The Read/Write Report – January 2023

It has been a while since I did one of these posts, but the new year seems like a great time to jump back into it. Here’s what I’ve been up to lately.

Vacation

At the end of 2022, I took what is probably the longest vacation I’ve taken in the past 15 years—three whole weeks. The last two weeks of the year were “stay-cation” around the house, and in the first week of 2023 my family escaped the snow and cold of Minnesota and went down to Florida.

I stayed fairly busy during my time at home, and we did quite a bit of sightseeing and beach time while in Florida, but I was able to do about twice as much writing as I typically do. Most of this went into Razor Mountain, but I couldn’t entirely resist poking at side projects and some potential future blog stuff. But I’ll talk about those things another day (maybe).

New Year’s Resolutions

I generally don’t put much stock in New Year’s resolutions, but I’m trying one this year. I’m not a person who tends to collect many possessions, with a couple notable exceptions. Firstly, as you might expect from a writer, I tend to collect a lot of books. I have a couple shelves full of physical volumes I haven’t yet read, and a handful of e-books on the Kindle.

I’m also a sucker for video games and, to a lesser extent, board games. There are a lot of inexpensive video games these days, especially with various services competing to offer the best sales. So I wish-list a lot of games and buy them when they’re cheap.

My not-too-serious resolution for the year is to not buy any new books or games, and try to work through the backlog that I already own. We’ll see how that goes.

Recent Reading

As usual, I have ongoing bedtime reading with my kids. We finished Startide Rising and moved on to The Uplift War, the last book in David Brin’s first “uplift trilogy.” It has been interesting, because these were formative books that I read in my teenage years, but I actually remember very little about them. I’m certainly seeing things that I missed when I was young.

On my own, I’ve started a slim little volume called Invisible Cities, by Italo Calvino. The book is framed as conversations between Marco Polo and Kublai Khan, where Polo describes the many cities that he’s visited in his travels.

I’ve been sitting on an idea for a fictional city for years, but I’ve never quite figured out whether it fits into a novel, a TTRPG, or something else. Invisible Cities is one of the pieces of fiction that I’m investigating to find some inspiration with my own fictional city.

Waiting for the Secret World

In November, a Kickstarter project popped up on my radar: The Secret World TTRPG.

The Secret World was originally an MMORPG released in 2012, back when people still believed that a new game would someday overthrow World of Warcraft. It was moderately successful on launch, but it was a little clunky, didn’t get a lot of updates, and slowly lost players over time. In 2017 it was relaunched with some new systems as the free-to-play Secret World Legends. That iteration was equally unsuccessful, and it eventually went into maintenance mode while the developers moved on to other projects in order to keep paying the rent.

Secret World, in both its iterations, was a very strange MMORPG. While the gameplay itself never really shined, it had a fantastic story, amazing settings, great voice acting, and some interesting puzzle design that was often a bit like an ARG. It’s a little cosmic horror, a little X-Files, with some Jules Verne and The Matrix thrown in for good measure. It still has a cult following, and those that love it stick around because of the story.

A TTRPG seems like a perfect fit for this kind of rich, expansive setting, so I’m excited to see what Star Anvil come up with. A few people have voiced concerns that it will be using the Dungeons and Dragons 5E rules, which may not be a perfect fit for this style of game. However, that’s the most popular TTRPG around, so I can’t really fault a small indie studio with a relatively unknown property for hedging their bets.

The current goal for releasing the book is October 2023, and over-funded Kickstarter projects aren’t exactly known for meeting their deadlines. , the project got me itching for some science-fiction or science-fantasy TTRPGs. To scratch that itch, I dug into two other games: Shadowrun 6e, and Cyberpunk Red.

Shadowrun

I’ll be honest. Shadowrun 6e seems like a mess. Both gameplay and setting feel like they took the “kitchen sink” approach, with a lot of different fantasy ideas and sci-fi ideas all fighting for attention, while nothing really stood out to me. Some of the ideas, like big dice pools, seem fun. But, having never played Shadowrun, I felt like the core book really didn’t give me a good feel of what it would be like to play, and I didn’t get enough of the setting to feel comfortable running a game. I think any core rule book should have snippets of gameplay or an example adventure, and this had neither.

I was a little leery of spending any more money on the game, so I tried looking in the…somewhat legally gray areas of the internet…for campaign books. The 6e adventure books I found were still frustratingly vague about actual gameplay, and seemed to largely eschew the mission-based play described in the core book.

By the time I got through the book I was fairly irritated, and I went down the rabbit hole of reddit posts and forums. As far as I can tell, Shadowrun players spend about half of their time debating which version of Shadowrun to use, or which bits to cannibalize from all the different versions. 6e doesn’t seem to be popular. And I started regretting purchasing the book at all.

Cyberpunk Red

To soothe myself, I moved on to another venerable franchise, one that recently had a very over-hyped video game made in its image: Cyberpunk. The latest iteration of Cyberpunk is called Cyberpunk Red. It is also quite recent, and interestingly, it seems to have been made alongside the development of the video game.

One of the challenges of the game’s namesake genre is that it was popularized in the 80s, and in some ways it has become retro-futurism. Cyberpunk Red takes an interesting approach to modernization. Rather than rewrite history, Red moves it forward. In the “Time of the Red,” decades have passed since previous Cyberpunk games (and their outdated references). The world has changed. It’s still an alternate-history version of our world where technology advanced faster than it did for us, but letting a few decades pass allowed the creators to change the setting so that it feels like it’s exploring and expanding upon today’s problems, not the ones that were relevant thirty or forty years ago. It’s an elegant solution.

It may not be fair to compare Cyberpunk Red to Shadowrun, but I read them back to back, so I’m going to do it anyway. Cyberpunk Red pretty much addresses all of the things that irritated me about Shadowrun. Where Shadowrun is all over the place with fantasy and sci-fi tropes, Cyberpunk Red is laser-focused on its cyberpunk setting. There are lots of character options: you can play as a rock star, mid-level executive, or freelance journalist, as well as the soldier and hacker types you’d expect from the setting. You can outfit yourself with all sorts of cybernetic hardware. But everything fits nicely in the setting. Everything seems to make sense.

The book includes a thousand-foot view of world history and geopolitics, but it focuses on a single city. This overall focus makes it feel like Cyberpunk Red can dig a lot deeper into the details of the setting. Even better, it includes a meaty section on how to run the game, some fiction to get a feel for the setting. It doesn’t include an example adventure, but there are a couple small free ones easily found online.

Back to the Grind

With my long vacation at an end, I’m back to work, kids are back at school, and we’re getting comfortable with our routines again.

My main writing project remains Razor Mountain, and I look forward to finishing it in 2023. After that, I’m going to have to think about what to do with this blog—I’ve been working on that book in some form for almost the entire life of Words Deferred. It’ll be an exciting new adventure!

For now, I still have a ways to go, and I’m back in my normal writing routine. Look for a new chapter next week.

Author: Samuel Johnston

Professional software developer, unprofessional writer, and generally interested in almost everything.

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