Kindle, I expect, but I had had the foresight to download a couple things to the Kindle for that purpose in advance, and I could handle Messenger, which I also have on the Kindle, on my phone.

I awoke alone, and had not yet checked in with the convention staff, but I took time for prayer and study and got a shower and a respiratory treatment before packing the essentials and walking the several blocks to the Convention Center.  That is one advantage of staying at the Sheraton:  it is physically attached to the Convention Center, being right across the street and having an enclosed pedestrian bridge between the second floors of each.  That doesn’t mean it’s close–it’s a long walk inside the Sheraton just to get from the rooms to the bridge (there are banquet halls between the two), and I remember lugging my gear using a wheeled cooler as a handtruck and case between the buildings.  I knew that there were free buses between Bally’s and the convention, but that you had to have your convention ID to use them, so the first time I had to walk.  Had I been earlier the night before I could have checked in there, but I was slow packing everything (the suitcase having been ruined, it took a while to settle on a high-quality reusable grocery bag for my clothes) and thought getting into the hotel was more important.  I made the walk to the center and found my way to operations, which was in the same room as last year, and was soon properly badged.  I then found Kat, my boss as head of Tabletop Gaming.  She was telling one of the photographers to get some pictures of how overcrowded the board game room already was on Friday morning, to show that our department could make good use of more space.  I told her I was going to take the Jtney (the bus) back to Bally’s and return with my thirty pound box of books, dice, and game materials, then grab some brunch somewhere.

Time to address the food.  That was an issue last year.  It was considerably better this year.  Instead of providing scheduled meals they gave us eight vouchers, each good for up to fifteen dollars at any of the several food outlets in the Convention Center itself except the Beer Garden.  Breakfast was still a challenge, as reportedly only one of those outlets opened early, and it sold out of breakfast sandwiches quite quickly both days I was there.  I was late enough on Friday that they already had their lunch menu going, and I bought a personal pizza, a cup of coffee, and a single-serve Minute Maid Tropical Blend juice, which was fourteen dollars and change–but hey, they must pay exorbitant rent to have space inside the convention center.  When I got back to the table, though, I already had players waiting, and so I sipped my coffee while running a game for a couple hours, and then when they scattered to other convention attractions I ate a cold pizza with a bottle of juice, and can’t really speak to the quality of the pizza.  The next morning I was earlier; they had gluten free bagels, which I decided not to eat (and was told my someone that this was a good decision), but instead got two cinnamon danishes, a small Jimmy Dean bacon, egg, and cheese biscuit, coffee and juice.

By Friday afternoon I had heard that there was a place to buy food inside the dealer room, so I decided to try that next.  They were a pirate-themed grill, and advertised steak sandwiches and burgers.  I asked for one of their ten dollar bacon sirloin cheeseburgers, and was told that they were out of bacon, so I went with the eight dollar version without bacon, added lettuce, onion, mayonnaise, and catsup, with a bottle of Minute Maid Orange juice and a cup of hot chocolate, self-served.  It was rumored that their fries were good, but at five dollars I could see I wouldn’t be able to buy a drink and stay within the voucher.  Anyway, the burger was large, tasty, and filling, and I went back the next day.  At that point I was preparing to leave the convention, my ride being almost there, and so I spent two vouchers to get two bacon cheeseburgers and one without bacon.  I gave one of the bacon burgers to the son who drove to get me (and he devoured it in the street before we drove away, but said it was really very good, but economical as he is he would not have paid ten dollars for it; I figure that’s a good price for deluxe burgers nowadays, and again they have an incredibly high rent on their space).  I brought the other two home and shared them with my wife, who is not a fan of bacon.  The grill bent over backwards to make it possible for me to transport these, which were usually served in open topped boxes, and should be commended for that.  I left my remaining coupons with Ahmetia, my co-host in the RPG room, figuring she could use them.  Because of the high prices, I often saw people using a fifteen dollar voucher plus a bit of pocket cash to pay for their meals, and while I avoided that I did so partly by not buying some things I might otherwise have eaten.  That’s not a complaint; I tend to overeat anyway, and didn’t really need the fries.

By now I have this entirely out of sequence, but that’s not really a problem.  I’ve left out the games, only hinting at them to this point.  Time to remedy that.

By the time I got to the table with my pizza late Friday morning, Navya and Cory were waiting, and I began the character creation process.  Ahmetia, who has several years of Multiverser play under her belt, is very good at selling people on playing at my table, and Kat reminded me that she played a session at Ubercon a decade ago and thinks it’s a really great game, so I get referrals.  As we were moving forward with their character papers, Johanna arrived and joined us.

You’ll remember I said that the printer mattered.  My On-the-Fly Character Creation system uses four printed sheets on which players record information.  The fourth sheet is the simplest, being there strictly for the world list and stage number.  The third is equipment and the second skills, and of course you can have multiple sheets of skills and equipment.  The first, though, is the most complicated, with name, aliases, attributes, averaged attributes, best relevant attributes, bias levels, weaknesses, and character description all mapped onto a single page–and when I opened my file, I had only the second and third pages printed.

It wasn’t a disaster.  After all, I know what goes on the first page, and I had a couple of yellow pads, so everyone wrote out the first page longhand.  There was a second problem, that I had only one pen, and my first two players had no writing implements; I discovered another, though, an old four-color pen, in the game materials box, and when the third player arrived she had her own.  Not long after that, Ahmetia delivered a handful of pencils and some scrap paper, which was a big help as the weekend continued.  We put together their character papers, started them on the Tropical Island, and got them all gathered together with Michael di Vars, who explained to them what was happening.

I had eight players over the weekend, seven of whom sat and listened to Michael explain that they had died and any time in the future that they die they’ll come back to life in another universe just like this time, and not one of them balked, called him crazy, or demanded proof of this insane explanation.  Ah, well, it’s fun when it happens, but I’m not going to spoil it.  I was working out where each of the original trio was going to go next when they died, but suddenly they all had to run before that occurred, the game ended, and I ate my cold pizza and ran to the loo.

I returned to find Corderro waiting.  We got him up and running on the Tropical Island, and he had a long conversation with di Vars and then asked if the senior verser would be willing to spar a bit in unarmed combat.  As it happens, di Vars is extremely good at many weapons across the technological spectrum, but never really took much interest in unarmed hand-to-hand.  Corderro was high level professional, third degree black belt in a martial arts style.  At hand-to-hand he was fifty percent faster than di Vars with a very slight edge on accuracy, with the result that he outfought the killing machine in two one-minute rounds.  He lasted long enough for the volcano to blow, took a nasty rock to the head, and was out of the world–but also decided to leave the game there.  That’s a bit of a shame, because I knew where I was going to send him.  (Hint:  he has a beard.)

I’ll interrupt this recounting of games to recount the night.  I was the first one back to the room, partly because after seven I figured there was no point in starting a new game, I got and ate the aforementioned cheeseburger, and called it a night.  I moved my box of books to the board game room, which gets locked overnight, and took my bag of personal effects to the Jitney to ride back to the hotel.  I wasn’t up long, taking time to find something innocuous on the television that would lull me to sleep (Transformers, which I’ve seen before), set early alarms, and went to bed.

An hour later I was awakened by banging on the door.  It took a moment to get organized and answer it, and I almost didn’t catch the departing offender, but it was the roommate I’d met accompanied by the roommate I hadn’t met, having gotten themselves locked out.  I let them in and went back to bed, only to have my cell phone ring while I was getting in.  My youngest son, who lives not far from Atlantic City at the moment, had apparently not realized that I was going to be at the convention this weekend, and having failed to get his mother on her phone decided to try mine.  We talked for several minutes, and apart from me suggesting that if he couldn’t reach his mother he should try his brother I don’t remember any of it.  I then settled down to sleep.

Someone silenced the television at some point, but I was asleep by then.  I noticed it in one of my brief periods of overnight awareness.  I think I awoke before my alarm; in any case, I was the first up, and I packed my things, left the room, went back because I realized I’d forgotten my bottle of Barq’s Root Beer and discovered that I’d also forgotten my box of tissues, and then went downstairs and checked out of the hotel.  It was not quite seven thirty, and the buses didn’t run until eight, so I got some prayer and study time on a park bench near the hotel parking garage entrance under the shelter of the building as it poured rain a few dozen feet away.  At eight I walked the short couple blocks to the bus stop, boarded a waiting Jitney, and was soon joined by a crowd of others headed to the convention.  I had promised Kat I would text her when I was up, which I did around seven-thirty but with the caveat that I wasn’t going to get there until the buses started, and she said she was already awake and working on getting the room unlocked.

I put my stuff in the RPG room, but the board game room was still locked; I asked someone working that room to bring my box to me when it became possible, and went to obtain the aforementioned breakfast.  Returning, I did a bit more study while nibbling on part of the breakfast, but then Steven arrived.  I still didn’t have my materials, but there were pencils and pieces of scrap paper on the table, so I set aside my breakfast and attended to starting his character sheet.  The books came, I got him started on the island, and Hannah and Tia arrived.  I had actually bumped into them twice in the halls, and Hannah must look like someone I know because I thought I recognized her, but apparently she’s not who I remembered.  Having met me and introduced themselves, they came to try the game, so I started setting up their papers.  Having finished their first page, I turned to their skills, still juggling Steven through his time on the island, and Austin arrived and joined the character creation process.  I was hitting my stride, though, and got that moving well.  Steven met di Vars, and got a feel for what was happening, but then said he had to leave just about the time I was launching Tia, then Hannah, then Austin.

Austin made a comment about having to leave soon, so I ignored the die roll and had him reach di Vars first.  He decided on cautious discretion, and remained behind the tree line watching.  Tia, second to arrive, decided that she needed help more than caution, and called out, receiving an invitation to join him.  By the time Hannah arrived, she could see Tia sitting by the campfire, and as they were friends before the verse they recognized each other.  Austin left the table, and di Vars explained things to Tia and Hannah, and then before we got much further they, too, said they had to leave.

I feel a bit foolish that I did not mention it to Navya, Cory, and Johanna, but perhaps they’ll find their way here somehow.  Corderro jogged my thinking, so I invited him, Steven, Austin, Hannah, and Tia to continue play on the M. J. Young Net Forum.  I know several of them wrote that down, but as I write this none of them have arrived.  That’s kind of a shame, because I know where I want to send several of them, but we’ll give them some time to find their way.

I’ve got one other aside.  Last year, within minutes of my arrival, I saw a girl in costume who would have made a good picture for my character papers for Lauren Hastings.  She looks a lot like most representations of Tomb Raider’s Lara Croft, so I often find pictures that work.  This year I saw someone, not quite as good but passable, again as I was headed for check-in.  Again I never saw her again.  It prompted my brain, though, to consider that I should look for people who might be suitable images for those character papers.  After all, Slade looks a lot like Thor, I’ve got a couple of American soldiers, someone might come as a sprite which would be good for Derek, Shella is a witch, and I’ve recently added a few characters including a dark-haired Arabian princess.  I saw no one the entire time who fit any of these images.  It was a bit disappointing in that regard, but then I’m not all that well versed in anime and recognized very few of the characters I did see.  Someone was Deadpool.  That’s about it.

When I got home, the household was hoping that since I had left the convention already I could run a game for them.  I somewhat wearily with apologies explained that the reason I was home was because I had to get some sleep and do the work driving that night, and then tackled what had to be done to be ready for that.

I must also thank Kate and Tris for holding down the kitchen in my absence.

Here’s hoping that I can do another convention next year, if not sooner.  I don’t know that I would say I have fun, but it is a high point in my time to be reminded that people like the game, even if it didn’t sell terribly well.

I think that about covers it all.  Thanks for reading, and thanks again to the convention for inviting me again.  Here’s hoping that I was not more trouble than I’m worth, and perhaps there will be another invitation next year.  It’s an interesting way to spend my birthday weekend.

#243: Verser Redirects

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #243, on the subject of Verser Redirects.

With permission of Valdron Inc I have now completed publishing my first three novels, Verse Three, Chapter One:  The First Multiverser Novel, Old Verses New, and For Better or Verse, in serialized form on the web (those links will take you to the table of contents for each book).  Along with each book there was also a series of web log posts looking at the writing process, the decisions and choices that delivered the final product; those posts are indexed with the chapters in the tables of contents pages.  Now as I am posting the fourth, Spy Verses,  I am again offering a set of “behind the writings” insights.  This “behind the writings” look may contain spoilers because it sometimes talks about what I was planning to do later in the book–although it sometimes raises ideas that were never pursued.  You might want to read the referenced chapters before reading this look at them.  Links below (the section headings) will take you to the specific individual chapters being discussed, and there are (or will soon be) links on those pages to bring you back hopefully to the same point here.

There is also a section of the site, Multiverser Novel Support Pages, in which I have begun to place materials related to the novels beginning with character papers for the major characters, giving them at different stages as they move through the books.

This is the fourth mark Joseph “young” web log post covering this book, covering chapters 64 through 84.  These were the previous mark Joseph “young” web log posts covering this book:

  1. #218:  Versers Resume (which provided this kind of insight into the first twenty-one chapters);
  2. #226:  Versers Adapt (covering chapters 22 through 42);
  3. #235:  Versers Infiltrate (covering chapters 43 through 63).

History of the series, including the reason it started, the origins of character names and details, and many of the ideas, are in those earlier posts, and won’t be repeated here.

Chapter 64, Brown 127

The scene so obviously lends itself to that stock moment Derek describes that I had to include the description–and then ignore it.  Bomb defusing is of course very nerve wracking no matter what happens, but the idea that it did not go the way it goes in the movies seemed to be worth including.

There is of course an irony in the comment that Derek’s life is not being written by some author.

The bathroom reference is because they’re almost never mentioned in games and you only see them in movies if something dramatic is going to happen there–a fight scene, a seduction, a confrontation.  It was a way of humanizing Derek, who has been running around chasing terrorists probably for a few hours, and now wants a bathroom.


Chapter 65, Kondor 112

I knew when I set up the “section five of the war code” segment that even though Bob would be expected to know what that meant, no one would be surprised to have Joe ask, and that was how I would get it communicated.

The race war does make it unlikely that there would be infiltrators; any spying would have to be done by people who obviously didn’t belong where they were.


Chapter 66, Brown 128

Derek’s report of his actions in the raid would have sounded like fantasy at first, as he talks about changing forms.  Of course, the fact that he is serious about it and others in the room take it seriously undoubtedly helps give it credibility.

By this time I had made the change (a few Brown chapters before) of resequencing the book to pull Derek’s story forward.  I now knew I wanted another spy adventure of some sort, something different, but spent a lot of time trying to figure out what.  In the meantime, I pulled his loneliness back to the forefront.


Chapter 67, Slade 111

The notion that a verser can claim to be anyone but cannot usually prove his identity in his present universe often appears in play, but I should note that I first saw it in a Peter Davison Doctor Who episode (Black Orchid) in which a murder had occurred and he was faced with the problem of explaining his identity to the local police.  I had to consider what Bob had that might suggest the truth of his claimed identity.  I remembered the ring, but for Bob it was simply the chest at this point.


Chapter 68, Kondor 113

My uncertainty about Derek’s next mission slowed his story, and for the first time in quite a while I let both Bob and Joe continue their stories before returning to him.

It is difficult to know exactly what Joe thinks of Bob’s story about releasing the djinni from the bottle.  He obviously thinks it a fanciful tale, but does not consider what that means in terms of the fact that Bob presents it as if it were true.  That is, did something happen that caused Bob to believe the story of the djinn lord being released from the bottle, or did Bob create the story and disseminate it pretending it to be true, for some other reason?  Of course, the existence of the antique bottle adds color to the story, and causes what the British would call “the punters” to accept the tale more readily.

The wind responds in support of its ally, as well as it is able in this lower-magic world.  Joe of course attributes this to happenstance.


Chapter 69, Brown 129

I was stalling a bit, but also trying to provide credibility for improved skills in some training time.  I was also stepping away from the Kondor/Slade story, in part because I was not certain where it was going and in part because I thought it had created some suspense to hold the reader for a moment.

I selected what I thought were probably the major languages in the world of modern espionage.  I specifically did not include some obvious ones as not really that significant in the kind of work he was doing.


Chapter 70, Slade 112

I was playing this by ear to a significant degree.  When the general asked Slade whether he objected to keeping the inquiry open, I thought immediately that if Slade objected it might close the inquiry, and I needed the story to continue; but then by the time I started writing this I realized that there was bound to be an appeals process, and a closed inquiry would probably mean taking it to another level.

Bob’s perspective on history makes the women’s suffrage movement “ancient history”.  He was never interested in the world before the present, so he doesn’t know much about it.


Chapter 71, Brown 130

I thought about what I could do next, and decided that I should send Derek on a foreign mission–let him use his passports and such.  I thought that an embassy or consulate would be the right choice, because it wouldn’t require him to be better at another language than he had any right to be.  I thought that investigating a security breach or leak was a reasonable choice, in part because I couldn’t remember any movies where that was the hook so I wouldn’t be tempted to follow someone else’s plot.

I chose Romania for a couple reasons.  One is it’s the only country I have ever visited for any length of time–three weeks back in 1972.  I picked up a few words most of which I have since completely forgotten (I can say “what does this cost” and “thank you”, I think, maybe “you’re welcome”).  There’s also the moment in The Thomas Crown Affair (the newer version) when the cop asks insurance investigator Banning if she speaks any Romanian, and she says, “Who would ever bother with Romanian?” and proceeds to talk to the criminal in Russian.  I actually wrote about that in a Game Ideas Unlimited piece about skills which I do not now remember beyond that reference.

Every fictional spy organization has a section that handles special equipment; I needed a name for mine, so I called it “Gear”.  That way I wasn’t stealing from anyone.

I got a kick out of the bit about the British secret service saying everyone else in the world drives on the wrong side of the road.


Chapter 72, Kondor 114

I kept thinking that Joe’s overriding story was going to be about his racial prejudice.  The problem is that every time I brought it forward at all, it began to resolve, and here it pretty much comes to its completion.  Thus I keep thinking that Joe needs a story, and I don’t have one for him–although his character development has been genuinely positive in so many ways.


Chapter 73, Brown 131

The Coke® and Pepsi® observation is one I made on my 1972 visit to Romania, where we also stopped at Prague and bought Coke® in the airport, but then found only Pepsi® during our three-week stay in Romania.  The rest I deduced at the time.

I decided that the best way for Derek to avoid talking about his cover background was to include in the cover that he was not interested in diplomatic service and didn’t want to be here.  That immediately suggested that he must have something else he wants to be doing instead, some different future for himself.  Rock star came to mind, and artist, but he had no skills in those areas; comic book creator suffered from a similar problem, and I did not think that author would be the kind of thing that fit the profile.  I was about to consult with family and fans on the subject when it occurred to me that the big deal today is video games, and Derek certainly can pass himself off as an aspiring computer game designer.

The idea that you get promoted to the place where you are no longer competent is one of the stated corollaries of the Peter Principle; I was not certain at the time that I wrote it, but I was certain that Derek wouldn’t know the origin of the idea.


Chapter 74, Slade 113

The notion that the secret weapons project was at a secret location provided a solution to the problem of Bob not telling the general where he was going; versers have to get good at explanations that explain why they don’t explain more.


Chapter 75, Kondor 115

I wasn’t sure what should happen in this story at this point, so I decided to get my characters to discuss it and see what they thought.

Joe’s prejudice against people who believe in God and magic is growing into a new problem, but I don’t see yet how to resolve it.

This was a strange point in the editorial process.  I had written Kondor stories through 118 and Slade stories also through 118, taken Joe into another world and brought Bob to a place where I was not at all certain what to do with him next, and had then shifted all the Brown stories forward and was filling in his events.  I knew that I had another significant Brown story to tell that was still forming in my mind (the Romanian leak) but didn’t know what was going to happen; I was still in the mode of rushing his story because it was the different world.  I was beginning to think that Bob was going to vanish from the book for a while, because after his upcoming confrontation with Mlambo (the last chapter I had already written) I had nothing.  I abruptly decided that it was time to skip a Brown chapter and bring a Kondor chapter forward, so that Derek would seem to be in stall mode for a bit.  It didn’t really help me with the writing time, because this chapter had already been written and simply had to be slotted into the space and properly numbered, and I would still have to write Derek’s next chapter next anyway, but I thought it would work better in the flow of the book.


Chapter 76, Brown 132

I was a bit stymied myself, and I remembered that one way I use to figure out what the character should do is to have the character try to figure out what he should do, so I put Derek into the mode of trying to identify what kind of person might be the leak.  I thought of four good possibilities, and left it at that, partly because at the time I was late for something else and had to type quickly.


Chapter 77, Slade 114

At this point I’m working through the options by having the characters discuss them.  I’m still not certain what I’m going to do.
It is worth mentioning that I had written this chapter probably several months before I had written the previous chapter in which Derek is doing much the same thing (considering the possibilities).  I’m not sure that I didn’t get the idea of doing it for Derek from the fact that I had noticed it upcoming here, but they were done quite some time apart, and this one first.

When Kondor said that if there were gods controlling their destinies, it would be time to verse out, I did not think it was going to happen any time soon.  It happens to be coincidental, but very telling that what Joe says the multiverse would be like if there were gods happens to happen, and he ignores the exact evidence that he suggested would support such a belief.


Chapter 78, Brown 133

I now had shifted the burden such that I needed to write a lot of Derek’s story in order to slot it between Bob and Joe.  As I struggled with how to proceed with Derek, I remembered thinking, and writing somewhere, that the way to write a mystery is to begin with the conclusion:  decide who did what, how and why, and then work to what clues would be left behind in that case, and then how the detective discovers them and assembles the crime from them.  Yet when I wrote the mystery of the vorgo section of Old Verses New I did not actually do it that way.  I think I started that way–I was going to have the former student be the criminal, who stole the vorgo because his wife had recently died and he hoped he could revive her–but my story managed to go rather directly to him and I thought then that it was too easy, so I changed my criminal as I was closing in on the solution.  (This also gave me the inspiration, eventually, for the game version in which there were six possible suspects and slightly different clue sets for each.)  So now as I faced what is a mystery for Derek, I was floundering in part because I didn’t know who should be the villain–indeed, I didn’t even at this point have a cast of characters for it.  So I was going to have to develop that to get to the solution.

I had begun with a British consulate, but when I started doing online research I discovered that there was a British embassy in Bucharest.  I sent them an e-mail asking for some idea of the staffing and housing there, and got a very nice reply saying that for security reasons they could not tell me any of that–but then, I had also browsed their web site and their Flickr site, so I got a fair amount of flavor from those.  After the fact, my wife said I should not have sent the note, because it was obvious they couldn’t answer my questions and likely that I got myself added to some sort of terrorist watch list for my efforts.

In the time immediately following the writing of the previous Brown chapter I was turning over the possibilities in my mind, and realized that there was a fifth possible motive for the leak.  Someone might do it strictly for the excitement.  I wondered if that was plausible, and also whether it was possible to catch such a person, and if so how.


Chapter 79, Slade 115

I decided that I would move Joe to another world now, and do it simply by having Shella notice that he was no longer there.  I’d cover how it happened retrospectively later, and not have to deal with it directly.

The thing about the wife knowing that the husband is awake before the husband does comes from my personal experience.

I was still undecided about what I would do with Bob and Shella.  On one hand, there wasn’t much I could do with them in this world; on the other hand, I didn’t have any good ideas for a next world for them and there probably were a few things they could do here, if I could think of them.


Chapter 80, Brown 134

It took me several days to get a chance to discuss the idea that the leak might be done by someone seeking excitement with someone else.  It wound up being Evan, my fourth son, who reminded me that in the digital world hackers frequently do it for the thrill, for the ability to prove to themselves and, anonymously, to others that they can.

I took that computer connection and sort of reversed it:  I had come to the idea that Derek got a thrill from hacking systems from that discussion, but I used that recognition on his part as a bridge to the idea that his spy might be doing it for the thrill.  Most of the discussion about how to run the computer part was there to set up that jump.


Chapter 81, Kondor 116

I decided to put Joe in a not-quite-modern military base somewhere, and set up some kind of investigation of something.  The general look is probably nineteen fifties or sixties, and his camouflage fits.

Colonel Roberts is white.  The Adjutant, Lieutenant Philip Vargas, is white; the Exec is black, Captain David Nye.

The trick with “how do you pronounce the name” doesn’t always work, but it often does.

I don’t know why I put together the name “David Nye”; I feel like I’ve heard it somewhere, but the only Nye I can place is the science guy, Bill.

He gives himself the rank of captain, because he needs a rank and preferably of a mid-level officer.  It needs to be high enough to be respected but not so high that it’s easy to trace.

The list of common names includes my own name and my wife’s maiden name along with some others I’ve encountered multiple times in my life.

When I started thinking about integrating Kondor into this world socially (at what was chapter 102) I thought of poker games, and then that he couldn’t play because he had no money in this world and no way to get it, and that reminded me that he was wearing a lot of jewelry.  So I added the end bit about stowing the jewelry somewhere.


Chapter 82, Slade 116

Having separated Slade from Kondor, it no longer made sense to go to Derek every other chapter, particularly as I was at this point writing Brown chapters to catch up and had a new story to tell for Joe.  So the press of Brown chapters slowed a bit.

The questions about how SEP invisibility works when people who are not present are watching remotely is always a tricky one, and gets raised at this point but not answered.

I decided they would get into the bunker without incident, but they of course could not know that until they did.


Chapter 83, Brown 135

About this point I pondered an idea of giving one of the staffers an androgynous name, such as Terry Farnsworth, and having the gender be different in the London listing than in the Bucharest one.  At first I was thinking that it was a replacement, the solution to the puzzle; but then, as hard as the puzzle had been, that would have made it too easy.  Then I thought it might be that it was the same person, probably Terry as a woman who at some point disguised herself as a man to advance her career.  Then I couldn’t decide whether she was listed as a woman in the original file but changed it to a man somewhere along the way and was pretending to be a man, or whether she had originally listed herself as a man years ago when it was harder for women to advance, but had since changed it in the local file when it was no longer necessary to pretend.  But there was another problem:  the facial recognition software would detect that Terry was Terry regardless of what gender was in the photo.  That would be exactly the kind of disguise the software would “see through”, and that meant that Derek would find it not by running facial recognition but by running more detailed data comparison–and if his image recognition program told him that all the images matched, he probably wouldn’t go deeper on the data.

I was still musing on this for several days, and then had the thought that someone might leak information for love.  I wondered whether Derek would think of that, but then I thought perhaps he would be smitten with someone at the embassy, and at that point I envisioned a daughter of the ambassador, perhaps about fifteen years old.  Then I thought that it might be plausible for her to be the leak, that the Romanians had a man perhaps twenty-two or twenty-three years old who looked young for his age, who had effectively wooed or seduced the ambassador’s daughter, and she brought information to him because she thought he loved her.  Derek might discover this because the boy would wind up an imagined rival, and he would have investigated.  That might work.

I decided to bring in the girl, but now I needed to give her a name, and that was problematic.  Whatever name I gave her either would connect too closely to the real British embassy in Romania or break the connection to reality.  I did some research, but could find no indication that the current ambassador, Paul Brummell, had any family–and in any case I did not want this to be quite so recent as his appearance in Romania in 2014.  I had a list of previous persons in that post, and considered Quinton Quayle, who served 2002 through 2006, which is a lot closer to the time I wanted, but also determined that he had two sons, no daughters–and since Quayle was the name of an American Vice President and Presidential candidate, I thought I should avoid that connection.  Martin Harris, the ambassador previous to Brummell (2010-2014), had a daughter named Tabitha; but despite the huge number of “Tabitha Harris” entries obtained from Google, it struck me as an unusual name which connected with the British Romanian embassy could get me in trouble.  So I decided to invent another Harris daughter, or perhaps replace one with the other, and since the only Tabitha I recall ever was the daughter on Bewitched, I named my girl Samantha Endora Harris, after the other female characters in that family.

Once I had the name Samantha, Sammie was a simple step.  Most Samanthas seem to go by Sam, but I remember the sister of one of my sons’ friends was called Sammie.

When I originally put the bug on Sammie it was “in” her purse, and audio was sufficient for my purposes; when I started on the second Romanian story I needed Derek to have collected GSPS positions and some images, so I decided that the bug here had those capabilities.  Video was obviously problematic, though, because for a camera to see out it would have to be visible.  I abruptly resolved this when I was moving it from “in” to “on” by deciding that as a fifteen year old girl she had a lot of bric-a-brac decorating her purse, so a small bug pinned to the outside could hide in the clutter.


Chapter 84, Kondor 117

I’m building the new world as I go; I had decided almost nothing about it at this point, but that it was a mid twentieth century sort of variant earth.

The name Porthos comes from The Three Musketeers; I decided that I could use someone equivalent historically to Lafayette, perhaps.

The flag is not yet clearly identified beyond that it has some number of white stars on a blue field and red and white stripes.  The country is probably “The United States of America” but calls itself “United”, not “America”, a small difference.

I added the part about stashing his jewelry when I did the backwrite to better integrate him in the world.


This has been the fourth behind the writings look at Spy Verses.  If there is interest and continued support from readers we will continue to publish this novel and the behind the writings posts, and prepare the fifth novel to follow it.

#239: A Departing Member of the Christian Gamers Guild

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #239, on the subject of A Departing Member of the Christian Gamers Guild.

Someone recently posted to the Christian Gamers Guild list, in a post called So Long and Thanks for All the Fish, that he would be resigning.  This is not a big deal; members come and members go, and life is like that.  Two things make this event a bit different.  The lesser is this individual has been involved for perhaps as long as I have, perhaps longer, and years ago actively so, and I miss some of those who were involved in the early years who are no longer there.  The greater is that in announcing his departure he suggested that perhaps he was wrong about role playing games, and that maybe the rest of us should consider quitting the hobby as well.

I am reproducing my reply, in substance at least, below; first, I am going to attempt to do justice to his statement without actually plagiarizing it.  I am going to call him “J” here, because I don’t have his permission to use this and don’t particularly want to put him on the spot, and “J” has absolutely nothing to do with his name (it’s short for “John Doe”, if you must know); members of the Christian Gamers Guild already know who he is.

J begins by introducing himself and announcing that he is leaving the group because he has decided not to play role playing games, but he wants to explain that.

Giving his history, he notes that when he first joined the group he was uncertain whether role playing games were compatible with Christian faith, and how that would work.  He had stopped playing when he became a Christian, but encouraged by the guild resumed doing so.  He identifies himself as “a Spirit-Filled believer and as such I believe in the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the church today through the gifts of the Spirit and in the anointing and power of God being alive and active in the Church and in individual believers today.”

He says that as soon as he returned to role playing he knew something wasn’t right but wouldn’t admit it to himself.  He was involved in ministry, but always felt that there was a hindrance blocking his connection to the Holy Spirit.

Interestingly, he also felt that his faith interfered with his ability to play the games.  Before he was a believer, he felt that he tapped into something that enabled his games to flow, and once he was a Christian running games became a chore.  He believes that he had been connecting with a “spirit”, and although what he says is not exactly clear as to whether he means that literally he thinks there is a demonic and seductive connection in role playing games.  As a Christian, they simply weren’t the same for him as they had been when he was an unbeliever.

J then tells us that before he was a believer he was involved in the occult, and that Dungeons & Dragons™ played a role in pointing him in that direction.  His occult involvement never produced anything but empty promises and a few frightening experiences, and eventually drove him to Christ.

He wisely tells us that the Holy Spirit is at odds with many things in this world; he says that role playing games are one of them.  The most objective objection he raises is from someone who counseled him against games, who said “…in role playing games you spend your time trying to be something that you are not; what the Holy Spirit wants you to do is be who you are.”  He feels it is necessary for us to ignore explorations of who we aren’t and seek more deeply who we are.  So saying, he recommends that we all leave the fantasy behind, although he recognizes that not everyone is at the same place with God.  He departs with a word of love for us as siblings in Christ, and with the famous closing, “Grace and peace be multiplied to you.”

*****

I am not attempting to persuade J that he’s wrong to leave the group or to give up role playing or other hobby games.  That’s a weaker brother issue, and if it’s a problem for him, I respect that.  I will certainly in some way miss him, even though he has rarely posted recently, just because knowing that there are a few people around besides Christian Gamers Guild President Rodney Barnes and me who have been here from the E-groups days makes me feel better about still being part of it all–and I do feel good about it; it has in some ways become integral to my identity.

Further, I understand the Charismatic/Spirit-filled viewpoint.  I don’t know that I speak in tongues more than you all, but I do speak in tongues, and quite a bit, while sitting, working, driving, writing, washing dishes, and at many other times.  Yet I am also solidly grounded in the more “rational” denominations, with solid connections to the Baptists, Presbyterians, and Lutherans particularly, and more casually to quite a few other denominations.  It also should be said that, like Rodney, I was a believer for many years before I discovered Dungeons & Dragons™, and in fact my “gateway” to it was the fantasy literature of J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis.

My problem with what J says is that it’s almost entirely subjective.

There’s nothing wrong with that, per se.  As I discuss in Objective and Subjective Christian Guidance (covered in a bit more detail in my book What Does God Expect?) our lives are very much about balancing the two kinds of direction, each tempering the other.  Sometimes what God wants us to do is delivered entirely subjectively, and we have to trust at some level our own instincts, that this is indeed what God is saying, and not something that comes from within ourselves.  I just get upset about it because I’ve had people say to me that “God told me” the games were evil, and there is then no discussion.  J isn’t saying that; he’s saying that they have been an impediment to his own joy and connection to God, and he thinks it might be so for others.  It is certainly the case that God sometimes asks us to surrender perfectly good things simply because He must be more important in our lives than they are.  Anything that we are not willing to give up for God is an impediment to our relationship with Him.

In the course of the discussion, someone suggested that eventually J will be able to return to gaming, and that’s possible–but it’s also, I think, an idea that itself becomes an impediment.  If you give something up in the hope that God will give it back, you are still holding on to it.  When God wants you to give up something, you need to walk away and not look back.  So I understand that J might never return, and certainly is not going to expect to do so at this point as he is leaving.  That expectation itself would be counter-productive, an indication that he is not really leaving gaming but only pretending to do so for the present.

J is uncomfortable with the magic in gaming because in his mind it is connected to the occult.  I have often argued that one of the best aspects of fantasy role playing games is the magic, that it opens the players to the possibility that there is more in the world than materialistic naturalism.  Of course, when that happens believers need to be there to say, “Yes, and this is where you find it.”  J had the opposite experience, and now for him there is a connection from seeing the supernatural dimensions of the world and moving toward the occult.  For me, the connection is the opposite direction, from seeing the power of God to discovering the fictional exploration of that power in the games.

The games have also connected me to a lot of people who need God, and I think perhaps I have helped some of them along the way.

J’s point that many things in the world are at odds with God is certainly right and important; however, most of us are involved in the world by necessity, working in jobs that are not primarily about reaching people for Christ or building the faith of believers (sales help might be service industry, but it’s not delivering the gospel), becoming part of organizations that are beneficial without having solid religious connections (hospitals are big in this, but I also am aware of groups trying to help the homeless, and drug rehabilitation programs that are not primarily Christian faith based).  Jesus said that everyone who is not for us is against us, but He also said that everyone who is not against us is for us, and while that makes the world seem black and white, it also introduces the possibility that some things can be used both for and against God.  I watch television shows which some think are science fiction of the worst sort, in which I see metaphors for the work of God in the world.  Certainly role playing games can be used in ways that oppose God, but as I’ve noted elsewhere, even some which seem most anti-Christian can prove at the bottom to be strongly Christian.  It is not what we use but how we use it that most controls the impact of our games.  For some, incredibly dark worlds have been a reminder of the amazing greatness of God.

J also suggests that we need to discover who we really are, not explore fantasies of who we might be.  Yet I think this is an unreal dichotomy.  I often discover more of who I really am by exploring who I am not, and sometimes discover that who I pretend to be is really part of who I actually am.  Playing Multiverser I was encouraged by its magic system to trust the power of God for several things, minor things really but in some sense magical or miraculous in their own way, because my character did so successfully in the game world.  I would not have had the boldness to pray some of the practical prayers I have prayed had it not been that I explored that boldness in character.  Even in playing “unlike me” characters, I learn much about how people who reject God are thinking, and am thereby better able to connect with them and deliver the truth.  The exploration of fantasies is a significant part of understanding my reality.  Indeed, the fantasy literature of C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien and Charles Williams have had tremendous impact not only on me but on believers and unbelievers around the world.  Why should fantasy gaming not also have the same potential, used aright?

Some of what I have said is of course subjective, and none of it is a reason for J to stay if God is telling him to leave.  However, if you are considering whether what J says might be true for you, consider also whether being involved in role playing games has had any of these benefits for you:  connecting you to people who need to see your faith; giving you insight into the spiritual battle between God and the devil within the metaphors of the game; strengthening your faith by reminding you that you are on the side that has the power.  I have profited in those ways from game play, and in a sense that’s the tip of the iceberg.  The largest open door for my ministry has been through this group, a group I was reluctant twenty years ago to join, which has encouraged my efforts and given me a platform to reach out to a world not much reached by believers, the world of hobby gamers.

So I say so long, J, and if you’ve gotten any of those fish you mentioned from me, you’re welcome.  I hope you’ll keep in touch through other media like Facebook, but wish you the best of grace in all your endeavors.

#237: Morality and Consequences: Overlooked Roleplay Essentials

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #237, on the subject of Morality and Consequences:  Overlooked Roleplay Essentials.

This is nothing new, really; it is more nostalgic. 

I don’t recall the exact date, but late in 1997 or possibly as late as early 1998, when Multiverser was first published, I had been invited to join a mailing list group (remember those?) of game designers, and did so.  I had not been there long when Gary Gygax posted to announce that a couple of guys were trying to launch a new web site for role playing games featuring a forum (remember those?), and they were hoping people would give them articles to publish.  I wrote a draft and e-mailed it to them, asking if something like this would suit them, expecting that they would respond and I would edit consistent with their recommendations; a day or two later I found that the draft had been published on the new site, Gaming Outpost.

It was a long and mostly happy relationship; I was still writing for the site one way or another up to its demise a few years back, including my four-year weekly series Game Ideas Unlimited and my original web log, Blogless Lepolt.  Shortly after the article posted I joined the forum to interact with the response (of which there was virtually none at all).  Because my Multiverser™ and temporal anomalies material and this article were published under the name “M. Joseph Young” (a name I had used for some pieces of satire published in the early 1980s in The Elmer Times here in New Jersey) but my Dungeons & Dragons™ and Bible material was under the name “Mark J. Young” (the name I used on stage as a musician and composer and on the radio), and I thought that “Mark Joseph Young” was too long for a handle, I registered as “M. J. Young”, the first time that name was used for me anywhere, the name subsequently becoming so identified with me that many people who knew me fairly well could not have told you what the initials represented.  I have been trying to obtain data from the crashed site, in the hope of recovering some of that material.  Meanwhile, the editors of the French edition of Places to Go, People to Be are always scavanging the web looking for my lost material, and they discovered this through The Wayback Machine and provided me with the link to the original copy (which I have given below).

Although I had already started several web sites (most of which are consolidated now as M. J. Young Net) this was the first time I wrote a piece for someone else’s site.  That became rather common, and I probably write almost as much for other sites (mostly the Christian Gamers Guild) as I do for my own at this point, but this is the article that started that.

Thus with the caveats that even when it was published I had expected to do a bit more polishing on it, I give it to you in its original form, unedited save for updated links:

Morality and Consequences:  Overlooked Gaming Essentials

Almost twenty years ago, shortly after I first discovered Dungeons & Dragons and the “grand thought experiment” which is role playing, I was regaled with the arguments of those who believed that this wonderfully challenging and relaxing form of intellectual recreation was the tool of Satan.  Well, if you’re in ministry you’re expected to know these things, and to uphold the true path.  Trouble was, I didn’t know it, and the more I looked at the arguments, the more certain I was that they were mistaken.  I said so, and I won quite a few battles; my responses are still winning that battle.

One of those arguments seemed to me to be particularly spurious.  Critics delighted in citing a few gamers who had said that playing evil characters was so much easier and more fun than playing good ones.  I don’t want to argue about whether it’s more fun to be the bad guy.  But my answer now is the same as it was then, that it shouldn’t be easier, and if it is, the referee is doing something wrong.  And the words and attitudes of a few players who didn’t understand the difficulties of playing evil characters were adding to the evil reputation of a game which, in my opinion, had the greatest potential for exploring and expressing faith of any recreational activity short of smuggling Bibles behind the Iron Curtain.

Yet twenty years later, gamers are still saying that it’s easier to play the bad guy, and I find myself wondering why that is.  It was never so at my table.  Villains are particularly difficult to play, for reasons which to me are obvious.  Why are so many referees letting so many players get away with murder?

And that was the answer.  I already had two degrees in theology before I discovered gaming, and I played with college graduates from several fields, with people involved in ministry, with philosophy students and history majors and businessmen–people who knew that you couldn’t get away with murder.  But apparently the typical gamers were still in school, many of them still in high school; and although for years I ran a game for the local high school kids, most of them run their own games.  And therein lies the rub.  A lot of gamers define evil as “I can do whatever I want, and get away with it.”  I’ve had a few gamers come to my table with that attitude.  The problem is, too many referees think that evil means, “he can do anything he wants, and get away with it.”  DM’s, GM’s, referees make great demands of those who would be the good heroes; but they expect nothing of those playing the villain.  Yet in many ways it’s much harder to be the villain, and the referee should make it so.

The referee must always remember that the villain is untrusted, untrustworthy, and untrusting.  He has no friends, only cronies, henchmen and partners in crime who would sell him out in an instant, as soon as his value drops below the asking price.  The concept of “honor among thieves” is promoted by con men who want to lull him into a false sense of security, so that at the right time they will get the first, hopefully fatal, blow.  Evil characters will never risk their own lives to save a comrade; they will risk no more than the comrade is worth, unless they have good reason to want him to believe they are loyal.

One gamer came to my table from a series of games in which all the characters were evil.  In that campaign, as the adventure drew to an end, the closer you got to home the less everyone slept and the fewer characters were left alive.  Never once did two characters have to divide the treasure between them when they got home.  These players knew what it meant to be evil.

But all of this relates to party members; and although non-player character party members are one of the referee’s most valuable tools in running a successful campaign, his ability to influence players into turning on each other may be somewhat limited.  What can a referee do to make a difference?

Pay attention to societal rules.  There have been very few times and places in history where you could kill someone in public in cold blood and get away with it, yet game characters seem to do this all the time.  Kill one man, and even if you had a good reason and it was a “fair” duel, you’ve got someone after you.  Kill him, and you’ve become a threat to society.  Whether it’s the law, a lynch mob, or a blood feud, the evil character will find that he has a lot of people out to get him.

What will complicate his life even more is the lack of support he gets.  A hero comes into town, and if his reputation precedes him he will be welcomed.  Common people like to have heroes around, because they offer protection and preserve the peace necessary for life to continue normally.  Villains who want support will have to threaten or bribe it out of people.  They will be shunned by all who dare, and probably driven out of town by the townsfolk jointly, possibly based on reputation alone, and certainly if they cause any trouble.  No one wants thieves and killers in their midst.

No, no one wants thieves and killers in their midst–not even other thieves and killers.  The player character makes the mistake of thinking that because he’s evil, other evil characters will be his friends.  He has no friends.  He may flee to the pirate haven or the thieves’ hideaway about which he’s heard, but they won’t welcome him with open arms.  They don’t trust each other, and they certainly aren’t going to trust a newcomer.  He could be the law, trying to get inside and take them out.  He could be a family member of one of their past victims, seeking vengeance on one of them.  He could be a hired assassin or bounty hunter intent on bringing someone back with him.  He could be another thief or killer, one more person to watch, to eliminate before he becomes a problem.  His best hopes are to convince them that he’s useful, and so remain alive as long as they remain convinced; or that he’s too powerful to challenge, and so face only the risks of being killed when he’s not looking or meeting someone bigger than he; or that he doesn’t matter, in which case he’s bound to become the brunt of the fun, the toy, the victim of every vicious sense of humor in the place.

Evil characters are not trusted, not by other evil characters and certainly not by good ones.  They are not trustworthy; they will ultimately betray each other, and they know it.  They are also not trusting.  Evil characters tend to think that everyone else thinks like they do, that everyone else is in it for themselves and will stab you in the back.  It’s a survival instinct among their cohorts, who really will kill them when it is to their advantage.  But evil characters don’t trust good characters, and don’t believe that the good characters aren’t working some “angle” or “game”.  The good character sees good as an end in itself, but the evil character sees the good deeds of others as a means to an end.  The good cleric collects money to feed the poor, but the evil character suspects that it’s filling the priest’s retirement fund.  The good fighter protects the villagers from attack, but the evil onlooker believes it’s a setup for a power grab.  He can’t trust anyone, because he’s sure they all think like him, and he knows better than to trust someone like him.

Players won’t want to play this out.  They tend to work together like good characters even when trying to be evil.  But there’s much that can be done to sow distrust between them.  Here are some ideas.

Whenever they find something of value, make certain that no one is sure how much it’s worth.  It’s easy for a referee to say, “you found five thousand gold coins”; but how does anyone know that there are five thousand gold coins?  Better to say, “you found gold coins, several thousand by your guess”, and require them to count it.  Make it clear to each of them that they don’t know the facts, only the information provided by the others.  If Glag and Scruff count the coins, tell Glag that he counts 2000, and tell Scruff that he counted 3000, and let them decide what to tell each other.  Better yet, create a possibility that one of them miscounted by a couple hundred coins.  Now Scruff counts only 2700, but if Glag recounts it, he’ll get 3000.  Make them acutely aware of how dependent they are on each other, and how vulnerable they are to misinformation.  Never openly tell a character the value of something he would know if the others don’t know it.  Give them the opportunity to distrust each other.

Give them indivisible treasure items.  Nothing causes more grief between evil characters than a horde of a few thousand gold coins and a single magic sword.  Any character who can use the sword will think he should have it and his share of the coins; any character who can’t use it will think that the sword should replace a share of the coins, or better yet be sold to someone else to increase the number of coins being shared.  The same can be done with particularly beautiful (and possibly meaningful) pieces of jewelry, rare technological devices, and other things which can benefit only one character.  And however it’s decided, make it something they will regret.  If one of the characters gets the item, have a non-player character ask someone who didn’t get it if he thinks the character would sell it for such-and-such a price.  If they sell it, remind the player character who wanted it that it would have been particularly useful in some situation which comes up shortly thereafter.

Do the same things in combat situations.  We all know that characters will sometimes be in the thick of trouble and other times be on the fringes.  Point it out when it happens:  “Glag, while you’re fighting these three orcs, you notice that Scruff is still standing in the doorway.”  “In that combat, Scruff took fifteen points of damage, but Glag was unharmed.”  Make them feel the inequities of their situation.  Remember, a good character will generally assume that his companions are doing their best to support the group, but an evil character will generally assume that his companions are trying to shift as much of the danger and hardship away from themselves and onto him.  Encourage that perception in everything you describe.

In short, if your players think that evil characters are easier to play than good ones, it’s time to straighten up your program.  Isolate them, create suspicion.  Pass a lot of notes around; nothing puts players on edge more than the idea that the referee is discussing something with one of the other players about which they know nothing..  If the timing is right, have some party member turn up dead.  You could have your non-player character do the assassination, or you could have the non-player character mysteriously die of what cannot be proved to be natural causes.  You could tell one of the player characters that he doesn’t feel well–suffering from indigestion or something–and then have him die (or nearly die) of symptoms which could have been poison.  Make them believe that they are each other’s worst enemies, and soon they will be making preemptive moves against each other.

If after all that they still believe that it is more fun to play evil characters, let them enjoy the game.  There are good practical reasons why good generally defeats evil in the end, and evil characters should eventually realize that they’re on the losing side.  But it can be fun to lose, even exhilarating, if you play well.

Just as long as they don’t think being evil is the easy road.

–M. Joseph Young is co-author of Multiverser:  The Game and Vice President for Development of Valdron Inc.  His many web pages on diverse subjects from Internet law to infravision are indexed for convenience.

*****

Regretably, the indices no longer exist, although hopefully the web site is organized well enough to find the material that is here.  The Wayback Machine copy of this article is at this link, but is not different from what is published here.

#235: Versers Infiltrate

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #235, on the subject of Versers Infiltrate.

With permission of Valdron Inc I have now completed publishing my first three novels, Verse Three, Chapter One:  The First Multiverser Novel, Old Verses New, and For Better or Verse, in serialized form on the web (those links will take you to the table of contents for each book).  Along with each book there was also a series of web log posts looking at the writing process, the decisions and choices that delivered the final product; those posts are indexed with the chapters in the tables of contents pages.  Now as I am posting the fourth, Spy Verses,  I am again offering a set of “behind the writings” insights.  This “behind the writings” look may contain spoilers because it sometimes talks about what I was planning to do later in the book–although it sometimes raises ideas that were never pursued.  You might want to read the referenced chapters before reading this look at them.  Links below (the section headings) will take you to the specific individual chapters being discussed, and there are (or will soon be) links on those pages to bring you back hopefully to the same point here.

There is also a section of the site, Multiverser Novel Support Pages, in which I have begun to place materials related to the novels beginning with character papers for the major characters, hopefully giving them at different stages as they move through the books.

This is the third mark Joseph “young” web log post covering this book, covering chapters 43 through 63.  These were the previous mark Joseph “young” web log posts covering this book:

  1. #218:  Versers Resume (which provided this kind of insight into the first twenty-one chapters);
  2. #226:  Versers Adapt (covering chapters 22 through 42).

History of the series, including the reason it started, the origins of character names and details, and many of the ideas, are in those earlier posts, and won’t be repeated here.

Chapter 43, Kondor 106

I had decided at this point to turn the situation around, to put the trio among the whites and see where that took me.

Bob and Shella of course are protected by their SEP to enemies spell–they would not have thought of it thus, but everyone in this world is their enemy–and so they are not seen until they reveal themselves.  The fog was convenient as an explanation, particularly for Joe, whose perspective this is.

The take charge attitude Bob displays is a technique for getting people to yield:  he acts as if there is no question who is in charge here, and they are not certain they are in a position to object.  Even the way he asks “who are you?” carries with it the implication that he is important and they are not.

I wanted European sounding names up front to contrast against the African names I had used among the blacks.


Chapter 44, Brown 117

Splitting the team is another encounter in the scenario, which sets up the next two.  It’s always tricky trying to figure out how to split them, although it helps generally (in play) that it’s done with one player character and the rest of the team non-player characters, so if I can set up a credible reason for the split, the split works.  Here I am able to make the split the decision of the main character.

Derek has used this springing stab attack before, but it was a risky move and I couldn’t allow it to appear to be a certain kill.  This time he had to fail, and we had to have more tension in the fight because of it.

I realized at this point in the read-through edit that I had not mentioned the chain, and it had to be somewhere accessible, so I went back to Brown 110 and made a few tweaks to include his weapons.


Chapter 45, Slade 106

Slade’s uncertainty about what to request reflected my own about this scenario:  I did not know where it was going.  It was a good short-term cover story, but it opened more problems ahead.  I was going to have to figure out what to do about them.


Chapter 46, Brown 118

Making the communications links very short range was a story decision at this moment:  I did not want Derek to know what was happening to the others until he got there.  It made sense, though, as short range communications would use less power, be less likely to be overheard, and be sufficient for most applications in a commando group.

One of the points made through the books and in the game is when you have more options you have more decisions.  Derek here considers whether to become Morach and use the drugged arrows, although he rejects it as not better tactically.


Chapter 47, Kondor 107

The notion that both sides had dehumanized the other takes form here in a simple conversation.  It probably is not changing the world, but it is illuminating it.

Joe’s speech is reminiscent of Shylock’s in The Merchant of Venice.  In high school I had to write and perform an updated version of that particular Shakespearean play for an English class, and when the Jew says, “If you prick us, do we not bleed?” arguing for his own humanity, we have something of the same echoing here.

I was the eldest of four siblings, and at some point decided that whenever two people were sharing one object–a sandwich, perhaps–the fairest way to divide it was to have one person divide it into halves as evenly as he could, and the other pick which half he wanted.  That’s not quite the same thing here, but as the threesome defer to each other, they each are seeking to accommodate the others as fairly as possible.


Chapter 48, Brown 119

I should apologize to our friend whose middle name is Kaseem, a very American Christian son of a Palestinian Islamic family, who goes by “K. C.” (his given name appears on some of his mail, and his first name is also rather Arabic, but few people know it).  It seemed likely that in this situation an Arab terrorist in Britain would have adopted the same name.

I think that my notion of how forty or fifty terrorists with significant military equipment could get into a public high rise office building is probably adequate; I suspect it’s been done, at least in other works of fiction, although I don’t know for certain and hope I haven’t given ideas to any terrorists out there.


Chapter 49, Slade 107

The exposition of the problem and solution was probably unnecessary, as I hope the readership already understands it.  It’s there for clarity, and to show that at least the characters understand it.  It also set me up for Joe’s next move.

The referenced movie was entitled The Russians Are Coming!  The Russians Are Coming!, and was generally a rather humorous film, although the climactic scene did have a Russian submariner climb the outside of a church bell tower to rescue an American boy who had slipped and was hanging precariously from some unsafe board.


Chapter 50, Brown 120

We had a problem with the rise in popularity of rap music and the corresponding rise in small portable audio players:  friends of my sons would come to the house and blare what I considered obscene language.  I informed them that if guest in my house talked like that I would ask him to stop or leave, and I couldn’t treat his music player any differently.

The lone individual was probably inspired to some degree by Hans Gruber in Die Hard, the villain pretending to be a separated office worker.  Derek intuitively recognizes that a real terrified office worker probably would not have mentioned how many of them there were, and thus he must be trying to feed information to someone.

Derek’s memory is of the slasher summer camp scenario in his first book, Old Verses New.  He gives all the relevant details.

The fifteen minute thing gave me a deadline without promising to detonate the bomb.


Chapter 51, Kondor 108

The discussions in the previous chapters revealed to me what had to happen here:  I needed Joe to demonstrate that he was a genuinely compassionate human being, without either appearing that he was trying to do so or stepping out of his otherwise coldly rational and atheistic character.  This was where I managed to find that solution.

The peeping sound of tree frogs, which for years I thought were crickets, is a normal sound in the woods during the warmer times of the year.  That it is absent demonstrates that the ecology has been disrupted by the war.

The orange light is because Joe is still using the settings of the cybereye he used when they stepped into the fog.  Thus his “red” sensors are seeing infrared and his “green” sensors are centered on green, and thus the combination of heat with visible light is interpreted by his brain as a combination of red and green, which the brain sees as orange or yellow.

I figured the medicine practiced here would be that of the Crimean and American Civil Wars–a lot of amputations, no anesthesia or antibiotic.  It would be simple for any modern doctor to improve on the situation, particularly one with a medical bag containing a few modern instruments and medications intended for emergency field use.

The diagnosis is there because I thought it important that Joe establish his credibility through being able to tell what was wrong.  If they’re going to believe he can fix it, they must first believe that he knows what he is saying.

Again the Shylock speech influences Joe’s answer about whether he is a demon.


Chapter 52, Brown 121

Derek raises an obvious solution:  check a building directory, there is bound to be one.  I am glad no one ever attempted to do this in play, because I don’t have one–the floors are created in response to the arrivals of the player character, to meet the needs of the encounters that are appearing next.  Since I didn’t actually have to present a complete directory in order to say that Derek saw it, that wasn’t a problem here.  In play, I’d just ask the player where he intended to go to find such a thing, and see what he wanted to do, making it as difficult as possible to get there, and interrupting him with the remaining encounters along the way.


Chapter 53, Kondor 109

When I wrote this chapter I was contemplating the possibility that the whites had some religious truth and the blacks were all atheists.  I saw no way to pursue that, though, and ultimately abandoned it.  I was beginning to recognize that I’d set myself a problem that my characters could not possibly solve, although actually the point was probably not that my characters were supposed to solve the problem but that they themselves were to learn from it.


Chapter 54, Brown 122

The “terrorist uses terrorist pretending to be hostage as a shield” scenario is also in the book.  I had not yet begun shifting Derek’s chapters forward and had recognized that I had bitten off a huge story that wasn’t going to be able to be finished in a reasonable time running against the Kondor and Slade story, so I brushed over this encounter by telling it in retrospect.  It enabled me to include all the encounters in the original scenario without bogging down into telling yet another directly.

The story here is a combination of two encounters which I always hoped someone would connect this way–one, the launching of a larger team to find them, the other hitting the booby-trapped door.  When I wrote them I hoped someone would think of a way to walk the strike team into the booby-trap, and that’s what I did here.

As Jim’s doubts are resolved, we are reminded that there was no reason for him fully to trust Derek before this, and no indication that he actually did–Derek was the leader because that was the assignment, not because Jim recognized his ability.  Of course, Jim has been reflecting Derek’s own self-doubt in this situation, but that has caused Derek to play the part of the person who knows what he is doing.


Chapter 55, Slade 108

Having Bob have to ask directions (twice) instead of following “his ears and his nose” underscores that he is very different from Joe.  Joe works from solid evidence and rational thinking; Bob works from hunches and luck.  Bob’s hunches and luck always get him through the trouble, but not through the simple tasks.  Finding the mess tent isn’t a very risky situation–not much riding on it–so it was fun to have him struggle with it however briefly.

I think the best expression of the idea that men usually accepted excuses that began with the words “My wife” came from Ogden Nash, in a non-poetic poem about how criminals frequently arrested for vagrancy when “casing a joint” in preparation for a crime could explain their presence any place at any time with the words, “I’m waiting for my wife.”  Bob has not had any experience to support that, but he recognizes that it’s true of people he has known.

I don’t remember where I got the name “Vargas”, but it seemed European, probably Spanish or Hispanic, to me, and it got me away from a monolithically British name set.

I now had a story I could run for a while, as Joe taught medicine to the white doctors and Bob pretended he was eager to leave but would wait a bit longer.  It wouldn’t last forever, but it would hold for a while.


Chapter 56, Brown 123

I had said “photography studio” previously, but had forgotten that when I got to this chapter (I was writing very slowly, trying to find my story as I went).  The idea that a nuclear bomb would be traceable by detecting radiation sent my mind in the direction of a place that had radiation shielding, and while I suppose a photography studio might have that in a darkroom, the readers would certainly know that a radiology practice would have to have such rooms somewhere.  In reviewing I placed the radiology office next to a photography studio to resolve that.


Chapter 57, Kondor 110

The remembered words of the preacher were similar to some I had heard on some teaching tape decades before; I do not know who it was, although it was probably one of Bob Mumford’s free monthly teaching tape series (from a variety of speakers).  The quote is far from exact, but it is basically the same concept.  It was also probably race-reversed, but I think that gives it more impact here.


Chapter 58, Brown 124

The penultimate encounter says that the character finds the leader, and the bomb is not far.  The guards on the door are in essence window dressing–I decided at this point that there would be guards on the door.  It is sort of an extra encounter, but it is an obvious one, particularly given that the leader knows there is a strike force out there.

The lost kid gambit is an obvious one for a five-foot-tall male adolescent, and would probably set terrorists off balance.  It is undoubtedly part of why children are used for bombers in the Middle East–Westerners, at least, hesitate to shoot them.


Chapter 59, Slade 109

I notice a couple things about Bob that came simply from writing his story, not from any particular consideration of the matter.  One is that despite being bored in camp with nothing to do because Joe is teaching medicine to the white doctors, it never occurs to him that it might be either interesting or valuable to sit in on that instruction.  The other is that although he is bored, he gets out and around and Shella does not, but he doesn’t really think much about her being bored alone in the tent.

When I realized that there were no people of mixed race, and that Bob might eventually notice that, I needed a word for it.  “Arab” was reasonably good, because as a people they tend to be the median skin color, and their geographical position in the world suggests it might well be because of racial blending.

Some of this may have set my mind running toward the gather world.  I don’t know whether I had yet realized I would be pushing that into the next book, but I began to think in terms of a magical Arabian setting for it.

It was probably a stretch suggesting that Bob knew “Montague” was the name of one of the families in Romeo and Juliet, but that’s why I didn’t let him know the other name (Capulet), as knowing the one more shows his ignorance than his knowledge.

Joe’s smattering of French is not sufficient to make it seem that he speaks French, only that he’s become educated enough to use snippets of foreign languages common among educated speakers of English.

The idea that a person can matter without doing anything is certainly not new, but it’s one that’s usually overlooked.  One of our United States Presidents (Truman, perhaps?) was once asked about the fact that his father had been a lifelong failure, and he responded to the effect of asking how anyone could be considered a failure whose son became President of the United States.  That has to reflect on the father somehow.


Chapter 60, Brown 125

The decision to stab someone with a dart of course goes contrary to expectations, but is perfectly logical in the situation and demonstrates that Derek is able to use objects in unexpected ways.

The simple plastique bomb was not really planned, but it had come to me that Pete had acquired the explosive earlier and really should use it at some point.

I was doing final preparations for publication and realized that Jim referred to what you see on “TV”.  In all my British television viewing, I don’t think I’ve ever heard any character use that American identifier.  I changed it to “the tele”, which I checked with Dictionary.com to be certain I had the right spelling.

I also realized at this point that Jim and Pete would use “lift” instead of “elevator”, and attempted to make those changes retroactively.


Chapter 61, Kondor 111

Joe is struggling with the fact that in what he must believe is coincidence he and Bob have exactly the kinds of skills needed to do the job of persuading each side that the other side is human in the sense they understand.  It seems like divine intervention, but of course for him that can’t be accepted.

His thought of not telling Derek because it would “confuse the boy further” is in essence an idea that the evidence really supports the view that there is a God, so it has to be suppressed.  It is an accusation raised against people of faith frequently, but it is subtly present here on the other side.


Chapter 62, Brown 126

I had to remember that although Derek is good at what he does, Jim is good at what he does, and that’s not what Derek usually does.  Thus Jim does the assault here.

I’ve heard the “cautions” on British police dramas; they don’t repeat them as often as they do on American shows, I think (where we call them “warnings”), but I’ve heard them enough to recognize that they are different on a few points.  That’s to be expected, since most of ours are based on United States Supreme Court rulings interpreting the Bill of Rights, and I expect theirs have followed based on their own laws and court rulings.


Chapter 63, Slade 110

Any time a story falls into a routine, it risks becoming boring.  I needed to break the routine again, and of course there was in the background this problem that Robert Elvis Lord Slade of Slade Manor is a title from a different universe, with no correspondence here, and someone might eventually realize that.  It gave me a new tension.

I recognized that it would be easy to give a non-descript name to the section of law in question here, and it would be very realistic.  In America we speak of violations of Title IX, or Miranda Rights, or First Amendment issues, and we know what they are because the shorthand refers to familiar laws.  Thus “section five of the war code” would be that kind of “everyone knows what this is” identifier that you would only know if you were from there.

That Shella would want to straighten up the tent before Joe arrived was exactly the sort of wife thing husbands don’t generally understand.


This has been the third behind the writings look at Spy Verses.  If there is interest and continued support from readers we will continue to publish this novel and the behind the writings posts, and prepare the fifth novel to follow it.

#226: Versers Adapt

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #226, on the subject of Versers Adapt.

With permission of Valdron Inc I have now completed publishing my first three novels, Verse Three, Chapter One:  The First Multiverser Novel, Old Verses New, and For Better or Verse, in serialized form on the web (those links will take you to the table of contents for each book).  Along with each book there was also a series of web log posts looking at the writing process, the decisions and choices that delivered the final product; those posts are indexed with the chapters in the tables of contents pages.  Now as I am posting the fourth, Spy Verses,  I am again offering a set of “behind the writings” insights.  This “behind the writings” look may contain spoilers because it sometimes talks about what I was planning to do later in the book–although it sometimes raises ideas that were never pursued.  You might want to read the referenced chapters before reading this look at them.  Links below (the section headings) will take you to the specific individual chapters being discussed, and there are (or will soon be) links on those pages to bring you back hopefully to the same point here.

There is also a section of the site, Multiverser Novel Support Pages, in which I have begun to place materials related to the novels beginning with character papers for the major characters, hopefully giving them at different stages as they move through the books.

This is the second mark Joseph “young” web log post covering this book, covering chapters 22 through 42.  These were the previous mark Joseph “young” web log posts covering this book:

  1. #218:  Versers Resume (which provided this kind of insight into the first twenty-one chapters).

History of the series, including the reason it started, the origins of character names and details, and many of the ideas, are in those earlier posts, and won’t be repeated here.

Chapter 22, Brown 106

I’ve never had anyone attempt a roof entrance on this scenario.  I have had them rappel down to a random floor window and go in that way, but the roof door is usually thought (correctly) to be guarded.  Derek takes that entrance, because it is the worst guarded.

The fear and confusion of the guard is because he does not understand the gargoyle-like creature flying at him.


Chapter 23, Kondor 102

Bob wouldn’t know the word, but he raises the eugenics issue:  is it morally wrong to purify the gene pool by preventing defective members of the race from reproducing, and if not, what defines who gets to have children?

The notion that the blacks would have material establishing their own genetic superiority developed slowly here.  I needed a way to make Joe think that the discrimination against whites in this world was based on something rational, so that he could buy into it however briefly.  He needed that jolt, that realization that he was thinking exactly like white slavers and later white racists thought, that there was a real difference between the races which amounted to a biological superiority of one over another.

In the previous novels I had been developing Joe’s “reverse” racism, and had been thinking that this had to be a major arc in his story.  This world was going to be a significant step in that–but it suddenly ended quite abruptly.  Bob’s argument about the parakeets and sparrows shook Joe’s illusion of science.

I kept wondering what Joe and Bob were going to do about the systemic racism of this world, but ultimately at this moment I have accomplished the part of this world that really mattered:  Joe recognizes that he can be just as racist as anyone, and racism can appear to be quite reasonable to those who think they have reasons for it.

“They breed like rabbits” was something that was said about blacks in the early twentieth century.  The fact is, rapid breeding rates are normal for humans.  For one thing, child mortality rates were always high prior to the dawn of modern medicine, and even (perhaps especially) wealthy and powerful families needed to have several children (and hopefully several sons) to continue the family line; in the modern world, there is a lot less pressure from that, because more children survive to adulthood.  For another, in agrarian and herding cultures children are an asset, a cheap labor force that increases production; in urban societies children are a liability, costing money in the short term and the long term, and not generally considered a good financial investment (although that’s a very individual matter).  Since blacks lived in poverty, there was a strong tendency for them to have larger families–although this was also true of poor whites, and of specific religious groups (Roman Catholics, conservative Lutherans, conservative Baptists most notably).  However, middle and upper middle class whites tended to see burgeoning impoverished black families as proof that blacks could not control their breeding, when that was only part of the problem:  more children meant more labor, more income, particularly for rural black families.  That’s why the line comes to Joe, and why he doesn’t like it.


Chapter 24, Brown 107

Derek, now in the form of Ferris, suddenly faces an ethical crisis.  He is carrying his darts and the drugged arrows he created based on the darts; they are anesthetic, rendering their target unconscious.  He developed the arrow drug precisely so that sprites, including himself, would not have to kill people.  However, this terrorist will kill him if he gets the chance, and Derek might be giving him the chance by not killing him first.

I realized the problems with the stairs at this point as well.  At two and a half feet tall, Ferris is toddler-sized, with the sort of short legs that struggle with stairs.  He doesn’t fly, he only glides, and trying to glide down the typical skyscraper stairway with its switchbacks at the landings would be very difficult.  In a sense it would be easier to leap down an elevator shaft.


Chapter 25, Slade 100

The human/animal argument returns, as Slade considers whether the way we treat chimpanzees comes under a different category than the way we treat creatures who seem to us “almost human”.

My trick to keep them in the bunker now worked against me, as they were stuck in the bunker until I found a way to get them out; but I started looking for ways to use that in my favor.


Chapter 26, Brown 108

My parents took me to the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building; the latter had elevators much of the distance, but both involved a lot of stairs.  I’m not sure I appreciated the view, but I remembered the climb.

The lone gunman is the first encounter; it is not necessary that the main character actually confront him, and in this case I chose for this to be more a tension builder than a confrontation.

Apart from the fall into the pit at the end of the third novel, this is the first time Derek has ever used Ferris as more than a way of getting between Derek and Morach.  Thus he never had shoes.  I never go barefoot but in the shower, at the poolside, and in bed; I don’t like the soles of my feet on anything hot, cold, sharp, or rough.  Thus I feel the steps when Ferris lands on them.

The office worker is also a planned encounter.  There are later encounters when terrorists have hostages and when they pretend to be hostages, so it’s important that the player not think all encounters are necessarily terrorists.  This plays with those expectations.

On the read-through edit I realized that Derek could use his scriff sense to point to wherever Calloway had his equipment, and that he would think of that, so I added it.


Chapter 27, Kondor 103

One of the difficult issues in this story is why the war is still happening.  The blacks have such military superiority that they could easily overwhelm the whites; the whites only have numerical superiority, as far as I can see.  I needed the war to continue, to be continuing for generations, without any real hope of either side winning, while maintaining the technological superiority of the blacks.

I took a new tack with the characters.  Since Bob Slade was trapped as an unwelcome guest among the blacks, and he was likely to be the best hand-to-hand fighter (not to mention good with the blaster) that they’d ever seen, I could use his superiority to undermine their confidence, cause them to believe that the whites might be more human than supposed.


Chapter 28, Brown 109

One would expect that something that glows would become an obvious target, but one of the tricks defense experts learned in World War II was that a plane against a daylight sky was a dark blip, but if you put forward-facing spotlights on it it became part of the brightness of the sky.  Thus a logical reason for sprites to glow is it makes them less visible to anything looking up at the sky.  It now also occurred to me that shadows are one of the most difficult things to hide when stalking, and the light emanating from a sprite would reduce the shadow some.

In one of my favorite movies, The Last Starfighter, there is a moment when the navigator, Grigg, is explaining the problem to the starfighter, Alex.  Alex notes that it is a knotty problem, and Grigg says, “I’ll have it all figured out by the time we reach the frontier.”  At that moment an alarm sounds, and Alex asks, “What’s that?” to which the reply is, “The frontier.”  I think that kind of scene is what I was thinking here, as Morach is trying to figure out what he’s going to do when he gets to the terrorists, so he’s taking his time getting to the terrorists, but he still doesn’t think of anything.

Derek learned some aerobatics as a young sprite; before that he saw Lauren adapt her acrobatics to her combat techniques.  I always tried to avoid making the characters too much alike, but at this point it made sense for him to emulate her, adapting his aerobatics to combat.

One of the downsides of using published worlds in published novels is that I give away secrets, tricks that a future player might exploit.  One of the advantages of my characters is that they are unusual enough that a lot of their solutions to problems aren’t really useful to most players.  It would require a remarkable set of coincidences for a player to be able to copy Derek’s means of clearing the back door.


Chapter 29, Slade 101

Joe easily slips into the mode of making his hosts uncomfortable with their resident ghost.  He focuses on how to get them to recognize just how skilled a killer Bob is.

Bob is adapting to his new identity.  He was becoming a warrior of Odin in the first book; in the third (his second) he married the girl, and now he is also a husband.  He asks himself how those two roles mesh, and starts looking for answers that make both work better.

The reluctance of the soldier to touch deadphones that had been worn by a white man is one of the little bits that show their deep prejudice.

I liked taking the phrase “he was not safe” and inverting it:  it wasn’t that he was in danger, but that he was a danger to them.

I also used that to segue to the possibility of doing a magical SEP (the type of invisibility known as “somebody else’s problem”, the reason nobody can describe the custodian who was mopping the floor or the bum on the park bench).  Lauren does the trick psionically, but it’s a useful trick and something Bob and Shella might be able to do by magic.


Chapter 30, Brown 110

I don’t usually talk about Derek’s high-tech gear, but since I introduced a trinary computer connection in the second novel and fiber optics are known to be faster than electrical connections, I thought I’d toss in a bit of jargon about what the component did that would be right but confusing to someone who knew enough to know that they weren’t using trinary systems.

I’ve always thought that working in a field where there was some information that only some people were permitted to know would be frustrating both for those who knew and for those who did not, and I reflect that in this interaction.

The elevator trick was off the cuff, something I thought would have potential for the story.  I didn’t know whether I would use it again, but I wanted it to be there in case I did.

I thought Uballa sounded like an African name, and so although I didn’t say the bomb expert was black I at least created the impression he might be.  My mind puts the accent on the second syllable.  I picture Jim as played by a young Steven Segal.

When I reached Brown 117 on the first read-through edit, I realized that I had not previously mentioned where he put the chain, and it needed to be accessible.  I also realized that I didn’t remember mentioning any of his weapons in this scene, so I came back and added them, and also added mention that he packed his electronics gear.


Chapter 31, Slade 102

In the back of my mind I was at this point exploring the possibility that the whites had magic they could use against the blacks; I never pursued that, but it gave me some basis for a low but functional magic bias.

I noticed that Shella always called Slade “M’lord”; it was automatic, that when I wrote her dialogue, that’s what she called him.  It occurred to me that it was the kind of thing that Bob would find both pleasing and embarrassing, and wouldn’t exactly want to object but would want his wife to be comfortable calling him something else.  It struck me just about here.

It also occurred to me that Bob and Shella spent quite a bit of time in the vampire future world with Lauren and Derek, and Shella would have spent some of that time with Lauren and Bethany, and some of it with Merlin, all of which was, as it were, “off camera”.  Thus I could fill in blanks of things Shella learned while there (a very high magic world) for her to know now.

Having Bob experiment with what magic works has the advantage of informing readers not familiar with the earlier books concerning what magic he has used before; the same goes for the discussion about magic with Shella.

The experiment with the SEP invisibility gave me the opportunity to create a bit of adventure for Bob and Shella; I hadn’t thought through what was going to happen, but I figured it would lead to something interesting if they could wander the halls unnoticed.


Chapter 32, Brown 111

The bombs are part of the original scenario, and finding one from the safe side is the next encounter.  The stickers are also part of that.

Left or Right was the title of the Game Ideas Unlimited article in which I discussed this method of designing a scenario–in which the encounters are sequenced and the referee places them in appropriate places as the floor plan is created in response to character choices.  Derek’s reaction is of course correct in reality:  everything hinges on which direction he goes, but he has no data on which to base a decision.  The scenario, though, is based on movie logic:  the way he chooses is of no consequence, because wherever he goes he will walk into the next encounter there.

I vaguely remember that that trip to the Empire State Building was connected to some trip to see some specialist doctor who had an office in the building.  It had not previously occurred to me that doctors might have offices in high rise buildings–growing up in the suburbs, my doctors all had private offices in small buildings.  Most other high rise buildings I had been in had been hotels or buildings housing a single company, e.g., the Blue Cross/Blue Shield office building in Wilmington, Delaware.  This idea of individual separate offices within the larger building still strikes me as unusual, but of course it’s normal.

“Three and then go” is of course from the Lethal Weapon movies, where they always stop and ask whether it’s “on three, or three and then go”.


Chapter 33, Kondor 104

Again I note differences between my characters, as despite his scientific and technological training Joe does not really carry a toolkit.

At some point I dropped a new player into a variant modern world, and then brought in several other player characters.  It was the first player’s home town, Columbus, Ohio, but within the first few minutes of play I’d realized that what I wanted to do was create a 1950s B Movie world, in which all the monsters were real because of radioactive and chemical waste.  Some of the player characters became very involved in trying to organize a “clean up the world” process.  The first player, though, took a different tack:  this is not our world, why are we interfering?  Joe is now debating that same issue–but it is one he already addressed, and he remembers his thoughts on that subject now.

Joe works from his early impressions of Bob, a guy who believes in Norse gods and thinks he’s been chosen for Ragnorak, who thinks he can talk to the wind and have it hear him and cooperate; from this Joe thinks Bob is not very bright.  Thus when Bob demonstrates something intelligent, Joe admires it but downplays its importance.  It probably contributes to this that Bob does not think himself very bright either–“only an auto mechanic” is still part of his self-identity.


Chapter 34, Brown 112

Derek’s spritish upbringing comes into play here, as he realizes he is responsible now for killing three terrorists.  At the back door he might have killed one–but it was more accidental, as the man choked on the arrow that otherwise would have rendered him unconscious.  Here it is clear that three men have been shot dead, intentionally, by his team, and that makes him a killer here.

He also recalls the slasher summer camp scenario, and tries to explain to himself how he is different from the killer there.

I created the smiley face stickers as markers for the bomb when I wrote the game scenario, and used it here.

The reference to fighting demons is specifically to the Vampire Future world at the end of the third novel.


Chapter 35, Slade 103

Several factors go into learning a new skill.  One of them is how many skills you already have (technically how high they are bias-wise) in that area, and thus Shella has an advantage over Bob in learning this one.  Another is that having an example of how it’s done gives a bonus, and thus Bob watches Shella and learns a bit better how it’s done.  Thus they both successfully learn the skill.

The trick of having Shella drop the invisibility and address the group was inspired about this moment, as was the line about being called “ghosts”.


Chapter 36, Brown 113

When I designed the world, I suggested many things that could be on various floors of the building; one of them was a shopping mall, which could easily fill two stories.  I needed variety in my floors here in the game world, but couldn’t envision Derek going downstairs very far, so I decided to put the mall about twenty-five floors above the street.

I am still running the encounters by the book.  This one is an office worker fleeing from terrorists.

I almost gave Derek the smiley stickers at the first encounter, but at that point he had no possible reason to take them.  Now he knows their significance, so having them is to his advantage.


Chapter 37, Slade 104

This chapter covers a lot of Slade’s internal considerations, and it reflects a lot of the character of the character.  It includes the fun side near the beginning, and then he gets into some serious issues.  It is really about Slade himself more than anything else.

I, too, was wondering how Joe, Bob, and Shella could change the world.  They continue struggling with that question for a while.


Chapter 38, Brown 114

The world description on which this is based calls for an encounter in which the characters have to pass over or under some kind of bridge or balcony where they are exposed to view.  This was my way of including that here, and I often include it in a mall-within-the-building scenario.  I think most of us have been on the upper level of a mall that has some kind of overlook to the lower level, so it’s a familiar enough setting–and fountains are also fairly common in malls.


Chapter 39, Kondor 105

I knew it was time to move my versers out of Mlambo’s bunker, but did not know where they were going or what would happen next.  I considered that they might be returning here before they went anywhere else, so I set that up as a possibility.

Bob’s comment about not needing luck makes an important point–that “luck” is what you need when you can’t count on skill–but it’s also true that he has called for a bit of luck sometimes as well.


Chapter 40, Brown 115

The scenario in which terrorists use hostages as shields also comes from the book.  I decided that a hostage wounded by the rescuers would add tension, but it had to be Jim, not Derek, responsible for it.

It also underscores their problem:  they aren’t here to rescue hostages, so this is an incidental rescue.


Chapter 41, Slade 105

By letting Bob describe Joe adjusting his eye, I didn’t have to decide to what degree ultraviolet light would be useful in the fog.  I only suggested that it was possible.

I also got to play a bit with Joe’s naturalism:  Bob and Shella perform their SEP spell (“Somebody Else’s Problem” invisibility) and immediately they are unnoticed by the patrol, but Joe does not know why.

The “ghost” label was something of an abrupt inspiration when I brought the whites into the compound and needed a word that would be descriptive and potentially offensive for white people which was not used in our world.  I spent quite a while trying to find a way to “demonize” the blacks, and decided that “shade” was an excellent counterpart.  It is more than merely white ghosts and black shades.  “Ghost” suggests something insubstantial; “shade” is closer to something inhumanly evil or demonic.  It gave metaphoric substance to my races.


Chapter 42, Brown 116

One of the encounters in the scenario is that a small team is dispatched to hunt the intruder.  The problem I had here was determining how to make that known to the reader without breaking perspective.  Perspective is a type of a rule in literature which can best be described as who is telling whose story.  Throughout these novels I have maintained what is called an internal character perspective, each chapter told from the viewpoint of the principle character.  It shifts a bit over the course of the telling, sometimes approaching (but not reaching) first person, getting to the specific thoughts of the character, usually third person but still internal, focusing on what the character himself perceives and knows, and omitting anything he does not see or cannot know.  In effect, the reader travels with Derek, as Derek’s companion and confidante, knowing and seeing what Derek knows and sees.  I do that in part because it is more like the game, in that if you were playing Derek you would not know what Derek does not know.  It means, though, that I cannot tell you what Jim thinks or feels except as Derek perceives it, and I cannot tell you what is happening somewhere else in the building or beyond, unless I either break perspective or change perspective.  Breaking perspective is jarring for the reader, as if someone with the same voice suddenly interrupted the speaker.  Authors change perspective all the time, but it has to be done smoothly and the new perspective has to be maintained long enough to establish it before changing it again.  Dramatists and television writers are generally limited to external perspective–we know nothing of character thoughts and feelings but what they express for us to observe (although soliloquies and voice-overs were invented to provide a route to internal perspective).  Modern writers often use what is called “divine perspective”, allowing us to know what all characters see, think, and feel, and often what is hidden from them, but this has its own problems particularly with keeping it clear to the reader whose feelings and thoughts are presently described, and if you stay with one character long enough the reader is shocked by an abrupt change to another even if you thought you had established divine perspective.  All of this is to say that my solution here was to have Jim tell Derek that he heard on the enemy radio that they were dispatching a team, and thus I was able to inform the reader of a fact that could not otherwise have been mentioned without changing the perspective to one I never otherwise used in any of the novels (viewing events not within the knowledge of a central character).

The issue of whether the enemy could have identified which way Derek’s team was moving was never resolved, but it was more important to show that he was thinking about how to lead the team in ways most people wouldn’t.


This has been the second behind the writings look at Spy Verses.  If there is interest and continued support from readers we will continue to publish this novel and the behind the writings posts, and prepare the fifth novel to follow it.