PATIENT DEVIL— a solitaire variant where you choose your damnations

Recently, I’ve been thinking that Canfield just isn’t a complex enough solitaire game.  I’ve designed patient devil to provide you with more options that you’ll feel that you just don’t want to take.

  1. The aim of the game is to get all of the cards from the pack to the four foundations.  They will vary between (& within) games.  Continuous ranking is allowed.
  2. Take a shuffled pack without jokers and deal seven cards face down into the reserve.  Beside this, deal one card face up to form the first foundation, then four cards face up in separate piles beneath to form the tableau.  Keep the remaining cards aside as your stock.
  3. The foundations are built up by suit in ascending order (A, 2, 3, &c.)  As long as its suit is not yet represented in the foundations, at any point you may move a card to the foundation; from there, the suit is built up as usual.  There is no requirement that the value of any of the new foundations match those already present.  Be careful not to do this too soon — you don’t want to find yourself trapped later on.
  4. The cards from the reserve can be played directly to the foundation or can build down on the tableau.  One of your first goals should be to clear the cards from the reserve.
  5. The tableau is built down in descending order, regardless suit or colour (i.e. you may build any Q on any K, &c.).  Cards may be moved individually or in blocks between the four piles of the tableau.  If you have an empty space, it may be filled with any card.
  6. If you’re otherwise unable to make a move, deal the top three cards of the stock into a single waste pile.  You can play the top card of the waste pile to either the foundations or the tableau.
  7. Once the stock is exhausted, you may turn over the waste pile to produce a new stock.  Do not shuffle the cards.  You may do this as often as you please, though you may find yourself at a dead end regardless!

You’ll find the game slightly easier to win than Canfield (though I’ve yet to calculate the likelihood of winning), though it will regularly feel like you’ve made a choice that’ll upset the game later.  Either way, keep going until you fill the foundations or find that you’re unable to progress!

Let me know in the comments how you find the game — or otherwise what your favourite patience games are!

PATIENT DEVIL— a solitaire variant where you choose your damnations

Service offered: Interactive Narrative Consultancy

This is something I’ve been doing off & on for a while, but realised it would be worth formalising the concept.

I would like to offer my services consulting on interactive & genre narratives.

“From experience, I can assure you that Sean has both a serious interest and a deep insight into game mechanics.”
Magnus Hedén of Spiritmask RPG

Whether you’ve got an RPG adventure you’re running or a ruleset you’re writing, whether you’re writing a horror novella or a sci-fi play, I could help you eke out the greatest narrative resonance from your story.

Who is this clown?

Well, I’m not actually a clown. But I am a magician.
That means I spend a lot of time thinking about what each audience might expect and how to achieve & manipulate that.
It means I’m used to thinking about objects & the interactions between them in different ways. No-one thinks about cards like a magician does.

I’m a writer: primarily speculative fiction, like cyberpunk or noir. I like building from and subverting genre expectations. I’ve written about the similarities between roleplaying and medieval oral culture.

I’m an interactive narrative & games designer, from building silly games to modules for published systems. I’ve consulted with mindreaders about card games for oracle cards, written specialist GM advice for indie behemoths and spoken on villainy & antagonism at a monthly videogames conference.

What can I do for you?

  • I can solve problems you have with interactive or static narratives.
  • I can help you understand the core conflict within your narrative.
  • I can highlight & clarify the emotions your game mechanics will promote.
  • I can simplify & refine unwieldy systems or stories.

What do I care about?

I like players & characters to have agency – the ability to visualise & enact narrative consequence.

I like brevity & clarity.

I like people to be social & to promote their ability to tell stories.

What is my fee?

I’m taking a leaf out of the book of someone I greatly admire. My standard initial consultation fee is the price of a cup of caffeine. Buy me a coffee & we’ll talk through your needs. If you envisage needing a longer conversation, you can buy me lunch. If you’re in a different country, we can do PayPal & Skype.

From there onwards, we can arrange further services according to your needs. But for many people, that little nugget of insight will be all you’ll need.

Email me today at SEAN at BOOKSEANSMITH dot CO dot UK & we can arrange a coffee.

What are people saying about this?

“Thanks for all of your advice, and your assistance. You’ve been a huge help, and it really helped me re-structure a lot of the rules, explanations, and organization of everything. Your feedback was invaluable.”
David Schirduan on Mythic Mortals

“I think these [ideas] are, no contest, the best feedback I could get from this project. Thanks :D” —Sangjun Park

Service offered: Interactive Narrative Consultancy

Plundering the Memory Palace

I’ve been playing a fair number of rules- & preparation-light games recently — as much as I adore their flexibility and resilience, I do miss the exploration element that a lot of dungeon-delving can provide. As such, I’ve been keen to find a good middle-ground that allows for minimal preparation (efficient over lacking) and thorough exploration.

I think I’ve finally found it: The term “memory palace” flits about from time to time – most recently spread by BBC’s “Sherlock”. The general concept of a large house that you know well enough to fill with mental images dates back to ancient Greek times and is often known as the “loci” mnemonic system. At the basic level, there will be a number of places in your life (or from your past) that you have memorised perfectly.

These may be your places of work, locations you’ve lived, even a favourite pub or bar.

This is your dungeon.

The Basilisk in the Bathroom: Converting the Memory Palace

Initially, you’ll want to work out if you’re using a partial section of the location or it in its entirety.

Likewise, you’ll want to decide what the orientation and layout it — in the past I’ve essentially inverted a pub I know well so instead of going upstairs, the levels descent; otherwise the floorplan remains the same.

At this stage, you’ll want to work out some other key locations – target treasures, monster lairs, &c. You can populate the dungeon in the same way — and by clearly focusing on the desired creature in the real-life location, you’ll have a pretty sturdy memory of it. Alternatively, you can create a fairly simple random-encounter table and just run that for the rooms you come across.

As you play through the dungeon, you’ll be able to clearly imagine — and describe — the layouts of the rooms. It’s perfect in that makes your skull into the optimal GM’s screen.

Quick to establish, simple to run & immensely customisable.

Try it in your next session.

Plundering the Memory Palace

TROLL&GOBLINZ – an orcun drinking & gambling game

Sometimes I get odd little mechanics stuck in my head and they sit there a while until eventually coming to fruition. This summer just past, during a bout of frustrating insomnia, I finally locked together a few things and came up with a little dice game.

TROLL&GOBLINZ is written in collaboration with Buttgust, an orc. It’s a quick game for two or more players, where you bet on the outcome of a symbolic bout between a troll and two goblins. You’ll need to get a pair of four-sided dice and one eight-sided dice, but the game itself is completely free. Better than that, it’s been written by Buttgust himself and spares no detail.

If you want to play TROLL&GOBLINZ, you can download the PDF for free here.

You'll clearly just have to download a copy.
See, Buttgust is very polite

If you like the ideas behind that, you should really check out CON’S PRIAL. It’s a collection of three somewhat silly storytelling games with cards. The collection is three pounds for as many games – CONJURORS! where you play turn of the century magicians, CONSTITUENTS OF R’LYEH that combines the Cthulhu mythos with political machinations, and CONTEMPT FOR THE OGRE-POET that became a finalist in Game Chef 2014.

You can download CON’S PRIAL in PDF form immediately upon purchase.

Let me know what you think.

TROLL&GOBLINZ – an orcun drinking & gambling game

Three reasons you should play cards with a mindreader.

On Monday 13th October, I have another show at the Phoenix Artist Club. It’s called MIND GAMES*.

Would you play cards with a mindreader?

This is why you should.

Monday plans start the week right

Most people hate Mondays – but having a plan to do something that evening really takes the sting out of it. Your Monday will be more productive because of that: that’ll set up your most successful week this autumn.

You’ll learn some new games

If you’re anything like me, you burn through games fast. Things stop being fun when they’re no longer a challenge. I’ll teach you two brand new games you can play with your friends**!

I’m really excited for the finale

I haven’t been this excited about a card trick for about six years. And the last one made a guy run off.

MIND GAMES starts at eight on Monday 13th. It’s first come, first served on the door so you should buy online to guarantee your space. Tickets are £5.

* A title that everyone seems to be using at the moment.

** They will remain friends during at least one of those games.

Three reasons you should play cards with a mindreader.

MIND WHAT YOU READ: Press Coverage

Last week, I had my first piece of passive press coverage. Not only is this the first thing to be published about MIND WHAT YOU READ (there are a few things in the works that I’m excited about), but this is the first to be written about the show that I’ve had no input in whatsoever.

What follows is a living list of all the press coverage for the show.

Views from the Gods gave me four stars:

Much like Steve Truglia in his rather more expensive Card Shark Show, Smith is constantly trying to fool us but explains how he’s getting away with it. He’s not just trying to impress us, he’s trying to educate us.

There are two brain-bending shows that look like they could be fun. Sean Smith delivers literary-slanted mind reading: bring your favourite book and he’ll ‘read’ you

— Londonist, This Year’s Camden Fringe is Bigger than Ever

The New Current interviewed me about the show:

Have you ever been on the tube and been slightly concerned about what they’re reading?
I hate to say it because it sounds like populist backlash, but the most worrying has been Fifty Shades of Grey. I’ve no problem with people reading erotica – fact, I’d recommend it – but if you’re able to read it in public, it’s clearly not very effective!

Click here to read the full interview.

The Evening Standard give a couple of hints as to content:

Fully interactive magic with a literary bent. Discover what your spelling mistakes reveal about you. Learn the World’s most psychically charged word.

Once the show’s over you can log in and leave a review with them.

Time Out say:

Literary-themed ‘mindreading’ from magician Sean Smith.

I particularly like the placement of inverted commas!

In the file marked ‘other’ (being neither comedy or theatre) you’ll find:

Sean Smith presents Mind What You Read (Phoenix Artist Club, 29th – 31st July) Sean Smith is a mindreader, a magician & a hypnotist who will reveal what the things we read say about us (and he’ll “read” you if you bring your favourite book along to the show).

— The 9th Camden Fringe is Coming Soon!

The Resident said I was one of nine shows to watch for the Fringe’s ninth year:

Sean Smith is a mind reader, a magician and a hypnotist. He’s also an avid reader and will read you like a well-thumbed book. Mind What You Read is his fully interactive magic and mind reading show with a literary bent. Discover what your spelling mistakes reveal about you, and do make sure to bring your favourite book.

Tickets are available to buy direct from the Camden Fringe website and you can add your attendance to the Facebook event here.

I hope to see you all in July!

MIND WHAT YOU READ: Press Coverage

Pointedly making friends

“How do you know so many people?” is a question I often paraphrase from milady.

It usually comes after I’ve commented that I’m pestering people I know at different media outlets to promote my show, MIND WHAT YOU READ, or something similarly networky.

Networking is often a phrase that’s bandied around by people asking you to ensdorse them on LinkedIn or as a euphemism for getting plastered and fucking a colleague’s plus-one. Regardless of these toxic connotations, it really is a process that I think a lot of people would do well to consider.

This guest post from Mike Underwood on Chuck Wendig’s blog hits the nail on the head and in a much more succinct manner than Keith Ferrazzi’s brilliant and only slightly too American Never Eat Alone. Suffice to say, it matches my philosophy of the matter quite nicely.

13) Making Friends Is the Best Marketing


Make friends with other writers. Make friends with writers a step or two ahead of you in the career path you want to follow. They may be able to point out potholes or problems that could be ahead, problems they’ve just had to deal with in their own path. Make friend with writers who are in a similar part of their journey to where you are. Critique and workshop one another’s work, support one another, and build a cohort for mutual support. Make friends with writers who are just starting out, who maybe need to learn the lessons that you’ve already learned. Help them through the parts of the journey which were hard for you. Pay it forward.

Make friends with artists, with designers, with publicists, with agents. Learn about the other parts of the business, and learn what to expect from other parts of the business. Learn what people in those roles need from writers, and then be that writer when you have the opportunity.

Pointedly making friends

Why are you not writing?

This post is somewhat intended as a prod to jar me back into writing more regularly. But nevertheless it’s a collation of some interesting happenstances too.

What am I not writing?
I haven’t updated this for a good long while, and worse yet I haven’t touched my novel since the start of the year. I ought to update here more often, but the real target is to have the novel manuscript complete by the summer. It’s currently just over 30k of handwritten scrawlings – I want to get the story finished so I can start typing it up, and I want to do that before the business of the summer begins.

Why am I not writing?
Well, to some extent I am.

Part of my writing-juice is going towards designing adventures and interactions for the intermittent roleplaying session I run. The Imminent Futures/IFX game is one I’ve created myself so I’m quite keen to see it go well; it showcases a science-fantasy world I created a good decade ago, and is a more reasonable output than putting off another novel.

For a few months, I’ve been attending this playtesting Meetup in London. It’s on the first Wednesday of every month, and as much as it’s an excuse for me to seek out new beers, it’s also a great opportunity to meet with like-minded folk. There’s more of a board-game leaning that I’m used to, and my natural inability to attend things without something to present means I’m invariably creating whimsical little games.

Now, these games are usually technically quite terrible, and I’m never quite sure if I should continue to iteratively refine them, or just to come up with the next silly concept. I think the next one will be an exquisite corpse style noir game. With PostIts.

Camden Fringe
Many of you already know that I am a mindreader, a magician and a hypnotist and to that end I’ll be performing at the Camden Fringe – it’s an event that’s been running for around eight years now as a counterpoint to the famous Edinburgh Fringe Festival, designed to prevent the utter exodus of interesting and innovative theatre from London during August.

MIND WHAT YOU READ will be at the Phoenix Artist Club on the last three days of July. I’m particularly excited to be using it as a venue.

Why are you not writing?


Last weekend, milady and I had a fantastic time in Paris. She’s been looking forward to being able to visit since she appeared in Europe full time three years back, and this was the fourth time she’d made plans to go. Pleasingly, it stood up to expectations and we both enjoyed it very much.

However, I can’t think of the holiday without a sour taste in my mouth, because despite our returning on Tuesday, her luggage chose to stay behind. I say chose, because I cannot believe it would be due to at least three distinct inefficiencies of the company we flied with.

[B]Distinct Inefficiency #1[/b]
We caught the 2015 AirFrance flight from CDG to LHR, which was unfortunately delayed because two passengers didn’t arrive at the terminal – we waited on the tarmac while their baggage was unloaded and the rest returned to the hold.

Only, as we discover, the word “rest” has a different meaning in Paris than London – after a frustrating jaunt around the whole of Heathrow’s baggage reclaim site, we spoke with the attendants of the customer service desk. It turns out that two customers’ luggage hadn’t been loaded onto our plane. One of these customers was milady.

The gentleman processed our reclaim details, and told us that as they knew where the case was, it should be on the first flight the next day. We’d hear from the couriers with an estimated time of delivery when it was handed off to them.

After a good lie in, expecting to have been woken by the call of the courier, we eventually called the baggage claim department and discovered

[B]Distinct Inefficiency #2[/b]
Despite having known where the case was last night (in that LHR had received a memo saying sorry [I]these[/I] cases are still with us), nobody was able to tell us where the case was that morning. In fact, at the time of publishing this, tracing of the British package continues. Whilst the staff were officially apologetic,  their comments that not enough staff at the airport meant they might be unable to recover our luggage with any haste. Likewise, understaffing at the call centre meant that they have no ability to return a call, but that we must continue to dial their premium rate number to keep up to date.

[B]Distinct Inefficiency #3[/b]
Not only did AirFrance lose our luggage, but when I spoke with a gentleman named Daniel later that day, he had also lost his supervisor! I asked to be put through, and he said that there wasn’t a supervisor present. I enquiried as to whether he (here I must apologise for the assumed gender) was at lunch or in a meeting. Daniel didn’t know.

The next day I spoke with Lukas, and when I likewise asked to be passed up, I was this time informed that there existed no facility to transfer calls within the centre.

Not only have the staff given inconsistent messages (and presumably training), but it appears that their communication systems are similarly lacking – and from this point I am not surprised that they managed to misplace our luggage.

Frankly, I am shocked that AirFrance are happy for their company to be operating with such embarrassing inconsistencies and inefficiencies. Furthermore, I am disappointed that their aftercare is so lax and reliant on continual efforts from the point of view of the affected party.

Suffice to say, as it stands we’ve still yet to be informed of the luggage’s whereabouts. We shall not be using AirFrance in the future, and as this stands testament, we will be recommending others avoid them similarly.


Musical Marginalia

When I was at university, my friend and I taught ourselves to say “Fresh.”

Now, I understand that this is not a particularly complex word, and in the same way you should understand that we weren’t using it in common parlance (in the same way that we are trying to bring back the word “fierce” and milady might be spreading the wonders of “behold”), but more as a one-word response to things.

This is entirely Frank Turner’s fault.

At the end of ‘Thatcher Fucked The Kids’ from the Campfire Punkrock EP, which you can hear around the three and a quarter minute mark, Turner signs off his song with “Fresh”. Suitably, we found this hilarious (and continue to do to this day), and in the manner of the usual response when coming across something funny at university, we endlessly repeated it.

(Also, our medieval training meant that were were sometimes liable to alter the spelling to FRESC.)

However enthralling this story is, it is a mere anecdote to introduce my interest in those little parts around the edges of songs in published media. It’s the same reason that one of my Manowar live albums has a track called “Joey speaks to the crowd” and that I don’t mind listening to the live Hammerfall album despite their crowd-talking taking place in a language that I’ve still not quite worked out.

These little snippets are an interesting insight into the process of the recording, and of the state of mind of those taking part. It’s the same reason that albums will often end with comments about the recording itself – usually a congratulatory, “We did it”, or words to that effect.

In the same way that the illustrations around a medieval manuscript garner the attention of academics, these little parts of musical marginalia cannot only interest me.

Please share with me your favourites.

Musical Marginalia