30 December, 2012

Tooth and Claw Expansions??

I'm starting to really wonder whether the idea of expansion booklets for Tooth and Claw are good ideas?

There were certainly some things that I would have liked to add into the rules, but the pocketmod format meant that I could only release the essentials for play.

In some ways that's a good thing...too many rules can muddy the purity of the original concept, theuy can detract from the core vision of play. I'm pretty happy with the balance of rules that went into the game as it currently stand, but I know some groups that prefer a bit more crunch in their systems, and there could definitely be some better advice on how to create a story for these tiny heroes.

With this in mind, I'm thinking of a GMs guide for Tooth and Claw...maybe with a couple of pages about how  ferret pack dynamics work and how these can be replicated in play, perhaps a couple of pages about ferret stories and how to use fallout to drive a story forward. That's before I'd even consider looking at how other animals could be introduced into the setting.

I've even thought of names that could work for these expansion booklets...altering the names of western movies to fit the ferret theme.

A Fist Full of Ferrets
A Few Ferrets More
The Good, the Bad and the Furry
Dances with Ferrets

I don't think I need too many more than that...the whole point of this game is a simple little thing that can fit in your pocket, with rules that are easy enough for kids to pick up with ease.

"Yep, All good. No contraband in these bags. You can take them in the house now."

Time for a Promotional Test

I've had an online shopfront at RPGNow for over two years.

It's ticked over gradually, I think that every month it's earned a bit of money, some months even earning enough to pay for groceries or cover a week of rent. These good months usually occur when I upload something new onto the site (either the month when it gets uploaded, or the following month if I upload it late).

I haven't bothered to use their site promotional tools and have just let my products sit on the site in the hope that someone might look at them. It's been a pretty lax attitude toward sales, but I've had other things on my mind. Sometimes work, sometimes study, sometimes family commitments. I'm not upset, I've actually pretty happy with how well things have sold given the lack of promotion behind them.

But I've decided to see how well the site promotion tools work.

Every month a publisher gains a set number of "Promotion Points", plus a few more based on a percentage of their sales. Naturally this means that people with higher selling products have a better opportunity to promote their products...a vicious cycle for people who aren't selling much, but that's just capitalism at work.

I've racked up enough points in my shopfront to start trying out a few of the promotional tools without making a serious dent in my point pool. So it's time to start some experiments.

I've set up the first promotions on the front page of RPGNow, using Tooth and Claw as my test subject. Since a decent chunk of the money is going to charity, and while it's selling pretty well, it seems a good time to promote the product.

I'll keep everyone informed about how it goes.

29 December, 2012

Maps (Part 2)

Here's the rest of the maps I drew last night, for those who are interested.

Presented in order...

This was the first one. Just a random bunch of circles, jaggedly joined in pencil with sweeps of mountain ranges that might account for the coastlines provided. Rivers inserted logically from mountain ranges to deltas where they meet the sea. A few forests and fertile plains scattered about.

I had a rough idea for an island where two meteors, one large and one small had crashed into the world...or perhaps an ancient coral atoll where a huge explosion off to one side formed a new conjoined ring of land...or two volcanic eruptions. Starting with the rings of land and joining them with other landscape features that vaguely made sense, I ended up with this. I can see some good story potential in this one.

Not sure where I was going with this one. Just started with some vague squiggles that had a general point symmetry around the middle then built it from there.

This was an exercise in getting random shapes on the page to mesh coherently together in an organic landform. Bits of it don't seem "right", but it vaguely works. Perhaps there is an underlying magic in the area that has stabilised landforms that could not be forged naturally.

 Something like a vaguely European/North African setting. Still quite a bit of work to go on this one.
 Something vaguely like a pseudo-American setting. Just the coastlines so far.


Last night I didn't have access to a computer. My wife's external 2TB hard drive crashed (possibly because I plugged the wrong power adaptor into it and burnt out the motherboad citcuitry, possibly because my brother dropped it). Her computer also has an issue with burning DVDs (we don't know the root of the issue...). So she started using her computer to convert files into a format our TV can handle, switched the files over to my computer where they were then burnt to DVD. It was a nice little production line that she had going. But it meant I couldn't continue work on laying out Ghost City Raiders.

So I did something that I haven't done in years.

I pulled out a sketchbook and started hand-drawing some maps along a common theme. Last night's theme; Islands and archipelagos. I've drawn in coasts, hills, mountain ranges, rivers, fertile plains and forests, but have deliberately left out any roads, towns or other evidence of civilisation.

It was a lot of fun, and something that I've been thinking about for a while. Other themes for similar map themes would be "Coastlines", "Forests", "Cities", "Rivers and Waterways" and "Cave Systems". I don't really want to touch "Dungeons" as a theme because there are so many people already drawing up dozens of dungeons. I see them on my G+ stream every day. "Castles" and "Strongholds" are similar themes that have been drawn to death over the years.

I'm trying to think of new areas that might be useful to have maps for in roleplaying games. "Planetary Systems" doesn't seem like a good candidate for hand-drawn maps, but could be an interesting prop for settings like Lady Blackbird, Spelljammer or something else where elemental planes intersect or alchemists plumb the depths of the astral plane.

The other thing I'm thinking of doing with these maps is making copies, then tea-staining them to give them an old and weathered look. (Some of you may recognise the pages of the Goblin Tarot Companion being tea-stained above for a unique copy of the book being sent out shortly).

28 December, 2012

Some Good Reviews

I'm happy to have received some good reviews so far regarding Tooth and Claw...

The first from Megan R. (A featured reviewer)

My grandfather's ferret was a beast of little merit.... quite unlike this game which has captured the delight of these beasties beautifully within a few short pages.

If you already know and love ferrets, you'll delight in this - and if you have never met one, come on and find out what they are like!

So - what do ferrets get up to when everyone else is asleep? 

With simple yet effective game mechanics, this is a game that could be played with young children or as a quick evening's fun. 

The ferret pictures are rather sweet, too. Enjoy!

[5 of 5 Stars!]

The second from Joe S. (who is actually one of the team from Storyweaver Games, who current hold the top spot over on RPGNow).

It’s not every day a SMALL rule systems comes along that absolutely NAILS a genre. I think Tooth and Claw is such a game. While the rules are just 8 pages, this is not a beer and pretzels game… it has some real depth. It’s about social interaction. It’s about heroics and secrets. And the rules reflect this very well indeed.

So, what on earth is this game all about? Put simply, it’s about what pets, in this case, ferrets, get up to when humans are not looking. I think ferrets are a great animal for this sort of game, because they are natural little fighters… and cute as well. I once went ferreting for rabbits on my farm, and I can assure you, these little critters are hunters, explorers, adventurers and killers in equal measure. So, yeah, perfect for an RPG about brave pets. 

What most impressed me about this game was the “business sheet” concept, where social interactions are developed at the start of the game. Shades of Fiasco, but quicker and simpler (much like ferrets).

This game is no Bunnies and Burrows (which I love), which harkens back to games such as Tunnels and Trolls. It has a slick, modern ‘narrative’ game feel. 

Now the drawbacks: the production value is not top-shelf, but is certainly far from the worst I have encountered. You can see the love shining through in the design, and the rules are all where you expect them to me, so I can forgive a few quirks here and there. 

I can certainly see myself running this game with my young niece and nephew, or at the Children’s hospital as part of Ward Wizards. It’s a great game for socializing, and for having players generate quirky and creative solutions to any situations the GM can dream up… I’m thinking ferrets save the house from Alien invaders!

At $1, you can’t go wrong. It’s a great little game to keep around. And the money goes to a good cause too!

[5 of 5 Stars!]

I'm certainly happy that the game has been well received so far. I'm frantically working away at fine tuning the presentation and final rule tweaks for Ghost City Raiders in the hope that it will be uploaded for New Years Day 2013. Hopefully, the traction gained from Tooth and Claw will count as a bit of a running start for the bigger game.

I've also started wondering with my wife Leah, whether or not it might be worth expanding the Tooth and Claw concept with mini games about other types of pets...for example "Tooth and Claw: Feline Edition", "Canine Edition" or "Avian Edition"...I don't know how I'd translate the social dynamics for cats or birds, but something else might help twist the mood if the little game to reflect these other creatures. Either way, it's something to think about.

27 December, 2012

Processing and Recycling images

Since my first Pocketmod game, Ghost City Raiders, is set in the same world as Walkabout. I'm going to use a bunch of the Walkabout illustrations that I've developed, apply some postwork to them, and use them as character illustrations in the first batch of Ghost City Raiders.

Yes, I know they're all Caucasian...hell, the majority of the illustrations in the first batch are male as well (6 to 4 among the first 10 characters). It's not deliberate, it's just that most of the gamers who offered their photos for me to use were caucasian males. I've got a backlog of illustrations to complete, including a variety of people, and with these images I'll be trying to add in a bit more ethnic diversity among the illustrations especially in some of the immediate character expansion sets.

What gaming innovations have been seen this year?

It's getting to the end of the year; time to reflect on some things.

Like most years, there have been hundreds of games released. Most have simply trodden the same old formulas, but some have introduced dynamic concepts to the realms of gaming. I don't claim to know all games, but I like to keep informed of general trends in gaming, and I try to keep a general watch over the Kickstarters (and other crowdfunded projects) coming through, and the "Stuff to Watch" threads on Story-Games often provide some useful fodder.

I don't see much in the OSR world, and there is probably some great stuff happening in that part of the gaming, world but almost everything I'm seeing there is retroclones, heartbreakers, anachronisms and nostalgia...not much for really grab my interest.

The mainstream stuff that's reached my radar has consisted of Pathfinder doing it's thing (which I've just generally lost interest in because it's more of the same-old-same-old), 5th Edition D&D or D&DNext or whatever they're calling it this month simply going around circling the drain, a few existing games that are considered hot once again because they've been attached to a licensed property (like Leverage), and then there are the reimaginings of settings with existing mechanisms (eg. "Deadlands Noir"), etc.

I'm excited about the impending Malifaux RPG...but that's a 2013 product, so I won't say more at this time.

I've generally been disgusted that one of the major gaming awards has had it's "Free" category generally filled with advertisements and half complete "quickstart packs" for paid games. Which is truly annoying because it's often in these fee games where risks are taken, these products don't have bottom lines to conform to, or shareholders to whom they are accountable. They aren't corporate commodities.

Instead of seeing innovation in RPGs, I'm seeing great development among boardgames and card games such as Netrunner, Dixit and Descent.

I'd say one of the biggest games this year in indie circles has been "Monsterhearts", a fun game, but even this could be simply construed as a hack (or a refinement) of Apocalypse world...which has been an indie darling for a while now. Monsterhearts integrates the idea of character relationships more carefully into the mechanisms of the game than most other RPGs 've encountered and it does this in a reasonably clever way. I think it's a lot more worthy of the respect its been getting than a lot of other gaming products this year, which isn't to say that it's a brilliant game, it's more to say that a lot of utter crap has been getting huge kudos lately.

One of the less known indie games that I've mentioned a few times is "Michtim", which vaguely inspired my recent work "Tooth and Claw". This is a game that I want to investigate more, it links the characters current emotional state to their chances of performing actions. That's something I've seen a few games fail at miserably, but Michtim seems to pull it off in an elegant manner.

I'm loving the idea of hearing about RPG innovations happening in the non-English speaking world. But the more I hear about these parts of the world, the rarer the innovation seems to get. I hear that Polish games are often half-concocted add-ons for existing products (so they're basically a twisted mirror of the Story-Games community except that they hack twenty year old products rather than churn out new iterations of the current indie hotness).

When it comes to RPGs, one of the biggest growth areas I've been seeing has come from a non-RPG source; that's the concept of "Google Hangouts". I haven't participated in this style of game yet, but every week there seem to be a dozen or more sessions simply talking about game stuff, and two or three times this many games being played. Tools are being developed to more easily facilitate this style of play. It's actually exciting to see this sort of thing developing after watching dozens of false starts in public video-conferencing over the past decade.

I'd like to say that the Pocketmod Gaming scene is an exciting growth area, but we'll see how that one develops.

If you've seen any great innovations or idea that I've missed in pen-and-paper RPGs this year, let me know.

26 December, 2012

Peaked at #2

It may not be a huge achievement, but in the little world of publishing indie roleplaying games, it's something...and it's something I'm proud of.

Tooth and Claw has reached number 2 on the RPGNow Hottest Items listing. Maybe I should start putting a few more things back up on RPGNow.

25 December, 2012

Tooth and Claw - Now Available

When you read this, the Ferret Pocketmod RPG "Tooth and Claw" has now been available on RPGNow.

Have a look at it, buy it, it's only a dollar and half of all the profits will be directed to the NSW Ferret Welfare Society.

24 December, 2012

Best Last Defence: A Game about Ferrets

If you're frustrated by someone else's game, sometimes you just have to write your own.

Best Last Defence is a game about what ferrets do when the big ones (the humans) aren't looking, either because they are asleep, at work, or otherwise away from their home.

It's been written to fit in Pocketmod format. I'll be making it available in the next day or two over on RPGNow at $1 per copy.  Since Leah and I are ferret rescuers for the NSW Ferret Welfare Society, half of all the proceeds will be donated to this non-profit charity group who look after ferrets who have been in homes where they have either been neglected, or homes where ferrets simply weren't suitable as pets.

It's a fun little game where you could play urban fantasy as ferrets trying to stop "sock goblins" from stealing the foot coverings of the giants who you share your house with, you could play a home alone type scenario where the ferrets are the heroes standing between burglars and the household valuables, since the game is about hiding the truth from the giant humans around you, it could be possible to play almost anything...as long as you're willing to have a bit of fun and play a ferret.

23 December, 2012

RPGs and Ferrets

In my house live six ferrets: two males and four females (one of whom is blind).

We are also a house of gamers.

So when I heard about Kingdom: A Pen & Paper Space Exploration RPG, my interest was instantly drawn. I saw the words...

+Erik Tenkar on space ferrets: I think it is because one is and individual, two is couple,  three is invocative of the entire race, more then that is just clutter. 

...on a Google+ thread and had to take a closer look.

I looked at the Kickstarter (as linked above). I don't have high hopes for it.

Maybe it's not a game about ferrets after all. Maybe it's just a single persons attempt to create another generic sci-fi game that looks like a hundred other generic sci-fi games that I've flicked through at my local game store and put down because nothing really grabbed my attention in a positive way, and the few things that did stand out were the kinds of things that really irk me about an amateurish production.

The Kingdom Role-playing System relies on six sided die and percentile die. Players can either randomly generate the basic statistics for their characters or GM’s (Game Master) can choose to have a point buy system. Then they play through adventures run by the GM where their choices can inevitably and sometimes unpredictably have an impact on the galaxy at large.

For starters, it's a straight up "Players and GM" game model (nothing wrong with that, but nothing innovative either). It uses six sided dice and percentile dice....and that's the bit that gets me. Didn't Indie developers around the world spend the first decade of the 21st century developing games with coherent systems that use a unified mechanism? Perhaps it's a retroclone?

Then later..

GM’s will have many tools at their disposal in the book in the form of percentile charts that will allow them to randomize events that happen to their players and can act as plot devices. 

...oh dear, percentile charts. I know that some people love these, but I've just had too many bad experiences, as a player with GMs who would put a scenario on hold for a few minutes while they rolled up one table to get a cross reference on another table, which might have then been rolled to determine a story specific outcome (that may or may not have meshed with what we were doing), or might have led to another table again.

Maybe I'm reading too much into this.

Either way, I started my exploration of Kingdom with some good expectations, but everything I've read has been downhill. Maybe I'll have to write my own space ferret RPG.

22 December, 2012

A Return to the Gambit

A few years ago I wrote a pone page game called "The Gambit of Erzulie Ga Rouge". I think I generated it for one of the game chef contests, or something similar.

The premise was pretty simple. A group of characters have been buried over the course of the last year in an enchanted graveyard. Annually, on All-Hallows Eve (or some other specific night), a doorway is opened between the realms of the mortal plane, the Darklands and Paradise. On this night the spirits of the deceased have a single chance to resolve the issues of their mortal lives. A single spirit rises to paradise, while the others will spend the rest of existence lingering in the Darklands (a purgatory) until judgement day.

To make things interesting, the game was played out on chess boards, with players moving across the board using the movement of chess pieces. It also had a bit of a tower defense side to it, as Darkland spirits would invade the graveyard. If a player successfully took a graveyard spirit (in the manner of one chess piece taking another), they would have the opportunity to resolve a beneficial part of their backstory. If a player's piece was taken, they'd have to resolve a detrimental part of their backstory.

It was a complete game but there were a few things that never really felt right about it. It was one of those projects that I've considered returning to (along with "Guerrilla Television"), and the strict pocketmod format might be the way to do it.

I'll have some time with the family over the festive season for the next few weeks, so that will give me time to think about how to transform the game. I'd love to pull in ideas and game mechanisms linking characters with one another and with their world, through relationship maps and similar ideas. The original game used dice as a resolution mechanism, this time I might use cards or even pull in the magic eight ball (I've been wanting to do this with a game for ages...)

Rule Bloat (or lack thereof)

One of the biggest problems I have when writing a game is "rule bloat". I start with something simple and elegant, something that works really well in the specific situation for which it was designed, then I tweak it to make it suitable for a wider variety of situations. The rule becomes more functional in my mind, but trying to describe the new nuances in the rule takes three times as long.

It's one of the things that has been stumping me on the revision of Walkabout, and it's anathema to the concept of writing a pocketmod game.

I've been looking at a few other tight game lately to see how other designers handle this problem. Edge of Space from Chubby Monster games, streamlines actions into a simple or opposed dice rolls, but it really sacrifices the explanation of how these dice results affect play. If you know the paradigm of traditional roleplaying games, then it's not hard to fill in the gaps...but how much work would it be for a non-gamer to detail the missing elements. Would they simply think the game is incomplete? I actually do get this idea from the product, as it's confusing to determine the alien encounters as they are just given a string of numbers and vague abilities (I assume you roll a number of dice equivalent to the bug's power level, and the results given you a random bug with the abilities described, where multiples of the same ability function like like skill levels among the player characters). Nice simple game, shoe-horned into the pocketmod format...I don't know if I could do better, but I think it's possible.

End of the world is another pocketmod game, this time modelled off the current indie-darling "Apocalypse World". Again, a simple elegant system (also based on 2d6 + modifiers), it gives the absolute basics of the "*-world" games, tying the mechanisms of play into the story with Trouble might incur when successful and Fallout you can suffer with failed rolls. It includes enough hints of setting to give you some places to go with the narrative and some solid character ideas. Again I feel I had to read between the lines a bit to understand how certain elements were resolved within the game For example, you can only apply a single skill to an action resolution, and it seems you can apply items to the resolution as well, but there are a few fragments of rule ideas scattered through the text that seem a bit contradictory.

Pick three backgrounds, deciding how they
define your past and personality. For each
Skill, + adds 1 (max +3) and – removes
1 (min -2). You can choose the same
background twice. 

How do you get to +3 if you can only pick it twice? Why split between the words "skill" and "background" in the middle of a single rule description.

Knowing a bit about the "*-world" games, I can intuit where this is meant to go, but six months ago this would have frustrated the hell out of me.

It's clear that to get a game working in the pocketmod format of eight tiny pages you need to make some sacrifices. I'll be trying my hand at a strict pocketmod game soon. I wonder if I'll fall into the same trap of too many shortcuts and too many leaps needed by prospective players and GMs.

Don't get me wrong, both games have some great ideas (such as the implementation of relationship strings in Edge of Space, and the notion of trade for experience in End of the World), both of these ideas alone would be worth a dollar (and probably more if they were fleshed out a bit more).

20 December, 2012

A game with a hero played by no-one

I had an idea a few months back.

I was planning to make a FUBAR supplement around it, but you could use easily apply the concept to just about any other traditional style roleplaying game.

You get a hero, this is a typical manga or anime hero. A young kid who gets into trouble, but who will become important to the fate of the world. The aim of the player characters is to teach the kid, to get them through the troubles of their youth in order to become the global hero they are destined to be...

Each of the player characters fulfils one of the archetypes of the setting.

In an anime-style setting, one player would be the friendly brute (who beats up bullies picking on the hero), another player takes on the role of the romantic mentor, another is the brainy one, then you get the comic relief (who might be the second best at a range of things), etc... there are dozens of these characters in anime, but they typically boil down to a specific combination from a small range of blatant stereotypes.

In a fantasy D&D setting, you might have the mage who instructs the hero in magic arts, the warrior who trains them in fighting arts, the thief who teaches them to keep their wits about them, the cleric who acts as a moral compass.

The key to this type of game is that the various mentor characters need to end up in situations where their specialties are challenged, and where they need to use their talents to overcome problems that might seem more tailored to one of the other characters (who is unavailable for one reason or another).

You could almost deconstruct this game concept using a game such as "My Life with Master". Instead of a master everyone slaves under, they are bound to this "golden child" by some prophecy or chain of events beyond their control. It'd be a very different take on the game premise, but just as interesting. 

Looking forward, looking back

It's getting to that time of the year when I usually starting looking back on the months, to see what I've accomplished (if anything), and start to consider what projects I might aim towards in the next year.

In two days time the whole world might not be here, if the conspiracy theorists who've taken the Mayan calendar out of context are right. (But the dawning of the Age of Aquarius didn't do a whole like to awaken a new consciousness in the world..so we'll just have to see about that one.)

2012 has been a fun year, I started out strong with two projects:

  1. Hell on Eight Wheels - A roller derby board game in the vein of Bloodbowl. It's gone as far I can push it without producing a prototype for some serious playtesting. I've got quite a lot of interest in it, especially among the local roller derby community.
  2. Walkabout - This has evolved organically and has developed into something that I want to get right. I had hoped that November's NaGa DeMon would be a perfect time to finalise development on it, but when I made several attempt to get the text down right, they just didn't capture the feel I was after. To avoid wrecking a work, I put it aside and worked on something completely new.

Which leads me to the one project that is basically finished, Ghost City Raiders. My first Pocketmod Playbook game. A bit like FUBAR, this one was lightning in a bottle. Trying to pin it down was a fluke, but now it seems to have taken on a life of it's own.

Outside of game design, I've finished college study in Fine Arts (it's not finished because I didn't want to go further, it's finished because the state government has pulled out all funding for arts courses at a college level), I walk away with a certificate IV (a typical 12 month attainment, just below a diploma for those who don't know the Aussie education system). As for where I'll be heading in the future, I've been accepted into graphic design and web design courses, and I should find out shortly if I've been offered a place at university to become a teacher.

With regards to game design, there are still so many ideas struggling to get out. We'll just have to wait and see.

19 December, 2012

Lego FU

It's always good to see when a community works together. I'm always happy to see when one local designer produces something, and when another local designer produces a fun and innovative hack for it.

Designers from the Australian roleplaying community may be spread over vast distances, but that doesn't stop co-operation. Nathan Russell on the east coast of Australia has been working on a fun system simply entitled FU, the Freeform Universal RPG. Andrew Smith (formerly from the east coast, but now on the west coast) has just released a Lego modification of the rules, Lego FU.

I've tried to download a copy of it, but my internet connection is erratic at the best of times. I haven't had the chance to thoroughly read through these works of Aussie game design, so beyond my excitement that game designers are working together, the best I can say is to have a look for yourself. See if there's any potential for your game group to exploit. (EDIT: Oh, did I mention...they're both FREE!!!)

I'll offer a full review of the FU game and the Lego FU expansion shortly.

Humans in a goblin game?

In the movie Labyrinth, there are all manner of supernatural beings, many of which are goblins of various descriptions (these goblins as illustrated and designed by Brian Froud are the core idea behind my goblin game), and while there may be some creatures that could be defined as goblin mutants which clearly push the boundaries of goblin-ness, there are some which would have to be considered different species if not different biological families or even different orders of life.

...but hell, it's a magical world, or even a dreamscape, so trying to define everything in scientific terms is probably pretty futile

What really grabs my interest about the Labyrinth setting is the fact that the "Goblin King" looks so human. In the descriptive historical work for the goblin tarot, I hypothesized that the concept of a "goblin" king might be related to the old stories of changelings. These are the stories where fey creatures abduct human children and leave their own children in return. Thus we have goblins growing up as humans in our world, and humans growing up as goblins in the "otherworld". The goblin king is a human brought up to think that he is a goblin, an exceptionally large goblin with an exceptionally long lifespan (comparatively), he would think he was immortal and a god among these small green-skinned creatures.

The goblin king wouldn't be the only human captured in this manner, but such humans would be few and far between. They'd be hidden by secretive cults in sanctified temples or sacred spaces designed to look like a human bedroom. Why would they abduct such humans into their world? Perhaps as the source of dreams to harvest? Perhaps as a prestige thing? Our village has a human under it, does yours? Of course, if the goblin king found out about such others in his kingdom, he'd make life exceptionally difficult for them. He might try to drive them back to the mortal realm, or ask that his minions "take care of the intruder".

Playing a human in the goblin setting would be incredibly hard. You'd either be a slave to a village or community, or some kind of wanderer trapped in the great labyrinth. As a wanderer, you'd probably be tricked at every turn by goblins who wanted to enslave you. You'd be a valuable commodity and you'd have to be very careful to keep your life your own.

I'm really wondering whether to include humans in the game. There would certainly be some interesting room to tell some great human stories portraying them as monsters and powerful forces of nature compared to the creatures around them, but they'd detract from the essential goblin-ness of the setting. Perhaps I'll just use them as potential story elements.

17 December, 2012

The Issues of Goblin Language

I’ve read through all the old articles explaining different people’s perspectives about languages in D&D. The bits about Gary Gygax reading some sword-and-sorcery series where one of the characters was able to speak a “thieves-cant”, which could be interjected into other languages, or which could be ”spoken” in such a way that only thieves could understand it. I’ve read numerous debates about “alignment languages”, and how they might supposedly work in real life (none of them sounded very convincing to me). Perhaps the best response I’ve heard to this argument is that different people might speak different dialects with inflections representing their religious beliefs. I understand the notion of cultural languages, and racial languages, but then we also get the fantasy staple of a “common tongue”.

I’ve been thinking about whether to put languages into the Goblin Labyrinth game. I can see reasons why the concept of languages should be put in, and reasons why it shouldn’t. I’m certainly not adding the notion of alignment languages, because the goblin game doesn’t have alignments to start with…and I’m not planning to add them at any time in the future.

One of the best reasons to put language variety in.

There are billions of goblins with short lifespans, and most don’t have the time to learn how to read. History is generally an oral tradition, or shared orally by those few scholars who are able to read the old texts. With this in mind, language is incredibly fluid it will evolve based on te needs of the communities where it is spoken and different communities will have different needs. A mining community will develop more words relating to ore, underground environments and mining equipment; while a fishing community will develop more words for types of fish, weather patterns and fishing gear. It’s just a fact of life…if you need to be more descriptive in one area, then you can probably afford to be less descriptive on other areas…the metaphors of the mining community probably won’t make a lot of sense to the fishing community, and as these metaphors become more a part of the language, the two become different dialects and eventually drift into separate languages. This occurs at the timescales of human life (roughly 20 years per generation), imagine how much more rapidly it would occur at the timescale of goblin life (roughly two months per generation).

There could theoretically be millions of languages, each spoken on average by a few thousand people.

A specific story might be told within a specific community where a single language is dominant, but there could easily be dozens of other languages present in the community, and more if the community is a hub of trade.

One of the best reasons not to put it in.

I’ve already established that the goblins have a communal memory. They rapidly mature in the first few weeks of life drawing knowledge from a hive mind as they reach adulthood. If this hive mind is universal, then a single language would be shared.

A quick look at a movie such as Labyrinth (which is where the goblins draw most of their inspiration), there are numerous species of creatures and they all speak a common tongue. They speak with different accents and dialects; some may only speak in simple terms while others are quite elaborate, but they all speak the same language ad can be basically understood by one another.

I’m tending at the moment toward a universal “Imperial Tongue” spoken by virtually all goblins at a basic level. Beyond this we have cultural tongues spoken only by those who belong to the said cultures, and those who have regular dealings with them. Languages exist at three levels; you don’t know it at all, you can speak basic words and understand basic concepts, or you can speak it fluently.

Since everyone speaks the standard “Imperial Tongue” this would work fairly simply in play. If two characters are from the same culture, their players may talk normally to one another, if two characters are from different cultures they may speak to each other in simple phrases of no more than 3 words (or two words and gestures). It adds a bit of chaos and confusion into the game…very goblinesque.

This isn't too far of a deviation from the rest of the system, where all abilities are divided into basic and advanced versions. It's also good because traders and diplomats now become more important in the setting because they can talk fluently with a wider variety of people. It hopefully pulls the focus of the game away from simple gathering and combat.

16 December, 2012

Goblin Pocketmod Development

I’ve been tinkering with the goblin game again. In this case, it means putting together lists of skills that are meaningful for career paths. I’m working off the warhammer fantasy model for this, because it provides a gritty play experience where character have to really struggle, and often engage in outlandish progressions before they can rise above the chaos to become true heroes among their people.

A goblin youngling might start out as a “thug”, work their way up through the criminal ranks as an “enforcer” then a “crime boss” before finally reaching “Mastermind”. In the highly accelerated world of the goblins, each of these steps would only take a couple of weeks to progress through, because a goblin dies after a couple of months.

 I’m setting up three tiers of occupations.
  1. Basic occupations that almost any goblin can start out on (negligible attribute requirements on some of these).
  2. Advanced occupations that have a range of basic skills, moderate attribute requirements and earned status that must be acquired before a goblin may proceed.
  3. Legendary occupations that have a few high attribute requirements, some more complicated skill requirements and high degrees of status that must be earned.

Everything needed for an advanced occupation can be acquired by completing one or two basic occupational career paths, but by the time a goblin as reached an advanced career path, they’ll have reached maturity and it’s basically a downhill struggle against the forces of aging, the accumulation of scars and the dodging of petty vendettas. Most goblins will have been poisoned, slaughtered, withdrawn from society or simply died of old age before they have the chance to reach a legendary occupation. Luckily there are the 1 in 1000 goblin heroes who have a heightened degree of regeneration and a longer lifespan (due to magical intervention), most player characters will take on the role of goblin heroes while the world around them are short-lived regular goblins.

It’s a rat race stacked against the young, but the heroic characters of the setting can hold out, accumulate enough knowledge, and eventually transcend the masses to become truly legendary.

I’m drawing on a few sources for this career concept.

One source of inspiration comes from prestige classes in D&D 3.0/3.5. Classes in typical D&D are linear progressions, sure you can “dual-class” to become something a bit different, but even then you’re stuck with a pair of linear progressions to choose from. Prestige classes offered a unique branching point, providing a new range of skills and abilities to those characters who met the criteria to enter into them. Once on a prestige path it is basically a new linear progression, but the idea is there.

A second source of inspiration is obviously Warhammer; I’ve even mentioned this already in the post. In warhammer there are scores (perhaps even hundreds) of careers available. Each career has required entry criteria, perhaps a few skills need to be known, perhaps a couple of minimum attributes, some equipment that is needed and maybe a quest that needs to be completed. Once in the career path, it is capable of raising aspects of the character’s attributes, it teaches a few skills and it provides something special while you are on the path (and you get to keep afterwards, only if you complete the path by picking up all of its advances and skills).

A third source of inspiration comes from Savage Worlds, where there are a number of special Edges that become available as long as you have particular attribute levels. They basically open up skill effects that the usual range of skills can’t handle…as an example “Acrobat” requires a moderate strength and a high agility, but gives bonuses reflecting someone with acrobatic skill.

Something I like about this concept of character progression is that all characters start pretty simple. You don’t walk into a game with a bunch of powers that don’t make sense unless you cross reference two different pages, then compare how those two rules impact on a third. You just get a simple basic character; if you want to progress along a specific path toward a specific heroic persona, you gradually accumulate the rules necessary and you as a player learn how they interact as the character gradually picks up the knowledge. You only need to know the intricate combat moves if you’re playing a warrior goblin, you only need to know the elaborate games of goblin status if you’re playing a courtier. A courtier probably doesn’t need to know how combat works (they’ve got bodyguards to look after that), a warrior doesn’t need to know the intrigues of court while they are on the front lines of a warzone. A general would probably need t know a bit of both, and as they’ve reached this rank they’ve accumulated the knowledge they need to survive in both worlds (probably not excel as well as a specialist, but certainly survive).

There’s still a lot of work to do, but I think I’m on to something.

15 December, 2012

A Game Icons Site

After my recent post about glyphs, I was digging through this month's "Stuff to Watch" thread over on Story Games. This is a regular news thread showing a wide variety of subjects that might be of interest to gamers. It's one of the reasons I still visit Story-Games.


It seems that I'm not the only one working on game glyphs, symbols and icons.

A hate tapping into a zeitgeist.

13 December, 2012


One of the things about writing a small format game is the need to convey information quickly an efficiently.

A method to do this is by developing sigils or glyphs that can be used to replace words. Card games like "Magic: the Gathering" have been doing this for years. Simple glyphs to replace common words like "tap" or colours of mana. It's like a form of data compression, a designer only needs to define the glyph once and then every time the word or concept is used throughout the data set, the simple glyph can be used to represent a word, a sentence or even a paragraph.

I had this idea a while ago, and drew up a series of glyphs that were incorporated into a font. With the glyphs in a font, it becomes easy to incorporate them into a document, altering glyph sizes to match changes in text size, allowing them to be incorporated into titles and anywhere else they might be needed. It's even possible to make outlines, add drop shadows to them, or anything else that your word processing program might normally be able to do with words, text, numbers or other symbols.

Some of the symbols here were destined to become attributes, others would become types of actions, or symbols for game concepts such as reactions, modifiers, success results or failures.

If anyone is interested in these symbols as a font (with a few dozen more glyphs to maximise the font potential), let me know. I might finish of the font and make it available for release.