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General Category => My Stuff => Topic started by: Ron Edwards on September 05, 2012, 11:42:00 PM

Title: [Shahida] What I'm working on
Post by: Ron Edwards on September 05, 2012, 11:42:00 PM

I'm neglecting this forum at the moment because I'm desperately attempting to beat a manuscript into publishable shape, in circumstances I hate with great hate: a deadline.

It's the book I worked on quite hard between 2007 and 2010, then let slip away for a while, and now I'm sorry I did, although I don't really know how I could have done otherwise.

Shahida means witness, in Arabic; it's an exact translation to the English sense of this word associated with testament, testimony and sometimes martyrdom. Specifically: "to bear witness" as a verb; "a female witness/observer" as a noun; modified one way, "martyr," and modified another, "epitaph." I'm using it as the core concept for a book which is a companion to Spione, organized similarly and like it, containing an original game as the final chapter.

It's set during the civil war in Lebanon from the middle 1970s through about 1990, a series of events which I think are as defining for our modern world as the events in Berlin just after WWII were for the Cold War period. Some example concepts include the role of the human body as a weapon at the same level of political and military effectiveness as the highest tech,* the recasting of democracy away from U.S. client status, and if not the first appearance of political Islam by a long shot, certainly its most original and independent version.

I'm basing the whole endeavor on Lebanese and related fiction and non-fiction from the war period, just as Spione is framed and conceived through the lens of a special kind of spy fiction and non-fiction. Lebanese literature is fascinating, shattered and re-defined by the war just like the country was, especially Beirut - it's surreal, rules-breaking, sexy, violent, and guts-exposing, all in colloquial and uncompromisingly street/slang Arabic, which until that time never saw print. The concept of the witness is absolutely central, because so much of the literature is unplanned: diaries which get published, poems which were not intended to be published, non-political writing which becomes political, and stuff like that.

I'm posting here mostly about the game, which I've played enough to be very happy with. It's strongly influenced by Grey Ranks but utilizes a kind of soft-touch, constant-action card process which makes everyone's hand (actually a face-up array in front of each person) relevant at all times. The group plays a family through phases of the war, with each phase bringing random family members "forward" as protagonists, and with one constant character (the Witness) throughout. Each phase, two of the players are the War, and with the start of the next phase, one of them rotates out.

To put it simply, if the group stays with the ordinary procedures of play, the family will probably get ground down and ultimately scattered or dead, after several phases. But if anyone at the table (current War players excepted) opts to use the special mechanic called the Judgment, then things can be a bit different. The Judgment is pretty scary, maybe the scariest thing I've ever designed, and that includes the Trespass in Spione. I've tried to make it very open-concept, such that its precise fictional nature can vary quite a lot and it's not a single tool with only one meaning. But ultimately it's about when you have morally had enough and must act to stop what is happening.

Anyway, the game is in good shape, a number of the chapters are ready to go, and I'm struggling painfully, paragraph through paragraph, with a couple of chapters. The real problem is that it's not supposed to be a textbook, but yet I'm summarizing twentieth-century events and politics in ways that are supposed to be informative, provocative, and useful to the game. It's like a crazy test: "Summarize Palestine/Israel in flat factual terms, no wasted words, don't get distracted by anything, go!" I was supposed to be done with it by the end of August, and I'm not. The only good thing about it is that when a given section does suddenly come together, it only takes a few hours to finish, and I wonder what was so hard about it, when it's done. I just went through it again for the section on spying - this has fought me for literally years, and today, I went tipitty-tap and it was all finished.

So, please bear with me, I'm totally committed to this forum and there are six or eight threads I really want to participate in. I have to devote every free moment - and I don't get many of those - to Shahida, though.

Best, Ron

* If this sounds hyperbolic, consider that the one-man explosion which leveled the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983 was the most powerful achieved in history without nuclear weapons. Consider also that this event, coupled with similar and near-simultaneous attacks in the same city (one of which destroyed the U.S. embassy and CIA station there), was the historical standout strategic victory, defeating the U.S. both militarily, as it prompted an instant and permanent withdrawal of forces, and politically, removing all hope of influencing events there through intervention.
Title: Re: [Shahida] What I'm working on
Post by: Steve Hickey on September 07, 2012, 09:20:35 PM
This is excellent news, Ron. I'm eager to read and play this.

If you've got time at some point, I'm curious what it's like when a section 'comes together' for you. Is it like you suddenly realise how to phrase the central point of a section (or what the central point is)? Is it that you knew what to say all along and the structure of how to present it suddenly crystalises for you? (It's a writer-geek question, but I like hearing about this stuff.)
Title: Re: [Shahida] What I'm working on
Post by: Ron Edwards on September 07, 2012, 11:14:57 PM
Hi Steve,

Sure! I made a lot of headway this week, especially today, so I'll take a break to talk about that.

This ( (Word file) is Profile #3, before: what it looked like at the beginning of the year. Well, that's not quite right. Imagine the printed version scribbled over with notes and stapled to a bunch of loose-leaf pages which are my written notes associated with specific books.

The last couple of months included various sessions of trying to get this into chapter-like form (use any of the profiles from Spione as your model for what I wanted). The actual text didn't really get anywhere, except in the negative sense that the stuff about the Israeli nuclear arsenal got transferred into Profile #2, because although it's chock-full of spying, it threatened to take over the profile and fit better as an example of how Israel and the Saudis sort of share the resources of the U.S. I also farmed a lot of stuff about how the U.S. agencies abetted Wahabiyyah and Salafism to another profile.

But when I pulled out the pages to work on them, my desk looked a lot different. I re-read specific books, stacked them differently, found bunches of quotes before settling on the ones I used, made new notes with long lists, and sooner or later arrived at framing concepts and a point-by-point organization that I liked.

Exactly when transferring those notes, like the list of agencies, transformed into writing finished or near-finished text, I don't know. All I know is that when it hits, it goes fast, and I'm simultaneously putting in the content, re-writing the preceding paragraph so it flows or fits better with this new stuff, and including judgment calls like all my little snarky comments about each agency which until this point were long-held but unwritten. It definitely happens in chunks. The Iran-Contra stuff came first; I had that in pretty good shape at the beginning of the summer, and one long-standing and scribbled hard copy had that section in full while the rest was either unchanged or removed. The other chunks and all the framing/transition text came in literally two or three days, just now. The current draft, which I hope is final, is here ( (Word file).

For further context, here's the table of contents for the whole book.

Chapter 1: The Witness - introducing the concept and the relevant fictional and semi-fictional literature
Profile 1: The Vocabulary of the Twentieth Century - about the AK-47 and human bombs
Chapter 2: The Center of the World - why the Levant is such a big deal, and deconstructing the phrase "the fall of Rome"
Profile 2: Oil and Water - an ecological look at money, (bad) diplomacy, and war
Profile 3: Mukhabarat - middle eastern spying; the one I'm using here for the example

Chapter 3: Notre Dame du Liban - how the confessions of Lebanon fit into the grand scheme of the Abrahamic religions
Profile 4: Ahl al-Khitâb - "People of the Book," a look at the texts for the Abrahamic religions
Profile 5: God Will Know His Own - fundamentalism and orthodoxy, for Judaism, Christianity, and Islam

Chapter 4: Beirut, Ooh La La! - my love letter to the city, but including the edgy content about what the war did to it
Profile 6: One Country - Palestine/Israel - concisely (yeah, right)
Profile 7: The Hisb - all about Hezbollah - ditto

Chapter 5: Al-Hawadess - a walk through the phases of the civil war, with diagrams
Profile 8: Easy and the Bulldozer - side-by-side discussions of Yasser Arafat and Ariel Sharon, culminating in the Sabra-Chatila massacres in 1982
Profile 9: Send in the Marines - U.S. intervention in Lebanon, culminating in the destruction of the Marines barracks in 1983

Chapter 6: Story Now - the rules of the game

Best, Ron
Title: Re: [Shahida] What I'm working on
Post by: Steve Hickey on September 09, 2012, 02:06:57 AM
That's great: I'm probably projecting here, but looking at the change between your two documents I can see a similarity to something I do in my writing.

I start by dumping the thoughts down onto the page (much like your first document). Then I read through that brain-dump again and again: with each pass I group related thoughts together and then start putting those 'groups' into the order I feel is best. When I'm doing that, I'm following a writing tip from Chlerich I read at the Forge, where he suggested considering each sentence as the answer to a question - and then putting those questions in an order that'd be effective for the reader.

At some point, things cohere and I start to realise what belongs in a particular section and what doesn't. That is always a good moment.

From the table of contents and what you've said about the gameplay, I repeat: I am eager to check this out.
Title: Re: [Shahida] What I'm working on
Post by: Ron Edwards on September 24, 2012, 07:36:34 PM
Finished with Palestine/Israel and it almost killed me ...

I may need a little help, everyone. Does anyone know anyone who is good with working from real maps and whipping up some decent copies/adaptations? I don't require that much detail, about the same as the maps in Spione. And ... uh, cheap. Adept Press isn't as rich as it was in the days of Spione's development.

Best, Ron
Title: Re: [Shahida] What I'm working on
Post by: Ron Edwards on September 28, 2012, 06:56:24 PM
So! I'm working on the very last, last text, which is the profile about Hezbollah, and it's coming together well.

I'm posting because I realized, as I was copy-editing all about the al-Sadr family and so on, that I could legitimately market this game as "about clerics!"

So, a match made in heaven, the D&D-Beirut crossover, right?

Best, Ron - who is probably getting punchy
Title: Re: [Shahida] What I'm working on
Post by: Ron Edwards on October 15, 2012, 03:23:05 PM
Let's run down the list, as "what I'm working on" is part of this thread's title and another thread would be tedious.

1. Shahida, ongoing. The version for the Italian translators is done, although their job is of course in progress; my understanding is that they have already located at least three locations in Dante's Inferno where I should consider space reserved for me. Inevitably, my thoughts on the manuscript continue, so the eventual English version will probably be informed by those thoughts, making it a bit different from the Italian one. Not much, but some. Getting that into PDF and short-run book production is a big priority.

2. Sorcerer, annotated version. That's the main topic of the "Too much publishing" thread, or at least, it's the first-priority issue I'm facing in terms of products. I dusted off the manuscript for the annotations and am finding it to be pretty good.

3. PDFing for S/Lay w/Me, Elfs, and It Was a Mutual Decision. I think I've got a pretty good line on getting that done.

4. A PDF bundle for the three Sorcerer supplements, as the companion volume. I found that I didn't think any annotations were necessary for these; they're still pretty hot and useful gaming meat in their original form. Ideally for them and Sorcerer, I'd like to make two real-physical books available - again, probably by special order, probably pretty spiffy, and probably cost an arm and a leg.

5. Spione. Oh God, where to start. For one thing, the old forum and Wiki are incredibly polluted by spam, and I confess I have no idea how to deal with that. Anyone who knows how, please pretty please contact me (and no, I won't read the wiki manual - it confuses the piss out of me by the second paragraph). For another, I need a PDF to sell; for yet another, I need to find the awesome German translation I paid 1000 Euro for years ago and get it PDF'd too. And in the face of all this, wouldn't you know it - I would like to revise some of the text, curses upon that creative/rigorous side of my mind.

6. Those three religion games: should playtesting pan out for them (and all indications to date are positive, for me and others), then it's time to consider two levels of production for them. The first would be much like what Nathan, Joe, and many other people are doing with classy magazine-style short-form rules, in well-done printable PDF; in this case, all game apparatus would be BYOB. Those would probably be made available for free. The very expensive item, easily $100 retail would be a boxed set with a ready-art craft set, a custom set of cards, and ready-made ancient-manuscript pages, as well as in-print bad-ass rules, for all three - this one only for those crazy enough to want it and order it.

7. Ron's ideas about role-playing, the book - history, Big Model type ideas, actual play until you could plotz, relevance to publishing, and much more. My God, I can't believe I'm even contemplating this.

8. The next book along the lines of Spione and Shahida, for which - no! brain, stop! - I actually wrote the game for in the last 72 hours. It's based on dissent in the U.S., across the spectrum of direct-action groups like the Black Panthers, the Weather Underground, various alternate-living groups, and more - mainly set in the 70s. And it so happens I know quite a lot about this stuff through real-world experience. If you liked Spione and are looking forward to Shahida, expect the writing, the history, and the game to be right along those lines and even, arguably, more savage concerning historical narratives and American exceptionalism.

9. The People's Hero. It was a pretty good idea and baked into a damn good little ashcan, a bit back - albeit with one rules tweak that was totally wrong-headed. But if I were to playtest the current version rigorously, it would turn into quite a cool little retro-Soviet package. For those of you who don't remember it or know about it, playing involves real money.

10. Other neat games in partial playtest: the old Gray Magick (with a better name, obviously), which would probably include updated versions of the Heartbreakers essays; and a cool setting hack for The Shadow of Yesterday (or Solar System, or a blend of the two). Each one would be very art-heavy.

11. I'm working on a fun but too-slow process of science fiction games, many of which have exceeded my expectations especially regarding settings. Some of my preliminary work is available at my website; the point is to provide useful handouts about the games in ways which bring the settings into the most productive state during play. More of this seems like something I'd really like to do.

Whew! Well, right now, Shahida's occupying my attention. If anyone has any questions about it, I'll be happy to answer - and I'll use those questions as my guide for what sections of the game I'll make public for promotion.

Best, Ron
Title: Re: [Shahida] What I'm working on
Post by: Paul Czege on October 15, 2012, 10:46:54 PM

Regarding your dissent game, you should look for the volumes of the Voices from the Underground series, by Ken Wachsberger:

I know at least the first two volumes in the series, about the Vietnam era underground press, have been published.

Title: Re: [Shahida] What I'm working on
Post by: Ron Edwards on October 15, 2012, 11:19:49 PM
Yeah, there's a bunch! Even plain old Amazon yields collections of SDS, Black Panthers, and Weather Underground periodicals. I can look forward to at least another year's worth of immersive research on this thing.

Both of the other Story Now projects drew upon my own life to some extent, but not as a direct participant, obviously. I wasn't a spy in Berlin or a fighter in Beirut. Whereas in this case, for instance concerning the Weathermen, that's much closer to home. Or Maoist direction-action groups. Or Nixon's goons harassing counter-cultural communes, or Proposition 13 gutting California's education system.

I'm still working on focus for the book and the game, something which typically develops as I work my way through the initial readings and hit a sort of hazy intellectual high sooner or later, but I suspect in this case the decision will be informed in part by my own experiences, possibly a degree of separation away.

In the maybe-one-day daydreaming about this whole line of design, I'd thought of the following, in order: Spione, Shahida, a book about North Vietnamese soldiers (which would at last provide all that China stuff that Ben Lehman was mad at me about for leaving out of Spione), a book about Cuban soldiers in Latin America and in Africa, and finally a book about American dissent. The last seemed like it was most appropriately last, as it would be more about me - or rather, be more directly informed by what I'd seen with my own eyes. But inspiration is a mean & withered mistress (I feel exactly like this guy (, so this is what I've got on the plate, and I have no idea if working on this one before the third & fourth will turn the whole thing into a trilogy instead.

Anyway, what I'm saying is that when I read and research for this series of books, I am really working with something of a family & friends timeline in my head, matching what people have said about a certain time or what I remember them doing or being like at a certain time. Sometimes it can get eerie, like when I got a recent book on spies in Saigon based on declassified information, and one of the important photos was exactly the one my dad showed me from his personal records back in the 1980s before he died, from when he was military historian in Saigon in 1970-1972. Or when I talked with a former Weatherman for a while and we found how often our paths had crossed through the towns and communes of California throughout the late 1970s ... and it turned out I knew stuff about weird shit that had happened in some places that he wanted to know about.

When those "encounters" and the resulting thoughts reach a certain intensity and then I find some particular book which just jumps out and smacks me hard, then the project is under way for real. For Spione, it happened pretty early on, with Markus Wolf's Man Without a Face. For Shahida, it took longer for the book part to gel, and the core influence turned out to be a composite of Pape's Dying to Win, Samman's Beirut Nightmares, and Hammel's The Root. With this one, who knows? In my younger days I would have waved a copy of Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas over my head in one hand, and maybe Snyder's Turtle Island in the other - and I miss those days, actually. Maybe this is about recapturing that, or maybe the literature will coalesce in my head around something else entirely.

Best, Ron
Title: Re: [Shahida] What I'm working on
Post by: Steve Hickey on October 16, 2012, 03:17:41 AM
I'm incredibly excited about your American civil disobedience game: such a potent backdrop for gaming and for discovering another side to US history.

As for Shahida, I may have mentioned: in much of the reading that I've done about the Middle East, I've been repeatedly struck by how authors circle around and then confront the events at Sabra and Shatila in 1982. So I'm interested in your Profile 8 (Easy and the Bulldozer), how you build up to that in the rest of the book, and whether the Story Now part of Shahida has any particular focus on recreating what happened or in being historically accurate.
Title: Re: [Shahida] What I'm working on
Post by: Ron Edwards on October 16, 2012, 11:53:06 PM
Hi Steve,

You're right, those few days are the litmus test for any discussion of the area and the history (30-year anniversary just a few weeks ago, too).

To address your final phrase first, how familiar with Spione are you? It's built on a curious mix of (i) history according to me, (ii) history insofar as it informs the relevant fiction, (iii) history as depicted in and interpreted by the relevant fiction, and (iv) history as it emerges both as content and as topic in a given instance of play. The third category is especially important. In Spione, for example, the spy fiction (including non-fiction and semi-fiction) that the game draws upon and also produces is effectively a mini Cold War of its own, as authors like Fleming, le Carre, and Buckley all struggle for the narrative about just how bad the commies are (or aren't) vs. just how rotten the intelligence and power establishments of the UK and the US are. Whereas in Shahida, although the whole vision of the book is structurally and functionally very similar to Spione, the fiction and similarly kind-of-fiction/nonfiction that emerged from the Lebanese civil war is very different: passionate, stream of consciousness, shocking, sexy, and nightmarish; sometimes ostensible novels are more like tone poems, and sometimes they are depicting three or four layers of family dynamics and history at once.

Therefore my treatment of the massacre factors into different chapters in different ways. I refer to them several times before really going into the details in Profile 8 (and Profile 9 too), which I guess corresponds to your own 'circle around and then confront' observation.

Despite this, I do try to keep the account from being only about those events. The War of the Camps is arguably even more significant to today's politics, for instance, as well as the clash between Michele Aoun's breakaway military group and the powerful Maronite families. The game part is itself not especially Palestinian-centric, as you make up a Lebanese family to provide the various characters.

Best, Ron

edited to fix display - RE
Title: Re: [Shahida] What I'm working on
Post by: Miskatonic on October 17, 2012, 10:15:32 PM
Congratulations on getting Shahida in the can. I am very, very much looking forward to it.

Let me know if you get stumped on PDF-ifying things.

I can maybe do things to tidy up the Spione wiki. I had to look into draconian anti-spam options for the Big Model wiki.

I still think People's Hero sounds horribly entertaining, at least in concept.
Title: Re: [Shahida] What I'm working on
Post by: Ron Edwards on October 17, 2012, 10:23:40 PM
Thanks Larry! Listen, help with the wiki and/or forum (especially the wiki) would merit serious recompense on my part. I mean, to the extent of some permanent arrangement to your benefit with Adept Press. It could be me paying for your convention fees or some related expense for any convention we both go to, or a dedicated page for stuff that's important to you at the Adept site, or anything else that illustrates my appreciation in no uncertain terms.

Best, Ron
Title: Re: [Shahida] What I'm working on
Post by: Steve Hickey on October 19, 2012, 10:55:32 PM
Thanks for the answer, Ron. I've played Spione once and have prepped to run it at conventions - plus I worked through a bit of the bibliographies at the end of each chapter, so I can see how your Point 3 works. (I enjoyed discovering Le Carre as a result of reading Spione.)

I'm looking forward to checking out the bibliography for Shahida, too.
Title: Re: [Shahida] What I'm working on
Post by: Ron Edwards on October 26, 2012, 08:42:48 PM
Here's the cover image for the Italian edition. I like it so much that I'm thinking of using it for the English version and adapting the cover of Spione to a similar style for its next printing.


Thanks to Claudia Cangini for great work!

Best, Ron

Shoot, now I have to figure out how to make it smaller, otherwise I'll have to moderate myself unflinchingly. Give me a day.
Done it! - RE
Title: Re: [Shahida] What I'm working on
Post by: Christoph on October 29, 2012, 06:00:41 AM
Very nice!

What are the differences between the Italian and English edition? Especially, how is it possible that the Italian version is published before, when it seems the English one was finished recently? Did you actually write the Italian version?
Title: Re: [Shahida] What I'm working on
Post by: Ron Edwards on October 29, 2012, 08:22:23 AM
Hi Christoph,

Work on this project met a lot of adversity, ranging from otherwise very good things like the births of my children (2007 and 2009), to very bad things like some kind of viral infection that more-or-less ruined me throughout 2011. I was able to progress in terms of information but not so much in writing. Every time I'd get really going on it, something overwhelming would happen.

I currently have a contract with the Italian company Narrattiva ( to translate my games; they've already done Trollbabe and Spione. They've been pushing me to finish Shahida and have been very supportive, not the least by having me attend InterNosCon ( to promote a preliminary version last year. This year, I'm going to Lucca ( with them, having assured them I'd be done with it in time for the con. So it was a self-imposed deadline but perilously close to meeting someone else's deadline - not my preferred way to work, but I realized that without some kind of externally-imposed constraint, I would find this project sidelined indefinitely. As usual, the summer provided extensive crises or unexpected time-sinks which led to the initial post of this thread.

Anyway, so as I finished chapters in English, I farmed them over to their translators, and their production mechanisms whirred into action, I suppose. As you probably know, no writer is ever really done with a manuscript, so especially since I have zero distance from the work at the moment, I am not able to call it "done." But the project of writing the whole thing is done, so any changes I make to what I'm soon to publish in English will merely be refinements. Not of the game - that's solid as it is.

Let me know if that answers your question.

Best, Ron
Title: Re: [Shahida] What I'm working on
Post by: Christoph on October 29, 2012, 09:44:28 AM
Great, thanks. I'm looking forward to the game!