Category Archives: Blather

Survival Mode: A narrative solo RPG actual play

That’s a mouthful. Let’s break it down.

  • Narrative: It’s formatted like a story – specifically, like serial fiction.
  • Solo RPG: It’s a role-playing game I’m playing my myself
  • Actual Play: I’ll be reporting on what’s going on.

So juggling those definitions around, basically I’m going to be playing a solo game and then formatting what happens as a serial story, posted over on taoscordian.com.

So what’s the premise?

A group of (more or less) average teenage gamers find themselves drawn into roleplaying scenarios, with no clue as to why they’re there or what’s going on.

On the one hand, this is blatantly an excuse for me to use disparate role-playing materials without needing to worry about how it all fits together.

One the other hand I do actually know what’s going on and how I’m going to work it into the plot, revealed over the course of their adventures.

How it Works

Essentially I’ll be playing the game out using commercial modules and a party of characters. I’ll be mostly serving as GM, and letting the dice decide what choices the “player” characters are making. Their game stats will likewise determine their success and failure.

The challenge, for me, is interpreting the results in a way that makes cohesive sense.

The Protagonists

Our characters are going to be teen gamers who are all part of the same group. That’s our basis. Beyond that, who knows?

We’re generating our characters randomly using the book Casting Call: Heroes Now. It’s a book of random charts and processes used to come up with characters. Generally useful for fleshing out and getting inspiration, we’re using them from the bottom up beyond the few basic foundations.

We roll some bones, and come up with the following characters.

  • Nick Perkins is an artist from a wealthy family, educated in the humanities and interested in attending art school in Europe after graduation.
  • Vera Novak is a Serbian immigrant with a strange and often tragic past, currently attending a tech school. She’s maybe the most physically imposing member of the party, or at least, in the best physical shape.
  • Ashly Najm is a former child star who took a few wrong turns in her past. She’s trying to put her life back in order, and is the newest of our group members to role playing games.
  • Marco Anderson is a true rags to riches story, a refugee that went from street kid to millionaire philanthropist through a series of coincidental and lucky events.
  • Josh Orwell is a suburban white otaku japanophile whose company is tolerated more often than enjoyed.

That’ the deal. If you’re interested in reading it, you can check it out here – I’m aiming to post new episodes Mondays.

Retrogaming 1982

1982 is the last year before the crash that brings the console market to its knees, the last year the Atari VCS isn’t called the Atari 2600, and the year the Apple II finally gets a strong contender in the home computer market.

1982 Arcade Games

We definitely see some strong entries in arcades as the golden age continues, notably one of my favorites in Donkey Kong Junior, where we see Mario as the game’s villain. Robotron 2084 gives us our first twin stick shooter, and Joust defeats the competition as the first successful co-op game. Other big releases this year are Popeye, Burgertime, Bump n’ Jump, Moon Patrol, and Pengo.

1982 Atari VCS games

Atari seems some highs – Pitfall – and lows – E.T, the game that perhaps epitomizes the terrible licensed rushed-into-production game that brings the video game giant down. Atlantis is another release popular with video game tournaments, and the console gets competent ports of the arcade hits Wizards of Wor and Venture. Games for the console, with a few exceptions, continue to offer increased gameplay as the programmers learn new tricks to get around the system’s limitations.

1982 Apple II Games

In 1982 the aging Apple II has to compete with some younger competitors with superior technology, but its audience base is still enough of an edge that most developers will target it as their primary platform. Many of the games released this year are largely forgotten, like the adventure games Blade of Blackpool, Apventure to Atlantis, and Caverns of Freitag, but others like Miner 2049er and Choplifter will eventually see ports to more advanced systems.

1982 TRS-80 Games

The TRS-80 has been a trooper, clinging to relevance as a machine largely designed for business applications, forever inferior to the technological specs of the Apple II, competing as a budget alternative. However, as more challengers enter the field – some of them both more affordable and more advanced – its time comes to an end and we’re forced to bid it farewell.

Goodnight, sweet prince, you were too pure for this world of 8-bit sin.

1982 Commodore 64 Games

The C64 would eventually grow to dominate the home computer market through a combination of advanced technology and savvy marketing, but its launch library is lackluster compared to what’s been available for the Apple II. An arcade port of the Midway title Kick is a highlight, along with the surprisingly accurate Night Mission Pinball.

1982 ZX Sinclair Games

Iiiit’s the Speccy! The UK’s answer to the Commodore 64, filling a similar market niche with, perhaps, tighter graphical restrictions and a stronger launch-year library.

The Hobbit is pretty good, at any rate, a text adventure game incorporating real-time elements. What I’ve always loved about the Speccy is the very distinct color pallet.

1982 Dos Games

If you had to guess which of the last three microcomputer systems would have the most longevity based on their launch-year titles alone, PC MS-Dos probably wouldn’t be the safest bet. These games are… well, they’re just awful.

Chicago Steampunk Expo decompression

This weekend was my first convention table-vending experience at the Chicago Steampunk Exposition. As a special guest presenter I was given a prime spot right near the entrance to the vendor exhibition area, brought five copies of each of my steampunk, cyberpunk, and roleplaying game books to sell, along with hundreds of business cards, bookmarks, flyers, and assorted swag to give away.

I was afraid nobody was going to buy any of my books, and hoped I’d sell out so wouldn’t need to slog any of them home, and found the truth to be somewhere between those two points. Overall I was satisfied with how hand-selling went.

Far more valuable, though, were the interactions and introductions with people – both the other vendors, far more experienced at this game than I – with the audiences in my panels, and with people at the convention in general. It’s exhausting, but I genuinely do enjoy meeting new people.

Set-up for the convention took up most of my last month, both in preparing materially and getting the presentations I was to give straight in my head. Getting all the books, banner, and booth materials printed up was neither cheap nor quick, and the raw income from sales didn’t quite meet what we spent, but my hopes weren’t pinned on selling a lot of books.

No, what I want is to see a lot of residual sales. I’ll be watching the on-line sales of my books over the next month or so, seeing if there’s a noticeable spike from people who weren’t budgeted to buy a book at the time, but took one of my cards or bookmarks with them. Seeing if anyone who bought book 1 in a series goes on to pick up more.

Of course I won’t have the data to match up the people I met at the con with specific sales, but the numbers themselves should tell me something. And if nothing else, I have leftover stock and materials for the next event I’m invited to.

Now I sit here writing this, feeling the con crud inflame my throat and send the first chills through my skin, and there’s no question whether or not this was worth it.

It absolutely was.

Galvanic Century as Steampunk

There are a few characteristics that set my mystery series Galvanic Century apart from what might otherwise be considered “generic” steampunk.

Edwardian vs Victorian

The series, thus far, runs from 1912 to 1914, right up into the Great War, making it an Edwardian rather than Victorian series. The fact that Queen Victoria is as yet alive and has recently celebrated her platinum jubilee has not changed the social differences between the eras. The inhabitants of my fiction still consider themselves Victorians.

1900 World's Fair in Paris

In truth the dividing line between Edwardian and Victorian culture is a messy one because cultural transitions weren’t sudden and shocking; for our purposes the Victorian mindset ended in the mid 1890s when the Queen’s public appearances grew less prominent and she exerted less of a magnetic personal presence. This is reflected well enough in Galvanic Century – nobody sees her much anymore, and while the label doesn’t exist, the English of the series are very much Edwardian in nature.

It’s still very much a time of transition between two worlds… morals are more lax, and it’s a time of great technological innovation, though in the Galvanic Century the shift is the last great gasp of steampunk before the diesel and atomic ages.

A largely secular world

A man studies a jar as he contemplates Vitalism.

It’s important to remember that genre is itself more a marketing tool than an academic taxonomy. There are rigorous definitions, and there are useful ones. I market Galvanic Century as historical science fiction, a “what if” technology had taken a different path, “what if” scientific laws had worked the ways the Victorians believed them to.

There’s no magic in the Galvanic Century, but there is pseudoscience. Electricity, magnetism, the fundamental forces of the universe behave as the Victorians believed they did. It’s a different science that has made possible a faster general advancement.

Historical Accuracy in a World that Never Was

It’s entirely an artifact of my love for research, but despite the above changes, history progresses much as it does in the real world. The same historical figures exist and serve much the same function. I do extrapolate the effects of more efficient and faster-developing technology when it comes to things like social change. Women are finding an equal footing earlier as the innovations in transportation, communication, and labor-saving make it all more possible.

At the same time, of course, industry and empire are finding the exploitation of colony and workforce more effective and efficient, leading to stronger resistance, leading to even faster social change.

Stories are Still Stories

Galvanic Century is not an exercise in worldbuilding. It’s a setting for stories. It’s a context. Not for plot, but for character growth and evolution. It’s about two detectives, Jame Wainwright and Alton Bartleby, learning through playing at being detectives that the way they interface with the world is harmful. It’s about noblewoman Aldora Fiske coming to a place of peace with the fire in her soul and the demands of her station.

What started out as simple detective stories has grown and evolved as I’ve grown and evolved and learned to see the potential in my own fiction, in storytelling as a whole.

Hey, free books!

Want to see how it all began? Leading up to my guest appearance at the Chicago Steampunk Expo I’m giving away the first two ebooks – Bartleby and James and A Gentlewoman’s Chronicles free to everyone who signs up for my author mailing list. They’re a far cry from what the series has turned into by the time you get to Iron Horses Can’t Be Broken and Lighter than Aether, but still, I feel, worth the read.

bartleby and james steampunk cover
Taoscordian Games Logo

Game Development at Taoscordian Dot Com

I launched Taoscordian.com back in 2016 when I started publishing tabletop RPG materials. Thinking that running an extra site was too much overhead for too little benefit, I consolidated all the RPG stuff back over here last year, and turned the domain into a redirect. (If it’s still redirecting for you, clear your cache.)

Now as I intensify my digital game dev efforts with I find that people who are interested in my games aren’t necessarily interested in my books, and people who read my books aren’t necessarily interested in my games. It’s just the nature of the beast, and the problem of having a wide creative palette in a world where the best marketing advice is to go narrow.

So I’m more fully splitting the game development stuff off into its own platform, redeveloping Taoscordian.com as a site of its own, migrating the game blog stuff back over there, launching a separate game development patreon, twitter profile, and youtube channel.

I’ll be reorganizing and relaunching my mailing list as well, with different ways to select which content you’re interested in hearing about.

Now, at the moment the tabletop RPG and video game dev stuff is going to all be under Taoscordian Games. I don’t think I’ll need to segment my platform further… but you never know. We’ll see how it shakes out.

Coorlim Banner

Come see me at the Chicago Steampunk Expo

Eight years ago I was basically homeless, couch-surfing and unable to find work, with a string of low-paying minimum wage jobs running all the way back to high-school. At the end of the month I’ll be a special guest presenter at the first Chicago Steampunk Exposition with eight novels in two award-nominated series to my name.

If you’re in or around the Chicago area September 28th or 29th, feel free to stop by for either of the presentations I’m giving, and maybe stop by my table in the exhibitor hall and I’ll sign something for you.

The Steam Powered Pen

The Steam Powered Pen

Steampunk began as a literary genre, and the explosive growth of self-publishing has only created new opportunities to expand the market. Do you enjoy writing, and want to approach your work from a professional angle? Independent author Michael Coorlim covers the basics of the craft and business of self-publishing steampunk fiction, content marketing, patreon, and building your platform.

On Saturday the 29th at 1pm I’ll be in room Lakeshore A, giving a talk about the creative professional lifestyle, my personal journey as an independent author, and sharing tips and tricks when it comes to both the art and the craft I’ve been practicing for the last eight years.

Keeping the Punk in Steampunk

Keeping the Punk in Steampunk

The Victorian and Edwardian eras were periods of tremendous social change and cultural shifts, and we can incorporate themes of class struggle and early social movements within our steampunk storytelling, whether it be prose, graphic design, or costuming. Author Michael Coorlim discusses the early labor-rights movements, suffragettes, and institutional reformations of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

On Sunday the 30th I’ll be back in Lakeshore A talking about social change in the late 19th and early 20th century, how that impacts the people who live through it and their fictional representations, and how a steampunk world might accelerate the march of history.

So please, if you’ve the means, stop by.

Every Book a Lesson Learned

I started writing novel-length fiction in 2013, and have published ten such books in the past six years. Each time the process has been different, each time I’ve basically had to re-teach myself the process of what it is to write a novel based on my fuzzy recollections of the last time.

Writing Lighter Than Aether has been no different. I feel, again, like a novice working on his first book.

The Implication

It only feels like I’m starting from scratch, though. Each time I write something new, I’m starting from a firmer base, I avoid mistakes I’ve made in the past, and I construct the foundation of the story a little more strongly. The uncertainty comes from the fact that I’m trying something new with each novel. It’s always an undiscovered country.

Of course, if each book is better than the last, this means that each book is worse than the one that comes next. This means that the earliest available book I have for purchase is also the worst introduction for new readers.

bartleby and james steampunk cover

And of course, in my case, that’s Bartleby and James, the first book in my soon-to-be-seven-book-long Galvanic Century Series.

Yeah. I won’t contest this. It’s a perfectly fine book, but bereft of the lessons I learned while writing it. And the lessons from the next book, and the next, and the next… let’s be honest, it’s the most bereft book I’ve written.

That doesn’t mean I think it’s bad. Not at all. I’m quite fond of the book.

Just a pity that for many readers it’ll be their first impression of who I am and what I have to offer.

Book 7

I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit lately as I write Lighter than Aether, the seventh book in the series. I’m quite fond of it. I think it’s the best thing I’ve written to date (I always think that, and for the above reasons, I’m usually right.) However, the only people who’re going to read it are the people who’ve read books 1-6 and enjoyed each one.

That’s just the nature of a series. I write my books as fairly stand-alone, but most readers are unwilling to jump into the middle of something.

And that’s too bad. If I had to go back and change things, I probably would have turned Galvanic Century into two or three trilogies. And I could, too… rebrand them that way.

But hey, I got another book to write.

June Galvanic Century Giveaway

Every month I’ll be giving away two novels in the steampunk Galvanic Century series to my supporters on Patreon leading up to the release of book 7, Lighter than Aether. Last month I gave away the first two.

This month it’s March of the Cogsmen and Dreams of the Damned.

March of the Cogsmen

March of the Cogsmen cover
March of the Cogsmen

A wedding plagued by the unholy fusion of dead flesh and hot brass

At long last, gentleman detective Alton Bartleby is set to wed his fiance of almost a decade, Aldora Fiske. The wedding is off to a rough start with the bride still recovering from a kidnapping in the middle-east and the groom showing up drunk, and matters only get worse when powerful half-man half-automatons mount an assault on the ceremony.

While Aldora protects the guests barricaded in her ancestral home, it’s up to Bartleby and his detective partner James to discover the source of this menace and discern the cogsmen’s weakness… or forever hold their peace under an unending assault of brass and flesh.

Dreams of the Damned

Dreams of the Damned

With his partner married, brilliant engineer James Wainwright is at a loose end. When Scotland Yard asks for help with a hostage situation at a mental hospital, he’s only too eager to lend a hand – particularly after he meets the winsome Doctor Loni Teague.

His partner socialite Bartleby, however, has a personal connection – Bedford is the institution into which he had his embarrassment of a father committed a decade ago, and now the old man has asked for him personally. The director, Paddock, has been murdered, and Bartleby the elder won’t relinquish the asylum until the true killer has been found.

The Home Office has allocated the detectives a scant few hours before the Metropolitan Police mount an assault on the asylum – if the detectives fail to get the answers they need from the madmen holding it, many innocent lives will be lost, and a murderer may go free.

So there you go. If you’d like to get these two titles free this month and books five and six free next month, simply sign up to support me on Patreon. It’s inexpensive and it means a lot to me.

Space Invaders

Retrogaming: 1978

1978. The year of my birth. These games are literally as old as I am.

Arcade Games of 1978

The games in the last post in this series were pretty obscure, but in 1978 we see the release of what’s maybe the most famous Arcade title of all time: Space Invaders. It’s so famous that when people need a quick shorthand for “video game,” half the time Space Invaders is what they go for.

Breakout is similarly famous, and Avalanche might be better recognized in its Atari VCS port Kaboom. Gee Bee is possibly the best pong/pinball/breakout style game we’re going to see until the release of its sequel Bomb Bee the next year.

Overall the games are a big improvement over 1977’s releases, with the major exception being Frogs – something I’d expect to see on the TRS-80, not in the arcade, but they can’t all be winners.

Apple II Games of 1978

We’re seeing some of the earliest Apple ][ games here, the earliest home computer games. The Apple II is going to be king of the computer market for a long long time – at least until the Commodore 64 is released.

Our first game is one of the first roguelikes – Beneath Apple Manor, predating Rogue itself by two years. Dungeon Campaign also uses a randomly generated maze, but the graphical style is much simpler, and the game itself even more elementary.

I really wanted to get into Space – an unauthorized text-based Traveller rpg, but it was exhaustively difficult to even roll up a functional character that wasn’t so physically or mentally crippled that you could even play the game with them. Most of my play time was spent sitting through the character creation segment, discovering the character wasn’t viable enough to even try playing with, and then restarting.

Microchess is historically very interesting as one of the first chess games for any home system, but my modern gamer brain just doesn’t have the patience to enter in moves via grid coordinates.

Atari Games of 1978 and 1979

Screenshot may not actually appear.

A twofer this time, simply because there weren’t enough individual games released in either year to make a good video out of.

We’re seeing a lot more technical innovation for the Atari VCS a year in, and a lot more attention paid to gameplay as the programmers get used to their tools.

Superman shows a lot of complexity for a game of the era and is the first game to really feature an end “win” state. Breakout and Sky Diver are ports of the arcade games of the same name, with the latter being significantly more difficult simply due to the smaller resolution – you have less room to maneuver and less time to react.

The other games on this list are sport simulations that are, gratifyingly, not simple re-imaginings of Pong.

TSR-80 Games of 1978

Wumpus: Hunted.

Compared to the Apple II the TRS-80 doesn’t have a lot to offer, but it holds a special place in my heart simply by virtue of being the machines the computer lab in my grade school had to offer us, and the first home-computer I had – a simple keyboard that hooked up to the television like a game console. I did my first BASIC programming on a TRS-80.

These games are simple. Dead simple. And they don’t get a great deal more complex before the machine drops off the face of the earth, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth playing with them.

They’re all text-based, most programmed in BASIC. The real standout here is Scott Adams’s Adventureland, the first text adventure game for microcomputers, the first in the 13-game Adventure series, and the first such game I cover.

Friends, it’s tough covering interactive fiction. Making videos about them entertaining. I could treat them like an audio book, but to be frank, my voice acting skills aren’t up to it. I do cover quite a few in this video series, particularly in years where they make up the bulk of notable or interesting games, but you can tell that I try to avoid it.