Monday, December 05, 2005

Dire Unsolicited Query Letter

I experimented recently with sending out snail-mail query letters. These unsolicited letters are so toxic, and strike such fear into the heart of Hollywood, that one came back having gone through the following process:

The recipient sent it, unopened, directly to the firm’s legal department. A highly paid legal office worker then placed the unopened letter, along with a standard form letter on cotton-fiber company letterhead telling me that the query hadn’t been opened due to legal mumbo-jumbo, into an 8.5 x 11 envelope. They then sent that envelope back to me—certified mail so that they would have a paper trail showing that I received my unopened query letter.

Any creature so terrifying certainly deserves a standard, d20 system, writeup:

Dire Unsolicited Query Letter

Tiny Construct

Hit Dice: 1/2 d10 (2 hp)

Initiative: +2 (+2 Dex)

Speed: 20 ft. (4 squares); flutter 20 ft. (poor); priority 2-3 days

AC: 14 (+2 Size, +2 Dex), touch 14, flat-footed 12

Base Attack/Grapple: +0/-9

Attack: Bite +1 melee (1d4-1 + 1d4 career damage)

Full Attack: Bite +1 melee (1d4-1 + 1d4 career damage)

Space/Reach: 5 ft./5 ft.

Special Attacks: Paper trail

Special Qualities: Construct traits, flammable, optional qualities

Saves: Fort +0, Ref +2, Will -5

Abilities: Str 8, Dex 15, Con —, Int —, Wis 1, Cha 10

Skills: Disguise +4

Feats: —

Environment: Any coastal

Organization: Solitary or bulk (50-300).

Challenge Rating: 2

Alignment: Desperate

Advancement: —

Level Adjustment: —

The envelope is unremarkable, save for its thinness—just thick enough to hold a single folded page. It’s addressed personally to you, but uses the long version of your name. And who the hell do you know in Leoti, KS?

The dire unsolicited query letter (DUQL, for short) is the bane of beginning agents, assistants, and development executives. It typically comes in the form of a number ten envelope bearing a single piece of paper—but may include colorful pages, letters of recommendation from someone’s creative writing teacher, perfumed paper, mock-ups of potential movie posters, a potential cast list, a potential cast member, and underwear.

When first spotted, a potential victim may make a Sense Motive check opposed by the DUQL’s Disguise check. If the victim fails, the DUQL immediately attacks.


Paper trail (Ex): The primary threat posed by a dire unsolicited query letter is that it creates a paper trail linking you to a vague idea in such a way that you, your employers, your friends, your family, and other random acquaintances may be exposed to a lawsuit for being even remotely involved in a film to which one (i.e. a lawyer) could—with a small stretch—have a description that included one of the adjectives, verbs, or nouns found in the letter.

Not opening the letter and quickly handing it back to the letter carrier, or to your firm’s highly trained strike force of legal commandos is the best way to minimize the career damage suffered.

Each successful hit by the query letter delivers 1d4 career damage, in addition to the normal damage. The career damage you’ve suffered serves as a penalty on Profession check to gain a promotion or increase your Wealth rating. Any unsuccessful Profession check for either of those purposes removes all accumulated career damage.

Flammable (Ex): It is made out of paper after all. DUQLs suffer double damage from fire.

Creature Options

Like mini-templates, gamemasters may add these options, mixing and matching as they see fit. These options modify what the DUQL can do, and may also modify the DUQL’s challenge rating.

□ To Whom It May Concern (Ex) [-1 CR]: Not addressing a particular person makes this a dead give-away. The DUQL suffers a -5 on all Disguise checks.

□ … You See, It’s A Period Drama… (Ex) [-2 CR]: It’s a brilliant and touching script that won oodles of awards… covering the tragic plight of a young peasant woman living through the Irish Potato Famine.

There’s little chance you’ll ever be involved in this sort of a film; if you are so involved, there’s little chance the writer will ever see the film; and if the writer does see the film, they won’t be able to get any money out of your now-bankrupt movie studio.

The DUQL’s attacks only hit on a natural twenty and those hit may make a Reflex save (DC 5) to avoid all damage.

□ Certified (Ex) [+2 CR]: The victim of the DUQL must sign for it—giving the screenwriter a permanent record that the letter made it past the shields.

The results of this are dire—increase the critical threat range for all attacks to 18-20 and any successful attack also deals 1d3 permanent points of Conceptual Taint. When the hapless victim gets involved in any future films they must roll 1d20 and add the total number of Conceptual Taint points they’ve suffered. If the roll beats DC 20, then the film suffers a plagiarism lawsuit.

There is no known way to remove Conceptual Taint, unless you have access to a druid of at least 7th level. On the upside, certified letters are so inherently scary that victims receive a +2 bonus to their Sense Motive check when first encountering the DUQL.

□ Priority (Ex) [+1 CR]: In addition to using the expedited speed of 2-3 days delivery time, the envelope looks more official, is larger, and more sturdy.

Increase the DUQL’s size to Small, making all normal adjustments for size. Give it a +2 Strength and -2 Dexterity. Increase the hit die to a d10 (6 hp) and grant it +1 natural armor. Due to the official look of priority mailing, the DUQL receives a +2 equipment bonus to Disguise checks.


Why did I sign for it?! What could I possibly have been thinking? It was a doomsday scenario. The letter would haunt me the rest of my days: “A team of vampire and werewolf supermodels must battle cybernetic terrorists from the future, bent on converting the world to their cultish religion -- IN THE PAST.” Every studio film (that makes money) includes at least one of those elements.

I considered getting killed then resurrection -- but that wouldn't work. My only hope was getting killed, then a reincarnation spell where I come back as a badger...

All text of the DUQL is designated Open Content and released under the Open Gaming License. The Open Game Content may only be Used under and in terms of this License.


The Awful Writer said...


Grubber said...

ditto! the things we do for a laugh! LMAO.

dan said...

maybe one day i'll get to return DUQL's by certified mail too - being a lawyer is so much fun

speaking of which, steve, you realize that, although you note that the DUQL is released under the Open Gaming License (OGL), by failing to note that the Open Game Content can only be used in compliance with the OGL you breached the terms of the OGL (seriously) - you must affix such a notice - a hyperlink probably wouldn't suffice

isn't law cool!

Steve Peterson said...

Thanks folks, and time to update the legal notice. Actually, having the license on a seperate server might be dicey anyway.

One serious advantage of entertainment law is that the surf is a lot better where most of those attorney's practice.

Anonymous said...

try this trick...get some icing sugar and drip some over your query letter and mention that if they don't read your script you won't tell them what the white powder substance is