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.

Comments

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

Monstrous Mondays: P is for Panther

Panther

I don’t exactly mean the big cat – but in some ways I do.

History

A Panther is monster from medieval Europe 1)from a time when people did not understand what they truly were with magical powers, such as its coat being all the colours of the rainbow and being able to call animals to it.

Some stories call this monster gentle but all tell us how it awakens and roars, emitting a sweet smell that calls animals to it to become its food. The only animals that won’t come to its call are dragons because they are scared of the panther, and then the panther falls asleep until it is hungry again. But since it only sleeps once it is full then it most eat all the animals that come to him, there for he call them to there doom that don’t seem very gentle.

The female Panther only gives birth once because her young eat their way out of her, like some sharks do. This is somewhat at odds with the supposedly peaceful nature of the Panthers, suggesting that the myth may be an amalgamation of different stories.

This story have been used as a metaphor by the Christians for Christ and the devil and Christ’s story of rebirth, the beautiful panther is Christ and the devil is the dragon. It told of Christ dying as the panther sleeps, and when dead he defeats the devil (the dragon) which is why the dragon is scared of him. He is then reborn 3 days later and calls all the animals to him with his beautiful roar. This a case of Christians taking an old story and trying to make it theirs, like having Hercules be a version of Samson, but it is a strange version because the dragon stays away from the panther and because when the panther call the animals to him he eats them, not generally considered the way that Christ will behave.

These stores of it both the christian and nonchristian meant that people gave this beast magical powers and made it into more than it was, we tend to do this to things we don’t know about because of fear of the unknown. But it can sometimes make it scarier than it is, since these do eat animals and could eat human it might be due.

Nowadays we no longer see it as a monster but the beautiful animals which we now know is not its own species but any slender big cat, like Leopards, with too much melanin in their fur in the case of the black panther (which is more commen) and a lack of it in the white panther, so a panther is a big cat with some form of mutation in their fur usually making it be without marking on it. The white panther is what is described in most of the old stories as the monster is said to be white, rainbow coloured or to shine like the sun. which is interesting since it is the black panther that is more common and that most people think of – and was, of course, the inspiration for things like the superhero Black Panther, as well as the Black Panther political movement.

Physiology

Due to the time period this monster was believed in not all the images of it were the same, mostly it is shown as a big cat but there some odd ones out there one like an image of a donkey the another that has horns. I’m just looking at the standard version

  • The head of a big cat with small eyes and a mouth full of sharp teeth.
  • With slim body of a big cat like a leopard – not stocky like a lion.
  • It stand on all fours on long slender legs – but can stand upright when it wishes.
  • Large paws with sharp claws.
  • Covered from head to toe in beautiful soft fur of white or rainbow or of golden sun light.

 

Ideas

  • It come be used it a set as something that is treated like a deity, maybe a god of nature that only eats and sleeps.
  • It seems similar to the Tarrasque with how it acts and there be no information how to kill it. But it doesn’t roam the land eating all as it goes, it waits for food to come to it. Perhaps the Tarrasque is what happens when one of these doesn’t get fed – or perhaps it’s instead what happens if they eat a dragon.
  • How often the Panther must eat varies, but one version has it eating every 3 days. Perhaps the sweet breath makes the area nearby particularly fertile to support it.

 

Where to find more

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panther_(legendary_creature)

http://bestiary.ca/beasts/beast79.htm

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Panther_(comics)

https://a-z-animals.com/animals/panther/

 

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References   [ + ]

1. from a time when people did not understand what they truly were

Monstrous Mondays: Q is for Qalupalik

A recent book about the Qalupalik

Given my dyslexia I will never remember how to pronounce or spell this monster.

History

Qalupalik is the inuit iteration of a child stealing mermaid, but unlike most such monsters it is not pretty at all. It unclear how old it is, but the stories of this monster have been told as long as they have lived in ice ridden lands.

There are a few stories of the Qalupalik in Inuit lore, in all of them it is a humanoid monster that is found near coastal waters of these icy lands, and makes a humming/clicking noise,1)like ice just beginning to crack and if a child gets too close the Qalupalik will rear up and steal them in the amauti 2)what Inuit use to carry child on their back around the back of its neck. It then takes the child to its watery world – but it does not kill them quickly, it slowly drinks their lifeforce, and as the child gets older it gets ever younger. The child can be saved but they are forever changed.

It seems to be a cautionary tale, to keep child away from water and thin ice, using things that are easily recognised, like the green seaweeds and humming noise which is the ice cracking – which is dangerous for everyone, but especially for childen, since people can fall into the water through cracked ice and then be unable to surface.

How is it seen in media

The Qalupalik isn’t seen much in media, there a few children fairy story books and books about Inuits people and a few short films, but for the most part this tale has failed to grab the public eye in the way that many other monsters have.

Physiology

  1. Very long green seaweed-like hair that runs down to the base of their back.
  2. A ugly green, slimy, long face, with bright yellow eyes and a thin wide mouth with sharp teeth
  3. It has a long, slim body with an amauit on its back – sometimes this is not made of clothing but their sagging skin.
  4. Long arms with large hands – long webbed fighter with sharp long nails
  5. Long slim boney legs.
  6. Long flat feet with webbed toes with sharp nails
  7. It has green slimy skin all over them.

It’s usually found near the ice coast, watching the water for children but it is careful to strike only when the child is alone – it won’t risk its life to catch or keep them.

Ideas

  • Run an adventure where you have to save the child from one. The Qalupalik will not put up much of a fight – except against very weak adventurers – but the environment may.
  • A story or a game where a bad guy is trying to steal its power, allowing them to drain life from children.
  • One where it’s told from the point of view of a Qalupalik hiding in plain sight. It would mean a lot of makeup, and they would likely seek to work with children in order to drain small amounts of life force from many individuals – keeping their feeding hidden.

Continue reading →

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References   [ + ]

1. like ice just beginning to crack
2. what Inuit use to carry child on their back

Monstrous Mondays: R is for Redcap

Redcap’s are a very small myth, but one with a lot of potential for interesting interpretations – all of them murderous and mischievous, whether that be 13th Age with their fourth-wall breaking “secret word” or Redcap Jack in the Dresden Files.

History

Redcaps are a murderous fairy, said to be found on the border of England and Scotland, mostly in castles. As for how old these monster are there is no hint really other than they reside in ruined castles especially those ones that have seen a tyrant, which in Britain there have been lots of since the time of the Romans.

Their stories don’t tell of them causing mischief like most fairy instead they chase and kill any trespassers on their land, either by hit people with boulders or with his sharp teeth or using there iron spiked boots, then they sock there hat in the victim’s blood which is how it come to be red. If there red should fade then so would the redcap – so they must kill to stay alive.

These story were often told to keep people out of ruined castles where rocks might fall on them, but also to stop people nosing around where they don’t belong, this maybe why Lord William de Soulis was said to have one as a familiar which resided in his castles to keep people out when in imprisoned in Dumbarton Castle which he died in but some story say that his redcap killed him.

Another theory is that the redcap may be a metaphor for redcoats i.e. the English, who would often make use of the old castles, throughout the wars with Scots – however this seems unlikely as there are references to redcaps that predate the standardisation of the English to the red-coat military uniform.

Physiology

  • Usually bald or with thin gray hair
  • Large beady red eyes
  • Hooked noses
  • Wide mouth full of sharp teeth
  • All of these features sit upon the face of an old man
  • Their body may be fat or skinny but is alway wrinkly, usually covered in earth coloured clothing or armour.
  • Long boney arms and hands with sharp long nails
  • Short boney legs
  • Iron boots on their feet

These murderous old fairy may be faster and stronger than most humans – which allows them to hunt their prey in their ruined homes.

 

Ideas

The iron boots are odd since they’re fairies and iron is meant to hurt fairies – this might mean they’re in constant pain, or that they’re immune to iron1)or even both – resistance through constant exposure. It’s also possible they use these boots to stomp on other, less bloodthirsty, fairies.

They would make sense for assassins and serial killers in the modern day world.

If they die from the red fading on their cap, are there other ways to kill them, like destroying their cap?

Does it matter if the blood on the cap is from someone dead, or could they use portions from living people? If that is the case would a redcap be able to keep himself alive by doing blood letting of not just his victims but himself.

A great little fantasy idea is that a redcap is a gnome that been bitten by a vampire.

Continue reading →

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References   [ + ]

1. or even both – resistance through constant exposure

Monstrous Mondays: S is for Siren

Sirens are one of those monsters that has changed a lot over the years, so they’ve got quite a history:

History

These beautiful singing ladies that bring sailors to their doom are best known through greek myth, but there are many stories of them, or very similar creatures, from different times and places in the world.

One of the first greek stories told of how they were Persephone’s three handmaidens: when she was kidnapped by Hades Demeter gave them wings, so they could search for her, and their singing voices to call her home with. When they failed to find them Demeter cursed them to only live until a man has heard them and managed to pass them by.

Another story tells of the three sirens losing a singing competition to the muses, and when they did so the muses plucked off their feathers so that their disgrace would be visible – so they threw themselves in the sea and became islands.

Both of them link nicely into the idea from another story where they were the daughters of Poseidon (since he is the father of monsters) but they still had feathers they were like seabirds – indicating where land is but without a clean path it might bring you to your doom.

The story of their relation to Poseidon may be the start of their shape changing – since Poseidon is god of the sea, depicted as part fish and connected to mermaids (and mermen, such as Triton).

The Sirens turn up in both The Argonautica and The Odyssey and many a sailor’s story throughout the centuries tell of how they saw mermaids and sirens and lost there ships and nery there live or know someone who had. These stories were part of the gradual change of the Siren’s form mixing and changing over time telling of how the mermaid sing to them to draw them close therefore taking on some of the siren’s qualities and therefore in story they became the same thing. so as can be seen the stories have changed their appearance over time but what set it firmly into its new shape was the paintings from the renaissance period, where they are depicted as a woman in water or a mermaid or some mixture of the two – thanks to this what we see them as – both in the media and our mind’s eye is very far from their original description.

 

Physiology

  • The face of a beautiful woman with long hair which in older versions may have feather mixed in with the hair.
  • A body of a woman some of the older version sometime have feather on the body but always had human breasts.
  • Older depictions often have the wings of a bird instead of arms, though sometimes they have both.
  • Older versions of the siren depicted them with the legs of a woman hideous bird-like feet with big claws and sometimes even scaled legs too.
    Other versions, especially newer ones, depict them with an elegant scaled fish tail like a mermaid.
  • They always have an unthinkably beautiful voice that is draw men to them.
  • They are unaging, and no-one who hears their song can harm them
  • They are usually found on an island out at sea, singing alluring songs until the men come to them and crash upon the rocks – then they eat them. In some more tragic tales their immortality means they don’t need to eat, but that they are simply surrounded by the corpses of those they called to them for companionship – as the island is too barren to support mortal life.

Ideas

  • A travelling singing act is actually a trio of sirens who travel town to town, drawing men to follow them into the wilderness when they leave and the players have to find the men who have followed them before they starve.
  • Adventurers might seek to remove the curse from the sirens – returning them to their past as immortal handmaidens.
  • A birdlike siren has set up its nest in a haunted cemetery, populated by undead. In fact, that siren has developed the art of necromancy, and is building an army so that it can challenge the gods that cursed it.

 

If like to know more about this here are some links you might find useful.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siren_(mythology)

https://www.greekmythology.com/Myths/Creatures/Sirens/sirens.html

http://www.theoi.com/Pontios/Seirenes.html

https://www.britannica.com/topic/Siren-Greek-mythology

http://www.ancient-origins.net/myths-legends-europe/seductive-sirens-greek-mythology-how-heroes-resisted-temptation-008198

http://www.gods-and-monsters.com/sirens-mythology.html

http://www.greeklegendsandmyths.com/the-sirens.html

http://www.talesbeyondbelief.com/nymphs/sirens.htm

https://www.ancient.eu/Siren/

http://knowledgenuts.com/2014/02/05/the-difference-between-mermaids-and-sirens/

http://www.realmermaids.net/mermaid-history/siren-history/

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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.

 

Continue reading →

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The End of the (Instant) Universe

The End of the (Instant) Universe

Last Thursday our kickstarter campaign for sci fi concept cards ended. It was, all things, considered, a rousing success.

The final tally was £5,544 and 244 backers. Thank you to all our backers – we couldn’t do this without you and we like doing this!

We have reached the stretch goals for two extra cards per deck, and three extra suit symbols.

What Remains To Be Done

Elvis may have gone home to live among the stars, but we still have work to do. There are a few cards left to write, more now we have reached that stretch goal, and we need to commission more art.

Then comes the process of proofreading. To be honest it’s my least favourite part of the job, not least because I’m not very good at it. Fortunately Ali is, and we have a couple of volunteers to aid in the process. It is very necessary, though – I am rather prone to making typos. By the time it goes to print I am confident that every error but one will be squashed (that one will show up three weeks later…).

After that is done we send files to the printers, and wait anxiously for them to send us boxes of decks.

Then we package and post them to the backers.

If you missed the Kickstarter it’s not too late to get in on the action – you can still join us on Backerkit

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Patron Participation – Getting Input from Fans

A backer on the Science Fiction Concept Cards Kickstarter recently asked us about the possibility of a digital template for the cards, so that the backers could make their own afterwards for their personal characters. It’s not something we’d ever considered, but it made sense to us so we’ll be doing so – although the template is not trivial to use, with multiple fonts and a few fiddly bits.

This interaction brought to the fore one of the most important things about Crowdfunding – the opportunity for the crowd to give their input.

Whenever we’ve run a Concept Cards Kickstarter we’ve always included a few backer levels that allow those who select them to work with us on designing a card – and from this process come some of our favourite cards; including the only recurring character who exists throughout all the sets.

Diot-Haen, or Diothaen, has appeared in every Fantasy set in some form, and has now managed to jump the genre barrier

But those are just the most obvious way in which backers can contribute to the project. Marcos Hidalgo (our artist throughout the fantasy series of concept cards) forcibly improved our art in the earliest days, when we didn’t have a clue where to look for the right artists. Other backers have given us advice and guidance in other ways – and we often seek their input on which project to do next.

Working with our community is part of what makes Artemis Games what it is – and that includes you.

So come on over to Facebook and Kickstarter, and give us your input!

-Ste

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The Rebirth of Jigsaw Fantasy as Setting Shards

It’s Easter – or at least it was two days ago.

So it feels appropriate that we talk about a rebirth – at the end of last year Jigsaw Fantasy, our Patreon project, died. It was sad, but we talked about why it needed to be done. We’ve now gone through some of the changes that needed making, and we’re preparing to relaunch with the new name “Setting Shards”.

We’re looking at making physical versions this time, and expanding our options to include things beyond Fantasy, but we think that the new name and new design will make much of the necessary difference.

We’re still fine tuning the design, but as you can see we want it to show a wider array of possibilities!

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