13th age Monsters: Animal Hybrids

As part of Naga Demon, I’m doing a 13th age monster every day this month. This last week has been focused on hybrid animals, from the cute Bearowl to the cunning Wolfcrow. It even features a particularly powerful monster – the epic tier Grootslang

View here

Art by Jacob Blackmon

Art by Jeff Macarthur

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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13th age Swamp Monsters

November is National Game Design Month – and I’ve decided to take it up as the challenge of writing one new 13th age monster each day, as we’re looking at the possibility of moving into writing 13th age 3rd party works.

This week I’ve been doing Swamp Creatures: Otyugh, monsters known for their trash-loving lifestyle, and Swamp Things, animate embodiments of the Swamp’s will.

13th age swamp monsters

Image from Dorkaboutart on Deviantart

Image by Amy Coffey

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Arty October: Make Do and Modify

Gustav, by Jenna Fowler

Coloured by Ste Coffey

Along with a second colouring (and other minor edits)

Make Do and Modify

In the first post of this month I talked about how to comb the creative commons – finding stuff that fits well enough to the idea you’re working on.

But when you’re trying to be creative, to step into unexplored realms of fantasy, there may not even be that – especially if you don’t have the funds to buy high quality stock art – and even if there is “good enough” never really feels like it’s good enough.

To get the best results from the creative commons – or from novice artists – you need a handle on image editing and adaptation. Transforming an image from what it is to what you wish it was.

For our fantasy works one vital trick has been demodernising – giving modern day photos the appearance of paintings or illustrations that suit a fantasy feel. There are two steps to that: First you must remove any clearly anachronistic elements and then you can put the image through various pre-made filters like GIMPs “oilify”.

Demodernising

Removing the anachronisms can be simple, just cropping out the electricity pylon on the edge of a photo of a village, or it can be more complicated – removing a deck chair from the middle of the courtyard you need to depict.

The most vital tools for me in dealing with the more difficult cases have always been copy-paste and recolouring: a deck-chair against a wall can be overlaid by another portion of the wall, with the blur that will be introduced by oilify or similar tools hiding the minor seams. Meanwhile the green wellies worn by a medieval re-enactor on a muddy field can be turned a deep brown and simply be leather boots within the image.

Using filters like oilify seems like a trivial task – and honestly it can be. But for best use it’s important to think about how real painters work. Unlike a photograph not every portion of a drawing or painting is equal in resolution, but rather they have a level of detail decided by how much the painter, and the audience, care(s) about them – in a portrait the subjects face may be almost photorealistic while the background is merely lumps of colour in the rough form of furniture. As such it helps to separate portions of the image and use the filters more or less strongly on them depending on how important they are to your final composition [and on how many minor errors you need to hide].

(Re)colouring

A lot of creative commons stuff is black and white, or coloured inappropriately for what you have in mind. Recolouring is thus an important tool to have in your repertoire as it greatly expands your options – see Gustav at the top for an example.

For colouring monochrome works I rely on layers. A basic tool available to digital editors that makes the process far easier than it would be on paper, layers in an image editing program are pretty much the equivalent of laying transparencies atop one another to make the full image. But they come with some snazzy options that make the whole process a lot smoother. By altering your layers’ transparency settings and order you can use wide swathes and then add detail on top – colour in the whole torso, and then colour in only the belt atop that. More importantly for me you can put the original image on top in a darken-only layer which allows the textures and detail that the original black-and-white artist created to shine through.

I generally use Krita for this as I find its brushes more useful for the process, and everything a little easier to organise, but it is a little slower.

If working with something that’s already in colour I have two options to hand – the first and most prevalent is to use the GIMP colour editing options to alter what each colour on the existing image is. Changing all the reds to purples or making all the blues more vibrant can work wonders. The second is to simply make the piece monochrome and then go from there.

 

There’s a lot more to say on the subject, and I promise I’ll come back to it in more depth, but for now I need to get prepped for my NaGaDeMon project, a 13th age monster for each day of November. If you have any questions or advice about image editing, be sure to let us know!

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Arty October: Combing the Commons

A CC-BY-SA piece by SarahDarkMagic

 

Much like NaNoWriMo (or NaGaDeMon) in November, October has its own creative challenge: Inktober. While we’re not doing Inktober per se – none of us are inking any artwork – we decided that a good theme for this month’s blogs would be to look at how we can do art – in a group that was founded with zero artists.

The longest-standing technique we have is simply buying the art from cheap artists on Fiverr, or stock art from DriveThruRPG and Patreon. But that’s not something that really merits much discussion, so I’m going to skip straight to type two:

Creative Commons and Public Domain Artwork

There is a huge community of artists in the world, as there has been for several millenia, and even with the modern day extension of copyright to frankly ludicrous extremes many of them choose to contribute to the world’s supply of Free Use Art through either simply releasing their art to the public domain, or tying it into a Creative Commons License which allows for great (but not complete) freedom in how their work is used.

Doing your due diligence

Search engines such as Google (with the usage rights tool correctly set) and CC Search make it easy to find people claiming that the works they’re sharing are publicly usable, and if you’re planning on doing something purely non-profit that’s probably good enough – but if, as we are, you’re working on a commercial basis you’re going to need more confirmation than that, because a lot of people mislabel images, generally out of ignorance.

For instance, this image from the above search is not creative commons licensable in many countries – the models that were photographed are themselves copyrighted, and it’s likely not to count as a sufficiently transformative work to escape that copyright. Certainly if you were to crop it down to a single unpainted model you’d be in trouble in much of the world.

Another common form of not-actually-usable work is screenshots from computer games – as the game is copyrighted an image from the game is almost certainly covered by the same copyright. So your first check with digital art should always be to see whether or not the work mentions such a source.

One of the best places to find art that you can be certain of is Wikimedia. While anyone can contribute to that site, and thus newly submitted works are suspect, there is a large team of dedicated curators who do due diligence on everything submitted, meaning that you can avoid spending too much time checking over things yourself.

Another good site for finding such things is OpenGameArt.org their due diligence standards are a little laxer than Wikimedia’s, so it’s still a good idea to check things out for yourself, but there’s a lot of fantasy art on there.

To confirm that art is actually open for use first look at it closely – if it has an artists signature which doesn’t match the accreditation on the site you found it on you can be pretty sure it’s not. If that doesn’t rule it out the second step is a reverse image search – find it elsewhere on the internet, and see whether there’s an older source that indicates a different owner.

Track your sources

Once you’ve done your due diligence making sure you can actually use the piece you need to make sure you don’t lose track of your proof. We keep a set of spreadsheets that list the filename of each piece alongside the creator, the web address of the source and the specific license used (including any special terms).

 

Anyone else have any advice to give about combing the commons? Favourite sources?

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Genre: Supers (Superheroes, Supervillains and Supercivilians)

Superheroes and supervillains are experiencing a massive boom in films at the moment, so I’m sure that everyone reading this knows what they are – but knowing it and defining it are two different things.

For the sake of this post I’m going to make a list of the key features that I consider to define a supers setting. The genre, like all genres, is somewhat fluid – and as such half of these elements may be missing in something that is still recognisably a supers setting, but more than that and you’re definitely outside the genre.

  1. Unique Powers:
    • Within a supers universe there is a tendency to have 1-3 characters with any given power set. There may be a whole species, or a large organisation, with a particular set of abilities (such as Kryptonians, Atlanteans or Green Lanterns) but if so the vast majority will either be dead or absent.
    • If it is a large supers setting there may well be tens of thousands of powered individuals – but repeats will still remain rare.
    • Occasionally this rule will be broken for villains (a whole army of individuals with one power set may exist) but not for heroes, and the villains who have repeated powers will generally have only 1 or 2 “face” characters among them, the rest remaining in the background as a faceless mob.
    • Even super-geniuses each have a unique power – they can only occasionally understand each others tech and even if they are capable of reproducing it they never will. Some settings justify this through the mechanics of their superpowers (i.e. Parahumans with its Tinkertech that requires constant supernatural maintenance) while others handwave it with personality – in Marvel many of the supergeniuses could replicate each others work, but the heroes wouldn’t steal ideas like that, and thus only the villains of a given hero will copy that heroes work.
  2. Public Existence:
    • Supers settings don’t have a “masquerade” as is found in Urban Fantasy – the world knows that supers exist, although some specific individuals may maintain their anonymity.
  3. Pseudonyms:
    • Supers have two identities – one mundane name under which they live most of their life, and the other a “cape name” which they use when throwing around their world-shaking powers.
    • Even those supers who aren’t trying to keep their real identities hidden will still have some form of pseudonym assigned, such as Aquaman, Black Panther or Professor X.
    • Occasionally supers who are incapable of hiding their “secret identity” will choose only one name, and stick with it, but in such cases it is almost universally the mundane name that is dropped, and the super pseudonym that is kept (see for instance the Morlocks in Marvel)
    • The separation of civilian and super identities may be deliberately declared sacrosanct (as in the Parahumans web serial) or it may function only when successfully protected (as in DC universe).
  4. Individuals make the world:
    • Though far from unique to the supers genre, it is a definite aspect of it that powerful individuals, or small teams of up to 10 people, will save the world repeatedly.
    • Outside of the largest supers universes (where remaining parallel to the real world over eight decades has taken its toll on realism) the supers generally shape the world too, making large-scale social and technological changes.
    • It isn’t uncommon for supers to end up ruling regions of the world – although more traditional supers universes restrict this to either villains or, strangely, hereditary god-kings.
  5. Can’t Kill The Cash Cow
    • Superheroes almost always have a very strong code against killing – or at least limiting in what circumstances they can kill – allowing for villains to constantly return without overworking the revolving door of the afterlife.
  6. Modern Day Default
    • While Fantasy defaults to a medieval/renaissance mashup, Superheroes exist in the modern day.

 

So what are the pros and cons for Supers RPGs?

Pros

  • Small groups making a big impact by punching things is perfect for adventure and/or “Monster of the Week” roleplaying stories.
  • The sheer variety of character possibilities tends to mean there’s something for everyone – whether they want to gain wall-crawling abilities from their radioactive blood, be able to heal any wound in minutes, or stretch their limbs to ridiculous extents.
  • Superheroes combine well with other genres: As long as you’re not in a Kitchen-Sink fantasy setting the appearance of people with unique supernatural talents is likely to shake things up in a new way – gritty war stories, fantastical space adventures, and high school drama can all be spiced up with superpowers.

 

Cons

  • Character generation tends to get complicated when you need to be able to represent anything (whether it be a telepathic king from beneath the waves, a super-skilled martial artist with power armour, a little boy who can gain supernatural wisdom by being hit by lightning or an alien sun-god with freezing cold breath) in a single system.
  • Pre-written adventure modules rarely work with custom characters, as no obstacle is guaranteed to actually be an obstacle – a mithril wall might block one group completely, be blown up by another, walked through [literally] by a member of the third, while the fourth group teleports straight into the center of the base and never sees it.

 

Quirks (not quite pro, or con)

  • The accepted defaults of the genre – the Marvel&DC multiverses – have some absolutely massive, and well acknowledged, holes in their foundations. This makes deconstructions and reconstructions a rich vein for unusual variations – but can make it harder to play the setting straight with more cynical players.
  • The secret identities of a group of heroes by default aren’t also a group of friends – limiting roleplaying of the civilian aspect of characters lives. However, this is only a default and many exceptions exist in the fiction, so having your group be an exception is easy
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Gaming History: Twissen

We’ve each talked a bit about how we got started on gaming – but there are four of us, and this month has five mondays, so we decided to leave the best for last: The prologue of Artemis Games – the story of our first games together.

We met at Vague – The MMU 1)Manchester Metropolitan University tabletop gaming society – despite the fact that none of us had ever attended MMU, nor had any intention of doing so. I was, at the time, studying Physics at University of Manchester, while Amy was studying Biology at Salford University, and both Loz and Ali had finished their university careers already.

We were largely brought together by a friend who (though not part of the business) remains part of our gaming group – Iain Fortune, who appears in our Concept Cards as “Iain The Fortunate – creator of the Pot of Endless Tea”. Me, Loz and Iain played a brief D&D 4th Edition campaign at Vague, and then Loz mentioned that their gaming group was down a player – and as it happened we lived just down the street from them, so me and Amy ended up joining Loz, Ali, Iain and their friend Shiny 2)actually named Amy – the Amys had to be distinguished so one became Shiny and the other Purple for their respective obsessions in a new campaign at their house.

After the first two stories in this campaign we decided to sit down together and build a world for it – Twissen, a cylindrical world orbited by two suns (one northern, the other southern) and a single moon – and one where the gods themselves were all mad.

This campaign lasted for several years but as we’re talking origins, I might as well finish this up by explaining the its origin story:

The Beginning

The world was created when the Elemental Chaos, substance without form or order, collided with the Divine Prism, form and order without substance. The center of this collision became the mortal world, but the impact was felt throughout both realms – suddenly the Elemental Chaos had minds capable of shaping their surroundings, and the infinite minds of the Divine Prism had matter on which they could act. The northern end of the cylindrical world fell off into the Divine Prism, while the southern end sank into the Elemental Chaos.

This new-formed world had a sun, Shamedan, born of the elemental fire which burnt the southern lands, and a moon, Procan, born of elemental water which brought rain and tides to the southern lands.

Shortly thereafter gods, elementals and nature spirits formed – each within their own realm. The elementals cared little for the oddity that was the mortal world, while the nature spirits were born of it and could not leave, but the gods saw it as a toy with which to play – matter to shape to their whim.

It is at this point that the world gained its northern sun, Pelor, and its northern moon, Sehanine, as gods reached into the world. The sun was born of pure radiance, and the moon of condensed thought.

Intelligent mortal life appeared from nature – the dwarves from the soil, the dryads from the trees, and the merrow from the sea itself. Each lived in harmony with their element, drawing from it just as any other animal would, and returning to it with their death.

Three gods, seeing these new forms of life, decided to create their own immortal races: Amat created the dragons to rule over all; Corellon created the fey to experience the world; Io created the deva to explore and learn.

The dragons started the war of worlds by attempting to conquer the Elemental Chaos – leading to that chaos striking back against the gods, with the mortal world stuck in the crossfire. Amat was slain – split in twain to become Tiamat and Bahamat, the two dragon gods – but the war raged on.

Unable to endure this war the spirits of nature waited for an opportunity – the Grand Conjunction when the elemental and divine realms were closest to mortality – and struck against the gods, using two great weapons:

The first was born of Mawra, spirit of predators, and was a great beast of indestructible power – known as the Tarrasque – which sought to consume all beings of divinity.

The second and greater of the two was born of Nurgle, a spirit of pestilence, and became known as The God’s Plague. This pestilence was carried to the Elementals by Nurgle, and to the gods by Mawra.

The God’s Plague spread through both sides of the war, infecting their essence and driving them to peculiar insanities. The southern sun and moon were first to show the effects – Shamedan’s heat grew, burning the southlands ever more intensely, while Procan first reached upwards, then threw himself into the ocean while ranting about the powers beyond the stars.

Eventually all the gods, and all their immortal children, would grow equally insane, and so Corellon and Io sought to save their people by pulling from them their sparks of divinity.

The Fey

Corellon first attempted to save his people by isolating them – pulling them into their own dreams so that their divine sparks could be safe. In doing so he created a whole new realm of reality, the land of Fairy, a dreamlike mirror of the mortal realm. But while he succeeded in creating a new world he realised that he himself was infected – and that this infection would spread regardless of his actions. Thus he changed his plans – pulling the divine sparks from almost all the fey, concentrating it into the lords of the fey courts whose job it became to dream Fairyland into existence.

The fey he had pulled into Fairyland became split among the “high elves”, or eladrin, who maintained their separation from the dream and held themselves tall through pride, and the gnomes who became part of the dream, made of illusions and fragments of the nature around them.

The fey left in the mortal realm had many different fates. Some lived in the forests of the central lands, and those became the “wood elves”, living in concert with and as part of nature; but most lived in the southlands and were faced with death beneath the burning sun. More than half died within the first few weeks of becoming mortal, but the rest found themselves forced to choose a path. Some changed themselves to be as harsh as the desert, becoming the desert hags, a race known for their worship of fire; others copied the snakes and crawled beneath the sands to live, becoming known as the “dark elves” or drow; a third group chose to dive into the oceans, becoming the first merfolk; and a fourth chose a darker path – they sought to follow the souls of their dead friends, and found themselves in a new mirror of the world, the Shadowfell, created as a place for immortal souls to go after death – these became the “shadow elves” or shadar-kai.

The Deva

Io reacted more slowly to the threat, having first to study its nature, but once she did she began systematically extracting the divinity from her children. The majority of deva became humans, a simple race that possessed a thirst for knowledge beyond most others.

Some of the deva however had been in different forms when their sparks were removed – and those found themselves stuck with their transformation. Those in mammal forms became the bestials, capable of changing from animal form to beastmen though not fully back into a “civilized” form, but those who had taken non-mammal forms were permanently stuck in a hybrid form, losing most of their intellect in the process as they became Harpies, Lizardmen and other such monstrous humanoids.

Io’s delayed action meant that a whole city of his people kept their spark too long, and became infected with the plague. These became the rakshasa, a dangerously amoral immortal race that would do anything for knowledge – no matter who might be hurt – and experimented on every other race.

The Dragons

With Amat dead, and Tiamat and Bahamat still reeling, there was no-one to pull the spark from the dragons – leading to them all becoming crazed with their megalomania, and most of them dying in battle with one another. Their children, the dragonborn who had been created for them to rule, became their successors, running the dragon-cities as they always had just without the dragons lording over them.

The Greenskins

When Procan entered the ocean, he brought with him change and monstrous entities, serving as a portal to a realm that should not be. Many of the merrow sought to flee the corrupted ocean – and so they did. Most fled on to land and islands, becoming the orcs – a race of pirates and sailors known for raiding the coastal lands – but some found themselves pulled through the portal, and became known as the gith, green skinned warriors that could swim through the void as though it were water, with minds attuned to the impossible.

 

And with that, the second age of the world began – a world where immortal and mortal races collided, and crazed gods begat even more crazed devils.

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References   [ + ]

1. Manchester Metropolitan University
2. actually named Amy – the Amys had to be distinguished so one became Shiny and the other Purple for their respective obsessions

Gaming History: Ste

Amy’s blog post from last week ends about where this one begins: shortly after we met.

My first ever roleplaying experience was at 19, joining her weekly gaming group for a one-shot – a D20 Modern game in which we were all soldiers sent into a building full of eternally reanimating zombies (one got minced – it got back up a while later, as a humanoid shape composed entirely of blood and viscera). It was a very utilitarian example of roleplaying, because the characters were hardbitten soldiers the in character thing to do was simply fight the enemy and not worry about personality clashes.

My second game is the one I usually talk about when explaining my introduction to gaming, because it’s one that really seems to have set the tone for everything since. Once again it was a D20 modern game – well, D20 future, but it’s the same system – and this time I was playing a Tough character, I was the Obligatory Bodyguard Boyfriend 1)the male equivalent of the Obligatory Healer Girlfriend trope.

I started the character creation process as a normal human soldier, but during character building the GM suggested my character might have suffered injuries from an attack in his past, so he ended up becoming a Cyborg Soldier. All well and good.

In session 1 we were sent to investigate what was causing a small region of people to mutate into animal-esque forms – we were given gas masks, antibiotics and antivirals to ensure we weren’t affected. Unfortunately, in session 2 we discovered the we were changing anyway, and my character swiftly became a Cyborg Bear.

In session 3 we had abandoned our previous chain of command, having been ordered to eradicate all the mutants, and had instead decided to investigate the source of the effect on our own. We soon discovered that it was caused by nanotech, and headed for a nearby shut-down nano-lab in an old army base. My character, being somewhat clumsy, accidentally set off the base defenses near the entrance to this building, which we then had to destroy – damaging the wall and causing it to vent a thick cloud of mutagenic nanites. I was now a Cyborg Bear With Spiky Metal Fur.

In session 4 we were following up a new lead, sending us onwards to a city based nano-factory that was apparently spewing out the same animalising nanites. We made it a good way into the city, coming across a shockingly small number of people and a shockingly large number of military robots, and as the session ended I came across a vial of some strange chemical – and pocketed it for later study.

In session 5 we reached the factory. It was surprisingly small 2)nanites eh? and unguarded – but as we approached we were attacked by a giant mech, and found ourselves once again fighting for our lives. We defeated the mech, but it activated a self-destruct function. It was right next to the wall of the building… and out came a ploom of mutagenic nanites. Now savvy to the situation, I dived out of the way; but not fast enough – it turns out that my cybernetic limbs weren’t very agile, especially when they were inside a bear, and the spiky metal fur really wasn’t helping matters. So I became mutated once more, gaining glowing green eyes (and night vision). Then the GM remembered the vial in my pocket – that had shattered, and it contained mutagen too. I became a Giant Superstrong Cyborg Bear with Glowing Green Eyes and Spiky Metal Fur… I had a constitution of 30, at level 3.

That game didn’t last beyond that – I think the GM struggled with the level of silliness it had reached) but I played a few more games with that group, including one in which I was a werewolf with a leather whip fetish who specialised in tying people up (specifically his whip had been bound with the spirit of an anaconda and was extremely good at keeping people bound – it was inspired by Wonder Women’s Lasso of Truth).

Then I moved on to GMing for my housemates and some of their friends. We had a D&D 3.5 campaign for a while, with members dropping in and out as we found out who in our group actually liked playing tabletop RPGs (or at least, who liked playing it when I was running – I was very much a novice at the time so my plots were lackluster).

As the other players in that group became more experienced we started taking rounds running different games. And then the uni year ended, and many of us moved, after which the group started falling apart. I joined a university roleplaying society, and had fun there – especially once I got introduced to their sunday boardgaming nights and discovered the joy of a deep boardgame – and eventually ended up meeting Loz and Ali there, through a mutual friend named Iain, and joining up with their gaming group.

That’s the story coming next week – the first game we played together.

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References   [ + ]

1. the male equivalent of the Obligatory Healer Girlfriend trope
2. nanites eh?

Geeking about Gaming: UK Games Expo, Grokking, Modding and Creating

UK Games Expo was a draining weekend for me, followed by an unfortunate cold, so I’m a bit late in getting this up for you – but hopefully it’ll be interesting.

This month we’re concentrating on looking at various experiences and inspiration we each have with tabletop gaming – and I’m going to be talking largely about the most recent experiences at UKGE itself.

We met a lot of new people, but I’m not really going to talk about that today because social interactions are complicated and not really something I excel at – even if Board Games do make that much easier for me.

Instead I’m going to talk about the elements of Boardgames that speak to me more than the rest of our team:

Grokking Games

Loz likes learning new games – and may well talk about that on his week of this subject – but he tends to only go one-step deep with most games. He’ll play them until he fully understands the rules, and then move on. That early stage appeals to me, but I tend to be more of a deep-diver: once I understand a games rules I need to learn its metarules. 1)For an example, a simple metarule of Sudoku is that if you have two numbers that each have only the same two spots in a row/column/box they can be in, then every other number is impossible for that pair of boxes, even though they haven’t been filled. I then need to prove my understanding of the game by beating other players – but the winning isn’t the goal, that’s easy if I can choose my opponents, it’s the understanding that matters to me.

At something like UKGE I don’t have the opportunity to grok games without buying them. So, of course, I buy some of them. This time around I bought a discounted dice-crafting game called The Masters’ Trial and a simple munchkin-esque game called Champion of Earth. Both seem flawed, to some extent, but they also each have a level of fun.

The Masters’ Trial is quite a deep game, so I don’t know it after a few hours of play, but it lacks somewhat in the theming arena, and in the way the boxes contents are arranged when first unpacked – a lot of effort got put into some things, while others just missed the mark. Specifically – the cards are organised by card name, but have to immediately be reorganised by which deck they go in 2)yes, cards of the same name go in different decks. It makes sense in context and despite the fact that each monster is tied to one of the four elements they are all lava beasts…

Champion of Earth is a bit too easy to grok for me, so it’s not likely to get much play during my “serious gaming” time – but it’s a less cruel, and more pop-culture, version of Munchkin so it’ll probably see some play with my many friends who aren’t as deep into gaming. It also seems to lack the one player mode mentioned on the box – we’ll be asking the designers about that, given as we were chatting with them at the Con.

Modding Games

Talking about player numbers, we encountered Game of Thrones Catan at the con, but were unable to properly try it as it needs a minimum of three players (like all Catan games) – which inspired us to start discussing rules changes that would make it work for just me and Amy.

Modifying games is one of my favourite long-term hobbies. It started with computer games, but my programming skills are sub-par so I could never actually implement things like the four extra balanced teams I designed for Starcraft, so I eventually moved onto things like custom M:TG cards and houseruling board games, where I could actually implement my thoughts.

Making Games

Modify something enough and you make something new. For instance we did some more playtesting of Clash of Blades – our Swordfighting Card Game – at UKGE; it’s a game that started off as a concept of “How would magic look with a completely different resource system” and now looks basically nothing like M:TG.

Making something more purely innovative is where our story-telling memory game Adventurer’s Backpack comes in. We created it whole cloth, because we understand enough other games (including storytelling and roleplaying ones) that we were only taking a single thread from each – making the game as a whole new from its very beginning.

Of course no matter how you get to making the game, you then have to go right back round to the top – grok it, then mod it, rinse and repeat – because it’s never going to start out perfect.

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References   [ + ]

1. For an example, a simple metarule of Sudoku is that if you have two numbers that each have only the same two spots in a row/column/box they can be in, then every other number is impossible for that pair of boxes, even though they haven’t been filled.
2. yes, cards of the same name go in different decks. It makes sense in context

Idea Bargain Bin: A Hidden Movement Mechanic

Games about finding someone come in many forms

There are a good few games percolating in my noggin – at least a dozen1)though from what I hear many successful designers have far more. But there are even more ideas than there are games – and I don’t feel comfortable abandoning a good idea even if I don’t know what to do with it.

So I’m going to use today’s blog to do something with one of those useless (to me) good ideas.

I was listening to a podcast on Hidden Movement Games and I got stuck on a single thought: Why can’t the game pieces serve as a neutral arbiter? Perhaps it’s because I loved Stratego as a kid, or my interest in MtG’s design but I simply couldn’t resist fixing the problem of relying on player honesty.

The Solution?

For the purposes of this solution we’re reliant on a game with only one player controlling hidden characters: changing that is possible but awkward and, if you want characters to bump into each other, an engineering challenge (I’ll give a brief thought at the end as to how to make it work).

The core of the vast majority of hidden information in games is having something face down – and this is no exception. But just one face-down thing is useless for a hidden movement game – you can see exactly where it is!

Instead you use multiple face down things, just one of which matters – you pull a three-card monte. In addition to your “I am here” token, the hidden player has a number of “nuh-uh” tokens, with identical backs, that indicate places they could be – until searched.2)Amy’s suggested I was drawing on Flashpoint (one of my recent favourites) when I came up with that idea, and it’s set of false alarm tokens. She might be right, it has certainly been on my mind as part of another game design…

That gets the hidden placement down, but hidden movement requires a tiny bit of extra finesse. First you have to define how your hidden character can move.3)If you’ve got more than one type, they’re either going to have to all have the same movement method, or they’ll need different backs and separate sets of “nuh-uh”s. Then you have a three stage process of movement:

  1. Pick up any number of “nuh-uh” tokens, revealing them, and putting them into your hand. These are spaces that it’s now clear you’re *not* in.
  2. Choose any token that you want to move into previously empty spaces, and a set of empty spaces it could move into.
    1. For each such space, take a “nuh-uh” token, then take the original token (without revealing it) and put them all onto the board face down, as you wish. The original token may now be in any of the spaces filled this way (or even back where it started – this is after all about hiding your position)
    2. Rinse and repeat – remembering that this process can only be used with empty spaces, not ones filled earlier this turn.
  3. Pick any number of tokens on the board in spaces that weren’t empty at the start of the turn, and that can all reach each other by a single movement (in some games this will always be a pair tokens, in others it may be more).
    1. Pick up all those tokens, without revealing them, and then place them back down in any arrangement you want.
    2. Rinse and repeat, but with the restriction that you can never pick up a token you’ve already used in part 3.

 

And that’s it. Thoroughly hidden movement – how the other player goes about flipping your pieces to take a look is part of the rest of the game, and I’m not worried about it.

But what about having multiple players with hidden movement?

Well, each could player have their own tokens, each part of the board having space for one from each player. That’s really damn awkward – you could be in the same space as each other and you’d never know it. The engineering comes in at this point – each players real piece, the one that isn’t a “nuh-uh” has a magnet in it: just a small one, not very sensitive, but enough that if placed in “sensing range” of another players piece they’ll feel the tug. If placed directly on another players piece, it may even be obvious to the whole table!

What are your thoughts? Anyone got a brand new idea for how to make a great game from this? Let us know on Facebook or Twitter

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References   [ + ]

1. though from what I hear many successful designers have far more
2. Amy’s suggested I was drawing on Flashpoint (one of my recent favourites) when I came up with that idea, and it’s set of false alarm tokens. She might be right, it has certainly been on my mind as part of another game design…
3. If you’ve got more than one type, they’re either going to have to all have the same movement method, or they’ll need different backs and separate sets of “nuh-uh”s.

Adventurer’s Backpack Sell Sheet

So, for today I’m going to be looking at the sell-sheet for our main current card-game project, it design and a breakdown of what we’ve put in there.

This is not a how-to guide – it’s a how-I-did log: much of it is being written as the process is ongoing.

Step One: Look for Advice

I’ll start by linking a how-to guide, because that’s where I started on making the sheet.

Step Two: The Base Statistics of the Game:

How long does it take to play?
That varies, of course, but with timed playtests we’ve determined that it lasted 20-60 minutes. With a few minor rules adjustments, to allow compensating for player count and experience, it fits in the range of 25-50 minutes. Still a large variance, but not quite as extreme, and something that may be reducible further – but sell-sheets need to reflect the game as-is, not as-desired: a publisher won’t look kindly on a designer who deceives them from first interaction!

How many players can it take?
For Adventurer’s Backpack that’s a hard one to answer – technically it could be played with 20 players with no need to change the rules – but it would just be frustrating at that point. Deciding a cut-off for “How fun is fun enough” is necessarily arbitrary, but we went with a max of 8 players because we’ve been unable to playtest with 9 enough to say for sure, and 11 players is certainly no longer fun.

On the other end, it’s technically possible to play Adventurer’s Backpack solo – as a simple memory game – but it loses its greatest strength, the way that storytelling aids and influences memory! With two players the game works, but to my mind lacks most of its charm – so 3-8 it is.

What age is it for?
This one I actually missed out at first – a clerical error that I’ve just corrected. From our testing, some children as young as 6 may have fun with the game, but the combination of structured gameplay and freeform storytelling doesn’t always sink through – while we’ve only had a few playtests with children we believe that from age 8 most children will be able to grasp the game.

What components does it need?
It’s easy to forget this one – it doesn’t go on the outside of the game box like the others – but it’s absolutely vital. When it comes to mass-producing a game the materials needed and the manufacturing costs are vital – if the game is too expensive to make, then it’s not worth making; the more expensive it is the more it has to be able to grab its audience!

And Another Thing…
While not part of the standard set, I chose to include two/three further “stats” with those core ones:

Setup time – Most of our games are very quick to set up, and long set-ups can get frustrating, so keeping that clear in the core facts is valuable.

Rules and Strategic Complexity: The age range for a game is often used as a rough-and-ready guide to this, but the two can be very different – take Cards Against Humanity: it’s rules complexity is low, and its strategic complexity is zero, but it’s still at least a 12+ on age.

 

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