Nov 122018
I vividly recall the smell of a book of memeographs. The tables, the tables, so complex and compelling.
I remember that the games were raw, unpolished. I remember how the publications were so simple in execution but carried a palpable weight of Importance. How to solve these mazes?!
I knew that I was just reading a book or an article, but I could sense the depth of thought behind it, and I could viscerally feel the compulsion to play, play, play. I was ten, and I woulda played all night. Dragon magazine often kept me up thinking about how to use (or, more often, fix) its additions!
Many memories of conventions: the hallways full of crazies, the lounge showing doctor who or something, us sequestered into a banal meeting room to play whatever got pitched by a guy who couldn’t even begin to sort out the rules (multiple sessions I played that weekend began and ended with character creation).
But that was also a big SCA con, and it also had the poor man’s solution (dowels, foam); and as much as we drooled over the armor, we could make boffers for a dollar. This was the same con where I wandered into a side room full of hardcore mini guys, and (a) they were dismissive (I was maybe eleven) and (b) their conversations were so deep into simulation numbers and states that I only now (2014) recognize the shit they was talking about.
Looking back, that was the con that owned me. UNCG gave me more than two Bachelor’s degrees (years later): they gave me a passion I’ll never lose.
Flash forward:
My friends and I routinely played all night at sleep overs. One night in particular, I recall that we played a horror game (well run by Steven) that left us so unsettled that nothing would do but a walk around the neighborhood during sunrise. I checked around corners on that walk. Seriously.
Flash forward:
I recall a convention game at UNCG where they used two DMs to handle multiple players in competition: we ran dungeon tournament simultaneously. We also played Toon. A lot of that Stellar Con is echoed in the photos I see of game masters running from a sort of stage. The dms were using a classroom, and it was so compelling!
My oldest friends (Trent and Steven) ran that game… and to their credit, they didn’t give a shit that they knew me: pure umpires. But this was also still early in the ‘pure dungeon’ times (1984?) and they were young, so they probably came to that rules-purity from first principles.
I recall puzzling over blue book. I recall writing solutions in the margins. I recall playing, being stupified, and spending hours, days, redesigning. I never had the balls to send a letter to Dragon… but I rewrote many AD&D systems (including my own mana system, before Gygax) before the age of thirteen.
The game store, 1980. Flashing back to Day One:
Wow. Chainmail right there in my face. [38 years later, the White Books fetch hundreds from collectors.]
These $3 books just sitting on a low rack with no significance: the proprietors paid bills with train and early R/C hobbiests. And in those days, there was overlap: minis guys used train stuff.
But dad’s wallet and a smart vendor prevented me from buying what I now realize was not a child’s game. Blue book was my Christmas present. Dad, did you have any idea how much you would influence your son with that $10?
Back in the store:
The light through the dusty, poster-plastered windows. The terrain tables and the gorgeous miniatures (for them, the default; for me, staggering).
Dad and I playing D&D on the front patio, sunbathing, rolling dice between the lounge chairs. Top ten happiest moments of my life, and I should let my father know how well he raised me.
But we were talking about the industry.
Those hobby stores were so weird. Stuffy. A plastic bag in a rack, however, might change your worldview so fundamentally that you’d never look back, even as you wondered who put you on this crazy train.
Oct 112017


  1. A given quantum of information is sourced in a root language, which could be a single language organization-wide or multiple languages.
  2. Structured markup languages provide metadata and semantics irrespective of eventual output formats.


  • Continue the abstraction of information in B by eliminating A above as well: content is divorced from format and language.


  1. Codify grammar into conditions, objects, actions, results, and all other relevant dictional objects. (Consider the constructed language Unker for models of logical, nonlinear grammar diagrams.)
  2. Document conceptual, procedural, and reference information as information maps that diagrammatically describe the information.
  3. Develop Dictional Style Sheets (DSS) that render the information maps into textual, visual, or even multimedia deliverables. (For textual DSS, additional transformation via CSS and such continues as in B above).

Simple Example


“The door-open chime sounds and the door-open dashboard light illuminates when a door is ajar while the key is in the ignition.”

Information Map of Objects and Relationships

COND:[(OBJ:car-door:any)open AND (OBJ:key)inserted]
RES:[(OBJ:door-chime)on AND (OBJ:door-dash-light)on]

COND:[(OBJ:car-door:any)closed AND [ (OBJ:key)inserted OR (OBJ:key)removed] ]
RES:[(OBJ:door-chime)off AND (OBJ:door-dash-light)off]

REL:alert-types(OBJ:door-chime, OBJ:door-dash-light, …)


[Magic happens here. LOTS of object:style mappings, but only need to be done once for each dictional output. Free translation; free infographics; free texts: all from running the information maps through DSSs and then output generators that can handle the renders. A tiny example:]

OBJ:key == “ignition key” | singular-only |


Conceptual Contexts

“The door-open chime sounds and the door-open dashboard light illuminates when a door is ajar while the key is in the ignition.”

“When the door is closed, the door-open chime does not sound and the door-open dashboard light does not illuminate, regardless of whether the key is in the ignition or not.”

Procedural Contexts

“To test the door-open chime and the door-open dashboard light, insert the ignition key into the ignition switch and open a door.”

Troubleshooting Contexts

“If the door-open chime is sounding and the door-open dashboard light is illuminated, one or more doors is ajar. You can stop the alerts by either closing the open door or by removing the key from the ignition.”


[You’d have graphics mapped to objects and relationships in the DSS that, when generated as output, show up like, say, an Ikea or LEGO manual. In fact, see Lego Digital Designer for a great model of a user interface for assembly mapping by sub-assemblies and stages.]

As you can tell if you’ve read this far, this isn’t a new idea: there are conlang folks who’ve thought about this stuff for decades, but not typically from the perspective of one:many translation (rather more like many:one ‘interfaces’ via written and/or spoke languages).

And I also just realized that many of the OBJ-REL information maps could be scraped straight out of software code! *headsplode*

May 242014

Memorial Day always puts me into an emotional conflict.

When does respect for honorable and dutiful sacrifice begin to sanction the ill wills and greed that required it? Do we have any more righteous wars left in us? Did we ever?

I find myself thinking that, just like Valentine’s Day, this is another shitty holiday. Love deserves more than one calendar entry, so surely pain and loss does as well. The men and women lost to an aggressive will are remembered daily by their loved ones; why, as a nation, can’t we find time enough every day to do the same?

And maybe, just maybe, in that remembrance decide that throwing more children into the meat grinder won’t work any better than it did millennia ago?

Memorial Day is aptly named. Remember why war is the ultimate failure of everything that makes us human.

Timing Social Media Messages For Service And Show Industries

 Technology  Comments Off on Timing Social Media Messages For Service And Show Industries
Nov 272012

Every restaurant, bar, pub, and show club wants to leverage social media. These media are free services; the people who choose to follow your business want to hear from you; and when done well, they can replace a lot of expensive, targeted advertising. Even better if your message makes your clientele tell others to follow you: valuable savings, exciting events, exclusive shows, and a sense of belonging turn triers into regulars. Assuming that is the case—that you don’t spam them with pointless noise but only post conscientiously, with “news they can use”—then social media will be a win-win investment for any business owner.

Unfortunately, all of your competitors are aware of these benefits and opportunities; and they are flooding Twitter feeds, Facebook timelines, and email inboxes with their best efforts and offers. Couple that with the fact that many users of social media only check occasionally, and your problem as an advertiser becomes one of distinguishing your announcements and offers from the rest.

Setting aside good copy writing and compelling visuals and links (a topic, perhaps, for a future article) the single best way to make your message stand out is, in a word, timing. This article presents what I feel is an optimal schedule of post timing for common attractions in the service and show industries, to maximize viewers and thus guests.

Note: I am assuming your principle target market is nine-to-fivers, not swing-, split- or third-shift workers or service industry employees themselves. I feel, however, that once you’ve grasped the basics I present here, you will be able to apply the timing principles to clientele with different work hours.


Specials include food, drink, and possibly value-adds like free parking or valet service.

Some establishments vary specials frequently, and it is those that will benefit the most from social media. If you, however, have locked into a routine that is rarely changed, treat it more like a regular event (below).


When do you think about where you might like to go for lunch or dinner? Obviously, around lunch or dinner time! So this one is, on the surface, a no-brainer: post around 11 AM for lunch specials and around 5 PM for dinner specials. That’s when people are checking smartphones and making plans with others.

But that is just the low-hanging fruit. Look to how the major chains advertise on television, for even more good timing tips. Do you serve breakfast (or brunch on the weekends)? Then post the specials at around 10 PM on weekdays and perhaps a bit later on weekends—you know when your guests end their Friday and Saturday nights… or mornings!


First, I would suggest that you include drink specials when you post your food specials; but use good judgement! If your clientele favors a pint or martini with lunch, then by all means include it with the 11 AM post. If you’re more family-oriented, include drink specials only with the dinner specials post, perhaps only on Fridays and Saturdays.

If you run a show club and open for happy hour, or if you are a dining establishment that has live music during or after dinner, the 5 PM timing is also good for you, but absolutely include drink specials when you post to promote an evening’s event. So, odds are good that you will have food, drink, and the event in a single post at that time.

Note: I am a resident in a state where there is no happy hour, per se: drink specials must be honored from open to close to reduce binge drinking during rush hour (kind of makes sense, no?). If your local laws differ, then by all means be sure to post about an hour before a limited-duration happy hour.


There is a vast variety of events that can be hosted at service or show venues: live music, a band line-up, pub trivia, singles nights, ladies nights, poker clubs. The list is as diverse as the creativity of venue owners and the cultural richness of your region.

Many events have common timing objectives, however. You want the punters to know about them as soon as possible; you need to remind them as they get closer; and you want to catch the eye of someone who is at loose ends and is looking for fun. That said, regularly occurring events behave much like daily specials: more than one or two posts about each event will be perceived as pushy or desperate.

Major Events

I characterize a major event as a one-off event booked well in advance for which people typically plan and budget. Tickets usually must be bought, sometimes early to be sure they don’t sell out; babysitters must be scheduled, sometime early to be sure they won’t be out; and reservations must be made for dinner, to complete the big night out.

These are the best times to post information about major events:

  • When the event is booked: Get the news out as early as possible. As for the time of day to post, most nine-to-fivers do not actually check their feeds during the work day (unless planning for a get-together that very day, as with specials above). So post either in the early morning as people check in before starting their day, or just after work hours as people get home and catch up, but not both! Whichever works with your schedule. For example, a show venue might post before locking up in the wee hours; a restaurant might post before the dinner rush (if applicable, as an addendum to the night’s specials post).

    Note: For the date timings below that do not specify a time, pick the time of day as with this date timing.

  • The day before tickets go on sale: Your fans will want to be ready at the sales web site or window, ready to reserve their access. Don’t make them miss out!
  • Two hours before tickets go on sale: Get folks excited and remind those who forgot to get ready. In many cases, this will entail an early morning post, as ticket outlets often open for sales around 10 AM. Don’t sleep in!
  • One week before the event: Everyone with advance tickets already knows, sure; so use this post to both inform and build anticipation. Perhaps offer a value-add to the post: a link to a popular or evocative song by the (headlining) performer(s); a recent addition to the line-up; or even a joke, if you can manage humor. Don’t let anyone seeing the post think, “I know, I know! STFU, already!” **clicks Unsubscribe**
  • The day of the event: Work out the time of day that best suits your principle demographic for the event, asking yourself when they will be checking their feeds for something to do tonight. Generally, I recommend around 5 PM (in conjunction with your specials post, as I mentioned above).
  • Near the end of the penultimate act: Nothing will excite the curious browser as much a picture (or short video) of your venue heaving and shaking the rafters! As a bonus, you’re not likely to be spamming your attendees… and if you are, if they’re staring at their smartphones instead of the act… well, take note of that and bring it up with whomever is in charge of bookings at the next meeting.
  • NEVER again: Yes, I said it: posts about how great the show was or how packed you were will more-likely cost you goodwill than behave as a morning-after kiss to your attendees. Nope, nah. Not worth it. Post, perhaps, to the band’s page or feed to thank them; and let any knock-on views see you not as advertising but as conscientious.

No two major events are the same, and so no hard-and-fast timings will work for every situation. Adjust the above accordingly, while always keeping in mind that your posts should be of value to your guests and you should value your guest’s time more than their dollars!

Regular Events

Much like food and drink specials, regular events can become repetitious to the point of irritation, if not timed effectively and used sparingly.

In general, include the pitch and details of the event with your 5 PM specials post, both so that the otherwise unoccupied folks can be reminded and so that those who might be put off by the event will know to pass you by that evening. While the latter might seem detrimental to the night’s takings, trust me: a new or fledgling customer that would find such activity an irritant rather than a compliment will be unhappy that you did not inform them of it as you enticed them with your chef’s latest masterpiece or $1-off well drinks.

Finally, if a regular event has established a following and become virtually a part of your business identity, consider splitting it off into its own page or feed, and encourage folks to join that one before and after the event for several weeks. When the new page or feed has gained traction, limit posts on your primary feed to very irregular reminders, for customers whose interests might have changed over time.

Succeed With Grace

In closing, much of the above advice focuses on a general principle: use social media to bring value to your guests, not to bring revenue to your establishment. The former will guarantee the latter, so long as you respect the most valuable assets that your customers have: time and attention.

Facebook Events In Google Calendar

 Technology, Writing  Comments Off on Facebook Events In Google Calendar
Jan 202011
Google Calendar - Other calendars panel

Google Calendar - Other calendars panel

Folks who know me know I’m irritated by Facebook closing the native interfaces to Google apps (specifically Calendar on Android). Turns out, there’s Another Way:

  1. Go to any Event that you are Attending.
  2. Scroll all the way down to the bottom of the page.
  3. Click Export.
    A pop-up will offer you two options for that single Event: Download or email.
    It also shows a link under “Export all of your upcoming events.”
  4. Highlight that link and copy it (or right-click it and choose Copy link location).
  5. Open Google Calendar in your web browser.
  6. Under “Other calendars,” click Add > Add by URL.
  7. Paste the Facebook URL into the pop-up’s URL field.
    Note: You probably do not want to check the checkbox to make it public.
  8. Click Add Calendar and then wait a moment. A “Firstname Lastname ‘s Facebook” calendar should appear on your “Other calendars” list.
  9. Sync with your Android device or other Google Calendars client and enjoy!


National Society For The Prevention Of Cruelty To NPCs

 Fiction, Writing  Comments Off on National Society For The Prevention Of Cruelty To NPCs
May 012009

What if the NPCs that gamers so wantonly destroy got organized…?

I was a wreck, a shambles… nerves shot, I tell ya! Without the kind ministry of the NSPCNPC, I couldn’t even tell you this horror story without a belly full of the hard stuff and a half yard of linen for snottin’ on.

Me and me lads were just having a piss-up ’round the pub, when in walks this weird group of richies and their hulking bodyguard. Never seen such armor and fine, shining steel. –And who wears armor to the pub, anyway? But I digress….

So’s anyway, the tart of the group–a fine-enough looking wench dressed like she’s planning to work upstairs at the Speckled Hen, if ya ken–sidles up and asks me and the lads if we’d like a bit of work for a few days. Yeah, right, we’ll “work” for ya–nudge, nudge. The bodyguard didn’t much take to our little jokes, and we were about to tell ’em all to sod off, but this skinny, shifty-eyed bloke in the group drops a heavy looking sack of dosh onna table and tells us to be ready to leave at dawn. Fair enough–we could drink until dawn, easily; done it most week’s ends.

And so it’s now dawn, we’re a bit the worse for drink but can still shift the packs we’re given to haul, and the group leads us up into the hills. And then into a bloody cave–no, really, they did, I’m not takin’ the piss! We din’ even know there was caves in the hills, ’cause most good folk know better than to muck about up there, what with the wolves and bears and such. But, hey, we’d drank half our pay already, so it wasn’t like we could pay these barmy blokes back and leave! And the bodyguard woulda likely skewered us on his improbably sized sword, if’n we’d just tried runnin’ off. SO… Some torches, a bit of roping together, and we become speelunkers.

That when the first horror struck–some fell beast or such, like we’d never seen… and poor Barney–the fella with the big jowls and rheumy eyes that used to live over west?–that’s when he was took. Split right in two, like a sausage for pan-frying, and there’s blood all over everyfing. I was set for quittin’ right then, but the beady-eyed bastard what paid us starts waving around a nasty little pig-sticker, and it seems we’re in for the long haul. But, hey, at least our shares in the pay had just gone up! Gotta find the silver lining, not to pun ya.

It never got any better after that, though. Freddie the Fisher was told to open an odd-looking door–don’t ask me why there’s a bloody fooking DOOR in some old caves!–and he lets out this sort of soft sigh and just slumps to the ground, deader’n last years Christmas goose. Turns out some right bastard had hid some kinda thorn or some-such, with a narsty poison onnit, behind the door pull… and it was Freddie’s day in the barrel, like they say.

Should I go on to recount, in gory detail, how Stew was disemboweled by some kinda bear with the head of a fookin’ BIRD? Or how Little Mark was made to lead the way down a corridor and got pin-cushioned by bleedin’ arrows flying outta the damned WALLS?! Or Frank from Bogend being crushed under a cave-in when he was told to poke and prod at some squiggle-marked wall with a stave?

I still hear their screams, though I can at least sleep through the night, now, thanks to the NSPCNPC. But I don’t think I’ll EVER get over the fact that the bastard “adventurers” raked in a haul of lucre enough to feed a family of ten for 50 years, were lauded as heroes by the smallfolk back in town, and ended up shagging every virgin left in the county! It’s a bad world, I reckon; and the worser the crew, the better their lot. Here we’d lost six of our stoutest lads–all with families to feed and plots to work–and I’d’ve been left in that pit with them if I hadn’t been just a wee bit lighter on my feet than Little Mark. Want to see my “share” of the take…? Here, take a long look at the right arm I ain’t got anymore!

It could happen to you. Support the NSPCNPC.

I am known as Hallal, The All-Devourer! [not real name] Kneel before me and beg that I might merely make you a slave!

Before the NSPCNPC, my glorious fortress was incessantly broken into, pillaged, and sometimes even woefully damaged by thrill-seeking, greedy miscreants! Swine in clattering armor and crackling robes! Sure, some would profess being begged to assault my property and person because of… minor disagreements with some of my neighbors in the village in the vale. But who are these foreigners to dictate terms to Hallal?!? Who are they to meddle in mere internal politics and issues of proper sacrifice schedules, availability of virgins, and eminent domain?

Well, as it turns out, they’re foreigners with extensive resources, rather advanced educations, and apparently some contacts with deities. Err, that is, deities LESSER THAN I, THE ALL-DEVOURER!!!

And, so, unbelievable as it may seem, I was made to suffer discorporation and the painful and time-consuming degradation of finding a new vic–um, assistant–to enjoy the hospitality of their mortal form. I treat such host forms quite well–after all, su casa me casa, no?–and I even entertain petitions from what’s left of their minds, every fourth full moon. It’s an amenable relationship to all concerned: I live, they don’t get devoured.

Then I must make my way back to my desmense, COMPLETELY restaff, effect repairs to my walls and internal security measures… the costs are atrocious, and an All-Devourer KNOWS what that word means. Just for another pack of interlopers to muck it all up again!

But all that ended when I joined the NSPCNPC. Their attorneys have issued restraining orders on the local villagers and sued the village’s mayor for slander and libel, which provided me with a timely leg-up on expanding my labor base to better-patrol the grounds surrounding my fell keep. And should yet-another wayward party of murderous ideologues come around, the NSPCNPC provides temp solutions for a variety of pest-repellent professions.

My home has never been safer, nor more peaceful. Well… for me, that is. You, not so much….

“LitRPG” – Game Text As Literature

 Criticism, RPG  Comments Off on “LitRPG” – Game Text As Literature
Jan 072009

From a post at

David Artman  Jan 7th 2009 edited
First, thanks for backing off terms… so let’s back off “what is art” as that’s never been answered by even Rhodes Scholars. 😉

Posted By: TomasHVM– And let us discuss how the games-format may influence the reading.

  • What kind of qualities are present in a game-text, and in the reading of it, that makes it a strong communication device?
  • How can we make really readable game-texts?

NOW, we’re cooking with gas: something we can attempt to enumerate, techniques of writing and what they accomplish. *puts on dusty old Lit Crit hat and robes*

OK, one thing RPG manuals tend to have is a structure which is influenced by the procedural nature of play: when do you do what and why and what’s next? Other than technical manuals (in all their forms, from “How To” books to IT manuals), no other “genre” of writing does that. What does that buy us? I’d say it brings a sort of formalism and pacing: aside from authorial voice and varied diction, they are going to give a sort of “march” feel to the work. Maybe even meditative, as the pace is felt and matched by the reader.

They also tend to present information in referential manners, be they summaries of procedures, or just your typical charts and graphs of laundry lists of shit. This referential format strips out every nuance, dictional curlicue, and “voice” to present the bare facts. In that way, they can be like the “HALT!” shouted by a drill sergeant, to continue to (ab)use my marching metaphor–the cadence breaks as we rattle off a list of terms or numbers or both, like presenting arms. Compare that to, say, those statistics list one reads that convey a message, e.g. (stats not real, but close):
* Billions spent on heart disease research in 2007: 45
* Number of American death from heart disease in 2007: 500,000
* Billions spent fighting terrorism in 2007: 300
* Number of American deaths from terrorism in 2007: 16

The point is made crystal clear (above: our government spending priorities are FUCKED), but with nary a jot of expression or style. Editorialized by the timing and choice of what is listed, not by the tone or mood conveyed in the writing of the list.

I’ll stop there, for now, to see if I’m spring-boarding the right way (or hieing off into the trees). For obvious reason, I won’t bother to address “game fiction” or “setting fiction” at this point, as it uses all the same devices of a novel or short story, and that’s of minimal interest to me (mainly because there’s already a HUGE body of work that addresses how to do those forms). Readability, I’d say, falls into the same camp: a readable game text has the same qualities as a readable magazine article, novel, or biography. Clarity, diction, etc (or the opposite, if you’re going all deconstructive on us). Become a decent writer–poetry, prose, manuals, whatever–and you will be a good game writer.

– And measured against “ordinary” literature:

  • Is it possible that a games-format is a stronger read than say; a novel, in certain aspects?
  • Could a book of game-texts be as good a read as any collection of short stories?

Stronger? hard to say–what’s the point, what’s the theme, what’s the message? Every format suits some deliveries more than others. I want to woo a woman, a poem is going to go better than an 800-page novel. I want to explore a nuanced and complex theme, through the agency of several interrelated characters? I’m at the least going novella.

As for the second question, I’m going to go cheap and just say, “Sure.” Particularly with game text of the type you’re most suggesting: the RPG Poems With A Message. Time and tastes play a big part in that, though: a book of fan fic shorts about Star Wars will probably bore me FAR more than some witty, thought-provoking, or saddening RPG Poems that hit me square between the eyes with issues current and near and dear to me.

So, really, the better (or more interesting to me) question is what things can RPG Poems do BETTER than existing formats; and I believe I begin to explore that above, by unpacking a bit what an RPG format is and what that does to the reader’s expectations and reading behavior. And, as I said above, I’d like to be sure we want to go there before I do that heavy lifting–being a game writer AND editor AND technical writer, I can go into a fair bit of depth about atonality, neutral (AKA common) diction, procedural presentation and structure, projecting attitudes, and “writing between the lines.” Hell, you’d be amazed at the sort of shit a Major Corporation has me do, to “write around” flaws of design without admitting them–that’s, basically, the exact tack, flipped, that Somalian Children takes.

(Sorry so long, but that’s what you get for intriguing me.)
[edited for clarity and corrections]

TomasHVM  Jan 7th 2009 edited

First out: David; this is pure gold to me! Really interesting discussion of the topic. Your thoughts on “the procedural nature of play” is good!
This is really good: This referential format strips out every nuance, dictional curlicue, and “voice” to present the bare facts. I see what you are aiming at here, and it tingles my brain! I would very much like to read your thoughts on atonality, neutral diction, procedural presentation and structure, projecting attitudes, and “writing between the lines.” ALL of it, and more, if you would … please!

David Artman  Jan 8th 2009

Shit, I had to offer. KINDA busy, today, but I’ll get us started.

Baseline writing and what’s left unsaid

So I’m going to write a “LitRPG” (I need a shorthand). I can approach it like Somalian Children, with an essentially neutral tone–no rants, reads like a tech manual–and let its very starkness carry my meaning. Here’s a chart, roll your d10s, consult the chart to see your fate. BUT, if you know anything about math, you see that you’ve got a 1:1000 chance of surviving–that’s not said in the text, that’s left for you to realize. And the realization of the unsaid carries the message and theme and impact. Now you can re-read and the whole tone is changed; the cynicism just drips off the page. HOW? The text hasn’t changed. The tone is still there, sill consistent and neutral. But now, having “got it,” you can imagine the author staring balefully at you, accusingly, his voice so flat he sounds like the dead. Becasue isn’t that the REAL point: what have YOU done to help these poor children? Isn’t that the takeaway message, the unsaid?

Projecting attitude

That neutral tone, however, needn’t be the whole bag… in fact, more and more “RPG texts” are conveying a strong authorial diction and style, moving away from (and even mocking) the neutral tone of a tech manual. So our LitRPG can take that tack, and present a seeming “game,” but with an editorialized voice that shows it’s clearly not meant to be played and, rather, is meant to carry a message or cause a change of thought. I’ll bring up HoL, here, as an easy and obvious example of this (IMO). Yeah, sure, the game is somewhat playable, with a lot of rule repair and addition (or a freeform-loving play group), but it’s REALLY suppose to be a screed. It’s a punk zine disguised as a game which (it seems) takes the piss out of all the “structure” of gaming–could they be one of the first “system doesn’t matter” writers? Are they trying to say, “look, just have fun and fuck the details,” or are they actually MOCKING those gamers or that gaming culture which get so buried in stat and crunch that they get twenty minutes of WOW for every four hours of play? (Sound familiar? HoL authors as first Forrgites?!?) Or am I bringing my own experiences into the mix; am *I* the one projecting meaning and attitude onto the book? For the record, I’d say no in this case: I read HoL when it came out, WAY before exposure to all this theory, and I still saw it as taking the piss out of many contemporary RPG systems. But another LitRPG could well work with ambiguity, leaving each reader to project onto it their own interpretation and intent, just as much poetry does.


So above we have the two poles of a tonal continuum: writing between the lines and bitch-slapping with editorializing. But there’s a third path, an orthogonal axis: one can use shifts in tone in a LitRPG to really hammer a point. If I have you lulled into the meditative march of neutral tone procedural writing and then, WHAM, start off on a screed about how this fucking chart is WORTHLESS if you don’t have a heart to care about the children, you fucking DICK!

Well, you sort of snap to attention, no? Where did all THAT come from, what did I just miss? Is this guy schitzo? Etcetera. You, as a reader, have to engage different mental gears to address this shift in tone… and then engage still more when I drop back into a staid and steady, neutral tone again. Done poorly, this atonality will seem like Tourette’s Syndrome (just as bad atonal music sounds like folks in different rooms, tuning up or adjusting their synthesizers). Done properly, it can underscore the moments of consistency AND convey a message, via contrasting tone, with the moments of insanity (just as the completion of an atonal music progression can make all the disjointed notes attain a sort of “metaharmony”).


This one is the big one, because for all the talk of tone, it’s the order of presentation which carries at least half the weight. In a typical RPG, we often see a color piece, to establish the mood of play for the game, followed quickly by a series of definitional sections, so that one isn’t totally lost as to what to do when the procedural stuff starts using the game jargon. Suppose that was tossed out the door? Suppose an RPG was written like A Clockwork Orange, with immediate total immersion in a nearly thoroughly different language? What is said, by that? One has to read it twice, just to get the sense–or jump to the glossary in the back of some editions, to try to get a baseline. A LitRPG can do the same thing, by eschewing the standard structure of a typical RPG.

But what is said by FOLLOWING the typical RPG structure: intro, define terms, establish character, present procedures of play, flesh out setting (again, fiction or reference material or monster lists or whatever). That goes back to tone and diction: is it homage or satire? Or is the fact that it’s hard to answer that question part of the exploration of the LitRPG?

Or, rather than eliminating common structure or following it to convey additional meaning, what about a disjointed structure? Cart before the horse stuff–all the procedures of play presented before you even know if you are a character or in author stance or what; absolutely no information about setting in the presentation of what is clearly NOT a generic system? Can a LtRPG carry surprises, nestled in the sequence of presentation, just like a novel can use flashback to clarify what was, prior to the flash, a very ambiguous or downright confusing scene? What is meant when such structure conventions are violated? A whole branch of “LitRPG Theory” can grow out of just the considerations of structure and how it informs the piece, just has been done with conventional (and, moreso, experimental) literature.

David Artman  Jan 8th 2009

(Damn, a BIT too long….)

Anyhow, just another nudge–that’s why it’s mostly questions and not a list of rules. There’s more LitCrit tools we can bring to bear, as either measures of a LitRPG’s merits or as guides to creating an effective one (I prefer the latter, but that’s also the only reason I studied LitCrit: to be a better writer, NOT a good critic).

David Artman  Jan 8th 2009

One more note on atonality, in conventional RPG (meaning non-LitRPGs):

We game designers use atonality all the time, but it’s to reinforce STRUCTURE, not theme or intent.

There is the cold and clear, neutral tone of a process or rule statement, highlighting its importance or canonical nature.
Then you get the more authorial and looser sort of writing which is, like, in sidebars or advice chunks or those little “talking head’ icons folks use to say, “Hey, now I’m just talking to you, to let you know what’s going on under the hood here.”
And, yeah verily, there be in-fiction tones that put thee into a mind to portray the shining heroes and scurrilous villains in a way which is meet.

See there? Three tones, each with a functional role in the text, but none of which is intended to layer on nuance of the overall book’s INTENT… because it’s only real “intent” is to teach you to play a game the way the author envisioned it. EVEN IF proper gameplay enables the underlying intent of a game to educate or inspire (think Grey Ranks, here).

But using atonality in a LitRPG would (should? could?) drive at the message, at the theme, at the takeaway of reading the text itself, without ever engaging in whatever “rules” or “procedures” are presented as carriers for that message.

OK, ’nuff for now. Your volley….

TomasHVM  Jan 8th 2009 edited

Baseline writing and what’s left unsaid

Posted By: David Artmanyou’ve got a 1:1000 chance of surviving–that’s not said in the text, that’s left for you to realize. And the realization of the unsaid carries the message and theme and impact.

Clear point, and very good!

I love the idea of readers discovering such content in the text, due to the instructive format. to have a table convey the central point, like in Somalian Children, is something I find very intriguing.

Projecting attitude

Posted By: David Artmanan editorialized voice that shows it’s clearly not meant to be played and, rather, is meant to carry a message or cause a change of thought.

An alternative, yes. Texts with attitude is nothing strange to ordinary literature either, of course.

To write games that are spitting at you, or teasing you to try them, or plainly have a laid-back stance to both you and itself … it is an idea that carries lots of opportunities.


Posted By: David ArtmanDone properly, it can underscore the moments of consistency AND convey a message, via contrasting tone, with the moments of insanity

I like this. It could be very effective in a text dominated by the neutral tone of rules.

As a game text is ordinarily broken up in more or less stand-alone elements, there is no saying how far you can go with this, both in the deconstructive and constructive way …


Posted By: David ArtmanCan a LtRPG carry surprises, nestled in the sequence of presentation, just like a novel can use flashback to clarify what was, prior to the flash, a very ambiguous or downright confusing scene?

I do think so! To play around with the structure in such a text can dig up many hidden effects, I think.

I really love the idea of going for instructions “in medias res”, and then informing about what this is all about. There is vast fields for fruitful misinterpretations here! I love misguided players!

David, I believe you have made a nice overview of the main elements at play in a literary game text. And you have made some very nice and thought-provoking speculations on what kind of tools and effects to be had for the avid writer.

Thanks to your analysis I now feel even more fired up on this idea! A thousand thanks to you for making the effort!

Mind you: I am not equaling this kind of game-texts with role-playing poems. The poems are made to be played. As such they are both interesting in themselves, with their narrow timeframe, and interesting as tools for research by designers. Writing role-playing poems are a great way for designers to test specific game-tools, and a great way for them to test how their writing in general translates into games.

Dec 051999

The Veelab Species


The Veelab species is an alien culture which evolved on a jovian planet’s largest moon—a frigid, barren planetoid with nearly no atmosphere and a primarily metal crust. Scraping themselves up from the primordial ooze of their dim-witted ancestry, the Veelab learned to shape their bodies—and the bodies of their vanquished cousins—to resist the rigors of the wasted planet. Since developing space flight, they have gone on to colonize other “ice ball” planets, asteroids, and even some comets.

Veelab are intelligent, shape-shifting, colloid-based blobs that live in massive, planet-encompassing colonies which they call “Choruses.” They are able to thrive in the harsh climes of their origins (as well as in those humans would call “tropical desert”) through careful physical cooperation and a strict class system that is a combination of theocracy and coral reef.

Each Veelabling is trained from the moment it leaves its birthing vestibule to perform one of four primary duties for The Chorus (also called a planet-being):

  • morph into a wide vacuum-tight panel, absorbing sunlight while sealing the planet-being from hard radiation and pressure (called “Guarders”);
  • flex and climb about the planet-being, transferring liquids and mitochondria-like energy cells to the other classes (called “Gilders”);
  • manipulate crust materials to construct objects and morph its own body to supports the kilometers-deep mass of the planet-being (called “Girders”);
  • conduct off-planet missions in search of knowledge and sensations, morphing into forms acceptable to the source species or necessary for survival (called “Æsthetes”).

Most Veelab spend their entire 100 year adult lives in service of—and in harmony with—The Chorus, never knowing any sensation other than the slippery, warm pressure of neighboring Girders or the sticky sweetness of passing Gilders. They use “The Song” to keep in touch with the rest of the planet-being—a constant background harmonic vibration through the entire world that is communication system, legislature, educational system, and theatre simultaneously. Each Chorus comes the closest any culture of living things can to being a gestalt mind. Not a hive mind: each Veelab is as individual as a snowflake, within the context of its main social role.

The role of the highly-adaptable Æsthete class is that of diplomat, purchasing agent, and poet laureate for its Chorus. Bred as a mingling of each Veelab class, they are morphable as Gilders, yet capable of being as resilient and photo-sensitive as Guarders. As soon as it is ready, each Æsthete Veelab is equipped only with its Vod-dpah and sent forth to travel the stars, find the unique and engaging and “un-Veelab,” and return with Songs of it to its Chorus….


Guarders ~150kg, 2m3 (9m2 x 4cm thick and rigid when Guarding)
Gilders ~90kg, 1.5m3 to 3m3 (amorphous gel when Gilding)
Girders ~80kg, 1 m3 (rigid tetrahedral lattice when Girding)
Æsthete ~130kg, 1.5m3 to 3m3 (amorphous and variably textured)


Guarders Photosynthetic receptors can be arrayed for rudimentary sight in the “mid-blue” to ultraviolet range of the spectrum.
Gilders “Mitochondria-like” organelles can be arrayed for rudimentary sight in the infrared range of the spectrum.
Girders “Mitochondria-like” organelles can be arrayed for rudimentary sight in the infrared range of the spectrum. Internal “motion-sensor” organelles provide extreme vibration sensitivity.
Æsthete Photosynthetic receptors can be arrayed for very poor sight in the “mid-blue” to ultraviolet range of visible light. “Mitochondria-like” organelles can be arrayed for rudimentary sight in the infrared range of the spectrum.
All Endoplasm can be made sensitive enough to hear extremely low and high frequency vibrations. Endoplasm can be made malleable enough to feel very subtle textures. Absorbed chemicals can be discriminated with a canine’s sense of smell/taste.


Guarders Light and nitrogen (N2) for photosynthesis (can transfer heat energy to Gilders).
Gilders and Girders Heat energy and oxygen (O2) (transfer heat energy freely to other Veelab).
Æsthete Heat energy, chemical energy (internal absorption of cellular matter), light, O2, H2, and/or N2 —depending upon whether using photosynthesis, digestion, respirations, or a combination.


From one to eight (this is considered by Veelab to be only a reasonable limit, not a theoretical one) non-Æsthete Veelab enter a birthing vestibule. They leave later. Don’t ask for further details. Two years later, a Veelabling emerges, already partly pre-disposed to a certain Veelab sub-physiology.


Gestation in two years, maturation and primary education in ten years, adult for 100 years, “Sat-Tya-Tsin” (roamer within the planet-being) for remaining twenty to forty years of life. Consumed by Gilders upon death.


All but the Æsthete class are shy and avoid non-Veelab, but they are generally understood to be reserved, contemplative, slow-going beings.

The Æsthete Veelab, however, are gregarious, out-going, boisterous, and brash. Since they are always questing for the unique, sublime, or exciting, they are driven and energetic to a fault. Coupled with their tendencies to be obsessive about a particular field of research or art, they can be exhausting companions. Their confidence and competence in times of crisis, however, offsets their madcap natures often enough to make them valuable allies.


The Veelab have developed extensive architectural, sonic, and chemical sciences, but their physical adaptability dissuades them from expanding sciences into—for them—useless areas. Their principle unique development, in the space sciences, is the Vod-dpah: a semi-symbiotic device that is a collection of metal tubes, genengineered sacs, and polymer bottles that resembles nothing so much as a bagpipe designed by H.R. Geiger.

A Vod-dpah is usable only by Veelab because they must absorb portions of the Vod-dpah into its body, leaving certain tubes and sacs exposed. With this configuration, the Vod-dpah will allow a Veelab to jet powerful (or not), heated (or not) gases in complex sequences. This mechanism can be used as a flame-throwing weapon, a jet-pack (in low gravities), a welding tool, a cutting tool, and even a life-support system (for Veelab and species with similar heat, pressure, and air requirements). It also contains a basic multimedia recording computer and large data storage cells (which interface directly with the Veelab’s sensorium, for maximum fidelity). With it, an Æsthete or Guarder Veelab can break from the gravity of a planet-being’s world and patrol nearby space (as long as it, of course, morphs its endoplasm into a pressure seal). It is in this way that Veelab Æsthetes can reach orbital facilities, where they morph into humanoid form to conduct business (and pleasure) in the Lattice.


Ultra- to hyper-sonic transmission and echoing across the whole planet (similar to whales of Earth). “Touch” language of the Veelab (unique, requires shape-shifting ability to attain fluency). Limited radio and light communications system for solar-system-wide comms (anything more interferes with The Song).


As near to a gestalt mind as possible without telepathy. Religion, government, entertainment, family, commerce, strife: for the Veelab, all this occurs in The Song of The Chorus. Few Veelab can be away from their Chorus for long. Few want to be.

They colonize only as space for a new Chorus is needed. They do all that they can to avoid warfare with other species, since they are very vulnerable as planet-beings. For this reason—and to encourage hospitality for their Æsthetes—they make scandalously goods deals on the music, sculpture, and chemicals that they export to the other races of the Lattice. This generosity (and the quality of their goods) encourages most of the peoples of the Lattice to give Veelab planet-beings a wide berth, and their emissaries a comfortable trip through the Worlds.

Hyt-tyl-tyl-bas (“Number Twenty-Four”)

Æsthete of the Segillut-4 Chorus

Age – 20 Standard Years physical / 72 Relative Years actual

Mass – 120kg

Typical Appearance– Stocky, gray-skinned male humanoid, bald, with huge green eyes and bushy-seeming green eyebrows (both are, in fact, clusters of photosensitive organelles pushed near to his skin).

Base or Relaxed Appearance – Translucent to transparent, milky gelatinous mass with small, granular organelles floating around inside.


Each Æsthete Veelabling is trained in the Common language, diplomacy, history, music, and art.

Equipped with, and trained in the use of, the Veelab Vod-dpah (see Veelab Species above).

At A Glance

Æsthete Hyt-tyl-tyl-bas is a “typical” Veelab Æsthete. He (for lack of a suitable gender pronoun) is on tour in the Lattice, gathering sensations and songs for his home Chorus. Though he has no itinerary, per se, he hopes to enrich his planet-being’s knowledge of current events in the “neighborhood,” and will thus seek out “hot spots” rather than “centers of culture” when given a choice.

An eager Æsthete, Hyt-tyl-tyl-bas has a zest for life that borders on seeming lunacy. He tends towards overzealous pursuit of excitement and adventure, often at great risk without ever realizing it. He is jocular, overly-trusting, noisy, and often brash—but generally endearing more than annoying to those whom he befriends. If any part of his personality could be said to be “dark” or “closed,” it is his attitude towards his Vod-dpah: he is terrified of its destructive potential and avoids it being seen by the public, least they fear him as much as he fears it. He uses it only when he must, and has yet to use it on a living being.


  • Genial and likeable. Perceptive.
  • Shape-shifting (not doppelganger-like. He will always be motley-colored and lumpy, have cartoon-like facial features effected by pushing internal organelles into configuration near the surface of his skin, have just enough control to have stubby hands, and have octopus-like rigidity control).
  • Amphibious (endoplasm can absorb needed gases—O2, N2 or H2, by choice—from appropriate hydrospheres and atmospheres).
  • Excellent hearing and sense of smell (via “tuning” of endoplasm).
  • Feeds on light (through endoplasm) and cellular energy (through absorption of live animal or plant cells for internal breakdown).
  • Immune to pressure extremes (endoplasm hardens into a gray shell).
  • No need to breathe (until Vod-dpah sacs and bottles drain). Can configure to share with someone else, assuming “human-standard” respiration requirements.
  • Vectored flight in low to null gravity (until Vod-dpah sacs and bottles drain).
  • Flame-thrower/ welder/ cutting torch/ lantern (until Vod-dpah sacs and bottles drain).
  • Can recharge Vod-dpah (requires some time, light, and above gases or liquids).


  • Overly-trusting. Gullible.
  • Overconfident. Ignorant of the variety and swiftness of the dangers in the world.
  • Extreme distinctive features (cartoonish, lumpy humanoid usually; gooey to shell-like exterior of a variety of shapes at other times).
  • Very poor (infra)vision (sees about 20/80 with special configuration of its heat- and photosensitive organelles).
  • Extremely vulnerable to ingested and insinuative poisons (if his skin isn’t in “shell mode,” any contact or gas poison has a particularly effective transfer through his endoplasm).
  • Extremely sensitive to loud noises (imagine if your whole skin got “deafened!”).
  • Sexless (this could be a “Zero Sum,” but it seems like it would be a disadvantage more often than not in a variety of social situations).
  • Suffers from motion sickness (personal problem, not a Veelab trait; Hyt must absorb appropriate pills prior to fast driving, air flight, zero gee, heavy acceleration, or extreme altitude changes).
  • Fears the responsibility and “stigmata” of the Vod-dpah.

The Unseen Eye

 Fiction, Writing  Comments Off on The Unseen Eye
Jun 051999

Greetings, curious readers.

This installment of “The Unseen Eye” is a special release. Since my seminal exposé on Senator Grofwitz’s ties to local Mafioso, the question on the minds of all readers of The Washington Post has been, I imagine with due modesty, “who is the Unseen Eye?” Well this article is going to answer that question once and for all, even if it never reaches publication, out of my fear of reprisals.

In beginning, I feel that it is important to note that this brief autobiography is by no means complete or comprehensive. I intend only to explain how I came to be one of the most insidious investigative reporters in Washington, not to tell my entire life’s story, complete with footnotes. Perhaps my life will become interesting enough to warrant thorough attention—after all, the chances of that happening have increased a hundredfold with my Eruption—but for the time being, it will suffice to simply tell the story of how I came to be a nova and why I have chosen this profession over the other lucrative options open to one of my abilities.

Prior to March 23, 2008—the first day of spring and, yea, my rebirth—my life was almost embarrassingly uneventful. My youth is best forgotten: no more than a succession of typical schooling, academic awards, and beatings by bullies. Sure, I had dreams like any other snotty-nosed kid with no knowledge of the world’s machinations. I went from yearning to be a famous novelist to aspiring to be a respected journalist to settling for being a head librarian at the D.C. Municiple Library. Certainly I had opportunities to become more—life almost always deals a hand that could be won—but my lack of confidence and my bombastic writing style gained me little more than a string of polite rejection letters and a serious case of self-pity. I settled. With the legacy of a name like Leslie Wiemerauer, you would too.

But then that fateful day came, unheralded, as so many such days are. One of my principle duties as head librarian of the D.C. Munie (as we call that old, massive facility) was to insure that the building was locked up for the night and that all environmental controls were properly set. This latter duty is of particular importance in the dusty warrens of the basement archives, and I dispatched it nightly with great care and attention. The night of March 23 was no different in that regard: I was making my rounds, quiet as a church mouse, out of habit. In retrospect, I wonder at how my life would be today had I been whistling a tune or humming to myself or simply not placing my feet with the practiced manner that prevents any sound, regardless of the shoes’ soles. Had I done anything to warn of my presence, surely I would not have overheard the aforementioned Senator and Don Cordina Medecino, surely they would have made their seperate ways out of the archives and I would have blithely gone on with my life of anonymity and quiet dispair.

Instead, I heard their whispered conversation, recognized the Senator’s voice from OpNet—I have ever been a student of politics and thus know most of its principle players—and was shocked into clumsiness by the subject of their argument. Those of you who read my first professional story, “The Senator Wears No Clothes”, surely recall the substance of what I overheard; needless to say, I was stunned to hear such an upstanding member of our national government conspiring with a local mobster to murder a federal witness. My shock was so great, I staggered back against the row on which I lurked, toppling some references that a less-thorough co-worker of mine had left precariously balanced on their shelf.

Books are not, typically, very noisy things. Pages rustle like wind through fallen leaves, spines sometimes creak and crackle like an old man’s, covers thump closed like well-machined car doors. Books dropped from four feet in a deserted, stone-walled archive to rest on worn wooden floors, however, sound like the cymbal crash of Armageddon’s most-fervent musicians or the sickening thud of a guillotined heads on gallows planks.

The two conspirators reacted with chilling efficiency. I suppose, for men accustomed to quick, violent action, the logical leap from recognizing that one has been compromised to desiring the death of the hapless discoverer is trivial. To me, it was terrifyingly unbelievable. One moment, I am eavesdropping on a chilling conversation, the next I am hearing, “Don’t let him get away, Medicino,” and the chambering of an automatic pistol.

I ran. So would you.

Now mind you, I knew the warrens of the Municiple Library’s archives like the back of my hand. I could navigate their confusing stacks blindfolded… were I not fleeing for my very life. It should come as no surprise, then, that I got turned around, became flustered, panicked, and ran myself into a dead-end on the maps and atlases row. Standing between two fifteen-foot shelves, hearing the staccato pounding of my pursuer’s hard-soled shoes grow nearer, holding my nose to forebear sneezing—my flight had stirred up dust left unmolested for decades—I collapsed in resigned exhaustion, covered my head with my thin arms, and waited for the gun’s report.

The clack-clatter of Italian loafers reached my row, paused as if to pity my cowering, prostrate form… and then pattered on to the next row! Suspecting some trick, guessing that I was being toyed with like a surrendering mouse under the paws of a lion, I didn’t move. I lay in plain sight (I thought… but to that in a moment), holding what I believed was to be my last breath, wondering perversely what a bullet really felt like as it shattered one’s spine and blended one’s lungs into a chunky froth.

And, as must be obvious, the hammer never fell. Even after the Senator had long made his escape, even after the Mafia Don passed my “hiding place” three times, even after that same Don had taunted me and threatened to “make it harder on me” for trying to thwart his efforts to end my boring life: still I remained undiscovered, though I lay sprawled on the floor like a pile of dirty laundry. I guess that Medicino figured that I had escaped to the higher floors using some little-known stairs or lift; I could just barely hear his grunt of frustration and muttered Sicilian epitaphs as he hurried to the main stairs to look elsewhere for me. Still very shaken, I did not seek to leave the archives, since there wasn’t actually any sort of conveniently-secret stairs to bail me out of my predicament. The hour was late, the library was deserted, and I did not seen any reason for the murder-bent man to give up his search any time soon. So I instead carefully snuck to the back corner of the basement, crouched behind moth-balled card catalog drawers, and waited for the morning to come, with witnesses.

That was a hellish night, as any of you whose M-R nodes have erupted can attest. The headaches began around midnight, first a dull ache I attributed to weariness and a missed dinner, then a pounding assault that threatened to drive me mad. I warred with my own mouth, stifling cries of anguish with clenched teeth and fists. When the pain became so bad that I lost awareness of my surroundings, I only prayed that I was not screaming out loud and revealing my hiding place to my pursuer—if indeed he was still even in the building. Thankfully, weariness reigned supreme over my headache before dawn, and I was able to relax a bit and get some much-needed rest.

When I awoke that morning, around eleven, I was still alone: even on the busiest days there is little call for the ancient texts interred in the archives; more often, a scanned duplicate on the OpNet suffices. And so I awoke alone and ravenous and still shaky from the previous night. At first, I was unwilling to leave my refuge. After all, Don Medicino may have seen my face, may have left a lieutenant to watch the library for my departure, may have, in fact, been waiting right at the top of the main stairs, reading the morning paper and struggling to stay awake after an all-night vigil. And so I waited, hoping perhaps that one of my assistants would come down on some errand, providing me with an escort, or at least a witness. I did not, it turned out, have to wait long, as Ms. Crumley showed up around noon seeking some books for one of our regulars. She was, needless to say, surprised by and suspicious of my unkempt appearance and wild eyes. When she asked me what I was doing at work early, and how I’d gotten down here so surreptitiously, and why I was creeping around like a wraith, I dismissed her interrogation with a wave of my hand and took her arm to lead her (or myself?) to the daylight.

No one was waiting for my arrival, as far as I could tell. The library was bright with sun and fairly crowded for a Monday—researchers are notorious for taking long weekends. I fabricated a fairly convincing lie for the worried Ms. Crumley and made an excuse for taking the day off. I needed to think about what I should do, how I could react to the terrible knowledge I had gained in my long night, who could help me with the seemingly-insurmountable threat of reprisal. Rather than return to my second-story apartment—which I was sure was watched through a telescopic rifle sight—I went for coffee at the Starbuck’s on The Mall. I was confident that the mob of tourists would shield me for a while from discovery and death.

While shakily forcing down my seventh cup of black coffee and browsing the Metro section of a stained newspaper left at the next table, I stumbled across a notice that “entertainment entrepreneur Cordina Medecino” was giving a speech that day at the opening of the new Coastal Boardwalk, built out of the deserted wastes of the Naval shipyard. Perhaps I was sleep-addled; maybe I was despairing of ever being free of threat; it could be that I was becoming angry at being a fugitive in my hometown of nearly fifty years. To this day, in spite of my now-phenomenal powers of recollection, I do not remember what made me resolve to attend this (for me) dangerous event. I know that I at least hoped to discover if I was recognized by the guilty conspirator, while somewhat protected by a crowd of potential witnesses. Maybe I just wanted to precipitate the turmoil to its conclusion, for better or worse, if only to be free of paranoia. But I tell you now, with no reservations, that paranoia is preferable to death, even if at that time I could not believe it to be so.

I did have the forsight to stop at a tourist novelty shop and purchase a t-shirt that proclaimed “I Love D.C.!” I changed into it out of my usual Oxford and tweed in the subway, earning stares and thirty cents in change from passersby—I suppose people thought I was a bum or out-of-luck traveler, to have to do my grooming by the light of flickering florescents in the concrete arteries of the city. Once changed, I made my way to the edge of the District, joined the throngs ogling the bright new plastic and neon of the Boardwalk, and looked for my hunter.

I eventually spotted the Don with some business associates, standing near the stage erected for the opening ceremonies and loudly praising the Mayor for his “vision of a reborn District”. I worked my way closer, racking my brain to come up with some excuse to approach the man with his guests, rather than wait for a time when he would be unattended and free to pronounce my death sentence to his thugs standing around like parodies of Secret Service guards.

I am not a brave man, good readers. I do my work from the shadows and publish under a nom de plume for a fraction of the recompense I could command as a recognized nova. I like to be unnoticed, unobtrusive, silent—the better to hear the truth when it is revealed. And of course, there are those out there who would handcraft a bullet for my forehead out of bottle caps if they could but know who I am and where I lay my head to sleep. But that day, after hours of fear and trepidation, I was cool and clear. The world seemed bright and crystaline, as if held in a perfect stasis so as not to spoil my moment of revelation… or relief. I noticed that one of the people with the Don was a kind and amicable City Alderman that was once a horror author; my gambit, my plan to test my anonymity, blossomed fully-formed in my mind as I wound through the waiting crowd.

“Mr. Cargraves! Mr. Cargraves! I love your work! Would you sign my t-shirt?” I shouted out as I reached the front of the stage.

The Alderman turned to regard me, as did Don Medicino and the rest of the assembled notables and media. I felt like a butterfly pinned to a felt board, waiting for the formaldehyde to do its lethal work. I stepped shakily forward, hoping my terror appeared to be only self-consciousness, and presented my shoulder to the Alderman. I steeled my nerves and risked a glance at the man who had sought my death just sixteen hours earlier.

He was regarding me with a bored, almost disdainful look, then made busy with straightening his jacket and adjusting his shirt cuffs. As the author cum Alderman patted himself down in search of a pen, I allowed my glance to linger on the mobster, almost daring him to recognize me and react with wrath in front of the assembled people.

Instead, my enemy merely reached into his jacket—stopping my heart in its tracks as I imagined his drawing and firing on me regardless of the number of witnesses—and pulled out an Aurora Benvenuto Cellini pen, handing it to Mr. Cargraves. Again, the Don regarded me, watching the author draw his looping, abbreviated signature on the awkward cotton surface, and again he seemed to merely dismiss me.

He did not recognize me! The dimness of the archives had hidden my face in the brief moment of my discovery, and my fleeing back was no longer clad in a recognizable tweed with leather elbow patches. I was just another sycophantic sheep distracting the wolves of the world from their more-important pursuits.

“There ya go, sir,” said Cargraves, as he stood back from his handiwork. “Always glad to meet a fan. What was your favorite book of mine?” He smiled amiably at me while the rest of the group resumed their discussions or preparations.

“Up From The Basement,” I replied, my head swimming with a combination of relief and cockiness. Again, I looked at the mob boss, trying to ascertain if my off-hand-seeming comment stuck a nerve.

Again, the man regarded me, curiously this time, then shrugged ever so slightly, and dismissed me again.

“Yep… one of my favorites, too,” Cargraves replied, then turned away. “Enjoy the ceremony,” he added over his shoulder, as an afterthought. The sheep was dismissed to rejoin the flock.

I was free!

Certain of my anonymity, I returned to work at the library the next day. Though I had spent the remainder of the previous day pondering what course of action I could take to prevent the murder plans I had overheard, I had not though much of my unlikely escape or headaches or ravenous appetite. At the time, it was all-too easy to disregard the symptoms of Eruption as attributable to a stressful night and uncomfortable sleep. I could not long disregard, however, my newly-fired mind.

Within days of resuming my life, I found that my memory, reasoning capacity, and attention to detail was increasing. Where once I would excitedly leap to look up some obscure fact or reference for a patron of the library, now I found that I could recall the information within a moment of thinking about it. When once I though combing the stacks for a mis-shelved book was a sort of adventure into antiquity, now I could walk right up to where I subconsciously had noticed the book placed and reach for it without looking. Put simply, my mind had grossly outstripped my profession, and was growing restless within a week.

It can probably go without saying that the life of a librarian is not very exciting. If the work suits one, that person can find delight in organization, excitement in discovery of information, and satisfaction in a day of education. If, on the other hand, the work is banal, trivial, and neigh-automatic for an individual, they will not last long in the profession.

I tendered my resignation to the library director on the following Monday, just one week after my frightening night and liberating day. He was surprised, but not particularly sad, it seemed. I was a good employee, but not the sort of man who would be missed, if only because I was so little worth knowing, at the time.

This is not to say, however, that I did not accomplish much in the week while I still had my employee badge. Though I did not have the idea yet to turn to journalism again, I did know that whatever I was to become could not be built upon my insipid past. Feigning other duties, I planned to gained entry to the District Hall of Records, the DMV, and the hospital where I was born. Not even fully realizing why, I sought to eradicate any record of my life and existence. I could have been subconsciously covering my tracks, least those I had overheard thought to pull the library’s employment records and start checking up on its forty-five employees. Since it was my job to make work schedules, I easily got rid of any record of my working on that fateful night before resigning. I had thought that pulling and disposing of my official government records would be much harder, but that was before I discovered the greatest gift that my Eruption had given me and the reason that I could escape discovery while hiding in plain sight.

I was at the Hall of Records, having pulled my file and taken it to one of the public room’s long tables. I was alone in the room excepting the curator, and when she got up from her desk, collecting her purse for a trip to the bathroom, I hurriedly stopped her and returned my file to her. You see, I did not want her to wonder about the man she left alone with his records or feel that she should mark my face and name, should something untoward happen as a result of her lack of diligence. Knowing the bureaucratic mindset—nay, almost seeing that very thought process work its way around her face and neck as she reached for her purse—I knew it would be best to let her “secure” my file and free her mind of worry. Of course I watched where she placed it to be filed later. Of course I held the door for her as we left. Of course I made a big show of waiting for the elevator, checking my watch and muttering about the “damned slow machine”. She headed off, obviously glad that she could do her duty and not attend her station.

I walked back into the public room and vaulted the low counter that divided the room between the commoners’ area and that of the self-important administrators. I headed for the lady’s desk, my eyes locked on the prize, my left hand fumbling in my jacket for the faked Death Certificate that I intended to add to it. As I made the modification to the relevant sheets and placed the certificate in the file, I heard the rattle fo the old doorknob that secured the room.

I froze: caught, startled, beginning to shake in fear of imagined incarceration and investigation. Hunched over the lady’s desk, my back to the door, I awaited her cry of alarm.

The door opened, her heels click-clacked across the room to the counter gate behind me, the gate creaked and swished as she passed through it, dropped her purse right at my feet, and walked away from where I stood to the row of shelves at the back of the administrator’s area. I confess that I watched her receding figure with some appreciation—librarians are not typically considered stud material and I had no little amount of pent up sexual frustration for which to thank my esoteric conversational subjects and out-dated jokes. But the the import of what had happened hit me full force, stunning me into vacantly staring at the woman going about her business before me.

She had not seen me! There could be no doubt about it, she just plain did not see me standing over the file that was her responsibility to guard! I did not know how or why she had ignored me; but she had, my deed was done, and a quick escape was the best way to profit from the odd situation, not staring blankly at the young woman’s ass. I turned and crept from the area, going over the counter like a soldier crawling over a trench wall, opening the door with a silent patience that belied my pounding heart, and slipping from the room back into the hall… and, again, into anonymity.

As I rode the Metro home, it all began to make sense: the forgotten headaches on that crazy night, my increasing appetite, my impossible escape from the murderous mobster and attractive administrator.

I could become invisible. I was a nova! Suddenly, my increased memory and reasoning all made sense: it had to be an accidental result of my Eruption, an Eruption that primarily had made me able to disappear from sight. After years of being a nobody, I was suddenly and dizzyingly thrust into an elite circle of a few thousand of the most powerful people ever to exist.

If I were correct. If I were not just the lucky beneficiary of dim lighting and distracted preoccupation. I decided to test it right there on the Metro. There was not much of a crowd, since it was still the middle of the afternoon, but there were enough people to serve as a representative sample. There were high school kids, some possible gangbangers, a mother and her four harrying children, and an old man sleeping on one of the benches. I slowly rose to my feet, walked forward in the subway car to its front, and turned to face my experimental group.

“Pardon me, everyone,” I began, clearing my throat to forebear my voice squeaking, “I am sorry to bother you all today, but I have to try something.”

The mother of four flinched a bit, probably anticipating another loony bothering the assembly with requests for money or worse. Everyone in the car looked up at me, their gazes varying from expectant to disdainful to bored. I let the feeling of exposure wash over me, trying to summon the sensations that I had felt on the floor of the archives and just an hour earlier in the Hall of Records. I felt a thrill of tension in my stomach, then my forehead, then on the surface of my skin.

“Ta da!” I announced, spreading my arms wide like a stage magician and waiting for their gasps of incredulity. I looked around the group, expecting astonishment. I was instead greeted with more disdain and not a few derisively-raised eyebrows.

“Okay, schlow what?” the old man slurred, awakened by my presentation before the crowd.

“Yeah, so do something if you wanna beg some change, old man,” one of the high school kids mocked. “You gotta have some kind of angle if ya wanna beg-off these days, dude, ” he added by way of explanation. His companions laughed and snorted; one tossed a nickle, three pennies, and a subway token towards me. Perversely, I noticed that one of the pennies was one of the new Nova-issues on which the Fireman’s bust replaces Lincoln’s. I noticed that before it reached the floor.

“Ah, Christ,” I muttered to myself, covering my face with my hands, both to hide and to wipe away the beads of sweat that were telegraphing my embarrassment.

The mother choked in surprise; the old man coughed, startled; the school kids exclaimed, “Killer!” and “Jooce!” and dropped their books.

I peeked out from between my fingers, taking in the scene of surprise with some small degree of satisfaction, and another collective gasp issued from the small crowd.

“Woah! A nova! Jooce!” the once-mocking, now impressed, school boy exclaimed. “Disappear again, dude!”

I dropped my hands and asked, “Did I disappear? Could you not see me? Wait… ‘again’?” I was confused and elated. Obviously, I was right about Erupting, but a bit off in my assessment of my capabilities. It did not take my now-supercharged mind long to make the connection. I closed my eyes.

“Sweeeet! Who you work for? The Project?” the self-appointed speaker for the group sputtered.

I held my eyes closed and began walking toward the sound of his voice, waving my hands in front of me to avoid colliding with a railing or pole. As I fumbled around for a handhold, a vision of the subway car suddenly blossomed in my mind’s eye. I could recall every detail of the car, every person’s posture and position, the play of shadows across the floor—we were pulling into station as I was closing my eyes.

I reached out to steady myself on a pole that I recalled being in front of me… and staggered as I failed to grasp it. I was going to fall on one of the woman’s little girls, and I reeled to grab a seat back. My hand found no purchase, though I could “see” that it was right on top of the seat. I slumped to the floor, sure I was about to hear a cry of surprise or a crunch of broken bones.

Instead, the crowd merely became agitated, calling out to me and jabbering excitedly to each other, themselves, or no one in particular. Throughout my whole slapstick tumbling, I had held my eyes tightly shut. Now, on the floor, some instinct or subconscious warning made me keep them shut as I tried to pull myself up. In my mind’s eye, I could still see the car’s layout and was imagining my current position on the floor. With a chill running up my spine, I realized several things at once—a cascade of logic and recognition of fact to which I have now grown accustomed but then found almost frightening.

First, I realized that I could not grab anything because I had not only become invisible, but also intangible. That was why the pole passed through my outstretched hand, the seat back failed to stop me, and the child was uninjured by my stocky frame crashing full onto her shoulder.

Second, I visualized my position on the floor of the car and “saw” that both my legs were (should have been? would have been? sometimes it is hard to find the right verb tense when I am describing my mind’s eye) passing through the seat supports, a pole, and the legs of the little girl upon which I should have landed.

Third, I deduced in a flash that my new power only worked on things which I could not see, be they objects or observers. Thus, my power had activated upon my saying “ta da”, but my audience was still in my view, and thus unaffected by it. Covering my eyes had made it work for them, and had made me insubstantial to the world around me. Thus, I had, quite literally, fallen through the pole and seat and little girl. I could not pull myself up for the same reason: no purchase for my immaterial form.

Fourth, it occurred to me that I was being a right fool, exposing my powers before a bunch of strangers, all with good reason to gossip about the graying man that could become invisible that they met on the subway. The efforts I was making to eradicate records of my existence would be largely wasted if my photo ended up splashed on the front page of the Post with the caption “New Nova Surprises Subway”. And more people were going to be on the subway at any second—I could hear the subway brakes squeal, echoing off the tile walls of the station at which we were stopping.

Fifth, I recognized that I had made all of these leaps of logic inside the space of two seconds, even as my visualized shoulder headed for the girl’s face. I had never thought so quickly or clearly, never had the cause and effect of the world laid out before me like some flowchart on a meeting room whiteboard. No wonder I had become so quickly bored with the drudgery of a librarian’s duties: I could out-think Einstein! Or so it seemed to me in those flashing seconds of thought.

But then time seemed to speed back up, as I lay huddled on the floor, eyes squeezed shut. I knew that I could not open them immediately: I no longer desired the recognition of my abilities by the astonished and milling group, I knew that my rematerialization would probably cost me and the little girl our legs, and now the car doors were hissing open to admit still more witnesses… or victims. I shuddered as I realized that I still visualized the scene before my dematerialization as it appeared at that time, though I knew from the sounds around me that the tableau had changed, that people had moved, that new people were arriving and being alerted to the strange events of the past several seconds. My mind’s eye, while crystal clear, did not see past my aching eyelids, but rather just held a record of what I had seen. Thus, I risked more than my legs, perhaps, by materializing—what if someone now stood where my head was?!

That was the moment that the last recognition of the extent of my powers (for the time being) came to me. As if by instinct or by the now-familiar subconscious working of my accelerated mind, I tried to swim away. It sounds funny now, in retrospect, but at the time it was a desperate act—I was panicking and yearning to open my eyes in much the same way a drowning man must yearn to breathe though submerged in killing water. I began to breast stroke in what I visualized was the direction towards the open car doors and platform. I “swam” onto what—from the expanding sounds—had to be the platform, but still I did not dare to open my eyes: the sound of footsteps around me brought flashbacks of my flight in the archives, as the risk of revelation now carried with it just as lethal a potential as then, though from shoes and legs, rather than guns and lead. I knew I was in DuPont Circle station, on the lower platform, though; that remembrance showed me the way out of my predicament.

I angled myself upwards and “swam” toward the tunnel roof. I wanted to get about seven or eight feet off the platform, above one end of it where people rarely congregated, then open my eyes and brave what might come.

I did so, and I fell seven feet, flailing, to the platform beneath me, winding myself and startling a couple waiting nearby. I was almost unsurprised that I had so well visualized the station at which I rarely stopped; the couple was surely more surprised to see me appear in the air and crash at their feet.

I hurriedly picked myself up, bowed dramatically to the astonished pair, and “tensed” myself to start my power up again. I closed my eyes, relished the couple’s outcries, and “swam” for the station exit and the anonymity of the wide city streets. A remembered alley provided the opportunity for me to “drop” again into being and make my way to a hotel.

And that is the substance of it, my gentle readers. You now know who the Unseen Eye is and how he came to be. True, you do not know all—this is on purpose. You do not, for example, know the means by which I gained the evidence that linked Senator Grofwitz to Mafia money—there are innocents who would surely suffer if my means were revealed—though I imagine that many of you can guess at how I managed it. You do not, of course, know where I now reside, who my contact with the Post is, nor what the subject my next exposé will be. That is all still my secret, and shall remain so as long as I feel my calling is to apply my powers to ferret out corruption and deceit. Sure, I could contract with a multinational, collapse into their embrace and security, and resume a public life. Sure, I could start my own multinational and make a mint using my powers of getting the right data and knowing its best use. Sure, I could join up with The Project or The Directive (or the Teragen?) and let other powerful beings dictate my powers’ application.

But then there would no longer be an Unseen Eye, watching those sworn to serve and protect the trusting populace, guaranteeing that should those representatives fail, their dirtiest laundry will be strained to make ink for my pen.

Visions of the Unseen Eye © 2008, Unseen Eye Syndicated