Locked Room Mysteries

Locked room mysteries cover

Oh, just go buy this.

Those people that can engage with their fiction by way of its characters are my tribe. That’s what fiction is for, in fact, and where its life-changing power lies. I can dig in deeply with inspiring ideas and themes too, even if the characters are a little thin. That’s where well crafted science fiction lights me up, in fact. If a lingering image sticks with me, or some slick twist on technology, I’m all good with a book and will likely re-read it just for that experience.

But there’s always got to be a hook. Right? Something that keeps you with it because you have a question or want to see how something turns out. That’s why the pages keep turning.

My dad has always been a fan of murder mysteries – the ‘Who-done-it’ genre. It’s an old tradition going way back; and I’m sure you’ve read plenty of those yourself. No need to get into that here because it’s the original Immersive Storytelling Engine. We know it well.

Recently, my wife and I watched Season One of something on Netflix called “The Sinner“. It’s based on the work of German crime novelist,  Petra Hammesfahr. You should probably go watch that too, actually. The lead detective is a bit broken; and Bill Pullman is fantastic in that role. I’m not usually into his acting; but he’s perfect here. You’ll get why I mention it here is you’re intrigued by this question:

Instead of a ‘who-done-it’, what exactly would a ‘why-done-it’ look like? 

Amazing, actually. Season 1 is a lady carving fruit on a beach with her kid and husband suddenly slashes someone to pieces – the whole season unwinds to spell out why she did that. Season 2 is a kid poisoning the folks you assume are his parents in a hotel room.

Then there’s the little collection that appears in the header above. Here, read this from Amazon:

“The Most Complete Collection of Impossible Crime Stories Ever Assembled, with puzzling mysteries by Stephen King, Dashiell Hammett, Lawrence Block, Agatha Christie, Georges Simenon, Dorothy L. Sayers, P. G. Wodehouse, Erle Stanley Gardner, and many, many more

THE BLACK LIZARD BIG BOOK OF LOCKED-ROOM MYSTERIES: An empty desert, a lonely ski slope, a gentleman’s study, an elevator car—nowhere is a crime completely impossible.

Edgar Award–winning editor Otto Penzler has collected sixty-eight of the all-time best impossible-crime stories from almost two hundred years of the genre. In addition to the many classic examples of the form—a case of murder in a locked room or otherwise inaccessible place, solved by a brilliant sleuth—this collection expands the definition of the locked room to include tales of unbelievable thefts and incredible disappearances.”

You’ll recognize many of the authors, even if you didn’t know they’d taken a stab at writing a locked-room mystery (“stab”, see what I did there?). Definitely worth your time as a heightened way of engaging with your fiction, at least in these short doses.

So what we have here is the ‘how-done-it’. You’ll not always know the culprit, but you’ll certainly be puzzled at how the murder or theft occurred given the conditions the stories lay out for you.

I’ll tell you this – read enough of these and it starts to feel like reading zen koans or something from Jorge Luis Borges where your whole idea of what is happening has to be turned around to make the pieces fit. You’re intentionally stuck into a paradox, fed biases and tricks that look like clues, and it’s up to you to pull back and ask some fundamental questions.

Seriously, give it a try. Less than $20. Worth it.

Let me know what you think, and also if you know of any other good collections of locked room mysteries. I’d be interested in a novel-length version if you think it’s well written.

See you later, guys.






Clash Of The War Marshals: A Salt Mystic Update

War Marshals

If you don’t know and just stumbled across us, welcome! We’re an indie book publisher forging and playing with what we like to call “Immersive Storytelling Engines”. Sometimes that’s using tabletop games to decide the narratives. Sometimes it’s a collection of short stories that build to a riddle. Here lately, it’s a maddeningly addictive tabletop wargame played with cards that we’re furiously developing. The game is built on our intellectual property from Tearing Down The Statues and its Salt Mystic universe.

We’ve been hitting it hard, completing the card art and incorporating learnings from play testing from the early versions. Thought it was high time for an update and a really enlightening takeaway from all this craziness. Stick with me…

Sept 6: Added card art to ‘A War Recorder Speaks’ . Very cool, because we had to figure out what modifications the Recorder Temple makes to the traditional Recorder forehead tattoo when the Recorder incorporates the hundreds of battles into their Pool to become a War Recorder. We went with stylized cableswords.

Also modified the mechanics for the two Interrogator characters. These guys are recruited for their serial killer instincts and never relent when they’re pursuing someone. Sadistic freaks, basically, weaponized. We changed the mechanic to add to their movement if you choose to move in the direction of a pre-defined target.

Sept 7: Based on an amazingly insightful piece of feedback about having clear themes, we adjusted the text and mechanics on playing the game’s core ‘A Guardian Arises’ cards. The idea is ANYONE at all can suddenly understand the Salt Mystic’s cunningly engineered folklore and become a guardian. So now one of the game’s characters becomes the guardian, not an anonymous nameless character like we had it. Much cooler.

Also re-balanced the two starter decks in the game based on play-testing. Only 4 vehicles, a handful of vehicle attachments, and loads of balanced characters. The two War Marshals have different mechanics, so we tweaked the two decks to take advantage of that.

And we added card art for Bloodmonkey of the Salt Flats faction, because we’re excited about tattoos on these guys now. Went a little overboard maybe, but my wife likes him.

Sept 8: Added card art to ‘Born Of Nothing’, the Grand Lady Of Camouflage.

Sept 15: Added our first in-game story: two brothers. Helion The Leveler and Stratica The Carbine Fury. One on each army. No attack rolls needed for these guys when they’re solo – they win every combat action unless it’s versus each other. But when both are on the battlefield, both players must sacrifice a character card every minute until the brothers engage in battle.

Also added card art for the Ramships.

Sept 24Overhauled the card art for the Mog vehicles to something better reflecting the mountain city’s steampunk aesthetic.

Also added card art and altered the mechanic a bit for the Dirt Wraith.

Sept 29: Revised card art for The Wake and completely changed her mechanic to make her more interesting and grant a better backstory. Now she’s tied to one of the original architects of the Datastream.

Added card art for the Black Fire Cannon as well. Tweaked the mechanic text a bit to make it more clear what’s happening when you fire that thing.

Oct 21: Tweaked the wording in the game mechanic for tracking range and speed with Mogs when they’re at height. There was some confusion about that in play-testing.

We entirely re-balanced the two starter decks. I’m still not entirely sure that Karak’s game mechanic equals out against Segmond’s.

Added another in-story game. There was going to be a Salt Flats character called Orangebeard; but we dumped that idea. Instead, a character named ‘Fled’ is someone who ran away from the Red Witch before finishing the terrible ‘Blackening’ ritual. He’s attacked automatically by any Red Witch characters within range, regardless of side. But he stole their trance-inducing stingers.

Added card art for the two War Marshals and tweaked the War Marshal sigil to make it more clear who they are in the game. Killing them is the point; and you have to find them in a shuffled deck quickly. It made sense to clear that up somewhat visually.

Nov 4: Overhauled Karak’s once-per-game mechanic to try and balance better against Segmond’s ability to convert loyalties. Now, Karak can call in Red Witch watchers from the shadows and clear the battlefield within a dice-determined range of the table edges. Basically, they haul screaming soldiers into the night, never to be heard from again.

Overhauled the art on the back of the cards.  The carbines and skull theme seems pretty popular and recognizable. We’re likely to go with that.

We added another in-game story, this time with Vehicles. The Dirt Wraith was a twisted use of the Inflation Engine technology, ripping artificial space out of the quantum foam to allow ghost tanks that arise from the very ground. Today, we added card art for the Wraithbuster. Name says it all.

Nov 6: Added card art for ‘Word From The Augur Temple’

Also decided the existing card art for Mudhead and Skullstomper is trash, so we jettisoned that and shoved them back into the queue.

Created new character type, Tomb Trappers. Mountains will have Fargo, and Salt Flats will have Cypress. Created placeholder cards for them and put them in the queue. The idea is these guys are the ones that PUT those Indiana Jones-style traps inside tombs. They’ve been recruited for the war effort, and trap characters during game play.


So that brings us current. And here’s one thing I’m really learning as this train builds up steam:

I feel more than ever that unlocking our imaginations in building something towards a compelling vision is one of the most powerful things we do as humans. Maybe this game goes nowhere and it’s just a fascinating intellectual exercise. Okay. I mean, I’ve had to learn Blender, Photoshop, Daz Studio, and Substance Painter to get this far. I’ve picked up all sorts of nuance in learning game mechanics. I’ve researched existing and obsolete games for this, and even learned to design foldable papercraft terrain. I’m learning about marketing and social media. People have been fantastic with their suggestions and feedback. And it’s incredibly fun to do all this. The game itself is an engine…the vision of what it can be in building the Salt Mystic universe.

Honestly, I can’t wait to get started writing the sequel book in that universe when all this bedrock is in place to draw on. These guys can all come to life in a very different way for me than maybe has ever happened when writing. That’s going to be fun.

I hope you stick with us. The end is in sight for something that can go to print. We’ve narrowed down to MPC as a printer and packager, thinking maybe a side-by-side graphic box makes sense, with each faction’s deck ready to pull from for a starter set. FI_8875

Keep the feedback and suggestions coming.  Head on over to the Artstation account to see some of the art we’re talking about. Here

Be cool. Enjoy your fireplaces. It’s getting freaking cold in Kansas City.