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.






Immersive Storytelling Engines: A Case Study

carbines and skull revised

I read once that part of Hemingway’s genius was how tightly he could pack meaning into a small amount of words. Supposedly he came by that honestly from a background in journalism. Cool. I binged on Hemingway in college and read essentially everything he ever wrote. He’s worth your time if you haven’t made that happen, maybe start with the Nick Adams stories or Old Man And The Sea. 

I’ve written about haiku here before, particularly as a mechanism for tightly packing stories into powerful little wads of meaning, like exercises for fiction writers.

It strikes me that there is a lot of wisdom in packing hints of hidden worlds and  imaginative triggers into small packages to send readers off into flights of fancy. In my day job, we spend a lot of time making people in manufacturing plants think improvements are their ideas so they’ll own them and drive changes. Doesn’t the same thing apply in speculative fiction? I mean, the whole gig here is to get inside someone’s head and try and leave a trace you were there.

So something fantastic happened this week, along these lines.

If you’re tracking us lately, we’re developing a terrain-based card game based on some of the concepts and technology in Tearing Down The Statues. A core concept for me at least is that every card, every character, has a backstory hidden in the art or the card text that paints nuances into the worldbuilding. The mechanics of the game are intended to be an engine for immersive storytelling through expansions, brought to life by the players.

box cover-texturized

Over the weekend, I had a quick flash image pop into my head of a little sand timer placed on the tabletop when a certain card was played. I liked it – in my mind, it seemed both players were suddenly rushing through their turns for some reason. No idea what the timer was for, or why one guy playing some card triggered it. So the week went on, with a vague idea. I had a few cancellations, so some time at home to poke around with this.

I’ve been learning how to better use Daz Studios and Blender; and I’m okay with Photoshop. I figured out how to add realistic tattoos onto figures early this week; and that’s great because tattooing played a big part in the book. It seemed to me a custom tattoo would be very cool – portraying one of the most distinctive pieces of technology we have in our intellectual property: the ball lightning carbine.

ball lightning carbines

So that’s where the dealie-o at the header of this article came from. The skull was from Turbosquid, rendered in Blender and made into an ink drawing in Photoshop with a filter. Still needs work, but it’s shaping up. Anyway, so I had the tattoo. Was just spitballing some tough-guy characters with tattoos when another thought sprouted:

Both players have a card that can trigger that timer, right? So what if the two cards represented brothers? What if they’re absolute terrors on the battlefield when solo, not even needing attack rolls. Then when both brothers are on the field at the same time, they go after each other…that was a real spark for me.  The game mechanic seemed solid; and the characters looked the part of people who would want to slaughter each other. That’s uhhh..what I was going for. But I was still missing the boat.

Sometimes, going for a run clears things up for me. I can set a creative problem or story block in my mind and come back in an hour or so with a solution. In this case, the problem was easy – why are these brothers trying to kill each other? The game manifesto says everybody has a backstory…everything happening is for a reason. There has to be a purpose behind all the battles the game represents. What was their deal?

Then it connected.

salt mystic

Two thousand years ago, the Salt Mystic herself hid cunningly engineered myths in their very stories capable of practically possessing the right person in the right time. Like tripwires, triggered when we make enough of a mess of things that we need a guardian. Millions will follow them, and they’re endowed with almost supernatural leadership and insight. 

The brothers wanted that. I imagined an old hag, years ago when they were very young, sheltering in their parents’ house from the rain. She spoke something terrible to them that shot poison into the family and ripped it apart. And it eventually led to the two of them haunting battlefields, searching for each other to burn his sibling down and take the prize.

She told them one of them would arise as guardian. Only one.

Anyway, here’s how the cards turned out:


Make sure you keep an eye on us as this thing develops. Any feedback is appreciated!

See you next time.

Dreams are engines. Be fuel.


What The Heck’s Going On With That Salt Mystic Thingie You Talked About?

Salt Mystic

“Let’s build a tabletop wargame based on our intellectual property. It will be cool.” Umm…yes, it would be cool. Yes, it’s an incredible resource drain. Yes, life also has to happen. And wow, I’m tired.

So the art…that’s been a thing.

A trading card game needs fantastic art. Our manifesto for this game requires a unique personality or feel on every card…you’re supposed to be able to see quirks in these people, to be able to relate to them in some small way. When they die in the game, you should be like, “Crap. That sucks.” The whole point of all this is to establish machinery for telling stories in a new and interactive way. Can’t be blah.

When I see spastic Magic: The Gathering art with grinning planeswalkers whipping up glowing puffery, it doesn’t do much for me unless it’s got a great spin like this one:


When I pore over gorgeous Warhammer 40k art, none of those huge, hulking dudes seem relatable or easy to connect with. Unless it’s pure high octane genius like this:


So that’s what’s been going on since we posted the original cards and rules for playtesting and went live on Steam’s Tabletop Simulator.


Heavy focus on keeping to the aesthetic outlined here that emphasizes big statues, old ruins, cobbled-together armies, salt flats or gargantuan mountains, and the unique weaponry and technology that appears in the original Salt Mystic book.  No spaceships, minimal airships, nothing overly sexy.

Here’s a small roundup on some pieces already in the bag:









As the playtesting feedback comes in, rules aren’t tweaking so much as just text on the cards having to get punched up a bit to be a little more interesting or more clear. There are definitely some quirks showing up I hadn’t considered since there are literally thousands of combinations of possible interactions.

So that’s where we are. Timing? Who knows! There’s a dark fantasy thriller that’s at 65k of 80k planned words, I’d love to see that one finished. It’s amazing so far, and lots of creepy fun. There’s a short story collection at 41k of a planned 60k words. The last few stories wrap up a larger narrative, which is coming together much better than I’d intended.

Just life, man. Who’s got time for all this when you’re working a day job and raising teenagers?! Those guys that punch out 4 or 5 novels in a year, screw them! No way is that quality work. Or maybe I’m just doing everything wrong.

Anyway, hope you enjoyed the update and the art showcase. I’m learning all this as I go, so Daz Studio, Blender, and Photoshop are big curves for me. Pixabay is a regular stop. Trying to learn how to digitally sculpt on Forger when I’m sitting on planes these days, to take everything up a notch. We’ll see where that goes.

Watching summer wind down sucks, so focus on cool things that make you happy.

Dreams are engines. Be fuel.

Salt Mystic battlefield



Playtesters Needed! Let us know what you think…

box cover image - alternate

Yes, we’re a small publishing company with pretty much one guy doing all the writing. Yes, he’s supposed to be finishing a novel and also a short story collection for publication this summer and not dorking around with a tabletop wargame.

But we’re taking a diversion to build a unique game based on our intellectual property that has turned out to be a lot more fun than we’d originally imagined. We’ve posted about it here and here if you want to see some early development work and thoughts. Thanks, by the way, to the folks who’ve chipped in with thoughts and comments on the aesthetics and early card designs.

The manifesto is as follows:

  • A tabletop wargame based on trading cards that are placed on terrain like miniatures would be, with consequences for the orientation and placement of each
  • Unique characters coming alive on cards with gorgeous artwork and card mechanics that affect gameplay in a way meaningful to the overall story
  • An over-arching narrative that makes sense of the series of battles, who’s fighting and why, and what the consequences might be either way
  • Every single character, weapon, and vehicle has a backstory. Nothing is given as plain vanilla fluff. Even the scratches on a cannon barrel came from somewhere.
  • Adaptable narrative and game mechanics that allow for a continuing storyline that is easy to relate to and understand

We want games to go fairly quickly…a little less intense than wargames with miniatures. More ‘beer and pizza’ and less ‘chess’. Imagine playing Warhammer 40k with Magic: The Gathering cards where some dude’s relentless and intricate strategy just gets blown up by your surprise smackdown – and you clear his entire board with a malicious laugh. Mwahaha.

Internal playtesting is far enough along now. We think we’ve nailed the card design and general ruleset enough to put something in the wild for external playtesting. We admit not all the art is done, so there are blank placeholder boxes on some of the cards. They’re all playable, however. We’re interested in feedback on all of it – playability, things we forgot, hidden strategies you figured out, and suggestions on how to make it as fun as possible.

Here is the rulebook – more like a small pamphlet. Let’s keep this whole thing simple, yes? Salt Mystic rules

In order to play, and in addition to the cards, you’ll need:

  • Sleeves for the cards, since you’re printing them out (like these!)
  • At least two pieces of terrain (like a small hill or wall or ruins) or something you’ve got laying around to represent them since terrain is kind of the point.  Use wadded up paper or drawings if you want – we offer some printable terrain pieces below.
  • A 3ft x 3ft tabletop, your living room table will work fine – just find a flat space
  • A ruler or measuring tape, preferably marked in inches
  • A few six-sided dice

There are two factions in the starter set, so here’s what you need to print and fold to put in the sleeves. It’s best to print in color on card stock with no scaling.

If you pick the the Mountains Faction, print these:

print sheet-mountains 1

print sheet-mountains 2

print sheet-mountains 3

print sheet-mountains 4

If you pick the Salt Flats Faction, print these:

print sheet-salt flats 1

print sheet-salt flats 2

print sheet-salt flats 3

print sheet-salt flats 4

These are the vehicles the different characters can man throughout the game, and special technology or weaponry you can equip the vehicles with. Both factions need to print these, as they’re common to any faction:

print sheet-vehicles-attachments 1

print sheet-vehicles-attachments 2

print sheet-vehicles-attachments 3

print sheet-vehicles-attachments 4

print sheet-vehicles-attachments 5

print sheet-vehicles-attachments 6

And finally, here are the special rule-changing cards that will drive you crazy when your opponent plays them (but makes you the big muchacha when it’s you playing them). These are common to all factions:

print sheet-breakers and specials 1

print sheet-breakers and specials 2

print sheet-breakers and specials 3

If you prefer to have some papercraft terrain, here are some quick and easy templates:

Papercraft tower

Papercraft wall

Papercraft wargame hill

Rough terrain

And that’s it!  Feel free to reach out with questions or feedback. We can’t justify printing and distributing any of this ourselves yet, so please don’t ask about that just yet.

All rights reserved to Grailrunner Publishing, so feel free to distribute to your friends as you like, just include our name and make sure nobody’s trying to sell this stuff. That would be much appreciated.

We honestly can’t wait to hear what you think and how the games go. We haven’t seen anyone get down to just two War Marshals going at it yet, or both players raising their Guardians at the same time. Those scenarios made us really curious. I’m particularly interested in seeing someone stack their deck with Ephemeral Torpedoes to try and win the game that way.

Anyway, get back to us with your thoughts. Draw well, and stay sane!

(c) All rights reserved to Grailrunner Publishing 2019

Update 7/15/19:

  • Initial feedback on the card design and general rule set is very positive, so thanks for that!
  • We were asked to add some terrain, so a few papercraft pieces were added here. That was a great idea, honestly.
  • As soon as we posted this, we were asked where our Tabletop Simulator version is. Honestly, we were surprised by this one. I get that it’s a great place for expanded playtesting, so we’ll get to it. It’s easy enough to import the cards in; and dice, terrain, and built-in distance measuring for moves is readily available. Our key issue is that the game requires placing cards on top of each other, offset by a small amount; and TTS keeps aligning the cards on top of each other. We’ll have to figure that out. Let us know if you have a work-around.
  • We juiced up the graphic design on the rules pamphlet with some texturing and art.

Design a wargame with us: nailing the aesthetics

demo Salt Mystic game

We’re in the design stages of developing a tabletop wargame. Check the original manifesto here.  Some cool cats have chimed in already with their thoughts and some things they’d like to see in this. Very awesome, thanks for that!

It’s time to nail down the look and feel of the cards, which is turning out to be a bit of a thing. And since I’m not only the Art Department, I’m also Graphic Design – it’s more of a thing than it probably should be. Anyway, probably more than any other facet of miniature wargames or trading cards games like Magic: The Gathering, it’s the look and feel that attracts folks into the game’s world. The lore and great mechanics keep them there; but it’s the art and design that opens the door.

So, let’s try and nail down the aesthetic elements that best resonate with Grailrunner’s Salt Mystic worldbuilding.  Hear me out here – I’ll need your input on this. The core mythology and backdrop of the Salt Mystic universe is as follows:

  • An alternate world a thumbnail’s width away, strewn with gargantuan monuments, statues, and ruins
  • Pocket remnants of a shattered world government exist as mighty stand-alone nations with bloodthirsty fleets of land and sea based forces
  • Fleets clash in monstrous battles of shrieking guided tornadoes, tanks the size of cities, vehicles that climb up vertical walls, and men made of poisonous fog. Gunslingers duel face to face with ball lightning carbines.
  • Thousands of years before, a mysterious old lady-philosopher stumbled out of the salt flats muttering her vision of the forces of history, and how to harness them to shape human events. Fearing what mankind would make of the world, she hid the makings of world-shaking guardians in folklore and set tripwires to raise them up at pivotal moments.
  • In the worst of apocalypses, when doom thunders around you, anyone at all may suddenly understand the cunningly engineered fables of the Salt Mystic and be inspired into a larger-than-life figure capable of shattering world events.

So, you’re seeing stone and statues there, not just slick machines. Big freaking statues and outlandish stone architecture comes to mind. Glaring lightning blasts come to mind as well, lighting up the stone. I’m thinking big, ominous, almost religious aesthetic like you sometimes see with Dune.

The unique stuff has to shine – the forearm weapons that fire balls of lightning, vehicles climbing walls of buildings, stupid-huge tornadoes with entrained steel shrapnel tossing battlefield warriors like toys…gotta be a big deal in the art, I would think.

Here’s a mistake I made, to help you see my point in how tricky it’s been for me to get this right:

The original placeholder art is the orange dealie-o on the left, as we got into playtesting rules to see if this card-based wargame thing makes any sense. Honestly, though, the celtic box for flavor text and weird orange was getting to me. So I took a stab at something different on the right. I mean, I think it looks better. Less annoying, certainly. But surely you see that’s not exactly the aesthetic I was hoping for. Looks like a bajillion other sci-fi whatnots out there. No screaming statues, no ominous chanting…not quite the way this gig is supposed to go.

Here again, another goof (at least a potential one, you tell me):

The back of the cards had placeholder art as on the left in these early days. This week, I wanted to upgrade a bit as I started thinking about the aesthetic. The pic on the right, blue background versus black (to avoid the Halloween look), was intended to match up. that symbol is the graphic representation of her philosophy, that history repeats on fractal levels and the patterns can be harnessed almost supernaturally. Contrasts nicely with the blue; but the statue of the Salt Mystic hovering in the back makes me a question this decision a bit. Of course, the more I look at it, the better I like it.

I don’t know. What do you think goes on the art manifesto? The bullets of what things should look like and what design elements should go on the cards?

Let us know what you think – the colors, the backgrounds, especially the design elements that should recur on the character and vehicle cards. At a glance, the cards need to be striking, but also need to be undeniably something from the world of the Salt Mystic.

And oh yeah, there’s a game in here somewhere. Needs to look fun too.




Designing a tabletop wargame…come and join us!

bridge with red sky-game cover

We’re building something fantastic and new. You’ve got to be part of this! Hear me out…

Tabletop wargames like Warmachine and Warhammer 40K have a lot of PRO’s: The strategy and tactics stretch your mind to be inventive and surprising. You have to anticipate and react to shifting conditions and take advantage of the terrain. It’s primal war in a bottle.

However, although the miniatures look amazing laid out in full glory on rolling hills or nestled in masonry ruins on the table, it takes a lot of $$$ and time and talent to make that happen. All too often, the aesthetic you saw in the pictures doesn’t turn out that way on your own table.

And the endless battles…some of us are a little more intrigued by the lore and fluff behind games than the games themselves, so comparing a wargame with something designed to tell stories like Dungeons & Dragons can weaken your enthusiasm a bit. I mean, WHY are they fighting this war, right? And again. And again.

Trading card games like Magic: The Gathering bring their own PRO’s: Incredible focus on lore and shifting mechanics, gorgeous and inspiring art, creative engines uniquely geared to tell stories, and a maddeningly well-designed game. Seriously, go listen to this discussion on how Wizards Of The Coast goes about their worldbuilding – it’s an impressive operation!

And the art on Magic cards is typically the thing that people mention as drawing them into the game in the first place; and it’s amazing art, no doubt. A couple of artists you might look into from their usual suspects are Richard Wright and Adam Paquette.

However, Magic brings a lot of complexity to it, and a lot of story baggage. Pick up one of their art books like the recent one based in a massive city called Ravnica and you’re bombarded with lore that, while interesting, is difficult to relate to and to remember. The game itself has morphed into a pay-to-play monstrosity where the guy who spent the most on the more powerful deck will often win the game. And even in a casual format, it’s still just a card game and doesn’t have the feel of staring down a tabletop canyon with a horde of miniatures rushing at you where you hadn’t anticipated.

We started asking ourselves at Grailrunner, is it possible to combine some of the best of these?

  • A tabletop wargame based on trading cards that are placed on terrain like miniatures would be, with consequences for the orientation and placement of each
  • Unique characters coming alive on cards with gorgeous artwork and card mechanics that affect gameplay in a way meaningful to the overall story
  • An over-arching narrative that makes sense of the series of battles, who’s fighting and why, and what the consequences might be either way
  • Every single character, weapon, and vehicle has a backstory. Nothing is given as plain vanilla fluff. Even the scratches on a cannon barrel came from somewhere.
  • Adaptable narrative and game mechanics that allow for a continuing storyline that is easy to relate to and understand

That’s the manifesto. We’ve got an initial set of rules and some strawman cards for two factions. Playtesting has been fun – games last about an hour. It moves quickly, and shifts dramatically. Luck is an element, as you draw each turn. Strategy is more important.

Throughout this year, we’ll be testing things out with you here or with volunteers. We’ll post the rules and some cards soon to get your feedback. Keep an eye on this page for updates.

If there’s enough interest, we will likely do a Kickstarter and initial print run. We don’t intend to become a gaming company though, so let’s keep our eye on the ball. The entire point of this site and Grailrunner’s vision is to inspire better fantasy and science fiction. This experiment just struck us as an interesting means of doing just that.

Let us know what you think and your own thoughts on combining trading card and tabletop wargames in a meaningful way. We’re really curious about your first take on this! Either way, keep this is mind…

Dreams are engines. Be fuel.




First Saturday Sci-Fi Interview


Just wanted to highlight an interview with our showcase author, Brian Bennudriti appearing in ‘First Saturday Sci-Fi’ by Tegan Maus, author of The Chronicles Of Tucker Littlefield series by Tirgearr Publishing.


Tegon: “What do you think makes for good Sci-Fi ?”

Brian: “Dialogue makes or breaks any book for me. The slickest concepts, the best setup and background, even an interesting hook in the first few pages – that’s all target practice if the people speaking sound like they’re telling me the plot. I can close a book two pages in if it’s hollow and obvious conversation. On the flip side, somebody like Nick Hornby can make the words pop (I know, not sci-fi, let me make my point). RA Lafferty and Neil Gaiman come to mind, although I pay close attention to Joss Whedon and Kevin Smith’s comics as a model to follow for dialogue. Humor’s okay, even in tense situations when characters are supposed to be afraid because that’s real. If you ask people their favorite bits in movies or books, more often it’s the softer character interactions than blow-out battle scenes.

“I also very much appreciate a strong, innovative, but simple concept. Asimov’s Foundation series, and Clarke’s Rendezvous With Rama and ’Foundations Of Paradise, are standard-bearers for this. I’m just spit balling here, let’s look at the kind of one-liner punch I’m talking about.

“Robert Metzger’s Picoverse: A lab at Georgia Tech accidentally created a sub-microscopic universe, so they’re going inside.

“Greg Bear’s Blood Music: The fellow that created self-aware biological cells injects them into himself.

“Barrington Bayley’s The Fall Of Chronopolis: An empire that spans across time rather than space is besieged by a mysterious enemy from frontiers in its future.

“Of course there’s much more to a classic than a blow-out idea; but something just feels right if I’m trolling an old bookstore or library or surfing Amazon and see a one-liner concept that makes me stop and scratch my chin. I live for that. It begs questions; and I want to see what they do with that idea…see where it goes. That’s the whole reason I read science fiction, to feel my mind stretched and to be inspired!”

Read the full interview and catch some exciting updates on his work at:

First Saturday Sci-Fi

And maybe go try this one by Tegon, available at Amazon.

little people


The Prisoner: Let’s Make A More Satisfying Ending, Okay?


“Who is Number One?”

I’m just sitting here re-watching the 1967 series, The Prisoner. It’s as fascinating now as it was the last five or six times I’ve done this. Please tell me you know what I’m talking about, because it’s amazing. If not, forget this and go make that happen. Anyway, although the show itself is brilliant, the ending is a bit of a flub. I thought I’d offer you an alternative narrative for what’s happening overall in the series and how it ends.

I know what you’re thinking. Number One is actually the dark side of Number Six’s personality, the dark side of us all. We’re all prisoners; and freedom is an illusion. When Number Six pulls off One’s mask, it’s himself. Let’s set all that aside for a moment and see what else could be happening, all right?

There is no Number One at all. It’s a boogeyman used to break promising former spies with the intelligence and skillset to be effective at breaking other spies. Number Two’s function is to either reveal Village citizen secrets or determine if they will reveal them. The people we see as Number Two were themselves entirely broken and driven mad enough to serve a short sentence in the role, threatened by the menacing phantom Number One.

If you successfully break your potential successor, in this case Number Six, you’re promised freedom when they take over from you. If you fail, you’re handed over to the terrible Number One. That’s why they keep disappearing, because they snapped. There are terrible mind-altering drugs and techniques at play in this awful place, uniquely and efficiently suited for shattering minds. It happens. We need this system because we want the most effective Number Two possible to optimize the Village’s purpose – to reveal secrets.

“But the phones rang! Number One spoke to those guys.” Actually, no phones actually rang. Hallucinations and conversations with empty air. Every Number Two we meet is schizophrenic. Designed to be so, in fact. That’s kind of the point.

Only a single Number Two, the one played by Leo McKern, was able to emerge from his psychosis long enough to take the office again. Maybe he asked for another chance in a moment of clarity. He lost his battle in the end though, in a devastating confrontation with the unbreakable Number Six.

Number Six realized all this. He knew by the end there was no Number One. Either a single government or a cabal of the Illuminati from multiple governments was running this place, with no single head. It was a factory for secrets, sold or distributed. And he needed to shatter it. But he maintained the charade to lead them on to their climactic attempt to drive him insane and have him take over as the most effective Number Two yet. Fallout.

Fallout was a madhouse of nonsense, engineered as a frothing schizophrenic nightmare and typical of the final blow designed to break the new Number Two. Number Six knew all this and played along, to at least get off the Village and back into London. Even there, back in his apartment, he knew there were more games to be played with these people.

He would be an entirely different type of Number Two. He would run a much larger village, playing along and forging new rules. He would plant secrets, alter them, seed them to muck up the system. All the while, no one would suspect he’s destroying them from the inside.

He’ll reveal them all. It will just take a little patience.

Be seeing you.

Concept Art For Sci-Fi Authors

Harbor and vortex cruiser

We’ve talked about concept art in science fiction before. Honestly, the power of this literary form and genre to light fires and knock down walls – to turn the world upside-down – it’s just so rich that it was born for concept art. New technology in rendering software and 3D art packages, ready-made assets you can drop into place, these things all make it possible for authors with a little free time and initiative to at least put something down in visible form that was previously only imagined.

We’re exploring this alternative way of interacting with folks in a few different ways. One is the Grailrunner Twitter account where you’ll find hundreds of science fiction themed art pieces from some incredibly talented folks. A lot of people tell us they’re using these as inspiration for flash fiction or for their own works. Somebody with the handle ‘Kungfuest’ comes to mind, who posts little flashes entirely in German based on the image. Very cool.

Our Facebook page  is a place for original flash fiction based on images which we either re-post from other artists or which we’ve developed in-house. Feel free to submit to us if you can keep it as clean, inspiring science-fiction under 150 words and include the image that inspired it.

The image topping this post is a Grailrunner original, portraying the towering vortex cruisers from TEARING DOWN THE STATUES. It’s a fascinating new way to engage people with the Salt Mystic series to have them comment on the visuals rather than vaguely discuss some cherry-picked concept from the book that stuck with them. These massive hydro-foil vessels balanced by manufactured whirlwinds only appear briefly in the book; but they seemed striking in our imaginations.

‘The Shenna’ is a low-riding dirigible where much of the book takes place. When I dreamed that thing up, it had a deck on the back where the characters could interact and watch the cornfields and battlefield ruins drift by, with small brass-colored steampunky balloons and a weird figurehead on the bow. The figurehead told its own story (for another day) by portraying a tiny frightened girl holding out an icicle like a sword.

mogmogs in fog

Called ‘mogs’, these light vessels play pivotal roles in the book – both in lighter character moments high on the tops of buildings in a burning city as well as the climax of the final battle scene amid remote-controlled tornadoes.

statue in lake3

The world of the Salt Mystic is riddled with ruined statues and gargantuan monuments. That’s the whole aesthetic. This scene is the sort of thing you’ll come across – a mysterious statue half-submerged and its origin unknown. People take cruises out to get close (and some dive off the top).


The most important location in the book is a very old mountain city perched on the plateau of granite and gneiss cliffs. It’s overseen by a colossus sculpted into the face of the highest cliff; and a waterfall rushes through his outstretched fingers.

scene 4

Cannons firing ball lightning, city-sized tanks of a thousand souls, and artificial intelligence tornadoes color the battles of the Salt Mystic series. The tornadoes actually have entrained steel shrapnel and other shrapnel which we really need to include in future pieces. This work doesn’t do it justice.

bridge with red sky

The creepy, fascinating temple of the world-shaking Augur, where seekers have gone for two thousand years for insights into how to transform their lives in accordance with the Salt Mystic Philosophy We’ve gone inside only in brief snapshots and only hinted at who’s waiting inside. In the second book, we’ll go deep and watch this whole thing explode wide open.

I hope you enjoyed the gallery tour. Let us know if you’re interested in sending some original art in for re-posting, or some flash fiction of your own. Also, keep the comments and kind words coming however you reach us.

It’s a blast to share in unleashing the power of science fiction. Till next time, guys.

Dreams are engines. Be fuel.