Shards – Table of Contents

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

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

Editorial: Introducing the authors and the concept of the Zine

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

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

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

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

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

↳   Staff: The bartenders, bouncer and croupier.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

p.s. our regular weekly blog is here

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Shards

Some of you have seen our other worldbuilding lines, through Kickstarter, Patreon, and DrivethruRPG, and are eagerly awaiting the next installment. Some of you have been shared this and don’t know what to make of us. Hi, we’re kinda story architects [Ste: I prefer story scaffolding specialists]. We help people tell stories.

So, I’ve run roleplay games for a couple of decades,  – actually I prefer the term ‘storytelling games’ as it’s a better fit for the kind of games I run. Or possibly ‘movies in your head’ – I often use a vocabulary in common with film students – “In last weeks exciting episode….” Time for a Training Montage! And so on.

When we (my regular gaming group) sat down to talk shop, we realised we have all run up against a recurring problem. When I run a published module, chances are everyone in the game has read it, heard war stories about it, (and it turns out that the seeming safe path is illusion and there’s actually a plank down the middle of the room! Ha Ha!)  or at the very least can look up a lot of the details on the Net. This makes for un-fun gameplay – the surprises aren’t, the doublecross fails when the party shoot the key NPC just to see what happens. The rest of the team have encountered similar with regards to published settings – it’s entirely possible that one of your players knows the setting better than you do.

The trick we all independently came up with is to use the same basic shape but give it a new twist. Perhaps the teacher is a nurse instead? Maybe the boss-fight-at-the-end is in a hospital instead of a back alley? The problem with this is is takes a lot more prep time than playing straight out of the book.

What we write is story elements and worldbuilding advice – so you can more easily mix it up a bit. Either plug our elements into existing settings as a quick twist – or tack a few together and make your own world.

Writers and storytellers too can make use of our pieces as prompts. Explore a character’s backstory; chronicle a location; begin on a planet. Almost everything we publish implies more is going on – we specifically don’t tie down elements like how magic works or what alien races exist. If you make use of a story-seed like this and write something, we’d love a copy. If you make a million, buy us a coffee or something.

Why ‘Shards’ ?

We wanted a word that implied disconnected pieces of a whole. Jigsaw didn’t work, as it implied more of a solid final setting. So we ran through a number of idea – fragments, modules, [scratched off pretty quickly due to the “adventure module” implication] capsules, chapters, even “world clay”.

As for why we ended up with Shards in particular? Blame the members of VAGUE – that’s the Manchester Metropolitan University Tabletop Gaming Society. We wandered along one week with a list of names, and asked anyone who would talk to us which ones they liked. I think marketers call it a focus group. We call it talking to your mates.

Why a Zine?

We’ve been kinda looking for a new way to do what we do best – make world pieces. We’ve made a lot of Concept Cards, and Jigsaw Fantasy was taking all our time for virtually no money. I’m sorry, terribly mercenary of us, but we got rent to find and bills to pay.

Honestly, we probably wouldn’t have thought of presenting in this way without KS doing their Zine Quest. But it does fit the criteria we’ve been looking for – not too expensive to print (we’re banking on you wanting to read it because it’s useful, not because it’s shiny), regular (see Douglas Adams’ wise words on deadlines) and managed – we can stop trying to be sales reps and get on with making new cool stuff for you to play with.

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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.

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Fun With Words

Words serve a purpose – they help us communicate ideas by transmitting thoughts from one person to another. In a way they are a kind of telepathy! Whether jeered over teamspeak, scrawled on a toilet wall, or merely thought really loudly, words can tell us something about your mum!

But words can be more than just the transmission of ideas – they can be fun. The ideas transmitted can inform, educate and entertain, there’s jokes, poems, stories, and best of all (in my opinion) role playing games (and yet I still don’t know whether that should be roleplaying role-playing or role playing. my spell checker thinks the latter, and that almost rhymes so I’ll go with that for now).

Choice of words matters. Different words have different connotations – Ali mentioned a couple of weeks ago about the difficulty in choosing the correct word for those who go to a spa, so I’ll not retread that ground here. I could have said “cover that again”, but instead chose to go with a  metaphor because I found it more entertaining to do so, and one might literally tread ground at a spa. In that first paragraph I could have gone with “spoken, written or using sign language”, but I instead went for an old joke because it’s more entertaining and more arresting.

In the beginning language was entirely auditory – we spoke, we grunted, we howled (well, I did anyway). And the spoken language still has a special place. Some words are just fun to say, they’re make your mouth make interesting shapes, or your vocal cords produce unusual noises. Cassock, plinth, ullulate. Say all of these out loud slowly and recognise the weird things your mouth and voice are doing – the first starts and ends hard, but is soft in the middle, the second makes your tongue almost come out of your mouth, and the third, kind of goes everywhere. Even devoid of meaning these words can entertain – meaning is not necessary for communication as Noam Chomsky famously pointed out with the nonsense sentence “Colorless green ideas sleep furiously” (note the American spelling of colorless, that’s another topic entirely).

Tongue twisters rely on this idea. As the name implies, they are designed to confound your mouth and make you trip over sounds by using repetition with slight variations. “She sells sea shells by the sea shore”, and “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers” being famous examples – look at the individual sounds, the phonemes, and you can see what is going on. Perhaps we can even create our own with some more fun words: “Ten trebuchets torment Trevor’s tray of toast” – try saying that fast!

And then there is semantic satiation. Semantic satiation is the process by which words such as semantic satiation cease to have any meaning because semantic satiation has been repeated so often. There is quite a bit of psychology and neurology behind the idea of semantic satiation, but I’ll leave that to the semantic satiation scientists scientists for now, and just say semantic satiation again. Semantic satiation. In essence if we repeat a word too often we get a sequence of nonsense noises which started out with meaning, and that in itself is fascinating:

Monkey monkey monkey monkey monkey monkey monkey monkey monkey monkey monkey monkey monkey monkey monkey monkey monkey monkey monkey monkey monkey monkey monkey monkey monkey monkey monkey monkey monkey monkey monkey monkey monkey monkey monkey monkey monkey monkey monkey monkey monkey…

[ed note: there are a few typographical errors in here – I’ve been told to leave them in…]

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New Monthly Post: Playtest Report

We’ve decided to add a bit more structure to the blog, and this is the first piece of it: Every month, on the 2nd monday, the Artemis Games blog will have a Playtest Report – talking about some playtesting we’ve done, and what modifications it has pushed into the games.

December/January Playtest Report

Over the past month we have been largely focused on playtesting Tinfoil Hat, our upcoming Conspiracy Theory game.

Overall the response has been positive, but there’s been some vital criticism.

The biggest of Tinfoil Hat’s problems is the beginning: at the start of the game, as it stood last week, you had to rant for 30 seconds on the connection between two pieces of a conspiracy. This didn’t really work – most of the 30 seconds was spent umming and ahhing as there simply wasn’t enough to go on.

Our first fix attempt was to make the 30 seconds timer only function as a maximum, not a minimum. But that resulted in a brand new problem: With no push to keep talking the ranter was a lot less likely to elaborate on their conspiracy in interesting ways, and to potentially back themselves into a corner.

We’ve worked on the problem again, and now have a working solution: In addition to the two cards played at the start by the judge, to start the rant, the first 30 seconds includes a completely random card from the top of the deck. The 30 second timer still functions as both minimum and maximum, but the game hits its stride far faster while allowing time for the players to make vital mistakes.

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Wordsmith

I rarely describe myself as a writer. I sometimes use ‘Architect for castles in the clouds’, but these days that tends to make people think ‘engineer’ So most often I call myself a wordsmith

We’ve talked before about making names for places – and it applies similarly for people – Wright, Walker or Thatcher. Kwaku (Mr Snake) the Setite..Tours Prince the activist (derived from Martin Luther King)

More made up words come into play now we’ve got a Sci-fi range. One instinctively knows that promethium – the fuel used in Warhammer 40k –  is flammable. Not only is is a bit like petroleum, but it’s named for the Greek thief of fire, Prometheus. My favorite piece of pseudoscience is the Heisenberg compensator in Star Trek. Heisenberg tells us we cannot know where we are and how fast we’re going (he’s thinking on a subatomic scale) so in order to travel Faster Than Light we need something to compensate for the Uncertainty Principle. Totally plausible whilst being essentially rubbish.

But I want to talk about choosing words, rather than making them up. When we wrote the Sci Fi Concept Cards, one of the hardest to get right was the 7D of Locations – the Rainbow Echo Spa. What is the right word for people-who-attend-a-spa? Are they patients? Well, they do receive treatments. Customers? They pay for the service. Eventually we settled on ‘clients’ as a expression of a closer relationship with a therapist. Not just because it was shorter and didn’t spill over to the next line.

To relate this to you, think about the resonances you use when describing your character or when scene-setting as a GM. If a room is “big’ – that doesn’t evoke anything. Is it vast, towering, cathedral-like? Is it too big for its use – a dining room that could seat fifty set for four? Is it merely big compared to the characters – either physically as in Alice in Wonderland or the Borrowers, or mentally if viewing through the eyes of a tiny familiar – mouse or even ant.

Assuming you are talking to adults – make use of the shared vocabulary of experience. Try to avoid using words which are more suitable for reading ages of five – big, small, right; and never nice. That said, I’ll break that rule if it gets over the atmosphere I’m trying for. A villain lair which was only described in childlike adjectives took on the creepy clown aspect. My players have come to expect poetry – so when they got curtailed language, they noticed.

If you have a pre-written adventure, you can practice by rephrasing the opening paragraph. Try re-casting it as the opening of an 80s fantasy film “A long time ago in a land far far away …”. Now try as the start of a young adult novel.”Evelyn never really saw the rolling fields she’d grown up in … “ Changing language finds us demanding something different from the audience, and by choosing tone we can convey much more about the campaign than simply what it looks like.

Example: A recent Vampire campaign began with a meeting at the Palace Theatre, This is a real place, so most of the players are familiar with the outside, which is a Victorian marble edifice. Inside, it’s a theatre, ballroom, ballet school and bar that serves food. As the setup to a campaign that was meant to be political, layers on layers of intrigue and half truth – I described the foyer as ‘confections of scarlet and gold’ and included several doors throughout the building labelled ‘staff only’. These were all concealed behind curtains – implying that one couldn’t know at a glance where there were doors, and that much of the building remains concealed. Do you feel ready to step backstage and find out how deep the rabbit hole goes?

As for that last – remember, stealing from one person is plagiarism – stealing from many is called research. This post has stolen from – ahem, researched from – Alice in Wonderland, Star Wars, Star Trek,  Greek myth and hard science. At least. Don’t be afraid to use a turn of phrase coined by someone else if it says what you need it to. On that note, I’m going to go read something. Don’t know what yet. What do you recommend?

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Draconic Laziness

It’s new years eve, and the fifth monday of the month, so I’m going to practise the draconic virtue of resting and enjoying my treasures in my home.

No update today, but we will return next week; when we’ll be establishing a new pattern for the new year.

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Gifts for a Dragon

What can you give the beast that’s got everything?

More Shiny Stuff

No matter how large a dragon’s hoard, they always want more – dragons are greed personified. So even if they have everything, consider what they don’t have two of; and get them that.

Dragon Eggs

By gifting a dragon an egg you are providing them with one of three things: First it could be their own egg, in which case they will be grateful for its return, although unless you also provide the thief they may be somewhat suspicious.

Secondly it could be the egg of another dragon they tolerate, in which case you have given them powerful leverage for diplomacy.

Thirdly it could be the egg of another dragon they either don’t know or don’t like, in which case you have provided them with a rare and delicious meal.

Tartare Sauce

It is a well-known fact that one should not interfere in the affairs of dragons – humanoids are crunchy and go well with ketchup. By buying a dragon Tartare Sauce you can spur them to enjoy seafood for some time, distracting them from kidnapping princesses and devouring knights.

Laxative Tablets

Dragons consume a very mineral-rich diet, high in iron, steel, silver and gold. Unfortunately it is also very low in fibre, meaning that dragons can easily become constipated, rather grumpy and overproducing methane – which leads to town-destroying rampages. Give your neighbourhood dragon some mild laxatives to help them stay regular and happy in their lair.

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