31 August, 2017

RPGaDay2017 #31

What do you anticipate most for gaming in 2018?

What I anticipate most next year isn't a tabletop game, but a computer game based on a classic tabletop game... Cyberpunk 2077

...unless further delays hit it.

I'm curious to see what next year brings for the Classic World of Darkness... not particularly anticipating it, but curious.

On a more personal level though, in 2018, I anticipate not living the life of a student anymore, and actually being able to afford a few new games from my friends who design and publish things.

RPGaDay2017 #30

I had three posts here on the blog yesterday, so I decided to hold off on the RPGaDay posts. Today I'll play catch up with the last two questions...

What RPG genre-mashup would you most like to see?

Let's see...

Motorcycles and Samurai... already done. Thanks +N. Phillip Cole.

World War 2 and Superheroes... already done. Thanks +Greg Stolze and +Dennis Detwiller

Theoretically, I could cover any genre mash-up with GURPS, or Rifts, or Pathfinder/Starfinder, but that's not really the point of this question is it?

I do really want to see the mash-up of Mad Max with Cthulhu/Spiritual-Fantasy, but that means finishing off my own game "Walkabout".


30 August, 2017

Stone Dragon Mountain

The second of today's parcels was unexpected, because the postal note in the letter box only indicated I had one package waiting. It was mailed here in Australia, from +Matt Horam of EttinCon fame.

Inside, a copy of Stone Dragon Mountain, purchased by +Jez Gordon while he was over at GenCon, from +Sean Nittner and the Torchbearer/Burning-Wheel team.

Thanks Guys!!!

I'd been meaning to pick this u in the Kickstarter, since I did the maps in it (as I indicated here on the blog back when they were done 18 months ago). But cash was tight while the project was running, and by the time I had enough funds to get a copy...the chance was gone.

It's so nice seeing my name in a nicely printed book that I didn't make myself.

There it is...under Art... I did the maps.

...and there's one of the maps.

Yes. I'm excited. Probably the fact that I received two different packages of books in one day... and this one's really good. Now I'm going to have to buy a copy of Torchbearer so I can play the thing.  

Tonight I've been cleaning up some papers, and found the original maps that were scanned and manipulated digitally before being sent over for insertion into the book. If I had the chance to do these maps again, there are a few changes I would have made, but generally I'm pretty happy with the way they've turned out.

(Let's see if these maps generate any more work) 

Proof Arrives

I had sent off for proof copies of The Law from two different sources. The easiest process for getting print approval was from the P.O.D. supplier Lulu. So it was hardly surprising that their books arrived first. 

Sturdy packaging, nothing to complain about there.

Then I open up the transport box, and look at the book inside.

The printed proof is on the left (it has the book number on it), my photocopied and stapled proof is one the right.

The printed copy has a nicer, glossier finish; something I just couldn't have produced on my own. The colours seem a bit richer as well, but I'm colour blind so I can't be certain of that.

The thing that I wasn't expecting was the perfect binding. Especially when the website said that anything under 48 pages would be stapled...which is a bit annoying given that I was going for a comic book aesthetic.  

That wouldn't be too bad, except for the fact that I had standard borders along the inside border of the pages (the gutter). This worked fine on the photocopied version of the book...

...but the same gutter in a perfect bound book has meant that it gets hard to read some of the page elements close to the gutter.

I'd been hoping to release the book as soon as the proof arrived. But honestly, if this is how they'll be delivered, I'd be unhappy with the product. So I'll make some tweaks to the page layout, order another proof and hopefully the next ones won't have this problem.

Since I ordered proof copies from OneBookShelf's printer a week or so later than Lulu, I should see their proof arrive next week. Hopefully that one will be stapled, and therefore good to approve without needing further modifications.

Now I know why I usually stick to PDFs.

I like good page layout

I spent five years studying and practising calligraphy, under one of the top Australian calligraphers (I feel like Donald Trump when I say that without qualifying it in any way... at the time I remember seeing her work in all sorts of magazines, showcases and exhibits for fine calligraphy work, but now I can't even remember her name... I guess it's one of those things about getting old... I vaguely remember that she was one of the first women to be admitted to a prestigious calligraphy guild in the UK, and one of the few non-British residents at the time also). I'm also a technically qualified web designer, a university trained graphic designer and someone who has done work in both comics and advertising.

The point is that I love a well laid out page. A few days ago, there was an RPGaDay question on "Jaw-dropping Page Layout". I pretty much stated that almost everything in the RPG space is pedestrian, and not worthy of the term "jaw-dropping". I still stand by that, but it's really nice to see some people paying attention to their pages, rather than just cloning old rule sets then adding minor tweaks to claim a degree of originality.

So, when I saw this post from +Patrick Stuart, I was glad to see people paying attention to page layout, functionality and aesthetics.

(Image appropriated from Patrick's blog)

I still wouldn't say it's jaw-dropping, and it's nothing incredibly innovative, since I've seen a lot of these design features (such as the staggered book sections and the clean white-space in standardised section headers) used in textbooks, technical manuals and more even in games from the 80s and 90s. But it's really nice to see someone utilizing these ideas, and reassembling them for a current gaming product (I stop myself short of saying a "modern gaming product", because it looks like an OSR production).

I also like that there has been a distinct idea to formulate the pages for consistency, and "meta-stability"...the aim here seems to be ensuring a regular appearance to the pages, but allowing a slightly fluid state so that any conflicts between the layout and the content are reduced. My web design background almost sees this like a fluid page design handled by a well-designed CSS.

Apparently, there are going to be some additional posts regarding this, and I look forward to them. I love to see caring artisans, and love to learn about the specific choices they have made and the rationales behind them.  

29 August, 2017

RPGaDay2017 #29

What has been the best-run RPG kickstarter that you have backed?

I haven't backed many, and haven't had much luck with those that I have backed.

The Kickstarter I backed with the least associated problems was the original Monsterhearts.

Black doors

Apparenty, the hot "new" thing in RPG design this week is called the "Black Door". The idea has been posted publicly, and from a few private sources that I've seen...

Quoting +Michael Prescott...

"A Black Door is a dungeon obstacle (in Ben Robbins' original West Marches, an actual black door sealed by magic) that clearly separates skilled, versatile, resourceful and powerful parties from less experienced ones. Often adventurers will be completely unable to get past until they return later, having levelled up a bunch or brought special tools or hirelings."

It sounded familiar...in fact I discussed the idea back in 2010 when I developed my Vector Theory of RPGs.

If we consider the story to be a path, and decision points to vary the course of that path, a "black door" is a temporary terminus to the path...unless a character has the relevant key...in which case the terminus vanishes and the story path continues.

It's a common technique in a lot of dungeon design to channel a specific story through what would otherwise be an open sandbox environment. It can even be used to describe certain encounter types, a werewolf cannot be beaten unless the characters have silver weapons. Without the silver, the werewolf stops the characters dead in their tracks...but with the silver it becomes a minor inconvenience. Even something as simple as wearing the right clothes so you can attend the ball...sure there may be other ways around the obstacle, but the clearest option is to make sure you have the "black door's key", then pass straight through it.

It's funny when ideas I'd considered years ago suddenly become "cool". Sure, I'll admit that the West Marches goes back even further than my posts regarding the idea, but people theorising about them now...as though no-one had considered them from a theoretical perspective...that ain't new.

28 August, 2017

RPGaDay2017 #28

What film/series is the biggest source of quotes in your game?

Is it too cliched to say "Monty Python"?

I wouldn't say that all of our quotes derive from classic 1970s/80s British comedy, but a substantial number can be traced back to Monty Python, Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Tom Baker-era Doctor Who, and their ilk. These probably make up less than a quarter of the overall quotes, with a hefty proportion of Princess Bride, Star Wars, Aliens, classic 80s action movies, and a variety of other sources depending on what genre we're playing.

I actually think that regular silly accents play a stronger role in our games than quotes.

27 August, 2017

RPGaDay2017 #27

What are your essential tools for gaming?

If this question is asking what minimum equipment have I found it necessary to have available in order to run an enjoyable and successful game, then the answer is short and simple.

  • At least one other imaginative player.

That's it.

I've run successful games for a single player. I've run successful games purely freeform, ad libbed, at conventions for paying players who wanted to come back and play again. I will admit that the first games (with a single player) did feature a lot of props, miniatures and the whole RPG experience, but I really think I could play a successful and fun game with no props, no system, no preconceived story and only a single player.

If the question is asking what I usually carry in my roleplaying kit as my typical gaming gear, then there's a bit more to add.

  • A couple of imaginative players
  • Some pencils and notepads

Then, slightly less essential...

  • Character details (whether on character sheets, index cards, or whatever)
  • Some food and drink, if we know we're going to be at this for a while
  • (At least one PDF or hardcopy of the game being run, and any randomisers associated with the game)
  • (Some figures and wooden blocks to replicate buildings/corridors/dungeon-walls/obstacles, if we're playing the kind of tactical gamer that might need it)

I usually go even further than this, but the listing provided is what I'd usually bring to a game.

RPGaDay2017 #26

Which RPG provides the most useful resources?

My most used RPG resource...

...end of story.

26 August, 2017

Popping the Cherry

One of the younger players in my LARP has decided that he wants a gaming experience that is deeper than what we've been able to provide with the 10 players that regular show u to our live events. His mother has bought him a copy of D&D, and has invited a few members of the LARP to run his first tabletop game for him. I've been volunteered to run the game.

I would have suggested a simpler game like Dungeon World, or even one of my own game designs; but she's bought him D&D, so that's what we'll be running with. I guess it is the biggest roleplaying game, and was probably the only RPG available in the local bookstore (or local toy store, or local pop culture store...or wherever it was purchased). I asked what version of D&D it was, and the response was simply "the easy one"..."the one kids can play". Given that is was purchased in the last couple of weeks I can only assume that 5th edition was acquired.

Now I just need to work out a setting and a few story hooks that will bring characters together.

Since it's his first game, I could play to all the tropes, and they'd be fresh and interesting to him. Meetings in taverns...evil temples...killing orc babies...actually, his mother might not appreciate that last one.

I'm actually thinking of using the setting I developed a few years ago in my Worldbuilding 101 series.

It's a setting of steampunk piracy, with heroic adventures on a volcanic island riddled with mysteries and intrigue.

I am told that he's excited and has already created a character, which is a tad annoying because that setting didn't use the standard fantasy races, because I don't know if he's randomly rolled attributes or what race has been chosen, I similarly don't know how this character might link into the other characters who might be present in the game...

...the last one isn't really a bother, but I don't want to see a first time character running around with two of three exceptional stats and nothing below average.

...I can't even throw together a couple of pre-gens at this stage, because I'm still not certain what version of the game we're actually going to be running with.            

25 August, 2017

RPGaDay2017 #25

What is the best way to thank your GM?

As the constant GM, I don't know. I've barely ever had to do this...

How would I like to be appreciated?

In some games, I've provided the game, while someone else has provided the house (or relevant gaming space), and everyone else has provided the food and drinks. It was nice having everyone share the load for the evening then.

In other games, I have been paid to GM, it wasn't asked for, or necessary, but certainly wasn't turned down when it was offered.

Lately, just engagement in the game, actively joining the events and contributing to the storytelling has been the best I've been able to hope for from a group. I'd start actively recruiting a new group of players, but need to focus on Uni for the next six months before I get a new game up and running.

I've found a use for those Pictures

The black and white photo manipulations I've been working on have started being inserted into the Dispatch Guide for The Law, but they've also seen an immediate second use.

They'll form the basis of the first run of NPC and Equipment cards for the game.

I just posted this on G+ (so, sorry if you're seeing it twice)...

The first eight image layouts for the NPC cards... I've just looked through the first 24 of them and have noticed something slightly imbalanced. 22 of the 24 present as female (whether they are female gendered, or of fluid identity but leaning toward female identification doesn't matter), and the remaining 2 are obscured enough in their depictions that they are effectively androgynous. Not a single male presenting identity among them.

While I think that's an interesting coincidence (it certainly wasn't deliberate), I don't want The Law to simply turn into a game about beating up and imprisoning women (and those who identify as such). Time to address the balance.

I'll be generating up 52 equipment cards, as well as 52 NPC cards, in an initial run. These will go with the 52 card deck of status cards which currently sits in the design pipeline over at DrivethruRPG/RPGNow. None of these are mandatory for playing the game, they're all just designed to make things a bit easier for those who do decide to use them. In a couple of months, when I've got a few of these resources available, I'll probably bundle them together as a "complete starter kit".


24 August, 2017

RPGaDay2017 #24

Share a PWYW publisher who should be charging more.


People who offer their games as "pay-what-you-want" (PWYW) do so because they want people playing their games, they aren't greedy corporate leeches charging hundreds of dollars for a few crappily cast figurines, bits of poorly laid out cardboard, and a few custom dice in a box. These are people passionate about the hobby and I think that this passion would be killed if money were to get involved.

I turn over a decent number of games through PWYW, more than half of the time they go into someone's hands for free, often they throw a nominal amount of money my way, sometimes I'm surprised to see a game get more than I expected. I don't make my living from game design work, it would be nice, but at the moment it's my fun, my hobby, my release from the stress of other things in my life. If I can see that my games are trickling out there, that's great. If I put a dollar value on them, there's the risk that they'll dry up completely.

Most of the game designers I respect put out a range of free, PWYW, and paid gaming products.    

23 August, 2017

RPGaDay2017 #23

Which RPG has the most jaw-dropping layout?

Honestly, most RPG layout is pedestrian and vanilla. I've tried to do interesting things with layout in FUBAR and in The Law, but outside my circles, neither of these games has really caught on.

One of my old favourites, HōL has been mentioned a couple of times for it's layout technique, and I'll admot that it was an interesting choice to completely handwrite and illustrate a game... but the others mentioned today have been standard layouts with some nice illustration work scattered through them.

Live DJ set with Gamemaster as the MC

One of those "if I had enough money..." fantasies which keeps recurring to me is the idea of a live soundtrack for an RPG. This would have a reflexive interaction with the game as it unfolds, as the adrenaline pumps, the tempo of the music increases... as the character head to an industrial sector of the city, industrial music takes a stronger element in the mix... if they head to the more elite parts of the city, we get more jazz and classical overtones... in the ghettoes we get the various musics of the people who form that community. The whole thing becomes the ultimate mash-up, continually setting the tone, continually evolving... certain NPCs and villains might even have their own motifs that are inserted strategically into the jam when their influence is felt.

Morw than the turn of phrase used in games Powered by the Apocalypse, the person running the game truly becomes the MC... rapper, revolutionary, voice of the people. 

I'm revisiting this idea because I'm searching through musical mash-ups, trying to find the definitive tone for the urban sprawl in The Law. I'm thinking something blending heavy metal, punk, and rap...not as a seamless blend, but edgily competing against one another. If it had some left-field, unexpected element thrown in, that would be a huge bonus. I'm open to suggestions.

Abstraction versus Fine Detail

I don't remember who was posting about it the other day, but it got me thinking.

Back in the old days, our adventurers would delve into a dungeon with a limited supply of oil flasks, arrows, rations, metal stakes, and other consumables, marking them off our lists as we used them. These days it's just as likely that we'll be playing a game where we have a generic quiver of arrows, quantity of "adventuring gear", or collection of rations, where we don't specifically tracks individual expended units, but might instead roll a die to see when we have exhausted out supply.

The person whose comments reminded me of this concept, indicated that they thought it was silly that a character might give away their last ration to someone, not realising it was their last ration until the die roll specifically told them it was...and this was one of the things they hated about the game they were referring to. It seemed a valid comment to make, but I think it actually shows more of a fundamental difference in the way games are played more than a flaw in the design of a specific game.

Some might call it a flaw in the way of thinking about games, some might just say that it's different horses for diffent courses. We could dig make into that Forge game theory can of worms, where everyone has different interpretations of the underlying issues...but for the sake of this paragraph, the gamist tracks every bullet for the sake of getting the highest damage and most impact from every single bullet, while the narrativist really doesn't care unless a lack of bullets is interesting to the story, and the simulationist may vary depending on the genre they are emulating.

The gunfight at the beginning of Deadpool makes every bullet count, and it wouldn't make sense to simulate this in game with an abstract die roll after each shot to see it that was your last bullet. The bursts of gunfire from the Colonial Marines in Aliens, might be more appropriate for abstraction..."you've rolled poorly on your ammo die, drop from high ammo to low"..."you've rolled poorly again, you're spent"..."you've deliberately fired off a long burst, don't roll, just drop to the next lower ammo category".

In "The Law" I deliberately followed that second route because it seemed easier to simply allocate negative traits of "low ammo" then "no ammo" to a firearm. Such traits could be eliminated by spending an action to swap out an ammo clip. It basically works on the assumption that the Agents of the Law have plenty of access to ammunition and supplies, but doesn't reflect the possible desperation of a scene where ammo is a limited commodity. 

I generally don't like the idea of using different resolution mechanisms in an ad hoc manner, so that leaves me with a tough decision about whether to completely change the game to a bullet-by-bullet system (where a burst might do extra damage in exchange for more wasted bullets)... or just leave it as is. 

At the moment, tracking ammo clips specifically, but bullets abstractly seems a decent compromise. 

22 August, 2017

RPGaDay2017 #22

Which RPGs are the easiest for you to run?

This seems an odd question, I suspect it's asking if I prefer to run crunchy games, or if I prefer rules-lite systems. Maybe it's asking of I'm an OSR grognard or a hippy story-gamer.

Honestly, it doesn't matter much to me. There are types of games I don't particularly like to run... I don't particularly like railroading games that weave a specific narrative every time, which is probably why I never really got into many of the early Indie games. My GMing style tends toward giving the players a long leash, or maybe giving them plenty of rope to hang themselves by. Weaving logical ramifications to the actions undertaken by players through their characters.

If a game is "hard to run", I just ignore the hard parts, get stuck into the setting, focus on a few of the signature elements of the game, and in most cases, most players don't know the difference. They have a good time (or a gut-wrenching emotional time), and that's what's important to me in a game session.

21 August, 2017

RPGaday2017 #21

What RPG does the most with the least words?

Visit the Pocketmod Games community on G+, there are some great designers doing some phenomenal stuff within that format. I've probably seen more innovation there than in most other
parts of the RPG community, and I'm not just saying that because I moderate that particular community.

Otherwise, I'd be pointing back at the muse of a game GHOST/ECHO which has informed a lot of my design work since it's release. Many people have referred to John Harper's other minimalist game, Lady Blackbird, but for sheer minimalism of text and impact-per-word I have to sat GHOST/ECHO is far higher on the scoreboard.


I've finally gotten around to indexing the "Game Mechani(sm) of the Week" series. That means the tab at the top of the blog page is actually useful now. I've indexed half of the original series (which was done 8 years ago...back in 09), and will hopefully cover the later attempts to restart the series as well. Hopefully it won't take another decade to finish.


20 August, 2017

Images from the Sprawl (Part 3)

During this series of images, I reached the point where I needed to actually start creating the pictures necessary to address certain elements of the game rules. This gives us motorcycle chases, equipment depictions, a distinctive gang, and a conspiracy pin-board. Many of these images have already been added into the Dispatch Guide.