Monday, December 10, 2007

in LAX...

In LAX, getting ready to take off. The journey is already sort of beginning. At this point, I have:
a) all of the artwork I need (I think)
b) working ruleset (at least one I can play without problems, though more testing will be needed)
c) a small amount of buzz going (again, I think)
d) desire to finish this

I still need to fix up my backgrounds, test the game (or get others to), contact Lulu and Key20, and edit everything with a fine-toothed comb. But, this is doable. I'm not too worried. It will definitely give me something to do when I'm bored in the village (and hey, I'll actually have electricity now!).


Thursday, December 6, 2007

Spell Hazards and rare events

First off, I leave for Africa next Monday. Yikes! I'm almost ready to go though, which is good.

So, now on to the gaming stuff. I've noticed that as my game has evolved, rare events have become more common, and simpler. The spell hazard is probably the best example of this. Basically, in the world of Illeria, magic is still somewhat not understood, and not fully controllable. Because of this, whenever a wizard fails to cast a spell, there is a small chance that something bad happens to them. In my original game, every time you fail to cast a spell, there is a 1 in 10 chance of spell hazards, and there are 10 possible things that can happen. Later I changed it to 1 in 10 and 6 types of hazards. Then it became 1 in 6, and now I'm thinking of making it 1 in 3 (and the beauty of the most recent one is that there is only one dice roll, rather than two).

I think I might know what's been causing this transition, and that's a shift in my view on what flavor rules like this are for. Originally, they were mostly just for that, flavor. I know that in Warhammer 40,000 2nd edition (my first real wargame), there was a 1 in 100 chance that a Terminator squad would be lost in the warp when tele-porting, and a 1 in 216 chance that an assault cannon would explode when fired. AD&D used to have a 1 in 400 chance of an insta-kill whenever an attack is made (I think, I can't quite remember how the rules worked out, but I think it was something like that, or maybe less). There are also magic items which are randomly generated <.01% of the time. I've never once seen any of these things happen, but the idea is that they could. It gives you an interesting look into the game universe, and *maybe* once in your gaming career affects the outcome of a battle.

The more I think about it though, I feel like if I'm going to put all the effort into making a special rule, if the gamer is going to need to learn it, and *especially* if the gamer is going to have to roll extra dice for it, then really there should be a chance that it really happens. It always seemed a little silly that my DM's Guide had two pages devoted to intelligent magic items, given that it was basically impossible to find them randomly. What's more, I kind of like the idea that in some ways it will effect strategy. In my game with my roommate, he said that he never really worried about spell hazards, since failing a spell check was so uncommon (especially the way he played), that a 1 in 6 chance on top of that was really not something to be concerned with. It was a fluke, not a calculated risk. On the other hand, now it's a 1 in 3 chance, and that might discourage risky spell casting. And this has seemed like it would be a way to counteract a built-in advantage of spells: that they give you options. (I know he complained about, "Why would I get 'Call Animals' when I could get a spell group that would allow me to cast both 'Summon Elementals' and 'Fireball'?")

And I guess the thing about skirmish games is that you need high probabilities, otherwise they're never going to happen. I mean, I remember this analysis once, where someone said, "If you make a rule that says there is a 1 in 5000 chance that a person will decapitate themself in melee, and you have 10,000 soldiers, each making 10 attacks, then you will get 20 self-inflicted decapitations in a battle." However, if you have 10 soldiers making 5 attacks, then a self-decapitation will only occur once per 100 games (and thus falls into the random fluke category).


"It is well that war is so terrible, lest we grow too fond of it." – General Lee

Friday, November 30, 2007

Last Night's Playtest

So, last night I playtested the game with my roommate. We didn't have time to finish before he had to stop, but we did get like the first three turns in. For the first time we used the full-blown character creation system. What really struck me about this game is that basically, it worked, and we hardly had any real problems. Not only that, but we both picked themed parties of our own accord. I mean, we've now tested only a handful of abilities, but still, it's nice to see that the system works.

I've been pondering a lot about group actions. So, in my game, each turn both players are limited to a certain number of actions (usually 5), when the must control 10 people. However this can be somewhat circumvented by using "group orders." In a group order, a player tells a certain group of characters in close proximity to do the same thing. For example, "Hey you three over there, run forward!" In some ways this encourages specialization, and I had hoped it would give players additional choices when planning. However, I worry that it might be unbalanced. Here are my concerns:
-Group orders can only be given on move actions, shooting, and a few special abilities. It cannot be given to things such as casting a spell. My main worry is that this overpowers archers, who I have already been seriously thinking are too strong. I also worry that it will take something out of more specialized parties, since they will basically need to ignore one board in order to act.
-When I designed a game with only a limited number of actions per turn, my goal was to create a need for strong planning. Basically, when you have 10 things you want to do, but can only do 6 of them, it really puts you in a pinch, and you need to rank how important each action is. I worry that with group actions, it takes something out of that (since rarely do I not have enough orders to do everything I want).
-A major reason I don't have certain orders available for big groups is how specific they need to be. For example, to program a construct, you need to name a character, her constructs, and what order they'll be given. In some ways, this doesn't work for groups, since they couldn't all target the same construct. I have considered making the game less rigid, so that you don't need to declare a target when making an order, and this would solve that problem. However, I worry that that takes a lot of the planning out of the game.

The best way to figure this out is just to playtest a game without group orders, and see how it changes (and whether players revolt). However, I've had a few thoughts on how to improve them:
-Make more things available as group actions. For example, multiple characters can throw the same spell. (I mean, I guess this is reversing an initial problem: The first time I played the game, one player gave everyone Teleport, and just overwhelmed his opponent with group orders. The solution seemed to be limiting it, so that if you really wanted to do something special with a lot of people, it would cost you several orders. Maybe I went a little too far...)
-Alternatively, I could consider making shoot no longer a group action (however, that means I basically have "move" and "retreat", which seems kind of crappy).
-Lastly, I could make it easier to move with summoned creatures. In my last game, each of my vessel characters had a pack of summoned creatures they were ordering around. Because of that, to move an entire party, it meant that I needed to use 5 actions (each using a command summoned creatures ability). Maybe it would be better to do that differently, where moving with your summoned creatures counts as a move action. My worry though is that it would somewhat overpower summoned creatures (because now you can group them up), which are already fairly powerful to begin with. Maybe not though.

A final thought: I was talking to the roommate a few days ago, and I brought up removing group actions. He said I should leave them in, since it's very much in the theme of my game. Orders represent the head prisoner barking commands at her lackies, so why shouldn't she be able to say, "Hey you three, kill that!" It made me wonder, is a game mechanic worth leaving in, just because it fits so well with the theme?


“‘Where to we go from here?’ ‘Who says were’re here?’” – George Carlin

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Sad-ish realization

I'm starting to realize that I probably don't have what it takes to get this game out the door before I leave. I could whip something together real fast, but I don't really want to. I worry that it will just be crap that won't sell (and really, this game could use a bit more playtesting and developing before I get it out the door). So, the plan is to just bring it with me to Africa, and keep working there. I probably won't be able to playtest from that far away, but maybe will be able to talk my friends into trying it. If nothing else it will be a good time to work on really developing the world.

Oh, yeah, so I'm not sure if I went into detail on this, I guess not, but I ended up signing up with a group called WorldTeach, who do the same basic thing as Peace Corps, and will be going back to Namibia in less than 2 weeks. So, yay!


“Man will occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of the time he will pick himself up and continue on.” – Winston Churchill

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


I'm starting to ponder, well, the economics of this all. As my background, I should explain that I was a math/biology major in college, who never took a business class, and though I understand little of the field, my mom was an accountant (and I think at least a little has rubbed off).

I'm trying to figure out, if my goal is to at least break even, what costs I have, and how much I can charge. I mean, at least the theory in accounting is you take (up front cost + desired profit)/(expected sales) = (profit per unit), I think anyways. However, what gets me is this: what are the expected sales, how will each cost (mainly artwork) affect sales, and how will price affect sales? I mean, as I've said, if I can sell only 1 of my games for $500, then I'll be in the black, but that probably won't happen.

I guess what I need to ask for each cost is "Will it pay for itself, or is it needed?" I mean, if I spend $100 on artwork, will that generate at least 13 extra sales? What if I buy a cover art piece, will that generate the 15 sales to cover it's cost? What if I doubled my art budget, would I realistically be able to sell 60 copies? And if my art budget doubled, would I be able to sell my game for $17 or $20 instead of $15?

I've posted to The Forge about this, and am waiting for a response. Most of the previous things I've read have been very qualitative (things like, "You need to make a strong visual statement") but little in terms of actual numbers. I mean, maybe I'm expecting the economics of indie RPGs to be a science (the way economics kind of is), when it's not. Or, maybe I just didn't see the right posts, and actually all of my questions have been answered already but are hidden from me.


Tuesday, November 6, 2007

A thought...

You know, maybe this is just me talking crazy, but given my approaching deadline, I'm starting to debate whether I really want to put campaign rules into my game. I worry that I won't be able to do them justice in time, and I slightly worry that they're not original enough. I guess I can always put them into a (possibly free) expansion that I'll put out later (maybe when I come back).

Just a thought, going to let it stew for a few days...


“Peeing Rocks!” – Mike

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Advancement Ideas...

Happy November everyone!

Okay, so here are my ideas for possibilities on how a character can advance:
1)At the end of each game, everyone gets a random (low) chance at gaining an advancement.
2)At the end of each game, each party gets a certain number of advancement dice, which will give the player a chance to of advancing.
3)Each player gains an automatic advancement for killing another character.
4)Each mission will grant chances at additional advancements.
5)Beating a stronger army grants more advancements.
6)Not using all your Luck Points gives extra advancements.
7)Surviving or winning a battle gives extra advancements.
8)Advancement chances are determined by the number of actions you make, or by the number of times you roll a "1" (or something equivalent).
9)Losing a battle grants extra advancements (since in real life you learn more from losing than from winning, and losing already sucks).

1 seems a bit simple, though I kind of like it. 2 I like also. 3 seems too close to other games, and might lead to a bit of a death spiral (though maybe not), and requires book-keeping. 4 I like, though need to figure out how to incorperate it into missions. 5 I like, and will probably do. 6 I think might just be silly, though maybe it could be interesting. 7, maybe, although again I worry about the spiral thing (although, maybe these are canceled out by 5). 8 is too much book keeping, and might generate actions for the sake of actions. 9, well, I think players would revolt.

So those are my thoughts. I need to do that and the missions, but then I think I've got the campaign thing under control.


“It may not be possible to cover the entire surface of the earth with leather, but to cover your own two feet is the same.” – Shantideva

Thursday, October 25, 2007

For Artists...

(this may be edited from time to time as my thoughts change, most recent edit Oct 26)

To anyone interested in doing artwork for me, here's what I'm looking for:
-several small fantasy drawings (exact number negotiable), each about 1/4 page, and maybe one or two slightly larger (1/2 page)
-pictures to either take place in the real world (dark, gritty, dirty, and desperate, think a medieval Road Warrior or a fantasy Braveheart) or the spirit realm (surreal and bizarre, and also possibly dark, think Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon or The Matrix, crossed with The Dark Crystal), including some from each world
-drawings must be in black and white, and submitted in electronic form
-I would prefer no stock D&D or Tolkien races (i.e. no elves or dwarves, orcs are a maybe possibility), and nothing that is obviously from another source
-no nudity or overtly sexual artwork (I don't have a problem with it, but don't want to lose a sale because someone does)

The artwork does not necessarily need to be new (I would be more than happy to consider pieces of art you have made for other games, or other purposes). I do not have any specific things images that I want you to create, although I have several ideas. I'll also send you a pdf of the game for ideas.

I am not looking to purchase the artwork itself, merely the rights to use it for my game (along with any type of advertising, game related products, supplemental material, etc). I do not need this to be an exclusive deal. You may keep the copyright, and feel free to sell the artwork to others, put it at shows, etc, as long as I am still allowed to use it. Additionally, I will put any contact information you desire in the credits section of my game.

If you are interested, please email me at stumpy_is_at "at" yahoo "dot" com, with a few samples of your work (or, in the case of second run art, you can email me a link directly). Or, if you like you could post here. We can talk specific drawings, number, and prices after that.


Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Pondering art...

So, I've started thinking very seriously about artwork for my game. The options are basically whether or not to have cover art, and whether to have interior art, a fancy background, both, or neither. The problem with any of these is that they add to my cost. I mean, it's much easier to break even when your costs are $0. Although, at the same time, if I sink $100 into artwork and lose it, it sucks, but in the grand scheme of things it's not THAT much, especially since I'll have gotten something really nice out of it (something I can look back on when I'm old and feeble and say, "Look at this! I made this! Isn't it pretty?").

So the thing I wonder about is whether I'd rather have lots of small pieces of art, or a few big nice ones. Originally I had thought the later, just so I could put a nice little 1/4 page graphic every 4th or 5th page, although now I'm having second thoughts. A few people made comments on The Forge about how if the art doesn't leave a real impact, then it's just taking up space and wasting money. I don't know if I agree with that entierly. I mean, I can't remember most of the artwork in the Necromunda rulebook or the 40K rulebook, but it all helps to create a general mood. Although I suppose that the cheap filler art (all the cyborg skulls and the pictures of gangers) you don't really notice that much (it's funny, I'm skimming my book now, they actually reuse a lot of graphics). So, I don't know...

The other one I woneder a lot about is the cover art. The problem with it is that, well, $100 is a cheap price for a piece of cover art. I mean, it sounds like a lot, but once the artist has covered their expenses, often it will be less than minimum wage. This is a really big investment for something that is only on a single page. Although, at the same time, it is what people see when they first open the book. It is the piece that represents the whole book. It is a way, with a single image, to set the whole theme of your book. Although, I say that and I'm starting to think about games I've played, and I can't always remember the cover art. I mean, I remember, say, D&D 3.0 (not a drawing of anything, just a seal and a design to make it look like a fancy old-timey book), I remember some of the 40K books, but others not, I remember Paranoia, I remember my original D&D game (not sure what edition, but pre-AD&D 2.0), but not a whole lot of my AD&D 2.0 books.

I don't know, my choice might be interior art vs cover art (or, a near garuntee of losing money). I already have an interior design that I did myself. It wasn't too hard. I like to think of myself as having some small degree of artistic sense, just no skill (maybe I'm just fooling myself though), so it wasn't too hard to do. It was basically pretty simple though, and I've been debating whether I want to make it fancier or not.

So, yeah, not sure what else to say on this topic. I will probably have a "For Potential Artists" post pretty soon, just describing what I think I want in my game (something easy to refer them to). Don't know if this is going to work, don't know what I'm going to do, just going to hold on for the ride and see what turns out.


“Everything in life comes down to whether you’d rather be safe, or have the experience you’d have otherwise.” – Drew

Monday, October 22, 2007

New Story

Boy, first off I must say that there's something about Washington (I don't know what it is, probably my friend here and just being away from home), that really makes me feel a lot more productive. I think I've gotten in the last week more work than I'd have done in two at home, despite being sick.

Anyways, I have always said from the beginning that I didn't really like the story I had (that Illeria was this Atlantian island that became deserted, and is now crawling with treasure hunters), that it didn't covey the right mood, and that it just didn't seem all that grand. I mostly went with it because it was the best I could come up with. I was talking to Mike (my roommate) about possibilities for a campaign mode, and he kind of agreed with my statement. He said that it didn't give characters that much of a reason to fight, and certaintly it wasn't the desparate fight to the death I wanted. We talked, and I mentioned what a really early idea had been (back when this was still maybe going to be a sci-fi game), of refugees trying to escape a dying planet. He liked it, because that gave people a reason to fight each other for the sake of fighting: thin the numbers so there are more resources. So, I got to thinking, and realized that this could be somewhat adapted to a fantasy world. I could summarize it, but I think I will just give you the front page introduction:

"No one is really all that surprised by what Illeria has become. Why should we be? The very creation of this island was an act of evil. It has been home to the most horrific acts in living memory. Why should we expect it to become any less despicable, just because we ousted the former masters?

"I suppose that I should start at the beginning. The Island of Illeria was created by Emperor Balthazar, a man who could frighten the Devil himself, as a prison camp. Criminals, revolutionaries, POWs, political prisoners, religious minorities, and other deviants of society, all were sent here. We spent our days doing hard labor, having information extracted by whatever means necessary, or acting as the test subject for new forms of warfare. Sometimes it felt like we were being tortured for no reason other than the entertainment of our guards. When we were done with us, at least for the day, we were paralyzed and frozen, so that we could be stored underground without trying to escape. All this time unaware of the world meant that no one noticed when someone disappeared. All we knew is that no one escaped. Illeria was not an inn or a dungeon, it was a grave.

"I don't know what it is, what caused it, whether it was spending so much time in suspended animation, the constant exposure to bizarre and experimental magic, or if Illeria just naturally sits at a rift between the worlds. All I know for sure is that somehow we learned to commune with the realm of the spirits, and the guards didn't. At first we used this as a way to hide from the pain. Then, one day when the ships stopped coming and supplies ran short, we used our powers to fight back.

"But with the masters gone, the prisoners have done nothing but wreak havoc. We have turned our swords on each other, and devolved into nothing but heartless beasts, fighting for our own survival. Although I suppose why shouldn't we? What other option was there? There are so few resources left that I suppose even if there was peace and harmony, most of us would still perish. And the problem becomes worse every day, as new prisoners continue to awaken from their magical sleep. No one really knows how many of us there are, just that there are too many to feed.

"I have hoped, I have begged, and I have prayed that someone will come and rescue us, but I know this will never come true. With everything that has happened, I am beginning to doubt whether there is a man on this island who even deserves it anymore. All I know for sure is that the only way to escape this wretched place is to take matters into our own hands..."

Cool, huh? Anyways, this gave me an idea for a new campaign mode direction, but I just don't have the energy for that right now, so I'll type it later. Cheers!


“Patriotism is supporting your country always and your government when it deserves it.” – Mark Twain

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

So blogging this...

I did get a response from someone on the new forum today, who said that my game idea sounded cool, and that he'd like to read it. Maybe even playtest it. Yay! This feels like a historic moment, or just generally awesome. My first small victory in the road to getting things published.

Now I need to start thinking about artwork...


Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Campaign Mode

First off, just picked up the stakes and moved to a small town in Washington. Basically I just needed to get away for a while. This might not be the smartest thing I've ever done, but then again it just might be. Certaintly good to be away, and good to be living with my old roommate again. We'll see how it goes I guess...

In terms of what to do next, from the beginning I wanted a set of campaign rules, so that characters can use the same party from game to game. I had the idea that instead of the typical RPG thing, where parties get stronger over time and eventually become invincible (i.e. D&D, Necromunda, Final Fantasy, and pretty much every other RPG I can think of), parties will eventually break down over time (i.e. what would happen in real life if you had a party go to war and not recieve reinforcements). I posted to a new forum recently (Eastern Fringes), so I'll see if I get a response to that, having already tried The Forge (got lots of responses, but not any that really fixed my problems).

Here are the various ideas I've been having for how to simulate the gradual meltdown of the party:
-The party can only lose X games, then they are destroyed
-Each character can die in battle X times, then they remain dead
-Each time a character dies in battle, they become weakened (such as get -5 HP)
-If a character dies in battle, they have a % chance of dying
-If a party is annihilated in a battle, it causes major problems (such as each character has an additional 50% chance of dying)

Here is what I have to simulate skill advancemnet:
-Each time you play, no matter what you gain X advancements for your party
-Each time you play, you get a random number of advancements
-Each character gets 1 advancement per game (or a random chance of one)
-Additional advancements are given for performing particular actions, for winning the game, for losing the game, or for fighting more powerful opponents
-XP is given each game (instead of direct level-ups), and it requires more and more XP per level of advancement (ie 5 XP to level 2, 10 to level 3, etc)

I guess I have 3 worries about what is going to happen. First, I worry that this is going to create a death cycle, where the player who wins the first game will keep getting better, and the loser will keep getting weaker, so that really only the first game is any fun. Second, I worry that either players will never retreat, or will retreat too easily. Finally, I worry that people will just do stupid things in the game because it earns them XP (I could win this game in 2 turns, but I think I'll spread it out to 5 and keep having my mage use XP boost).

Don't know what's going to work, figure I'll bounce ideas off friends and the forum(s?), and see what rises to the surface.


“We are all trying to go to America. Why would you want to leave America and come to Namibia?” – the Namibian girl at the concert

Wednesday, October 3, 2007


Boy, I missed the month of September, I need to post about this more often.

Anyways, I've been gone the last three weeks on a trip around the country. One of my best friends from the Peace Corps was home for a wedding, and I took that as an excuse to fly to the East Coast to visit her (and several other friends). It was really amazing, I visited NY city for the first time, hicked the AT, saw some really great friends that are 1000s of miles away, visited a few relatives, and had my first experience with Greyhound (quite interesting, I would highly recommend it at least once).

Before I left I posted to my two sites a call for playtesters, saying if they wanted to try my game to email me, and I'd send them the Beta version. As of yet, no response. It's a little disheartening, although I guess that's how it goes. There is a lesson here: when my game is finally finished, I will need to do more to hype it. I know someone who suggested gaming stores and convensions, which is worth a shot (I mean, why not, if nothing else it could be fun), I know people have said send the game to reviewers (a really good idea). I feel like there was more, though that's all that comes to mind, besides more posting on game design sites (although, I might try a new one or two).

I suppose this still doesn't solve the problem of no playtesters today. Maybe talk to friends some more, and maybe go to the local gaming store to find people.

But yeah, so on the whole things are not bad. And, there may be some good news about Namibia, I may have been able to pull something to get back (in a very unexpected way, more in a later post). We'll see, but yeah. Anyway, if it works, I will be going back late December, so that will put a very real timetable on my game, since I don't want to leave it until I come back.

Not sure what else to say. Hope you all had good Septembers, I know I did. Take care.


“Man is matter.” – Catch-22

Friday, August 31, 2007

Party Design (and language use)

A few weeks of work, classes starting (not an issue for me except that I'm working at a college bookstore), and a major fight with a friend, and I've gotten behind. It should be coming soon though.

A thing I've been pondering much as of lately is what rules to put in place for party design and character creation. I posted on this earlier, saying that I was strongly considering making some kind of mechanism which would support or encourage party specialization. I don't know, I've been questioning lately whether or not that's something I actually want. The main thing that detracts me from that is, well, I worry that it will make the game too complicated. That and I worry about frustrating players ("What? What do you mean I can't have both a healer and a necromancer in the same party?"). I guess what I'm really going for is, as my friend Mike said, "80% of the bang for 20% of the buck."

Originally, each character was very carefully crafted and individualized. The downside: each character took about 1/2 the time it took to make a D&D character, and took a lot of thought and creativity. Multiply this by 5 or 7, and you see the problem. So, for my first playtest, every character had 1 ability in each world, and that was that. It worked great, but was more simple than I wanted it. That and, well, some abilities were better than others. So, next came the class/template* based system I've been using. Each character gains two ability points, and can use it to buy either two 1-point abilities, or one 2-point ability. However, which abilities they have access to is determined by their class/template. In test games, I've only had 3 or 4 classes available in each world, but have said players could have as much of each as they wanted.

So as I've said, I keep pondering if I should just stick with that system, or if there's more out there. I don't want to take on the attitude of "if it's not broke, don't fix it" (I mean, shoot, if everyone did that, I wouldn't be typing this on a laptop, and I guess wouldn't have a blog to begin with). I've debated having different "divisions," such as nature or holy, where a character can only take from their division or allied divisions. I've also considered that multiple divisions are fine, but that they lower the general's leadership (and thus fewer actions per turn). I've also considered that instead of making hard and fast divisions, I should divide the abilities up into groups or types (magic, melee, summoning, etc), and say that each player can take 3 groups for free, but every additional one costs them something (either a general's ability, or leadership).

And again, I'm still debating whether this will make the game more or less fun. My original goal really was to have highly customizable parties. I mean, I remember looking through my local gaming store at the miniatures, and seeing so many cool ones. I felt like if a player wants to have a party made of a drow, a giant, and 3 raptors, she should be allowed to, since really that would look pretty friggin' cool. I really didn't want classes at the beginning, but it feels like if I don't put some kind of limitation in, that everything would just be too big and too complicated, and to some degree intractable. And then I started to worry that if I give total freedom, then everyone will have the same basic party (a typical rpg style one of everything party). There was a book I once read that had a funny line about freedom, and how more options can sometimes mean less freedom, because there gets to be 1 optimal choice that you have to take (while, with fewer options, there is not necessarily an optimal choice). So, I worry about that, but at the same time I worry about frustrating players by telling them what they can and can't do. These are the choices we make, and I guess this is why they pay us the big bucks as game designers.

Oh well, I guess that's all I have to say (except for my * comment about classes, which I think is longer than my original post). Thanks again for listening, and have a good day.


*An interesting thing I've been thinking about, this other gamer on The Forge (by the name of Whitson John Kirk III) sent me a copy of this book he's been working on about the different design patterns and mechanism that popular and successful RPGs have used. An example is, well, say you want your characters to advance as time progresses. What can you do? You could use a class system (a la D&D 2nd edition), a class tree system (a la D&D 3.0), a skill system, a skill tree system, or a template system (I think that's most of what he mentioned, though I might be forgetting something). A rather intriguing thing he talked about at the beginning was the use of language. He basically started the book by standardizing the language he'd been using. As an example, take "Hit Points" (basically, a number that records how much damage you've taken. As long as your hit points are above 0, you're alive, if they are 0 or less, you're dead or otherwise out, usually with no real penalties in between. Most games have "Hit Points," although some games (Warhammer) have "Wounds," some (Heroes Quest) have "Body Points," and I'm sure I've heard other names (body points, toughness points, etc). They all refer to the same abstract concept, but use different terms (kind of like how when you travel overseas, "corn" becomes "maize" and "pants" become "trousers").

The issue gets more confusing when the same term can mean different things. For example, D&D 3.5 has "feats," "skills," and "abilities." My game has "abilities," though to be honest, they are probably more like D&D's "feats" than it's "abilities," and it's what the author might have called "gifts" (if I understood him correctly).

Anyway, to get back to the point I had originally wanted to make, my issue comes in when I describe how I group my abilities. You know, the thing that you select, that doesn't directly affect your character, but just puts a label on her (such as "wizard" or "liche"), and limits what abilities she can take. Originally, I didn't want to feel too much like D&D, so I called them "archetypes." I then got to thinking that, really, the confusion that it causes is not worth the extra drop of originality, and TSR isn't the only game with "classes," so maybe I should just go with that (since everyone knows what a "class" is). However, after reading the book, I now wonder if "template" is the right term. By his definition, "class" should be used when it's "you are a wizard, that means you get the following abilities at the beginning, and every advancement you follow a set path of gaining new abilities, without any way of deviating." This is defiantly not what I'm going for. So I don't know, there are so many terms I could use here: type, archetype, profession, template, class, training. I'm sure there's more, I guess it's just a trade-off between how creative I want to be and how confusing people will be willing to put up with.

It's funny; this makes me think back to discussions in school. It's either all the math or all the philosophy classes I took, but I've grown to dislike having conversations that throw around ill-defined terms. For example, "education" is one, that everyone can agree they want our kid to have more of it, but know one seems to have a real idea of what an "education" is. Is a kid educated if he could tell you when the War of 1812 happened? Is he educated if he can manipulate imaginary numbers and matrices? Is the ability to be a clear writer important? Would a kid be more or less "educated" if she walked out of high school without a fact in her head, but the ability to learn (a concept I didn't fully come to understand until college), or the ability to think critically? Is education about encouraging creativity, or about self-discovery? Is education about passion, and about cultivating a child's desire to learn? With all the talk about standardized testing, it feels like the answer to all but the first two questions is "no." So many other concepts get thrown around the same way, they are like energy, that everyone knows it exists, and thinks they know what they're talking about, but when you ask someone to put it on a plate for you, it doesn't seem to be there. Intelligence, Freedom, Altruism, Democracy, Race, these are just a few terms that I can remember having discussions about recently, where I'm not sure if everyone could really agree on what we were talking about. Language is funny like that. I guess that's the nice thing about math, that everything in math is quite clearly defined, and if it isn't it's usually because there's a controversy about how to define the term.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

To comment on a previous post...

I should say, in respones to my "...shit" post, that I really shouldn't bad mouth the peace corps. I was in a really really bad mood when I posted that. I do know they care about us. I do know that they are crazy about taking care of us and keeping us safe. Shoot, my nurse reminded me of my mother in how much she worried about me. And I do think they are a good organization, and they do do good things. I guess my only bitterness about the peace corps came from, well, they are a branch of the US government, and as such has not gotten away from the all encompassing bureaucracy. Once you get to your site and get away from it, everything is just grand.

Although, really, if I thought they were a bad organization I wouldn't try so hard to get back in. Honestly, I've thought about joining other similar NGOs, and have worried slightly that the health care won't be as good.

Anyways, the posts are going well, and the game is coming along. I don't know, because of a small personal crisis things might be delayed a bit more, but hopefully things will come out soon.

Friday, August 17, 2007


So, I haven't had one of these in a while. I wanted to update you all on what's going on.

I had hoped to make my first real Beta test open a week or so ago, and then I had a few, I don't know, bits of inspiration (how is inspiration measured anyways?), and decided to put it off until I implemented them. The main one was the acting independent thing, although I added a lot of rules for linking the worlds more. So, hopefully now I'll be able to put them up soon. I figured I'd post a question to The Forge and, just to bring up a little buzz (although, in both of them they were questions I had genuinely been pondering for a while, I guess it's just a good coincidence I can shoot them off now), make any edits I can from their comments, do last minute touch ups, and then send it off.

And I had a new idea for campaign mode. Something simple. Basically, your group needs to survive N games. That's all. However, whenever your character dies in battle, she may die overall (and thus you want to surrender early if you think it might be a bloodbath). However, you can only lose X games before you are completely destroyed (and thus, you don't wan to surrender unless you have to). I figure these put things in a good balance, and make an interesting negative impact loop: if you have lost (X-1) games, then your party really should be willing to fight to the death. Because of this, other parties will be less likely to want to really go for the win, since it would mean probably heavy casualties themselves.

I don't know, I guess I'm not sure what else is worth posting. If I think of something I'll let you know. Take care all!


“Imitation is suicide.” – Emerson

Friday, August 3, 2007


*post has been altered since original posting on August 3rd*

So, I just heard back from the Peace Corps. My appeal was rejected. I don't know if this means it's over, but I don't know if I have it in me to keep fighting.

I feel strangely free. I mean, it sucks, really, but in some ways it feels better to be rejected than still in Limbo. Still, it's hard not to be upset.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

A thought...

So, something occurred to me recently, what would happen if I made it so that acting in one world did not prevent you from acting in the other? I mean, it made a lot of sense when you could only be awake in one world at a time, but now that you can be up in both, it seems a lot more silly. Why not make it that each character can act in each world? Doing this would remove, well, the advantage I disliked about rushing. I mean, you can still rush, but at this point you can rush in both worlds. If you rush in one world and hold back in the other, it's not because that's what you need to do to rush, it's because you might gain a strategic advantage in doing that.

Problem is if I do that, I'll need to come up with other, better ways of connecting the two. I have put some of the ideas of my last post into my next version (a big enough change that I'm calling it version 3.0). So, I think i'll test those rules out with friends, and see what they're like.

Oh, and I typed up all of my abilities, and I to 14 pages, and then another 4 for spells (that'll need to be extended, but a good start). So, yay, variety! Now I just need to figure out a convenient way of putting them together for character construction...

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Two new ideas, hope I haven't bitten off more than I can chew

To whomever may be listening,

So, before I get started on my rant about my game, I just wanted to say I got my appeal off, it’s received, and I asked my congressman for help. I don’t know, as cynical as I get about politics sometimes, I do really like this guy. I hope he’ll be able to help (I think he will, but can’t help but feeling like this cause may be hopeless at this point).

Anyways, two things I wanted to talk about today. Well, first a small update. So, things seem to be running smoothly with the game. I’ve test played it again a few times. I think that the rushing might still be a problem, although at this point it’s good enough that I can send the game out to beta testers and see what they think. I plan on doing that pretty soon, maybe releasing it on The Forge and The Board Game Design Forum. So, I’ll see how the viewing public likes it, at least in its first draft form.

I have two major things I’m wondering about now, like big things that I’m wondering how to change. First off, within a week I’ve had three completely independent people say that I should think about putting more links between the worlds in. Like, make more abilities that carry over, or things like that. Right now, well, there aren’t too many. I guess they are as follows:
-If a character dies in one world, they’re screwed in the other
-A few abilities have effects from one world to the other (though not many)
-Magic points are shared between worlds
-A character can only make an action in one world, rather than both, each turn
I’ve thought a lot about what more I could put in. Here are some thoughts. First, have “meditate” abilities, where the character in the spirit world falls unconscious, and it causes the character in the other world to power up. Second, that being alive in the real world can cause a dead spirit to become revived with some small probability. Third, maybe certain actions in the real world could grant a bonus in the spirit world, or vice versa. Fourth, a character, if they act in one world too much, grows tired (I don’t think I’ll do this, because I fear it might get overly complicated or annoying). I don’t know, I think I’ll post to bgdf about it, see what other ideas are out there.

The other thing I’ve been thinking about a lot lately is character creation. So, as it stands, what I’ve been doing so far is that each character has a class (or, as I call it, and archetype) in each world. All characters have the same stats to start with, and they each get 2 abilities. The abilities or stat increases a character can get depend upon the character class (so, for example, a warrior mostly gets things to boost her ability in melee combat). This has worked so far, especially for what I’ve done with it, but I can’t help but feel like there’s more to be had. I had an earlier post on bgdf, where someone suggested making the party design like creating a deck in a CCG. I thought this was really intriguing, though it will be hard to pull off. I mean, should I just let loose and let anyone create anything they want? If I do, will every party look the same? I mean, a real difference between CCGs and, say, D&D, is that in CCGs you often get really specialized decks (i.e. a burn deck, a rush deck, a dispel deck, etc), whereas in most RPGs, every party looks the same, a group of one of each type of specialists (a warrior, a healer, a rouge, and a magic user), forming a general group. I don’t know, the CCG model seems like it would be a lot more interesting, but hard to pull off. I feel like if anyone can just choose anything, it will turn into the RPG idea. So, a counterbalance thought I had to that was that each ability type has a color, or a flavor, or a guild, or something like that. Because of that, choosing one type of ability will rule out other types (i.e. getting a Necromancy power allows you to also get Black Magic, but rules out healing and protection magic). I also might make it that the more specialized your party is as a whole, the wider access you have to abilities (like, either you can get sucky abilities from every type, or decent abilities from half of the types, or really good abilities from only 1 or 3 types).

Anyways, something to think about. The whole appeal thing has me a tad emotionally drained, so I don’t really feel like talking any longer right now. Take care all!

Friday, July 13, 2007

Power 19 (first, or second draft)

So, after advice from former posts to The Forge (, I decided to write what is called the Power 19 for my game. Basically it was a way of, well, destribing your game, and basically getting you to think about it. This is my second draft of it (my first was pretty terrible and half-assed), so here it is.

I suppose I can take solice in the fact that even if I do get something wrong, no one is probably going to read it. I don't know, maybe I'm being to hard on myself, but does anyone actually read this blog? Maybe it's too soon, maybe I need to post to more forums, maybe I need to trade links (or whatever the advice on it was). I don't know, am I being too hard on myself, or is there more I should be doing to make this more public?

If someone is actually read this, I've got two questions. First, what do you think? Second, a new trial name is "Escape from Illeria." What do you think?

1.) What is your game about?
Game X is about conflict encounters as parties of adventurers explore and loot the lost Island of Illeria. Illeria was once home to the most powerful wizards of the world (who have sense mysteriously vanished), and sits on a rift between this world and the world made of magic and spiritual energy. It is about the desperation of characters who are trying to escape the island with their lives. Each game revolves around a single battle between rival parties. Victory in battle is (hopefully) determined mainly by strategy, rather than by luck. Each party has the possibility of being very unique, so that different parties (or different enemies) can provide significantly different game experiences.

2.) What do the characters do?
Each character is a member of a party exploring Illeria in search of fame, treasure, and power. Parties were sent to the Illeria with specific contracts, stating that they must collect a specified amount of treasure before they can return. Each party is lead by a single character (the “general”). The general is often the senior most member of the party, whose job is to act as the brains of the operation, instructing others in what to do. The remainder of the party is made up of adventure seekers and mercenaries who have come to Illeria generally for personal gain. They follow the general loyally (usually), and make up the brute force of most operations, acting in many ways as an extension of the general.

Over several battles, characters in the party advance, however they also become injured over time die.

3.) What do the players (including the GM if there is one) do?
Each player controls a party of individual characters. During battle, players control battles from the level of the general. Each battle takes place in both the physical world and the spirit world simultaneously, and players must choose how to allocate resources. Between battles each player controls the advancement of each character, and prepares them for future battles.

Game X has no GM.

4.) How does your setting (or lack thereof) reinforce what your game is about?
Each team of characters has a contract with a king, merchant, or other important and powerful figure. Their contract defines exactly what they must return with. Thus, given the harshness of combat on Illeria, each group only truly desires to be on the island for the minimal time possible, after which they can return home to their families.

5.) How does the Character Creation of your game reinforce what your game is about?
Each character in Game X has two bodies, one in the real world and one in the spirit world. Each character begins with a basic set of combat-oriented statistics, and from that becomes unique by taking “advancements” (i.e. new abilities or stat increases). Players can choose from a pool of over 100 advancements for each character, allowing them to make their parties exactly how they wish. Players do not buy set models for this game, but rather are expected to provide their own (a fantasy setting was chosen for this reason, since it offers the widest range of models to choose from).

6.) What types of behaviors/styles of play does your game reward (and punish if necessary)?
Good military strategy and good planning are rewarded in this game, and conversely bad strategy and planning are punished.

7.) How are behaviors and styles of play rewarded or punished in your game?
The better a player’s strategy, the more likely they are to win battles. Additionally, after each game, parties will reap the rewards or punishments of the game. Rewards will include character advancement and gaining treasure, punishment will include character death and equipment damage.

8.) How are the responsibilities of narration and credibility divided in your game?
Each player is wholly responsible for controlling their own party.

9.) What does your game do to command the players' attention, engagement, and participation? (i.e. What does the game do to make them care?)
Game X is fairly fast paced. Each turn generally lasts less than 20 minutes (usually ~15). Additionally, unlike many strategy games, players do not have turns of their own. Instead, players share each portion of the turn. Two phases of the turn require a player’s active engagement at all times. In the third phase, players will take turns making single small actions. Because of this, a player will rarely be disengaged from the game for more than a minute.

10.) What are the resolution mechanics of your game like?
Resolution is determined by a well-defined rule system. Most effects are determined by a dice roll, or in some cases a series of dice rolls. Players generally play until one player retreats or surrenders, however some games will be played until a particular tactical victory is achieved.

11.) How do the resolution mechanics reinforce what your game is about?
By having all of the rules well-defined, each player is clearly aware of the strengths and limitations of their characters, and what each is capable of. Additionally, it will allow him to approximately gauge the ability of his opponents (although, stealth and bluffing will, or at least can, be a major component of strategy). Without a clear rule system, it would be much more difficult to play strategically, and to determine a winner fairly in the absence of a GM.

12.) Do characters in your game advance? If so, how?
At the end of each battle, characters gain new abilities, or stat increases. Characters who are killed in battle can receive penalties in future battles, or possibly die. Generally, advancement should approximately offset permanent damage, so that parties will not have a huge change in power level over time (thus allowing most games to stay competitive). However, nearly all parties will be annihilated after too long (unless they are able to complete their mission first).

13.) How does the character advancement (or lack thereof) reinforce what your game is about?
The ever-present chance of death will help encourage a sense of desperation, and will create the need for characters to manage their resources well. The character advancement will help to keep battles interesting, so that the party is not exactly the same from game to game.

14.) What sort of product or effect do you want your game to produce in or for the players?
I hope to generate a feeling of both realism and desperation in the players. Players will need to manage their resources well, both during a battle and afterwards, otherwise their parties will not survive. Players will be discouraged from taking pointless risks, and from fighting for the sake of fighting (or for gaining experience). I also hope that players will generate a real connection to their characters, at a level much greater than those experienced in a typical wargame (though perhaps less than a typical RPG). Finally, I hope that this game actively engages the minds of the players, and makes them plan much more than in a typical wargame. Hopefully planning and strategizing will occur to a high degree throughout the game.

15.) What areas of your game receive extra attention and color? Why?
Magic, summoned creatures, constructs, and character creation. Each of these elements is given extra attention so that players can craft exactly the party they want. Hopefully, players will be able to specialize their parties, so that each particular group feels very different to battle. Additionally, magic, constructs, and summoned creatures were given extra color to create multiple layers of the game (so that a beginning player can learn a simple game without magic, and once they have mastered the rules, learn about new and intriguing abilities).

Also, I have attempted to make the spirit world much different than the real world, from the abilities to the basic troop types. I hope that this creates a very qualitatively different feel to interactions in each world.

16.) Which part of your game are you most excited about or interested in? Why?
To be honest, it changes from week to week. Perhaps I’m just excited about too many parts of the game. I’ve been exited about magic, summoned, creatures, and constructs, because they are all such fun and interesting rules. I’ve been really interested in the fully customizable nature of character design and party development (including the fact that there will be no set pieces). Also, I have been extremely exited about the unique campaign mode. Also, I have been excited about the dual nature of the game, and how each board will have a very different feel to it (and hopefully different tactics).

17.) Where does your game take the players that other games can’t, don’t, or won’t?
One very unique factor about Game X is that it is played on two boards. This adds a new depth of strategy, since characters must split their concentration, and cannot simply rely on being able to hold a competitive dominance on one board. Additionally, this game is in all ways basically a strategy wargame, however it allows the player to keep the same characters from one battle to another, allowing them to advance and change. What’s more, unlike many campaign strategy games, the advancement is not monotonically upward, but rather generally downward. Finally, this game has a very strong planning component in the leadership system, which requires a large degree of strategizing and outthinking your foe.

18.) What are your publishing goals for your game?
Design a game that I can be really proud of, and then sell enough copies to break even. I hope to accomplish this by selling pdfs online, and possibly by selling actual copies from a POD service.

19.) Who is your target audience?
My target audience will mainly be players who enjoy small-scale war games. Additionally, I expect to be able to generate a good bit of interest from RP gamers who enjoy combat games (or, who just occasionally enjoy hack-n-slash).

Well, to anyone reading this, thank you so much, and fare well.


PS So apparently 2 more people in my Peace Corps group have left. I guess we're down from 67 to 58. Its always kind of sad to hear that. Although my appeal is almost finished, and I'm about to send it in, so we'll see how that goes. Hopefully the bureaucrats in Washington will, like, begin processing it within a month.

Friday, July 6, 2007

First post ever. Yay!

Dear gamers of the world,

I feel I should begin by saying that I’ve never had a live journal or a blog before. I always considered it to be to narcissistic. That or cultish. Mainly in college when everyone was getting an LJ, I didn’t have time to read other people’s blogs (I often felt like I didn’t have time to keep track of my own life, much less the lives of others), and thus it felt too narcissistic to think that others would have the time to keep track of my life.

So, fast-forward three years of my life. A year ago I graduated from college and joined the Peace Corps (teaching science in Namibia). I worked for 7 months (well, 5 plus 2 of training), and then was forced to leave for medical reasons. I’m trying to appeal the decision, I don’t know if it will work, and even if it does I will be in the States for a few months. So, being that I’m kind of in limbo right now, I asked myself what I really wanted to do, what would make me happy. It dawned on me that there was a game I had been working on (I stated the summer before I shipped off, though made a lot of improvements as I was battling boredom in the village), that I would really love to publish. I suppose more than anything I just want to see if I can really do it, so I set breaking even as my goal. I’m kind of new at this, don’t really know what to do, and so have been reading a lot of online forums. One suggestion that I heard is that I should start a design blog. Basically, people enjoy seeing the design process in action, and, well, like getting to know the designer of independent games. So, I figured if it will generate buzz, help me achieve my goal, and basically help people enjoy the whole experience of my game more, then why not?

That said, the working title for my game is Game X (I’m trying to come up with a better title, but this is it for now). It is set on the Island of Illeria. The backstory is that long ago, the wizards colonized this island, and set up a magic research school. No one knows what happened, but at some point everyone just disappeared. It quickly dawned on the outside world that the Illeria was home to unimaginable treasure and power, and hundreds of adventure seekers and military units soon organized to explore the island.

Game X is a skirmish-level tabletop strategy game. Each player controls a small team (right now I’m thinking 7) of characters, who do battle with other squads. The game is set in a medieval fantasy setting. I’m planning to at some point have a campaign system set up, so that after each game your group grows stronger (or weaker), though I figure it’s best to leave that portion to the very last (I mean, if the game isn’t good enough to play once, why would it be goon enough to play several times?).

So I really have three things about this game which I consider to be unusual and special. First, I am asking characters to provide their own pieces (something akin to the Cheapass Games idea), and making the character creation system highly customizable. How customizable I’m not sure yet, it depends a lot on, well, what I think is the best, and maybe how much patience I have (I did have someone suggest I try to make this into a skirmish equivalent of a CCG, but I’ll see how possible that is). Second, the leadership and command system is very structured. Unlike most games where you take turn moving your entire army, in this game you are given a limited number of commands each turn. Not only that, but commands must be made in advance, anticipating what your enemy might do. Third, combat is played on two boards, and what happens on one affects the other (and thus, resources need to be divided up between each). I’ll go more into this in a later posting, but it is the idea I’m most proud of (and that I think is the most unique).

Thus far I’ve played a few test games. I think a decent game runs about 2 to 3 hours, plus maybe 15 to 30 minutes to prepare an army. Last game I timed it, and a full turn seemed to take ~15 minutes (less on early and later turns), which I thought was pretty good. Thus far, I have tested the combat system (something that’s very simple, and seems to work well), the leadership system (I’ve had one small kink, which was fairly easy to work out), abilities (no overwhelming problems thus far), summoned creatures (no problems, other than it is easy to overpower them), and the general game concept.

The only major flaw I’ve had to deal with seemed to be in the last category. Basically, under my original rule set, it seemed like the optimal strategy was to dump all of your attention and resources into one board, and basically ignore the other. This put me into a panic for a week, though in my most recent playtest the problem seems to have been worked out. Basically, under the original game, it was too hard to move resources from one world to another, and as such it seemed like your best chance was to overwhelm your opponent before (s)he was able to overwhelm you. My solution: make it easier to move resources from one world to another (and actually, by accident I’ve done a few things to encourage them, such as make it so a given character can move freely while her doppelganger is in combat).

My friends have said that they think the game is very playable, and that it’s time to start getting a wider audience to testplay it. I feel like the game still has a few more kinks, and a few more rules to develop, before I begin subjecting strangers to it. Maybe this is just me lacking in self-confidence. Mainly I want to get magic working in my game (or at least appearing to be working) first.

With that, the two last rules I want to test during my next game are magic and constructs. An idea I had for magic long ago, which I still like to use, is that as you cast spells, it lessens your ability to cast future spells, but in a probabilistic way (in other words, if you cast magic arrow this turn, you are less likely to be able to cast it next turn). I’ve had moderate success with this system in the past, though I think I’ve figured out a way to simplify it so that it only requires one small calculation, and no conversions (i.e. there won’t be any, “Hmmm... so I take my power, add my dice roll, multiply this by 2, and then look at this table and compare it to my current health and the alignment of the stars...”). For constructs, things like animated objects and undead, I wanted to make the rules interesting. I had this thought: constructs can’t think for themselves, and only do what their masters have pre-programmed them to do. This means they’re basically robots, so why not have them act like robots? So, basically each construct is given a pre-programmed set of instructions at creation, which can be changed, and then act on their own. I’ll see how it works.

I suppose my other main goal is to keep things streamlined. I don’t know if this means I have to keep it simple. Honestly I hope it doesn’t because I’m afraid that will make it boring. I am trying to add interesting flavor rules, right now I have them for magic, constructs, and summoned creatures, and I’m debating if there are any more places to add them. I worry about this slightly, since the first person I ever got game design advice from told me that the key to successful board games is to keep them as simple as possible, and to have as few rules as possible (and suggested to try to avoid flavor rules, and if you must have them to only have one or MAYBE two). I suppose when I do beta testing I will hear what people think, whether the game is too complicated or if it’s okay. Part of it, however, is that I feel like one mitigating factor is that if you don’t want to deal with the rules for summoned creatures, you simply don’t put summoned creatures in your army.

So, I think this is about all for now. My goodness, this has reached page 3 in Word. I hope I haven’t bored you all. Take care, and thanks for listening.

Simon Stump