Convention Report: Student Nationals 2019

April 12-15 this year we were in Glasgow for the Student Nationals or NSGRC1)National Student Gaming and Roleplaying Championships 2019 where we had a great time despite some unfortunate setbacks.

Student Nationals always has problems – it’s a convention that moves every year and is always organised by students who’ve never organised a convention before. If it went perfectly I’d get a little bit scared.

So the problems we saw at this particular nationals:

  • The roads around the buildings being used were under massive amounts of roadworks. This wasn’t the organiser’s fault – they had no forewarning of the works – but it did cause some transport issues.
  • The board-game groups didn’t have the staff, or indeed the games, that were expected. The organisers had given the wrong date to the Board-game Cafe that had agreed to help, and the Cafe had ended up double booked.
  • The tea-selling stall wasn’t allowed to sell hot water, despite having been told in advance that they would be; which caused them quite some consternation.
  • There was a significant shortage of dice available, as all the traders had expected there to be a specialist in dice present, and there wasn’t. In future this could be avoided by contacting the local store-based traders and informing them that such stock will be in demand – if no specialist is interested.

 

And what they did particularly well:

  • The traders closed at an appropriate time – if we’re next to the bar, we can close late, but we weren’t so a closing time of 6:30 was just about perfect.
  • The trade hall was in an active building with multiple things going on – including the closing ceremony at the end of the event.
  • The lunch breaks of the games were allowed to be whenever appropriate, rather than enforcing a specific time, meaning that people trickled to the trade hall over the course of several hours, rather than it being jam-packed for half an hour and dead for the rest of the day.
  • The Artist’s Alley had a good set of artists who could do character portraits for players; providing an extra draw to the trade hall, and an extra service for the gamers.
  • The shortage of dice sellers likely made our time a bit more profitable, by freeing up the con-goers funds.
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References   [ + ]

1. National Student Gaming and Roleplaying Championships 2019

Play-test Report: Rise of Legions

Due to a rather annoying illness I was unable to make it to my regular board-game playtesting this month, but I have been doing some playtesting – admittedly, of a rather different sort.

The Free-to-Play game Rise of Legions is currently in “Early Access” – or, in other words, open playtest.

It’s a member of a category of games that I personally enjoy, but have very rarely seen – pretty much only in old UMS (Use Map Settings) maps for Starcraft, SC2 and Warcraft 3 – the tug-of-war battle game.

A close relative of the MOBA (or DotA-like) genre of games – which perhaps unsurprisingly began in the same UMS environment of Starcraft – a tug-of-war battle game is akin to a real time strategy game in which you build factories to produce units, but can’t actually control those units.

That might sound limited, but the strategy in terms of which units to build when and where can prove surprisingly deep (with factors such as unit synergies and counters resulting in interesting interplay, and strategic decisions on whether or not you want to give ground in order to allow faster responses from your newly built units) especially when a little extra spice is layered on top. Rise of Legions definitely manages to spice it up a little, incorporating three additional game layers.

The first is the addition of direct summoning and casting – during the game, in addition to your spawners, you can directly summon units onto the field of battle, and support them with spells. This doesn’t overshadow the tug-of-war aspect as the units you can summon are for the most part identical to those you can spawn (with the exception of powerful heroes in the top tiers of the game), and the spells all require the involvement of your units to make a meaningful impact – the spells can never damage the end-game goal and thus can never be the final decider.

The second layer is tied to the first – while you may play any spawner you have from the very beginning of the game (or at least, as early as you can afford it) your summons and spells are gated behind time barriers. Some spells turn on after the first 4 minutes, while others become available after 8. Those end-game spells can alter the battlefield entirely, and enable huge pushes that ensure the game ends on time.

The final additional game layer is the “deck” building system – before you start playing Rise of Legions you need to pick which summons, spells and spawners you will have access to, with a total of 12 available to you. As each one has a cooldown, you may wish to have multiple identical spells or spawners, to ensure you can always use them. As is common in games without a resource system within the deck, you’re limited to two of the four available archetypes; darkness, light, nature and technology.

Rise is, to me at least, a very fun game even in its incomplete state. The devs have taken an interesting approach to the free-to-play monetization by twisting a very common – and very maligned – form of monetization and combining it with their matchmaking system.

Cards have different levels within the game; stone, copper, silver, gold and (for the computer opponents only) gem. To level the cards up takes either “grinding” – that is to say, playing the game a lot – or the expenditure of purchasable currency. Cards of higher levels can be used more often, and only a small proportion of the cards are even available at the stone or copper levels.

Normally this would be a deal-breaker for me on a free-to-play game – after all, I don’t find it fun to exist purely as the punching bag for wealthier players – but in Rise of Legions they’ve made it work because of a clever mixture of factors:

The most key factor is that you can only match with people playing decks of the same level – if you have a gold card in your deck, you will only match with other gold players, leaving the stone rank players alone.

But that alone would be a bandage, rather than something that made the game shine. The shiny aspect of it is the way that the two factors of leveling combine – at each level you have more options to put in your deck, and more ability to reuse the same option as the game goes on. Thus at higher levels the game is more complex, while at lower levels you’re still making meaningful choices when building your deck; at higher levels you are deciding which 12 abilities you’ll have, at lower levels you’re deciding which of the 7 abilities available to you you’ll have more than one of – or, if you go two-colour, which of the 14 you’ll have and whether you’ll go for one copy or two.

Overall I give rise of legions a massive recommendation if you’re looking for a free-to-play, lightweight strategy game that’s over in less than half an hour a go.

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Mother’s Day: Parents in Roleplaying

Today’s blog is inspired by the fact my mother’s been visiting me this weekend – which is also the reason why it’s late.

When roleplaying, and in genre fiction in general, there’s a strong tendency to ignore the question of character’s parentage – it’s something of a stereotype that every main character is an orphan, and not without cause; it provides an easy source of pathos and gives the character an easier time abandoning their mundane life.

But as seen in Superhero comics being an orphan doesn’t really preclude a character having parents – Spiderman has Uncle Ben and Aunt May, Superman has the Kents and Batman has Alfred.

The parental role is a lot more than just blood – I have one grandparent left among the living and she’s completely unrelated to me by blood, but she raised my mother and has always been there for me.

I made card in honour of my nanna, Jane Baker – I originally wanted to include references to both her maiden name (Smith) and her current surname (Broadbent) but unfortunately they didn’t fit in the format. Still, the card made her smile so I consider that a job well done!

Often people assume that parentage only matters if it’s innately significant to the plot – in my main weekly campaign we have one character with such a parentage, The Minotaur, child of The Elf Queen.

But while there’s no inherent plot significance to them two other player characters have had interactions with their parents – a noble high elf was encouraged to defend his parents estate on the back of a great beast (a Koru Behemoth for those familiar with 13th age – a walking mountain for those who aren’t) while our wood elf ranger often spends time with his parents between adventures, two high elves and two gnolls.

In prose fiction there’s a principle of conservation of detail – don’t mention anything unless it matters – but said principle is flexible in terms of what “matters” means, and parents have a large influence on a character’s motivations. In RPGs that principle shouldn’t be applied on such a large scope anyway – never assume that just because parent’s are mentioned they need to be directly threatened with disaster – that kind of “attack-the-backstory” attitude results in shallower characters with less connections outside the party.

What do your characters parent’s do? How did they influence your characters?

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Playtest Report: Luke Perkin’s Language Game

Welcome to the second monthly playtest report. Due to the levels of concentration we’ve been putting into Shards, and its kickstarter, we didn’t do much playtesting of our own games. Instead at the monthly Playtest Northwest meet I was playtesting an in-development computer game.

The game, created by Luke Perkins, is as yet untitled. So, for the purposes of simplicity I’ll call it LupeLang.

In LupeLang you play a scientist who has just been cryogenically frozen until the 35th century – at which time she is aware there is some sort of time anomaly, having received a message sent back through time. Unfortunately the message was written in a language unknown in the present day, and thus her assignment is to learn the future language and then send a translated message through the anomaly; and return through it herself if possible.

You awaken in a museum that has been laid out with exhibits of images from the 20th century and earlier, each of which is marked with a description in the future language – a form of pictographic representation. For instance:  △ might mean “mountain”, and thereby also “stone” and “huge”, while ∪ means “artificial container” including buildings as well as pots.

As the game progresses you learn more about the language and solve puzzles involving locked doors that can only be opened by placing the correct symbols beneath a picture.

There were various issues with the control set up which I won’t go into here because I’m not massively interested in that side of video game design, but we also spent a lot of time discussing the worldbuilding aspects of the game.

In essence with a game with such a strange setup (you’re in a museum where every door is locked by code-locks with the password being pictured directly above them) you have two options:

  1. Ignore it. Just plain never explain why the museum is set up like that, let people just suspend their disbelief and not care. This is the easy option, you won’t get praised for the plotting, but people can simply enjoy the gameplay.
  2. Explain it. Why on Earth is the place using code-locks like that? Why has the language become pictograms? What sort of place is this museum of 20th century images? This is hard – the premise of the game is one that seems innately ludicrous.

 

Fortunately that sort of worldbuilding is exactly what we do at Artemis Games, so I was well set up to help with it. Ultimately we discussed it, and came up with a potentially quite compelling explanation; but one that Luke wants to keep as a slow-release mystery for the first stages of LupeLang. Still, all told while we weren’t playtesting anything of our own it was definitely a productive event.

Be Well

-Ste

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Shards is Successful – What Next?

The Shards: Worldbuilding Zine kickstarter is ending today, and while it’s far from the greatest success we’ve ever had, at 300% funded its undeniably successful.

So, what comes next?

Well, over the next six months there’s the fulfilment – every month we’ll be writing 44-48 pages of content for the zine, and keeping that exciting and informative is going to be a big job. But that’s not all we’re going to be doing.

Our current plans for the coming six months focus on the following:

  1. Writing and delivering Shards to our backers. This is top priority because it’s a promise we’ve already made; we will not let our backers down!
  2. Selling Shards in other locations – physically at conventions and on eBay and such like as well as digitally on DriveThruRPG and Patreon
    1. The only convention we’re currently booked to trade at is the Student Nationals in Glasgow – but now we know that Shards has been successful we intend to book more.
  3. Relaunching the Jigsaw Fantasy Patreon for Shards, so that people who prefer to pay their subscription a month at a time can do so more easily.
  4. Updating our website – www.artemisgames.co.uk doesn’t display clearly all our products, nor does it make it easy to find where they’re for sale.
  5. ██████████████████████████████████████████████████████████████████
    1. Redacted by order of our Co-conspirator.
  6. Continuing work on at least one of our card game projects, and potentially launching it through Kickstarter.
    1. The most likely project is Tinfoil Hat – our conspiracy party game – although that is still a few playtests away from being ready for market, as we need to ensure that the rules push the fun forward even for those players who try to minmax every aspect.
  7. Experimenting with Bountey crowdfunding – we’ll talk more about this once it’s worked out, but essentially it’s a way to have multiple projects waiting long-term for the point at which the funding exists to engage with them.
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Shards – Excited About Layout and Typesetting?

We are – we’ve just increased the size of the Zine by 12% without adding a single extra page.

With our experience of printing on playing cards and small leaflets in our previous projects we’ve become well aware of the cost of wide borders, and the dangers of small ones – just how important it is to get them as small as possible and no smaller.

Shards is our first major case of printed long-form text, and we’ve therefore been playing with the borders for a while now, working out what size they can be – but we missed one major factor that more experienced book-printers would have spotted immediately: The three outside borders and the inside border should not be the same size. We’d been working with them equal, and that was costing us a lot of space as it means the borders had to be a whole 6mm (quarter of an inch) wider. That’s a 4% increase of the usable height, and 3% on the width.

But that’s only a 7% increase in area – so why am I saying 12%? That’s where the typesetting aspect comes in: words rolling over the end of the line, and paragraphs rolling over the end of a page, take up a surprising amount of space.

But Wait, There’s More: We’ve also tested decreasing the font size from its past 12pt to a smaller 11.5pt text, on the upper end of what paperback books use – it’s still thoroughly readable for even low-quality eyes, but it saves another 8%, letting us fit in even more content.

We knew from the start that we wanted the text bigger and clearer than on our past Concept Cards projects – their space requirements were far tighter – but we overshot what was necessary. Partly this is due to our first test print being done on a printer with a slight misalignment – the text blurred in a way that made it slightly harder to read at small sizes – which has now been corrected.

And Another Thing: We’ve settled on cream paper stock for the zine. We had been considering “Natural” paper, the kind that many older novels used – as it is nicely yellow, and a little more environmentally friendly. However we decided to do a test run on that paper type, and were reminded that the nice yellow tint of a good book takes about a year to really kick in – and we’re not going to be using tea to artificially age the Zine…

Let me leave you with a final thought: There’s one week left on this Kickstarter – so now’s the time to back before you miss out!

Be Well

-Ste

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Shards – Table of Contents

With the changing numbers of pages we’ve been doing a bit of shuffling around, but we’ve worked out which of the pieces we’ve got written will be going in the first issue – and which are getting pushed back to issues 2 and 3.

So here’s the contents section – page numbers are not included, as art and typesetting may shift some things; or a “People’s Hero” backer might increase the size of the Zine still further.

Editorial: Introducing the authors and the concept of the Zine

The Grand Labyrinth: The world’s largest maze, which hosts three or four exits: The three below and potentially the more mysterious Hero’s Gate, if combining with Issue #2s Labyrinth of Time

↳   The Wayfarer’s Gate: At the northwest of the maze is an exit best reached through days of painstaking progress

↳   The Warrior’s Gate: At the northeast of the maze is an exit which can only be reached by battling mechanical beasts

↳   The Adventurer’s Gate: At the center of the maze is the most challenging exit to reach, one that will take cunning, combat skill and endurance combined.

Bokort’s Bar: A future tavern with alien patrons and bartenders, alongside some technological gambling games.

↳   Staff: The bartenders, bouncer and croupier.

↳   Notable Patrons: Interesting people who might be found here reasonably often.

↳   Hooks: Example ways to weave the location into a story as well as a world.

The Great And The Wise: Neasa Aranrhod: A fey queen with an interest in answering questions “helpfully”.

↳   In Other Genres: Exploring how to alter Neasa to fit in worlds beyond traditional fantasy

Using the 5 Ws in Worldbuilding: An introductory article looking at how to dig deeper into an aspect of your world by asking the standard questions: “Who?”, “What?”, “Where?”, “When?”, “Why?” and the honorary sixth w “How?” – using one of our past creations to illustrate the method.

Magpie’s Nest: Stealing Thieves: Some things you can take from history, mythology, folklore and fiction to craft your worlds thieves, and their gods.

Letter Lich: In this issue, she answers a questioner asking how to incorporate Drow into a roleplaying campaign without causing trouble for an arachnophobic player.

Credits & Thanks: Art credits along with thanks to our biggest backers and supporters in this project.

As always your comments and input are welcome – although in this case rather than on facebook or twitter we’d most like to hear them over on the Kickstarter page

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Shards: Worldbuilding Zine – 12/02/2019->04/03/2019

We now have a date for Shards launch – the 12th of this month. It comes with a set, and appropriate, end date – the 4th of March “GM’s Day”.

We’ll be doing 6 issues over the next 6 months, each with three shards of setting – at least one being sci-fi and one being fantasy – a fourth article on worldbuilding, and a letters section where our resident agony aunt The Letter Lich can help you solve your worldbuilding and game-running problems.

Each issue is a minimum of 36 pages long, but there’s also going to be a high-roller backer level that allows the backer to fund 4 additional pages for every copy of the zine, for all six issues; because sometimes it feels good to give!

We’re currently finalising the writing and art for issue #1, and will be launching with those in the bag and at least half of May and June’s articles already written – insuring against any future schedule slips.

p.s. our regular weekly blog is here

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