Booklife: On Writing and Gaming

The more games I play, the more I come to understand how a great game’s mechanics and metaphor work together to generate really satisfying experiences for players. In turn, that’s helped me hone my instincts as a writer, understanding how structure and setting work together to create great stories…

Along with a number of other contributors to Green Ronin’s FAMILY GAMES: THE 100 BEST, I was interviewed by one of the editors for Jeff Vandermeer’s great site Booklife who wanted to talk about writing and game design.

My interview was posted today, and you can check it out here to see me talk about what writers can learn about game design and give a shoutout to some of my favorite recent storygames.

The S.E.T.H. Universe

Chatting with a friend a few days ago, we talked about characters we created as kids.

In junior high and high school, my friends and I played a long-running campaign using the DC Heroes RPG rules, but our own setting called Radiant City. (I don’t think we’d heard of the Mister X comic and its similar setting at that point.) The many branches of that campaign have continued for decades, most recently a game I ran for friends here in Seattle just a couple years ago.

But even before that, we sat around making our own comics. My friend Brian did incredible Super Scott comics featuring his younger brother as the main character, with issues given to him as birthday and Christmas presents. I don’t know that I ever finished a whole issue of my own Super Seth (my sister wasn’t interested in being a superhero), but I made up a lot of characters who were part of my S.E.T.H. Comics Universe–the Super EnterTaining Heroes Comics Universe.

As a huge fan of DC’s Who’s Who and the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe, I wanted to do a guide to my own heroes. That meant I needed a list of all my characters–a list I found recently:

Click on the image for the full list.

Some of the characters I remember: Super Seth, of course, and his nemesis Master Disguise (who wore a suite of white armor shaped quite similarly to that worn by Lex Luthor at the time, housing holo-projectors that could cloak him in various disguises.) Spy was my Nick Fury. Power Jousters was inspired by Team America, a childhood favorite comic, except they rode techno-monocycles and carried (naturally) lances armed with various gadgets. Worst Case Scenario was a lot like G.I. Joe, an elite military team with highly specialized members; I remember that among the scores of soldiers in their ranks was a combat cook. Chainsaw, Monk Punk, would make an appearance years later in the Sketch! rulebook as one of the first characters I drew for the game Brian and I designed.

Others I don’t remember, but I can infer a bit from the names. I can only assume that Jesus Force was an excuse to draw superheroes in church bulletins during boring Sunday services. Aaron of the Jungle was probably my school pal Aaron turned into a Tarzan clone. (Almost all of my friends had heroic or villainous identities eventually.) I can only make the same assumptions you would about what Crossbow and Broadsword might carry into battle. Captain Clutz looks like a complete and utter ripoff of the Don Martin MAD paperbacks I loved as a kid.

Reon, Mimbon, Quintain….those sound like I was just stringing random letters together to make a name. I have absolutely no idea who they might have been.

But I’m going to see if I can find out. I have file cabinets and boxes jammed full of stuff I created when I was a kid. Over the coming days, I’ll see if I can dig up (and scan and share) some answers.

Watchmen HeroClix Preview

HurmOver the next few days, WizKids is interviewing me about the upcoming Watchmen HeroClix set I designed, and previewing some of the figures in the set along the way.

The set was a lot of fun to work on, and it’s great to finally start sharing some of the fun with players. I can’t wait until it gets into their (and my) hands, starting at the San Diego Comic Con.

CRUSADERS: The Book of Night (Part 7)

In the newest installment of CRUSADERS, Night goes to a party!

Prank Week Begins

Prank WeekMy first novel Prank Week is on shelves!

While my main gig when I worked at Smith & Tinker on Nanovor was game design, I was always happy to help the company’s crack editorial staff brainstorm about the game’s story–and chip in with a bit of writing when needed. Over a couple years, I ended up writing some material for the website, scripting an episode of the Nanovor animated series with J.C. Hutchins, helping plot the Nanovor graphic novel, and writing the stories and scripts for the Nanovor Solo Battle packs.

I also got involved with the group at Smith & Tinker putting together the Nanovor Field Guide for Running Press. As we were working on that project, the manuscript was completed for the first Nanovor novel and Running Press asked if we had any ideas for future novels in the series. So I wrote up a number of high concepts for additional adventures involving Nanovor and the Lab Rats of Hanover High, ready to be passed along to potential authors. A few days later, I heard that Running Press and Smith & Tinker liked what they saw in one of my pitches so much that they offered to let me write it.

Inspired by Neil Steinberg’s terrific book If At All Possible, Involve a Cow, the pitch they liked was about an unofficial tradition at Hanover High where the students spend a week pulling practical jokes on one another…and what happens when the Nanovor start developing a sense of humor of their own.

Now you can read that story yourself by buying a copy of Nanovor: Prank Week. Even if you’re not playing Nanovor (and why aren’t you? Go play for free!), you might get a few ideas for pranks to pull on your friends…

Buy a copy (or 10) today!

Family Games: The 100 Best

Family Games: The 100 BestOne of my favorite books a couple years ago was Green Ronin’s Hobby Games: The 100 Best, a fantastic collection of essays by a great collection of game designers about their favorite games.

So I was honored to be asked to contribute an essay to the followup book: Family Games: The 100 Best, where I get to be part of what is once again a Who’s Who lineup of designers talking about some terrific games.

My pick: the fantastic Reiner Knizia game Lost Cities. As the book nears store shelves, Green Ronin has released the lineup of authors and the games they’re writing about on the page where you can order a copy. I can’t wait until I get my copy so I can do what I did with Hobby Games (and what Jeff Grubb is already doing with the Family Games list)–use the book as a checklist of games I have to play. If their inclusion in the book doesn’t convince you, the essay almost surely will.

CRUSADERS: The Book of Night (Part 6)

Night in the shadows, in the newest installment of CRUSADERS:

CRUSADERS: The Book of Night (Part 5)

A change of scene and a change of pace for the next installment in CRUSADERS:

Don’t forget to subscribe to the Crusaders RSS feed!

CRUSADERS: The Book of Night (Part 4)

The first big fight scene in my ongoing heroic fantasy tale CRUSADERS is up, featuring amazing double-wide art by my partner-in-crime Andrew Trabbold.

Don’t forget to subscribe to the Crusaders RSS feed!

Seth Johnson Bystander Tokens for HeroClix

When I was lead designer for the HeroClix line at WizKids, I went to a lot of conventions and tournaments to watch players play, and to talk to them about the game. It was a blast, and I loved talking to players everywhere from San Diego to Philadelphia.

For fun, and to encourage players to seek me out so we could talk, I decided to make up some special HeroClix bystander tokens to hand out. But as a WizKids employee, making tokens of any licensed character like Batman or Spider-Man involved fees and approvals–and I was typically working on a budget of pizza money and a time frame of “That Kinko’s downtown is open 24 hours a day; I can get there before I have to go to the airport, right?” So instead, swallowing my humility and sticking my tongue firmly in my cheek, I made tokens of myself.

The Seth Johnson bystander tokens looked like true bystander tokens, although they weren’t die cut. I handed out the first token I made (B001) for two years. Then, when I ran out of those, I made three more (B002-B004.)



Sometime last year, I gave away the last one. I’m probably never going to print up any more, so they’ll have to join the SKETCH! Character Generator as collectible artifacts of my career. (Not that I expect them to be burning up eBay anytime soon–my mom already has one of each.)

But as the tokens are still mentioned and discussed by HeroClix fans once in a while, I thought I’d put them up here on my webspace so anyone who wanted some could print their own. (Note to fans: Let me know what your local judge says if you try and field them using WizKids’ new “print n’ play” policy!)

Click here or on the image above for the bigger file, and then take me to your battlefield! It’s too bad that I didn’t get a chance to work on the line a bit longer, so I could do a Seth token with a special power or two. But I guess there’s nothing stopping me from posting one here…

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