Sci-Fi Concept Cards: What do we Mean by Sci-Fi?

In space, no-one can hear you complain about the colour palette

 

As you hopefully know by now, our next major project is another set of Concept Cards, this time Sci Fi Concept Cards. (If you don’t know what Concept Cards are, take a look at the fantasy ones here.)

Science fiction is a huge genre – it encompasses everything set five minutes or more into the future, and some thing that are set in the past too – especially when you include time travel. We couldn’t possibly hope to cover all possibilities in one deck – characters would range from the Victorian dandy making strange steam powered inventions in his basement, via cyberpunk corporate salarymen, to star ship captains. While there is no doubt scope for some variants of those in each other’s sub-genres (the steampunk airship needs a captain), there are enough differences that we don’t think it would be helpful. In future perhaps these will get their own decks – but not right now. (n.b. In the Fantasy Epic Locations deck there is already one sci fi reference – the Urban Emperor, The Last of the Ancients, is a man in stasis wearing a bathrobe, and references both Red Dwarf and the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy)

What we mean here, then, is the kind of sci fi that involves starships and blasters. From Star Wars to Star Trek, to Firefly, to Warhammer 40,000 and even Eclipse Phase and The Foundation Trilogy.1)Ste Note: I’m drawing a bit from Schlock Mercenary too

These settings feature relatively ubiquitous space travel, some form of interstellar travel, aliens, blasters and/or laser weaponry, huge threats larger than a person, a city, or even a planet, and so forth. There are exceptions, of course – The Foundation Trilogy only features humans, Firefly takes place entirely in one solar system, In Eclipse Phase interstellar travel is limited to Pandora Gates, and Stargate has present day humans exposed to a far more advanced setting.

How interstellar travel works is something which can help define a setting – for instance in 40k the Warp is incredible dangerous, while in Star Trek, travelling at Warp Speed is rarely a problem (barring unusual accident, which inevitably happen to the Enterprise). The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has such unusual methods as the Infinite Improbability Drive (whereby it is incredibly unlikely you will simply teleport from one point in space to another, so if one can increase the level of improbability high enough it’s bound to happen), and Bill the Galactic Hero has the Bloater Drive (which works by expanding the space between atoms such that the ship is the size of the entire distance between the start and the end of the journey, and then condensing them back to normal.)

Then there is the question of psychic powers. These show up in many forms and are surprisingly common. In Star Wars the Force is a natural energy that connects all things, but in Eclipse Phase it’s caused by an infection by a sentient techno-virus, while in 40k if you overuse them you’re likely to get eaten by daemons (as is anyone standing too close to you). Regardless, they are usually rare and barely understood (even by the practitioners), but the subject of much research.

Faith also plays a surprisingly large part in sci fi. In Star Trek the Federation is atheist, but many of the other cultures are not – notably the Klingons are deeply religious, but they killed their gods for holding them back! But despite this exploration of faith, the genre doesn’t allow “gods did it” to be an explanation very often, and when it does the gods usually turn out to be extremely powerful aliens or fakes by people using technology or psychic powers.

Beyond all that there are new people, new places, new planets, and new ideas to explore. In Dark Heresy they are probably evil cultists hell-bent on causing death and destruction, and must be stopped at all costs, while in Babylon 5 the aliens have most likely come to the space station rather than the protagonists going to them, but the point stands.

And that, I think, is the key to science fiction –

Exploration of the new and the unknown.  

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References   [ + ]

1. Ste Note: I’m drawing a bit from Schlock Mercenary too

Artemis Games New Years Resolutions

Today is new years day – so we’re all a bit drained from yesterday – but we still want to say something significant. So here are the business-related new years resolutions for us this year:

  1. Go all-in on the February Concept Cards Kickstarter: More marketing, more contacts, better prep. It’s our central product, we need to make sure everyone sees its value.
  2. Work with local game stores to demo and advertise our products – help new players find our tools.
  3. Rebrand Jigsaw Fantasy – either when Dr!p launches, or when we’ve finished design work on Science Fiction Concept Cards.
  4. Talk to at least one publisher each month about getting one of our card games into production.
  5. Get more connected to the UK and international tabletop design communities – and look for opportunities to collaborate with other members of that community.
  6. Continue developing our art resources, and connecting with artists, to create the best looking products possible.
  7. Always remember that we have to look after our own health – and each others – in order to be productive.

 

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Amy and Ste Writing Techniques

Neither of us are even close to that neat…

 

Amy – by Amy

For me it usually starts with me watching, reading or dreaming about something and thinking “That’s interesting, but how does it work” or “Could it be done another way” or “I want to know more, but there’s no answers around”…

  • Then I usually write a small bit of it – an introduction or some bullet points on the bits of the piece that make immediate sense.
  • And I ask myself some questions – like why and how it exists, and what it smells and sounds like.
  • For instance with The Floating city, I had always liked the idea of a moving ocean city in fantasy with the city on the back of dragon turtles, and also the floating cities in the real world in vietnam and south america, but I didn’t want to simply copy either, I wanted to combine aspects of both – and then I saw a show call “The Future is Wild” and it had giant jellyfish and I realised that they could work as the base of a floating city. But once it came to writing it I had to work out how that would work in fantasy world, i.e. why would the jellyfish allow people to build upon them, and never dive beneath the waves.
  • So I make a template asking these questions within the piece, both for Jigsaw Fantasy and for the Monstrous Monday Blogs.
    • Questions often delve into things that are commonly ignored in fiction – for instance “Where do Kraken nest?”.
  • I also try to give background to a few things that most people might see as just a monster or just someone they met on the road – a bit of back story and place they come from – whether that be the origin of a species, or a young royal elf would be traveling with children he’s not related to.
  • When I know what I want to write to about but am stuck on how or what to say, there a few different things I do to help with this like
    • I go on a run, and think about it as I do so.
    • Read or watch some more information about it.
    • I talk it over with Ste
    • I dream walk, which is a bit like lucid dreaming, but rather than taking full control I just pick a point from which to allow my thoughts to spread – I do this either while in a half-asleep state, or while meditating.
  • My pieces are always finished off with a pass by Ste, doing a deep-dive of copy-editing that often involves filling out some areas where I’ve forgotten to put down things that I know about the piece – simply due to the fact that, with my dyslexia, I don’t always put things in writing.

 

Ste – by Ste

My pieces begin with a “High Concept” some major element of worldbuilding (or, in the case of People with Two Sides character building) that I feel a drive to explore – whether that be “the greatest possible city”, “a glacial disaster”, “nature on steroids” or “why do Devils really want souls”

  • I then break it down into subsections, writing a brief synopsis of each subsection at the start (this is generally cut from the final piece). Each of these subsections is something I expect to be roughly the same length – if they prove not to be I’ll subdivide further.
  • My subsections often share a structure, at least at first – for instance geographic ones will each have the same number of major elements from their region explored in depth, while each character will explore a set number of sensations and of behaviours.
  • I ask Amy what she thinks of my subsections and she’ll ask those questions that she alway asks herself 1)She does this with every piece she reads, but with those by Ali and Loz it’s often late enough in the process that there’s no longer space to devote to longer answers to those questions, and they end up in the Jigsaw Links as more open questions.
  • After the edits Amy prompts, the strictness of my writing structure is almost always broken, but that’s not a problem as the structure was there as *scaffolding* to help me write clearly.

 

Together at the End – By both of us

We always finish off our pieces together, chucking problems and ideas back and forth as they come up.

  • Sometimes art will change how we see something – “Why is a male elf wearing what looks a wedding dress?”
  • Occasionally Jigsawing makes significant changes – something that was specified one way actually makes sense multiple different ways.
  • Every now and then we have to cut something for space, due to over-writing – it is in these cases that we’re most likely to look at whether the patrons want a semi-sequel piece.

 

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References   [ + ]

1. She does this with every piece she reads, but with those by Ali and Loz it’s often late enough in the process that there’s no longer space to devote to longer answers to those questions, and they end up in the Jigsaw Links as more open questions.

Changes to Patreon Fees – a response

The Changes

Patreon are changing their fee structure, as of the 18th of December – it’s simpler, but almost without fail, it’s going up. More drastically they’re moving the onus of these fees from the creators to the backers.

Currently if you back a project for a given amount you pay that much (plus VAT or similar if you’re in the EU). Patreon then take their fees out of that and pass the rest onto the creators – they take a cut, plus the card companies take a cut, and so forth, and the end result is 2-10% of the amount you pledge goes on processing fees, and Patreon take another 5% – this means 7-15% of your pledge does not go to the creators. That percentage varies depending how much you are backing in total over however many projects you back, so the precise amount a creator gets is a little bit unpredictable.

However, the new structure passes that onus onto the backers – they will now charge a flat 2.9%, plus 35¢ per pledge (plus VAT or similar in the EU). They are also keeping their 5% fee. This means the amount a creator gets is far more predictable, and that creators get the amount you say you want to pledge to them. However it also significantly raises the amount backers pay. The amount the backer pays becomes ((<pledge>+2.9%)+0.35¢)+20%, and we get <pledge>-5%.

Of course Patreon have to charge for their services – they have costs, and being a business I’m sure they would like to make a profit as well. That is in no way the issue here.

Examples

We have three backers levels, at $1, $3, and $5, so let’s use those numbers. I’ll assume VAT at 20% as it currently is in the UK (but working in US dollars because that’s what Patreon works in!). Let’s also add a theoretical $25 pledge.

Your pledge  Old system                             New system

.                       You pay        We Get             | You Pay              We Get 

$1                     $1.20            $0.85 – $0.93 |   $1.66                 $0.95

$3                    $3.60           $2.55 – $2.79   |  $4.13                 $2.85

$5                    $6.00           $4.25 – $4.65   | $6.56                 $4.75

$25                  $30             $21.25 – $23.25 | $31.29               $23.75

Now, if you back a single Patreon project for a moderate amount of money, the change is not *that* big. However if you back, say, twenty-five projects for a dollar each, you’ve just gone from spending $30 to spending $41.50 (possibly a few cents less, depending how they aggregate  and round things) – yet if it were a single pledge of $25 to one creators the increase would be $1.29, rather than $11.50!

Art – a side note

On top of this, they’re changing the way creator’s pledges work. Currently if you create a project and get money in you can spend that money on other Patreons without any processing fees – if we pledge $5 to a project for, say, art we can use in our project, the creator gets $5. They are now going to be charging creators the processing fees on those pledges too despite the fact that as it’s an internal transaction from Patreon to themselves there are no fees for them to pay!

So what do we do?

Well therein lies the problem – we don’t really know!

We are not happy about this, and do not want to reward their behaviour. Further we fear this could be the beginning of the end for Patreon and don’t want to hang around too long on a sinking ship – we have already lost some backers, and expect to lose more when people see larger bills than they are expecting come January.

There are other platforms we could use, the most important of which is Drip, which is as far as I can tell, basically Kickstarter’s answer to Patreon – if you have a Kickstarter account you can back a Drip project already, but they are only allowing creators by invite at the moment, and we don’t know when that will change. (The name is awful, but the user base makes it worth looking past that for us!).

One thing we will definitely be doing is setting up “Subscription” bundles on DrivethruRPG – essentially it works as regular bundle except that not everything in it has been released yet, and is only added when it is. We’d probably look at 3, 6 and 12 month bundles, which would be paid up front. (as a side note, these would make wonderful Christmas presents for the GM in your life!)

We have a few options:

  1. Remain on Patreon for the time being. Possibly move to Drip when it opens to the public.
  2. Set up a subscription service via Paypal. Again, look at Drip when it opens.
  3. Shut down until Drip opens. This would be more palatable if we knew when that was – a month or two would be no problem, six months would be.
  4. Move to another platform. This would likely have a far smaller user base. When we were setting up this project much of our interest came from previous Kickstarter projects, and we frequently heard “But I don’t want to set up another account on another site” or similar.
  5. Move to a donation model and releasing everything for free (with donors probably getting pieces early) – again this would be via another site, possibly Flattr.
  6. Just release pieces on DrivethruRPG and allow them to be purchased when released. Using just the bundles described above has the drawback of lumpy cash-flow, both for us and for backers – a few dollars a month is much more palatable than one lump sum and then nothing – and DrivethruRPG has fees that are comparable to Patreon’s new ones (if somewhat more honest).
  7. Something else we haven’t thought of.

We really, really need your help here, so please tell us which of the options you would like (especially when you would spend money) in the comments wherever you found this, or by following this link and filling in the form. 

In Conclusion

Patreon have made what we consider to be a grave error in this change, but we are not sure what we should do in response. We do not begrudge them taking a cut – they have costs as well – but the hike in price, especially on those who spread their generosity around the most, is probably going to do more harm than good for us, for them, and for you.

While we’ve got you…

Last week we asked about your preferred named for our coming rebranding – changing platform would appear to also be unexpectedly on the cards for that rebranding. Can we ask you to tell us which names you prefer.

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Rebranding Our Patreon – What and Why?

This month we’re going to be talking about our ongoing project, Jigsaw Fantasy, and why that’s not going to be its name any more – and what else is changing at the same time.

Come January we’re going to be officially rebranding it, and making a few other changes to new products in the line.

First lets talk about what we’re doing:

The Big Name Change

We need a new name for Jigsaw Fantasy. The old one just isn’t cutting it.

We have a few options, and we’d like you to give us your input on which name you prefer.

Endnotes -> Footnotes

Originally we decided to have Jigsaw Fantasy have “jigsaw links” as endnotes as we saw them as akin to references in a book – you flip over to find out what it says in the cases where you feel you need to.

But as the design has developed, the use of the links has become more of an informational aside, with occasional references – more suitable to a footnote.

It will also help with making them physical if we ever do so again – endnotes are great with hyperlinks in digital form, but physically it results in an odd reading experience.

Art Updates

We’ve gotten a bit better at sourcing art than we were in the very earliest days of Jigsaw Fantasy, so we’re going to be updating bits here and there as we gradually go through the older pieces and switch them over to the new brand.

Why?

After the Jigsaw Fantasy Kickstarter failed to reach its funding goal, we knew we had two choices: Give up the project entirely, or work out what the problems were and solve them – and we don’t give up easily!

The biggest problem was, we discovered, the name – most people weren’t reaching the stage of deciding whether or not they liked the product, because the name Jigsaw Fantasy was failing to convey the concept and thus they were never even looking at it.

So, in order to give our concept a fair shot at taking wing we’re rebuilding the image from the ground up – working out what works and ditching what doesn’t, piece by piece.

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The Death of Kalendra – Nursery Rhymes in Fantasy

Remember, remember, the death of Kalendra,
Staked, beheaded then burned.
If Kalendra’s beheading was held at a wedding,
T’would be the birth at which she returned.

If you don’t recognise that rhyme then I’ll be quite surprised, but if you recognise the words I’ll be astonished.

Nursery rhymes have a powerful ability to infect the mind – they’re like ancient earworms – but they can also convey significant amounts of information and emotion about the history of their origin.

To illustrate, let’s first look at what the original rhyme would tell us if we were not of this world:

Remember, remember, the fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.

Well, the fifth of November is clearly a date, and one on which a major event happened. An event that involved gunpowder (the meaning of which will become clear once we discover that guns are a type of explosive crossbow), and treason.

So we have a little idea of what’s going on, but not a huge amount – it’s not a well-structured rhyme for worldbuilding, but it doesn’t need to be. Still, if we want more information we could look at the rest of the poem (which is, in my opinion, much less well composed):

Guy Fawkes, guy, t’was his intent
To blow up king and parliament.
Three score barrels were laid below
To prove old England’s overthrow.

By god’s mercy he was catch’d
With a darkened lantern and burning match.
So, holler boys, holler boys, Let the bells ring.
Holler boys, holler boys, God save the king.

And what shall we do with him?
Burn him!

Now we know that we’re dealing with a monotheistic monarchy (with some sort of parliament supporting the king), that Guy Fawkes is the traitor in question, and that burning someone is a fitting punishment for treason. All portrayed in a much more fun way than just listing it out.

Now for the breakdown of Kalendra’s tale – For this act I’ll go line by line, for by design it’s densely packed.

Remember, remember, the death of Kalendra,

So we start with the fact that Kalendra is someone important who is now dead. Simple enough, but slightly useful for worldbuilding.

Staked, beheaded then burned.

Okay, so someone really wanted this Kalendra dead – and from the staking we can guess that vampires are a thing in their world.

Now “hung, drawn and quartered” is a thing in our world, so overkill is entirely plausible as a torture method – but beheading wouldn’t come before burning in that case, as you don’t want them to be actually dead until the third act.

If Kalendra’s beheading was held at a wedding,

An odd image. Obviously it wasn’t held at a wedding, but the fact that it’s something that would be suggested says that just as public executions could be celebrations in our world perhaps they could be combined with other celebrations in this world.

T’would be the birth at which she returned.

This line is the most important one – obviously Kalendra came back after being massively overkilled, but significantly she didn’t do so until after the expected gap between a wedding and the first child.

So Kalendra was not a simple vampire, but if she is a Lich or similar then she is not one that can just pop back up an hour later, but one that must regain her strength – more like Voldemort than Vecna.

Slightly less obvious is what this tells us about weddings within this world: Weddings can work in many different ways in different places, but here it is clear that wedding and birth are intimately linked – and not just in the abstract “married people have kids” sense – either the fertility in this world is quite high, and as such it is to be expected that the first pregnancy will occur within a few months of the marriage, or it is commonplace that people get married during the pregnancy.

In Your Games and Stories

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