Advertise in Our Fall Issue!

Cirsova

The Summer issue of Cirsova is out now! That means the Fall issue of Cirsova will soon be upon us!

Advertising rates can be found here: https://cirsova.wordpress.com/cirsova-magazine/advertising/

We’re accepting all ads except for back cover [which has already been sold]

We’re still hoping to do submissions during the first week of August, but I just got hit with about $4k in plumbing expenses. The good news: I’ve got the money. The better news: Cirsova is already front-loaded with 75K words of fiction for 2023 by special arrangement. The bad news: Unless we get a major cash injection soon, we’ll probably be just looking at around 100k words and 2 issues next year, or kick back Open Submissions/go invite-only.

The two fastest ways for us to get the cash we need in time to buy things in August:

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Why So Quiet Lately? Because Big News is Down the Road!

What’s Happening With Cirsova

Cirsova

New Misha Burnett Anthology Coming Soon!

We couldn’t really say anything earlier, but since we’ve been told that the signed contract is in the mail [for the second time; the USPS lost the original signed copy we sent] for an all new anthology from Misha Burnett! This is just a tease, though, we’ll have some real information for you soon.

Wild Stars V: Proof Orders

We’ve got 2 of the 3 proof orders in for Wild Stars V [Virgin and Hardcover]. We’ve been wrestling with KDP [because when aren’t we?], but apparently a file processing issue has just been resolved, so we were finally able to take another stab at uploading the interior for the retail version. We’ll have some pictures of those when they come in.

Summer Cirsova

The Summer issue of Cirsova is just about ready to go. We’re going to hit up the contributors soon with information…

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Venger Con 2022

This summer I will be going to Madison, Wisconsin for Venger Con on July 22, 23, and 24th. And I will be running an in-person RPG for the first time in… a heck of a long time.

It’s going to take place on Saturday the 23th, starting at 10am and running until 2pm. Yes, that’s early. It’s early because I am an old man and I go to bed early.

I’m calling the game An Atlas Of Bad Roads, and it’s what I like to call Heroic Horror. That’s the kind of Horror where the characters don’t just passively accept their fate but fight back and kick some monster ass. Think Tremors, Return Of The Living Dead, Nightmare On Elm Street, Killer Klowns From Outer Space.

I’ll be using a modified form of Original D&D that I’ve written. Characters will be rolled up at the table, using 3d6 in order for stats. The main mechanic I want to test play is a quick and dirty way to use anything as a weapon. Improvised weapons are the mainstay of Heroic Horror, and I want to see players bashing bad guys with chairs, coffee pots, ice chests, fire axes, accordions–anything you can get your hands on. (I also have rules for making explosives, caustics, toxins, and incendiaries from common household ingredients in the proper proportions.)

The teaser is that the characters are all at a truck stop off Interstate 44 between Rolla and Springfield, Missouri. (Stephen King has Maine as his personal Horror Zone, I’ve got SW Mo.) It’s 3 A.M. on a Wednesday morning in June.

That’s all I’m going to say. Tables are limited to six players, and I should be able to handle that many. I don’t think Venger allows official sign ups in advance, but if you message me and say you want to play I’ll make sure to save a seat for you.

“Like one, that on a lonesome road
Doth walk in fear and dread…”

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Emergent Narrative Dungeons & Dragons

I’ve been in a couple of Twitter threads about Old vs Nu D&D and specifically about the concept that playing RPGs is like writing a story. As someone who does both, I can say that they are nothing alike. In fact, one of the things I enjoy most about my Sunday night D&D game is that it’s a break from writing (even though, of late, I haven’t been doing much writing… alas.)

So, as a thought exercise, I am going to show how D&D games create a story at the table, starting from nothing and improving a world.

Let’s say there’s a DM and five players named A, B, C, D, and E. At the start of the game the DM has some random encounter tables and a couple of blank dungeon maps. No setting created, just “a small village in the middle of the woods.”

The players roll up brand new characters, starting with 3d6 in order Strength, Intelligence, Wisdom, Dexterity, Constitution, and Charisma for stats. (I am going to roll these randomly for this illustration, just like the players would.) They come up with:

A: 11,11,11,8,12,8 This one is a bit of a puzzle. Not really good at anything. After some thought the player decides on Cleric.

B: 16, 7, 14, 7, 11, 13 Fighter type, certainly. The player decides to go with Paladin. In fact, he’s going to be a Paladin of the same faith as the Cleric, assigned as the Cleric’s bodyguard, since the Cleric is clearly no warrior.

C: 5,8,12,8,11,11 Another Cleric? No, the player decides on Thief. His low strength, he decides, is do to the character’s small size–not a Fantasy race like Dwarf of Gnome, but a child, an Oliver Twist who has escaped his Fagin and ran off into the woods, running into the Cleric and joining with him for safety.

D: 10,11,11,9,13,7 What do you do when your highest stat is Constitution? The player decides on Ranger, a hearty outdoorsman who is used to surviving alone in the wilderness for months at a time, living on what he can hunt. His low Charisma is from not being around people very often. The Paladin suggests that the party hired the Ranger as a local guide, and the Ranger agrees.

E: 8,10,7,4,10,8 That’s unfortunate. Only two stats that rise as high as average. For lack of any better options the character decides to make him a Mage. An old man with a long white beard who tries to convince people he’s a great wizard, but he’s actually a retired librarian, E decides. An amusing idea for a character. A random roll for starting spell yields Protection From Evil, which will come in handy.

That’s the party. Now what are they doing? A mission trip, someone suggests, and the DM decides to go with that. The Cleric has been sent by his temple to the wilderness to found a church to serve the scattered small settlements, and the Paladin was sent to protect him. They hired the Ranger as a guide, and ran across the Thief and the Mage, who both decided to tag along for safety.

A Temple to Whom? The Great Thunder Eagle, the Cleric says, making up the name on the spot. A Nature Spirit, ruler of the Heavens. The Ranger says that would suit his character and becomes a convert. (Neither the Thief nor the Mage are particularly religious.)

Even with the inevitable table talk and jokes this is all settled fairly quickly and it’s time to play.

The DM tells the party, “This town is in fear–just north of here is an old graveyard and sometimes at night unnatural things come out of there and terrorize the villagers.”

The Paladin jumps at the bait, “If we were to go to the graveyard and lay this evil to rest–?” he suggests.

“The townspeople would embrace the Great Thunder Eagle with open arms,” the DM assures him.

Well, that’s a plan.

The party buys equipment for the journey while the DM hastily reviews the section on Undead.

The graveyard is one full day’s travel the DM decides, and rolls for a random wilderness encounter. A party of Goblins waylays the party, demanding a toll for passing through. After a quick discussion the party refuses to pay and everyone rolls initiative.

During the battle the goblins are defeated, but both the Paladin and the Ranger are injured. They decide to camp for a day for both natural and divine healing. Another wilderness encounter roll while they are in camp and–oh no!–more Goblins.

The DM decides that these Goblins have already run across the bodies of the former group and are in no mood to talk–they come out swinging. Despite this, the party manages to take them without further wounding, and now have the treasure from both groups of Goblins–not a huge amount, but enough to replenish supplies and maybe upgrade armor and weapons.

The party gets back on the road and gets to the graveyard near dusk. The party decides to camp outside the graveyard and to go exploring in the morning.

During the night the DM decides that they are close enough to the graveyard that an encounter roll isn’t necessary–they are going to be attacked. A group of skeletons pushes out of the soil, but between the Cleric Turning Undead and the Mage casting Protection From Evil they are driven off without a fight.

The next day the party searches the graveyard and finds a large tomb with the door smashed open–from the inside. In the tomb they find the floor has been torn open, revealing a tunnel leading down into darkness. The DM is ready to use the blank map he’d prepared and improvs the first room.

“This is a burial chamber, with several biers for large caskets, but all of the caskets have been smashed. The bones of the dead lie scattered all around. The walls were once covered with religious carvings and art, but they have been desecrated.”

What sort of religious art? Why, The Great Thunder Eagle, of course. And what’s worse, the room has been reconsecrated as a shrine to The Evil Serpent God who is the enemy of The Great Thunder Eagle!

At this point it’s late and the DM suggests calling it quits for the night, to pick up with the party exploring the tunnels under the graveyard next session. It’s a thrilling cliff-hanger to end on, and the party will be stoked for next week’s game.

The DM, meanwhile, has a theme to use to populate his map, and an idea of the capabilities of the party to serve as a guide for how deadly to make the monsters and traps.

And none of it was planned out in advance. It just happened organically as the players and DM sat down to talk things out. In addition to the lair of the evil undead, there’s also the matter of the Goblins in the woods, who have now lost two groups to these adventurers and can’t be expected to be happy about it.

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Aerio Store Update

Cirsova

So, apparently following our split with Ingram Spark, Aerio purged all of our titles from 2019 onwards, despite these still being available on Amazon and in print via KDP. Due to some database issue on Aerio’s end, we are unable to re-add any of these titles to our Aerio store via the ISBN/EAN Search Tool.

While we are not planning on taking down our Aerio store right away [the first 10 issues of Cirsova which were ONLY published through Amazon’s platform are still available], we are no longer maintaining it nor will we be plugging it. It was nice to have a single-point storefront with all of our titles, but hardly anyone ever bought anything through it.

We will focus more on our Crave Books pages going forward. Right now, they aren’t really a publisher-centric platform, so we’ve had to list all of our books [the magazines, at least] as…

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Saint Tommy

Click for the Amazon link

I recently finished Declan Finn’s Hell Spawn.

It is a deceptively ambitious novel. The premise is simple–a supernatural action thriller with a hero who is a good man. Thomas Nolan, New York City detective, is a Catholic saint–or, more accurately, has the potential to be one, since in Catholic theology one cannot be a saint until after one is dead.

There is a fair amount of Catholic theology in this novel. As an outsider to the Catholic church, I found the explanations of doctrine sprinkled through the story interesting without slowing the pace of the story. Finn tells us just enough to provide suspension of disbelief. If one accepts the metaphysics presented in the story (and I had no difficulty doing so) then the events are logical.

But that’s just the framework the story hangs on. This is not a philosophical novel, it’s an action story. And as I said above, it’s an action story with a hero who is a good man. Reading this book I was startled to realize that is, in today’s literary scene, a revolutionary concept.

Conventional wisdom tells us that a hero cannot be interesting without being flawed. Finn rejects that entirely. Tommy isn’t flawless (another element of Catholic and Christian doctrine is that all human beings are fallen and sinful) but he’s good. He is a conscientious employee, a dedicated family man, an active member of his church, an enthusiastic volunteer in charitable organizations.

This doesn’t make him dull, however. Much of that is the result of Finn’s narrative style, which is both conversational and compelling. This book is a story told by someone I want to listen to.

Finn, though, works from the assumption that good doesn’t mean boring. And it turns out to be true, despite what the last half-century or so of literary pontification.

The story itself is fairly straightforward. Tommy encounters a killer who exhibits supernatural abilities and at the same time begins to experience events that he can only describe as miraculous. It’s the usual Urban Fantasy opening–which is not to say that it’s predictable or trite. Classic stories are classic because they work.

Just as the hero is plain and simply a good man, the antagonist–I don’t consider it a spoiler to say that it is a literal demon, since that information is on the book jacket–is pure and simply evil. It is not humanized or softened or explained. The evil is unalloyed, and bad things happen in this book.

Really bad things.

In my opinion, though, the book does suffer from some of the conventions of Urban Fantasy. The “hero discovers the secret world” plotline feels at times a bit formulaic. The supporting characters–Tommy’s partner in particular, who fulfils the roll of Cynic–switch from “You’re insane” to “I guess all this supernatural stuff is real” a bit too quickly for my taste. But that’s a minor complaint.

The ending was a little more of a problem for me. Without going into details, it went full X-Men pretty quickly, and I would have preferred more subtlety. But I wouldn’t call it unsatisfying or say that it ruined the book.

All in all, it’s a solid book on its own merits, an enjoyable action thriller. Finn takes a gamble in creating a hero with the characteristics and abilities of a Catholic saint, and it pays off. And I have to admit that working within the framework of his own faith rather than adopting someone else’s mythology takes a certain amount of guts.

Highly recommended. I have just started the second book in the series, Death Cult, and I’ll be interested to see if he can keep the momentum going.

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Wild Stars V: The Artomique Paradigm is Live!

Cirsova

The Kickstarter for Wild Stars V: The Artomique Paradigm is now live!

75,000 years ago, an immortal being from another universe known only as the Ancient Warrior led mankind on an exodus to the stars in the face of a massive alien invasion. While the branch of humanity remaining behind survived the Marzanti attempt to terraform earth into a paradise for aquatic alien nightmares, their cousins settled in the distant reaches of space known as the Wild Stars. 

The Artomique Paradigm takes place at the first formal reunion of Earth and their Wild Stars cousins. Erlik, the son of the Ancient Warrior, and former President Bully Bravo hope that a summit between the myriad factions now populating space will bridge gaps and build trust throughout the galaxy. However, the Artomique Corporation aims to become one of the dominant players in Earth and interstellar politics using the stolen Wild Star…

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Open Call – Broadswords and Blasters Presents: Futures That Never Were

Broadswords and Blasters

  1. What we’re looking for: Sword and Planet fiction. Think John Carter (Edgar Rice Burroughs), Flash Gordon (especially the comic strip, the early serials, and the movie – not so much the attempted reboots), and Leigh Brackett (Eric John Stark). Need more examples? Check here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sword_and_planet.
  2. Word count is 5,000 to 10,000. This is for a one-off themed anthology, so no serials. Stories should be self-contained, with a readily identifiable beginning, middle, and end. Don’t send us a chapter of your novel unless it can completely stand on its own.
  3. Payment is $40 flat plus an electronic comp copy, regardless of word length. If we manage to secure additional funding, the first thing we’ll be doing is upping the pay rate for contributors. Payment will be made through PayPal, no exceptions.
  4. Submissions will open 12:01 AM EDT (GMT -4) July 1, 2022 and close July 15, 2022 at 11:59 PM…

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The Strange Recollections of Martha Klemm: Sara Was Judith is Out Now!

Cirsova

Kinda… The eBook is out tomorrow; we weren’t able to time things exactly right with the print edition, which we expected to be a little late, actually.

But be sure to check out this incredible weird tale by Julian Hawthorne, son of famed American writer Nathaniel Hawthorne!

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The Business Of Madness: A Conversation With Venger Satanis

Venger Satanis is the High Priest of Kort’thalis Publishing, and the fact that he refers to himself by that title, rather than editor or publisher, is characteristic of this indie RPG dream peddler. He cultivates a distinctive online presence, rather like Anton Szandor LaVey re-imagined as 1970’s Saturday morning cartoon supervillian.

Kort’thalis’ catalog (sixty-odd RPG books, over twenty successful Kickstarter campaigns) shares that high camp aesthetic—garish colors, sleazy artwork, superfluous apostrophes. Even his detractors (of which he has more than his share) have to admit he has mastered the subtle art of branding. His books look like the covers of the kind of Direct To VHS movies that Blockbuster refused to carry.

Venger, let’s talk first about your product line. While lately you’ve been focused on the world of Cha’alt, that’s not the only setting you’ve created. How would you group the products you have available?

I have several categories.  There’s the setting neutral OSR adventure stuff like Liberation of the Demon Slayer and The Islands of Purple-Haunted Putrescence.  I have books geared towards gamers themselves, like How To Game Master Like A Fucking Boss and the two Adventure Writing Like A Fucking Boss books.  There’s the Alpha Blue product line which stretches as far as the naked eye can see.  Finally, we come to the aforementioned Cha’alt… my eldritch, gonzo, science-fantasy, post-apocalyptic campaign setting.  And I use Crimson Dragon Slayer D20 to run it.  Additionally, there are the “odd ball” titles that were one-off projects, like my OSR vampire RPG Blood Dark Thirst.  I suppose The Outer Presence falls into that category, as well, even though I did put out a couple adventures for it. 

Do you have plans to expand your Crimson Dragon Slayer system for use in your SF and Horror settings? Can we look forward to Crimson Bug Eyed Monster Slayer?

 As you can see from my last answer, I’m kind of all over the place with my output.  Now that I’ve been doing this for awhile, I think I want to focus on what I do best and leave the cul-de-sac titles for someone else to write.  Crimson Dragon Slayer can handle science-fantasy and Lovecraftian horror fantasy just as easily as sword and sorcery fare, so no plans to fix what isn’t broken.

How did you make the jump from RPG fan to RPG publisher? Do you have any advice to give to people wanting to write and publish their own game materials?

 As soon as I started playing (back in 1983), I was eagerly eyeing the Game Master’s chair.  And once I did that, writing my own content became second nature.  I was decent at it, which helped.  Through the years, I would come up with something neat and send it off to places like Dungeon Magazine, but no takers.  When the open gaming license for D&D came about, just as the OSR took off, I decided to go for it and self-publish weird D&D type adventures to see if anyone was interested in buying it.  Sure enough, there was a market.  

My advice is to start small and make whatever you write and publish really awesome.  Don’t half-ass it!  See what others have done, that works, and put your own spin on it, trying to improve the medium’s particulars as you go.

On that same subject, are there any major missteps you’ve made in the business? If you could do it all over again, what would you do differently?

Nothing huge.  Sure, I’ve made plenty of mistakes along the way, but that’s been part of the process.  Even my failures bear some fruit… however strange the taste.

In July you’ll be hosting VengerCon, an gaming convention in Madison, WI. What goes into creating a con? How did you reserve the venue? Is there a set procedure for setting up something like this?

Yep, I’m excited for Venger Con.  It’s going to be the Woodstock of gaming conventions.  It won’t have a lot of the bells and whistles you see with modern cons these days, but the gaming we do there will live on for decades to come.  Venger Con focuses on old-school, OSR, and traditional RPGs.  It doesn’t have a massive dealer hall and a room for board games and another for card games, etc.  It’s just RPGs.  

I scouted out several locations, called to see if they were suitable, went there to look around and talk to the staff.  Eventually, I found the ideal place.  Filled out the paperwork, put money down, and now I’m just waiting for that weekend to come.  Oh yeah, I used the Tabletop Events platform online to help with hosting the convention details, keeping track of tickets (of which there’s only 100 available – I want to keep this affair small and intimate), handling the money, etc.

What’s next for you? You’re currently wrapping up the third Cha’alt sourcebook, but once that’s finished do you have your next project in mind? Will it be more material for one of your existing settings, or something new?

I do own the Encounter Critical property, so might do something cool with that.  A new edition and perhaps fancy hardcover?   But first I need to sell-out the Cha’alt books, or come damn close.  I still have a few hundred of the first and second book.  Once the Kickstarter’s fulfilled, I should have a hundred or so of book #3 to sell, also.  My wife has told me that once I move the vast majority of Cha’alt books out of our basement, I can start work on a new hardcover book.  They’re all professionally printed, top quality, and truly beautiful to behold.

After that, assuming I’m still alive, I’ll probably start work on a fourth Cha’alt book.  It’s my favorite setting; I like to think of it as my home away from home.  That’s where the best adventuring takes place.  To me, it’s very real – even more real than someplace I’ve never been, like Kansas, North Dakota, or France.  

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