Even More Rules of the Apocalypse


Welcome back to the final content update for the Apocalypse Campaign Guide Kickstarter. We’re now entering the last week of the Kickstarter project.

In the previous two updates I talked a little bit about crafting, community building, and handling vehicle MPG for those who want fuel to be a sought after resource in their campaigns. This week we’ll go a little into things like genetic mutations and cybernetics, which use the same rules between them, and a new feature for characters called Values.

First up: the genetic mutations and other character altering stuff.

We went through several iterations of rules on handling genetic mutations and cybernetics. Some were very abstract; some were super-crunchy (bring your own salsa). Neither worked for what we wanted. So I started looking to different sources on how such things might be handled, primarily via role-playing games I have in my PDF and physical library. I have a ton. Way too many, in fact. I should probably sell some of this stuff eventually, because when Anna and I buy a home in the next few years (we currently rent), I’m not looking forward to moving all this stuff. Especially stuff like RPGs that I honestly will never have the time to play again. I’m talking AD&D 2e, TORG, the Marvel Universe RPG (the system that used the stone resource allocation), even the original Elfquest RPG from Chaosium.

Eventually I came upon Cyberpunk 2020. I read through the sections I needed, and the proverbial lightbulb went off. At some point after that in design, I also started looking through various Savage Worlds products for the same themes. I’d already decided to translate what I wanted from the Cyberpunk 2020 system into Savage Worlds terms, but then I discovered it had already been done. Now don’t get me wrong, I can’t say with authority that that’s where those designers got the idea from, but the similarities were suddenly no longer lost on me. I’d just never seen it before because I hadn’t cracked open Cyberpunk 2020 in almost 20 years. But I found similar systems for handling cybernetics in Interface Zero 2.0, the Science Fiction Companion, Rippers, and even in the gear catalogue for Deadlands Reloaded.

So taking in all the above, looking for common threads that were already prevalent in Savage Worlds, and adding in my own that I felt were needed, here’s the basic system I came up with.

If you’re familiar with various forms of cybernetic rules in Savage Worlds, you’ll see a common theme. Characters usually have a threshold, called Strain or something else, that governs the number of slots they have available for cybernetics. Going above that threshold causes Fatigue that cannot be recovered (except by removing the extra parts) and that can eventually lead to death. So, we already have that system spread between several different products by different publishers. Meaning: it’s likely a sub-system Savage Worlds fans are already very familiar with.

It also mimics the sub-systems of older games like Cyberpunk 2020, Shadowrun (Essence loss), and others.

Now, how you come about the Strain value varies. It might be a derived statistic from Vigor or Spirit, or something else.

I also wanted to use some sort of Psychosis rules, ala Cyberpunk 2020; and I also wanted to avoid a single “stat dump” mechanic to determine the thresholds.

So, here’s the basics of what I wrote.

Every character, PC or NPC, has a Strain (though I might change that term before it goes to layout) threshold equal to their Toughness. Edges that increase Toughness increase that threshold, and there are also specific Edges that can increase your Strain without increasing the damage mitigation of your Toughness. Meaning that you have a choice in creating your character, and wanting them to have a decent Strain doesn’t force you to also stat-dump into Vigor or take damage mitigating Toughness increasing Edges. You can be average in the damage mitigation and Vigor department, and still have a decent Strain.

Each genetic mutation or cybernetic, or what have you, uses a specific number of slots. Each slot costs 1-Strain. Go above that threshold, and you will take damage that can only be recovered by removing the extra slots, and take too much over the threshold and you’ll die. Of course some things like cybernetics are easy to remove, whereas genetic mutations are not.

This also mimics what we see in a lot of fiction where we have the super-cybered or seriously-mutated, hulking brute of a monster.

I also have another derived statistic besides Strain, and that is Empathy. The Empathy stat is determined by your Spirit. In addition to costing Strain, each slot used also reduces your Empathy. Once your Empathy reaches zero, you hit the point where further augmentation will affect your ability to interact with other living things. When your Empathy goes below zero, each further point of loss reduces your Charisma by -1, which means it affects your Persuasion and Streetwise rolls. Additionally, each point it drops below zero gives you a +1 bonus to Intimidate and Test of Wills rolls. You’ll also have to roll on a Psychosis chart to see what issues you’re going to take on.

Basically, the more you’re mutated, cybered, and so forth, the less and less human you’ll become on an emotional level, and the more chances for some serious mental and emotional issues to develop. Which, we felt, duplicated what we see in various novels, TV shows, and films.

Now, on to Values.

In an apocalypse setting, the most famous characters have things that are vitally important to them. It might be a child, a spouse, a photograph, a religious belief . . . the possibilities are endless. The Apocalypse Campaign Guide has an optional rule for characters called Values, and they represent those things about a character.

Players start with between 3 to 7 Value Points at character creation. What the player does is create one or more Values, which can be the notation of a simple item or even a phrase about something important to them, and assigns a numerical value to it from their point pool. The higher the numerical value, the more important it is to the character. During play, when one of the Values would directly inspire the character in some way, the player can use any number of the assigned points for that Value to gain a +1 to the roll per point spent. Points can also be spent to immediately recover from a Shaken condition instead of it costing a benny. Once a point is spent, it is checked off and is no longer available— so Values are not an unlimited resource.

Value points reset at the end of an adventure, not a gaming session. So use them wisely, and mainly during dramatic moments.

GMs can also use Values against the players. When the GM feels a Value would hinder a character’s action, he can opt to use the Value to cause the player a -2 or -4 to the roll. For each -2 the GM penalizes the roll, the player receives a benny. Alternatively, the player can deny the Value being used. To do this they have two options. As a free action (similar to getting rid of a Shaken result), they can make a Spirit roll with a modifier equal to the -2 or -4 the GM was trying to cause. On a success, they take only half the penalty to the Trait roll they were otherwise about to make (so -1 or -2) and still get a single benny. On a raise, they resist the penalty entirely. They can also simply spend a benny to deny the penalty entirely. The player only need spend one benny, regardless of the proposed penalty.

And that’s it for this update. It’s now entering the final week for funding, so feel free to check it out over at Kickstarter.

More Rules of the Apocalypse


Last week, I talked a little about the Basic Crafting system in the Apocalypse Campaign Guide for Savage Worlds. As I stated, though, there are also some advanced rules . . . well, rules options, really . . . for those who also want to use their resource hoarding in the process.

The Apocalypse Campaign Guide has rules for scavenging that utilize a combination of the dice and cards from the Action Deck. There are also rules for cargo spaces, be it the saddlebags on a motorcycle, the trunk or back seat of a car, or the backpack on your shoulders. The cargo space rules are optional rules for determining how much you can carry and store (should you have some sort of purchased storage capacity back at the town). A car trunk, for example, represents one cargo space. If you remove one of the seats from the vehicle, which also means one less passenger, you can get an additional cargo space. Meanwhile, an empty tractor-trailer can hold a whopping 100 cargo spaces.

What is a cargo space? It’s an abstract representation of storage capacity. Whenever you get salvage or other goods, they’ll have a cargo space range based on how much you get. That’s how much cargo space you’ll need to carry or store them.

Now for those who want a little extra chance in their crafting, there’s an optional (or Advanced) rule that lets you use that cargo space in the process. For every one full cargo space you have, draw a card from the Action Deck. The maximum number of cards you can draw is four, so even if you managed to eventually fill an entire tractor-trailer, you’re not drawing 100 cards. Pick one card (obviously, the best) and consult the chart to see what, if any, benefits or problems you might suffer. Such as getting a bonus or penalty to the crafting roll due to material quality (which you managed to have on hand in storage), not having what you need but it being available enough that you can trade for it, or even the resource not being available at all and it needing to be found at some point through scavenging.

So using the optional rules, you not only roll for the crafting attempt as outlined last week, but you also have to deal with a benefit or setback based on what you might or might not have stored in your cargo spaces.

Originally, we’d developed a system for cargo spaces that forced the players to keep a list of everything they traded, stole, or scavenged. That list then played into crafting, providing bonuses or penalties for quality, number of needed resources, and et cetera. After a lot of play testing, we came to a conclusion: that sub-system would work good in some role-playing games, but not in Savage Worlds. At least not in our opinion. And while that’s something I might eventually release as another optional rule in one of the smaller PDF support products, for the core toolkit book I wanted a system that kept it a little more abstract and, as I said about Savage Worlds in the previous entry, got out of the way during play instead of boggling down the game.

Okay, moving on.

Naturally the Apocalypse Campaign Guide contains write-ups for all sorts of vehicles. The vehicles also have two additional stats: the already mentioned cargo space capacity, and the vehicle’s MPG.

As with several rules in the toolkit, you don’t have to deal with MPG at your table. But the vehicle stats offer the option, and each stat block states not only the miles per gallon that the vehicle can get, but also how many miles it can typically get on a full tank, and even the average number of miles the vehicle can travel in a single day (assuming rest breaks). Add in full cargo spaces (more weight) or even tow a trailer, and that MPG can drop. There’s not much more to it than that, and the option is there for those post-apocalyptic fans out there that really want to deal with fuel consumption as a needed resource. This can be particularly useful in something like a Mad Max setting where vehicles and fuel are central to the story, or in any apocalypse where the GM wants to keep vehicles on a leash. Can’t get the fuel, can’t move the car. It also allows for an interesting choice balance in play. Yeah, the characters might want to take that tractor-trailer, but the gas mileage is going to suck (not to mention it needs diesel fuel), compared to that sedan or SUV.

You also aren’t stuck with the stock vehicles. Want to add armor to the sedan, or a heavy gun into the bed of the pick-up truck? No problem. That’s where the Modification rules come into play, which allow you to do just that sort of thing. The rules discuss bonuses and penalties to the roll, time, and any potential malfunctions that could occur later. Going back to the whole MPG thing, the modification chart also lists what, if any, drop in MPG the vehicle will suffer due to the extra weight. Not to mention any penalties to the Driving rolls due to all that extra weight.

So yes, you too can be Mad Max. Just don’t wreck the damned thing.

Communities are the final thing I’ll touch upon this week. Building a community is an easy, straight forward affair. Based on the size of the community you want; you’ll be granted a number of points with which to construct it. It might be a very small encampment, or an entire underground bunker like in the Wool novels. Using the points, you’ll purchase things like defense perimeter, location (even underground), manufacturing capabilities, medical facilities, types of housing available to your citizens, and so forth. There are also special Community Edges you can purchase for additional benefits, such as working electricity and water filtration systems.

Based on the size of your community, you’ll have to undertake abstract Upkeep Missions every so often. These are done using the community’s assigned dice, and receive an overall bonus or penalty to the roll based upon the types and qualities of different features your community has. Failure on the missions might result in a feature being reduced in quality, while a success or raise might result in some type of quality increase or expansion into a new resource type. Upkeep missions are the main way your community will dwindle or grow over time.

The size of the community will also bring with it some other benefits and drawbacks, such as what is expected of the player-characters as part of the upkeep, bonuses to certain types of rolls, or even penalties to rolls for lacking or low quality resources. So, you’re free to pick and choose any sized community you want to build, but remember nothing is truly free in the post-apocalypse.

You’ll see those rules tweaked throughout the toolkit book for different things as well, such as building your own starship freighter to a full-blown capital ship.

Next week in the final content update, I’ll talk briefly about genetic mutations, cybernetics, and that sort of stuff; as well as introduce you to a new character option: Values, and how they affect the game.

The Apocalypse Campaign Guide is currently in its final 14 days over at Kickstarter. Feel free to check it out.


Apocalypse Campaign Guide: Basic Crafting


The next couple of blog entries are going to correlate with the Apocalypse Campaign Guide (Savage Worlds) currently running over at Kickstarter. I was asked in the comments if I could talk a little about how we handle crafting in the toolkit book. Given that Kickstarter Updates are a pain to work with when importing lengthy text and trying to format it, I decided to do them here and link them in the Updates over there. Unless a post is short and sweet, I never use a site’s built-in editor to compose, and always prefer to use WORD. Writers are, after all, creatures of extreme habit.

There was a lot of internal debate that went into how we could handle Basic Crafting in the Apocalypse Campaign Guide. After all, we’re huge fans (and long-time gamers) of the Savage Worlds system, ourselves, and one of the most appealing factors is that the rules really do a fine job of getting the heck out of the way at the table. We didn’t want to design something that was cumbersome, and defeated one of the core appeals of Savage Worlds. So it had to work, had to get out of the way in play, and had to be balanced.

At first we thought about some type of crafting point build system. After all, Savage Worlds kind of does something along those lines with the Arcane Backgrounds (Weird Science) Edge, which has been reskinned in a variety of settings. And yes, we have something similar in our toolkit book, but that isn’t the same as crafting in the vein that we wanted it. Those particular characters are a unique sort, and exactly how they accomplish their inventions, and in what forms, depends greatly on the genre of apocalyptic setting you’re running. A Steampunk Apocalypse’s inventors will be different than one in a space-faring setting, or a fantasy apocalypse, or even a modern day End of the World. So we define them separately.

We needed something for folks who wanted to craft some everyday items or weapons, regardless of genre.

At first we thought about a new skill: Crafting, which would be broken down into subskills much like the Knowledge skill. After getting into that a bit, we realized the skill was unnecessary. Instead, have it rely on Knowledge (type) for crafting, but create a couple of Edges to enhance that and allow the character to receive a bonus for focusing on the crafting aspects of it.

We also dropped the point-build crafting concept, as that just boggled down play.

So we have it rely on the Knowledge (type) skills, and have Edges to enhance it. What we didn’t do was (again) get too cumbersome with needing specific Knowledge skills for each and every facet. For example, Knowledge (Gunsmith) allows you to spend time to craft a gun and bullets. You don’t have to have Knowledge (Chemistry) or a bunch of others to ply your craft. It’s assumed you know how to craft a gun and bullets. Remember, our goal was to keep the games Savage Worlds. There’s a sidebar to GMs talking about breaking different crafting needs down to specifically required Knowledge skills, but that’s something for you to decide at your table. As Pinnacle always says: It’s your game. For the book, though, we didn’t want to boggle things down. We wanted to keep with the FFF! template and that Savage Worlds emulates the tropes of fiction, instead of simulating reality.

To craft, you roll your appropriate Knowledge skill. Because even the best inventors are still victims to the whims of luck in the process— even when factories and full facilities were available, which you don’t have in a post-apocalyptic environment— the GM also draws a card from the Action Deck. This is similar to drawing a card for a Chase scene, and a Clubs can bring with it all sorts of complications (explained via charts, based on the card value of the Clubs). It might even indicate a lack of resources and a needed adventure to find and salvage stuff. Other suits can simply give you a negative penalty, no penalty, or a bonus.

Based on getting a success, and how many raises you also receive, you’ll be able to craft $X amount of goods. Meaning if you rolled enough to be able to craft $200 worth of goods, you can then go to the Gear charts in the Apocalypse Campaign Guide or Savage Worlds Deluxe (or something like Pinnacle’s Fantasy Companion or Science Fiction Companion, if you also own them), and choose up to $200 worth of stuff to craft. It might be a Glock 9mm (cost: $200), or a Derringer (cost: $150) and some extra bullets.

Specific settings would naturally have their own cost charts (such as World of the Dead did in 2013), but for the toolkit rules we have to be a bit more general in scope.

Of course, you’re unlikely to be just randomly crafting during the story. Instead you’re going to want to craft a particular item or set of items, so what your crafting item goal is will determine your needed number of success and raises.

Crafting takes time, as well. Take the total cost of the goods you want to craft. Every $10 worth (round down) equals one base day. You then add 1d6 to that. So, crafting a Glock pistol takes 20+1d6 days from start to finish.

That keeps things balanced in that player-characters can craft mundane items instead of hoping to salvage everything, but it’s going to take time— time that you are stuck at your workspace and not out adventuring and being heroic.

Obviously, that means you’re not going to be crafting vehicles and starships via this method, and some items are just simply too expensive and complex to craft in a post-apocalyptic world (unless you managed to Ace enough to roll phenomenally high). But that fits the genres. Sure, you can technically gather enough parts to build a car from scratch, but you’re unlikely to have the time or real tools to do so in such a setting.

However, for those who want to add armor and weapons to your favorite vehicle, be it a car or a starship, or increase the damage potential of a weapon a little bit (and risk a malfunction at some point), we do have Modification rules as well.

So that’s how we handled Basic Crafting, and we liked the way it felt in play. It allowed for things to be made, as long as the time is available and the rolls can be made, and didn’t unbalance the need to scavenging for stuff in a post-apocalyptic setting, since the player-characters should also be out-and-about in the world, taking part in the action and furthering the story.

Check back on Monday, August 8th for the next Apocalypse Campaign Guide installment. And feel free to share this blog post, and get even more folks interested in the Apocalypse Campaign Guide Kickstarter. We’re not far from funding it, and making it see the light of day.

Next installment I’ll talk about some more options, among them the Advanced Crafting Rules. Those rules are designed for the Savages out there who like more crunch in their Savage Worlds sessions. The advanced rules directly tie into the rules options for Resource Management, such as how many resources you’ve accumulated over time (mostly via trade and scavenging), how much you have carried at any particular time, how much you have in your storage shed or car trunk (which uses the Cargo Space rules), and so forth.

So, there’s also an Advanced ruleset that groups can choose to use if they like that sort of crunch, as your Resource Management and Cargo Space will directly play into what you have on-hand to put into Crafting.


My Story Outlining Process

There are a wide variety of ways to go about the outlining process for a story, and each writer handles it in their own way. Some prefer to just sit down and write with no pre-development except the ideas in their head, while others like to outline scene by scene in great detail. Personally, I fall somewhere in the middle.

One thing to keep in mind is that everyone outlines their stories. I know . . . I know . . . the pansters out there are about to grab the pitchforks and start rattling the palace gates. But trust me, even those writers who don’t do any real pre-writing work on their stories are still outlining. How is that? Simple. Even as characters and scenes pop into their minds and begin stringing together on that great mental movie screen, they’re outlining, they just might not realize it. Despite what a lot of writing books claim, I’m not of the school of thought that all outlining must take place by putting words to paper (or a screen) in order to record and track it all.

Some of the most beloved writers out there don’t outline in the traditional fashion, one notable such fellow to science fiction and fantasy fans being Roger Zelazny. From what Roger always told me, he jotted a few notes down about the characters, jotted notes here and there about his three major Plot Points, but generally wrote the story as he went along, and discovered things as the characters did. He once talked in interviews, as well, about discovering the world of Amber at the same times as the story’s main character, the amnesiac Corwin, did.

One thing that Roger did that was kind of unique, however, was that he would write a short story for each of his major characters. The story would be about a situation or event that had nothing to do with the novel he was going to write, but would function to solidify the characters in his mind and show him how they would react to completely unrelated situations. Such stories never saw publication, except in one instance where he was tight on time and a story commission had come in from a publisher.

I was lucky enough, thanks to my association at the time with the Baltimore Science Fiction Society (of which Roger was a member when he lived here in the 1960s and 1970s) to get to know Roger via letters and the occasional phone call. I bring him up because his advice and guidance helped shape my writing habits, so I wanted to give a nod back to the man responsible.

When I outline a novel, I tend to do so in a slightly freeform method. It was a method I’ve used since I first started writing and understood the underlying formula, even before I discovered that Roger did things in a similar fashion. What I do first is consider my characters. As I said in the last post, that usually involves developing my Story Premise and going through a series of What If? questions that further flesh things out for me. When it comes time for the story, I usually create the opening scene first. I’ll write this scene, which usually starts the hook and the right questions being asked (for more on the Hook and those questions, see a previous post on the topic HERE).

Once I have that, I tend to put the thing aside and consider what my three, core plot points will be. Those things I jot down, including at about what page/word count they should be dropped in for the expected length of the story. If you don’t know about the three Plot Points and why they’re so absolutely vital to any successful story, check out my post on it HERE.

Once I have that, I’ll start writing. Since I know my characters, my premise, what the story is to be about, and my main plot points, I have a lot of my required structure already accomplished. Now I let the story flow. As subplots and further ideas come to me, I’ll jot down notes about them so I understand where I’ll want to place them in the story.

Now, I write about three to four hours a day, and for fiction I’ll hit about 3k to 4k words for that on average. Some days more, some days less. I could probably pen even more words, but I have a certain writing style where I’ll edited that day’s work as I go, or at the very least at the end of my writing time. I like to have what I consider Next to Final Draft done with each section as I go. I polish sentence structure, look at verbiage, watch my descriptions, and look at pacing and characterization. Once I’m satisfied, I put it away and repeat the process the next day.

I say Next to Final Draft because I always go over a manuscript again after the entire thing is completed and I let it sit for a week or two. That gives me a fresh perspective on it, and I can find any flaws that still remain. After that, it goes to Beta Readers, then the editor.

For a novella series, the process alters slightly. After I decide how many novellas the series is to be, I create the three Plot Points that will span the entire series, and where in a particular novella it has to appear. Then, for each individual novella, I break them down into their individual triple Plot Points. I also make notes on all the interpersonal relationships between the characters, as well as all the necessary subplots and where they overlap (if they do). In that sense, I do a lot of the same prep work one would associate with a television season.

So that’s basically how I handle the outlining process: characters and story premise, the three core plot points, and jotted notes on scene and subplots.

Remember, there’s no right or wrong method to handle writing a story. Find a process that works best for you, and let the story flow.

Premise and My “What If” Questions

Last week I talked briefly about the Premise of a story, or what is called the Elevator Pitch. It’s the concise one or two of sentences (preferably one) that summarize your story, or something you could toss out in an elevator if pitching the story to someone, as the old cliché goes. The purpose is to quickly and succinctly give the core idea of your story, whether you’re pitching it to an agent or publisher for traditional publishing, or to potential readers for self-publishing.

The Premise is not the same as the back cover blurb. A back cover blurb typically goes into more detail, and is much more of a marketing flare tool to get folks to buy the story. The Premise is something different.

An amnesiac prince of another realm must struggle to regain his memories while trying to stay alive in a war for the throne against his own siblings. (Nine Princes in Amber)

A mother and father must choose between letting their children die or committing murder, when a strange disease forces the children to consume increasing quantities of blood to stay alive. (Suffer the Children)

Unlike the back cover blurb, a Premise should state the protagonist, goal, and conflict. That’s it. It’s the central point of your story.

Before I can write my Premise, though, I wind up going through a series of What If questions to hammer out the story. The reason I do this is because while I’ll have a story idea at first, the idea is not a Premise. To get to the Premise, in other words the solid foundation of protagonist/goal/conflict, I have to first drill down to see who the character is, why he has that particular goal, and what the conflict is to resolve it.

Let’s take my upcoming novella series: Prize Not the Mask.

The idea was that a street level vigilante would be framed for a murder as part of a greater conspiracy (which I won’t explain, as it’ll give away the overall series plot). He’s convicted at trial, and sent to Solitaire Island Federal Penitentiary— the primary prison for anyone with powers, or who used super-advanced technology to commit crimes. The initial idea was that I would explore both character and setting through the prison. We’d see how our hero both changed and held on to who he was while in the prison, while exploring the interpersonal relationships, conflicts, group dynamics, and corruption within its walls. Naturally, the hero means to facilitate an escape from a prison that has only ever had one successful escape (and it resulted in the original structure suffering a lot of damage), but that goes into the overall conspiracy plot and some supposed allies he makes while inside, and I won’t spoil them here.

Just picture the story as something like: super-heroes meets 24 meets Prison Break.

The next step I took was to find out the “who” of my protagonist.

I knew the hero would be Nathaniel Westfield, aka Night Sentinel. He wasn’t rich nor super-trained like a Batman type. He lived in a typically low income area of the city, and had a low to low middle class income, himself. What he had was two gravity-controlling gauntlets that he gained from the alien race that resides on the moon known as the Lunarians (their human-given moniker), and an, unknown to him, ability to see roughly 5-seconds into the future. It isn’t something he can control at the start of the story, isn’t even something he knows he can do. It comes to him on an instinctive level, and happens a lot when he’s in personal combat, which is where he gets his edge.

Pretty basic. More of a character sketch.

So then I started asking my What if questions. Not every answer I came up with made it into the final story, but here’s a little of how the process went for me.

One of my first questions was: What if Nate was framed for this murder, but had actually committed murders in the past?

My first inclination was that maybe he was also some type of Punisher template, but I quickly squashed that idea. For the type of story I wanted to tell, that took things in a different direction. It now begged the questions of how he should be wanted by pretty much all levels of law enforcement, of how his being framed for murder would be a footnote, or even be seen as poetic justice, given the fact that he brazenly killed anyway. It also didn’t add any depth to the character.

Instead, I decided that he was once a criminal, though not a publicly known one. Even most law enforcement never knew “who” he was, just the results of his handiwork. I decided he was once a professional assassin. Someone who could get in, get the target, and get out. Someone trained at infiltration and not leaving evidence behind. And it was something that also played into his current role as a vigilante/hero. It’s how he was able to do what he did.

What if Nate had a son or daughter to worry about?

That question brought with it a lot of possibilities. What if Nate changed his ways from criminal to hero because of his child? Naturally came from that second question, and had me delve deeper into his past.

I decided that Nate stopped being an assassin about six years ago, when his son was 12 years old. I wanted to make his son 18 years old in the story simply because it stopped me from having to deal with endangering an actual child in this story, but at the same time the son was a legal adult while not yet knowledgeable enough to not be at risk. I could still make the readers care.

What if Nate’s wife was murdered? That question came up because in the back of my mind, I wanted him to be a single father. I also wanted it to play a role in why he eventually became a hero. But with his past as an assassin, I didn’t want it to be a random mugging or whatnot.

What if her murder was a result of a hit that Nate did in the past? This naturally played into a what if question about someone out there having discovered who he really was.

What if her murder was retaliation for a failed hit?

There were a lot of other questions that arose as I drilled down into that one, but I’ll summarize it all.

As I drilled down, I learned that Nate had been hired to do a hit on a Lunarian diplomat. The hit failed, and Nate was captured by the Lunarian security forces. Although they kept his presence and the attempt secret from human law enforcement, and had even let him go, the Lunarian Diplomat (since they’re also priests of the aliens’ strange religion) saw a path for redemption in Nate. Naturally, Nate refused the offer and was sent on his way. The aliens were now on to him, so he knew the hit was a bust.

Although he did his best to protect his family, retaliation from those who hired him came swift and hard. His wife was killed and his 12 year old son badly injured. Nate knew he was outmanned and outgunned against those seeking to kill him, and had nowhere else to go. One event led to another, and he and his son were eventually taken in by the Lunarian. When everything was said and done, he was Night Sentinel. He was fulfilling a vow to protect the innocent and shutdown the very criminal types he once worked for.

Along the way, I also discovered that Nate had a history with a current superhero or two. One young hero was the target of an assassination back in Nate’s past, when he was hired to kill the man’s girlfriend as a lesson. Another current hero worked with Nate during his criminal past, and has her own secrets from her current team.

The same heroes (and their teammates in the Sentinels of Society) that will have to find a way to find and protect Nate’s missing son while he’s in prison.

Then there’s the whole What If question series that led to the reasons for Nate’s framing, and why he was specifically wanted inside the Solitaire prison. Him getting framed and put inside the prison is a key element of the conspiracy.

In the end, I had this Premise: A hero’s dark past as an assassin catches up with him when he’s framed for murder, and must escape from an inescapable prison to both protect his son and stop the return of an immortal criminal mastermind.

And I had my nine-part novella series’ central premise. Thanks to all the drilling down of the What If questions, I also had characters, main plot, goal and conflict, and many subplots to explore.

Well, it’s slated for nine-parts, anyway. Sometimes a story will end up being a little shorter, though right now I’m fairly confident in it being nine novellas. That puts it at three novellas per section of the overall story, with three novellas also being the length of an average 100k to 120k word novel. So in essence, the nine novellas equate to a novel trilogy in length.

Next week, I’ll discuss how I outline something of that length, when there are individual novellas involved as opposed to a straight-up novel.