Steam Highwayman II Playthrough 1-1

On a dark night, I set out to ambush travellers and seek my fortune as a highwayman in the wooded hills of the Chilterns.  My past as the scion of a noble family was forgot: only my high GALLANTRY score (6) and my inherited rapier (PAR 4) reminded me of my origin.

Yikes – what a playthrough!  As part of my editing, I’ve been playing Steam Highwayman II as a new reader.  Complementing the link-checking, this allows me to discover what balances are needed and tweak them before the final version is published.  But I’ve also been massively enjoying re-discovering the world I wrote earlier this year, trying to overcome the forces of the law and of poverty and sickness.  Nobody said that this life would be easy!

So I started by keeping my blade clean and talking my first victim into handing over cash.  I headed for the Crown at Pishill but was unable to take a room since the landlady lacked trust.  Listening to her sob story, I set out to try and right a wrong and made my way to Wallingford, where I was unable to convince a menial paper-pusher in the barracks, despite using charm and gold.  I’d be back with a bigger bribe, I decided.

So I set off to try and get a pot of guineas to throw at the problem.  My first attempts at ambushes were only mildly successful and I was wounded twice with little to show for it.  Now a new problem arose: finding medical treatment.  It was risky to continue to ambush carriages but with only a few shillings, I was unable to buy what I needed to set up a camp in the woods or to take a room at an inn.  One more robbery was needed…

I stopped a carriage and lucked out – a priest!  He showed fight and wounded me again, but I subdued him and stole his precious golden pectoral cross.  Earlier I’d found a goldsmith who had offered me a good price for these things, so I shot off in his direction, mercifully still unknown to the Constables as a result of maintaining my disguise.  The gold was sold and I had money in my pocket at last!  I returned to Wallingford, bribed the official, headed for the Crown and gave the good news to the landlady, who let me take a room.  Once inside I could attempt to tend my wounds – but required bandaging.  This was the first point at which I thought my gameplay was being frustrating and I decided to edit more bandages into some of these locations.

Things looked up!  I left the and decided to head out to find an adventure.  Not far away I came across a grand house, bluffed my way inside with my good breeding and a double six and burgled the place.  The lady’s jewels were in my grasp… but, folly of follies, I could not resist striking out for more and I came a cropper, trying to sneak around the house.

Beaten and subdued, I was handed to the Constables, who scorned me as an unimportant burglar (and to tell the truth, I had indeed achieved little of note) and threw me into prison – but not before confiscating my weapons, remaining cash and those lovely jewels!

Released, I completed a little honest work delivering parcels, but soon grew tired of this slow employment.  I desperately stopped the first two carriages I came across and scraped together enough coin to buy a sabre (PAR 3) at a market – oh for my lost rapier!  Doing so, however, I earned the wrath of the Haulage Guild and the Constables.  Eager to gain more gold and bootstrap myself up into some higher skills (I had also grabbed some goggles (MOT+1)), I returned to the scene of my earlier crimes and prepared another ambush.  This time, as a result of my growing notoriety, the Haulage Guild were ready for me and the vehicle I met was guarded.  A MOTORING test allowed me to dodge damage to my precious velosteam, but in the process I was wounded once more, and still without a firearm, I was unable to press home my attack.

I’m somewhat amazed at the story that has just appeared from an hour and half’s gameplay.  To me it feels realistic, challenging, gritty and hooky.  Is this just the start of a great tale or is it doomed to failure and replay?  If you’ve read this, you may end up recognising some of these events during your playthrough, but I’m also amazed that another reader or another reading of Steam Highwayman II: Highways and Holloways could proceed for just as long without a single common event with the story I’ve just described.  From your choice of backstory and the manner in which you approach your first robbery to your decision of where to base yourself, how to treat wounds, which sort of travellers to target and the manner in which you pursue profit, your choices could be entirely different and your experience in the book much more – or less – successful.

That’s really the biggest difference between the two volumes of Steam Highwayman.  Smog and Ambuscade was open-world in many ways, but I created ‘choke-points’ to make the mechanics manageable and in the end didn’t feel that there were enough opportunities to behave as a highwayman should – essentially robbing travellers.  Now in Highways and Holloways, I’ve been able to develop my structures and instead of ‘choke-points’ I have what I think of a ‘dispersal passages’ that gather events from different locations, shuffle your options and send you back out to your region.  It’s a powerful mechanic that keeps the story moving and helps you zip across the map when you need to.

I’ll continue with this playthrough (I was sorely tempted to stop once I missed that NIMBLENESS roll in the night burglary!) and probably post some more, but I’ll try to avoid hard spoilers as I do.  Anyway, by the time you read the book, the world will be responding to your choices, not mine.

If you haven’t yet pledged on Kickstarter, why not head over and fund your copy of Steam Highwayman II: Highways and Holloways now?  The project is 87% funded and with unique custom art spots still available, this is your opportunity to appear as the Steam Highwayman in print!

Where is the Steam Highwayman?

Well, the Steam Highwayman’s back at home beside the Thames in the industrial East End of London, actually, but this Saturday I visited the Long Shop Museum at Leiston for the Suffolk Steampunk Spectacular – and had a great time with two interactive readings, a nerve-wracking tea duel, sales of Smog and Ambuscade and some down time exploring this fascinating museum!

Leiston has never been on my map, but I know that I’ll certainly be returning – for the museum and more besides.  The Long Shop is a fascinating early factory – a preserved and partly-restored portion of the once-massive Garret works, which dominated the small county town.  In the 1780s, agricultural machinery was built here – in the 1800s, traction engines and ironwork.  In WWI, this was the ‘factory nearest Germany’, as well as the root of a hospital founded by the Garret family, a significant number of recruits for the war effort and much more beside.  The museum is a showcase of the rural foundation of the industrial revolution and also reveals how innovative traditions rooted in local communities have influenced the very underpinnings of our modern world.  Families from Leiston, whose expertise in engineering built the beautiful steam traction engines on show, contributed to the construction of Sizewell nuclear power station, just a few miles away on the coast.

Our trip to Leiston was through the torrential rain of the summer storm that broke the hottest month for years.  It felt very exciting – and inspiring – to be exploring more of historic England on the road at the mercy of the weather – and prompted me to think and reconsider exactly how weather-dependent travel in the age of steam would have been.  Perhaps this will play into some future iterations of Steam Highwayman?  An interesting discussion with a Steampunk at the stall about cattle drovers – their coats, roads and traditions – might play into this.

We set up inside the teashop and laid out our stall, including, for the first time, large digital prints of Ben’s illustrations for Smog and Ambuscade.  I think these look really smart and, sold in cardboard tubes, they slipped into my shopping bags really nicely.

The day was hosted by Dean Allen Jones of Nothing Up Our Sleeves magic – and he did a fantastic job of involving newcomers, hyping my reading and keeping the day running to (Steampunk) time.

Two traction engines were in steam – including a unique Suffolk Punch, built here on site – and a unique little tank engine, called the Sirapite, that had once been part of the MacAlpine collection.  Morris-dancing from an as-yet-unidentified group took place and there were a few other stall-holders too – including one offering interesting steampunk soft toys!

I participated in a really hand-shakingly nervous tea duel with a mysterious lady in lilac, but some dastardly play prevented the Steam Highwayman from demonstrating the inevitability of the revolution of the proletariat.  Still, this was my favourite duel yet and my wife Cheryl’s first experience of watching it.

If you haven’t ever made your way to the Leiston Long Shop but you’re interested in the rural roots of the industrial revolution, this place is a must.  The long shop itself – a galleried workshop – has a fascinating architectural structure with a hybrid wooden and iron frame.  Exhibits of machinery on the ground and tools and displays on the galleries are well-labelled and engaging – and there’s even some hands-on stuff too.

While there I also continued to promote the Steam Highwayman: Highways and Holloways Kickstarter and found myself at least one new backer from the participants.  As I write, we’re at 83% and only looking for another 25 or so backers to fund the project fully.  It’ll be great to be sending out copies with a touch of Leiston in them – either in the illustration or in the edited adventures.  In the afternoon I read from Volume II for the first time and was gratified to find the audience just as engaged – and just as keen to rob and steal in the name of adventure.

Where is the Steam Highwayman headed next?  Well, subscribe to my blog here or follow me on Facebook as I organise the next events over the summer season.  I can confidently say that I’ll be attending the Essextraordinaire at Maldon Museum of Power in September but aIso hope to be out reading and publicising before then.  If you’ve an event and you think a Steampunk Highwayman with interactive readings and book signings could add to it, let me know and I’ll descend like the night – sudden and unstoppable!

If you’ve enjoyed seeing some of the photos here, I’m sharing an album of photos from the day on Facebook too.

Buzz!

Something has changed about my Steam Highwayman project.  For several years, it was an idea in my head that I occasionally mentioned to my brother or sister, or toyed with on my laptop.  Then I saw other people standing up and making a success out of their writing, using their brains and passion to push something from their imagination into reality.  80 Days, by Inkle, wasn’t a commission.  Nobody asked for it or told Jon Ingold, Joe Humfrey and Meg Jayanth to write it: they chose to and made it work.

So in September 2016 I changed my attitude about my writing: I was unlikely ever to meet a patron who would sponsor me in comfort and style to create something with the perfect brief, giving me creative control but enough direction to get going.  I had to make it work.

I chose to work on Steam Highwayman because, unlike my efforts in writing novels, I had good example for a printed, multi-volume gamebook in Morris and Thomson’s Fabled Lands.  I also believed that I could produce something with a limited, defined scale of success.  I recognised that, despite my inherent need to develop and surpass any model, I needed to choose a ceiling to bump up against.

So I began writing, first using Twine to create something that could be made available to modern readers on their phones, but soon changed to focus on producing something I have a much stronger understanding of: a printed book.

And then at Christmas 2016 I had to defend my decision to my dad.

It was great: he grilled me in front of my family and my wife and I had enough answers.  Not every answer, but enough.  He was a self-employed multi-discipline artist/manager/technician at an architect for a quarter century and knows a thing or two about breaking ground, managing yourself and finishing projects.  And about making it happen.

I think that was the beginning of the buzz.  When I began to see that Steam Highwayman, if successful, would become much bigger than I could imagine – that people would discuss it without me being directly involved in the discussion – that it would be strong enough for me to not have to defend it or explain it.

So now it has all changed.  This weekend I promoted the project with a live reading at a Steampunk event in Surrey.  Before the end of the afternoon, there were several dozen people talking to each other about this character, the Steam Highwayman.  THE Steam Highwayman – as if he or she had an independent existence.  At one exciting moment, I was introduced as the Steam Highwayman, but when I demurred and asked ‘Who is the Steam Highwayman?’ I was met with the ringing reply, as my friend pointed to those around, ‘You are the Steam Highwayman!’

Last night I dreamed I was travelling along a dusty road and, stopping to refuel at a petrol station, overheard two strangers discussing what they had been reading.  You guessed it: in my dreams, unconnected randomers are discussing Steam Highwayman.

Then in the last few days I’ve been privileged to have the support of several volunteer proof-readers, a few of whom are close friends or family, but more are people I would have never known before pushing this idea into reality.  And then there’s Ben, who has been so inspiring to work with as an illustrator.  Somewhere out there tonight, in the US, the UK and New Zealand, there are people reading extracts of the adventures of the Steam Highwayman – an invented character in an invented world that had no previous existence until I began to share it.  Elsewhere there is a man who is devoting his time to visualising a story that is entirely made-up – but he wants to get it right and do it justice.

I’m a little bit mind-blown.

Next Up…

The ground shakes… A season begins… Not obviously, since autumn always slips out from beneath summer’s train. Seasons are never well defined.

But in the few months since I’ve last written on here, a lot has changed. And now I’m about to take a new journey.

My friends know a quick way to get me excited is to ask me about IF – interactive fiction – or CYOA – Choose Your Own Adventure – the genre defining series. And over the summer I got very excited and spent about 15 full writing days learning to use an IF software tool called Twine, writing a non – linear Steampunk time – sensitive role playing interactive novel, simply called Steam Highwayman.

I’ll write a lot more about it soon, but the key to my excitement with using Twine is that it provides me with a very natural writing environment, meaning that my productivity and fluency were as great during those 15 days as at any time in my life. And the finished result published in html format, meaning that it can be read easily in a Web browser.

I’ve learned a small amount of html and css from the work I had earlier this and at the end of last year editing a website for Mary’s and then building my own. But if I can up my game, the prospect of downloadable CYOA apps that combine my love of writing with modern technology awaits me.

I mean then to be spending time learning more CSS skills to create a good looking page, learning how to use android studio to create an app that will use one of my finished-ish IFs, and then  to release it here.

Will I succeed? God knows. How long will it take? I don’t mind. Because whether or not I’m posting a downloadable free IF within the year, entirely written and produced by me, I know I’m learning a lot. And that feels great.

In Psalm 119 it says “Blessed are they whose ways are blameless, who walk according to the law of the Lord.” There’s nothing to blame in my desire to explore and create and I know that anything done for the glory of God can be an act of deep worship, so I’m looking forward to meeting Him and walking with Him along His road this season.

Graham Writes About Worship – Renewal 2015

I’ve been profiting from reading and dwelling on Graham Kendrick’s stacked-up blog posts.  There’s some quality discussion of leadership as a worship leader and writer of songs on his site, as well as some great stories behind some of his songs.  I find it so encouraging to read how directly the spirit moved him on many occasions to create a song we now take a bit for granted!  Click the pic.

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In other news, I’m going to the Renewal Conference in Woolwich next weekend.  I know GK and other British worship leaders tend to be there.  If you haven’t heard of it, click the pic and check it out.

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