Novelist and game designer W.M. Akers has just launched their latest Kickstarter. Critical Hit is a mystery novel about murder and tabletop games, and Geek Native has an exclusive extract.
The campaign is now live, and the target is set for $500 with the full 31-days on the clock. You can see what the opening minutes looking like and whether any of the limited tiers are filling up on the project page.
W.M. Akers’ Westside was named one of the best books in 2019 by the New York Times. In this story, Critical Hit, we get a fast-paced hybrid of mystery and adventure.
In addition to the exclusive excerpt from the book, you can also find here a pair of maps from the front of the book. One shows the real world of the book, the other the game world featured.
By W.M. Akers
A long time earlier, I stood at a crossroads in an ancient forest, not sure if I should walk to mountains or sea, castle or town. I rolled a gray, unpainted plastic figurine around my palm. She had a flat expression and lifeless eyes. I had no idea what she would want to do.
I was in my windowsill and LB was hanging off my bed, massive shoulders hunched, eyes inspecting the crumbs on my carpet. I was fourteen, a perfectionist who believed rules are made to be followed and who was just learning that such an attitude would make high school hell. LB was twenty-nine, failing to hack it as a sculptor in New York, and in the depths of what he would later describe as his “crappiest era.” I spent all year looking forward to his rare trips home, even though afternoons with him were mostly silent—long awkward pauses interrupted by occasional awkward small talk. No matter how bored we got, it was an honor to have him in my room.
“So…” he said. “You’re, like, fourteen.”
“You said that before.”
There was another long pause. He’d started to fidget, which meant he was close to slinking down the hall to his childhood room, whose door was an impenetrable force field that kept little sisters out, no matter how they begged. And so I tried something new.
“Why don’t you show me that game?”
“The one you’re always fiddling with on the porch. The one with the little plastic dudes and all the weird dice.”
“You want to play Winterwind?”
He said it like I’d asked him to yodel.
“Why’s that such a surprise?”
“I didn’t realize today’s hip young teens were into pen-and-paper gaming. I thought y’all were too busy with your MTV and your crack cocaine.”
“I can’t speak for the rest of the hip young teens, but I want to play.”
“Well…well hell yeah!”
And so he set up a session of the game he’d been playing my whole life, that mysterious thing called Winterwind that had pieces but no box, maps but no board, and nothing to govern it but glittering dice and imagination unbound.
“This is awesome,” he said. “Just awesome. I can’t believe I never thought to show you this before. You are going to have so much fun.”
It’s not an exaggeration to say I’d never seen him so excited. I was pretty excited, too.
There were countless RPGs out there, he gushed, but his was the best. It was a system of his own design, loosely based on a forgotten ’80s gladiatorial combat sim called Those About to Die, which LB had hacked up and put back together until it was something only he could understand. The game was really just a conversation, a group make-believe where questions of chance were answered by bizarre dice of every shape and size. It didn’t seem possible that so much fun could be spun from nothing but plastic and conversation, but that day I began to understand the holy secrets of the game.
“All right,” he said, cracking his back. “Who do you want to be?”
The best I could do was, “Not Callie Myles.”
“Why not? I always thought Callie Myles was a pretty cool kid.”
“I’m not and we both know it, but cool is beside the point. I’m pointless. Boring. I want to be something more.”
“You got it.”
And so we rolled up my first character. She was tall, strong, fast, a defender of the weak, the scourge of evil men. She was as relentless as I was, as fiendishly principled, but with the strength to bring rule-breakers to heel. She was a lot cooler than Callie Myles.
When she was ready, LB put me at the crossroads and asked where I wanted to go.
“I can do anything I want?” I said.
“I could sit down in the dirt?”
“I sit down in the dirt.”
Laughter rumbled out of his chest like a brewer banging around inside a huge metal tank. It was the best sound in the world.
“Great,” he said. “Now you’re sitting in the dirt. You feel…dirty.”
“But this isn’t the story.”
“How do I make you tell the story?”
“Start some shit. Roll high and things go well. Roll low and I’ll tell you how bad it hurts.”
“What if I don’t want to start shit? What if I just want to, I don’t know, go to the library and chill out?”
“Trouble will find you, even if I have to bend the rules.”
That was what I loved about this man, my half-brother, who was so much older than me, who looked so different, but who was just similar enough that I couldn’t understand him at all. Everyone on earth was bound by the rules, but he knew how to make them bend.
“Forget your instincts.” He tapped the mini. “What would she do?”
“There are four paths?”
“I don’t take any of them. I get out of the dirt, unsling my bow, and walk straight into the woods. Do I need to roll for that?”
“Nope,” he said, screwing that stupid monocle in a little tighter, and I was on my way.
A pledge of $10 will get you the digital edition available in many different formats. The paperback is $15 and the hardback $20.
Other restricted tiers include getting your name in the book (along with all the editions) as a NPC for $35 and a signed copy of the limited edition $75.
There are other tiers option, and the expected delivery starts in July 2021 for the digital, moves to August for the physical and then September for the limited edition.
Thoughts? Can you contribute to this article? Share your insight in the comments below.