Last Saturday I attended a “mini-con” in Seoul and had a great time. I got to play in two games, one of which I’ll discuss briefly today—in part because the other, I’ve been playing elsewhere as well, and would like to sum up my experiences with it in terms of both sessions. (And the other playthrough is currently awaiting its concluding session.) 

The game I’m discussing today is Sixtystone Press’s Cathulhu, by Ingo Ahrens, Adam Crossingham and Daniel Harms. It’s a BRP-derived game, featuring a percentile, roll-under system and a hilarious set of skills as well as special “tricks” that are available to specific breeds of cat, a Nine Lives system, and more. 

(Incidentally, there’s a different, similarly-titled, Lovecraftian game out there with more support for it, called The Call of Catthulhu. Supposedly the two games were released around the same time, but I have no experience with, though my impression is that it’s more rules-light and overtly comedic… I mean more overtly comedic than Cathulhu, that is, which is pretty comedic in itself. I’m guessing it’s at least partly because of the super-powered, dreamlands-traveling felines in “The Cats of Ulthar” that the idea has been put into a game system more than once.)

The game was, first and foremost, hilarious. Credit for that goes not just to the people I played with, and the GM whose original adventure was brilliant and funny, but also to the authors of the system. There are countless little touches even just on the character sheet, such as the fact that the cat’s primary human ally is referred to as “Primary Can-Opener,” or the terms for a number of the Tricks that cat characters can get. These little jokes really set the tone for the game as one in which comedy and horror are intermixed, forming a kind of chiaroscuro. Even if you’re not a huge cat person, you’ll find the character sheet provides enough prompts for you to play a cat passably, I think. 

Which is not to say there’s no horror element: it’s also got the potential to be pretty creepy, if you want it to be! Our GM, Lindsay Belton, did a consummate job of both amusing and terrifying us: at one point, my character encountered a swarm of servants of Nyarlathotep—think “Brown Jenkin” from “The Dreams in the Witch-House” and you’ll get the idea:

My character was kind of a bruiser—a massive caramel-colored Maine Coon: I didn’t know what that meant, and the image at the top of this post is what came up when I searched the breed name online—but he had the basic common sense to flee this, and as he attempted to do so, he ran into one of his NPC antagonists: Mabel, a local cat who had stolen some of his treasures (some feathers from his collection). As the swarm pursued him, she blocked his way… and basically, he threw her under the bus to ensure he could get away, a fairly predictable outcome that was the perfect mix of horror and comedy. The combat was tense, the roleplaying rich, and it worked well both for the ten-year-old in the group, and for the (grown-up) first-time RPGer among us. 

Our GM also must be commended for the great scenario she created for the game, set in Arkham in the 1920s. I couldn’t stop laughing from the brilliant references to Dream cycle and Cthulhu cycle references, and how perfectly they both were handled from a feline perspective. Without ruining the scenario, I’ll just say that it gave the characters problem that cats would definitely want to solve, as well as a serious challenge to overcome (for a handful of housecats and strays). 

The system seems to be a light hack of BRP (not that I know BRP, but it feels like that’s what it probably is). That means comes with some of what I’ve read are the typical pitfalls of BRP: combat being punishing is fine, but skill checks, I think can be over-tough and as a GM I’d probably avoid calling for rolls on stuff that most cats can normally do without a problem… or I might call for the skill check to see whether the cat avoids a complication when doing something that an average cat (or your cat, on an average day, in its current condition) could typically just do competently. Where I sometimes feel like a hidden pitfall of Trail of Cthulhu is that it simplifies some skill checks in a way that might make things a little too easy for the player characters, I guess if you’re running BRP you might have to instead err on the side of not demanding skill checks for things the PCs probably can do under normal conditions, unless there’s something making it harder.

Which is not news—that’s a common bit of GM advice—but I think the fact that BRP has a longer skill list increases the temptation to have players roll when they attempt things that match them. That’s not a knock on Lindsay’s GMing: she actually did handle that balance quite well, and for the vast majority of failed skill checks, effort was often made (either Lindsay or, in some cases, the player making the failed roll) to make the failure interesting—to give it an apparent cause or a result that made sense in the narrative, and given it an apparent consequence that was meaningful for the characters. What was apparent to me, though, is that this was one of those things that demands a GM’s energy and attention, and has a potential to distract from the story in less-deft hands. The fact I botched a bunch of rolls at the start of the session (set a trend that lasted until about an hour into it, if I remember right) helped highlight how labor intensive trad systems can be. Or maybe it’s just that PbtA games have gotten into my braincase enough for it to stick out to me how different their mechanics are in terms of governing the outcome of character actions… how they change the labour and balance with which a GM should approach the back and forth of failures, partial successes, and full successes. 

In any case, this is a game I’ll definitely be checking out sometime soon, and will keep in mind for when our son is old enough to handle a more complex system like this. He already knew who Ka-too-loo was by the age of 3 (because of the stuffed Cthulhu doll I’d given his mother some years earlier) and he’s already roleplayed being a cat many times before—yowling and meowing and making mischief—so it’s not like it’ll be totally new territory for him. But I hasten to add that the system isn’t just a kiddie thing: it’s funny and dark and great for a group of any age. 

Ghostbusters, Spooktacular

I’ve posted here much less than I used to, but I also should note that I have heaps of posts commenting on RPGs I’ve accumulated and read over the past few years. I didn’t want this blog to become overwhelmed by them all—and some of them are kind of over-detailed—but… well, I think I’m going to start posting them (with “read more” links a paragraph or two in), because, I’m not posting much of anything else here, and because who knows, maybe other people will dig them.

I’ll get around to those sooner or later, but for now, I wanted to post about a game I picked up recently and enjoyed: Spooktacular: A Cheerfully Spooky Role-Playing Game, which is Ewen Cluney’s 2018 retroclone of the original West End Games Ghostbusters: A Frightfully Cheerful Role-Playing Game. (I think Cluney mixes in a tiny bit of West End Games’ more systematized, less widely beloved follow-up game, Ghostbusters International, but I haven’t read the latter, and if he does, it’s only a little bit.) Continue reading

“Alone With Gandhari” reprinted in Bloody Red Nose

My short story “Alone With Gandhari” (which originally appeared in Clarkesworld almost a decade ago now) has been reprinted in David Higgins’ Bloody Red Nose: 15 Fears of a Clown anthology. 

(For those who don’t recall, this is the one featuring a group of drugged-out lunatic terrorists who dress up like a certain trademarked clown character and attack fast food restaurants and, eventually, decide to attack a high-tech facility where beef is being produced from highly modified cows… and the tale of how one individual gets radicalized to the point of joining these lunatics.) 

If you’d like a copy, drop by Amazon (US/UK), Kobo, or Barnes & Noble (nook/print). 


“Winter Wheat” in the current Asimov’s SF!

So, the current issue of Asimov’s SF includes my novella, about which the magazine’s website says very kind things:

Our September/October 2019 issue features Gord Sellar’s blockbuster novella about high-tech farming in the Canadian North. “Winter Wheat” is a tour de force that begins in the dead of winter and takes us through a twelve-year cycle in Saskatchewan. You won’t want to miss this amazing story.

Very flattering. (You’d hardly guess I was a city kid who’s never lived on a farm.)

Oh, and yes, it’s a novella. It spans 13 years, jumping 13 months ahead in each section. It’s also the first published story of mine that’s set in Saskatchewan. You can read the first four sections in the preview that Asimov’s has made available on the website. (Follow the link above.)

This story is very special to me. I wrote the original draft not long after my father passed away, and it’s dedicated to him… and has a lot of him in it, though not in the places you might guess when you read that it’s a father-son story. 

Normally I publish a behind-the scenes post thing for every story I publish, and I may do one for this story too (update: I did, and it’s here), but Asimov’s has a blog where they post pieces by authors they’ve published, as well as interviews, and a Q&A with me should be published there at some point soon, so I’ll just add a link to that when it does, and fill in some of the blanks I left out in the post I make here. 

In the meantime, I’ll just add that while every story’s special in its way, this one is near to my heart, and I’m honored to see it in print, in great company, and to have (already, before my contributor copy has even arrived on my side of the Pacific) gotten a message from a stranger who enjoyed it and wanted me to know. 

If you’re looking to get a copy (or subscribe to the magazine), the website offers lots of ways to do it, whether you prefer a print edition, or want to get the magazine in ebook form

루머와 잘못된 정보에 대한 성명 (A Statement Concerning Rumors and Misinformation)

For those who only read English—and just in case there is any misunderstanding with the Korean text below—the full English text is included below, to avoid misunderstanding and clarify my intent in this post. It is a bit late, with WorldCon starting tomorrow, but better late than never. 

Anyone with questions or concerns is welcome to contact me. I speak only for myself, by the way. 

루머와 잘못된 정보에 대한 성명

한국 SF 내에 돌고 있는 많은 혼란스러운 루머와 잘못된 정보들에 대해 알게 되었습니다. 지금 여기서 모두 다 언급할 수는 없지만, 저와 직접적으로 관련된 한 가지 루머에 대해서 먼저 짚고넘어가야 할 필요성을 느낍니다.

본 포스팅을 통해서 해명하고 싶은 저와 관련된 루머는 다음과 같습니다. 제가 더블린에서 열리는 월드콘에 가게 될 것이라는 것과 이 여행이 한국정부 또는 한국SF협회에서 경비를 지원받게 된다는 사실무근의 정보입니다.

이 루머는 전혀 근거가 없습니다. 저는 이 루머(와 이 루머가 그 일부인 것 같은 어떤 경향성) 에 대해 심각한 우려를 표합니다. 따라서, 이 상황에 대해 정확하게 설명하고 싶습니다.

6월 초, 한국SF 산업과 관련된 한 분이 저에게 연락을 했습니다. 세계SF 커뮤니티에서 활동하고 있는 어떤 분이 한국을 방문하여 같이 “회의”를 하는데 저를 초대하였습니다. 저는 회의에 참여하겠다고 동의했지만, 회의 장소에 도착 후, 그 “회의”가 비공식적인 회의가 아니라 녹음을 하는 “인터뷰”라는 사실을 알고는 굉장히 놀랐습니다. 저는 마지못해 동의하고 참여했습니다. 인터뷰 도중, 저희를 인터뷰하던 분이 저에게 두 가지를 제안하였습니다. 원작 앤솔로지 참여와 월드콘 경비 지원 가능성이었습니다.(한국 정부에서 경비를 지원한다는 것 같았습니다.).

저는 이러 제안에 대해 망설여진다고말하면서 다음과 같이 그 이유를 설명했습니다. 제가 한국SF와 국제 SF 사이에서 진행되고 있는 새로운 방식의 협력작업,이나 번역 및 교류에 열심이지만, 이 날 받은 특정 제안에 제가 참여하는 것이 적절한지는 잘 모르겠다고 말했습니다. 저는 이 두 가지 제안을 모두 생각해보겠다고 말했습니다. 그리고 실무적인 질문을 몇 가지 했습니다. 하지만 결국 저는 이 제안을 한 분에게 두 가지 제안을 모두 거절한다고 공식적으로 이메일을 보냈습니다. 특히 제가 현재 한국SF 홍보와 번역에 노력을 기울이고 있기는 하지만, 한국정부가 월드콘 같이 해외 행사 참여 경비를 지원할 경우, 그 지원은 저보다는 지원받아야 마땅하지만 경제적으로 여행이 부담이 되는 한국인 작가들이 받는 것이 좋을 것 같다고 명시했습니다. (또한 필요시 SF작가연대한테서 에서 월드콘에 참여할 분들의 리스트를 받는 것이 좋을 것 같다고 제안했습니다.)

다시 정확하게 말씀드리자면, 저는 머뭇거리며 아주 잠시 동안 앤솔로지 참여에 긍정적인 의사를 내비쳤지만. 제가 공식적으로 월드콘에 가는 경비를 지원받겠다고 동의한 적은 한 번도 없습니다. 또한 저는 단 한 번도 어떠한 특정 한국SF 단체에도 제가 연결되었다고 말한 적도 없습니다.

7월 초, 저는 이 제안을 처음 한 당사자에게 정확하고 공식적인 이메일을 보내 거절하였고, 제가 거절했다는 것에 대해 인지했다는 답장도, 조금 지체되었지만, 받았습니다.

따라서 제가 2019년 월드콘에 한국SF협회 대표자들과 함께 가며 또한 경비를 지원 제안을 수락하였다고 믿게 된 사람들이 있다는 이야기를 듣게 되었을 때 저는 극히 실망하였습니다.

다시 한 번 명확한 사실 확인을 위해 적습니다:

  • 저는 단 한번도 공식적으로 이 제안에 동의한 적이 없었고, 사실상 여러 주 전에 이 경비 지원을 명확히 거절하였습니다. (이 사실을 입증할 이메일들을 갖고 있습니다. 이메일로 사실을 입증할 수 있습니다.)
  • 저는 한국SF협회와 관련된 부분이 전혀 없으며, 또한 다른 어떤 한국SF단체와도 어떠한 방식이든지 간에 관련이 없습니다.

저는 이특정 잘못된 정보 이상으로 우려를 하고 있습니다. 그 이유는, 본 잘못된 정보는 현재 한국 SF커뮤니티에서 퍼지고 있는 수많은 근거 없는 루머와 잘못된 정보들 중 단지 하나에 불과하기 때문입니다. 이러한 사태는 개인적인 목표를 위해 진실을 의도적으로 와전하고 있다고 의심되는 개인 또는 몇몇사람들이 하고 있는 불명확한 암시와 거짓 주장 그리고 오해의 소지가 있는 제안들에서 그 원인을 찾을 수 있습니다.

더욱더 괴로운 점은 이러한 사람(들)의 행동이 한국SF와 세계SF교류가 활성화되고 있는 현 시점과 맞물려, 현존하는 언어의 장벽과 양측 사이에 초월한 강한 연락망이 결여되어 있다(는 잘못된 추측)을 악용해서 자신의 이득을 취할 기회로 삼는 것으로 보이기 때문입니다. 한국SF와 세계SF의 관계 초기에 잘못된 정보를 제공해 이득을 취하려고 하는 사람이나 이런 사람의 시도들은, 열려있고 존중받아 마땅할 관계에 대한 비뚤어지고 비겁하고 모욕적이고 무례한 배신일 뿐만 아니라, 또한 모욕적이고 무례합니다. 그리고 가장 최악인 점은 이것이 비극적인 자멸 행위라는 것입니다. 제 생각에는 이 행위는 쉽게 깨질 수 있는 초기 단계에 있는 취약한 새로운 관계를 부지불식간에 파괴할 수 있는 행위(사보타주)를 구성합니다.

그리고 개인적으로 덧붙이고 싶은 말이 있습니다. 저는 이렇게 부끄럽고 무책임한 행동 때문에 지난 몇 개월간 말도 안 되는 시간을 여기에 썼던 것이 굉장히 불쾌합니다. 그리고 이건 지난 10여년 간 의 한국 SF의 새로운 발전적인 관계의 기초적인 틀을 마련하는 과정에 여러 도움을 주기 위해 노력한 저 개인에 대해서는 더 심각한모욕입니다. 이 관계를 발전시키기 위한 프로젝트들에서 더 유용하게 쓰일 수 있었던 제 삶의 엄청나게 많은 시간이 혼란스워 하는 사람들의 질문에 응대하고 확인이 안 된 말도 안되는 가짜 정보들을 정정해 주는데낭비되었습니다. 이 관계에 피해가 생기는 것은 아닐까 하고 걱정하시는 분들께 말씀드립니다. 유감스럽게도, 이미 이 관계(한국SF와 세계 SF의 관계)는 해를 입었습니다. 그리고 이런 식으로 잘못된 행동이 계속된다면 이 관계는 더 심각한 피해를 입게 될 것이라고 생각합니다. 단순히 연관된 개인들뿐만이 아니라 다른 사람들에게도. 그리고 미래의 회합도 저해될 것입니다.

가해자(들)은 경고를 받아들이십시오: 앞에서 언급한 문제적 행동은 더 이상 비밀이 아닙니다. 당신이 인지하고 있는 것보다 훨씬 더 많은 사람들이 알고 있습니다. 그리고 그 수는 매일 증가하고 있습니다. 이 성명은 음모나 간적접인 인신공격이 전혀 아니라는 것도 꼭 알아주십시오. 저는 단지, 피할 수 없는 대중의 비난과 웃음거리가 생기기 전에, 부정직한 행동을 공동체 내부에서 먼저 광범위하게 논의하는 것이 공동체를 이룬 인간의 본성이라는 점을 지적하고 있을 뿐입니다.

다른 캐나다 SF작가가 한 번 이상 지적했듯이, 모든 복잡한 생태계엔 기생충이 있습니다… 그렇다고 해서, 모든 사람이 그러한 기생충적인 행동을 그저 수용해야 할 의무는 없습니다.

— Gord Sellar

A Statement Concerning Rumors and Misinformation

It has come to my attention that a bewildering number of rumors and misinformation are circulating within the Korean SF world, and while I cannot address them all here, I do feel it is necessary to take a first step in clarifying one rumor that directly pertains to me.

The specific rumor that I wish to dispel in this post is the unfounded notion that I will be traveling to WorldCon in Dublin, and that this ostensible trip will be funded by money provided by either the South Korean government or by the Korean Science Fiction Association.

This rumor is entirely unsubstantiated. I am deeply concerned by this rumor (and the pattern of which it seems to be a part), and therefore I wish to explain the situation clearly.

In early June, an individual involved in the South Korean SF industry contacted me, inviting me to a “meeting” with an individual visiting from abroad who is active in the World SF community. I agreed to the meeting, but on my arrival I was surprised when it in fact it turned out to be not just an informal “meeting”, but instead a taped “interview.” (I reluctantly agreed to this.) During this interview, the individual who was interviewing us invited me to contribute to a proposed original story anthology, and offered the possibility of funding for a trip to WorldCon (with funds apparently to be provided by the South Korean government).

I expressed reluctance regarding these offers, explaining that while I am eager about the kind of newly-developing collaboration and translation/exchange going on between the Korean SF world and the international SF scene, I was not sure that my involvement in these particular proposals would be appropriate. I agreed to consider both offers, and briefly discussed a few logistical questions, but ultimately I wrote to the individual who extended them, officially declining both offers and specifically noting that I felt—despite my ongoing efforts to aid in the promotion and translation of Korean SF—that any South Korean government funding for international travel to an event like WorldCon would be much better spent sending a deserving but financially underprivileged Korean author. (I suggested that the Science Fiction Writers Union of the Republic of Korea could likely provide a list of such individuals, if necessary.)

To be absolutely clear, I did tentatively, and only briefly, agree to continue to a fiction anthology. At no point did I formally agree to receive funding for travel to WorldCon, nor was it at any point presented to me as being connected to any specific Korean SF organization.

In early July, I explicitly and formally turned down the offer by email to the individual who first made the offer to me, who, after a delay, responded with an acknowledgment of my having declined it.

I am therefore deeply dismayed to hear that there are individuals who have been led to believe that I had supposedly accepted funding and will be traveling to WorldCon 2019 with the Korean Science Fiction Association’s delegation.

To be absolutely clear, I:

  • never formally accepted—and in fact explicitly declined—this proffered funding several weeks ago. (I have emails that can substantiate this.)
  • am not affiliated with the Korean Science Fiction Association—or any Korean science fiction organization—in any manner whatsoever.

My concern extends beyond this specific piece of misinformation, because it is only one of a number of unfounded rumors, ideas, and pieces of misinformation currently circulating in the Korean SF community, stemming from vague insinuations, false claims, and misleading suggestions by one or more individuals whom I suspect of purposefully misrepresenting the truth to further a personal agenda.

What is more distressing is how these efforts seem to be predicated upon the idea that, with the blossoming of contact between Korean SF and international SF, the existing language barrier and (imagined) lack of strong contacts across the divide exists as something to be exploited and benefitted from. Not only are this person or person’s attempts to exploit through misinformation the nascent relationship between Korean SF and international SF a perverse, craven, insulting, and disrespectful betrayal of the open and respectful spirit of that relationship, but it is also insulting, disrespectful, and worst of all, tragically self-defeating. As I see it, these actions constitute a form of unwitting sabotage to that delicate new relationship in an early stage of its development.

On a personal note, I am rather disgusted with the amount of time I have had to spend over the past few months dealing with the fallout of this reprehensible and irresponsible behavior. It is even more of a personal affront to me as someone who has spent much of the past decade attempting to help lay preliminary groundwork for this newly-developing relationship. Countless hours of my life that I could have spent more fruitfully on projects related to its development have been wasted dealing with confused inquiries and disconfirming ridiculous misinformation. To those who worry that harm may result to that relationship, I am sorry to say that harm has already been done to that relationship. Further misbehavior along these lines will, I suspect, do much more serious damage, harming not just the individuals involved but others, as well, and creating a disincentive for further engagement.

The perpetrator(s) ought to take warning: the aforementioned problematic behavior is far from secret, and the number of people aware of it is far greater than that individual seems to realize—and growing daily. Please note that this is no hint of conspiracy, or any indirect expression of a personal threat. I am simply observing that it is human nature for communities to discuss dishonest behavior extensively in private, long before the inevitable public recrimination and pillorying occurs.

As another Canadian SF author has pointed out more than once, every complex ecosystem has its parasites… but of course, that does not oblige everyone to simply accept parasitic behavior.

— Gord Sellar