A Letter Lich response

Our resident agony aunt has been busily answering questions – but because our third issue of Shards: Worldbuilding Zine has only 44 pages, one of them’s had to be dropped.

So instead of completely removing it, I’ve decided to post it here for all to enjoy:

Dear Letter Lich,

I’m compelled by my god to kill a demon, but he’s in my friend’s body – HELP!

— Liam W.

You should arrange for your friend to become undead. Once they’re dead the demon will likely be forced out (most demons can only possess either the living or the dead, not both) and you can safely slay it, while you await your friend’s resurrection.

If you have the skills, lichdom is an excellent choice, but the varieties are endless. Vampires are said to retain their minds, but I find they tend to be impulsive; then again, so are mortals much of the time.

——–

The death and resurrection approach is actually viable even if you’re not willing to bring your friend into undeath – you are doing your god’s work, asking them to safeguard your friends soul and return it when the demon is slain is a plausible option.

More likely you’ll want to seek out a rite of exorcism, or similar – something that can drive the demon from the body. If that is impossible, or unavailable, the backup plan is generally torture – capture the demon, and inflict agonies upon it (and unfortunately your friend) until it voluntarily leaves their body to face you. -Ed

Please follow and like us:

Play-test report: Tinfoil Hat

I’m pretty sure this isn’t the first time we’ve mentioned this project, but in case you haven’t come across it before, Tinfoil Hat is a game of conspiracy rants.

The game consists of a deck of cards containing elements for conspiracy theories – ranging from “Lizard Folk” through “The Moon Landing” all the way to “King Henry VIII”.

In the game one player is The Ranter, who must build a conspiracy theory out of the elements they’ve been given, while another was the Judge, who determines whether or not they’d been inconsistent, or missed one of the pieces.

That role has now been dropped – thanks to playtesting last Wednesday we have seen that it’s unnecessary.

The playtest was overall a great success – we expect that tinfoil hat will be ready by the time we’re ready for our next project launch, likely in Autumn this year.

Please follow and like us:

Play Report: The Reckoners

So this is something I’ve been considering doing for a while now – reviews of my experience playing board games.

Note: This is not a review of the board game’s overall quality, simply of my own experience thereof. Take from it what you will, but above all remember that what I enjoy and what you will enjoy are unlikely to be identical.

So, The Reckoners – as it’s based on a Brandon Sanderson novel series that I really enjoyed, I’ll start by talking about the theme: It works.

The theme is not amazingly strong, but it is definitely pervasive; every element of the game feels like it fits, nothing feels like it’s being papered over. Steelheart is ruling a city, and he has lieutenants who empower him to act more directly; while they are in turn empowered by the unpowered enforcement teams. The Reckoners need money to buy tech, and to afford their movement from one hidden base to another whenever one of the Epics tracks them down. They also need to do research to find out the hidden weakness, the Achilles’ Heel, of each Epic; weakening them and making them easier – or in some cases simply possible to kill.

The Epics felt a little overly abstracted at first, with them all having two simple stats “research” – required to weaken them – and health – which you burn through to kill them; but as the gameplay went on and you see how the variation in their activation effects each round changes the game they start to show more personality. At least, until you kill them.

So for a licensed game it’s well themed; it doesn’t try and do everything perfectly, and therefore it doesn’t overstuff the game with edge cases designed to mimic some minor story aspect.

The Setup was a little fiddly the first time, but only for about 5-10 minutes, and when replaying the game that time will be cut down to about 2 minutes. For an hour-ish game that’s a pretty good rate.

The Quality: We were playing the kickstarter version – metal pieces, sleeves for all the cards, it was great quality and all well put together.

The Gameplay was great fun – the core mechanic is dice rolling+rerolling, akin to Yahtzee, or King of Tokyo, but with none of the requirement for point-scoring combos – instead every result has a different, generally useful, effect, with the option to use any result to move to a new location (so that you can have your other effects there). It felt like we were constantly trying to optimise our limited resources, and acting simultaneously added to the co-operative feel (although it would open the game up even more to the “Alpha Gamer” problem where one player plays for everyone)

The Missing Piece: In this case it’s literal. There was a model missing from the game box when we opened it, one of the 6 player character models. Given as only 3 of us were playing it wasn’t an immediate problem, but with the overall production quality it felt out-of-place.

Conclusions

Would we play it again? Hell yes, it’s great fun

Would we buy it? It costs about £80. If we had £1000 to spend on games, we’d definitely get it. At £500, maybe, at £100 (our current level) definitely not – there are too many other games competing for that cash, and we could likely buy 3 other games instead of just this one.

Would we sell it at cons? (Assuming it was small print enough and we had the opportunity to get it at wholesale) – No. It’s too much of a big-ticket item, and the one experience we had had a piece missing – we’d be hard pressed to recommend it over the other games we stock to anyone who wasn’t clearly flush with cash. It’s definitely fun enough for us to be willing to recommend it, but the price point is just too high for our stand.

Please follow and like us:

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.
Please follow and like us:

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.

Please follow and like us:

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?

Please follow and like us:

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

Please follow and like us:

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.
Please follow and like us:

Coming Soon to Quickstarter: Shards – a Worldbuilding Zine

Kickstarter is a lot of things, from a pre-order platform to a place for helping small indie businesses get projects off the ground. Quickstarter is a little nod in the direction of the small and indie – so, us – by encouraging small, cheap, fast and simple kickstarters without all the studio-made videos and focus-tested page layouts that feature in the largest and most successful projects.

Another nod in that direction is Zine Quest spending February promoting RPG Zines, black-and-white, A5, fit-in-the-post magazines of RPG themed content. Again, right in our wheelhouse.

It’s been a year since we wound down Jigsaw Fantasy, planning to rebrand as Setting Shards and relaunch. So now is when we want to do so.

Put all those facts together and you get a crazy idea that just might work (and actually seems quite sensible after a month of working on it) – we’re taking the best bits of Setting Shards and distilling them down into a monthly Zine for GMs, Writers and other worldbuilding enthusiasts.

Each month will be a new issue containing four articles – three detailing Shards that can be dropped into fantasy and/or sci-fi settings and the fourth covering a more general concept without a specific answer where things like “Where do dragons nest, and why?” or “how do I come up with good names for characters and places, quickly?” can be explored

Next weeks blog will have more of the details – including the exact date for the launch. It will be early February, but how early? Well, that depends on when we have all the articles finished – as we experienced with Jigsaw Fantasy a monthly schedule brooks no delays, meaning we always need to maintain a buffer of completed pieces.

Please follow and like us: