30 April, 2018

The Chrono-Labyrinth

My One Page Dungeon Entry is pretty much finished. It was submitted today, but could probably do with a few tweaks.

Here's a link to the current status of the dungeon.

29 April, 2018

#AprilTTRPGMaker 28: Favourite Interview

This is one of those weird questions. I guess every selection of monthly question lists and drawing prompts has at least one odd one.

As indicated earlier, I really don't listen to podcasts or streams, I don't religiously read a lot of blogs.

But, I think it was yesterday when I saw John Harper's History of Blades starting to do the rounds. 

I don't know that it's my favourite interview, I haven't even finished watching it, but the first few minutes got me hooked and I love the idea of an open discussion where dead-ends, and creative obstacles are at least as important as the final end product.

I know there have been influential interviews in magazines in the past, interviews that got me thinking "Hey, I can do that", but as I'm writing this I can't think of any other specifics...sorry.

#AprilTTRPGMaker 27: Feature a TTRPG Designer

I've held off on this one...knowing I wouldn't get a mention on anyone else's responses, but curious to see who else has been mentioned. I've seen a few of the usual suspects come up, so I've naturally decided to go with a designer who hasn't been featured so far...

...another Aussie game designer.

Nathan Russell 
(he doesn't seem to have done much on G+ lately, so it's probably a bit silly linking to his profile there, but I feel dirty linking to Facebook.)

The Peril Planet Website can be found HERE

The DrivethruRPG Shopfront can be found HERE

Nathan is the founder of Peril Planet games, while also being a drama teacher, father, and all round nice guy who lives in Newcastle, just north of Sydney, Australia.

I first met Nathan almost a decade ago at GenCon Oz 2008, but had known him a little while before that online through forums such as Storygames and 1km1kt. I've since been to his house at least once, visited his gaming club in Newcastle, and generally stayed in contact via online means. When I met him he had just released a quirky little game called "Space Rat", which has been out of print for a while now.

Most people who do know of him, probably know of the game FU (Freeform / Universal) which he released in about 2010, and has seen over 5000 downloads. This has been one of those fun little games that has developed quite a following with numerous hacks around, along with plenty of translations into languages beyond English.

Nathan doesn't have a whole lot of stuff on DrivethruRPG, but he always seems to be working on some new project when he isn't busy educating a future generation of creative students.

Have a look at his stuff, there's some great ideas within.

28 April, 2018

One Page Dungeon 2018 - Work in Progress

Every time I enter the One Page Dungeon Contest, I try to do something a bit different to the standard flat layout or isometric dungeon that most people feel constrained by.

The first year I did a dual coloured maze, where players would wear tinted glasses to see one colour of the maze or the other. Another year I created a cylindrical map that was printed on a sheet that was taped so that one side lead directly back around to the other.

This year, I'm going for something different again.

It's a dungeon with 10 sections that plays out in real time. While you're playing, you run a clock or stopwatch non-stop. When you move out of one section of the map, you enter a section corresponding to the final digit of the minute in the current time... even if that means re-entering the same section of the dungeon that you just left. Many parts of the map will have dead ends meaning that some areas of the labyrinth will literally only be accessible at specific times, and the main treasure chamber will only be accessible as a time limited section which is itself only accessible by another time limited section. To ensure the mystery and confusion of the labyrinth, players will be expected to map the dungeon for themselves.     

RPG Research

Apparently the RPG Research Project has been going for decades, but I've only just heard of it. They claim to predate the research work of Ron Edwards and The Forge, so I really have to wonder what they've been researching.

I'm going to dig through this site more thoroughly at a later date, but here's the link for other people who might be interested (and so I can find it again myself).

RPG Research

27 April, 2018

#AprilTTRPGMaker 26: Blogs, Streams, Podcasts?


Actually, I erratically read a few, but most of the people I regularly follow (see the lists on the side of this blog for those names) don't post that often.

More often than not, I'll do a Google search for a specific game topic, and that will lead me to someone's blog. I'll read a few related posts, then move on.

I used to listen to Clyde Rhoer's Theory from the Closet podcast pretty religiously, and I always keep an eye out for new Core Mechanics vlogs from Paul Stefko, but generally between university work, looking after a sick wife, and trying to get my own ideas out there, I don't have much time to read or listen to other stuff.

If anyone has some good suggestions, I'm all ears.

26 April, 2018

Diary Twists (..but need more)

The first part of Apocalypse Diaries is based on the typical teen soap opera that was prevalent on the TV channel CW, before all the DC superhero shows became popular. I guess those types follows are probably still screened, but they aren't really the kind of thing that keeps my interest for long. I've always found these shows more interesting when they get to they end of their run are are filled with stupid stuff to try and lure back the ratings. The bit between the shark jump and the inevitable axing.

That's where these twisting storylines come from. Some are typical soap opera or teen drama fodder, some are a bit more extreme... they'll get more extreme as either time goes on or the apocalypse crashes across the world. The question is which events will be more chaotic, hopefully both will be good fodder for stories.

I need more of these. Currently I'm thinking that there will be a playbooks depicting different types of characters, with 13 common story twists, and 13 twists for each of the playbooks. (forget about the game effects on these for the moment, they're subject to change)

Current Listing

  • The least prominent character in your list becomes more significant in some way (do they owe you a favour, or do you owe them?)
  • The most prominent character in your list reveals something that turns them from a friend to an enemy (or vice versa) until a certain situation resolves
  • A random character on your list is unable to be contacted (they are in jeopardy for +7 days)
  • A random character on your list is also present in today’s incident (if this means there are two characters present, they are fighting over something…pick a side)
  • Something is happening at the most prominent place in your list, if you are somewhere else you hear about it. If a location wasn’t specified, you are there.
  • Something is happening to a random person in your list, if you are with someone else, you hear about it from them. If a person wasn’t specified, you are with them.
  • A random place on your list has been shut down, it is in jeopardy for +7 days (if it hasn’t been mentioned in the past 7 days, it is permanently closed until the next epic success) 
  • The most prominent character in jeopardy needs your help, they will be removed from play if you fail (if none in jeopardy, the least prominent character on your list is now in jeopardy for +7 days)
  • The police are asking about the last character you mentioned, they are in jeopardy for +7 days (if they are your most prominent character, they also want to talk to you about your most prominent trait)
  • You discuss one of your goals with the most character from your list, can they help you? (if you have already discussed this goal with them and they can’t help, choose another goal. If it has been established that they can help, you get a step closer to your goal)
  • You will need to use your highest status to help the character in this scene out of a situation (the character will owe you a favour after this).
  • You will need to call on a favour from a character of your choice not currently present in the scene, or your highest status is in jeopardy for 7 days
  • You hear about an illness going around, your health is in jeopardy for +7 days  
  • Rumours are spreading around, your reputation is in jeopardy for +7 days

#AprilTTRPGMaker 25: Being a TTRPG designer means...

Being any kind of designer means looking at the world and seeing it for more than just it's surface features. It means seeing the patterns that lie beneath and reaching conclusions about how those patterns have been shaped by forces such as functionality, intentions and motivations of the concept's originator, the way a viewer or participant engages in the design, and considering where outside forces such as social values, economic constraints, and technological barriers have impacted on the final product and it's experience.

(Sorry, I've spent too long studying design, art, sociology, and para-linguistic communication at university).

Being a TTRPG designer means creating a system that may be used to emulate an experience on the table. Such an experience may strive to emulate elements of reality (but attempting to do so with any sense of comprehensive simulation has always proven problematic in my experience), or it may strive to emulate a specific genre of fiction by incorporating or alluding to certain tropes commonly associated with the genre. Like all design, it means remaining aware of everything else that is going on in the design space, and being willing to accept new ideas, or at least investigate them before jumping to conclusions. It means not being an OSR grognard who can't accept that anything good might come out of the story-game community, conversely it means not being an avant-garde storygamer who only sees the OSR as troglodytic throwbacks. It means constantly refining your work to make it the best it can be, and accepting that at some points your "refinements" are actually just corrupting the design, and that it's time to move onto something new. 

25 April, 2018

#AprilTTRPGMaker 24: Most Notable Achievement

I'm looking at the other people running with this hashtag... I see things like "That time I won the Ennie for this"..."the time I won two Ennies for that"..."this particular high profile game that's sold tens of thousands of copies"..."the kickstarter I ran, which earned tens of thousands (if not hundreds of thousands"..."that critically acclaimed rpg that people still talk about"...


Here... the best I can say is maybe the 750,000+ page views here on the blog... or the free game FUBAR which has seen several thousand downloads (but not even 50 paid downloads to be considered a copper best seller on DrivethruRPG/RPGNow)...

Maybe my most notable achievement was not appearing on anyone's "people who helped you" posts yesterday...or "biggest influences" posts earlier in the series. My greatest achievement seems to be my ability to obfuscate myself.

24 April, 2018

#AprilTTRPGMaker 23: People who've helped you

Still waiting on that elusive help...

No, actually, there have been a few people around the design scene who've been useful contacts and friends. It's just that none of them have led to regular work in the industry, often providing plans that never eventuated, one-off commissions, or occasion feedback.

One of the driving forces in the local gaming scene, who has offered me more work through his game Relics... Steve Dee

A dynamo of energy in the Blue Mountains, who set up his own twice-annual convention and has always been supportive... Matt Horam

An owner of a comic shop in Melbourne who has offered to be the first Brick-&-mortar store to sell my gaming products (I really need to get back to him about that)... Jim Vinton

An assortment of game design locals who I've met and have discussed game related things with on several occasions... Jez Gordon, Benjamin Davis, Nathan Roberts, Keiran Sparksman, Nathan Russell, Andrew Smith

One of the driving forces behind the free gaming website 1km1kt, and who was always supportive as I started developing my own games publicly... Rob Lang

The Norwegians who were willing to stop at my house for Kangaroo steak and to share a game night... Matthijs Holter, Ole-Peder Giaever, (and I'm sorry but I can't remember our third visitor that night)

The people around the world who I've never met, but who I interact with regularly here on G+... (in no particular order)... Emmett O'Brian, Tore Neilsen, Fern Kali, Ian Borchardt, Sandy J-T, Tony Demetriou, Gremlin Legions (Michael Wight), Eva Schiffer, Matt Widmann, Craig Vial, Gennifer Bone, Justin Halliday, Brie Sheldon, Dan Maruschak, Jaye Foster, Josh T Jordan, Keith J Davies, Kyrinn S. Eis, Kira Magrann... I'm sure there are many more I've forgotten to add at this point.

All in all, the community has been great. But there feel like so many of us struggling together to make sense of the whole thing, occasionally one or two of us might rise out of obscurity for a while, but there are so many things going on that we all seem to get drowned out in the noise.

#AprilTTRPGMaker 22: How do you document ideas?

Too much uni work, falling behind.

Notebooks, scraps of paper, memo files on tablets and laptops.

When the muse strikes, I have to get the ideas out of my head while I can.

Often the notes sit and fester for a while before they get integrated into a project, at which point a word document is used to compile ideas into a semi-logical state.

It might be easy to say that for every 100 scribblings on paper and in memo files, I get 10 semi-logical games or settings, and a single final product. But it's more like 50 crude ideas getting mixed and matched into 20 half complete ideas, which then become 4-5 more specific ideas, of which 1 might get published... I documented my process back on day 9. 

22 April, 2018

A Game of Variable Pocketmods

Here's my current thoughts on Apocalypse Diaries.

Pocketmod 1... the basic rules.
Pocketmod 2... the specific variations to the rules for the character you've chosen (including character sheet on the back page)
Pocketmod 3... the specific apocalypse for this character's story.

To play the game, a player will need:

  1. three pocketmods
  2. a diary (with plenty of space to write in... probably a page per day)
  3. a pen
  4. a standard deck of cards

(I envision players purchasing diaries that embody the lives of the character's before the apocalypse hits... girl character's being written in the cutest diaries that can be found, jocks writing their entries into diaries depicting their favourite sporting teams, business people writing into formal planners, etc.)

Basic play procedure follows the Texas Hold 'Am procedure.

Before you write anything, draw three cards. The highest of the three cards will describe either the person involved in the incident you are describing, or the location where it occurs; the lowest will give a thematic prompt, for the diary entry.

Each day you should write a minimum of 3 sentences. Included in these sentences must be a person you either observed or interacted with, the place where this occurred, at least something alluding to the events around this incident. You may choose to include more than one person in the incident, but only one person will be the focus of the activities described. You may choose to write about two or more events during the day if you feel it appropriate, but try to write at least two sentences to set up each incident.

After writing the first two sentences describing the incident setup, underline the focal person of the incident and the location where the incident occurred. Draw a fourth card for the day to see how this event is twisted.

A fifth card determines the potential risks and rewards inherent in the incident.

The player draws 1 to 4 cards based on what their character can bring to bear in the situation, the opposition draws 1 to 4 cards based on what difficulties are faced by the character. The best hand from the cards available to the player, or the opposition, determines the outcome.

I suspect this might end up being a bit too complicated, but we'll just have to try it in a series of playtests.

21 April, 2018

#AprilTTRPGMaker 21: How many playtests?

The answer to this is always "one more"... but if I waited until enough playtests were completed, I'd never get things done. Perfect is the enemy of good.

I usually try to test my games at least three times. Write, initial private testing (either running through the mechanisms myself, or spitballing with one or two others), then rewrite or refine. Second test is usually done in a more formal game set up, among friends or perhaps online. With the feedback from that wider community, a second revision is done. If I had the resources, here's where I'd add in more tests and refinements. Instead the final test is usually done at a convention, with random strangers playing the game... I'd love to get blind playtesting happening with strangers both running and playing things, but if anyone has a reliable way to get that happening I really want to hear it.

Usually, by this stage, I either put the game aside, letting it sit and mature for a while, or start working on layout.

20 April, 2018

#AprilTTRPGMaker 20: Favourite design tools

Lots of people seem to be saying "pencil and paper", "pencil and notebook", or "word processor", as a response to this question. While it may be a valid response, or even a good answer to a question about the most commonly used design tool, I don't think I could really call any of these my "favourite".

I think my favourite design tool is the ad-lib. When I say this, I mean modifying a situation on the fly, getting players to do something on the edge of their comfort zone and using rulings that twist the existing rules to fit a situation they haven't specifically been designed to handle. The process of archiving that situation and  modifying the rules to accomodate things in future comes later... it's the moment of critical thought, reaction, and design by instinct that is my favorite moment, and it's  subconscious design tools from studying numerous games and just grokking the situation with modifications that just feel right, where my favourite design occurs. 

#AprilTTRPGMaker 19: Game that's most essential to your design

No one game is essential to my design. I've voiced my disdain for hacks time and again, and I certainly don't make my game design life focused on redesigning the one game over and over. Anything I make might be a blend of components from three or four games, with an idea or two of my own thrown in for good measure.

Yet, despite this, I do admit that there are a few games that contribute their components more often than not.

Mage: the Ascension
Completely divorced from the clunky core mechanisms of the Storyteller system, the magic system of Mage is brilliant, but then again the game is called Mage, so it would want to be. Actually, there are a few great game ideas that set the tone for the various games in the World of Darkness once you strip them away from the core system. Those are the elements that give me inspiration.

Warhammer Fantasy Role-playing
The career system in WFRP has been a strong influence in many of my designs. The low magic grim fantasy has also been a strong aesthetic when I've produced non-modern settings.

The lifepath system in CP2020 has been a strong design inspiration in much of my work.

For most of the rest of my design practice, I believe it's important to experience and understand as many different designs as possible, see what they're trying to do, see what they actually manage to do, where they work, where they fail, where unexpected serendipity brings alternative effects to the table.

19 April, 2018

#AprilTTRPGMaker 18: Current Inspirations

So many...in no particular order.

Mad Max
Judge Dredd
The assorted folklore of various local Indigenous groups
The ferrets we share our house with (Red Sonja, Agent Brodie, Agent Ellie Bartowski, Machete, Monroe, Rosalie, Lucifer, Mazikeen, and Chloe)
The other animals in our house (Okami, Inari, Rhubarb, and Peking)
My wife, Leah.
The animations of Ralph Bakshi
Getting magic "right" by way of John Constantine, Newt Scamander, Dr. Stephen Strange, Aleister Crowley, Taoist alchemy, and assorted indigenous folklore.

...that'll do for now.

The Czege Principle

It's killing me.

If I had to put into words the barrier that's always in my way when I start working on Apocalypse Diaries, I don't think I could put it more succinctly than Paul Czege did over a decade ago.

"When one person is the author of both the character's adversity and its resolution, play isn't fun."

Apocalypse Diaries has always been designed as solo play, which has meant that a player weaves their own narrative, but it's not designed to tell the story of a "Mary Sue" or a "Marty Stu".

...well that's not entirely true. I don't care if the character's in Apocalypse Diaries start their lives without major problems, and with everyone desiring them and fawning over them. But this should only game make the apocalyptic fracture in the game more dramatic when all hell breaks loose.

I want players to be able to introduce things, but not know if those things will be beneficial or detrimental to them until they've been in the story for a while. I want the randomness of cards (or other effects) to shape the character's destiny as much as the written words...and mostly I want a systemic feedback loop where words and rules interconnect in a coherent way, but still leave scope for surprises.

Is it possible to circumvent the Czege Principle for an evocative solo play structure?

I must look at that RPG I downloaded a couple of weeks ago which people claimed to have an excellent "solo mode" option to it... now what was it called again?

18 April, 2018

Best Seller

I've been so busy focusing on why people haven't been noticing or buying my games, that I hadn't noticed one of my little games actually reaching a sales threshold.

Tooth and Claw has gained "Copper" best seller status on DrivethruRPG.

I hadn't noticed this because I usually look at my products through the RPGNow shopfront rather than the DrivethruRPG shopfront. It takes 50 paid sales on a single shopfront to gain one of these little badges, and I've got a few other products slowly crawling their way towards a similar status... quite a few of my games have sold 60 or more copies, but those sales are scattered between the various shopfronts of the OneBookShelf network, so no others have the mark yet... despite their regular turnover trickle of sales. Then there are the free-release and pay-what-you-want products, which have hundreds if not thousands of downloads, but only a tiny percentage of paid sales.

Still, it's nice to see a slow but steady growth in my stuff.

17 April, 2018

#AprilTTRPGMaker 17: Favourite form of feedback

Heavy guitar distortion and fuzz...

Oh. You still mean regarding game making...

Most beneficial form of feedback, and favourite feedback are different. My favourite feedback would be hallowed praise and words claiming my genius, along with numerous sales and seeing word-of-mouth spreading across the internet.

My most beneficial feedback is constructive criticism, where it really shows that someone has read the work, possibly even put it into play. I don't expect people to know what was in my head when I've put together a cluster of mechanisms to create a game, I don't often try to expose those processes in the final product, but when someone gets it, I'm happy. Conversely, when someone offers a "suggestion" which returns one of the problems I've been avoiding in the ecosystem of play, that bugs me... bit at least it makes me think.

Feedback that makes me think is good.

#AprilTTRPGMaker 16: Any Design Partners

I've tried it once or twice, it wasn't for me.

Or maybe it was just the wrong design partners, or the wrong time in one of our lives for a partnership.

Every time I've tried to partner with someone on a project, they've flaked on me, I've flaked on them, or we've just had creative differences on the project and walked our separate ways.

It was probably about 20 years ago when I had my most successful game design partnership with Dave Chandraratnam. We wrote freewheeling chaotic games for the local convention scene. Pushing boundaries in both narrative, and the way games were played. We lost contact when work and varied social commitments pulled us apart, but occasionally I wonder what happened to Dave.

After that, I've had a few attempts to collaborate on comics or games with a dedicated partner, but my only successful attempt at partnership has been the 15 years with my wife... and every time I've tried to game design with her has been tense to say the least. 

16 April, 2018

#AprilTTRPGMaker 15: Do you design in public or private?

Actually, a bit of both.

The most public I get is through this blog (which just passed 750-thousand views), but the feedback I get from the blog isn't necessarily huge, except from my few regulars... thanks team.

As I said in the previous response, and as I often repeat, I often feel like I'm riding a zeitgeist... drawing on the same influences as many of the designers around me, which often leads to similar outputs. If I were to design completely privately until things were ready to show, I'm just a single person working to a goal, so design teams will inevitably beat me to the punch...and specialists in those teams will ensure good production values, and good exposure. So my work, even if I start earlier will often appear too late and might look like an inferior copy.

I'd rather design publicly so at least I can point to the progress before someone else's product comes out. I have no fear of people "stealing my work", in fact I'm basically resigned to that after having "freelance artists" claim credit for my illustrations, and numerous game ideas spontaneously appearing in other designs as I'm similarly working on my own.

It's frustrating...but it's a hobby, and I love doing it. I'm just glad my life doesn't depend on it.

#AprilTTRPGMaker 14: What are you hopes and plans?

Honestly, I've just spent five years retraining at University because my previous career was filled with psychopaths, sociopaths, and pressure to succeed at the expense of the wider community. RPG and game design was always my outlet and pressure valve. I hoped it could be a long term career, but I didn't win the fame lottery and I don't have bucketloads of cash to promote a lacklustre product, so that never got anywhere.

At the moment, my gaming endeavours are spread between LARP, miniatures, boardgaming, and traditional RPGs. I've tried fusing two or three of these elements together, but every time I'm working on a combo, some other more prominent designer or company does something similar and releases it to wide acclaim as an "innovation in the industry"...and I get demoralised and start something else.

I guess that's where a cluster of my hopes and dreams lie. I'd like to ride the zeitgeist and actually get something out there which inspires other people without being completely overshadowed by someone else.

My other big dream is currently to finish my degree, move to a rural community as a teacher and buy a property which can be semi-dedicated to LARP and gaming... with onsite accommodation designed to look like a fantasy village (or two). This would be a Mecca for the regional LARP groups capable of handling overnight and weekend events, it would also be a site for other gaming groups to come to, or even a regular convention site. We'll see how that one goes in the next few years.

15 April, 2018

#AprilTTRPGMaker 13: Biggest Influences?

I'm coming to this one a bit late after having the flu for a few days.

Reading through a lot of people's responses, there are the same regular names that keep popping up. A lot of those names have influenced me too, probably mostly because they won the fame lottery and happened to be in the right place at the right time. Whether they're actually better designers than others who are struggling away at the hobby, that's a matter of much debate. Whether they deserve to be as renowned as they are... well seriously, do the Kardashian's deserve to be famous? What do they actually do for society?

I'm going to try and keep the cult of personality out of this response, instead focusing on games, mechanisms or movements in the hobby. Also, most of the influences I've seen have been positive things to aspire to... there are also negative influences which indicate things to be avoided.

Early Influences
Positive: TMNT
I played a few games before this, but TMNT was the first game to show me how much fun an RPG could be. It was also eye opening to see a game which wasn't set in a pseudo-medieval fantasy world, so this really opened my eyes to the potential of gaming.
Positive: Darksun and Planescape
Just as TMNT had shown that not all gaming had to be fantasy oriented, Dark Sun and Planescape showed me that not all fantasy gaming had to look like traditional fantasy. That blew me away, and became something I've tried to emulate ever since. 
Negative: The Satanic Panic
Watching friends have their RPGs burnt, and having my own RPGs destroyed and thrown out as rubbish was a big influence. I never saw gaming as evil or satanic, just as a way of opening up the imagination and mind to new ideas. That's where I realised that organised religion is just a cult, fearful of new ideas and highly reactionary when they show. Roleplaying was my escape, my sticking it to the man, my punk.

Later Influences
Positive: Mage the Ascension
A perfect storm of philosophy, rebellion, postmodernism, and zen. Mage was the game that pushed my experiences to heights I've tried to reach again, but it always felt hamstrung by the Storyteller system. It's the game I've always wanted to perfect, but never managed to achieve.
Positive: the Big Model
Like all sociological theory, the Big Model was filled with words that didn't quite mean what they appeared to, and we all took something slightly different away from it. But the work at The Forge set a seismic shift across gaming, leaving some amazing stuff in its wake.
Positive: The Stockade
All the big stuff in gaming happened overseas. In the UK, or North America, or quirky stuff from Europe. Any time something started in Australia, it lasted a few months then faded away. The Stockade was the first attempt I was aware of for multiple Aussie designers to work together, on their projects but feeding back to one another and sharing resources. Then it collapsed...
Negative: Hacks
I always thought that writing and "publishing" a hack was sheer laziness. If you're gping to write something, make it truly visionary, make it your own. Don't just tweak someone else's work and claim credit for it. As a result, I've generally avoided the Hack scene.

Current Influences
Positive: G+
Since I joined in the platform's beta phase, the communities on G+ have been an amazing source of inspiration and influence. I've met so many people here a d have seen so many great projects develop.
Negative: Powered by the Apocalypse
I appreciate it in some ways, I hate it in others. I suspect that if it weren't for the cult of personality centred around it's founder, the whole thing would gave imploded by now. I think too many people are claiming too much from the Apocalypse engine, and most of it is just hype... I'll just stand over here doing my own thing.
Negative: The OSR
Another one of those perfect storms but this one works in reverse. We didn't have our roleplaying games destroyed in the 80s just so wanna-bes could write hacks that ramped up the trappings of satanism, occult nonsense, and in-yer-face controversy, expletives or other rudeness on the cover. This is the kind of bullshit that gives the hobby a bad name. Get over it, grow up, don't take us down again.

Ideas for writing things in Diaries

Here's a few of my scattered accumulated thoughts for this project...

Draw three cards.
If you drew more red cards than black, use this list to prompt today's response.
(The lowest card determines the rank question.)
A - What do you want most?
2 - What is stopping you getting it?
3 - What else do you want?
4 - What is stopping you getting it?
5 - What won't you sacrifice to reach your goals?
6 - What might you sacrifice to reach your goals?
7 - What will you sacrifice to reach your goals?
8 - What have you sacrificed already?
9 - What do you want people to know about you?
10 - What don't you want people to know about you?
Face - What dream did you have last night? (Add the red joker, if not already present in the deck)

If you drew more black cards than red, use this list to prompt today's response.
(The lowest card determines the rank question.)
A - Who do you like most?
2 - Who do you like least?
3 - Who do you respect?
4 - Who do you owe a favour to?
5 - Who owes you a favour?
6 - What do most people know you for?
7 - What do your friends know you for?
8 - What does your family know you for?
9 - ?
10 - ?
Face - What strangeness did you see today? (Add the black joker, if not already present in the deck).

(Note that the red card question list is more internalized, while the black card question list is more external.)

Have you previously answered this question?
  No. Then include the answer to this question in today's entry.
  Yes. Then consider the suit...
    ♥️ - What emotion does this make you feel?
    ♠️ - What disadvantage has come into your life today as a result of this?
    ♦️ - What advantage has come into your life today as a result of this?
    ♣️ - How has this come into conflict with what you discussed yesterday?

Other Questions in mind...
 How can the most recent person you wrote about help with the most recent goal you wrote about?
What have you done today to gain an edge over the most significant person in your life?
What is the greatest advantage you have over the people around you?
What other advantage do you have over people?
What disadvantage do you face compared to the people around you?
What other disadvantage do you have compared to other people?

Pick a template (where certain templates will provide ideas for the following categories,  or may provide restrictions on how high or low certain values must be).

  1  three full days or six half days of commitments/obligations
  2  two full days or four half days of commitments/obligations
  3  one day or two half days of commitments/obligations
  4  no restrictions on time
(Examples of commitments/obligations: college classes, job shift, parole officer meeting, sports training, religious observance, regular date night, etc. Consider what might go wrong if you are unable to attend this event. Once will cause a minor issue, more times missing the event will cause major issue.)   

  1  adequate
  2  comfortable
  3  wealthy
  4  rich
(Resources might be spent temporarily to overcome minor issues, to acquire a stockpile of certain possessions as a quirk, buy up your status, or other storyline effects).

  1  2 friends / 4 enemies
  2  3 friends / 3 enemies
  3  4 friends / 2 enemies
  4  5 friends / 1 enemy
(Everyone starts with 6 people in their lives, these may be people in their circle of friends, classmates, family members, neighbours, sporting team mates, work colleagues, old friends from school, or something else, they will be described over the course of play and will often have their own goals and abilities)

  1 Outsider / Accepted by a specific subculture
  2 Generally Accepted / Well known in a specific subculture
  3 Known / A prominent member of a specific subculture
  4 Famous or Infamous / Considered a leader in specific subculture
(This is generally how accepted you are in the wider community, and your level of prestige within a more specific subculture. It allows you access to favours you might not be able to accomplish on your own, but calling on them may reduce your status)

  1  2 useful abilities
  2  3 useful abilities
  3  4 useful abilities
  4  5 useful abilities
(These are abilities you can perform on your own, but if you use them too often, people will learn your tricks and learn to work around them, or might start seeing you as odd for doing things on your own and not being sociable).

The sixth category
I think I need a sixth defining category, mostly for symmetry, where characters will be created by distributing a 1, two 2s, two 3s, and a 4 between the six options.

14 April, 2018

Revisiting an Old Nemesis

One of my white whale projects is called Apocalypse Diaries. The concept has generally revolved around a single player game, where the players literally buys a diary and writes entries in it day by day from the perspective of a fictional character. The entries they write form the basis of a story, where an iterative system provides writing prompts based on the previous things written while adding plot twists, benefits, complications, gradually developing the character and sometimes changing them as they respond to the events in the world.

It was always intended to play out in two phases... pre-apocalypse and apocalypse... surviving in a Machiavellian world where the highest stakes are loss of reputation, friends, wealth, or possessions, followed by surviving in a world going to hell, where literal life and death are on the line.

After the Catacomb Quest project, I'm thinking of revisiting the concept, perhaps running each phase of the game as a procedural engine in it's own Pocketmod.

The first part of the game would still revolve around a life balance of maintaining social status versus maintaining personal integrity. For this I'm thinking of a incorporating a sliding scale of independence, where a character may choose to identify themselves as one of the in-crowd, or may have quirks that mark them as different. Such quirks provide useful abilities when working independently, but make it harder to be accepted by the vapid and superficial inner circle who determine who has social prestige.

The second part of the game would still revolve around using the resources and friendships built up during the first part of the game. Watching them get used up, and hopefully surviving long enough to find sanctuary. The dominant sliding scale at this stage of the game would be more about he character maintaining their humanity, or conscience, or something like that. The less humanity they have, the more dirty tricks they are willing to take to survive, the darker their story becomes, and the less people will be willing to trust them.

I still need the fundamental core mechanism that ties the whole thing together. Probably a deck of cards...maybe the iterative writing prompts could be generated Texas Hold 'Em style, thete's plenty of scope for interpreting elements of the card draw, ranks, suits and combinations thereof. But the more complicated I make it, the more difficult it will be to fit the rules into a pocketmod, especially if I'm going to hand draw the thing again.

13 April, 2018

Catacomb Quest is Live

Go there... get it now.
Here's the link.

#AprilTTRPGMaker 12: How do you get your work out there?

Why write my own, when this post by Dan Maruschak already says almost everything I would want to say on the topic?

Why get frustrated that my work generally doesn't get out there, when a number of people have commented that their own work wouldn't have gotten out there if it weren't for face-to-face networking at conventions in North America or the UK? Or just lucky breaks?

For the last 10 years, I've been involved in several initiatives to get Australian game designers recognised. In most cases, one or two designers have been raised above the rabble, while everyone else either continues to struggle along in obscurity, or has their profile marginally lifted.

In the past six years, I've been studying and my game design has been a backburner project. I'm not actively getting my stuff out there, instead I'm just refining what I do, and getting the rest of my life on track.

Most of my stuff can be found on RPGNow/DrivethruRPG, print stuff on Lulu, and a few free games still lingering on 1km1kt

I also try to do things like this, or participate in design competitions when I can.

#AprilTTRPGMaker 11: What's yer brand?

In one way, this question is a reframing of day four's "Describe your work", in another it's all about your presence as a designer and how your stuff gets presented to the outside world. The second option leads into tomorrow's question, so that's how I'll go with answering this one.

I think I was about 12 when I first came up with a fox-like creature that I called a Vulpinoid. I knew that dogs were "canines", cats were "felines", wolves were "lupines", but I was curious about foxes and found out that they were "vulpines"... I figured that if something resembled a human, it was humanoid, and therefore if something resembled a fox it must therefore be "vulpinoid".

I came up with a little symbol on the flag the creature was holding, and for the past 30 years the symbol and the name "vulpinoid" have kind of stuck.

Refinements have been made to the symbol, but the essence has remained with a triangular head and distinctly pointed ears circumscribed in a framing circle.

The aim of products bearing this imprint are to make people think, to reward cunning over brute force, and to look at things with fresh perspectives or twists in them.

I'm not sure how successful that's been. 

11 April, 2018

Catacomb Quest (H/S/R version 3)

We're getting closer with this thing, I might put it up for sale tomorrow (PWYW, or maybe a dollar, then turn it into PWYW when it reaches $20 in sales, or something like that).

Basically, it could be a pocketmod, or you could cut the sheet into quarters (with each quarter being... character sheet, Player's rules, advanced rules, and GM rules). 

#AprilTTRPGMaker 10: Favourite Game to relax with

I think this is a trick question. It seems that if I want a game, I have to run the game. I've got a crowd of players who irregularly are willing to show up to games when I run them, but rounding them up can be like herding stray cats... and there's never the opportunity to just sit back and let someone else do the heavy lifting. 

The only real time I get to relax with a game is when I go to a convention, and even then it's more a case of knowing who is on the table more than knowing what game we're playing.

I can honestly say that I don't have an answer to this one.

10 April, 2018

#AprilTTRPGMaker 9: Describe Your Process

It's a bit complicated for words, I think in a more visual manner.

09 April, 2018

H/S/R version 2

Marginally upgraded

One point each in the classes of "Hunter", "Scholar", and "Raider". Allocate 6 more points, but no more than 3 points in each.

Hunter - Use for fighting, tracking enemies, performing physical feats, etc.
Scholar - Use for knowing things, discerning clues, fixing items, etc.
Raider - Use for sneaking, picking locks, disarming traps, etc.
Indicate two skills, relating to two separate classes. 
Indicate a single piece of equipment. 

For any task, choose the most relevant class, then roll 2d6. +d6 for a useful skill, and +d6 for a piece of suitable equipment, -d6 if a disadvantage applies. Each die higher than the action's class counts as a success, each 1 counts as a botch. A success may be used to cancel a botch, or accomplish the task at hand (easy tasks = 1 success, typical tasks = 2, hard tasks = 3+), additional successes provide a one-off strategic advantage on a future roll for yourself or an ally, or a disadvantage for an enemy [pencil this in]...you may also erase any pencilled text/line/dot, or ink it in to make it permanent. Each uncancelled botch causes a piece of equipment to be damaged or confidence to be lost in a skill [pencil a line through it]; otherwise gain an injury [write injury in pencil], or add a point to the class used in the action [pencil it in].

At the end of any adventure, erase any pencilled marks, and gain either a new piece of equipment or new skill.

This would need another quick guide for GMs to run the thing, and a mini character sheet. Certainly the whole thing, Player's Guide, GMs Guide, and character sheet, would all fit in a single pocketmod, or with a small font, three separate cards... 
  1. Character creation and character sheet
  2. Action mechanisms and character development
  3. GM Guide


Allocate six points between the classes of "Hunter", "Scholar", and "Raider" (no more than 3 points in each).
Hunter - Use for fighting, tracking enemies, performing physical feats, etc.
Scholar - Use for knowing things, discerning clues, reading books, etc.
Raider - Use for sneaking, picking locks, disarming traps, etc.
Indicate a two skills, relating to two separate classes.

For all tasks choose a class suitable for the action, then roll 2d6. Add d6 if you have a skill, and another d6 if you have a piece of suitable equipment. Each die that is higher than the action's class counts as a success. Each roll of a 1 counts as a botch. A success may be used to cancel a botch, or accomplish the task at hand (east tasks take 1 success, typical tasks take 2 successes, hard tasks may take 3 or more), additional successes provide a strategic advantage on a future roll for yourself or an ally (an extra d6 to roll), a disadvantage for an enemy [pencil this in]...you may also erase any pencilled text/line, or ink it in to make it permanent. Each uncancelled botch causes a piece of equipment to be damaged [pencil a line through it], an injury to be gained [write injury in pencil], or add 1 point to "Hunter/Scholar/Raider" [pencil it in].

At the end of any adventure, erase any pencilled marks, and gain either a new piece of equipment or new skill.

#AprilTTRPGMaker 8: Describe your Routine

3 sets of 10 Push-ups. 3 sets of 10 Barbell Bench-press. 3 sets of 10 Standing Dumbbell press. 3 sets of 10 Leg Curls. 3 sets of 10 Crunches. 2km run around the block. 4km walk to the shops and back, with the return trip weighted down with 10-15kg of household groceries.

...oh, you mean for game design.

I don't really have one. I like to keep it fun, keep it interesting, and keep it varied. Game design isn't my full time job or my only source of income, because if it was I'd have starved a long time ago. I get in what design work I can while looking after a sick wife, a mengerie of animals for a rescue organisation, and my university studies.

There are no regular routines in this house.

07 April, 2018

#AprilTTRPGMaker 7: Your workspace

One end of my house is my dedicated art studio and design space. It wasn't necessarily intended to be that way, but it's just how things worked out.

Of course, since this is a dedicated space for art and design, it means I invariably do more art and design work in other locations such as...

...on the train...

...while I'm walking...

...down at the creek where the platypus can sometime be seen...

...or just about anywhere. It's not the kind of thing you can just switch off.

Cover Illustration

I've  been toying with photographs I took earlier this week. Tweaking colours, adding subtle (and not to subtle) details, and trying to get them right for a university project.

But now I've decided that they need to be used in a game project... possibly a part of the dark places, or maybe something spinning out of the urban sprawl in The Law. We'll see.

06 April, 2018

#AprilTTRPGMaker 6: Favourite Game Mechanic

I've mentioned it many times over the years, but I love the concept of Vincent Baker's "Otherkind Dice", I think it was a regressive step back to the mechanisms of the Apocalypse engine. The concept of having multiple outcomes associated with a task, all determined simultaneously by the rolling of multiple dice, then allowing the player to decide which results are allocated where to direct the narrative... that's an amazing concept. Pulling it back to a linear scale of degree of success, that feels like a cop-out from someone who saw the brilliance of the sun then decided to hide back in their cave... maybe not regressing to the shadow-puppetry by firelight of Plato's cave of D&D/OSR flat linear pass-fail, but certainly not working out a way to shine that brilliance into the troglodytes.

Yes, I'm that passionate about the concept. 

Trying to tie that core mechanic into a coherent system has been an ongoing quest for several years now. 

#AprilTTRPGMaker 5: Favourite Game you've worked on

Of course my favourite completed game at the moment is The Law. It feels like the best possible evolution and convergence of the systems I've been developing and publishing for years. A few of my other games will always have a special place in my heart, and in the future I might create another game that becomes my new favourite.

My favourite uncompleted game would be my Walkabout project. But it demands a degree of attention that I just can't afford to give it at the moment. 

Sometimes I wish that I had worked on one of those big tentpole games that everyone knows, but just because I'm a white male designer it doesn't mean I automatically get in on those prestigious titles. Being on the opposite side of the world to those conventions where everyone gets to meet each other face to face doesn't help. 

05 April, 2018

#AprilTTRPGMaker 4: Describe your work

My work mostly consists of free, pay-what-you-want, or nominally charged products. It's often in pdf form, typically available from DrivethruRPG, usually on the lower side of page counts, and lighter in rules than most "mainstream" RPGs (while heavier in rules than many of the popular "indie" games). When I dabbled in comic book artistry a while ago, I was told by some people that my work was too formal for their company, while other people told me my work was too loose...my game design work seems to exist in a similar niche that's hard for people to pigeonhole.

The rule sets I try to produce have enough flexibility that the core system can be minimally adapted (on the fly if necessary) to fit a variety of situations in the story being told, while having enough sturdiness to keep going without major issues if something unexpected does come up (without needing to create ad hoc new rulings). While I believe the overall system does impact the ongoing narrative, I don't believe that you need a completely new set of rules for every specific story that you want to tell.

Visually, I'm trying to push the boundaries of layout... games and rule sets presented in the form of comic books... pocketmods... games with rules printed on playing cards... encumbrance systems that work like the equipment grids in computer RPGs. I don't think there has been enoigh innovation in this area, and I think that can be one of the biggest hurdles to outsiders approaching the hobby.

04 April, 2018

#AprilTTRPGMaker 3: How did you start creating TTRPGs?

In high school I was running games for everyone and thought to myself...

"Hey, I'm picking and choosing the bits I like from different games anyway... why not just write down my favpurite bits from different games, stick them together and then I'll have the perfect system for my style of play"

It wasn't that easy.

I keep most of my design notebooks, and this post is running late because I wanted to take a photo of some of my earliest ones... these have got to be 25+ years old. The very first game design I came up with, I no longer have. A friend in high school borrowed it, ran his own campaigns with it, then we lost contact with one another as our post-high-school lives moved in different directions.

The basics involved rolling 2d6 (plus attribute+skill) compared to a difficulty (6 easy, 9 average, 12 hard, 15 extremely hard). Attributes were rated from 0 to 3 (0 bad, 1 average, 2 good, 3 awesome!!), skills were rated the same way. I remember there being 10 attributes: 5 were internal (charisma, intelligence, luck, memory, wisdom), 5 were external (beauty, endurance, reflexes, speed, strength). Skills were all sorts of things with hundreds of them, but they were linked to specific occupations. Occupations were divided into groups such as adventurer, warrior, religious, psionic, and magical. Hit points were based on endurance score and a multiplier determined by the character's race. Races also provided a base number of free skills that a character could choose at generation, a range of attribute modifiers, a couple of quirky abilities, and possibly some kind of limitation on starting occupation.

I remember playing once or twice with this system, but my friend ran it far more. We were going to work together to make it awesome...but we didn't see each other for over a decade (I actually ran into him on my third buck's night, on the evening before my wedding...but that's another much longer story). 

03 April, 2018

Tenth Anniversary Post

This is the 10th anniversary of the blog. I wouldn't have even noticed that I'd started the blog on the 3rd of April 2008, and that exactly a decade has elapsed except for the fact that I was digging back thrpugh some archives, trying to work out how my current thoughts on game design have changed since I started this whole thing.

It looks like I started the blog as a means to vent frustrations over work, I had left a toxic workplace amd had started studying web design at TAFE (A government operated vocational college, for those who aren't in Australia). I guess I was either bored in the class, or we were doing a unit of work about blogs and online journals.

Statistics show that the first few years didn't see a lot of action. That's probably due to the meandering subjects, the lack of focus, and the fact I didn't have the blog linked to any particular social media... numbersicked up for a while when there was a Facebook app directly feeding my posts here to my profile there. But it was only when I connected the account to my G+, and when I was picked up by the RPGBloggers aggregator, that people actually started noticing the stuff I'm doing.

The other two big hits of readers came through my mapmaking series in late 2013, and the time when I tried to offer a review of every GameChef entrant in 2015.

...and I've almost accumulated three quarter of a million views.

In the time I've been working away at this blog, D&D has seen the release of 4th and 5th edition, and Pathfinder has spun off from it...also seeing an imminent new edition. The Forge has gone. The OSR has gone from a niche thing with a few practitioners to a driving force in independent gaming, while story games have fragmented, and generally died off to be replaced by a thousand clones of Apocalypse World... yes, there are still indie games and "story games", but they're all overshadowed by the OSR and the PbtA stuff from what I can see. Give it another 5 years and something else will take a stranglehold over the hobby, maybe Blades in the Dark variants.

I've released both FUBAR and The Law in that time, as well a numerous other games, made a bit of money, enough to keep my game buying habits alive... and I've also finished a Diploma, a Bachelors degree, and almost completed a Masters. 

02 April, 2018

#AprilTTRPGMaker 2: Where ya at?

(Apparently there is a hashtag for this thing, I didn't realise that yesterday)

I live just over 100km southwest of the city of Sydney, Australia... on the edge of a region called the Southern Highlands.

 Here's a map of where I am.

And here's a few pictures of the typical environment I see every day...

The time I have to wake up to catch the only morning bus that will get me into the city at a reasonable hour...

The train line that was closed down in the early 80s, because it wasn't profitable to keep it running regular services, but now sees steam trains from the local railway museum every Sunday.

I will probably move house during the second half of this year as I'm finishing off my teaching degree. I have no idea where I'll be moving to, I'm willing to go anywhere in the state where a woodwork/metalwork/visual-arts/photography teacher is needed.