KS Update: Who are your most unusual characters?

If you’re anything like me you have dozens of characters, ideas for games and general strangeness floating around in your brain (That’s probably why I write them on cards…). Today I’d like to relay a couple of them to you, and ask what’s the strangest character you’ve come up with, whether you actually played them or not?

TBD-768, aka “Teebee”

We were about to start a superheroes-in-space campaign and Ali had a character worked out mechanically, but didn’t have a name. The character was a space ship brought to life by a hyperspace accident. As a space ship she needed a name that was suitable, so I put TBD (for To Be Determined”) and some random numbers. Weirdly she liked it and stuck with it, only adding the diminutive “Teebee” as the character was incredibly inquisitive and eternally upbeat and optimistic.

As the original crew were smugglers, and the contract between them stated that the payout for their current cargo would be split between the crew, and as the rest of them had died in the hyperspace accident that brought Teebee to life, she determined she deserved the money. These funds were then used to buy a near-indestructible humanoid robotic body from aliens, only to discover shortly after purchase that the body was stolen!

That character inspired this card

You could retain the upbeat attitude if you like.
You could retain the upbeat attitude if you like.

 The Incomprehensible Party

A long time ago we were going to play a Star Wars campaign. It never got off the ground for a variety of reasons, but we did propose the least comprehensible party ever – three Wookies and an R2 unit! This was back in the days of the West End Games system, which stated that if you played a character who could not speak common were only allowed to speak in character in imitations of the noises that character could make. This would result in the Wookies’ players only ever saying “Worraaagh” and the R2 unit’s player only ever making bleeping noises. As the GM didn’t speak either Shiriwook or Binary that would have made life difficult to say the least.

Probably for the best those characters never got played!

How About You?

So, share with us your weirdest characters – especially ones you could never actually play but are cool ideas none the less!

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Kickstarter Time: What do the cards mean:

For all Decks:

The main suit of each card defines it, or is what you notice first, while the numbers represent how strong it is.

For Characters

Hearts Represents Desires: 
Maybe they want to travel the universe or rid the galaxy of aliens.

Spades are Physical Descriptions:
They be very small or bright green and cybernetically enhanced

Diamonds Mean Professions:
Spaceship Captain or Interstellar Lawyer would go here.

Clubs are Connections:
Politicians or teachers are people who know people.

The Secret: Every card has a twist. A hidden mutation or a shady past with space pirates might go here. And it can modify the others.

For Locations

Spades Mean Physical Features
If it is decorated with star charts or really noisy it will say here.

Clubs Represent Dangers
From robust safety measures to death by exposure to vacuum.

Diamonds are Resources
The value within may be gold and jewels, or hidden knowledge.

Hearts Show Inhabitants
You could find the medical officer or a smuggler with a heart of gold.

The Secret: Every card has a twist. An alien hunter lurking in the shadows or impending staff walkout. And it can modify the others.

For Planets

Clubs Show Politics
A weak leader clinging to power or the beating heart of a star empire.

Hearts are Inhabitants
Scientists studying local plants or a teeming metropolis of billions.

Spades Represent Environments
There could be methane snow, or fourteen moons and two suns.

Diamonds Show Resources
Rare chemical isotopes or star ship building yards are found here.

The Secret: Every card has a twist. Hallucinogenic plants or long lost alien cities can appear unexpectedly. And it can modify the others.

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SF Concept Cards: Cardbacks and Backgrounds

Two of the most important things about a card are how the back looks, and how the front looks.1)Technically that’s everything about a card – but in this case we’re thinking purely visual

So we’ve been putting some work into getting those aspects right – we’re not quite there yet, but we’re closing in.

For the fantasy line of Concept Cards we started with a very simple concept: That the characters were written on parchment: so the background was slightly yellow and lightly textured.


Fantasy Characters Background

Later fantasy decks had slightly more exotic, theme-tied backgrounds, but they strove to remain simple (with the exception of a few special cards, such as the elemental cards in epic decks)


Fantasy Treasure Background

The cardback came from Fiverr – after a number of false starts, we recieved something that looked simply excellent, so we used it.

Fantasy Cardback


While we like everything we made for fantasy, it’s obviously unsuitable for sci-fi. We so far haven’t found useable simple textures, so as seen previously we’re simply using coloured backgrounds. Meanwhile we’ve been working on cardbacks that keep the double-circle of the fantasy deck, but go in a more sci-fi direction. What we’ve got at the moment is nebulous:



What do you think? Which do you prefer?

Which is your favourite of the cardback designs?

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Let us know why on Facebook.

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References   [ + ]

1. Technically that’s everything about a card – but in this case we’re thinking purely visual

SF Concept Cards: The Other Two Decks

Last week we showed you an unedited video of us playing with cards, and one of the planetary cards mentioned.

This week I think it’d be good to talk through a couple more cards – one from the Characters deck and one from the Locations.

First the Character. Why would you draw from the characters deck?
The most common reason is that the players decide they want to talk to a local, or someone travelling with them, or whoever – and you haven’t actually planned the details of that particular bit of background scenario.

Between sessions you might instead draw cards to plan your next adventure. While planets or station locations may be more common sources of adventure, the characters involved are what make a story truly gripping, so drawing a few of both is often the best idea.

So, on to the example:

We’ve flipped the secret because it’s easier than you flipping your monitor.

Roberta, even more so than most characters, is capable of turning up anywhere – possibly even showing up repeatedly on different planets.

My immediate interpretation is that she’s one of the characters that falls into the category of “NPC Adventurer”, someone who is likely to deal with problems rather than screaming and running away.

The value of her hearts makes it clear that while she has a meaningful desire something about it is lackluster – she wants to see everywhere, but not only is that impossible, she doesn’t even have a plan!

The value of her clubs suit (above average with a 7) tells us that she’s well-connected, despite the constant movement – she doesn’t stick around but the friends she leaves behinds are still friends, and new ones are a constant.

Her diamonds (profession) is “Whatever it Takes” gives a lot more depth to her character – she’s not a spoiled noble brat, she’s travelling on her own dime, on her own blood, sweat, and tears.

The spades describes her, while also reinforcing the fact that she’s self-mobile.

The secret is the key to building a whole plot around her – she wants to prove that she still has a soul, which is not an easy task in a science fiction world where souls may not even exist in the first place! If the players get interested you may find yourself leading them on a trail of mystics and priests, looking for someone who can actually prove that their spirituality is reality.


Now onto the Location. Again, you might draw this when planning a session, or you might draw it when your players decide to wander down another corridor or another street, and need somewhere interesting to walk into – somewhere other than the adventure that you’d originally planned.

You might get to point them back at the plot, or perhaps you’ll find the card gives you a whole new plot:

A high hearts in locations means that the place is host to important people – in this case an extremely competent law firm.

The spades and diamonds both reinforce that these are skilled lawyers – but not kind ones. Still, they might be useful for adventurous types like player characters, who break laws in order to do what’s necessary.

And even if the PCs don’t have enough money to pay them, the secret provides an obvious out: They’re in need of protection, just the sort of story the PCs are used to sorting!


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Sci-Fi Concept Cards: Space is Big! [On helping the sci-fi GM]

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“Space is big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to space.”

Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

No, really, space IS big. Most fantasy games cover a kingdom, or even a whole world. Scifi adventures cover whole galaxies – maybe even the Universe. Throw in time travel as well, and that’s a lot to fill. Ever wonder why there’s a maximum of half a dozen locations on any given planet?  

Because no author, filmmaker or designer can actually portray space as big as it is, and still have something we can relate to. So you get ‘this week’s planet is a jungle’ “this civilisation is Ancient Greece, but IIIIN SPAACE!”

As GMs, we have to walk a tightrope between not enough detail and too much. We have to include enough from the canon to make it the setting we chose to play in, while writing enough new to make the story our own.

Think for a minute about Star Wars. The middle unstated bit of the original trilogy – after Yavin, before Hoth. Vader hunts down the Resistance because they are a problem. So there are stories to be told elsewhere about other groups of intrepid resistance fighters getting up the Empire’s nose, enough that the Rebellion as a whole is more than just Luke, Leia, Wedge and a handful of extras. But because we’re playing Star Wars, we probably need to visit Tatooine and Hoth and Bespin and Coruscant – otherwise we could be anywhere (The problem of who gets to be the Jedi is a different argument, which I am not getting involved with) But we also need new places, not specified in the book. Places that aren’t in the films, because we were there – and if my personal experience of playing Star Wars is in any way indicative, probably blew up / made uninhabitable / sent to the Dark Side / set up franchises on  – whichever seemed most destructive.at the time.

In order to tell fun stories, the GM needs a whole pile of people to meet, shoot at, betray, fall in love with, and rescue. Planets we can freely visit, come from or devastate. Locations to rob, blow up, control or maybe even just occasionally walk away from. (does anyone spot a theme to my scifi games?) So, we here at Artemis are writing a whole bunch of concepts for you to wrangle into your games.

Unlike the fantasy cards, every card is likely going to need tweaking to fit the setting you play in. Take Lt. Commander Martinn Jarvi. He’s an Imperial Officer, young for his rank,  who believes in absolute galactic order, knows all the right people to get ahead, and has a remarkably quiet voice. He’s even prepared to sacrifice lives for the greater good.

A card of generation alpha-0.2 – come back soon for a more polished version.

In Star Wars, depending on when you play, he might be a Republic official, a Death Star officer, or a New Order officer. Other than that he can be pretty much dropped in as is.

For Star Trek, he almost certainly works for the Federation, but the liberal attitudes of that organisation don’t really fit him. Make him a Vulcan, however, and the desire for order and logic becomes much more explicable.

In Warhammer 40k, he could be an officer in the Imperial Navy, but he makes a much better impact as a Space Marine, stamping out heresy and rebellion. He’s a good fit for an Ultramarine, but he has to be demoted to Sergeant to fit the much smaller deployment model the Marines have. The quiet voice becomes firmer, and his physical description becomes more about his transhuman anatomy than “probably blond hair and blue eyes” He could also be an Inquisitor, where his stamping on everyone ‘just to make sure’ makes him a suitably fanatical antagonist.

Likewise other settings will need him to morph to reasonably exist. Some internal locations make more sense on planets than on space stations, or vice versa  – perhaps the mine is on a nearby asteroid, and the ore is processed on the space station? We’re trying to make as few as possible that couldn’t exist on DS 9 or Babylon 5 – you might never have seen the Water Processing Plant, but logically there probably is one. And your contact wants to meet there – why?

Stories work because we, the protagonists, go to interesting places and meet fascinating people. And not always kill them. Unless they wear black hats. Morality in gaming? That’s a whole ‘nother question for a whole ‘nother day.

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Lovely Layout and Wonderful Workflow

Not Actually Me

I thought I’d talk a little about how we go about producing the Jigsaw pieces (or whatever they get renamed to, see the post from two weeks ago – while you’re here, if you haven’t already, can you tell us which names you prefer?)

[Ste Note: This article talks primarily about Loz and Ali’s Workflow – next week we’ll talk about mine and Amy’s and about how our differences help improve the pieces.]

It all starts, of course, with an idea. That idea can come from anywhere – something we’ve read, seen, eaten or written can spark an idea, but it then needs refinement. Sometimes that’s a pretty simple affair, other times it can require significantly more time in the shower. We often discuss these ideas with each other (not usually while in the shower) to get them to a point where we can do something with them. I tend to write less and have more notes, while Ali tends to write a lot more at this stage, and keep the notes in her head.

This can be a case of limiting rather than widening an idea. Death Rites started with the idea that much of what we know of ancient cultures comes from their burials (as discovered when sitting round a campfire with a bunch of archaeologists!), so it could be interesting to look at fantasy cultures from a similar viewpoint – but the question then became *which* cultures? About whom would it be most interesting to describe their death rites? Of course many adventurers are buried inside a dragon…

Comments from our backers can feed into this process too – for example the Panoply of Annem Ka took on an Egyptian flavour because someone said they wanted to see things that would fit into an Egyptian, Arabic, or Persian type milieu. It could have just as easily been Mayan or Norse in flavour – or even taken something from Shinto, if the spirits in the items were not those of once-living people.

Then we go away and write a kind of proof of concept – it’s usually the first few pages, and then notes about enough of the rest that it’s believable that it could be completed relatively easily, in the required amount of time, and to the required length. We use Google Docs for this because we can all read and edit the thing at the same time without having to worry about file locks, or working on an old version.


Then we wait.


We ask our patrons to vote on which of three pieces they would like to see – each of the three pieces will be in the state described above. Once a piece is selected it’s time to get to work. We have approximately a month to take it from ready to vote to ready to release, and whoever is the named author has the bulk of that pressure – ideally it will be expanded to full length within two weeks.

It’s at that point that the collaborative features of Google Docs come to the fore – the rest of us will read over it and add sarcastic comments, correct typos, rework sections so the grammar is clearer, and question things which aren’t clear. This can be pretty brutal, but we all know it’s going to end up with a better end result so we’re pretty thick skinned about it.

We also look for art. Sometimes pieces will come to mind when writing (most dramatically in the as yet unreleased Dream Monkeys of Antoon, which was inspired by a rather odd trend amongst 17th century Dutch artists of painting monkeys doing human jobs!), other times we will draw from stock art we have bought, or from various free sources such as Wikimedia Commons. These images can require some modification, something Ste has been doing more of recently.

We try to make sure the images (and their captions) expand on the text rather than just illustrate it – for example in the piece named Dragons, (and the freebie excerpt The Dragon and the Convent) a statue has the caption “The statue which Caron crashed into is damaged, but still stands in the main chapel as a reminder.” – this then tells you something about the decoration of the chapel and the sentimentality of the dragon Caron.

Once the first pass has been done, and we have some idea of art, I do the final layout. I have built a template, which includes the basic shape, custom fonts and whatever else. For this I use Libre Office, mostly because I know it well. I looked into other page layout tools and none of them seemed to do anything much better than a custom template on Libre Office does. (In future, Libre Office is going to have a collaborative version, so I may end up running it on a home server and working in that instead of Google Docs, but that’s not stable yet.). This usually takes a couple of passes to get right, especially if we discover at this stage that the piece is too long, too short, has too little or too much art, or the art is unhelpfully distributed – art is never finalised until this stage for that reason.

Eventually we get to the proofreading stage – Generally Ali and Ste will do this, and they don’t always spot the same errors! It’s gone through many eyes already, but typos have an infuriating way of slipping past, so inevitably there will be a few errors that creep through and need fixing after all else is done. Nowadays that’s usually less than ten, but in the early days it was far more and I used to dread having to do significant work on the layout because so many spelling or grammar oddities had changed the flow significantly!

Eventually it gets released to the backers of the Patreon via DrivethruRPG.

Now, this blog post will need to be proofread before it goes up – I wonder how many typos I’ve made…

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Using Jigsaw Fantasy 4: A Question of Rules

What we write is system and setting independent. While this means that things need to be adapted to your games, that is true of any published material – you know your games, your world, and your players better than anyone else after all. On the plus side this means what we write is applicable to a wider range of people and we are not tied to another company’s release schedule or edition changes.

There is one noteworthy issue in system-independent material, and that is the question of rules. If we were to publish rules for a gyik as, say, a level 8 monster in Pathfinder it may be useful for a few levels either side, but the range would be limited meaning that you would have to adapt it if your players are not in that range when you want to send them into the Sivatag Desert – and it would be almost completely useless to players of Savage Worlds. So how do you turn that gyik into a monster for your players to fight, or the giant sundew from Samudtratat Beach into an interesting terrain feature?

Well of course that depends on your game system. Most systems nowadays have advice on how to create the stats for something, and (unless you’re playing high level D&D 3.5) they’re generally pretty quick, if relatively basic. For something like Fate Accelerated (or even more so Risus) you can often just pull a few key lines out of the text and chuck a few numbers which feel right at the page and it’s sorted. Something like D&D or Gurps is more involved, but again between the guidance for creating monsters and NPCs in the book and the ideas it can certainly be done. If you find yourself struggling to create something within the guidelines given the simplest solution is often to look in the “Monster Manual” “Creature Compendium” “Baddy Book” or whatever else your chosen game calls its enemies section – look for creatures with similar abilities and just tweak them and change the description (and damage types if applicable).

When reading a description of a person, creature, plant, or anything else, look for the key parts of the description which would involve mechanics. For example the various characters in Red Lock Bay include descriptions of what they do best and what they are known for, as well as their history. That information should inform their key skill levels. The twins Daniel and Alan Herbert are skilled chefs, but just as much they are excellent showmen. It is fair to suggest they would be highly dexterous and charismatic (despite their appearance – many games unhelpfully conflate physical appearance and social ability) – many games have a stat called dexterity and another called charisma, but those which don’t will have analogues (such as agility, or charm). They also need high skills in cookery, butchery, fishing and whatever other related skills are in your game. As they are generally well respected it would be good to give them some degree of contacts, allies, or similar if your game uses them.

Ultimately, I believe, the rules should get out of the way and allow a good story to be told. Some things can be fudged , or things adapted into other things – for example Red Lock Bay’s Seaborne Ponies could use any regular pony stats with the addition of a swim skill (unless you were to take the suggestion of making them kelpies, in which case they are something altogether more complex). Sometimes, however, the mechanics are a good way to tell part of the story and there we have called out rules ideas – the Royal Panoply of Annem Ka is the only place I have felt a real need to do this. There I have made suggestions of what the various items and artifacts might do as they are awakened as their process of awakening and growing power is a key part of the story. Even here, though I have left the specifics to you – should the bonus to leadership skills that the Crown of Annem Ka provides be +2 or +5? Or should it grant proficiency in the skill?

These questions, and others, are ones that only you can answer because they depend on your world, your stories, what will help the players shine equally, and what you and your players will enjoy.

After all, is enjoyment not the entire reason we are here?

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Third Thursday Freebies: A Giveaway and a Beach

Third Thursday Freebies are generally a free digital short in the Jigsaw Fantasy style, but this month we have something special.

First, the normal:

Samudratat Beach is home to a mysterious hermit and some dangerous flora and fauna. Small though it may be, it manages to be touched by both the ocean and the sandy desert – tying in to the Oceans and Deserts Kickstarter

The Giveaway

We’ve partnered with The Giveaway Geek to run a special freebie this month – we’re giving away two full sets of Location Cards.

Check out the giveaway, and make sure to share it (it even gives you extra chances to win if you do!)


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Using Jigsaw Fantasy 3: The Links

The setting material we write is not intended to be a joined up world – we’ve always written with an eye to modifying already existing worlds, whether published or homebrew. Between Jigsaw and Concept Cards, we’ve written enough that there could be a whole campaign setting in there – but that’s not their purpose.1)Using them in lieu of a structured campaign setting on the other hand is a perfectly reasonable option – it’s simply that each person doing so will end up with a different world

So Jigsaw Fantasy provides “Jigsaw Links” to help with this. How best can you use the Links in the appendix of each piece? In the Floating City, we describe the worship of Uzhangya, Goddess of the Sea. But she’s really specific – and whatever world you play, there will almost certainly be a deity of the sea already. So Uzhangya could be another sea-deity, or an aspect of an existing one, or you could swap her out with one of her fellow deities.

Continue reading →

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References   [ + ]

1. Using them in lieu of a structured campaign setting on the other hand is a perfectly reasonable option – it’s simply that each person doing so will end up with a different world

Using Jigsaw Fantasy 2: Cultures

Over the last year, between the Mythic Monday blogs, Death Rites Jigsaw piece, and elements from The Floating City; Emberek Tribes 1)coming soon on Kickstarter and more, we’ve sketched out details from dozens of cultures. What use are they? How do they fit into your stories?

Somewhere to visit – most adventurers are wanderers. Each week a new planet – ahem, location. Where are we today? What strange customs do the locals follow, and what kind of trouble will the heroes get into by not observing them? Is today the feast of the God of Silence, and the travellers get no replies to their queries for bed and board? Are men forbidden from speaking to anyone outside their family? Are all the undead in the fields not a plague but a workforce?

Origin stories – every hero needs one. Why become an adventurer – no home, probably no family, no community, no job security. Robbing tombs and killing vermin isn’t high up the desirable career choices of anyone. Is your hero an outcast? Seeking revenge? Desperate?

Is the reason Our Hero left home to do with the customs common at home – assuming home still exists at all. Think of Atalanta, who in at least some versions is left on a mountainside to die as an infant, because her father wanted a boy. We gave you the passengers on the Elkeru river – dead to their homeland, even if they survive the voyage.

Continue reading →

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References   [ + ]

1. coming soon on Kickstarter