Monday, January 30, 2017

Pioneers of Mars : A Board game

Over the past few years I have been working on a secret project unrelated to my RPG work. I mean, its not unrelated unrelated.  Its not like I was designing a new type of wood stove or teaching cats how to knit.   It is still RPG Adjacent in that sense.

Its a board game.



Pretty snazzy title block eh?

Its a Euro style board game about colonizing the red planet.  Its primary mechanics involve base creation and worker placement.  Players juggle the needs of power, resources, and life support as they fight for prestige to become the first leader of an independent Mars.

You already know this is going to lead into an ask in some for of crowd sourcing plea..  but first lets go a little more into where we are.  In my local area I have been playing this game for a couple years, along with a few other groups of people, to play test the heck out of it and ensure it is a smooth machine.  Look at this glorious picture by Chris Huth.



Its one of nearly a hundred different pieces we commissioned for the game.  This particular one showcasing the work of an engineer.  You are probably skeptical about the timeline of completing such a large amount of art for any future kickstarter.  That could be a recipe for unending delays.  Which is why before I said anything about the board game to my readers I made sure they were all completed.

Here is another fine example from an action space ,  “The Survey”.




Still, fancy art does not a functional product make.  You have to actually source all the bells and whistles and get an actual game assembled. Something that fits in a fancy box and can be handed as a complete package to a customer.   We had our prototype delivered just after Christmas last year.  After confirming everything we've just ordered a few promotional copies and expect them soon.

Here is one of my favourite pieces, one of the Spaceports in the game:



So if  we have long finished designing and testing the game, we have all of the art completed, we have sourced the components and have working copies,  why are we going to have a kickstarter?   Bulk. If we can guarantee enough copies we can lower the per unit cost to a more reasonable level and throw in some stretch goals.

The kickstarter won't go live for another month or so,  we wanted some time to gauge support and do some of the boring business background type things required.  But when it does go online, I would like any of my readers who are fans of euro-style board games to consider backing it.  I have you have seen enough of my work to know I don't produce crap and I legitimately think this is a fantastic board game that will enter into your regular rotation.   I have been able to play it weekly for years without finding it stale.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

How I write an adventure part 2: The Longer Version

This is the second part of “How I write an adventure”. Part one might have been a little bit simplified, but it wasn't (just) a cheap joke.

Those really are the two steps: Make a skeletal frame and write the rest of the fucking adventure.


Step 1: Making a skeletal frame

Based on the diagram previously this may seem like the simpler of the two steps. It isn't. This requires inspiration and vision. You sit down at a blank piece of paper and decided what is the point of your adventure. Why are you writing this down in an almost endless sea of adventures both published and not. What are you trying to do with it? Write down that purpose. Then add additional reasons until you start to get a useful framework to add content with (I like about 5 rules, usually between 3 and 7).

Here are two examples:

Dunnsmouth:
It has to be a re-playable by the same group.
It has to be quick to prep, no massive piles of tables.
It has to involve uncertainty
It can't be about the end of the world
It can't be about death as the risk

Thulian Echoes:
It has to replace a “GM info dump”
It has to reward players to “play along”
It has to lure players to want to keep exploring the site
It can't be a railroad
It has to have things to tinker with


For each adventure I would use those skeletal rules, branching from spine to finger bone in importance, and use them to hang content from (or as a reason to prune unwanted content). Notice that each of the rules are about its use is in the context of a game. I don't have things as part of the frame like “Giant spider” or “Crazy wizard” or “Journey to the center of the earth”. Those are the content. The framework is the reason for the content.

Dunnsmouth has (spoilers) spiders, and secret cultists, and infections not as the purpose for the adventure, but as content to hang on a skeletal framework of other ideas. The primary reason the adventure exists isn't to showcase the cool content but to be enjoyable to play as a game. The content supports the point of the adventure, not the other way around. Its all about interest and fun at the table.


Step 2: Write the rest of the fucking adventure

Now that you have a reason for the adventure, dig through your notebooks and past and future campaign material for big chunks that will help you support those ideas. Rip out big chunks of meat and slap them on the framework, always making sure it doesn't violate any rules unless it somehow greatly improves a more important bone. For Thulian Echoes there is a little bit of railroad in regards to the past adventurers in that they always die, but that is acceptable because it greatly supports bone 2 in that it is used to get players to “play along”. Also if I go through my “portfolio” of past gaming material I can ensure that I only rip out the hunks that work at the table to staple into my frankenventure.

Then I smooth all those hunks of flesh into an “I can't believe its not human!” pile.




At that point, it is time to run through a playest and see what gaps you need to fill with more content. Start stitching up that pile of adventure cadavers until things stop sliding off. Cut anything that turned out to be rotten and replace it with new content appropriate to the rest of the form.

Run another playtest to be sure, repeating the process.

Now its beginning to seem more slick.



You know what, maybe too slick. Add some fucked up shit and run through another playtest.



There we go. Now comes the final part required only if you want to get published or self publish this.

Actually write the rest of the fucking adventure. This isn't in itself hard, its just boring as sin. You go through each room, each description, each item and you put to words all of those things you have currently as jot notes like “big dude, leather and bow, skull mace with the cool mind power”. You write a paragraph or two that is actually useful at the table instead. You flesh out the wandering monster table and actually describe in better detail the treasures and monsters. You skirt along the edges of what is minimalism and what is just useless. You do all that boring stuff you don't want to do and the only way to get it done is to actually just sit down and fucking do it.

Draw that fucking owl, no one else will draw it for you.

Now wait a week and go back through and cut out the garbage that doesn't need to be there. Cut it like its a cop and you've been going by Mr. Blonde as of late. Half of it is trash you forced yourself to write so you would have something there to check off the mental checkbox of finishing that part of a task so you can move on. Wait another week and do it again.


Now you have written an adventure. Now look into pitching it to a publisher and maybe getting an editor.

Friday, January 27, 2017

How I write an adventure pt 1: The short version

I have seen a couple really good posts detailing the process of writing an adventure for publishing from people I enjoy reading  (here and here).

This made me decide that I should hop on the bandwagon and detail my process.  This will be broken into two posts.  The first is an abridged version, the second a longer more in depth explanation with examples.

The important thing to remember is that writing an adventure for publishing is a lot like drawing an owl:
Step 1:  Flesh out a rough skeletal frame.
Step 2: Write the rest of the fucking adventure.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

The Most Dangerous Game in all of Xan Than Du

The adventures set in the land of Xan Than Du continue,

Previously the party had become stranded after an agonizingly long journey into the unknown, most of the party returned home a shambled mess becoming enslaved, injured, or mad in the process (as per this table).

One party member though  (The naval officer bard) had decided to build a crude raft with his henchman (including a Gorilla) and sail across treacherous waters to an island where lights had been spotted, hoping it would be a bastion of civilization (and prevent him from needing to roll on the table).  He was right...ish.

This game began with him finding the estate of the Dutch explorer Adriaan Van de Groot (after hiding his Gorilla in the Jungle).   He was fed and clothed and taken to the dinner hall with two shipwrecked Americans.  The players already knew what was about to happen and the character surmised based on his natural history skill the words on the empty plagues in the trophy room.  Over the course of dinner the Naval Officer attempted to convince Adriaan that he had met the truly most dangerous game ever,  the Lion Demon Dal-Ga.  This would have been an easy sell except the other two players decided to foil his plans by instead rushing to convince Adriaan that in fact they were the most potent specimens of health, intelligence, and daring and thus were far superior creatures to any supposed Lion.

So the party was set free at sunset, with just the clothes on their back to survive until the following sunset to win both freedom, and use of the estate for the naval officers expedition (which would be quite a win for the campaign, opening up new areas of the map).  

The island consisted of arid hills dotted with dragon trees and fields of agave (farmed by a village of servants),  a dense jungle, a reed filled saltwater marsh, and the remaining base of an ancient volcanic mountain spire.

The Officer quickly took command led the party to the jungle as the sun set, nearly falling down a ravine containing a black panther (though finding some garbage from the village containing part of a broken clay jug).  Their headlong rush into the dark was helped as they quickly found a trail...that lead through quicksand nearly drowning two party members before they were able to rescue them by cutting a vine (and thus leaving more evidence of their passing for their pursuers).  The trail they had stumbled upon lead them to a small back-filled cenote containing a graveyard they concluded to be "VooDoo of some sort", with raised bamboo platforms containing dried out bodies and a shed.  Looking inside they shed found a shovel, some matches and candles on a shrine, a mirror which they promptly broke (cursing one party member),  and a magical fetish-item for causing heart attacks on a victim.  Breaking the mirror defiled the shrine and caused several zombies to rise to attack.  The party had but one shovel to defend themselves.  One shovel and also a gorilla named Harambe who tore the zombies to pieces (after narrowly making his will check to not freak out).

Having some tools and light, they decided to move through the concealment of the jungle (hiding their light) at night towards the marsh (more concealment) and see if there were any caves in the spire they could hide in (one of the characters had geology as a skill and figured there were probably lava tubes).

As they moved through the marsh (it was now the darkest hours of early morning) they heard the baying of hounds.  They proceeded to rush,  but in doing so happened to stumble upon burned out primitive fishing village that looked to have been abandoned for years.  Weighing their options they decided to gamble on being caught and spend time searching.  They were rewarded with a bone harpoon, an easily repairable net, a fish knife, and the charred remnants of a wooden totem that held magical powers of fear.  They now had the hunter hot on their trails as they raced up the mountain side, nearly becoming trapped at one point if not for the helpful aide of their pet gorilla (which, kudos to having brought a gorilla and stashed it beforehand I guess).

And sure enough there was a lava tube, and (through burning their luck points) the party just barely managed to sneak inside without being caught in the open along a cliff face, exposed to gunfire.  Rushing inside one party member was mashed with a crude falling rock trap. Clearing the rubble the found the skeleton of a dead pirate,  clutching a loaded pistol and with a tattered sheepskin bag among his hip bones containing gems.

Now to cut away at this point,  I had it marked that there were lava tubes/caves,  but its a random seed table to where they go and its fairly likely to run into a dead end.  The party knows this because its not a random table used for just this adventure.  So they briefly decide if this is where they make their stand.  They now have one shot of a gun, and a harpoon, though they are low on luck as they spent it to avoid being spotted in the open.  Luck is also used to absorb damage (ie, its hitpoints). They decide to say screw it and see what lies further down the cave network as it will generally lead towards the shore.   So meandering through the tunnels (thankfully with candles) they spend a couple hours navigating, finding a massive cavern with a fungal forest (which they again debate using as an ambush point) they continue forward through incredibly narrow tunnels (nearly getting their gorilla stuck) until the generator spits out an unusual result.  Triple 1's.   The caves lead to the basement of a secret castle or tower is what the generator says.  There are no castles or towers...but there is the Van de Groot estate.   So they accidentally came face to face with his basement wall and break through to his basement.

The tables have turned.   They shove now burning furniture and garbage (and taxidermy chemicals) into the narrow tunnels to block access to anyone who isn't suicidal.  Close behind them they hear Van de Groot curse and the Naval Officer (as a bard) shouts a witty insult towards him  (draining the hunters luck points).    Tactically things are 180, it will take Van de Groot hours to get back.

The party sneaks upstairs and goes to get the most important thing first, they raid the liquor cabinet and have a few drinks.   One, this is funny, two it regains some luck points for them.  Then,  sneaking around the butler and house staff they break into their locked rooms and re-arm with their equipment (though this raises the alarm).  They break into Van de Groot's room and use Harambe to move a gunsafe in front of his door.

As the house servants (except the head butler) don't have guns, they fortify Van de Groot's room and wait.   Perhaps having expected his staff to have been better able to resist (he didn't know about the gorilla after all) Van de Groot, his dogs, and men marched back to the house only to get ambushed as they crossed an open field.  Bullets from repeaters slew many of his men and removed his remaining luck.   Alone in a field inside the sights of multiple repeated rifles in a fortified position,  Van de Groot conceded defeat in this greatest of games.

Seeing him as valuable (and wanting the greater XP that comes from capture) the party accepted his surrender and unlocked the settlement.