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Author: Pab

Writer Beware

So I entered a writing contest. Fortunately for me, however, I was asked to confirm my acceptance of the contest rules. When I re-read them I saw something I didn’t see the first time.

The works and copies of the contestants’ writings from the contest and the final novel may not be put up for sale by anyone other than redacted without sending pre-agreed royalties to redacted which will then be dispersed among the authors as previously described.

Neat, huh? By entering the contest, you not only grant publishing rights to the house running the contest if you win, but you agree to give them the sole option of publishing your book if you lose.

With the proliferation of “social networking” (I encountered this “contest” on Facebook) in recent years, no one should be surprised that the “preditors” (that’s a deliberate portmanteau of “predator” and “editor,” and not a misspelling by the way) would seek a way to exploit them. Just as the PublishAmerica scam thrived off of the early days of the web, modern equivalents are using Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ to find their victims. This one even has its own Facebook and iPhone apps, pitching itself as an “American Idol for Novelists.”

Some basic rules for those who choose to enter writing contests:

1. Read the fine print three times.

That clause that I posted above is stuck in the middle of the last paragraph on the page of rules, right after a whole slew of royalty payment percentages. Most readers’ eyes will glaze over after all the mentions of 1.77% and the like; as I said, even I didn’t catch the killer until the second reading. Go through the entire thing, including what might look like boilerplate, three times. If anything strikes you as not kosher just walk away.

2. Know what rights you’re signing away.

You’ll almost always be asked for first domestic publication rights. Magazines running contests will want first serial rights. Very few legitimate contests want subsidiary rights and ones that do should be approached with trepidation.

3. Approach “new” contests with extreme caution.

The longer a contest has been around, the better. If it’s lasted more than one year it’s probably not a scam (but that is no guarantee). If it’s been around for twenty years, it’s certainly above board. There is such a thing as a legitimate new contest, but they’re outnumbered by scams. If it’s new look at it even more carefully than you would have before. (Especially if it bills itself as something “different.”)

4. Entry fees alone do not make it a scam.

Some of the biggest contests charge entry fees simply because they are so large and running them takes a buttload of cash. Entry fees weed out frivolous entries, and cover the expenses of running a contest. Just because they want $5.00-$20.00 to enter doesn’t mean they aren’t above board. But a new contest with an entry fee? Be afraid. Be very afraid.

5. When in doubt, walk away.

There are so many real contests out there that there’s no need to enter a particular one. If you have any doubts at all (and I do mean any) walk away. It’s not worth it.

The reason scammers are out there is because enough people fall for their scams to make it worthwhile. Be smart, learn to spot them, and don’t get caught.

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Yahtwentee (or d20 Yahtzee)

I’ve been re-living my misspent youth in a variety of ways the past week. For one thing, a number of recent conversations have involved the old role playing game Dungeons and Dragons, or at least the old Second Edition that I played. For another, I found a Yahtzee app for my iPhone and have been playing it obsessively.

My mother taught me to play Yahtzee (or, I guess, since we played a variation and weren’t using the official Hasbro rules and score-sheet, I guess we were playing “Yacht”) when I was young. Maybe she thought it would be good exercise for my math skills. Maybe she thought it would be a good way to teach me the rules of probability. Maybe she just loved the game and no one else would play it with her. Whatever the reason, she taught me to play it and on many a night we’d sit there with graph paper playing five or ten games of Yahtzee.

And when I say “playing five or ten games” I meant playing them simultaneously. Your roll could be used in any of the games then underway, to allow you the best chance to use every roll. Hasbro used to put out a game along these lines called “Triple Yahtzee,” but playing just three games at once was never enough for us.

This morning, while playing Yahtzee on my phone and another discussion referencing D&D (brought about by Bryan listening to the audiobook of Ready Player One at the other desk), I thought “why not combine the two?”

So, with no actual play-testing (so no guarantee) and just a little work, let me introduce you to Yahtwentee!


Yahtwentee is a variation on Yacht played with d20 (twenty-sided dice, for the uninitiated). It lasts about as long as three games of standard Yahtzee (or one game of Triple Yahtzee). It’s best played with 2-5 players, but can be played with as large a group as you want (if you have the time to kill), or played solitaire to try and achieve the highest score possible.


You will need:

  • 5d20.
  • Score cards. (A printable PDF version can be downloaded from me here).
  • Pencil.
  • Some form of scoring markers.


A turn starts with a player rolling 5d20. The player may then set aside any number of dice, rerolling the others, or may stop rolling and proceed to scoring. (It is legal for a player to reroll all five dice. It is also legal to reroll dice previously set aside.)

On each turn, a player has a maximum of three rolls. After a third roll, the player must stop rolling and proceed to scoring.

There are 32 different possibilities for scoring each turn. Each space on your score card must be used only once:

  • By number: Add up the total of any given number shown on your dice. For example, if you have three dice showing “12” you can score 36 in the “12’s” space on your card. Two “8’s” can be scored as 16 in the “8’s” space, and so on.
  • Three of a kind: If the numbers shown on any three of your dice match, score the total number shown on all dice.
  • Four of a kind: If the numbers shown on any four of your dice match, score the total number shown on all dice.
  • Full House: If three of your dice show the same number and the other two show the same (different) number, score 100 points. For example: 12-12-12-3-3, 8-8-8-17-17, and so on.
  • Small Straight: If four of your five dice have sequential numbers (example, 5-6-7-8), score 125 points.
  • Large Straight: If all five dice have sequential numbers (example, 9-10-11-12-13), score 150 points.
  • Crit: If all five dice show the same number, you have made a critical hit and score 300 points.
  • Fumble: If your roll can’t be scored in any open space (or if you prefer not to score it in an open space), you are allowed to score it as a fumble with the total number shown on all dice. You are allowed six fumbles per game.

Scoring 0: It is legal to score a turn as 0 in any column if you cannot (or choose not to) score it as a fumble or in any other space. For example, say you roll 1-7-10-12-18. If you have used all your fumbles, and have already scored 1’s, 7’s, 10’s, 12’s, and 18’s, you may score the turn as a 0 under any other open space. Every turn must be scored, even if it means scoring it as a 0.

THAC0 Bonus: In each of the four columns with number spaces (1’s through 5’s, 6’s through 10’s, 11’s through 15’s, and 16’s through 20’s) there is a certain score threshold listed in the space second to the bottom. This is that column’s THAC0 score. For quick reference, it’s equal to a roll of three of each number in that column. If your subtotal exceeds that column’s THAC0 you score 100 points in the “bonus” space for that column. (Old-school Yahtzee players are warned: it is much harder to make THAC0 than it is to earn the upper bonus in Yacht/Yahtzee.)

Multiple Crit Bonus: If you have already rolled one critical hit and scored it in the “Crit” space, any additional crits that you may roll earn a bonus. For each crit over the first place a scoring marker on your score card. At the end of the game, each marker is worth an additional 500 points. Then you may score that crit in any vacant space (including as a Full House, Small Straight, or Large Straight). Note that if you score 0 in the Crit space for any reason before rolling a crit, you do not get a scoring marker; markers are only given for crits after one that you score in the “Crit” space on your scorecard.


After every player has scored in each category, the players each total their scores. The player with the highest score wins.

Have fun! If you try the game, be sure to comment and let me know how it went.


Yahtzee is a trademark of Hasbro for their variation on the classic dice game “Yacht.” “Dungeons and Dragons” is also a trademark of Hasbro, or to be specific their Wizards of the Coast division, for their role-playing game. I claim no rights to either name.