31 July, 2016

The Carcosa Golem Shuffle

The characters are remnants of an occult war in a city that sits between the realms of the waking and dreaming world. War machines lie strewn across the streets, but these are not obstacles, they are sources of potential strength. The characters themselves are cobbled together war machines...their minds embedded in a biomechanical matrix, constantly require mystical energy to remain psychically active, and more mystical energy to empower their bio-mechanical bodies.

The characters awaken as the last of the living soldiers from ancient warring empires take their final stands against one another. They have no memories of the war, and must struggle to make sense of the events around them as the dwindling resources of the war (and their chance at survival) is scavenged by others like them, and desperately reclaimed by the living soldiers who were once their masters. 

Around them are new limbs to attach to their frames, new frames to attach their biomechanical matrixes into, new psychic programs to upgrade their biomechanical matrixes (at the risk of overwriting their existing skills and identies). Most importantly, there are sources of power that need to be claimed and held, to gain control over the city, and create peace and stability long enough to understand what the hell is going on.

I think I've got a core idea for this Fantasy RPG design challenge.

30 July, 2016

Fantasy RPG Design Challenge 3

This game design contest came across my radar this morning, and I'm really tempted to give it a shot if I get a couple of free hours over the next two weeks.

Fantasy RPG Design Challenge 3

I've got so many discarded ideas in this area of play that could be quickly cobbled together into something playable... it's just a case of seeing whether I'll have the time to actually assemble those bits. It'll be interesting to see what other designers come up with.

29 July, 2016

The Variable Sandbox

I really haven't posted much this month, but that hasn't stopped it being one of the periods when the blog has seen the most activity from visitors. Strange!!?

Anyway, I've been thinking about the traditional form of play known in some cicles as the Sandbox. It's basically where you don't really have a specific story laid out, instead the GM provides an environment, perhaps some relationship maps, plants a few seeds here and there and lets the players go exploring for themselves (through their characters). Its the way I typically try to run LARPs, because it can be impossible to be a GM everywhere all the time, drip feeding story to every cluster of players. It's also generally the way I envision Familiar to be run.

The players help construct a region, a small town, even a ghetto in a large city. It's a community where dozns of stories interweave, and there is always more to the picture than can ever be seen by a single person (magical or otherwise). Actions have repercussions, making friends means making enemies, breaking a deal sees ramifications as word of that deed spreads across the community, helping someone in need has more beneficial cascade effects. But to follow the old idea of the West Marches, I'd deliberately indicate that there are areas of the game environment that are "easy" and other areas that are "hard". As players explore the wider game environment, they will learn which areas they are ready for and which areas they aren't. Investigation becomes important, dealing with regions on their own terms becomes key. You don't engage in violence near the police station, nor do you engage in violence in tightly held gang territory...the former because you'll alert the authorities and make other actions harder to accomplish, the latter because you'll "get a cap in your ass".

This is fairly easily accomodated by the system, basically by applying a default "and..." or a "but..." to actions that unfold in specific areas. Every "and..." makes a task more effective, and every "but..." makes a task less effective, or may be overcome if you are willing to increase the tasks difficulty.

Instead of simply making regions harder or easier, we then flavour them by applying those "ands..." and "buts..." to specific action types (conflict, influence, knowledge, magic). One area might have benefits in a specific field, but penalties in another. Some areas might have multiple "ands..." or "buts...", but we really don't want to overcomplicate things, so these would be rare, or might be at the borders, where one "and..." has a radius of effect that overlaps with another "and..."

Actually, that might be a good way to handle things. Simply draw the "and..." or "but..." on the map when it is found, then draw a circle (or other shape) around it to define how much territory is affected by this modifier.

Seems sinple enough, in my head anyway.

25 July, 2016

Getting into the mood

A few more pictures for the Familiar game. I'm trying to get a feel for it in my head as I finalise certain bits and pieces.

This is not a clean, neat and tidy world, not a place where tragically-hip beautiful people pose for the camera, staring off into a vague middle distance with contempt. It's a world where things happen, where people do things, where familiars linger on the edge, prompting the movements of the world, for good or for ill. 

It's a world where the stasis of the overwhelming has settled, hardened, and finally started to crack. It's a place where the rebellious spirit is sick of being oppressed and finally has the friends and the tools at their disposal to make a difference.

But this is not a game about those rebellious spirits, it's a game about the enigmatic beings who grant them the power over reality, and the dangers these enigmatic beings face as hybrid entities caught between a dying world of dreams and nightmare, and a static world on the brink of oblivion.

22 July, 2016

Images in Progress

I think these have an appropriately "urban fantasy meets rentpunk" vibe to them.

A few more images like this. then I'll mix things up by having a number of illustrations in a different style.

The next few images to round out this series will be focusing on characters of different ethnicities.

20 July, 2016


You can be an awesome artist, and unsuccessful because you don't "know the right people".

You can be a terrible artist, and yet be successful because you do "know the right people".

The same applies to music making, game design, or just about any other artistic endeavour.

I'm not saying that all of the popular and successful people in various creative fields are actually rubbish, I'm saying that there are a lot of truly creative people who should be successful and should be far better recognised... but they don't because they aren't a part of the "in-crowd".

If we divide someone's life into percentages... 

There might be a person who spends 100% of their life refining their craft, and no time networking with the people around them. Their work doesn't get seen at all, maybe if they are incredibly lucky someone they know might also know someone, and the news of their work is shared to the outside world...through no effort of their own, purely by luck or happenstance. Those born into privileged families, I'll get to them later.

There might be a person who spends 75% of their time refining their craft, and 25% networking with the people around them. They'll never be quite as good as the person spending all of their effort refining their craft, but they'll be close, and the word of their work will be spread to a range of people. In turn this increases the chances that the "right" people will see the work and thus this slightly less "talented" person will recieve more accolades and remuneration for their work.

Another person my be split 50/50 between their craft and their networking. Their work will certainly not be of the calibre of the 100% artist, but the hype around such a person will be twice as big as the 75/25 artist and they'll probably have more adoring fans and even more accolades pointed in their direction.

Then we get the dabblers who spend 25% of their time on their craft, and 75% on networking. Their work will be rubbish, but since they're in contact with all the right people, no-one will say this to their face and everyone will want to be a piece of the artwork produced through sheer "emperor's new clothes" syndrome. 

A subcategory of these dabblers might be the wheelers, dealers and agents who surround the true artists like vultures. Their 25% of artistic refinement is focused on seeing what they can exploit among the artists around them. Then they use their 75% networking skills to maximise any advantage they might be able to get from exploiting the artists. They tell the artists that they have the skills to get the art into the wider community discourse, and tell the wider community that they have found the hottest new source of visionary creativity... until the artist feels too much pressure, the community moves on, or the next hot new thing catches the middle-agent's eyes. Meanwhile, the artist has put their heart and soul into something, walks away with a shadow of the benefit gained by the agent, and the agent just says "you obviously just didn't work hard enough / weren't good enough". 

I've seen it in all parts of the creative industries. Major artistic prizes given to friends of the judges, game awards given to recipients who might cause the most controversy and thus gain the most notice for the awards when the next year is decided, music royalties diverted to wellconnected "artists" who are producing rubbish when talented musicians are struggling to get a cap full of loose chance while busking on street corners...meanwhile the agents and middle-men (yes, because they are typically men) rake in more profits than anyone.

It just bugs me.

Rant over.

18 July, 2016

Getting the Imagery Right

I've been trying to develop my own style of imagery suitable for the Familiar game. I've got a few default styles, some of which are more "anime" inspired, some use more photographic referencing, others are just freehand following of concepts as they unfold in my head. I'm still trying to work out what's going to work best for this game, and while these images are in the general ball park, I'm not sure they're exactly what I'm after. 

The first image is an example of a typical mage and familiar, perhaps meeting one another for the first time and only just starting their metaphysical journey together. 

This is more like a page from a grimoire, bestiary, or other tome of mystic knowledge. Perhaps describing the true forms of the familiars as they exist in the spirit realms, perhaps describing metaphysical threats that bring horror or chaos to the mundane world.

17 July, 2016

Ritual Combat

A lot of this Familiar project is indirectly inspired by Ars Magica, and one of those inspirations that has certainly been sitting in the back of my mind is the idea of combat through formalised ritual magic. A ritual pattern is laid out, different centres of magic might have permanently engraved stones or tiles, or they might draw up new patterns with chalk each time a ritual duel has been challenged. There are certainly a variety of these ritual patterns, every centre of magic has a different one, and each have their own rules and regulations. 

The common rules state that ritual patterns must be made up of at least three circles. These circles must be interlinked through arcs and lines, they may touch one another tangentially, they may even overlap...but as an additional mandatory rule, the whole shape is made from unbroken lines. Magic energy is contained within the corcles of the pattern and it could prove very dangerous if this energy were to leak out. 

Ritual magic duels will naturally be played out using the same mechanisms as the rest of the game. You choose a difficulty die to reflect the complexity of your character's action (this die is modified by situational advantages and disadvantages), then try to beat the result of the difficulty die with your magic die. There are a few possible outcomes, fail, partial success, low success (yes, but...), or high success (yes, and...), and you may temporarily exhaust one of your character's traits to upgrade their outcome.

I'm thinking that a duel will be divided into turns. You start a turn by drawing a difficulty die in a closed fist and declaring the character's current stance (according to the elemental affinities). The difficulty dice are revealed, whoever has the highest die gains "the edge", on the first turn if the difficulty dice are equal, no-one has "the edge"... on a later turn, if the difficulty dice are equal, "the edge" remains with whoever has it. 

There are at least three circles in the ritual pattern. In the example drawn above, there are three small circles and a larger one (all marked with the pale swirls). A single duelist may stand in one of the smaller circles, both duelists may stand in the larger circle. On the first turn, both duelists start in the larger circle. In later turns, whoever doesn't have "the edge" must move from their current position in the dueling pattern to a new location, the player with "the edge" may choose whether they move or not in response to their opponent's move. If no-one has the edge, both duelists remain where they are.

Difficulty dice are then modified. 

First a modification due to "range". If your action is directed against someone in the same circle, the difficulty die is reduced by a step. If your action is directed against someone in an adjacent (but tangential) circle, the difficulty die is not modified. If your action is directed against someone in a non adjacent circle, the difficulty die is increased by a step. If your action crosses over any "barrier lines" (such as those around the small circles in the example shown above), the difficulty die is increased by one step per line crossed.

Next a modification due to "magical energy". Different circles of the ritual pattern may be infused with elemental energy. If your stance's elemental affinity matches the energy of the circle you're in, the difficulty die is reduced by a step. Conversely, if your stance's elemental energy opposes the energy of your circle, the difficulty is increased by a step.

Any magical energy is tapped before the difficulty die is rolled, then the magic die is rolled. 

The duelist has "the edge" applies their result to the conflict first, then their opponent applies their result to the conflict. Results could include mystically damaging the opponent, applying some kind of penalty to them, overcoming a penalty, infusing a circle with elemental power, or regenerating mystical energy to continue the fight. 

I'll need to run a few sample conflicts to make sure it works, but it feels like it's heading in the right direction. 

16 July, 2016


Familiar is designed to be a pretty simple game. Something that kids could play, something to introduce non-gamers to the concepts of collaborative storytelling.

Technically, a lot of my game design work is developed in that area, each approaching it from a different set of parameters, each using their mechanisms to focus thought patterns in different ways to produce different play experiences.

Generally "Familiar" worked on the idea that a die roll might give a varying degree of result, fail, partial success, full success, and possibly a higher degree of success (multiple successes from a single roll). Once the roll had been made, a player could spend their characters traits to bump up the results, to ensure they succeed on the tasks that are important to them.

Traits are more important and more significant than dice in this game, maybe...they work differently to dice. Dice can be used over and over, traits are spent and exhausted for the remainder of the scene.

In the last iteration of the rules, the numbers were all over the place. This time I've streamlined it to multiples of two, because the variability of results fits a nice spread. If a player attempts something with a difficulty die equal to the attribute die, there is always a better than 50% chance of success. Having an attribute die score less than the difficulty die with a difference of 2 or more (and thus earning a "fail" result), is far less likely. When I ran the numbers with one point differences, they were too small to have a noticeable impact. If I were writing a more nuanced game, I might go with the single point variance, but not for this one.

Looking at the flipside, the smallest die being used is the d4...so a 3 point variance would take a minimal roll of 1, and convert it into a maximal result for that die (a 4).

This is a game where success might not be guaranteed, but as long as you are careful then successes are more likely than not. Even before traits add their effect into the mix.

I'm also thinking I can tie this game into the landscape series that I was working on at the beginning of the year. In this way, each of the mysterious lands might be places of origin for the familiars, hidden in the realms of spirit and dream, but interconnected with our own world...the world in which the familiars' tales unfold.  

Reworking the numbers again

Looking back over the die mechanisms I'd developed for Familiar, there was something that just didn't feel right. I couldn't quite put my finger on it, but there was just a niggling doubt in the back of my mind that the numbers just weren't working at some level.

So I've tried to consolidate some thoughts in the system.

Everything basically now comes down to even numbers. If a character's die misses the difficulty by 2 or more, the attempt fails completely. Otherwise it has varying degrees of success. Thus, there is always a chance of failing completely (however remote that chance might be). Similarly under most circumstances, there is always a chance at success.

Now, when a character draws on a metaphysical legacy, inherent skill/power, or item (mundane or supernatural) they simply add two points to their die roll. When advantages are at play, difficulty dice are decreased by a step (d12 to d10, d10 to d8, etc.) ...conversely, when disadvantages are at play, difficulty dice are increased by a step (d10 to d12, d8 to 10, etc.) If advantages reduce a difficulty die below d4, a d4 is still rolled, but the acting character sees their attribute die result increased by 2. If disadvantages increase a difficulty beyond d12, a d12 is still rolled but the acting character sees their attribute die result reduced by 2.

Another thing that I did for simplicity in the system was allocating 4 dice to the 4 attributes (a d6, a d8, a d10 and a d12), but this felt a bit contrived as I developed NPCs for the game. It also felt odd to advance characters away from this scheme...but then again there was no real advancement system for the game anyway.

Instead, I'm thinking of a template system to quickly generate characters. Choose a cultural template, a mystical practice template, and an elemental template. Each template increases an attribute or two, provides some specific benefit and possible weakness, and has a couple of options to allow for a more individualised character.

13 July, 2016

More monsters

We had a few hous of blackout today, which gave me time to focus on a few artistic projects. That meant getting the LARP armour closer to completion, and getting a bit more work done for my monsters...well actually, these aren't monsters, they are more akin to spiritual NPC for the familiar game. 

I still haven't worked out what they do.

A book of monsters

This is a time consuming process...

All laying the groundwork for the Familiar game. 

On the positive side, it's meditative.

11 July, 2016

Familiar Illustrations

I think I've found my second artist for the Familiar project.

I've been doing a lot of work over the past fortnight for the Ferret Rescue Association of New South Wales, a club that my wife is starting up with a few friends who have all become disgruntled with the existing local ferret group. I've taken on the role of public relations officer for the club, I even have my own business card.

Over the weekend we had our debut, I painted a picture for a lucky draw prize, and as a group we made lots of useful contacts.

For game related stuff, one of those useful contacts was Samantha Poole, and she said she'd be interested in a commission for a few animal images.

To have a look at some of her work, visit the Little Book of Sonders web page. She seems like she'll be a fun person to work with.

Now to finish writing the game.

01 July, 2016

Different ends...or different paths to the same ends?

This familiar game has really made me think deeply about the way magic works in existing games, and how I should best make it work in a game of my own.

I think of the spells used by magic users in D&D, each divided into different schools of magic, using a random assortment of game mechanisms. In that game paradigm (incorporating the OSR), there are also different classes that are capable of granting certain similar spells...for the purposes of game mechanisms the same spell appears in both lists, but the trappings might be slightly different. A sorceror might cast the spell instinctively, a cleric might call on their god to cast it, and a wizard might read a specific incantation and use ingredients to get the effect. Rifts does the same thing (but it's basically hipster OSR anyway... OSR before it was cool).

I think of the Disciplines of Vampire: the Masquerade, each of which manifests in a different way, but basically accumulate in power along certain themes... Where the basic powers often allow minor manipulation of the story, while the higher powers often offer a method to avoid character elimination in certain circumstances (by mind control, physical transformation, or spiritual transcendence).

I started working on specific paths of magic with specific spell outcomes common to them. Alchemy creating potions, Craftwork creating artefacts and relics, Maleficia creating curses, Theurgy creating blessings, Shamanism channeling the spirits... But then I realised that these outcomes were simply means to an end in themselves. The actual outcome of magic shouldn't be limited by the trappings used to reach it. This is a game about transcending barriers, or not even understanding whether the barriers are there for familiars in the same way that they apply to humans.

My new version of the magic rules sees each branch of magic provide new tools to gain power, but the power gained is spent to achieve the same effects.

I don't know how much sense this makes, but in my head it was an epiphany.