Closing Highmoon Press


I am closing up Highmoon Press for good. The short and sweet of it is that I am choosing to dedicate my time to other endeavors in my life.

During the month of August, I am running a grand sale on both my own webstore and DriveThruRPG.

All my zines in print have been priced to move, so I can clear as much physical stock as possible. There will be no reprints, so this is it. Likewise, all my PDFs I have created or published over 15 years in game publishing are on sale. On September 1st, all products will go offline, and leftover print zines will be donated.

If you are interested, please visit my webstores, and maybe share the news as well.

Gumroad Webstore (Print, PDF):

DriveThruRPG (PDF):

Thank you for all your support. It has meant a lot to me.


Find THRU-HIKER on Kickstarter

As I write this, THRU-HIKER has been funded on Kickstarter and we still have 10 days to go in the campaign. Right now we’re working on reaching the first stretch goal, having the game professionally edited. You can read the full update here. I’m excited about the reception the game has had so far, and I hope we can bring in more backers before the campaign is up.

I’ve been asked a couple of times how did the game come to be, so I figured I’d tell you why I wrote THRU-HIKER.

Back in late 2019, I started to look into solo roleplaying games as a way to indulge my hobby. At the time, I wanted to play something Star Wars-y, with a lone character having adventures in the galaxy, so I wrote the basics of a system to let me play such a game using a journaling format. After I’d done all the work, though, I shelved the game.

Last fall, I got back into hiking as a serious endeavor. It’s an activity I greatly enjoy, one that I can do by myself or with my daughters, and an excellent way to deal with the stress of being a nurse during a pandemic year. I absolutely love connecting with nature, and hiking is the perfect vehicle for that, a natural evolution of the journey I already was on to be more mindful of nature, and live a more sustainable life.

I learned about thru-hiking, the act of hiking long-distance trails, and in doing so, fell in love with the Appalachian Trail. On its way from Georgia to Maine, it cuts across Pennsylvania, just to the north of me, and dreams of thru-hiking the AT didn’t take long to bloom. Going on a 6-month hike away from my family and responsibilities isn’t something I can do right now, though, so along with watching thru-hiking YouTube videos, and reading hiking memoirs, I wondered how else I could nurture that dream. Then I remembered my shelved game.

I’m always looking for ways to blend my interests, and the idea was born to make a hiking-themed game using the system I had created for the solo space opera game. I thought about it, mulled it over, tweaked it in my head, and then I sat down to write; three weeks later, I had a finished game, THRU-HIKER.

That’s why I wrote THRU-HIKER, because I needed a game to help me daydream of thru-hiking, and because I knew I wasn’t the only one.

Find THRU-HIKER on Kickstarter and back it today!

THRU-HIKER: A Journaling Game of Long-Distance Hiking coming to Kickstarter for #ZineQuest 3

February is around the corner and that means Zine Quest is here again. What is Zine Quest, you ask? Here’s the lowdown from Kickstarter:

Our annual Zine Quest prompt bestows creators with this valiant mission: Bring your RPG to life with maps, adventures, monsters, comics, articles, and interviews. To participate, launch a two-week project for a single-color unbound, folded, stapled, or saddle-stitched RPG zine on A5 or smaller paper.

For 2020 I created The Ioun Codex, and for 2021, I am bringing a brand-new game that I am super excited about.

THRU-HIKER Front and Back Cover (Artwork Not Final)
THRU-HIKER Front and Back Cover (Artwork Not Final)

THRU-HIKER is a journaling game telling stories of being on a long-distance hike. Using your favorite writing instrument, a deck of playing cards, and a set of writing prompts called Oracles, you will tell the story of your thru-hiker on their journey. It’s an easy game to learn and play, and should appeal to experienced gamers, writers, and hiking enthusiasts alike.

The book is written, and I’m 75% done with the layout, which means backers will get their books and PDFs with very little delay after the campaign ends. I’m also making stickers (below) and have a couple of neat stretch goals in mind just in case.

THRU-HIKER "Embrace The Suck" promotional sticker artwork
THRU-HIKER “Embrace The Suck” promotional sticker artwork

Click here to visit the THRU-HIKER pre-launch page and sign up to be notified when the project launches.

I hope you’ll join me on this new project and help me make this game a reality!

Graduation Day: A Tale Of The Third World

“Fahren, for the love of Ogma, move away from the ledge and take your place so I may begin!”

Fahren glances back at the Master Librarian, and with an exasperated sigh stands up, taking one more look over the edge of the hover platform, committing to memory the details of the steel and glass spire peeking through the trees. The smirk on Fahren’s face tells you a plan is already in place for the very moment you are set loose upon this world. Fahren walks back to the seat next to you, making a deliberate show of the act of sitting down and paying attention to the irate man once more.

“This,” the Master Librarian says as he rolls his eyes and gestures towards the forest-covered landmass below the hover platform, “was our ancient homeland.” Scattered towers of stone and steel jut through the trees like petrified arms reaching out to heaven, hinting at the world waiting to be discovered under the thick canopy. Beside you, Fahren pulls out the encyclopad and quickly searches for the lore of the ancient homeland, flicking links and text snippets into various folders, and over to your own encyclopad.

“Three thousand, five hundred and forty-seven years ago, Humans left the homeland to escape the cataclysm brought on by the collapse of the ecosystem which our ancestors abused over millennia. We would have perished as well, but the Incantatrix, the Bard Queen, Curator of Incunabulum, Blessed of Ogma, she had the foresight to preserve the most precious fountain of knowledge, namely Humanity, and with the help of all ten Archivists, she sent us to the lush lands of Thule to live, develop, and thrive until such a time when she would open the door once more and we could reclaim what was once our own.”

The Master Librarian lets the words hang in the air in reverential awe which he knows is completely lost on his wards. As he looks over his fifteen charges, these newly-graduated Field Librarians, he wonders if they will be up to the task the Blessed of Ogma has left for the returning Humanity. At least three of them will surely die, maybe four. Fahren will definitely be one, the cocky bastard.

You elbow Fahren as you notice the Master Librarian squinting at your friend and classmate, who is very much lost in the screen of the encyclopad and not paying an iota of attention.

“The Incantatrix and the Archivists,” the elder Librarian continues once all eyes are back on him, “having rescued Humanity from extinction, turned their attention to protecting the combined knowledge of the world from the ravages of the cataclysm to come. The Archivists gathered all the Incunabulum they could in their fortified seclusia, and turned these fortresses into an eldritch nexus that sealed off each of their bibliopoleis. The Bard Queen then finalized the ritual by giving her life to power the shielding nexus so that all knowledge would persist until such a time when we would return to reclaim it for posterity.”

“Master, why have we then waited fifty years since the Reopening to begin our search and cataloging of the bibliopoleis?”

The Master Librarian expected that from Fahren, but not from you, and he is taken aback for a few seconds. “Before defecting and becoming the Redcaps, the Guard caste conducted reconnaissance for years, as a matter of fact,” he replies, regaining his composure, and attempting to hide his contempt. “As Ogma in his divine wisdom dictated, the Guard caste was not allowed to touch any book, and thus they could only gather intel for us. Their defection into the willfully ignorant mob they have now become was a terrible blow, hence why all over the world, cohorts like yours are making their way to the surface today. We must begin our expeditions, lest the Redcaps find the bibliopoleis first and destroy them. Or worse, find an Incunabula and use its power to reshape reality to their ignorant whims. This is why we are here, why you are here.” He doesn’t hide the fact that he’s addressing you with that last statement, and you know without a doubt that he now dislikes you as much as he dislikes Fahren.

“On this your graduation day, my class of Field Librarians, you become emissaries of the Incantatrix as you embark in search of the lore of yore. Boot up your encyclopads, gather your equipment, and say a prayer to Ogma. We begin our descent.”

The moment the Master Librarian ends his discourse, Fahren turns to you and says, “I already spied the perfect place to begin our hunt. You will join me, right?”

You smile, hoist your pack onto your back, and say, “Let’s go find some Incunabula.”

I wrote the above back in January, just an idea I had kicking around in my head for a possible new role playing game. The concept is one that I love in fiction, finding lost lore in the form of books, scrolls, or anything printed, as the explanation why people would go adventuring in ruins and forgotten places. It was never necessarily meant to be my version of D&D, but it certainly was meant to be the kind of game that I always wanted out of playing D&D.

Along the way I picked up on two particular game design features that I wanted to explore with this specific project, one being the use of random tables to generate a significant part of the living world, setting details, and even plot, and the second was the use of in-character and in-world narration to explain everything about the game, not just the setting, as is somewhat common in roleplaying games, but also the rules to the game. This is why the narration above is in the second person, because it’s supposed to address you as the reader/player/newcomer to the world.

This piece of fiction has sat in my drafts folder for 6 months now, and I’m not sure what I’m going to do with it, if anything. But I do like the idea that’s embedded in there, so regardless of what may come of it, I’m letting it out into the world. I still think about what I would do with this particular design, so maybe one day, one day. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy this one glimpse into the world of Incunabula: Lore Hunting in the Ruins of the Third World.

THE PLAYLIST: A Game of Soundtracks and Feelings

The star-crossed lovers meet in secret. The former best friends meet at dusk to duel. The college friends meet at a bar after years apart. Lives clash together, and drama is guaranteed. Hit play, find your theme song, and let the music guide you.

THE PLAYLIST is a roleplaying game for a gamemaster (GM) and one to three players inspired by the use of music soundtracks in movies and television shows to underscore the emotional conflicts of the main characters. In this game, players take on the roles of iconic characters based on the agreed-upon setting, and play through their emotional issues over a series of three to five scenes using a music playlist to drive conflict resolution, culminating in a grand finale where hearts are bared for all to see.

Buy your copy for only $2 from DriveThruRPG.

DO YOU REMEMBER ROCK? A Game Of Mecha, Love, And Rock & Roll

Earth is being invaded by fearsome Aliens, but the Space Navy is ready to defend the planet, armed with variable-form fighters and awesome rock & roll. In the middle of war, the Human Pilot, the Music Idol, and the Alien Ace fight battles while figuring out their feelings for each other.

Do You Remember Rock? is a roleplaying game for a gamemaster and one to three players inspired by the popular anime of transformable fighters, love triangles, and rock music. Players take the role of an iconic character, and play to resolve their emotional issues with the use of a music Playlist to drive conflict resolution.

Jump in your mecha, grab your microphone, and bare your feelings to an awesome soundtrack.

Buy your copy for only $1 from DriveThruRPG.

Projects Update 2018/2019

This is a list of personal and professional projects I’m working on and where they currently stand as we close 2018 and welcome 2019. With all its ups and downs, 2018 was a good year for me in terms of my work. I started writing regularly by doing daily blog posts during the work week for almost six months, which then led me to get back to writing fiction, and editing my existing fiction, then to expanding my nonfiction work. While I wish I could’ve done more writing all around, when considering the drought I had been going through in the last few years, this felt positively torrential. Still, not everything I set out to do got done, so with that in mind, we turn to figure out where we are, and where we’re going.

LIVE PROJECTS – What I’m actively working on.

  • Rhymes With Seen zine – This is my main project for 2019, a quarterly zine packed with essays, op eds, memoirs, and some fiction. I’ve already released a Prologue issue, and the first issue is planned for February. I’m excited to work in the zine format this year and see how it helps my work and productivity.
  • Blog: Daniel/Highmoon – Blogging is here to stay. I loved getting back to writing regular blog posts, and while I need to slow down the rate at which I release new posts in order to dedicate time to other projects, there will certainly be regular posts in the new year.
  • Fiction: One Foot In Front Of The Other – I did my best to get this novel edited for release in 2018 but there’s still a lot to be done. I continue working on it, and it’ll be released when it’s done.
  • Fiction: Starfall (The Star Chronicles) – I began work on this novel which picks up right where my short story Ufaratza ends, and chronicling the further adventures of Captain Marina Estrella and the crew of the Star. No time estimate on this project, I’ll keep writing and it’ll be done when it’s done.

SHELVED – Off my plate for now.

  • Patreon – I’ve paused the Patreon for January 2019, but I don’t think it’ll be coming back. Eventually I’ll write a detailed blog post why I don’t think Patreon works for me at this point.
  • Game: Don’t You Forget About Me – Shelved but not forgotten. I have a feeling this will end up as a zine project.
  • Game: Unnamed Fantasy Project – It continues to brew on the backburner of my mind.

I have basically restructured my work so that Rhymes With Seen becomes the primary project since it can also absorb other smaller projects into its pages. The blog will continue, with some of the content eventually ending up in the zine. Beyond these and editing my novel, I think it’s better if I don’t commit to anything until it’s ready to be released. I had lofty plans when 2018 started, plans that didn’t quite survive slamming onto the reality of life through the year. I want to avoid that in 2019. It doesn’t mean I won’t work on anything else other than the zine, it means that I won’t go squawking about it until I have something finished or almost-finished to show for it. Manage expectations and all that.

I learned a lot in 2018, and those lessons are now being put to use in the zine project and my general work flow for the new year. I’m excited about what 2019 will bring, and I hope you’ll come along for the ride.

I’m Not Thinking About Game Design Right Now, But…

I’ve been reading Brad Murray’s blog since he restarted it back in October, and frankly, if you’re into game design you should be reading it as well. He’s been talking about the design of his latest game, Sand Dogs, as well as of the series to which it belongs, called Soft Horizon. Brad’s design goals align greatly with my own, so it’s been quite informative to read through his development, and to see the ideas that shaped the games. Even though my mind isn’t quite in the game design space at the moment, reading through Brad’s posts makes it impossible to not consider and file things away for whenever that time comes.

Reading through Brad’s posts made me realize two important things about my own design, and why I was having problems with it (which is one of the reasons why I put it aside to focus on other projects). The first is that players aren’t improv actors*, and the second is that roleplaying games aren’t a story.

One of the biggest issues I had been facing with my own game design was figuring out how complex I wanted to make it. Ideally, I want a simple system that I can drop in the hands on a non-gamer and they can play fairly easily. I thought that the way to do this was to have a very basic framework with a dice-based conflict-resolution system, and a free-form consequences system, then letting their imagination determine how these best fit their own narrative. To define the system beyond this, I thought, would be to introduce unnecessary complexity; it’d be a legacy of roleplaying games in general, where bloated, complex system reign supreme, simply because that’s the way things have always been done.

I don’t think I’m wrong in my design goal, or in my reasoning for wanting to keep things simple, but the framework I was going for, I’ve realized, is a game design that takes the responsibility away from me, the designer, and places it, unfairly, on the player. This is lazy game design. I couldn’t figure out how to solve the problem, so I shifted the problem onto someone else and called it a design choice. I’m not saying that there is no room for letting the players’ creativity come into play in interpreting the mechanical aspects of the design, but it has to be done purposefully. I very much like how Brad’s Soft Horizon system uses methods and risks as cues to determine how the players act and what the consequences of a conflict could be. Fate Accelerated does something similar with the Approaches, which tell the player how a task is accomplished (Quick, Clever, Flashy) but leaves what exactly is the action done for interpretation.

Whenever I sit down to work on this, I need to have this front and center on my mind: my players are not improve actors, and my job as designer is to give them enough guidance through the system so they have choices for both actions and resolutions, thus giving them scaffolds onto which to hang their creativity.

The other issue that’s been stirred up is that, in trying to avoid bloating my system with complexity so as to not create a game that tries to be a simulation of the world, I failed to realize that games are not movies and work under very different rules of storytelling in order to achieve a final cohesive narration.

Brad writes,

There is a lot of work on the table that tries to understand role-playing games in terms that we already know from trying to understand story. We’ve been trying to understand story (and story has been changing over this time, but also not, if you get my meaning here) for a really long time and so it seems natural to apply this knowledge to role-playing games. They do look like stories, after all. Well, at least after we finish playing and think about what happened, we hear a story in our heads. When we type up an actual play report, we present a story.

When I listen to the audio of an evening’s play, however, I mostly hear a social event in which a game is being played and some great scenes are being described. In a way it’s rather more like geeks talking about a film they loved and re-hashing their favourite parts than it is like an actual story.

So when people use theory to try and make role-playing games better at delivering story, I have to wonder if that’s really on the right track. Maybe role-playing games shouldn’t be stories.

I love the idea of focusing on narration during gameplay in order to determine actions, conflicts, and consequences, rather than resolving task after task after task, but this doesn’t mean that the gameplay is a story. My goal is for the game to create a story as an end product, but I need to remember that the gears that power the creation of that end product are not a story in and of themselves, even if they may look like one. Making a rule that narration determines how a conflict is to be resolved (“please don’t search your character sheet and tell me “I use Socialize” — tell me what you do and we’ll work out the method together“) doesn’t make that narration a story per se, it’s a gear in the machine that will eventually produce a story as a final product, and as such, my attention as game designer should be in how to best use that gear in order to create the best possible end product, rather than trying to make the gear be the same as the end product.

Basically, a mechanic is a method through which to achieve an end result. In game design the end result is a story, and even if the mechanic takes the form of an element of the end result (narration in my case), it is still a mechanic and must be treated as such.

I know I’m bungling the explanation, but the core idea is there; I’ll continue to refine it and better express it once I do.

So as I said, not really thinking about game design at the moment, but I have certainly added a couple more pots to simmer on the backburner of my mind.

* I am pretty sure that I read this statement, or something that led me to this statement, in something Brad wrote, but I can’t seem to locate the source. If it turns out it was someone else, I’ll fix the attribution.

Hobby Gaming And The Way Things Have Always Been Done™

I find it amusing that people who make a living out of creative endeavors can sometimes be so uncreative about their business practices. Some people who make a living in the hobby gaming industry are so entrenched in The Way Things Have Always Been Done™, that when presented with ideas, let alone examples, of how to better use the current resources of the marketplace, or heaven forbid a whole new way of doing things at all, they close up, wall off themselves, and declare that to be the hill on which they die.

I’m being vague on purpose. There’s no need for names or examples because it isn’t a one-off thing. I’ve seen this attitude cropping up more in hobby gaming for a while now. Every so often someone of influence in the industry will wave this flag and rally many around it, providing an obvious example, but it’s in the day-to-day interactions that I see how prevalent the problem is.

And it is a problem. For an industry that sells creativity, there is very little creative thinking when it comes to how that creativity is sold. There are experiments, yes, every so often, but no concerted effort. We are simply told that The Way Things Have Always Been Done™ is the one true way, told that the market bears that proof since experiments have come and gone without significant impact, that the solution is to double down and do more of the same.

It’s no surprise that many customers echo the call, thinking that it really must be done the one way or it’s not a game at all. The industry has conditioned the audience to expect only the one way of doing things, then it cites the market as the reason why it cannot be done any other way. But really, no other option has been presented consistently. One-off experiments are just that, experiments, oddities, monuments to art and beauty, and were never meant to establish new ways of doing things. Don’t expect them to provide you data that they were never designed to provide.

All I’m saying is there are different ways to do things in hobby gaming that are not The Way Things Have Always Been Done™ since the 70s but with cheaper tools. The entire paradigm of creating, publishing, and selling games has changed, and there are people out there taking advantage of it, doing things differently already, with measurable levels of success that prove it can be done on a consistent basis. You have to shut out the loud voices proclaiming The Way Things Have Always Been Done™ to hear these individuals, but it’s worth doing so.

There is nothing wrong with The Way Things Have Always Been Done™ but it certainly is not the only way to go. Dare to do things differently.