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 – In Use (The Sage of Hyblos IV)

Today we printed up and set out a whole load of concept cards, having set up some transitional suit symbols for them (they’re not final, but they’ll work for now).

And we decided to start trying for our Kickstarter Video, going with the approach that has served us best: sitting in front of the camera for ages playing with the cards, and cutting together something cool from that.

We did get something cool, but it’s a lot longer than we can use for the final video – so we decided to share it now!

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

Click for full size

 

“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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Third Thursday Freebie: The Druidic Paths

This piece is one drawn from our currently active 13th Age campaign – a solution to a common problem “How do we allow people to get to distant places quickly, without removing the potential of travel-related plots”

Of interest to some might be its original inspiration – a different take in some ways, while similar in others, and serving similar purposes for the play of its game – the Trods of the Empire LARP

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Sci-Fi Concept Cards: Suit Symbols

Three of the interim suit symbols for sci-fi concept cards – destined to be replaced.

In the Concept Cards line we treat the connection between card and concept quite seriously, using it both as a design tool and a way to standardise the structure of the concepts. Every card is defined by its primary suit – and each suit has a specific meaning in any given deck.

Over the course of the 11 decks of fantasy Concept Cards the meanings of the suits varied significantly, with each suit having at least two meanings (and most having three) – so when we came to start writing the Sci-Fi Concept Cards we decided to take a step back and think about what we were going to do with the suits.

We knew we were only doing a limited set of decks for Sci-Fi, whether 3 or 4, so we could plan ahead and get them all consistent – or so we thought.

It turns out that there was a very strong reason we weren’t consistent before – different concepts have different needs. There were some inconsistencies that could be solved by planning ahead, but others can’t be.

In the end we made only one major step towards consistency: in the original (fantasy) Character Cards decks Spades was the characters profession while Diamonds was their appearance – but in the Location Cards and Plot Hooks decks Spades was physical characteristics and Diamonds was wealth – so in Sci-Fi Character Cards we’ve made Diamonds the suit of their work, how they earn their wealth, and Spades the suit of appearances.

The suit meanings as they’re currently set out are:

Clubs: Connections/Politics for Characters and Planets, Dangers for Locations.
Diamonds: Wealth, resources or profession
Hearts: Desires/behaviours for Characters, Inhabitants for Planets and Locations 1)Listing the inhabitants of each character would be quite samey – E. Coli and other digestive bacteria every time.
Spades: Physical Traits

Of course, meanings aren’t the only complication when it comes to designing suit symbols. As you saw at the top, we have a set of interim images – but they’re far from the final version. For fantasy Concept Cards we had the amazing Marcos Hidalgo drawing the suit symbols, but this time around we’re looking for talent that we can afford to properly pay – people who either want to join the team, or who do such drawings as a job – rather than relying on finding another enthusiastic and artistic fan who’s just happy to be paid in decks!

My art skills (as displayed above) are massively better than they were, but they’re still not up to the standards we want for our work. By this time next month we should have better ones to show you!

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References   [ + ]

1. Listing the inhabitants of each character would be quite samey – E. Coli and other digestive bacteria every time.

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.

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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