30 September, 2018

Inktober 2018

I'm going to try to challenge myself again this year with Inktober. Some years I do it and stick to a theme for my images, some years I pick two of the variant Inktober lists and try to combine the prompts into a single image.

This year I'm going to go with that second option.

Here's the official list...

...and here's the unofficial list I'll be combining with it.

Hopefully I'll get an image done every day for the month, but I don't know what this month has in store yet. 

Being ahead of the curve

I hate it when I do something, have it out in the world for years and don't really get anyone comment on it... then see someone else doing the same thing, suddenly even thoigh my version has been out for a while, yet they are considered the visionary and innovator.

I expect either a generic miniatures game or a game about spirits adventuring in the echoed dreamworlds of reality ranto be considered massively innovative in 2021.

28 September, 2018

Getting Everyone Else to Flesh out the Details

There seems to be a common thread among a lot of the popular games at the moment, whether they are indie story games, OSR, Powered by the Apocalypse, Cortex, Fate, D&D... in each case the originators of the product have developed a great framework, and they've detailed a few bits and pieces, but in a lot of cases they only really become interesting when other people get hold of them and start adding in their own flavour to the mix. This isn't true in all cases... As an example, Into The Odd from Chris McDowell certainly has some quirky flavour and interest from the outset. But generally I find a lot of the well played and over-hyped games are either blank canvases, or canvases where the starting elements can be easily stripped out so that other designers and gamers can add their own nuance to the experience.

It's one of the things that I've been trying to do in my designs, but the trick seems to be developing enough interest to lure people's attention, but not enough flavour that people are 100% satisfied with the product. You need to create a welcoming path that lures people in, but allow that path to become more wild as people follow it, forcing them to choose their own destinations and trail-blaze on their own, or maybe offer a single destination but show how the path can diverge and how unique trails can still be taken from those same starting steps.

This current game about spirits has a range of stories that help define the development and the narrative of the characters as they progress from lowly denizens of the shadowlands to veritable gods of their own realities. But I'm feeling a drain when it comes to writing up the detailed descriptions of the narrative path fragments. I could easily see dozens of people writing their own stories for spirits, stories that reflect the cultural sensibilities of the Norse or Olympian pantheons, tales that echo the Vedic narratives of ancient India, legends of the Chinese celestial bureacracy, and numerous others... but as a cis-het white guy from Australia, I don't feel like the story fragments I'd be writing would have an authenticity to them. I'd love to see other people write these tales, but I need to find a way to ignite an interest in them.

I guess it's one of those issues that many independent game designers encounter. Some are lucky enough to catch the zeitgeist, others continue screaming into the void. 

26 September, 2018

Developing Character

One of the things that bugs me about many traditional RPGs is the front loading of story, that may never be used. Copious detail is added to characters, which may never have the opportunity to be revealed in play, either because the syory doesn't go in a direction conducive to revealing those facts, or simply because the character gets killed before the truth can become known. This goes for worldbuilding and the work of the GM as well, and there are plenty of anecdotes about GMs spending days detailing a part of the world, rich with mystery and adventure, only for the players to take the right hand fork in the road rather than the left.

There are two instant ways to overcome this...

  1. You can detail every part of the world. This is the method used by many high profile games in the 80s and 90s (D&D, Rifts, Shadowrun, Cyberpunk, MERP, GURPS, World of Darkness), inundating players and GMs with so much information that everything could be found written up somewhere... of course this had the down side that players might know more about the world than GMs, or people would find their games grinding to a standstill while information was cross referenced from three different books out of a pile of sourcebooks sitting two-feet high.
  2. The second method seen more commonly in recent years can be seen in games that have unshackled themselves from this idea entirely. Instead of preloading the story, everything begins minimally and details are only added to the setting and the characters as they are needed.

I tend to play somewhere between these extremes.

I like a setting or a story structure to have enough bone that I can know roughly where things are likely to end up, what aspects could be used as firesgadowing tools, or how elements can react to the actions of characters. But I like to make sure I can add details on the fly as reactions to the choices made by characters. The bones are there, maybe some musculature and hard tissue, but the soft tissue and skin is added on as we go. The final Frankenstein's monster may be made by committee, but we know it's going to animate because the framework is there and the spare parts are ready to go.

One of my favourite ways to get a character started in their story is to ask four questions about their life at the point when their story begins. As an analogue to engineering circles, this is effectively a SWOT analysis of the character.

  • Strengths - What is the character good at? These are the one or two features that the character tends to use most often to solve their problems... often because they are good at these types of task, but maybe because they just like doing this sort of thing.
  • Weaknesses - What does the character avoid? These are the one or two features that impede the character for some reason... they may be inherent disadvantages due to a character's biology, lack of training/skill, or social circumstances, or might be situations the character avoids for psychological reasons. 
  • Opportunities - What is the character trying to achieve? This is an indication of what opportunities the character is looking for, and what they might be hoping to gain from those opportunities. If Strengths and Weakness are a static measure of where the character currently is, then opportunities provide a directional vector to the character's story by indicating where they wish to go.
  • Threats - What is stopping the character achieving their goals? If there was nothing in the character's way, there wouldn't be a particularly interesting story, there would be no real reason why that character hadn't already achieved their goals. Threats set the path of the story between where they begin, and where they hope to end.

(Note: this isn't a completely accurate reflection of a formal SWOT analysis,  it has definitely been twisted to reflect storytelling priorities)

In short form games, I like every character to have a single narrative arc defined by a single answer to these questions. If characters need to work together, I'll try to work a way where one character's weakness is offset by the other character's strength, have two characters working toward or utilising the same opportunities, or have them share a common threat. If characters need to oppose one another, then I'll make the opportunity of one character mesh with the threat of another. The rest of the story hangs on those structural elements... we have no idea where we'll end up, but the mechanisms are in place and we know it's going to go somewhere.

In longer form games, I prefer characters to have two narrative arcs. The first long objective is the final goal of the character, it is designed to last over the course of many sessions and is the characters overall agenda. The second short objective is only intended to last a session or two, it is the immediate goal of the character and probably functions as a single step on the character's grander journey. The short objectives are regularly completed and rechosen, the long objective may remain the same or it may gradually evolve as those short objectives reveal more about the character or about the world.

Here's where I'm feeding these ideas into the spirit game, and The Law. I want the characters to have a SWOT analysis to define their narrative agendas, at the moment I think it works better than an alignment because it's more nuanced and more personalised. In the spirit game a characters basic strengths and weaknesses will be defined by their spiritual origins (and current position in the celestial status quo), in The Law these will be defined by their starting caste/culture (and their sub-department in the agency...but more about that later). Opportunities and threats are where the story arcs come into play. That's the bit I'm in deep thought about at the moment.

Warhammer Fantasy has it's career system, where each job has a few expected obligations, and some potential rewards that might be offered while you stay in that role. This covers the strengths and opportunities... I guess there are threats also associated with different jobs, but these are more implied rather than explicit in most cases. That's the kind of path I'm thinking of going with The Law as an optional character development system, where characters can choose to take on specific roles in the agency, in exchange for the opportunity to gain exclusive benefits. For the spirit game, I don't think this is a good fit. I'll just stick to the story fragments.

(As a side note: Benjamin Davis had a great idea about how to resolve my issue of ascending difficulties for a spirit's stories...where each story's resolution requires more buy-in from the other members of the table. From d4 to d6 is an automatic increase, from d6 to d8 requires a singld person on the table to agree that the effort deserves it's reward, from d8 to d10 requires a majority of the table to agree, and from d10 to d12 requires unanimous consensus. I think I got that right, and I really like this... but it would only really work with four or more players. I'm not sure how we'd handle it with less. It definitely something I'd like to incorporate at some level, even if only as an optional rule.

For the moment I'm thinking of ascending difficulties for story quests. The lowest quest level (d4 to d6) might only require one success on the threshold task, then the resolution of the story may be faced with another single success needed. The next level (d6 to d8) has it's two threshold tasks, each requiring two successes before the final resolution is confronted, itself requiring two successes. Etc... up to the last level (d12 to godhood ascension) where there are five threshold tasks each requiring five successes, before a final task requiring five successes determines whether the character transcends ths game. I might double the required number of successes on the resolution tasks, because at higher levels these need to be truly epic in scope.) 

24 September, 2018


Would anyone be interested in a step by step tutorial showing how I turn my handwriting into a font? ...or any other glyphs into a font for that matter?

22 September, 2018

Vulpinoid Handwriting Font

I've been promising to create this for years, but now that I'm thinking of handwriting this spirit game I figured it was probably a good time to finally generate up a font of my handwriting. It's not going to be as authentic as actually handwriting the game, but if I make any errors then it's going to be much easier to delete, add, and edit any changes in a word processor rather than manually using liquid paper and re-inking paper. I'll probably still draw titles manually, to ensure a bit more variety in these elements that will be more prominent.

As I write this, I've done upper and lower case letters, I've still got to add in numbers and punctuation. Then I'll tweak things like kerning until the lettering looks like my naturally written handwriting.

It's a feature, not a bug

One of the things that I embedded into The Law was the idea that a character's level automatically adjusted the difficulty of their stories, and while the level was linked to the character's ability to succeed in actions, it was only a part of the overall ability. This means that a player who rushes ahead with their character's level will find that bigger antagonists face off against them, but they just don't have the skills and relevant backup from other stats. Another player who takes the "long game" approach, gradually building their character's other stats and then increasing level only once everything else is finely tuned and optimised will find things easier... bit it will be a much slower game for them.

This isn't highlighted in the rules, but it was deliberate. When I worked in the corporate world, I saw too many people who were elevated beyond their abilities to function effectively. They made a big show, they attracted big clients, but they just couldn't handle the daily activities that made those clients happy. Thus they relied on the people around them, and had to make judgement calls about who would be best able to do this. On the surface, they'd look at people on the same level as them, people who talked a big game but didn't know what they were really doing either. If they looked deeper, they'd see those other people in the office who were kept around because they didn't seek the limelight, and who were incredibly effective at working behind the scenes. Of course then there were the people in the office who had reached the middling levels with an incredible range of skills and contacts at their disposal... everyone within the company knew that they were thd true backbone of the enterprise, often kerping things running smoothly for decades while the young high fliers crashed and burned after a few years when they made one too many mistakes for biting off more than they could chew.

It's hard to do something similar to this with a flat level system, where it's assumed that everything goes up together (even if some parts of the character advance more quickly with each level due to the class specialties).

In The Law, it's assummed that characters will gain some kind of advantage or xp boost every game or two at first, then gradually less as they gain power. They are also specifically capped in their Agency Rank, by not allowing it to be higher than the character's highest attribute die. This means that after their first session, they could easily ascend from a rookie (d4) to a full agent (d6), and in a game or two could boost their rank a second time (to d8), but this incurs the higher difficulties for everyone in the team, so other agents might not be too happy with this. Getting to the higher dice (d10 and d12) will probably require waiting until an attribute is boosted, but if an agent has avoided any attribute reductions due to permanent in-game effects, it could still be feasible to reach such heights after a dozen games or so... it's a pretty rapid development compared to the long slog of D&D campaigns lasting years or even decades, but it has that built in feature that if a character reaches that level of heroic notoriety without the attributes to effect the people around them, or the defences to avoid the incoming effects launched against them, they'll crash hard.

In this new game about the spirit world, I'm not necessary going to limit the equivalent Rank die to never being higher than the highest attribute die, but I suspect that this is how things will work out by default. Characters will still pass the same advancement thresholds that they do in The Law, but they'll only be able to increase their rank once they've completed a story. At the beginning, a story should only take one or two game sessions to resolve, but as a character gains power, the more complicated stories will take longer.

It's the pacing of these later stories that I'm worried about at the moment.

(The following ideas are based on the number of story beats that would need to be hit, as a character moves through their tale) 

I like the triangular number system...


...something like it is already built into the advancement thresholds in The Law.

What I described in earlier posts goes a bit like this. Each level requires a number of story beats equal to the level number before it is completed. The overall number of story beats follows the progression. So, if a character is working through level 1, they haven't achieved a single beat yet...while working through level 2 occurs after that first beat has been resolved, and as the character progresses through their second and third beats...level three follows through beats 4 to 6... etc. But this is feeling like a rapid acceleration from lowly sprite to epic godhood.

In playtesting, I've found that the d4 rank die of starting characters is a bit problematic, but it does mean that characters have an innate desire to mitigate the issues of the low die by working together (which is always a good thing), independence only really becomes viable if you've got a decent rank die, some useful equipment, or a situational advantage (and it helps more if you've got at least two of those). So we need to get characters above that d4 level quickly, but don't necessarily want them ascending to the d10 and d12 quickly.

It might slow things down at higher levels to require triangular progression within levels rather than overall. In such a system, rank 1 would still only require a single beat, level two would require (1+2=) 3 beats, for a cumulative total of 4. Level three would require (1+2+3=) 6 beats, for a cumulative total of 10. Level four would require (1+2+3+4=) 10 beats, for a cumulative total of 20. Level five would require (1+2+3+4+5=) 15 beats, for a cumulative total of 35. If we assume a beat is hit every game or two, then it would take 35-70 games (an average between these games would be 52, which happily coincides with a year of weekly solid game play).

An exponential system could also work here.
...doubling gives us an faster progression through the numbers until we get to thst last level, when things really decelerate. I think I'm happier with that triangular progreesion within each of the levels.

The only problem I've got nagging at the back of my mind is that it's all feeling a bit abstract and artificial.

So that leaves me thinking about other solutions... but that will be the next post.    

21 September, 2018

Handwritten Games

When I wrote Catacomb Quest, the aim was to create a pocketmod by literally hand wtiting and illustrating the whole thing on an A3 page, then to reduce this sheet to an A4 page. As an idea, it worked reasonably well, but after writing up half of it I made a mistake, and then there was another mistake made towards the end of the manual illustration part of the process. These were all fixed up in post, using Photoshop, but I basically decided that if I were going to do this kind of thing again, I'd draw up the eight pages of the pocketmod separately, or maybe as 4 double-page spreads.

In this current spirit world project, I could re-use spreads that are common across different pocketmods, and if I stuff up a single spread I can just redo it rather than needed to redo the whole pocketmod. Yes, I can just make changes in Photoshop again, but this modular approach feels better for the project.

I think it might also be time to finish developing a font from my handwriting too... maybe that will be today's project.

20 September, 2018

What do characters do?

When I developed The Law there was an automatic driving force within the narrative of the game. This was a game about keeping the peace in a post cyberpunk dystopia. That's a good basic premise, it gives the characters something to do automatically. There are inherent things within the setting for characters to react to, because there is always crime happening, and if the character don't address those crimes then things will either gradually crumble into anarchy around them, or rapidly explode into rioting and revolution. As a GM, you don't need to define scene by scene storylines for players to be led through, but if you want to create cases for characters to investigate it fits within the premise, and you can always punctuate events with street crimes to react to when the pacing needs to be shifted. It's a fairly open world concept, characters can go wherever they want, they can be virtuous protectors of society, or corrupt monsters, but there are always expectations of them to keep a facade of order for the citizenry.

This is one of the reasons why I favoured Werewolf: the Apocalypse over most other games in the classic World of Darkness. There was an inherent drive in the story of an approaching spiritual apocalypse, monsters coming out of the shadows to destroy reality needing to be confronted, because if the player characters didn't confront them, then who would? Vampire: the Masquerade had it a bit, but that was more about personal stories confronting a struggle against a monstrous beast within. I always found it a bit more of an effort to tie together the stories from various characters unless there was a specific arrangement between characters to get involved in one another's stories, or unless some kind of metastory was added into the narrative, like turning the characters into local sheriffs for the Prince (which basically turns the game into the same sort of set up that I used for The Law). Mage: the Ascension was even more open ended, and even more in need of a coherent metastory to avoid spiralling into a lack of structure.

D&D/OSR seems to run to two extremes, either you have defined narrative in the form of scene by scene descriptions and the trope of dungeon exploration, or you have complete sandbox freeform. The idea of giving characters a push toward a direction, but without giving them an explicit path to take seems alien to many games within this paradigm of play. 

Yesterday's post looked at a specific set of story structure fragments for individual characters to follow. Today I'm thinking it might be necessary to create another metastory pocketmod booklet that frames those individual stories in a wider context. Warhammer Fantasy 4th Edition did something similar to what I'm thinking of, when it introduced a concept of party sheets.

In this idea, the party has it's own goals, and a basic mechanism that reinforced the types of stories that would naturally revolve around this type of group.   

So, to keep the game about spirits fairly open ended, but to maintain a degree of focus for the stories, I'm thinking it might be a good idea to develop a few of these booklets, which might have a range of trope scene types for the type of narrative described, along with ideas for goals, potential experience gains, and specific bonuses and penalties that might be commonly encountered. Such stories would probably have to provide a basic grounding, a starting point, rather than act as a restriction on the narrative. These are additional things that the characters can fall back on if they don't have the motivation to pursue something of their own. They would also probably have a few restrictions based on the membership of their group, where some might be limited to groups with certain character types in them, others might be limited to low or high level groups (or might explicitly require a mix). These group stories could be exchanged at any time, as long as the consensus agrees to such a change.

An idea here might be defending a specific territory in the mundane world, this would require characters who are able to interact with the world in some way, and who have some kind of vested interest in the integrity of the location.

Another idea might be acting as messengers of a pantheon of deities, roaming the spirit worlds. Such a story wouldn't require characters capable of worldly interaction.

A third story might be the discovery of an existential threat that could potentially infect, or even wipe out, regions of the spirit realms if not adequately addressed.

Characters may then confront the idea of whether it is better to fulfil the goals of the group, or their personal goals. That's the kind of decision making that really makes a game interesting for me. 

19 September, 2018

Stories of the Spirit World

It interesting that if I divide a character's journey according to their development in a power die from d4 through to d12, there is a rough correspondence to the development of character levels in the old-school BECMI progression. The 'B'eginner levels are where a character starts to understand who they are, and the 'E'xpert levels are where they start to understand how they as person fit into the wider world around them. The 'C'ompanion levels are where they start to become movers and shakers within that world, and the 'M'aster levels are where they gain dominion over the mortal world. The 'I'mmortal level is where characters confront the gods themselves and become so powerful that they transcend the world entirely.  

With that in mind, here's the basic description of the various pocketmods that would contribute to a character's story progression. This varies from "The Law" because that game assumes a basic progression through the ranks of a pseudo-paramilitary police force. In this game about spirits, things are a bit different, but then again, this game is about mysterious spirit realms where magic and paranormal power are far more powerful factors in play. Each story is a fragment of a path, and they can be mixed and matched to describe the development of numerous character types.

Level 1 (d4àd6)
Awakening – The story of a character’s journey from spiritual drone, through instinctive aptitude, and through to full sentience.  
Breaking the cycle – The story of a character who has existed as a minor bit part in a mythical story or archetypal dream, but who gains self-awareness and breaks free to forge their own story.
Flashbacks – The story of a character who has lived a long time, but has only occasionally interacted with the wider world, they accumulate their power by revealing the truth about their life so far (with revelations both positive and negative to explain why they are here).
Minor pact – The story of a character with little power of their own, and on the edge of chaotic oblivion, but who gains strength and stability by forging an alliance with a mortal in the central realm.
My name is… – The story of an amnesiac character who is starting to gain flashbacks of their former existence, until they regain enough of their life to begin moving forward again.
Sidekick – The story of a character who was stuck in a rut, but is broken free by a more powerful spiritual entity.
The first steps – The story of a character who is newly formed in the spiritual realms, coming to grips with the nature of their existence.
This isn’t like I remember it – The story of a character displaced in time or space, someone who had power/prestige/skill in their former life, but now needs to restart their path to power.

Level 2 (d6àd8)
Confronting my fears – The story of a character who lost power due to an incident that has left a long-lasting mark on their psyche, and how they learn to overcome it.
Cult – The story of a character who manipulates the central realm in ways that draw the attention of the mortals, and who learns to draw power from the emotions and beliefs of those mortals.
Lesser Foes – The story of a character who has a number of lesser adversaries across the spirit realms, and what they do to eliminate those foes.
Major Pact – The story of a character who has achieved a level of power, but has learned that making a major pact with a powerful figure in the central realm can be a path to something greater.
On my own – The story of a character linked to another through a pact or as a sidekick, and how they manage to achieve a destiny of their own.
Stability – The story of a character who had gained power too quickly and who had become unstable in the process, and the things they do to regain stability.

Level 3 (d8àd10)
Am I sure this is who I am? – They story of a character who has gained power, but feels the need to change their lifepath from the way they had been heading.
Arhat – The story of a character who has begun to recognize their obligations and ties to the world around them, and who starts the path to transcending dukkha and moving toward nirvana.  
Conqueror – The story of a character who has felt the call of nobility and dominion over those who surround them, and the actions they undertake in order to claim that power.   
Friends and enemies – The story of a character who develops a reputation, and has to deal with those who have been impacted by that reputation.
Greater foes – The story of a character who has made enemies in their journey so far, and who now has to deal with those enemies and their more powerful allies.
Hero’s Journey – The story of a character who is forced into a journey beyond their control, wherein they find and elixir, and return with it to their home.
More than the sum of my parts – The story of a character who has reached the limit of their innate power and who must now move beyond themselves to become something greater.
Sect – The story of a character who has started gaining followers, and how they lead those followers toward a base of power far greater.
Shadow of a nemesis – The story of a character who has drawn the attention of a single antagonist more powerful than themselves, and the ways they gain the power to confront that foe.

Level 4 (d10àd12)
Ascension – The story of a character who has gained mystic power, and begins a journey to deeper enlightenment and intuition into the deeper forces of the universe.
Avatar – The story of a character who has awakened an innate divinity, and must now complete a sacred task to take on their role as a member of a pantheon of celestial beings.
Bodhisattva – The story of a character who eliminated a great number of their worldly bonds, and who must now confront the essence of their inner being to become an enlightened being.
Legendary Tale – The story of a character who must now engage one of the great tales of the world, echoing the story of a mythical god or titan, to gain the legendary powers of that entity.
Religion – The story of a character with a great number of followers, and who begins the process of legitimising the faith of those who follow them.

Level 5 (d12à+)
Force of Nature – The story of a character who has become so powerful that they no longer have a meaningful understanding of what it means to exist as a mortal. This leads to them becoming an entity beyond time and space, an embodiment of a concept.
Godhood – The story of a character who belongs to a pantheon or who has numerous worshippers, where they now begin the process of creating a new realm of their own as the alpha and omega.
Transcendence – The story of a character who has confronted their inner nature, and who now must decide whether to become one with the buddha, or remain as an intermediary and guide to others on the immortal path

Every story element will be broken down into:
Tasks – which are commonly associated with the need to be completed. There will typically be three or four tasks associated with a story, and if a character attempts at least two of them during a session, they gain an experience point.
Risks – which may be associated with actions undertaken as a part of the tasks
Rewards – which may be gained when tasks are completed (these may come in the form of a specific range of abilities, special advantages, or attribute increases)
Thresholds – which are a specific type of task indicating the character’s progress through this story. Stories will generally have a number of thresholds equal to their level, progressing through a threshold typically requires a dedicated scene focusing on the character, and it may take more than one session of play to pass through them all (where it is typically expected that a character will pass no more than two thresholds per session of play). For every threshold passed earns an experience point.  
Resolution – which is a specific type of scene that may be confronted when all the thresholds associated with the story have been resolved (in one way or another). Successfully resolving the story grants an increase to the power die, while failing to resolve the story may have its own ongoing ramifications (at low levels this might simply require trying again, intermediate levels might see a loss of a ability/attribute/advantage, while the most advanced levels might see the instant death of the character).     

Pocketmod Plans

I've toyed with the idea of a game and a setting about spirits existing in quantum realms orbiting the core reality of consensual space a few times. Every time I've been hindered by a few fundamental concepts that have seemed insurmountable.

The first time was before I worked out any of the current stable game systems I'm utilising, then I looked at a game of modern magic revolving around familiars, and the spirits certainly overlapped that paradigm.

Now I'm thinking... "to hell with it, just do it".

It all links back into other projects at the moment, and I'm just felling like I need to spin things a bit while other elements of my life are in flux.

So here's the idea...

A campaign focusing around a bunch of limited duration playbooks. Each playbook written into a pockemod, a standard set of rules written into a single pocketmod, and a bunch of story arcs written into pocketmods.

Playbooks each describe a specific type of spirit, at the moment I can think of 9 types of spirit. Some might end up getting bundled together, some new types might be generated if there are noticeable gaps in play. The aim is that these playbooks define roughly a third of the character with specific mandatory elements, then provide some specific options to define another third, and the remaining third is basically given free rein from a variety of standard options that all characters can choose from. We'd be looking at a base range of attributes, a few skills, and some advantages that specifically reflect the type of spiritual entity portrayed by the book.

  • The Ghost - A character who was once a part of the central realm of existence, they retain a connection to it through their descendants and the legacy they have left behind. They are unable to enter the central realm except through possession and through limited gifts that allow them to manipulate or communicate with it. 
  • The Familiar - A character spawned of magical power, drawn to those in the central realm who are able to instinctively manipulate these energies and who act as catalysts for true magic among those who are willing to make bargains. They traverse the spirit realms looking for new ways to manipulate reality and retain stability as they are inherently unstable beings.
  • The Godling - A character born of the fractured avatar essence of a famous deity, they may be known in legend as a lesser god or demigod, but are more likely forgotten by mythlore, or have simply yet to make their mark. They need the beliefs of the central realm to sustain them, and have a specific sphere of influence related to their celestial parent(s). 
  • The Dreamer - A character who lives in the central realm but may be comatose, or capable of astral projection. Such a character is unable to enter the central realm, because their body already exists there, they have more stability than other character types, but less power also.  
  • The Elemental - A character who exists as a personification of a fundamental force underlying reality. They are somewhat alien in their thought patterns and hardwired into certain instinctive actions due to the elemental force that comprises their essence, but this also grants them significant powers within a specific sphere of influence. 
  • The Fragment - A character of the dream realms who feeds on the phantasms of mortal dreamers, but who is also shaped by those phantasms. Such a character might find it easier to manipulate the central realm by interacting with those who are asleep, hoping that any requests or information are capable to surviving the lucid barrier between sleeping and waking worlds when the dreamer regains consciousness.
  • The Nightmare - Like the fragment, but drawing power from darker emotions. Such a character finds it easier to manipulate the central realm, but is always considered an enemy by those who live there.
  • The Immortal - A character who transcended the mortal state, perhaps through alchemy or some dark pact. They have outlived their natural cycle in the central realm, and whenever they choose to visit the realm their mere presence sets up psychic ripples that alert the guardians of order to their presence. The have little in the way of magical power, but their knowledge and range of skills are incredible. 
  • The Alien - A character who has come from an entirely different collection of spirit worlds. What they consider normal may be very different to what entities from this realm consider normal. They may be completely missing certain abilities that most members of our collective realities consider second nature, but may have powers totally unfathomable to locals.
The Core rules pocketmod would basically be a stripped back version of the rules found in The Law. In fact this whole system idea could be used to create mysterious otherworldly entities capable of being portrayed as characters in that game. 

Story Arc pocketmods would each provide a range of ideas for story elements that would build toward a narrative arc including things that character would need to do within the context of their story, ideas for the types of actions that might be useful to that story, and ways for a character to gain experience within the scope of that story. These would also have specific thresholds to indicate when the story has moved from its introduction to its main body, and then climax, and finally a series of potential end conditions because no story lasts forever. Once a character has completed their story, they may choose to embrace a new story, but for these purposes I'm thinking that there should probably be levels of story (maybe something as simple as "basic"/"intermediate"/"advanced"), and a player will need to pick a higher difficulty of story if they wish to continue with this character. If I'm using the base system from The Law (The SNAFU system), then a character might have to complete a story arc before they are able to increase their hero die.

This all feels like it could work, but I'm worried about how much effort it will be to get the whole thing working smoothly.  

17 September, 2018

The journey awaits

As I sit here playing the waiting game, I have a hundred ideas that I want to start work on, but as I said in my last post, I really don't need to start on new stuff when there is existing stuff that needs to be finished off.

Part of the problem here is that more than 75% of my house is currently packed up for a move where I don't know where I'll be heading, and I don't know when it will occur.

I'm losing readers here at the blog, because I'm not particularly doing much interesting at the moment. People are moving on to other people with more exciting things to observe.

At the moment, I'm just sitting here working on more geomorphs and trying to avoid getting frustrated by bureaucracy. I'm just feeling like I need to do more, but don't know if I should start it out of fear that as soon as I get started, life will have a major shake-up and any new projects will be abandoned until life settles down again.

Anyway...here's some dungeon geomorphs with pipes on them.

Maybe it's time for a little project again, like a pocketmod. Maybe a pocketmod miniatures game?

15 September, 2018

False Starts

Two train trips this week meant two false starts on a new project.

I start things to keep my mind active, because grinding down on existing projects is often monotonous, and frustrating. The problem here is that I realise, once I get a bit into the "new" project that it isn't really new at all. Quite often I'm just retreading the same ground, or fusing together elements of two old projects.

It's like taking a massive journey, walking a few hundred metres from home, going back to the house and then starting another journey the next day. Even if you set out in different directions every day, you don't really get anywherr, but you do develop intimate knowledge of the local area around your house.

I feel like I've developed that intimate knowledge in a specific field of game design, but it doesn't feel like an area that many other people want to play in. It's adjacent to a few different more popular areas, and occasionally another designer will lead their players across my patch, bit their always using it as a stepping stone to somewhere else.

This week's starts looked at a simple miniatures exploration game using the modular dungeon fragments. But once I looked at them, I realised I'd already explored these ideas from various angles. One attempt started looking like a variant clone of Catacomb Quest, another attempt started looking like BYOM, a third version was looking like The Law.  

I started to wonder why I was even bothering with rewriting stuff I'd done previously.

So, instead of rewriting something that is very similar to unfinished projects I've already got on tne backburner, I'm going to add to an existing project and try to get it into a state that I'm happy showing to people. That means nailing down the BYOM rules, creating some sample starter characters and a few scenarios, then bundling together a playtest kit. Ra

12 September, 2018

Dungeon Geomorph 50

I've done 50 of these modular dungeon geomorph components now, and gradually I've been trying to push the envelope with them.

I've similarly generated about 40 tables to go with various maps (where a few of those tables have been applied to two geomorphs because they just worked... or because my muse fled as I was putting together the 10-map booklets).

Another 10 of these, and I'll be ready to upload a new batch to the store... then it might be time to take a break and work on some other projects for a bit.

10 September, 2018


Between generating modular dungeon geomorphs, revising the quartermaster's/equipment guide for The Law, and tinkering with the 'Bring Your Own Miniatures' rule set, my creative game design work has been pretty busy lately.

That's meant I haven't posted much.

I remember a time when I was posting every second day, if not daily.

I'm even finding that I don't post daily pictures on my Instagram, but instead post batches of catch-up shots that I've taken over a week or so.

Life is ge erally in flux at the moment. I really want to do more of something, but I want that something to be meaningful. Maybe finishing off the 'BYOM' rules, or knocking out that equipment guide in the next week or two. 

At the moment, I've given up on the idea of exposure in the rpg or game design world... I'm just happy churning out work because that's what keeps my mind active. Maybe some time, a few years down the track, someone prominent will say "Hey, look at this guy! He's been doing the stuff we've been trying to do for years... and look at the catalogue of work he's produced." But if it doesn't happen, screw it, I'm doing what makes me happy.

04 September, 2018


The Modular Dungeon project was primarily designed as a tool to quickly lay out a battle map for the "Bring Your Own Miniatures" system I was working on. As a secondary objective, it was intended to be versatile enough that it could be used with a variety of games that use grid based combat systems.

But the BYOM system isn't just a combat system, it is intended to have teams of miniatures fulfilling objectives and weaving together ongoing narrative. That means it's time to add some more variation to the maps... variation in the form of quirky things to do, objectives, and other elements.

To those ends... here are some pipes which will be embedded into one of the next batches of maps. I'll probably also include some pipe valves to be manipulated. 

03 September, 2018

Modular Dungeons - 1, 2, and 3

This morning I uploaded parts 2 and 3 for the Modular Dungeons project.

And I've just added a bundle that allows people to purchase the first three parts at a reduced cost.

That bundle can be found here.

A few people have already started purchasing the products in this new range, so that's always good.

I need to scan in a few more elements that I've drawn, and then I'll be able to start creating a few more of these. I'll be happy when there's 10 of these packs.

RPGaDay (Parts 21-31)

21. Which die mechanic appeals to you?

I like die mechanisms that provide good detail with minimal effort, some people refer to these ideas as rich resolution systems. One Roll Engine comes to mind as an example of this… D&D and Pathfinder are the opposite of this because they require a lot of effort with application of modifiers and sometimes reference to tables, before a simple pass/fail result is generated.

This is why I love the Otherkind die system. You roll a bunch of dice based on the number of problems your character is trying to avoid and the number of success criteria that might be associated with the task. Once dice are rolled, you allocate the results of individual dice to individual criteria. Each die has an outcome associated with a specific element, this way players can choose what is more important to their character at this point in time. It allows a stronger control of the narrative while keeping an element of randomness.

22. Which non-dice system appeals to you?

If I want randomisers in my game, I’ll often stick to cards which can be read for their rank and their suit, instantly creating a rich resolution system (richer than many die systems at least). If I’m not going with dice, I often prefer the LARP notion of using no system at all and relying on human nature, and player skill when it comes to manipulation of events and resolution of combat.

23. Which game do you hope to play again?

I hope to play something akin to Raven’s Nest again. It’s one of my long term goals to create a new incarnation of it, combining live action elements with miniatures, in an elaborate and spectacular set-up.  

24. Which RPG do you think deserves greater recognition?

The Law

But if it comes to games that I haven’t written, then my mind tends to gravitate to games that get more recognition than they deserve. If I had to pick something, then I’d consider a game like “Big Eyes Small Mouth” which was a stripped back system with a decent amount of crunch, it felt like it was influential toward to designs of many games I the years after it’s release, but there weren’t a lot of games that admitted to this influence. Maybe it was a case that these games referred to other games, which were in turn influenced by it… so the connection between games wasn’t as direct… maybe people didn’t want to directly indicate their inspiration from this game because it was never intended to be something serious, and was instead generally used to simulate anime.

As a spin-off of this, the “Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai” game, which was a project branching off from “Big Eyes, Small Mouth”, deserves huge recognition as a game trying new things with a single-player/single-GM narrative format. I don’t recall seeing similar ideas in games for another decade or more.     

25. Name a game that had an impact on you in the last year

Relics by Steve Dee is a really interesting idea, and I love what he’s doing with it. I’ve discussed it a couple of times over the past year, but the first time I really played it was at EttinCon just over 6 months ago.

26. Your gaming ambition for the next year

At the time of writing, I’ve just sat my interview with the NSW Department of Education, with the intention of becoming a teacher of visual arts and industrial arts. I’m hoping to be posted a position in a school at some time in the near future, and in that school to set up a gaming club for students which will focus not only on play, but also on getting kids to design their own games. There has been some incredible work using roleplaying and gaming in the classroom across the Scandinavian and Northern European countries, and I’d really love to play with some of these ideas in classrooms of my own.     

27. Share a great stream/actual play

I’ve only started watching and listening to game streams and actual plays… sorry, but they have been boring me. I watch the screen and see that in a lot of cases there is an enthusiastic GM who drives everything, while a single player is engaged and most of the remaining players sit there bored waiting for their turn. Watching and listening to these reminds me of many of the worst elements of participating in a convention game under a bad GM… with the added problem that I know I can never participate in the game, so I’m stuck with those other bored people I’m watching.   

28. Share whose gaming excellence you’re grateful for

I’m grateful for an old friend named Michael Corbin who was running game conventions in the 1990s. This is the time when I first started going to conventions, and I ran a game session that he wrote. His advice really helped at the time, and prompted me to meet a number of other legends in the local game scene including folks who founded the “Australian Freeform” scene and pioneered some incredible concepts in live-roleplaying that are now being considered innovative as they are being discovered by the Jeepform and Nordic crowds.  

29. Share a friendship you have because of RPGs

The strongest and best friendship I have because of RPGs is my marriage. I met my wife at a LARP, I fell in love with her through LARP. We haven’t gamed for a while, but hopefully we’ll find another group to join soon.

30. Share something you learned about playing your character

Perhaps the most important thing that I learned about playing a character is the fact that you don’t always need to be the centre of attention, you can be the supporting character in someone else’s story and still have fun.

31. Share why you take part in RPG-a-Day

I love to share my ideas about games and love to read other people’s responses about similar subject matter. RPG-a-Day helps to build the gaming community, and it’s nice to feel a part of the community.