The SALT MYSTIC tabletop game has arrived! Here’s the backstory…

storyteller with box

Well, finally! We at last have something to show you for all the efforts and learning, the mistakes and horrible designs, and the stunted experiments in game mechanics. You guys have been very cool about this little diversion of ours, so thanks for all the input and playtesting, the patience, and interest.

Here’s how this whole thing went down:

Nov 2017: Dude, I just wanted to play Dungeons & Dragons with my family for my birthday! I told you about it here. We popped into a gaming store (the Geekery!) to pick up some miniatures since I hadn’t done anything like that in decades. I saw some guys playing the tabletop wargame, Warmachine, and I was hooked.

I started learning to make terrain and assemble and paint miniatures. Learned the rules. Discovered Warhammer40K and Malifaux, a couple of other wargames. Then I picked up Magic: The Gathering and nagged the kids and wife into some after-dinner games. It’s like your mind explodes open when you go deep on this sort of pastime, seriously. I had no idea.

Feb 2018: By February, I was tooling on this notion of what I’m calling an Immersive Storytelling Engine, which is a mechanism for engaging people in different ways with an ongoing, overarching storyline. I captured a game on the tabletop at home with some high res pictures and told you about it here.



It was frustrating to try and move the ball down the field on this with my own work given how crappy my art skills are. I knew I needed dynamic visuals, so I started playing around with some amazing software that makes it easier:

  • Photoshop for image manipulation and some high level digital painting. is a favorite stop for stock images to begin with (and thank you, Aaron Nace of Phlearn on Youtube!)
  • Blender for 3D models, lighting effects, and scenery and backgrounds I couldn’t find or massage from existing stock photographs. Turbosquid is a favorite stop for royalty-free models to begin with (and thank you, BlenderGuru on Youtube!)
  • Daz Studio for 3D models of characters (and thank you, Black Sun Comics on Youtube!)
  • Substance Painter for unique textures and materials with which to paint all this.

Nov 2018: I tried a deeper storytelling experiment, which I told you about here. It was called THE BLACK RUINS MASSACRE. The idea was to let the mechanics of a tabletop game decide the narrative. Turned out great, you should go read those four posts. Also got the chance to photograph the fog machine tower on the table:

tower and fog

Feb 2019: By this time, I was stretching my artistic muscles a bit and shared some early images from the SALT MYSTIC world from my 2015 book, TEARING DOWN THE STATUES. While not amazing like the pictures in my head, I felt like this was making it possible to go deep on the idea of expanding the characters, technology, philosophy, and core concepts of that world in an engaging way.

Apr 2019: So this project began…the SALT MYSTIC tabletop wargame intended as a mechanism for telling stories as I had with the Black Ruins Massacre. It had some Malifaux in it, some Magic: The Gathering, some Warmachine…a little Star Wars…a lot of Dune…and some things I picked up in the ‘Tabletop Gaming’ magazine. I announced the project here. Mostly, I tried to avoid the stories and exact characters of the book and focused on enlarging everything, establishing a framework capable of supporting any type of story I might want to tell.

June 2019: Here, I was reaching out for people to help playtest the original game rules and concept cards. My idea was a bit ridiculous – I was hoping people would actually print out the cards and terrain and rulebook as pdf’s and give this a shot. Actually, loads of people responded and said they would do exactly that.

Unfortunately, I heard back from very few people on the hardcopy stuff. Kind of felt bad for the people who did because I was actively updating the art and card text, so the items they printed were in flux. But then, one crazy Scotsman chimed in and said he’d play it like crazy if he could do it ‘on-line with me mates’. He led me to Tabletop Simulator on Steam.


It wasn’t hard at all, actually, to upload the cards and terrain. They give you a template; and you just place your cards directly onto it in Photoshop, then click a few times. This was really helpful, believe it or not. You can reach a lot more avid gamers this way, most of whom are just interested in stealing some of your assets for whatever they’re doing.

But at least they stop by and give feedback after a few tries!

Sept 2019: It was September when something big happened…the first in-game story happened on its own. I wrote about it here. Basically, two brothers told as very young men that only one of them would receive an incredible prize. Only one of them. That drove the rivalry, which led to the accelerated game mechanic when they’re both on the table, sacrificing a player per minute until the brothers meet in battle.

Kind of a small thing in the overall scheme, given that I was interested in using the entire system for a big narrative. Still, the interplay of two particular cards being played driving both a story related to their backstories as well as a shifted game mechanic was hard to resist.


Just to give a sense of how the development process went, here’s another example.

The experience with the two brothers (above) got me thinking about an implied backstory in the SALT MYSTIC world…the desperate people manufacturing weaponry and vehicles to respond to innovations on the battlefield. The idea here: someone developed a ghost ship capable of phasing through the ground and essentially popping up from nowhere (like a submarine only on the land). It was devastating and unstoppable until someone devised the countermeasure: a tank that disrupts the ghost ship’s space and destroys it (if they can find it, of course).

dirt ships

Jan 2020:  After researching a few Kickstarter suppliers, I came across an outfit called MakePlayingCards. Customer Service is responsive; and their print quality and materials are excellent. Templates are clear and easy to use, like this one for the double-deck tray box.


I went with this style box, to have two opposing factions in one package as a starter set. The bad news is the freaking box is $20 all on its own. Based on that, plus the two decks and a rule book, the price was going to be out of hand for single purchases. Anybody running a shop could buy a handful and keep their costs down; but I definitely still need to work out some more affordable options.

Up next is to set up the marketplace and make the game available as both a starter set and individual decks with their own customized tuck boxes.

Stay in touch, guys! We’re going to finish this up, then get out a short story collection and horror novel this year. That’s the plan. Then the sequel SALT MYSTIC book can start, supplemented with an expansion of this game entailing an excursion into the massive Augur Temple and its mysterious terraces of artificial space pockets.

It’s going to be fun!

Dreams are engines. Be fuel.



Ever Wonder What Black Sabbath’s ‘Iron Man’ Is About?

steel man

An eerily detailed statue of a metal man shining on the street of a bustling future city, the neon lights and hovercars reflecting across its corroding surface. His face seems to be screaming, his eyes wide in horror. It’s frightening if you stand directly in front, so most people passing by step to the side or lean on its back to take pictures of themselves.

They pretend to kiss its lips and scratch their names upon it. They call it filthy names. And they mock it as a joke. It’s funny and somehow comforting to do so because when you’re near the metal man, there is always a certain feeling you may or not be able to ignore. There’s the sense, somehow, that he’s trying to warn you of something.

You’ll talk to people who swear that’s not a statue at all. They tell the same story because they’ve sensed it there in the plaza with the pigeons fluttering about, as the metal man looked on. They’ll tell you this was a traveler, a mortal man. But this was a man with powerful psychic abilities like no one in history. This traveler had the power to move through time and space with no vessel.

He pushed himself once, to his limits, to go far into the future and maybe see what becomes of us all. Maybe he expected great towers or shining cities or paradises with rockets.

But what he found was apocalypse: smoke and craters and rotting corpses. The cities lay in ruins.

In his horror and disappointment, this traveler returned in tears to warn the people of what he’d seen. But of course, things went terribly wrong with him. Space and time are vast and largely unknown; and there are costs to breaking their rules. An inexplicable field through which he sailed transmuted the very cells of his body into metal, imprisoning and paralyzing him. And here he stands, helpless to pass on a warning anyone will believe.

There is, of course, more to the story that only a very few of the most psychic-sensitives can tell you there in the plaza in the shadow of the silent metal man.

He’s gone entirely insane.

His thoughts are growing louder, more incoherent. He’s screaming inside there, with his terrible and mighty mind. The apocalypse he saw, that no one would believe even if they could sense his warning of it…this apocalypse that laid ruin to the world…

He’s going to cause it.


I’m supposing you’ve heard the Black Sabbath song, ‘Iron Man’. You should google it if not. Geezer Butler wrote the lyrics that told the story above. I fleshed it out a bit; but the skeleton of it all is there.

Here, read this. That’s an article laying out the inside story. Apparently, Tony Iommi banged out a riff on his guitar. Ozzy loved it and said it sounded “like an iron bloke walking around’. Geezer’s job was bass guitar and lyrics, so he knocked out something that struck his fancy. And here we are with one of the greatest rock songs of all time.

I just found this out recently. Thought it was awesome. Sometimes, you find amazing stories buried in something very, very familiar. There are science fiction lovers out there everywhere, involved in all sorts of things…dreamers, of our tribe.

And they’re making cool things for us.



Without Being Overly Negative, Why Does Science Fiction Suck Right Now?


Yeah, it’s politics and money. I get it.

Come on, guys! Doctor Who used to be fascinating and hilarious. I’ve laughed out loud at stuff Tom Baker or Matt Smith said. I’ve sat back after episodes like “Blink” and marveled at the well-designed symphony of story and concepts. That’s just good TV. I miss that. These days, Doctor Who is a string of nonsense action shots spiced with “guns are evil” and a parade of “women of history” that is honestly just too in-your-face with the politics for me. I’d hoped with Season 12’s “Spyfall” opener, maybe things might be different because the dude playing The Master now is pretty good…also hints of a larger narrative than the monster-a-week they went with in Season 11. No luck, though. Ep 2 was a boring train wreck that trashed the intriguing characterization of Michelle Gomez’s Master from earlier seasons.

I’m not jumping on the Disney ‘Star Wars’ hate wagon, though I do hate it. That’s not really my point here. My point is an evening with my Dad back in 1983.

The first ‘Star Wars’ came out when I was 6. It’s all anyone talked about; and it inspired me big time. I remember after ‘Empire’ speculating along with everyone else what would become of Han Solo frozen in carbonite. I remember seeing this cover in a book store somewhere and getting incredibly pumped because here was something outside the movies I could interact with.


Then Dad took me to the opening of ‘Return Of The Jedi’. I smacked his arm excitedly when the camera zoomed in on Darth Vader’s helmet with the Emperor’s lightning showering around them. I couldn’t help myself. I wanted that bad guy to help his son so bad, to turn back and be a good guy, that I was practically crying. That’s a great moment for me, in my mind, and illustrative of the power of good fiction, well executed.

I hated the prequels too, honestly, though I chuckled with some delight when Anakin screamed “Noooooooo” after learning of Padme’s death. A little girl beside me was dumbstruck and asked me during the movie why I was laughing. I just told her, “I’ve been waiting a very long time to see that.”

It isn’t just the ridiculous McGuffin-driven storytelling or vapid, meaningless action sequences or grammar school characterization. I just miss heart. I miss there being heart in the story.

‘The Mandalorian’ at least gets that very right. The dude in the helmet has a soft spot for Baby Yoda, probably because he was orphaned as well. Tough guy, softie at heart. Very dangerous when baby is threatened. That’s some heart, man. Give those people more money to make this kind of thing. We need it.

So I thought I’d offer some unsolicited advice to Hollywood and anyone else looking to bring some new science fiction into the world:

  1. Leave your blatant politics at home, please. Your objective as mythmaker should be to make something timeless. Politics bleeds that, so stop it. You’re also alienating half your potential fan base.
  2. Focus. Trim. Be concise. Narrow your plot’s conceit so it can be summarized in a sentence or two. Stop masquerading nonsense action shots from video games as if there is meaning there. If I could delete an entire section of your movie and have the same ending, you missed the boat.
  3. Twist something other than just a character’s gender or skin color. We’re not stupid; and we’ve heard every story there is. You’ll have to do more than tweak superficial window dressing to seize attention.
  4. Please, for the love of God, make character motivations clear and make them believable. Palpatine’s plan in ‘Rise Of Skywalker’ was for Rey to kill him? Really?
  5. Find heart. Please. Please. Please. Go back and watch the introduction of Wolverine and Rogue in the early X-Men flicks. Watch the scene in the Sam Raimi Spider-Man movies when the New Yorkers hid the mask-less Peter after saving them. Go listen to Spock, McCoy, and Kirk joshing with each other on the bridge of the Enterprise. Drill your character roster down to 2 or 3 people that have a true relationship that matters and with which we can relate. Please get back to that.

Anyway, I’m trying. ‘The Witcher’ was worth the time, though a bit muddled in timelines. ‘Messiah’ on Netflix seemed to have a great start till the last episode when it sort of fizzled. Just to spoil that for you, it’s much more interesting and makes more sense if you watch that thinking the guy is the Antichrist.

So go forth and help spread the word to anyone writing for Hollywood. Less noise, less clutter, less politics.

Can we have heart again?