31 January, 2014

Voidstone Chronicles Hero Tracker

I want this game to be easy to access. It needs to have fairly intuitive rules and a user interface that looks good, and makes sense in context.

I tried to cram everything onto a single page for the character sheet, but the design generally started to look a bit too busy. So I've gone with the option of splitting the methods for tracking a character into two separate entities.

The character tracker probably works best on a A4 (or similar) sized sheet.

On the left is the "emotional energy"/"elemental affinity" matrix (very similar to the Shakespearean game board I designed a few years ago for a Game Chef contest...and something that's been appearing in a few games from Vulpinoid Studios lately). A glass bead shouldn't be too big for tracking the energies across this board as the moods and situations of the heroes change throughout the game.

On the right is the encumbrance grid. There may be specific tokens generated up to represent the items that a hero might be carrying; these would have the advantage of being easily moved around the grid to attain optimal placement, but having more fiddly bits to keep track of would be a major disadvantage (there are enough cards and separate pieces already). The other option would be to place this whole page into a plastic sheet protector, then you could write on the sheet protector with whiteboard markers without permanently marking it or without needing to erase pencil marks several times each session (just wipe the whiteboard marker from the sheet protector with a cloth and add new markings as necessary). If the game catches on and we produce a boxed physical copy of the product, these might even be printed directly on plastic sheets.

The second part of tracking a character comes in the form of long term changes and development. The attributes, abilities and advantages of the character, and I'll add to this the equipment actually being worn/used. I was considering a pocketmod for this, but I'll probably go with a second page that can also be slid into a sheet protector (that way quick changes to equipped items can be noted).

I'll try to post that second page shortly.

30 January, 2014

A Voidstone Chronicles Combat Grid

The entirety of the great realm is a series of discs orbiting in a vast sky. These discs some in several sizes...some no more than a dozen metres wide,others stretching hundreds of metres across. The larger discs tend to be slower in their orbits, and the smaller discs tend to revolve around these, or perform complex orbits and fast orbits between local clusters.

This image has been designed to print on a full A4 page (with the image stretching right to the edge). When printed in this manner, the hexes forming the grid are 30mm across the flats; this means that many standard figures on round 30mm bases can fit neatly within a hex (such as those in Malifaux, Warmachine/Hordes, etc.) It also means that figures can be used from those games where the miniatures stand on 20 or 25mm square bases. One of the ideas behind this game is that players can use those miniatures they have lying around from unusual manufacturers, or miniatures that are no longer supported by their favourite company's rule set.   

Over on the left of this image, I might throw in a few keywords and twists that make this map a bit different to others that might occur in the series. For example, there might be rules about fighting in the hexes where the edge of the disc meets the sky (things like unstable footing). As a separate image, I'll be creating up a couple of simple templates that might be added to a conflict zone (trees, long grass, bridges between discs, mounds, pools of water, ancient access panels allowing access to crawlways within the disc, etc.)

Lots of ideas still flowing through my head.  

29 January, 2014

The Voidstone Chronicles Combat Clock

One of the things I find with a lot of my projects is that I leave things undone.For example, I never got around to providing a proper character sheet for "Tooth and Claw".

Despite this, laying things out and making them look atmospheric is a passion of mine.

Voidstone Chronicles has a wealth of possible atmosphere, so I really want to get the epic fantasy feel across to potential players.

Here's the current incarnation of game's "Combat Clock", approaching the illustration style that the final version of the game will probably take...unless I change my mind.

27 January, 2014

Voidstone Preview Part 2

The third and fourth books for Voidstone Chronicles are now written up and ready for public critique.

Now we've got the books of Earth, Wood, Fire and Metal (You can find them here.). The Book of Water, which is the GMs guide, is being written up now, along with the first set of culture and calling books.

The first four callings are the core occupations for heroes in Voidstone Chronicles, they vaguely follow the traditional split of Fighter, Wizard, Cleric, Rogue...but not quite.

Warriors tend to be soldiers or mercenaries depending on where they are from; either way, they hit things hard.
Hunters might be bounty hunters or nimble-footed tomb robbers; either way, they're fast.
Adepts might be learned scholars who master ancient mysteries through formal training, or intuitive prodigies; either way, they wield mystic arts through internalising their power.
Disciples might be wild shamans or ceremonial priests; either way, they wield magic by communing with spirits and gods.

I'll also get stuck into the 6 core cultures: 2 central cultures for the Imperium of Celestial Harmony (upper class and lower class), and then 1 culture for each of the cardinal compass points (north,east,south,west).

Following the first callings and cultures, there will be the equivalent of "dual-class callings". Only available to those who have reached the advanced level in one of the two basic classes that they unite.
The Warrior-Hunter combination is the Assassin, combining skills to be both fast and deadly.
The Warrior-Adept combination is the Warmage (not sure on this name), who hones their ability to cast deadly spells in the midst of conflict.
The Warrior-Disciple combination is the Crusader, a consecrated warrior dedicated to one of the spirits or gods.
The Hunter-Adept combination is the Stalker, a shadowy master who might be considered akin to the ninjas of legend.
The Hunter-Disciple combination is the Inquisitor, who uses their skills of investigation and infiltration to learn the truth about the evils in the world.
The Adept-Disciple combination is the Avatar, who channels the powers of the gods themselves to become a walking force of nature.

I've generated up a few dozen pieces of equipment, a few dozen combat actions/reactions for players to choose from, almost twenty starting spells, and a range of conditions (positive and negative) that can afflict a character during the course of play...each of these appears on a single card, quick and easy with a couple of sentences about how it affects play.

The whole idea is that the core system is pretty simple, but as characters become more powerful, players pick up on synergies between the cards that reflect this increase in power and ability.

So far it seems to work, but it will need some playtesting before a final draft release is ready. The final draft will go up on RPGNow for a nominal value (maybe $5), and any purchases will contribute to paying for some artwork commissions to finalize the game.

If anyone is interested, let me know.

23 January, 2014

Voidstone Preview

It may not make a lot of sense yet, but here are the first 16 pages of the revamped Voidstone Chronicles. (That's the first 2 pocketmods)

The core rules basically comprise 5 pocketmod books (one for each of the five elements in the setting)...

Earth = Character Generation
Wood = Adventuring
Fire = Combat Rules
Metal = Magic and Mysterious Powers
Water = GM Notes

Then there will be a pocketmod for each "Culture" that characters can come from, and another for each "Calling" that they might follow. There are no images in the books so far. I've got a few illustrations, but I'm actually planning to use another artist to do most of the pictures for this particular project.

Preview Here

Tell me what you think so far.

21 January, 2014

Voidstone Rework

In a setting where the world consists of islands drifting in an endless sky. The traditional European/Hermetic 4 way elemental split seems a bit unbalanced...fire and water, I can see the opposition and balance; but earth and air seems heavily dominated by the latter, when earth composes the tiny chunks of floating matter and air consists of almost everything else in existence.

Maybe an eastern elemental split is better...earth, wood, metal, fire, water. We still get the relatively balanced fire and water. We now get wood (the essence of life and vitality) opposing metal (which can embody machines and sometimes unnatural things). They each centre around earth, like the floating rock platforms on which the people of this setting live. Air is not represented in this cosmology because it is an intrinsic part of everything...specific abilities become focused on those outside elements, while the actual power level of the individual is determined by the central element (the earth).

...this might not be too hard to rework, and at this time it seems to make a lot more sense.

19 January, 2014


Sorry, there's been a distinct drop in the number of posts this year.

I've been pretty frantic over on the Walkabout Explanatory Comic (which is currently up to page 22), and that has meant less time to work on posts here.

I've got a few map tutorials still needing to be posted. Maybe I'll get around to uploading them soon.

07 January, 2014

The Walkabout Explanatory Comic

I'm trying a new way to present a roleplaying game.

If you've been a regular reader of the blog, you'll already know about this.

One book will be the basic rules, one book will be an in-game artefact explaining the world from the perspective of the characters and survivors within it, the third book will be an explanatory comic (containing a description of how to set up a game, all the play examples, and clarifications to the basic rules). I've finally put together the majority of the preparatory sketches, and the first pages of the explanatory comic are starting to come together. 

The ongoing series of pages will be posted at a new blog.


If you're interested, head over there and have a look. If you're on G+, join up with the Walkabout RPG group to gain additional insight into the development of the system. There won't be many more posts about Walkabout here, I'm generally hoping to keep it as a separate entity. Thanks for all the interest so far.

06 January, 2014

An Old Idea

Once, many years ago, I came up with a concept for modular terrain pieces made from moulded resin or plastic.

While sorting through some old paperwork, I just found the sketch I drew up for it on some scraps of paper. I never did get much further with this idea.

Map Tutorial 20: To the Skies and Beyond

I've had plenty of feedback on my quasi-historical/fantasy mapping tutorials, so it's time to shift gears again. I know there are plenty of sci-fi buffs who've been watching the development of this tutorial series, so here's an opportunity for them to chime in.

I don't do a lot of sci-fi maps by hand (I tend to produce these via computer and 3D rendering programs), but here's a quick tutorial for spacecraft. I might do a few more sci-fi themed tutorials if there's enough interest (maybe some installations, close-ups for shuttlecraft, orbital stations, etc.)

Sorry about the darkness on this tutorial, I'm breaking in a new scanner (or, more accurately, I pulled down an old scanner from my roof storage...a multi-function centre with obsolete cartridges that are no longer available, but doesn't need anything installed for the scanner function to work).

05 January, 2014

Map Tutorial 19 (Part 3): When Settlements Mature

There were a few comments on the last post saying that they were expecting the tutorials to follow the growth of a single settlement from its earliest buildings through to its maturity into a bustling metropolis. That's not the way I decided to go with this particular set of tutorials, but as you can see in this installment, it's certainly something that crossed my mind.

There will be another post at a later date, with a video image that gradually shows the growth of a single village through a number of seasonal frames over the course of several decades (4 frames per year...70 odd years...that's 280 frames and it's taking a while for me to compile).

For the moment, just a bit more theory regarding the development of towns and small cities.

As an aside, it was pointed out that many medieval villages did not have cobble-stoned streets, so that part of the tutorial isn't entirely historically accurate...but neither is fantasy. Good streets would be a factor of commerce in the area and a need for smooth travel. Larger towns might have regular travel within their boundaries and might develop a stronger desire for hard paved roads, small towns would probably make do with dirt (especially if they aren't particularly wealthy...or aren't trying to show off to neighbouring villages). Some towns might be built on the crossroads of ancient trade routes (established by an ancient empire that might be an analogue of the Romans), these towns might have the central crossroad paths paved with solid flagstones from a bygone era, while the remaining streets are dirt.

The aim of these tutorials is to bring these ideas to your attention, so that you can add depth and history into your maps. If readers are picking holes in my ideas and commentary, then that makes me happy; it shows that people are actually reading what I'm writing, and it shows that they are thinking for themselves and pushing the ideas presented according to their own goals.

As long as people keep reading, I'll keep posting.

04 January, 2014

Map Tutorial 19 (Part 2): As Settlements Grow

Once a settlement starts to lure a few more permanent inhabitants, and develops a few buildings it starts to become interesting as a source of adventure in itself rather than just a place for the characters to pass through on their way to more interesting locations.

At this stage, settlements exist on a precarious threshold where they will either build critical mass and become towns, or lure bandits/monsters/devious-politician and simply be wiped from the face of the world.

03 January, 2014

An alternate way to draw maps (Part 4)

Now that we've drawn up the topographic map in Photoshop, we can do some interesting things with it.

One of those things is to determine where water levels will be when the terrain is applied to Bryce...you don't need to export it across to Bryce to do that.

Flatten the image (or select the whole thing, then do a "copy merged" and paste it into a new layer).

Using this, you can go to "Image-> Adjusments -> Threshold".

Since we now that light areas are higher than dark areas, we can set the threshold to a certain value...everything below that value will be underwater, everything above that level will be dry.

Sliding the threshold value up and down gives us an effect like this...

When the threshold is set highest, it leaves only the outer rim mountains above the waterline, and when it is set lowest, there are only a few scattered lakes of water within the defined region. To keep things interesting, I like to make sure there is a balance between the two extremes.

In this case I'll aim for a threshold somewhere around the 112 mark.

That leaves me with a map like this.

There's a horizontal peninsula landmass just below the central that looks vaguely like Italy...there are a few narrow bits of land and narrow seaways where kingdoms could place themselves for strategic importance. A few islands, a few lakes, certainly enough interest for the placement of a variety of adventures and mysteries.

This isn't the final stage of the map, but it's starting to give me some good ideas about the world being created.

An alternate way to draw maps (Part 3)

When I draw 3D maps using Bryce and Photoshop, I deliberately don't plan them out too well. I have a vague idea of where I'd like things to go and let the twists and vagaries of fate push my maps in new and interesting directions.

For this map, I open up a new image in Photoshop 2048 x 2048 pixels (since that's the Bryce scale for the terrain I'll be using).

The first thing I do is draw a black circle on a black background.

Specifically for this, I've added a thin outer glow (about 20 pixels) around the outside of the circle and a thicker inner glow (about 50 pixels) on the inside of the circle. Both of these glows are done with white. The circle is duplicated and applied as a screened layer directly over itself. The duplicated version of the circle has its outer glow inner glow expanded to 250.

When converted to terrain this will vaguely give me a dish shape...flat in the middle with gentle slopes that get steeper toward the outer rim. The circular "mountain range" around the world will then sharply drop away.

Next we need to add a bit of interest to the terrain inside the circle.

I do this by building up a few layers. This is done with a 50% application of the airbrush tool, each time applying modification to a new layer. For each of these examples, I've kept the circle layers intact underneath and have just shown the specific layer I'm working with superimposed over the top.

Layer 1: First I have to idea that I want a range of mountains that leads to the central part of the world (where the reflective sun mirror is). That range splits off from a longer range over to the "west". The western range has some shadowy lands behind it that might be obscured from the sunlight. Over to the east, to counterbalance things, I throw in another range.

Layer 2: Next I consider where I vaguely want water to go. I know full well that the water won't exactly match these patterns I'm drawing up, but I don't care. Dark spots are low, that's where the water lies. I build up shapes with the airbrush tool, I cut them away with the eraser. It doesn't matter that I go out of the lines, I can clean that up later. I reinforce the idea that the central part of the world is higher by making sure that there are no water areas there.

Layer 3: With a much wider airbrush (600 pixels across), I get a few more sweeping motions across the world to build up more general forms. I keep following the vague motions that have been laid down in previous layers. The world is generally taking shape.

Now comes the trick...

Layer 4: Photoshop has a pair of tools called "Clouds" and "Difference Clouds". The first creates amottled pattern across the layer where it is applied, the second uses an algoritm to apply clouds on top of clouds a depict the differeces between the two layers. Applying "Difference Clouds" once over a cloud layer produces the effect shown above, applying it many times gives a more complicated pattern.

These layers can be compiled on top of one another, turning them all on, but making them only 30% opaque. You can experiment with "screening" the layers or leaving them as "normal".

You end up with something like this...

It's getting pretty close to the final terrain map that we'll be using.

Next you can either manually erase everything outside the circle, or duplicate the bottom-most circle layer, change the circle colour from black to white and bring it to the top-most layer. Then multiply the layer over everything else. This has the effect of blacking everything outside the circle while leaving the interesting terrain texture in the middle.

Once this image is exported across to Bryce and converted to terrain, you can see how the shapes of the ranges fall across the landscape...then pull it back into Photoshop to erase away parts of the landscape or build them up to get a shape closer to what you had in mind.

02 January, 2014

An alternate way to draw maps (Part 2)

To make this style of map in Bryce, it's pretty simple.

Start with File>Document Setup. Make a viewing panel that fits your screen and for the moment, ensure its render resolution is 1:1.

There are three sets of manipulation menus at the top of the screen (under the typical drop down menus that you find in almost every program)...they are called "Create", "Edit" and "Sky and Fog".

When the "Create" menu is open, it shows a range of standard objects that can be added to a scene. These include (in order from left to right) planes, terrains, trees, rocks, "metaballs", a range of standard solids, flat 2D images and lights, the most recent version of Bryce then includes a tool that lets you export forms more easily to their other software packages.

All scenes in Bryce start with a flat plane. Here I've just created a terrain object, once selected, the terrain object shows a menu that allows a user to change the object's "A"ttributes (overall height, width, depth, rotation, and placement in the scene), its "M"aterial (changes the simulated material from which the object is made), some objects allow the user to "E"dit it in specific ways. Terrain is one of these editable objects. I manipulated the attributes so that the terrain is now 2048 units wide and deep, and 20.5 units high (so it's roughly 100 times wider than its height, which is reasonable for something on a continental scale...if I was doing something on a more local scale, I might make the terrain object 10 to 20 times wider than its height). I zoom the camera using the crossed arrows at the left of the screen until the terrain snugly fits within the viewing panel. 

Once I have the vague size I want, I open the "E"dit menu.

When the "E"dit part of the menu is selected, a new part of the program opens...it looks a little like this.

In the screen capture above, I've got a topographic map on the left, and a simulated view of the terrain object on the right. My version of the terrain is actually a lot flatter than the simulation, but it gives a good idea of the form you're working with. The topographic image can be manipulated with some simple tools (on the leftmost part of the screen in this example). Basically, the darker the pixel, the lower the terrain at this part (conversely, the light represents height). These terrain images have a size based on base-2 numbers (the coarsest terrain maps are 16x16 pixels, then 32x32, 64x64...up to 4096x4096). That's why I made my map 2048 units by 2048, you don't need to do this...I just do it because it's cleaner in my head to work out other things later.  

The grey panel has a few options on it. feel free to play around with the elevation and filtering menus in this panel. I might explain a bit more about them later, but for now I'm focusing on the "Pictures" option.

With this panel, you can draw up terrain patterns in a more powerful image editing program, then import them into Bryce. You can just use copy/paste from other programs, or load up pre-saved images as well.

You can even import two different images, and merge them together into a single terrain form (it defaults to a map halfway between the two images). Hold doen the button marked "Blend", drag it to the left so that the final terrain reflects only the image on that side....then hit apply.

Once you've got the terrain image you want, exit out of this part of the program then open up the materials menu for the object. 

There is a great range of pre-loaded materials, you can access them using the little sideways pointing arrow beside the preview image. This opens a new panel with a range of images depicting the various materials, at the bottom left of this new panel, there is a way to open up even more possible materials for your terrain (one of these options will be called "Terrains" and another will be "Vegetation"...these are great places to start).

Apply a material to your terrain, then go back out to the main part of the program, scrolling over the buttons at the left of the main image will show that one of them is marked "render". Use this to get a good version of your image.

Next tutorial will show a quick detour over to Photoshop, to show how I create suitable terrain maps. 

01 January, 2014

An alternate way to draw maps (Part 1)

There is a software package called Bryce, it's been through a number of developers over its lifetime. Currently it is released by DAZ (you can find it here). At various stages in its life it has been a free download, as I write this post, that is the case.

Go, download it. It's a great 3D tool, and one of the best landscape modelling tools available.

Muck around with it, especially the terrain tools, have a look online for some of the other great tutorials for it. It's one of the easiest 3D modelling programs to learn, and while it may not be as powerful as professional tools like Maya....it's free.

I love creating maps using a graphic manipulation tool such as Photoshop and Bryce.

Here's a little something I've been working on, I'll use a few steps to show you how I did it.

The basic premise behind this map is simple. There is a concept called a Dyson sphere.

It is basically a solid spherical shell of matter surrounding a star. Most interpretations of the Dyson sphere have inhabitants living on the inside of the shell...able to utilize the light of the star within to stay warm, grow crops, etc. My problem with that theory is simple...gravity says anything inside the shell will be pulled to the centre of the mass, ie. into the star. I think it would make more sense for inhabitants to live on the outside of the Dyson sphere, thus pulled down onto it, much like people are pulled down onto the Earth.

But if people live on the outside of the sphere, how do they get their light and warmth?

Simple, there are holes punctured in the shell, with reflective mirrors that point the light back to the surface.

Using this assumption, areas closest to the holes would be hottest, and the temperature would gradually get colder as distance to the hole increased. After a certain point, there would be icy waste as far as the eye could see.

If there were a few holes punctured around the sphere, there could be many self contained civilisations scattered across the surface of the sphere. If the remainder of the internal star's energy was captured and stored, it could be used to puncture wormholes in reality, perhaps luring assorted alien races to it...maybe maintaining a force field because it is actually a galactic prison...I don't know, there is a lot of potential in the idea and I've kept coming back to it after years of thought.

For all intents and purposes, each circular temperate zone is a world of its own isolated from the others by vast icy wastes (possibly connected by the wormholes empowered by the sphere's store energy). If we assume a typical pseudo-medieval fantasy setting, then there would obviously be a fallen advanced civilization from the past (who might still have members alive, but might have become extinct for one reason or another). The civilization capable of crafting such a world (and manipulating matter/energy transformation) would probably have left behind some incredible artefacts, perhaps viewed as magical by the current inhabitants. Nanotech swarms might respond to the vocal commands of those who share the blood of the ancients, thus creating pseudo-magical effects.

Anyway, enough with the theory of how a "flatworld" with "magic" might be feasible given "realistic physics"...let's look at how the map was created.

Happy New Year

I'm writing this in 2014, before most of the world has reached it.

I've decided that this year's regular series of blog posts will be pages from the Walkabout explanatory comic...hopefully 2 or more pages per week (I need to get through 160 pages total). I'll be producing more map making tutorials as well, and still throwing in my usual editorials, rants, and maybe a few game reviews.

Anyway, thanks for making 2013 the most successful year for the blog so far. Hopefully 2014 will take it to new heights.