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!)

-Ste

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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

Using Jigsaw Fantasy 1: Environments

Environments-21-cave
The environment is nature trying to make your life interesting. Or difficult, whichever you prefer.

Unless your entire travel segment goes “it takes three weeks, and you arrive in the next city”, you are going to need something about where you are travelling through. Even in the city, the local environment has an effect – on architecture, on clothing, even on the demeanor of the inhabitants. Compare Alexandria with Venice with Oslo. The ancient versions, not the skyscraper forests. Any era before air conditioning and central heating, where you live affects you.

But the environment is particularly relevant to those who leave the city and explore the wildernesses – notably adventurers. Hacking through a forest, isn’t quite the same as punting through a swamp, sailing a boiling sea, or trekking through the desert.

Continue reading →

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Third Thursday Freebie – Warrior Priests of the Sea

Warrior Priests of the Sea Cover

This month’s freebie is a small Noggin drawn from the Jigsaw Piece The Floating City – focusing on the priests of their Academic Quarter, who defend the elderly and the young with the gifts of their goddess.

As with all Jigsaw Fantasy products this also includes a series of “Jigsaw Links” giving advice on how to tie the elements into your own setting, using examples drawn from many different fantasy worlds.

Check out Jigsaw Fantasy’s Warrior Priests of the Sea

And if you enjoy that, you’ll love our upcoming kickstarter – so keep your eyes peeled.

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