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Award Eligibility for the Current Year

Twenty sixteen! Neighbors. Probably the less said about that at this point, the better.

But now that we’re all safely ensconced in a postapocalyptic Billy Joel song, let me take a moment to talk about awards. You still have a few days to register for Helsinki Worldcon and nominate for the Hugo Awards! Here’s my eligible work for this year, and I’d be honored if you’d consider nominating.

Short Fiction

Big Thrull and the Askin’ Man, Uncanny Magazine – Troll folk hero vs. foreign businessman attempting to warp Trollish social norms for his own game. (Soon to be translated into Polish!)

The Iron Man, Grimm Future Anthology – A boy tries to reach manhood without being turned into a weapon.

Giants in the Sky, The Starlit Wood anthology – Jack in the Beanstalk x Space Elevators x Bastard Operator from Hell x Peridot


Any episode of Bookburners or The Witch Who Came in from the Cold will do, honestly, but I’m most partial to Bookburners Season 2, Episode 13, “The End of the Day.”


The big one!

Four Roads Cross fills in the last timeline hole in the Craft Sequence, and is a hell of a story if I do say so myself.

Best Series

Emergency edit

There’s an even *bigger* one!

This year, nominations are open for a Best Series Hugo—a Hugo to be awarded to the best series published last year, no book of which has ever won a Hugo before. Since this is the first year, there are a lot of series to catch up on, not to mention fantastic newcomers like The Grace of Kings, but I think the Craft Sequence is pretty fantastic, and I hope you agree.

What I’m Nominating

I need to give a lot more thought to this. I loved most of the stories from Starlit Wood. Charlie Jane Anders’ All the Birds in the Sky and Ada Palmer’s Too Like the Lightning were both fantastic; it’s hard for me to evaluate how TLtL stands alone, apart from Seven Surrenders (which I’ve also read, hah), but it’s also on my short list. Did Infomocracy come out last year, too? Also amazing. Frankly, I have a lot of catching up to do—last year was a blur for me, and I read for pleasure far more than to stay current.

I feel mildly sorry for whoever else is nominated for Best Dramatic-Long Form against the Thunderdome matchup of Hidden Figures and The Arrival, but I’m not too sorry, because all those people make Hollywood money and never show up to collect their awards anyway.

Oh, and I expect my Best Dramatic-Short Form this year will be a list of five Steven Universe episodes again. (Though I have some catchup viewing coming in TV, too.)

What are you nominating?

Least Effort Fixes for Rogue One

Happy 2017, y’all! Today we’re going to talk about Rogue One, editing, and least effort fixes. If you haven’t seen Rogue One yet, I’m sorry, but I’m about to spoil a good chunk of the film. Feel free to check back next week, when we’ll talk about something else presumably!

It’s time for some game theory. (Sorry/not sorry.)

I’ve seen Rogue One twice now, the first time at a midnight showing, and the second while recovering from a New Year’s hangover. This is where you want me to say “I liked it!” or “It was terrible!” but I can’t. It was, in many ways, a better movie than The Force Awakens; in many ways it was worse. In concept it’s a daring, bold film. Edwards’ cinematography is top notch, and I love his sense of monstrosity and scale, which he showed off in 2014’s Godzilla. The film felt expansive and space operatic in a way The Force Awakens really didn’t; The Force Awakens showed a cramped Galaxy that just didn’t quite fit together, while, though I can pick a few nits (how fast can you get from Yavin to Scarif in hyperspace, anyway? Where was Cassian’s ship on Jedah?) Rogue One’s spaces are navigable and consistent. Nothing feels too small or too big, even the stuff that really is too big.

Rogue One also does some true EU-quality worldbuilding through background visuals: the relationship between the Jedi and Jedah, the fact that the Emperor’s crimson guards’ uniforms are copies of the red Kyber Temple guardian uniforms, the scripture written on the crystals Saw’s team rescues from the Imperial shipment, the interplay between the crystals and the Force, and most significantly the canonization of the old EU feature that Kyber crystals, used for Jedi lightsabers, were part of the Death Star design, which makes the Death Star itself a sort of religious symbol (and, indeed, it appears in the final act as a sort of warped fascist technocratic God), the thematic interplay between Saw (“Call me Sol”) Gerrera and Darth Vader—there is so much richness here. Rogue One has powerful points to make, about scale, about faith, and about destiny; thematically, technically, and in storytelling. Rogue One tries things The Force Awakens didn’t dare.

And yet! I loved the characters in TFA from their earliest appearances, while I found myself struggling to care during the first act and a half of Rogue One. By the final battle sequence on Scarif, the film had me—but that’s an hour and a half into the show! I don’t think this was the actors’ fault; I found Felicity Jones expressive and riveting, Donnie Yen and Wen Jiang deliver brilliant performances; Riz Ahmed didn’t have much to do but he did it well, and Alan Tudyck’s K2SO worked really well. Diego Luna has a stand-out moment in the cargo shuttle arguing with Jyn about the ethics of the Rebellion. But I didn’t feel pulled along dramatically as I did by TFA, even at the height of TFAs’ absurdity. The characters are loosely connected at best, is part of it; they don’t have that moment of party cohesion so key to, for example, Guardians of the Galaxy. But an even bigger problem, for me, is that the film doesn’t know where it wants to go, or how to get there. When Saw asks Jyn “what do you want,” about thirty minutes into the film, we don’t know the answer.

These two movies remind me of the difference between an extremely well-written book on the technical level—sharp sentence work that does what’s needed and no more, flexible and muscular and graceful as appropriate, worldbuilding folded into drama and dialogue, dialogue itself that feels speakable and believable—but which, for whatever reason, the reader puts down halfway through, and a clunky book that nevertheless compels the reader to turn the page, and finish—even if they kind of hate themselves afterward and will never mention the book in polite company.  The problem is, errors in sentence-level writing are easy to spot and fix. “Stop using that word! No, hm, why that construction here. You could cut eight words from that sentence, and you obviously want to. Let that image go.” Fixing good writing with bad storytelling, though, that’s hard! Because good writing takes time. For careful writers, refactoring a complete manuscript feels like death. You’ve done work you care about, you’ve made the structure’s bricks by hand, and now you need to bring in the wrecking ball? Arrrgh!

Which is similar to the challenge of reshooting a movie. Scene production is expensive! You want to do as little of it as possible. Similarly: if you work hard for your prose, you want to keep as much of it as you can. So, assuming technical competence in filmmaking, or writing: how can you take a project from not working, to working, with the least possible effort? How do you 80-20 this expensive piece of art? You identify choke points. You find the small exhaust port, just above the main port, where…. well, you get the idea. If the problem is “this arc exists for no reason”—how do you give it a reason? Ideally, while changing as little as possible?

As I see it, this film has three key tangles, two of which could be fixed with minimal reshoots, and one of which is harder, but also more of a take-it-or-leave-it thing.

Show Us Jyn; Make Galen a Reveal

Adult Jyn never has a chance to shine. The first five minutes of Rogue One do beautiful, efficient work. We know exactly what everyone wants—to survive, to protect one another—and those desires almost kill them all. Jyn escapes with a lesson: love, and trust, and die. Then we cut forward fifteen years. Jyn’s in prison. We don’t know what she’s been doing all this time. She’s not enjoying any part of her shitty life. She’s not happy to be in prison—but she doesn’t do anything to escape. (Compare Steve McQueen’s similarly misanthropic character in the opening of The Great Escape, who makes his first attempt in the first five minutes.) When the Rebellion springs Jyn, we get a whole pile of information and back story: “Empire building a superweapon! Need to talk with your old buddy Saw! Put you back in prison! Also your father is alive and working on the Death Star!” All of which seems to be much more about who Jyn is (defined, for the most part, by the men in her life), rather than what she can do. For that matter, we don’t know what she can do. We’ve only seen her hit some rebels with a shovel, and sit moodily. Everyone in Jyn’s life is more important than her. And to make matters worse, we don’t get much of a sense of Jyn’s particularity until the firefight on Jedah—even then, she saves a kid, which is great, and beats up some stormtroopers, but that doesn’t characterize her as anything other than a generic “good guy.” The line about the blaster in Cassian’s ship is far more effective.

[One thing I think about when I start working on a story, on a character: what do they enjoy, what captivates them, about the life they’re living? Readers want to have fun; they like people who are having fun! The catch is, fun can mean a lot of things. Some people enjoy their own misery—the narrator of Notes from the Underground belongs in this category, as does Philip Marlowe. Some characters who seem to hate life (Adam in Only Lovers Left Alive) actually have a profound love of louche nihilistic disaffection. Self-hatred is a hard sell in a protagonist, unless you show that they like self hatred. If they don’t like at least some part of their existence, why haven’t they changed already? When we meet Baru, in The Traitor Baru Cormorant, she loves her family, and watching birds; even after she loses everything and ends up living in a crapsack colonialst world under constant threat of torture-murder, she really likes using people. Katniss loves her sister, enjoys hunting, and I get the impression at the beginning of The Hunger Games that she’d be perfectly happy to spend the rest of her life in District 12.]

So we need to make the opening about Jyn, not about Galen or Saw; to do this, we need to convey to the viewer what Jyn likes, what drives her emotionally. “Freedom” seems a natural choice. Jyn’s core song is “Me and Bobby McGee.” (Actually, it might be “One Jump Ahead” from Aladdin.) To keep the focus on Jyn Erso, we remove Galen: at the beginning of the film, Jyn thinks her Dad is dead. Jyn is sprung from jail, as seen, and taken to the comm room in Yavin 4.

Mon Mothma: “Welcome back to the rebellion.”

Jyn: “I’m not in the rebellion any more. I left.” (possibly “I rebelled” if you really want to save that line.)

MM: “And we rescued you.”

J: “Thanks for that. Why?”

MM: “Are you really asking why you were rescued?”

J: “I’ve been in prison a year and a half. There were other rebels in there. You came for me because you need something. What?”

MM’s uncomfortable, but the point can’t be denied: “When did you last hear from Saw Gerrera?”

J: (beat)

J: “That’s a name I haven’t heard in a long time.” [Callback spotters in the audience go wild]

General Rando: “We think the Empire is building something. An enormous weapon. A planet killer. Saw Gerrera captured a defector from the project.”

J: “So, ask Saw. You’re friends.”

GR: “Not any more.”

MM: “Saw Gerrera split with the Rebellion. He’s an extremist. But he raised you. He will talk to you.”

J: “When I last saw him, he gave me a blaster and told me to fend for myself.”

GR: “We sent people to Saw; they came back in body bags. You fought together for ten years. He’ll meet with you, if he meets with anyone.”

J: “Why should I help you?”

MM: “Because we rescued you.”

J: “This is not my fight.”

GR: “You can help us, or we’ll send you right back to that cell.”

J: “If I do this, you’ll give me a ship, and let me go. And you won’t follow me.”

GR: (glowers, does that jaw muscle thing.)

MM: Very well.

Or, you know, something like that. Jyn has a clear core objective, with minimal pipe-laying: go to Jedah, get the plans, GTFO of the Rebellion forever. (I love that line about how flags don’t matter if you don’t look up.) Jyn knows Jedah is enormously dangerous; she knows Saw might kill her. But if this gets the Rebellion off her back, so be it. Jyn is a selfish loner; we know she has a heart of gold, but it’s buried deep down.

(I’d personally change the prison break a bit, so the rebels’ attack gives Jyn an opening to make a break for it—almost like what happens in the film, but with a slight change of emphasis so Jyn does most of the escaping herself before the rebels find her, thus giving her a chance to shine, and establishing her love of freedom and her desire to stay the hell out of the rebellion—and then change the Jedah sequences she she leads Cassian around, since after all this is Saw Gerrera territory and she’s the resident Saw expert—but we’re talking about least-effort fixes here, and you could almost fix the Mon Mothma conversation with Aftereffects and a rainy afternoon.)

This saves the revelation that Galen Erso is alive, and working for the Empire, for the next act, when we really need it. Saw’s religious awe at the coincidence of Jyn’s arrival makes a lot more sense now—how can the Ersos have come back to haunt me after all these years?—and plays in to the central theme of destiny-as-bear-trap. When Saw asks what Jyn wants, we should know the answer is, “freedom,” and “to be left alone.”

But the hologram changes everything.

Jyn learns her father is alive, and worked on the Death Star, and placed a flaw in the plans. He’ll help the rebels if they can extract him. Then Jedah blows up. Everyone leaves. We know things now that we did not know before, and the act break leaves us in profound uncertainty. What comes next?

Getting to Edou Should be a Conflict that Jyn Wins

The scene leading up to Our Heroes’ trip to Edou (sucky rain planet) is one of the most tangled and weird in the film. There has to be a transition scene bridging the two planets, but everyone wants to go to the same place. They have different reasons for getting there—Jyn wants to rescue Dad, but Cassian wants to kill him. But Cassian can’t say that. Yet a scene must have conflict! So the argument between Jyn and Cassian about Edou comes off as a “I say your three cent titanium tax doesn’t go too far enough” moment on the iMax screen. What if, instead, Cassian wants to go back to Yavin to report; Jyn argues, no, we have to rescue my father. Jyn used to want to disappear; now, she wants her family. Cassian thought Galen was dead—now he’s a living collaborator! Jyn claims her father was secretly sabotaging the Death Star—but, Cassian points out, the Death Star works just fine! Finally, as in the film, Cassian sets course for Edou. But when Cassian fills in Rebel High Command, General Rando orders him to execute Galen, not rescue him.  The Death Star is too dangerous. Erso must be destroyed. DUN DUN DUUUUUN!

Now, instead of frontloading Galen’s survival and Cassian’s betrayal, both enter the story as new information at an already tense moment, driving our heroes to dramatic action (and conflict). Yes, we lose a little by not having Cassian’s orders to kill Galen hanging over his entire relationship with Jyn, but then, Cassian’s introduction features him shooting a buddy in the back; we know he’ll do the same to Jyn if the situation requires. Having him receive the kill order here would feel like the dramatic flowering of a seeded tendency to Just Follow Orders and Do the Needful Thing. These two small fixes get us a lot, and all they ask in return is a reshot scene in a U-Wing cargo hold.

From there, everything proceeds exactly as shot. With one addition: Galen, dying, tells Jyn she can find the Death Star plans on Scarif. Jyn goes back, tries to rally the rebellion, fails, and the movie proceeds more or less to credits.

It’s not a perfect fix, but playing the film through in my head, I think these two changes make Jyn a clearer, more active character, and transform muddled, pipe-heavy scenes into lean, active ones. All the acts, at least, have purpose, and each phase of action feels markedly different from the one before.

There’s a risk, of course—Galen being alive again, then dead, might incur whiplash. But the current sequence is a bit whiplash-inducing too!

The Unrelated and Expensive Thing

The last of these really isn’t as important, and is a bit more expensive to fix, but, essentially: every single rebel on and orbiting Scarif in the final act wants that planetary shield down, from the moment the Rebel Fleet arrives and the Imperials slam it shut. Gold Wing spends most of the battle bombing the shield! Yet we spend at least three characters and about ten minutes of screen time trying to tell the Rebels that they need to take the shield down. Which they already knew! I mean, how else were they planning to get the plans off Scarif?

This doesn’t really matter, because it’s background logic; we know what Our Heroes need to do, and why it’s hard for them to do it, which is all drama requires. If I was writing this, I’d remove the planetary shield entirely; Our Heroes arrive under a Star Destroyer’s guns, which is plenty intimidating. Then, as the Rogues attack the beach, the Imperials have total air superiority—until the Rebel fleet jumps in. But the Rebels can’t help our Rogues much—because Star Destroyers (even small Victories like the ones over Scarif) have a lot of fighters on board. The shuttle blows up, plus Our Heroes are cut off by waves of stormtroopers, so they have to beam the plans up to the fleet; perhaps the base starts jamming rebel transmissions, and the jamming switch is the thing Chirrut has to turn off.

All this would be an easy fix on the page; removing a planetary shield is a job for the delete key, and most of the battle descriptions could continue unchanged. Unfortunately, the same fix on the big screen would cost tens of millions of SFX dollars. Perhaps we could make the sequence less clunky with a few changed lines of dialogue, though: Chirrut needs to turn off the jammer, and maybe the Mon Cal cruiser has to drop its *own* shields briefly, or hold still, or aim its antennas, or do something special, to receive such a huge file.

Still, action’s a lot easier to fix on the page.

Doing It Yourself

Obviously there are bigger fixes, but several of those (tie the characters more closely, give Jyn and Director Krennick some screen time to get to hate each other, have a more elaborate heist or war plot) amount to “shoot a different movie;” the question here is, having shot this one, how do you fix it? And I think these changes would be noticeable, dramatic improvements. In fact, I suspect some of them were even part of the director’s cut of the film. The Yavin IV briefing with Mon Mothma, in specific, is so overstuffed, and Jyn’s reaction to seeing her father is so powerful, that I wonder if Galen wasn’t presumed dead in the first act of the director’s cut, before executive interference.

This is a fun exercise when watching movies; it’s tremendously useful when approaching a manuscript. The more I’ve written, the smaller my structural edits tend to be; writing Two Serpents Rise I dragged work all over the damn place, moved a decent chunk of the climax to the first act, and rejoiced in demolition and architecture. Edits on Four Roads Cross were far more contained, focusing on stating character objectives directly for the reader, and adding more emotional resonance. Edits for Highway Kind, my next book, trended similarly: a few tight alterations fixed many issues at once. It’s easy to say “they should have made a different movie,” or “written a different book,” but it’s also useful to ask, “what would have made the book I read, or the movie I saw, work?”

Not Enough

Content warning: Orlando.

So.  Here we are.

First, some links:



The Pulse shooting happened as we flew back into the US.  Being so far from media and friends, from the US context in that moment, seemed wrong.  Surreal.  We felt corners of the tragedy from push notifications on cell phone lock screens, from headlines glimpsed on airport CNN, from friends checked in safe on social media services we rarely use.  As the taxi drove us home, the TD Garden and the Bunker Hill Bridge were both lit up in rainbows.

I read and I read and I read.  I’m furious.  I’m sad.  I look for things to do.  Human action feels so weak—this tragedy, like the others, happens after so many have already given so much.  There is terror around its teeth.  We need Mater Misericordiae.  We need thousand-armed Guanyin.

We have ourselves.

To my friends who identify as LGBTQ+ in public or in their hearts, to those of you who aren’t my friends, to the people who will be hurt by the accident of holding some sliver of culture in common with a murderer: I’m sorry.  I see you.  I want to help, and I hesitate even to even write this, because it’s not for me to validate your struggles, your lives: they glow.  You bless yourselves.

Writing is a slow weapon.  It’s slower than bullets, than dollars.  It feels too slow.  Sometimes, it feels futile—a monk copying books by candlelight, by hand, in a Greek he can barely pronounce, while shadows crowd closer.

I want to help make this something that does not happen.

Comments off.

Uncanny Story and Kit Bonesaw

Hello, friends! I have a new story live on Uncanny Magazine: Big Thrull and the Askin’ Man, an oral history / culture hero / dangers of anthropology story.  In which there is a troll.  Named Thrull.

Everybody knows about Thrull. Thrull like legend among us folk—biggest, greenest, meanest, nastiest, and dirtiest of all—with one big difference: legends false, Thrull true. We tell the story of Thrull and the reindeer feast, and the story of Thrull and the Mountain Witches, and the story of how Thrull wrestled Winter and wed Summer on Grandmother Rock, and the story of how Thrull broke Stone Peak making love, but the best story I know, that the story of Thrull and the Askin’ Man. Now pour some hard stuff for yourself, and pour a glass for me. Set your tape deck down and listen. This tells the day Thrull got smart.

Read the rest on Uncanny Magazineor, for bonus awesome, listen to the story, on your computers or phone-adjacent devices, as read by the brilliant Heath Miller on the Uncanny Podcast!

I’m pushing toward the end of a new book, which, depending on the timing of editorial notes on the book after Four Roads Cross, I hope to finish (at least in rough first-drafty form) by late May, in time to devote a month to convention / book launch / publicity season.  In the meantime, Four Roads Cross is up for pre-order, and looks awesome.  I finished page proofs Sunday, and now we’re off to the production races!

Also, well, last week a series of Twitter jokes around an odd murder mystery title led to the creation of Kit Bonesaw, Murder Life Planner, a sort of interior designer Moriarty called in to plan and execute only the finest-grade murders.  Kit now has fan art.


Clearly a book, or at least a short story, is in order.  Initial notes involved Kit’s RISD graduate apprentice and a sort of Narbonic meets Hannibal vibe.  Scheming to continue.  I’ll keep you all appraised, don’t worry.

Well, maybe you should worry.

Didn’t You See Our First Movie? We Drive

I’m on the road, so, only a few updates today.

First: Brian Staveley’s The Last Mortal Bond is out this week!  This is the last volume in his Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne trilogy, a huge event, sharply written, with a deeply morally satisfying conclusion.  Staveley will be drifting through Boston on his launch tour next week, and I’ll be interviewing him at Brookline Booksmith at 7:00 pm on March 24!

Second: every time I pack, especially for long conferences, I thank various Powers and Agencies that I found the following website.  If you travel a lot and like to look, well, unwrinkled on (or shortly after) arrival, give it a looksee.

Chess Thoughts. Hugo Thoughts, Too!

I’m working a bit under the weather this week, so: here’s a pretty great video which you may have seen elsewhere.  Chess grandmaster Maurice Ashley challenges a NYC chess hustler to a game, without revealing his true identity.  Got to wonder what the hustler thought about being on camera, but setting that aside, it’s a great clip and well worth your five minutes.

I first saw this video on Boingboing a while back, but when Shut Up and Sit Down reblogged it, they added this link to the actual game played, which is a whole different kind of interesting.  My last exposure to computerized chess was, god, a little over a decade now.  As you walk through the game (right and left arrows move you forward and back, respectively), note how the move list in the left sidebar indicates when each player makes a mistake—not a rules mistake, to be clear, but a tactical or strategic mistake, according to the computer’s calculation.

Also really cool: the health bar beside the board, and the graph beneath, registering the positional advantage of black and white.  You can actually see, move by move, how white loses!  It’s one thing to know, in theory, that positional chess play requires developing pieces and controlling the center of the board.  It’s another to see white take a huge dive in the graph at move 15 when they play Nh2.  This sort of thing really makes clear why people are excited about the Alpha Go result—better computer play offers human players a deeper understanding of a beloved game, and develops the art overall.

(Food for thought, though no guarantees about nutritional content of said food: to what extent is a computer capable of placing the correct moves in a Go game, or a chess game, actually performing the activity humans reflexively describe as “playing go”?  A professional chess player develops patience, mental endurance, and profound mental habits required to bend her omnivore-scavenger brain to the profoundly non-omnivore-scavenger activity of staring at a game board for several hours at a time, oblivious to any potential predators creeping up behind.  These are additional “rules” to the game as played by humans—or at least, they’re constraints to which human players are subjected.  “Learning to play chess,” for a human, is really “learning how to navigate human embodied cognition in such a way as to win a chess game.”  Is a hydraulic car-moving robot stronger than a champion weightlifter?  On paper it can move more weight.  But I suspect we use the word “strong” to mean different things in different contexts.)

(In case this isn’t clear, what I’m not doing here is attempting to qualify away AlphaGo, or computational chess playing, or hydraulic car-moving robots.  They’re all obviously accomplishing the tasks for which they were designed!  There’s no room in a checkmate for qualia.  But along the way, I think developments in artificial intelligence reveal unexamined assumptions about the nature of the tasks they’re designed to confront—they force us to ponder the context of thought.)

(I suppose I for one am supposed to welcome our new robot overlords at this stage in the conversation, aren’t I?)

Setting that aside, news!

Thanks as ever.  Also: check out today’s episode of #ColdWitch!

Magical Deliveries

What’s this?


What’s this!!!


There are t-shirts in the box!IMG_2800

With skulls!IMG_2804

And logos and they rock!IMG_2780Emily Ettlinger, a student at RISD, put together these amazing Craft Sequence t-shirts, complete with King in Red and Caleb t-shirt cartoon!  They are totally great and are now the officially christened Red King Consolidated official corporate volleyball team t-shirt.  I am going to wear mine until the foil comes off.  Check out her behance page!  I am full of excitement!  Also a bit terrified by the unseasonably warm weather that means I can wear t-shirts outside in, you know, February, but the fact the sky is falling shouldn’t prevent us from enjoying ourselves meanwhile.

Other news from the home front: progress on Mysterious New Book and on Bookburners Season Two continues.  I’m sketching out a couple of other really exciting projects the details of which I hope I can share soon.  February has pulled me in many directions—for the most part good ones, but it’s been harder to center the daily practice, so it’s nice to see many of the side hustles reaching a point where I can fold them into the writing schedule.

I’m also putting the finishing touches on copyedits for Four Roads Cross.  This book was so much fun to write, and I love getting the chance to work with familiar characters again.  This feels like a homecoming book to me—not the end, but a waystation.  Remember, folks: preorders are love!

Also in recent news: Nebulas! Nominees for the 2015 Nebulas hit the ‘net a little over a week ago, and the list highlights just how great a year 2015 was for SF.

I’m traveling a bit this week, so I’ll wrap this up here.  We can talk about Hugo Awards and the like next week, unless something wild seizes my attention.

Events Approach!

A collection of thoughts for your pleasure:

  • This Thursday evening, if you’re in the greater Boston area, I’ll be delivering a short talk and Q&A about science fiction and fantasy at the Ames Free Library!  The event starts at 6:30; I’ll read a bit, talk a bit, and answer questions.  Come on by!
  • A couple Thursdays after that, on Feb. 18, Pandemonium Books and Games will host a three-author event in which Charles Stross, Walter Jon Williams, and I will choose champions from the audience to fight to the death with boffer swords (it’s possible to kill someone with a boffer sword, you just have to work harder), or else possibly discuss our books, fantasy, science fiction, and whatever insanity occurs to us at the moment.
  • I, the World’s Slowest Television Human, am five episodes into Jessica Jones now, and still loving it.  Specific greatnesses: how Ritter’s dialogue is beat-for-beat noir, the show’s constant and self-conscious gender-inversion of noir tropes, the soundtrack, Luke, Trish, Jessica, Tenant as a subversion and commentary on his Doctor…  Also, I like how the show abandons the easy procedural formula for a more subtle, HBO-ish “introduce specific series relevant problem-solve specific series relevant problem” structure, to preserve tone and pacing.  (Trying to feature a new case every episode would feel too tight for the noir pacing JJ wants to imitate, IMO—this was basically my only problem with Veronica Mars s1: the procedural elements frequently forced a pace too up-tempo for non-noir.  Which was fine for VM, which wanted to be a combination of noir and Nancy Drew, was fine!  But JJ wants to be a pure-play antihero noir, as far as I can tell, and it’s succeeding brilliantly.)
  • Kaitlin Tremblay’s survey of friendship in video games, and the power of lack of romance, plays into a line of thought I’ve been developing since Agent Carter blew my mind open last year, about the radical nature of friendship.  One day soon, probably after I finish a draft of this book, expect to see a long essay from me on this subject.
  • My next few months are a little wild.  I’m writing a book now; after I’m finished with a draft of this I’ll start drafting another book.  I’ll keep to my once-a-week schedule, but for the near term, expect slightly fewer four thousand word pieces of RPG neepery.  Apologies for that.  I’m fighting to restore your regularly scheduled neepery service with all due speed.
  • Speaking of which, get on board with The Witch Who Came In From The Cold.  Cassandra Rose Clarke’s written our second episode, out today—and the plot continues to thicken.  Subscribe now!


Boston and Detroit Con Schedules for January!

I tried writing this post in the WordPress app, because Apps are the Wave of the Future of course, but when I clicked *publish*, the app said “a scheduling error has occurred” and promptly ate my entire post.  On the one hand, rassum frassum. (Which I had to wrestle with Autocorrect to properly type, it seems to think I really want to say “reassume Crassus.” I’m not entirely certain what that means.) On the other hand, I’m realizing just how long it’s been since a device just up and ate my words like that.  Time marches on, I suppose.  The question is, in what direction?

Cutting to the point: I’ll be in Boston and Detroit in Official Public Person capacity in the next two weeks!  Come see me and hang out and stuff!

Arisia! Boston, MA (Waterfront Westin), Jan 15-19

I’ll be at the con Saturday and Sunday at least, and helping out at the Choice of Games booth.  Sah hello if you’re in the neighborhood!

Saturday, 5:30 pm 

Cultural Assumptions in SF/F – Literature, Panel – 1hr 15min – Burroughs (3E)
Recent novels such as The Three Body Problem, The Grace of Kings, and Throne of the Crescent Moon join other works that challenge the cultural assumptions behind mainstream (American and English) science fiction and fantasy. How are these genres being reimagined beyond just making the space cowboys swear in Mandarin?
John Chu (m), Max Gladstone, Crystal Huff, Kiini Ibura Salaam, John Scalzi

Sunday, 11:30 am 

Steven Universe: We’ll Always Find a Way – Media, Panel – 1hr 15min – Burroughs (3E)
Rebecca Sugar’s Steven Universe has been a breakout hit for Cartoon Network. The first series on the network created by a woman, it tells powerful, funny, and moving stories in tiny doses, and has dealt uncompromisingly with issues around gender, childhood, and family in ways both unexpected and delightful. It’s also telling a great long-form adventure story. We’ll talk about all elements of this show in a panel that, like the show itself, will appeal to fans of all ages.
Cassandra Lease (m), Gillian Daniels, Max Gladstone, Juliet Kahn, Cody Mattes

Sunday, 4:00 pm 

Pratchett and His Death – Literature, Panel – 1hr 15min – Burroughs (3E)
Terry Pratchett, tragically lost to us this year, had a unique relationship with Death. Over the course of his Discworld novels, he created a Death who felt like a friend. Death winds through the books with a sense of comfort, showing us that we should not be afraid, we’re merely starting on a different journey. At this panel, we’ll discuss Death and the other great characters and works of Pratchett.
Christopher Davis (m), Vikki Ciaffone, Max Gladstone, Sharone Horowit-Hendler, A.J. Odasso, Sarah Smith

Sunday, 7:00 pm 

Surviving Manliness: Detoxifying Masculinity – Literature, Panel – 1hr 15min – Marina 2 (2E)
Harry Dresden, James Bond and the Winchester brothers seem to suffer more from a kind of toxic masculinity than they do from their antagonists. Many characters who suffer from their manliness seem mired in the same mistakes over and over. This panel is about characters who find a healthier path. What stories and characters provide examples we can use to find a different path in a time of changing expectations on all people, regardless of gender expression?
Erik Amundsen (m), William Ian Blanton, Max Gladstone, Daniel José Older, Sarah Weintraub

Confusion, Novi MI, Jan 22-25 

Friday, 7:00 pm

Mass Tor author signing and tomfoolery!  A grand slate of Tor books authors will be signing at the Livonia Barnes & Noble at 111 Haggerty Road in Northville, MI—John Scalzi, VE Schwab, Greg Van Eekhout, Wes Chu, Susan Doyle, yours truly… You can come to this event even if you’re not a member of the convention, so drop on by!  We’ll have a grand time.

Saturday, 10:00 am

The Fiction of Political SF – Leelanau

Most “political” science fiction doesn’t really deal with politics, it deals with the setting out of ideologies. In other words, it tells stories that have little to do with running a government. The result is a debate of ideas where the political is described by greed and corruption, but never the merely bureaucratic. Why are these tropes recycled time and again? How can politics be approached in a more authentic way and remain interesting to readers?
Kameron Hurley, Patrick Tomlinson, Justin Landon (m), Amal El-Mohtar, Max Gladstone

Saturday, 2:00 pm

Beyond the Hero’s Journey – Charlevoix

Joseph Campbell wrote about the hero’s journey in 1949 and it has become the default character arc of western writers for the past sixty years. But, there are many human experiences beyond heroism as narrowly defined by Campbell. What narrative types exist beyond the Hero’s Journey? And why aren’t they more widely used?
Cameron McClure, Brian McClellan, Max Gladstone, Miriam Weinberg (M), Paul Kemner

Saturday, 4:00 pm

Autograph Session!

Saturday, 5:00 pm

Generations of Genre – Isle Royale

For one reader, “traditional fantasy” is pre-Tolkienian, pre-genre, sui-generis works; for another, it’s Forgotten Realms and David Eddings. Equally, for one reader The Hunger Games is a young adult dystopia, while for another it’s science fiction. Can the evolution of such terms be mapped onto changing demographics — is there such a thing as GenX fantasy, or Baby Boomer science fiction? And do any terms retain their currency, and describe common ground across generations?
Laura Resnick, Steve Buchheit, Lynne M. Thomas, Max Gladstone (M), Stina Leicht

Saturday, 6:00 pm

It’s the Economy, Stupid! – Leelanau

National economies are complicated. Far more complicated than Dark Lords and Evil Queens. Nevertheless, books like James SA Corey’s The Expanse series and Katherine Addison’s The Goblin Emperor manage to use economic pressures to create compelling motivations and narrative tension. What are the essential parts for a story built around economics? What’s appealing about these kinds of stories and do the resonate more today than they did a decade ago?
Carl Engle-Laird, Max Gladstone, Kameron Hurley, Ann Leckie, Brent Weeks

And that’s all, folks!  I look forward to seeing some of you in the next few weeks.

The Force Awakens RPG Madness

Good morning 2015!  I’ve been so busy vacating that I forgot to write my Star Wars Geekery post!  So here we go.

To start off: Uncanny Magazine published an essay of mine about how Star Wars shaped science fiction.  You can read it here; it covers a lot of ground, but it starts like this:

I was in high school when Star Wars: Episode I hit theaters.

And I was psyched.

At this point only one magic word would convince me to lay down my dish pit money, and that word was “lightsabers.” I owned every Star Wars comic Dark Horse ever published. I can still give you a beat–for–beat account of the Tragedy of Ulic Qel–Droma. I thought Nomi Sunrider was a fantastic character name. (I still kind of do.) There’s a dude in those comics who is a tree, and a Jedi who is a rhinoceros, and they’re fantastic. I owned all the EU books. I played the tabletop RPG. I watched fanvids obsessively; I still would basically melt if I ever met Kevin Rubio face to face.

And continues!

I saw The Force Awakens on opening night, and the movie was enormous fun—even more fun the second viewing than the first.  My Thursday evening pre-release felt incredibly stressful: having been burned before, I held each scene up to the light and turned it ’round, thinking, am I really enjoying this, or just telling myself I am?  I backed away and re-approached each scene from different angles.  I poked fingers through plot holes, I wondered why Starkiller Base left me cold, I critiqued cause-and-effect storytelling, and I walked away satisfied with the whole and excited by its parts (All the new characters!  Han and Chewie!  Carrie Fisher!).  The second time through, knowing the story’s bones set right, knowing there was no Jar-Jar—using Jar-Jar here metonymically for the myriad oddnesses of the prequel trilogy—I let myself go, and felt all the rush I didn’t let myself feel the first time.  Drama and emotions built!  Storylines progressed!  I cared.  I cared enough for my storytelling hindbrain to start fixing issues I’d thought were irreconcilable on first viewing.  And for the first time in a long while, I’m excited about telling stories in the Star Wars universe again.

I think part of my excitement stems from how open the universe feels.  A lot of the setting power of the Original Trilogy rises from its focus on the Imperial Periphery.  We see the edges of power, where the Empire projects force and interesting stuff happens, where the destinies of nations hinge on a single battle or moral choice, rather than the metropole, which corners more slowly if at all.  The prequel trilogy’s political ambitions tangled its story with the engines of power that drive the Galaxy Far, Far Away—and limited its characters to maneuvering within those engines, rather than “taking the first step into a wider world.”

Of course, I’m the last person on the planet to decry storytelling about metropolitan politics—that’s the Craft Sequence in a nutshell—but itinerant adventure-having Jedi aren’t a great lens for that sort of story.  The cinematic Jedi tool is the lightsaber; think about how often people in Lincoln, say, or The West Wing, draw swords.  The Prequel trilogy shows Jedi crushed by a political machine whose workings they barely appreciate.  (It’s been funny to read the small flight of essays that hit the web in the leadup to TFA about how “ZOMG upon revisiting the prequel trilogy Palpatine’s plot TOTALLY MAKES SENSE;” the problem with those movies was never the mechanics or inscrutability of Palpatine’s plot—I mean, weren’t its rough outlines pretty obvious starting in the Phantom Menace?  The films’ problems lay in direction, storytelling, screenwriting, characterization, occasional failures of actor chemistry, a Hobbit trilogy level disconnect between the cinematic approach and the story being told…  But that’s another essay.)

Anyway, my point is that stories about the workings of political machinery tend to be dense and contextual, offering little room for sideline storytelling.  (Though it does exist.)  By contrast, OT Star Wars and TFA Star Wars are set in Casablanca—a contorted mess of Lego blocks replete with foundations onto which we can build our own stories, an embarrassment of dramatic stakes for us to mold into new characters.

Which, of course, started me thinking about gaming.  The core TFA cast stat up really easily in the old West End Games Star Wars d6 system.  In fact, every dramatic beat in the story (save, arguably, one) is totally rules justifiable!  I know some people have been kvetching about imbalance, specifically w/r/t Rey, so let’s walk through some of the pivotal table interactions in Star Wars: The Force Awakens and see how unfounded that claim is.

(I’m about to start in on the really detailed spoilers here, by the way.  Like, beat by beat spoilers.)

(Last warning.  Turn back now.)

(NB also: I played so much SWd6 that rules-as-written and generations of master-student house rules are all kind of mushed together in my head.  I’m doing my best to ensure the interactions below are consistent with the system, but I’ve probably mucked something up somewhere along the line.)

Okay so, this is about to get really nerdy, even for me.

SWd6, if you’ve never played it before, is my favorite system for Star Wars roleplaying.  (I haven’t played the ‘new,’ as in several years old, Fantasy Flight engine yet; I’ll pick it up soon, but I have to run a Tenra Bansho Zero game and a Night’s Black Agents game first, and maybe Primetime Adventures.)  SWd6’s great strength is its flexibility: rather than choosing character classes (e.g. ‘I’m a level 7 Jedi,’ which sounds pretty goofy no matter how you slice it), you build your character with a mix of stat and skill dice.  Starting human player characters split 18 dice between the following stats:

Dexterity (Everything that involves coordination and speed)

Strength (Everything that involves grit & brute force)

Technical (Fixin’ stuff)

Mechanical (Usin’ stuff)

Knowledge (Knowin’ stuff)

Perception (Seein’ or feelin’ stuff)

Whenever your character wants to do something that seems like it qualifies under a particular stat, you roll the number of six sided dice you’ve assigned to that stat.  So, say, Jane wants to build her Stormtrooper, Finn.  Stormtroopers are good at shooting things (they are, honest, most of the time we see Stormtroopers in the OT miss it’s because they’ve been explicitly ordered not to hit things).  Human stats range between 2D and 4D; Jane starts with 4D in Dexterity, for zapping things and dodging, 3D in Mechanical, which covers using large gun emplacements, and maybe 4D in Perception, which is rolled to determine who goes first in combat.  So, we’re at 11D; Finn only has seven dice left!  But it makes sense that a brainwashed Stormtrooper wouldn’t know much about the galaxy, and he probably wouldn’t have much technical knowledge—that’s why the First order has an engineering corps, after all.  So, 2D each in Tech and Know, and 3D in Strength, which seems about right for a stormtrooper.

Then the player splits seven skill dice among those stats, which give her character advantages in specific areas of expertise.  For example, Jane thinks, Finn’s had extensive and focused military training, let’s give him and extra +2D in Blaster (Dex), +1D in Dodge (Dex), +1D in Brawl (Str), +1D in Starship Gunnery (Mech), +1D in Survival (Know), +1D in Running (Dex).  So, when Jane wants Finn to shoot at someone, she’s rolling 6D (4D dex + 2D blaster).

Meanwhile, Rey’s player builds her.  Rey needs Tech for scavenging, which would be a Capital Starship Repair roll, so 4D there, maybe 3D in Mech, 4D in Dex because that’s where you have running and melee combat, 2D in Knowledge because she’s lived on the back-end of space forever, 2D in Strength, to which we’ll add skill dice for climbing and jumping around old spaceships, and that leaves 3D for Perception.  Rey wants to be good at thumping things with a stick, at languages, at climbing, to have a strong will, and to be able to pilot cheap spaceships, so: +1D Melee (Dex), +2D Languages (Know), +2D climbing (Str), +2D willpower (Perc), and +1D Space Transports (Mech).  This is a lot of Willpower, but Rey’s player likes arguing that Willpower should let her do things like evade wound penalties.  So.  Hooray!

In the first session, Finn breaks Poe out, and they run for Jakku.  Finn’s manning the guns, rolling 4D to hit (Starship Gunnery of 4D)—which is a decent amount, enough to hit a capital-ship scale target.  Good times!

Later, when Finn and Rey are trying to escape a First Order assault, they end up in a shockingly maneuverable (given how crap it looks) YT-1300 freighter, pursued by TIE fighters.  Finn’s having a much harder time hitting the TIEs than he had against the gun emplacements—Imperial NPC job-relevant skills tend to hover around 5D for convenience.  Hit vs. dodge is a simple opposed die roll—so on average, the TIE pilots have no problem dodging Finn.  They can even fire back at the same time, since Star Wars d6 has a permissive multiple-actions-per-round system: you just subtract 1D from each action you want to perform, for each action you want to perform beyond the first.  So, a TIE fighter that wants to dodge and fire in the same round is rolling 4D for each, assuming 5D starfighter gunnery and 5D starfighter piloting. This is a good deal for Rey, since she’s only flying the space freighter at 4D!

But there are too many fighters, so Rey decides to fly toward the wreck of a crashed Star Destroyer she knows well.  That way, the TIEs will have to roll piloting to evade rubble, dodge to evade Finn’s guns, and gunnery, if they want to fire.  Of course, Rey will have to split her action between piloting through the rubble and dodging blasters—but Rey argues that, since she’s familiar with the Star Destroyer wreckage, she should have an easier time navigating it than the TIE pilots.  The GM, feeling that this is a good argument, says Rey’s piloting roll is Moderate difficulty, while the TIE’s is Difficult; if Rey rolls an 11 or above on her three dice, she succeeds, while the TIEs need 15-20 on their three dice, which is very hard.

Hitting an eleven on three dice is a little better than average, but Rey decides to chance it, especially since one of those three dice is the Wild Die—a feature of the game.  If you roll a 6 on the Wild Die, you get to roll again, and add that result to your total.  So!  Rey rolls well, and between the TIEs rolling 3d6 against Finn’s 4d6 Starship Gunnery, and 3d6 against the Difficult terrain, they’re left with a single TIE pursuer.  Awesome!  Unfortunately, one of the TIEs had an exploding wild die on their Starship Gunnery roll, and hit Finn’s gun turret; the guns are frozen in a forward position!  Now the TIE is only rolling two actions: Starfighter Piloting against the terrain, and Gunnery against Rey’s piloting, 4D against 4D, with Rey’s freighter already damaged!

Rey decides this needs to be dealt with fast.  First, Rey dives into the Star destroyer wreckage, which she argues increases the DC by the same amount for each pilot—so Rey’s rolling 4D and looking for a 15-20.  Not easy!  But the TIE, which follows, decides he’d rather roll 5D against a DC 20-25 than risk rolling 4D piloting to get a 4D shot at Our Heroes.

At which point:

Rey: “Finn’s guns are jammed forward, right?”

Jane: “I can’t move them at all.”

Rey: “Can I pilot the ship to set up his shot?”

GM: “Um.  That’d be a Hard roll at least.”

Rey: “Well, that’s why I have these character points.”

Character points are a sort of player currency: they can be used to increase skills between adventures with GM permission, or spent during an adventure to add one die to any roll, and each character point die rerolls on a 6.  Characters start with 3 CP; Rey spends all three, rolling 7D, for an average of ~21.  One of the character point dice comes up 6, then 4, and the TIE fighter is in Finn’s sights.

Character points, by the way, are only one of the two forms of player currency in SWd6.  The other, the Force Point, is much more powerful—but also riskier.  Characters that are not Force sensitive start with only one; characters that are, start with two.  A Force point, spent, doubles the number of dice a player rolls for her next action.  But Force force points are gained and recovered in an unpredictable fashion: a Force Point spent for evil ends is lost, and the character gains a Dark Side point.  A Force Point spent for selfish ends is lost forever.  A Force Point spent for heroic ends is earned back at the end of the adventure.  A Force Point spent in above-the-call-of-duty heroics at the dramatically appropriate moment, is earned back with interest: the player gets two Force Points back at the end of the adventure.  The GM has sole authority over the Force Point economy.  Players using a Force Point should feel scared, and brave, but feel what they’re doing is worth the risk.

Anyway.  Here we are: Finn fires.


We’ll skim forward.  (Lots of role-playing ensues; Rey rolls a 1 on her Wild Die while attempting to close the blast doors to save Han, which releases the Big Squiggly Monsters, which Finn spends several turns trying to brawl with to save himself.)  The battle on Moz’s planet is pretty simple: Rey gets the drop on a Stormtrooper and hits him with her 4D Dex stat.  Finn gets to use a lightsaber!  Lightsabers in SWd6 are dangerous, but not impossible, for non-Jedi to use: you roll either Lightsaber combat, which is Dex, or Melee Weapons, also Dex, depending on which edition of the rules you’re playing with.  A house rule my group played with was, if you roll a 1 on your Wild Die while using a lightsaber, you deal Lightsaber damage to yourself—which is Bad News Bears, since Lightsabers roll a minimum of 5D damage against your Puny Human strength of 2D or 3D, and if you fail your roll by 9-12, you’re Incapacitated.  Fail by 16, and you’re killed outright.

Jedi have an edge, however: the Lightsaber Combat skill, which, well, is a bit broken.  Here’s how Force Powers work: there are three Force Skills, Control (used to control your own body), Sense (used to sense the world around you), and Alter (used to control the world around you).  Lightsaber combat is a Jedi power that involves rolling both Control and Sense; if the Jedi succeeds at both rolls, she adds her Sense die to her skill with Lightsaber or Melee Weapons, and her Control die to damage.  So, a Jedi with Control 3D, Sense 2D, and Lightsaber 5D rolls 7D to hit and 8D damage.  Which is a lot.  This will be relevant later!

Anyway, Finn does fine rolling his 4D Dex with the saber, until he runs into a Stormtrooper who actually has spent points on Melee Weapons, at which point, Yipe!  Things turn bad.  But, like I said, skimming forward.

So, Rey’s captured by Kylo Ren.  Ren’s an interesting character: he’s a powerful Dark Side Force user, but most of the cool stuff we see him do, like grabbing folks and snatching blaster bolts in midair, involves a lot of Alter.  His telepathic interrogation’s clearly him being pretty good at Sense, but it’s also difficult—trembling hand, intense focus, etc, compared to the offhand way he tosses people around with Alter.  The Receptive Telepathy power is actively resisted by Perception, or possibly Willpower depending on house rules; if the Jedi doesn’t double the target’s roll, she can only read surface thoughts, which explains Ren’s chatty, “Don’t think of pink elephants” approach to interrogation.  Let’s give Ren a very uneven, Dark-Side-y build: say 5D Alter, 3D sense, 1D control.

Ren’s 3D sense isn’t getting much of anywhere against Rey’s 6D Willpower; it has trouble even against her 4D Perception.  And, by the way—the GM decides this is a dramatically appropriate moment for Rey’s player to acquire some Force Skills, if she wants ’em.  This is, after all, her first exposure to the Force!

Rey’s player has been saving up character points for just such an emergency.  There’s a bit of confusion in the rules as to how, exactly, you “buy into” the Force after character creation, but let’s say the GM lets her buy 1d in each Force skill for 3 character points each.  Nine CP, and Rey has 1D Control, 1D Sense, 1D Alter.  And the first thing she decides to do, is use the Receptive Telepathy power to try to read Ren’s mind back.  Ren doesn’t even know she’s Force sensitive, so he doesn’t actively resist.  Rey spends a couple more character points to boost her Sense roll to 3D and rolls into Ren’s mind.  This is awesome, so the GM gives her a character point back.  We’ll say Rey is left with 5 CP; we’re three sessions into the adventure (Jakku, Han’s ship, Moz’s Place), and 5CP/session is a reasonable average.

Getting herself out of restraints is harder.  Rey’s player knows the Force can have a strong influence on the weak minded, and knows that the Stormtroopers are weak minded, but Rey doesn’t know much about the Force yet; she doesn’t have a clear power list.  The GM asks her to roll Control, Sense, and Alter; he makes a few notes, but says she fails: the Trooper’s mind is too strong.  She tries again; she describes bending her will against him, forcing him to obey her, and spends a character point on each roll.  The GM tells her she succeeds.  The GM keeps his ominous smile to himself, and gives Rey a character point.

Fast forward.

Kylo Ren has been hit by a Bowcaster bolt.  Bowcasters do *serious* damage (we put it at 5D, but that might have been a house rule), and it looks like Ren’s Puny Human Strength hovers at 2D.  He *should* be wounded or incapacitated, but he’s using a Force Power called “Control Pain” to, well, do exactly what it says on the tin; keeping that power running costs him 1D on every action, but at least he can act.  Finn and Rey are running away; Ren follows them.  Bringing up Lightsaber Combat requires a Control roll (he’s at 0D) and a Sense roll(2D), and keeping Lightsaber Combat up costs another 1D per round, but Ren figures it’s worth the extra net +1D to his Lightsaber skill rolls.  He smashes Rey into a tree (even with his penalties, 5D is still a lot of Alter), and faces Finn.  Let’s figure he’s rolling 8D for Lightsaber, counting the Lightsaber Combat bonus.  Finn’s still rolling 4D Melee.  He spends character points attacking Ren, but Ren out-averages him heavily; onscreen, Ren’s clearly dominating the fight, taking time out for blade flourishes.  (Finn’s player considers using a blaster, but remembers how easily Ren deals with those.)

Ren uses his Lightsaber rolls to back Finn against a tree, and starts toying with him, wounding him in the shoulder.  At the last extremity, Finn’s player recognizes that Fighting the Dark Side is totally heroic, and spends a Force Point, doubling Finn’s Melee to 8D.  Finn hits!  Ren Controls Pain *again*, spending his last character points to boost his Control skill from zero to 3D so he can make the check.  Now he’s keeping up three powers: Lightsaber combat, and 2x. Control Pain.  And he’s done toying around.  He hits the already-Wounded Finn for full damage; Finn’s Wound gives him -1D to his Strength roll to soak the lightsaber.  He 1s the Wild Die and goes down, Mortally Wounded.  The lightsaber falls in the snow.

Kylo Ren reaches for the lightsaber with the Force, because why not?  He’s at 2D to Alter, counting cumulative penalties, and he rolls low.  But, who else is around to stop him?


She wakes up, spends two character points, and her 3D beats Ren’s weaksauce 2D roll no problem.  The saber zips through the air to her waiting hand.  This is fucking awesome.  The table (Poe, Finn, BB-8) cheers!

Rey’s rolling 5D melee against Ren’s 7D saber.  Tense times.  They trade blows; Ren’s beating her, on average.  She tries to run, using her Climbing to get better position, but Ren follows.  As the terrain shifts, Ren backs her against a cliff.  “I’ll teach you to use the Force.”

Use the Force.  Rey’s scared.  She’s angry.  She closes her eyes, like Moz told her.  She spends a Force point.  And the Force, by which I mean the GM, offers her more power: the power to fight back, the power to stop Ren.

Rey calls upon the Dark Side.

Calling upon the Dark Side is an easy Perception roll, the first time you try it—and the difficulty increases by three each time.  Calling upon the Dark Side gives you a free Force point for immediate use, in addition to any Force Points you may have spent already.  The most conservative reading of the doubling rules suggest that Rey is now rolling three times her usual die codes.  And she gains a Dark Side Point, which will stain her soul until she makes amends.  She’s started down the Dark path, and forever will it dominate her destiny.

“But,” you say, “Rey doesn’t fall to the Dark Side.”

She doesn’t fall, no, she doesn’t turn evil.  But watch that scene again.  She closes her eyes.  She reaches for the Force.  And when she opens her eyes again, she snarls.  She beats Ren back with brute strength and vicious, choppy saber-blows, like Luke used in Return of the Jedi when the Dark Side tempted him.  When Ren’s forced to his knees, she circles him with the Dark Side stalk.  Daisey Ridley delivers a perfect physical quote of Ray Park’s Darth Maul.

In game terms, she’s rolling 15D.  She makes four attacks that round at 12D each, smashing through Ren’s defense.  He falls.  She almost finishes the job, but the ground erupts beneath her and she runs.

Rey carries the fight.  Saves Finn.  (Who gets his Force Point back, and maybe gets another one, too—fighting a Dark Jedi on your own, without Force powers?  There’s a solid argument for suicidal self-sacrifice here.)  Rey gets her Force point back, though she doesn’t get another one.  Rey finds the map; she ventures out to Skellig Michael, climbs several thousand stone steps, and meets Luke.

Who, after years of isolation after his Academy failed and his students fell to the Dark Side, turns around to see a young Force Sensitive woman, holding out a lightsaber, desperate for training, scared and awed and eager.  And in her heart: the touch of the Dark Side of the Force.

Violins swell.  Credits roll.

Rey’s rule mechanics are more interesting than those of, say, Finn, or Poe, or BB-8, but they’re still clear.  Everything she does fits easily within a straightforward build and a decent grasp of the rules.

Han firing the Bowcaster, though, now that makes no sense.  IIRC humans aren’t strong enough to use them, the kickback alone….  But that’s another post for another day.