Manuscripts Burn


"Manuscripts don't burn"
- Mikhail Bulgakov

Hi, I'm horror and science fiction author Steve Kozeniewski (pronounced: "causin' ooze key.") Welcome to my blog! You can also find me on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and Amazon. You can e-mail me here, join my mailing list here, or request an e-autograph here. Free on this site you can listen to me recite one of my own short works, "The Thing Under the Bed."

Monday, October 31, 2011

A brief interlude...


The Dread updates continue later this week.  And in case you were wondering, yesterday's new game went very very well.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Dread and Breakfast: Map

So, the next thing I did was to set up the setting.  So to speak.  I guess that's where that word comes from.  So I made a map and information to go along with each room at the B&B.  This was the information that the players had going in.  Now once this was done all I had to do was set up a timeline and associate events with each room, which we'll explore next.

Here we have the manor grounds.

The First Floor

And...the second floor.

And now for the descriptions:

Country Road – An unpaved dirt trail that leads out to the “main road” – a gravel packed path that leads ultimately to the macadam public routes of Lancaster. Only Amish-style buggies can navigate the country road with ease, although even then not in the rain. The country road turns to unnavigable mud in the rain. Cars often find it difficult to reach the homestead. The farmer pays one of his neighbors to let the guests park their cars on his land and drive them to the B&B in their buggy. The guests usually love the ambience of getting to ride in a real buggy. UPGRADE OPTION – the farmer can attempt to lay down gravel for one pull or have it paved for two pulls. A gravel road can still be navigated in the rain and a paved road has the additional advantage of allowing cars to reach the farmstead.

Toolshed – The toolshed is fairly large and metal. A massive padlock seals the door, which cannot be opened without bolt cutters or the key. The farmer and any farmhands he trusts will have copies of the key. There is a set of bolt cutters in the toolshed, so no help there. The largest object in the toolshed is a riding tractor. Otherwise, any reasonable tool or garden implement can be found here – hammers, screwdrivers, rakes, hoes, and the like. The toolshed also contains the generator that runs all the electricity on the farm. Behind the toolshed is a gasoline reservoir which is refilled every month.

Cornfields – The farmer grows several acres of corn. It was the Wittgenstein’s main crop. Crows are noticeably absent from the cornfields. Perhaps the scarecrow is especially effective.

Woods – The wooded area of the manor grounds are especially dense and overgrown. There is a hiking trail through the woods, and the farmer always warns his guests not to stray from the trail. At the first major clearing in the woodline there is a deep, still pond where frogs croak and a few fish live. Avid fishermen can attempt to catch something here, but pickings are slim. Beyond the pond the trail becomes overgrown and more difficult to traverse.

Barn – The barn is large enough to hold a corn thresher. It is two floors high. The second floor is a hayloft, only accessible by a wooden ladder. There is a door in the hayloft leading to the outside, where the farmhands can shovel bales of hay down to the ground. The first floor, in addition to the thresher, holds six horses, three stables on each side.

Pigsty – Rickety wooden fences holds in a family of massive, docile hogs. The hogs are well fed and some are getting past their sell-by date. It’s almost as if the farmer is reluctant to slaughter his pigs. Aside from a trough and a mud floor, there is little of interest here.

Well – The old well still produces water, even though the homestead has been equipped with modern plumbing and a sump pump. The well is large enough for a full grown adult to fit down. The well is fifty feet deep, and the bottom will always contain at least 7 feet of water – too much for a man to stand in. Guests are certainly allowed to draw well water, and some enjoy it for the rustic qualities it evokes.

Old Outhouses – The old Wittgenstein jakes should’ve been destroyed decades ago. Constructed from wood, and in a dangerous state of disrepair, the jakes should be considered no longer functional. The farmhands would rather shit in the woods than use them. The only reason the farmer hasn’t demolished them is because, like many of the rustic buildings on the farmstead, the guests enjoy the old-timey feel of them.

Livestock pastures – The bulk of the farmstead is taken up by acres of grassland where the cattle graze and the horses run free. The grass grows high and water is ample. Herds of steers wander around, occasionally culled and slaughtered by the farmer and his farmhands. The paddocks are lined in by sturdy wooden fences.

House Office – The house office is where the farmer does all his business and paperwork. He keeps his books and ledgers here, as well as all of his licenses and tax documents. The farmer has a satellite internet laptop here as well as a VOIP phone, which both never fritz out. This is also where the farmer keeps his cleaning supplies, in a closet.

Owner’s Apartment – The farmer has his own one-room apartment on the first floor. The room is well-appointed, but has the look of someone who isn’t used to having money. A plasma screen TV sits on top of a yardsale nightstand and the like.

Dining Hall – The dining hall has some of the finest furniture in the house. The crystal chandelier is a relic of the Wittgenstein, as is the solid oak table and the fine silver and china. The dining room has a distinct Old World feel, and is lighted with multiple candelabras, although there are electric lights if necessary. The dining hall is easily spacious enough for the entire complement of guests and staff to be seated easily.
Storage Closet – The storage closet is beneath the stairwell and is only accessible from the Dining Hall. The farmer keeps board games and sports equipment here, and a few shelves of paperbacks.

Pantry – The farmer keeps a wide variety of dried goods here. (He tries to keep enough food to satisfy any taste, although he usually plans common meals.) For now the farmer is willing to encourage folks to help themselves to anything in the pantry and the kitchen, although he suspects that if many guests start to abuse the privilege he will start locking the doors. The pantry has a small step ladder to reach all the shelves, which reach up to the ceiling.

Cold Storage – Although the kitchen has a regular refrigerator, the farmer thought it prudent to invest in a massive walk-in freezer, considering how rarely he makes runs to town. He keeps the freezer well stocked, both with unslaughtered cows, pigs, and poultry, as well as fully broken down steaks and cuts of meat. The freezer he does keep locked at all times for safety reasons. Can’t have a guest (especially a child) sneaking in and getting killed. The farmer and any farmhands or staff he decides will have a key to the cold storage unit. Like the rest of the farmstead, cold storage is powered by the generator in the toolshed.

Kitchen – The kitchen is probably the most modern room in the house. The farmer sank a lot of money into stainless steel appliances and refurbished cabinets. A microwave, oven, stove, toaster oven, and refrigerator are all new. The fridge is well stocked, but more importantly the kitchen is flanked with a pantry and a cold storage unit, both also well-stocked. Modern plumbing, a garbage disposal, and a dishwasher help the farmer and his staff clean up. The linoleum floor is recently laid.

Foyer – The foyer has two chairs for sitting, although the parlor is supposed to be the main common area. The stairwell leads directly to the foyer. A bust of Benjamin Franklin is prominently displayed here. To the right is the dining hall and to the left is the parlor.

Porch – The wooden porch has been freshly renovated and painted. It proudly bears the name of the B&B in a carved wooden plaque over the threshold. Several rocking chairs sit on the porch for the guests’ amusement. On warm summer evenings the farmer will delightedly bring lemonade to anyone who wants some and watch the sun go down. To the left of the porch is a cellar door leading to the wine cellar.

Stairwell – The stairwell is wide and laid with a forest green runner. It has two railings that could easily be slid down, even by an adult although any male will crush his testicles when he reaches the knobs at the bottom. Beneath the stairwell is the storage closet.

Parlor – The parlor is the main common room of the B&B. It is easily large enough to accommodate all of the guests and staff on comfortable plush chairs, loveseats, and sofas. A massive stone fireplace is here. One of the farmer’s major renovation projects over the last year was getting the fireplace up to code without losing its Old World feel. Guests will often notice how large the flue is, joking that Santa could easily fit down with one or two reindeer. A large painting hangs over the hearth of William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania.

Wine Cellar – The entrance to the wine/fruit cellar is located to the left of the porch (facing out.) This room was excavated out of the rock and is cool and damp in all weather. Racks and racks of expensive wines line the walls and extend into long hallways, like the bookshelves of a library. Baskets of fruit from the orchard are stacked towards the front of the cellar for easy access. Cobwebs dangle from the corners. The farmer has never fully explored the wine cellar, because it is a massive undertaking, but he believes he will be able to keep his guests in expensive wine for several years before having to restock. The Wittgensteins must have been lushes.

Linen Closet – The tiny closet is stacked with monogrammed towels as well as blankets, sheets, and other linens. Guests can also get paper towels and toilet paper here. A laundry basket is here as well, although guests are also encouraged to leave their linens on their bathroom floors to be picked up.

Lebanon Room – The Lebanon is one of the standard sized rooms, with a single queen-sized bed and easily enough space for two occupants (or two and a child.) Apportioned with a couch and a love seat, the Lebanon is otherwise unremarkable. Like all the rooms it has an independent bath and a TV with satellite. The decorations are Lebanese, a bit of a cheeky choice for the farmer, who obviously named the room after the central PA town of Lebanon and not the country. As such, it has a light Middle Eastern flair to it, and the farmer has put a fine Arabian rug down and sometimes keeps exotic spices in the potpourri pots. The Lebanon is above the house office.

Red Rose Executive Suite – The Red Rose Suite is the finest room in the house. Nearly two times the size of any of the other rooms, the farmer envisions it as the room for V.I.P.s. It has two king-sized beds and a massive mirror spanning the two. The farmer fills it with vases of roses fresh from his rosebushes when they are in season. Luxury is the watchword in the Red Rose suite, and consequently the occupants usually pay quite a bit more. Tonight, though, is opening night and the farmer may simply be out to impress and will charge normal rates. Like all the other rooms, it contains a bath, but this is the only one that has a Jacuzzi. The Red Rose is above the dining hall and the foyer.

Gettysburg Room – The Gettysburg Room is the bachelor suite of the house. It’s the only room with a single bed. The room is decorated with a miniature cyclorama of the Battle of Gettysburg which a local muralist painted for a song. Aside from the cyclorama, which is the centerpiece of the room, a few Civil War artifacts decorate the room, mostly scrounged from local flea markets although the farmer hopes that one day if the B&B becomes extremely profitable to upgrade to some more expensive artifacts. Like all the rooms, it has a toilet and shower. The Gettysburg is above the owner’s apartment.

Hallway – The hallway is the shared space between the guest rooms and the linen closet on the second floor. A few paintings line the walls, and the floor is carpeted, but otherwise it is unremarkable. Roughly in the center of the hallway is an access door to the attic, with a dangling cord that anyone taller than 5 feet can easily grab and release collapsible stairs.

Parking Lot – Between the homestead and the toolshed is an asphalt parking lot with a basketball hoop. At present, the parking lot is empty. The farmer plans to have the country road paved someday (if he hasn’t chosen to do so already) so that guests can park right at the B&B. Guests are welcome to play hoops if they are so inclined – they certainly won’t be disturbed by any traffic.

Attic – The attic is the most unkempt room in the house, with the possible exception of the wine cellar. There is a large window here which leads out to the slanted roof. A person could easily crawl out onto the roof through this window if he so chose. Otherwise, the attic is lined with cardboard boxes, mostly seasonal decorations and the Wittgensteins’ old belongings which the farmer hasn’t disposed of yet. There is no proper floor here, just pink fiberglass between the rafters and plywood nailed down to form a walking surface. A heavy person or a person who repeatedly jumps could easily fall through to the second floor.

White Rose Room – The White Rose is one of the standard sized rooms, with a single queen-sized bed and easily enough space for two occupants (or two and a child.) Apportioned with a couch and a love seat, the White Rose is otherwise unremarkable. Like all the rooms it has an independent bath and a TV with satellite. The decorations, when closely examined, show landmarks of the central PA town of York. When the bushes are in season, the farmer keeps a vase of white roses on the armoire here. The White Rose is above the owner’s apartment and the walk-in freezer. As such, the floor will be cold to the touch.

Carlisle Room - The Carlisle is one of the standard sized rooms, with a single queen-sized bed and easily enough space for two occupants (or two and a child.) Apportioned with a couch and a love seat, the Carlisle is otherwise unremarkable. Like all the rooms it has an independent bath and a TV with satellite. The decorations are themed after the American Revolutionary War, but they are nowhere near as elaborate or expensive as the Gettysburg Room. The Carlisle is above the parlor and the kitchen. Interestingly, there is a dumb waiter here that leads to the kitchen (a relic from when it was servants quarters for the Wittgensteins.) The farmer will usually take care to avoid putting children in this room and will advise guests against playing with the dumb waiter. He keeps it locked with a simple padlock, but you know how people are.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Dread and Breakfast: Completed Questionnaire

Ok, so with this player's permission, I'm going to show you an example of how someone completed a guest questionnaire.  One thing I found fascinating was how the various players, even the ones such as the guests who were given IDENTICAL questionnaires, all found wildly different ways to answer.  That's part of the fun of this game.  So, without further ado, I give you "George Worthy:"

1. What do you do for a living and what do you wish you were doing instead?

Civil engineer; astronaut

2. What brings you to a Bed and Breakfast in the middle of Lancaster county? Is this your ideal vacation or do you wish you were somewhere else?

Mom got half-off deals for the rooms. I would prefer more activity but will welcome the silence nonetheless.

3. Which friend or family member came with you to the B&B? Why did this person come with you?

Mother. She wanted to go antiquing and I wanted to get out of my area and reconnect.

4. What do you have packed in your suitcase? Which one of those objects will you keep hidden from the other players at all costs?

Clothes, pencil and pad, binoculars, tennis (stress) ball; not-exactly-prescription painkillers (let's say oxycontin)

5. You once had to kill an animal. Describe the circumstances, how you felt about it then, and how you feel about it today.

A distant relative had a farm (not nearby) and while visiting the older cousins held down a lamb and made me cut the throat. At the time I felt a mixture of trying to feel pleased about "fitting in" and being haunted by the screams. Now it's still disturbing but I'm more irritated that I was suckered by peer pressure.

6. What one thing will you give up anything to protect? Your country, a family member, your wealth, or something else entirely?

Anything to protect my current fiancee. Things are not going so well between us right now though.

7. What is your crippling physical or mental weakness?

Besides the drug dependency, claustrophobia and water that I can't stand in are paralyzing.

8. How did you lose your first fortune?

Withdrawing my investment from a friend's start-up soon after college. Bad blood after that, but then it took off. His company went public around this time last year.

9. Where did you first hear about the B&B? Do you know the owner personally? What made you decide on this one?

I used to get newsletter emails for some reason. Do not know the owners. Mom found the deal too hard to resist and I needed dome temporary distance between myself and my place.

10. How did your pet once save your life?

Cassie kept me from sleeping through a gas leak. She pawed at my face and meowed and hissed until I was able to crawl outside and call the fire department. After we got outdoors Cassie ran into the wooded area near our place. Fortunately nothing horrible resulted from the leak. Two weeks later, Cassie came back and looked terrible. I figured I owed it to her to do whatever it took to get her better but two months later she died.

11. What is your secret skill that you are immensely good at but immensely embarrassed about?

Remembering numbers, specifically digits of pi. To 300.

12. When your parents used to keep you up in the middle of the night by yelling at each other, what did you do?

Tent the sheets and play action figures

13. What is your name? Who were you named after and why?

George Ruth Worthy. Named for the baseball player due to my parents' fandom and being born on the same date and hospital as the previous Babe. Apparently my parents did not consider the implication of "Ruth" as a middle name for those less versed in baseball history. Played my share of little league games but stopped after middle school (was mostly for the parents' approval)

Monday, October 24, 2011

Dread and Breakfast: Questionnaires

All right, so character creation for Dread is PURELY backstory.  You don't need a rulebook, you don't need to roll for stats (remember, everything is Jenga based) you don't need to do jackshit except make up a person you want to pretend to be.

The host (the person in the game who plays the role of narrator) is going to make up a questionnaire for each player to fill out.  The host may have very specific ideas about what kind of characters he wants or not.  One of the scenarios in the Dread rulebook was a high school-based horror story, so he made questionnaires specifying that one character was a cheerleader, one was a jock, one was a nerd, etc.   

The idea behind the questionnaire is to assume that every question includes a "how" and a "why" and if the player raises questions with his response, he should go ahead and answer those questions, too.  The whole purpose is to give the host insight into the psychology of the character (since nothing else matters but making everyone start to feel that palpable dread.)

For "Dread and Breakfast" I had a specific role for four players (the Farmer, Investigator, Stranded Player, and the Criminal) and everyone else were just guests at the B&B.  The questionnaires don't vary that much, but there are more leading questions for the more specific roles.  The magic number, by the way, for questions is 13, with the 13th being "what is your name."  That's not a hard and fast rule, and the host is encouraged to send follow-up questionnaires if he so chooses.  (I believe I did so with the Farmer in this case.) 

I sent the questionnaires individually to the players, along with the overview, about two weeks ahead of time so I could really integrate their characters into the story.  They're all fairly similar, although for a good changeup, compare the guest and the criminal.  Take a look at the sorts of questions I was asking, and in the next entry I'll show you a completed sample questionnaire.






Saturday, October 22, 2011

Dread and Breakfast: Overview

So for the first game of Dread that I ever ran, I put quite a bit of effort into it.  The first thing I did was to develop a scenario.  I didn't reveal all of the scenario information to the players at once, so I wrote up an overview which would give them the information they needed to develop their characters.  Below is the scenario incorporating every character.  I then e-mailed the players a questionnaire (which we'll get to in the next post) along with a copy of this overview, tailored to their specific player.  Rather than list all five of the individual overviews, I'm posting this composite one which incorporates all of the characters.  So, for instance, the player who was stranded simply knew that he was stranded, not where he was and who else might be there.  The bed and breakfast owner knew he was expecting guests, but not the criminal.  And so on.


Deep in the heart of Lancaster County, the breadbasket of Pennsylvania, a massive country manor recently went vacant. The wealthy owners of the farmstead disappeared under mysterious circumstances, and beyond that simple fact, virtually nothing is known. One player, THE FARMER, left the city of Philadelphia for reasons of his or her own and purchased the farmstead. He or she decided to set up a Bed and Breakfast on his or her new land, and tonight is the first night it is open for business.

As the afternoon wanes into dusk, the other players arrive. Some are simply GUESTS, willing or dragged along by a spouse or significant other. Other players may have been STRANDED there – their cars broke down or their crop duster ran out of fuel and they had to make an emergency landing. A few CRIMINALS, though, have truly sinister motives. They may be out to rob the farmstead, kidnap or rape its owners, or simply to wreak some havoc with crop circles and cow-tipping. Rumor has it that one of the registered guests is also an INVESTIGATOR of some sort, though no one is sure if he or she works for the IRS, the police, or is a private eye hired for some reason.

When all the guests (invited and uninvited) have arrived, a feeling of melancholy settles over the farmstead. Cell phones are far out of range of any towers, and the century-old manor has no landlines. The nearest neighbors are hundreds of acres away, and are mostly Amish anyway. This is all part of the B&B’s appeal – to get away from all the hustle and bustle of modern life. Which is all well and good as long as nothing untoward happens…

(Keep in mind that it is modern day and no science fiction or fantasy elements have been introduced...yet. If you have a compelling need to be Harry Potter on sabbatical or Captain Kirk come back in time to save the whales, I’ll consider it, but try to stick to ordinary, mundane humans of the modern age. Whoever volunteers for each role will have a slightly different questionnaire. There should be at least one FARMER. There should be no more than one STRANDED PLAYER, CRIMINAL, or INVESTIGATOR. As many characters as want can be simply GUESTS.)

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

What is "Dread?"

And now, for something completely different, I'm going to start updating this blog again.


No, that was of course just a pithy statement since this blog is easily updated once, sometimes twice a month.  But I am going to talk about something I usually don't: a roleplaying game.

Wait, where are you going?  Come back!

Yes, roleplaying games (or RPGs for the initiated) are for complete losers.  But you're on the internet right now reading some guy's obscure writing blog, so what does that make you?  Exactly.  But I'm going to be honest (which I almost never have been before on this blog): I'm prety ambivalent about RPGs.

I love the role-playing part of it, developing a character and creating a story with other people.  But since RPGs are mostly played by a certain breed of people, let's call them future job creators, they tend to be rules-heavy.

Like, EXTREMELY rules-heavy.  Like, I never know what the hell I'm doing because there's fifteen dice rolls and willpower checks (what?) between me and ordering a beer at the local tavern.

So me being not particularly a future job creator, I've always been a little on the fence about RPGs.  Then one of my dear, dear friends introduced me to a game that is exactly in my bailiwick: Dread.

Dread is a horror RPG (yeah!) with almost no rules.  In fact, to prove that point, I'm going to list all of the rules right now:

1.)  Set up a Jenga board.  One person plays the host, who is running the game, and every other person at the table is a player.

2.)  The success or failure of every action made by a player is determined by pulling a block out of the Jenga board.  There are two kinds of pulls: compulsory and voluntary.

3.)  Compulsory pulls are mandated by the host.  For example, the host could say, "If you want to hotwire the car, you have to make a pull."  If a player successfully pulls the block out, he was successful at his action.  If he refuses to make the pull, he failed at his action.  If he pulls out a block and the tower tumbles, he dies/goes crazy/is removed from the game in a horrible way. 

4.)  Voluntary pulls are requested by the players.  For example, the player could come to a door and the host says nothing, but the player says, "I elect to check the door for booby traps."  Again, he either succeeds, fails, or dies horribly.

5.)  The only other rule is that a player can make a heroic sacrifice.  If he elects to knock the Jenga board over, he succeeds magnificently at whatever he was trying to accomplish, while dying horribly in the process.  For example, the players could be surrounded by man-eating aliens and one player elects to stay behind and set off a grenade so the others can escape.

6.)  Since the rules are so simple, character creation is purely about background.  The host creates a questionnaire, sometimes tailored to the player, sometimes not, full of leading questions.  You get to decide who you are, and then you sit down and play.

That's it.  Seriously.  The rest of it is developing an atmosphere of, well, dread.  In honor of Halloween, I'll be hosting a game on October 30 if any of my real-world friends are interested.  Meanwhile, all of my blogosphere friends get a special treat: over the next few weeks I'll be posting all the information from the last scenario of Dread that I ran, "Dread and Breakfast." 

For one thing, this well help me focus a little bit and think about the new scenario that I'm developing, "You Can't Go Home Again."  For another thing, it'll let the people that actually played the game last time have a glimpse into my demented psyche and planning process.  And finally, it's a pretty fun little scenario that anyone who wants to can appropriate and play.  I hope it'll encourage you to try the game.  You can, of course, buy the rulebook from the website here, or you can pretty much just go by the rules that I listed.  (IT'S REALLY THAT SIMPLE.)

Here's looking forward to a new blogging/gaming experience this Anytober.
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