Tacticon is coming up next weekend, and I’m putting the finishing touches on the Ghost Punchers adventure I’ll be running on Saturday morning. I’m excited to be back in the ghost-punching world, and figured it would be fun to share that excitement with you by showcasing one of the heroes who will be appearing in next week’s adventure: Ricky Nash, a soldier in the war against the dead.
When Ricky’s squad was ambushed outside the middle eastern village, he was the only one to escape unscathed. Six men were dead, the rest wounded, and several of them weren’t expected to make it through the night. Ricky knew who had attacked them. He’d seen this particular group of “non-combatant locals” before, subtly sizing up the soldiers who had “liberated” them.
Ricky wanted to go back that night, to take out the insurgents before they could slip away. His superiors denied the mission, saying they didn’t have enough intel. Just after midnight, he went anyway.
Ricky got his revenge. Two days later, he was court martialed. He was convicted and sentenced to military prison, where he was tormented by nightmares that bled into daytime manifestations of terror. His cellmate, “Red” O’Conner, explained that he was being haunted. Red taught him to see ghosts, and to fight back.
Ricky’s been out of prison for just over a year, and hasn’t had an easy time of adjusting to civilian life. He’s been working odd jobs and trying to put his past behind him. Red put him in touch with some people who hunt ghosts, but they were a bunch of weirdos. One good thing, though: they dropped his name to Monica Harper, a debutante looking to bankroll ghost-hunting expedition.
Last week, I tweeted that I was brainstorming random board game ideas, and that they were literally random: I’d rolled them off a table.
Well, that’s not entirely accurate. There are tables, but the dice-rolling is all automated and web-based. I wasn’t rolling so much as clicking, but the results were the same. I love these sorts of random generators. There’s nothing quite like a dose of context-free chaos to wake up the imagination and shake up the design process. In fact, if you’ve got the game-making itch but aren’t exactly sure how best to scratch it, I’d recommend checking out one of these game idea generators:
- Boardgamizer: As you might be able to guess from the name, this generator is focused on board games. With every click of the button, you get a random new mechanic, theme, and victory condition.
- The Ludemetic Game Generator: According to the site, it “randomly combines categories and mechanics from those at BoardGameGeek to create new (and largely useless) game ideas, with arbitrarily appropriate titles.” Yeah, I’d say that’s a pretty accurate description.
- Game Idea Generator: This generator is more aimed at folks making video games, but a lot of the ideas can carry over to tabletop without too much effort.
- Orteil’s Game Idea Generator: Again, this one is more video game than tabletop, but the mad genius of the generator comes from the premises it suggests. When it generates games where you “bury the president through social engineering” or “motivate sky whales but you’re a ghost” or even “drag and drop bees to become successful” you can’t help but be inspired.
- Python Game Ideas: This is one is very specific with its video game mechanics. It includes a page of definitions and examples for each of those mechanics.
- Game-o-tron 3000: Another video game-oriented generator, this one shows a list of all the entries it’s choosing from, so you can just pick your favorite rather than rolling for it.
- Abstract Strategy Game Generator: Just like it says in the title, Martin Grider’s generator kicks out ideas for abstract strategy games that are suitable for both tabletop and digital.
Did I miss your favorite game idea generator? Drop a link to it in the comments* and I’ll add it to the list!
*Assuming the comments are working properly. I haven’t really tested them out on this new blog yet.
This weekend is the pre-release of Equestian Odysseys, the latest card set for the My Little Pony CCG. Equestian Odysseys kicks off a new series of card sets, and we designed it to be a good jumping-on point for new players.
One of the things I’m most excited about in this set is the addition of dual-color cards. This is something we’ve been meaning to do since the beginning, but it’s never felt like the right time to introduce them until now. (For the uninitiated, cards have traditionally come in one of six colors, but as of this release, they may have two different colors at the same time.)
It’s been a blast working with the R&D team to bring this latest set to completion, and I hope you enjoy the fruits of our labors. To find a pre-release event near you, check out this handy map and see what stores are running the event in your area.
Myths and Legends
Next weekend, I’ll be attending Myths and Legends Con in Denver, where I’ll be running two sessions of “Dune Riders of Karthador.” The first session is Friday the 14th at 7:00 PM, the second is Saturday the 15th at 2:00 PM. If you’ve been looking for a chance to check out Karthador, you can pre-register for the gaming slots online here.
Here’s the schedule, if you’d like to lock in your tickets before the show begins.
- 7PM – 11PM: Storm Masters of Karthador
- 9AM – 1PM: Ghost Punchers – Mini Van of Death!
- 7PM – 11PM: Mutant Hunters of Karthador
Con season might not be over, but I’m not complaining. Any day spent with friends, dice, and gaming is a day spent winning. Hope to see you there!
It was over a month ago I got the email from my web host:
“You’ve got malware on your site. We’re shutting it down until you fix it.”
Yikes! I knew some of the WordPress plugins were old and possibly corrupt, but I didn’t think it would come to this. Still, I wasn’t worried. I’d been backing the site up pretty regularly. So I nuked the whole thing from orbit (the only way to be sure)… then couldn’t get my backup to restore properly.
The good news is, with the help of a friend, I was eventually able to recover all my old posts.
The bad news is that I lost all my images and will have to rebuild the themes and whatnot from scratch. And even that’s not terrible news. I was planning to re-do the look of the site anyway.
(Hmmm. I seem to have lost all my tags as well. Luckily, the “categories” feature still seems to be working, so if there’s a particular subject you want to read up on, such as “World Building” or “Game Design,” you can hit those links on the left.)
Writing rulebooks for games is hard. Yes, it’s a cliche, but that doesn’t make it any less true. Writing rules is both art and science (a bit more art than science, IMHO), and there’s a whole host of reasons why it’s so difficult, but the core challenge is that rulebooks are trying to be two things at once.
A good rulebook needs to be both
- a tutorial that teaches you how to play the game, and
- a reference that explains, in excruciating detail, how the game works.
These might feel like the same things, but they’re not. That feeling is a trap. If you try to do both simultaneously, you end up with a document that’s so full of explanations of how the game works, the reader has a hard time learning how to play. In order to figure out “What do I do on my turn?” I need to wade through details of rules that only matter on the last turn, or come up twice a game, or only apply when my opponent is wearing a fedora.
As a reference, the rule have to cover everything.
As a tutorial, the rules only have to cover what you need in order to play.
There are as many ways of addressing this challenge as there are rulebooks. If you’re doing an RPG, for example, you’ve got between 64 and 640 pages to work with, so it’s easy to have “What you need to know in order to play” in chapter 1, and save “An exhaustive list of injuries your character can suffer and their effects on your stats” for chapter 28. In a hobby board game, you can again front-load the tutorial aspects into the first few pages, and save everything else for an “other rules” section in the back part of the booklet. Some games literally divide the tutorial and the reference into two separate documents. And then you’ve got games like Magic: the Gathering, which features a comprehensive rules document that’s like hundreds of pages long… but ships with a tiny little booklet that tells you just enough to get you playing the game.
There isn’t a single One True Way to write rulebooks. If there were, it wouldn’t be so hard. But keeping in mind that you’re trying to do two things at once will hopefully help you find the best way to write your rulebook for your game.
Some creative types have celestial muses to inspire their art. I had one, but she took some time to find herself and never came back. Instead, I have a director of self-promotion. His name is Moe. He’s bald, chews an unlit cigar, and smells like garlic when he sweats, which is all the time. He appears over my shoulder every few weeks, hovering on ridiculously undersized angel wings. He’s hovering there now.
“Hey, doofus,” he says, pointing at me with his cigar. “You should tell the people about the things.”
I blink at him. I’m sort of zoned out from working on the spreadsheet in front of me. What people? What things?
Moe groans and rolls his eyes.
“Tell your audience–the four people who read your blog and the six who follow you on Twitter or whatever–about the products that just came out. You’re over here tellin’ ’em you’re this writer and game designer, but then when stuff that you wrote and designed gets released, you don’t even say nothing. You should point to that stuff.” (He jabbed at me with his cigar for emphasis.) “Point to it hard and say, ‘I made this. I’m not just talking over here, I can execute, too. See?’ Or else how they gonna know?”
Oh. Right. Something like this?
Pinnacle Entertainment Group has announced that Lankhmar: City of Thieves is now available for PDF order and print pre-order. This RPG book lets you play in the sword and sorcery world of Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser using the Savage Worlds game system. The tome includes not only everything you need to embark on a gaming career of thieving and skullduggery, but a couple of adventures written by yours truly as well. The Pinnacle team are knocking the Lankhmar property out of the park, and I’m thrilled to be part of it.
Over the card game side of things, the past weekend saw the pre-release of Absolute Discord, the latest set of cards I helped design for the My Little Pony CCG. This set features that top agent of chaos, Discord, and the craziness he brings whenever he shows up in an episode. Some of the cards in the set are really quite insane, and it was a lot of fun watching my social feeds blow up with people asking each other, “Is this even a real card? How could such a thing exist?” The theme decks were released last week, and the boosters are scheduled to drop next week, so be sure to hit up your Friendly Local Game Store and demand your ponies!
“Yeah,” says Moe after a pause. “Something like that. But maybe not so ham-fisted.”
Inspired by a tweet from the always-thinking Will Hindmarch, I’ve been pondering the role of names in world-building. They’ve got a lot of power. The power to create a mood or reinforce a theme. The power to add a bit of verisimilitude to your world-building… or to break the suspension of disbelief.
Is it example time? Yes? Okay, then. An example:
Behold a wondrous device that, when activated, produces food that’s fully prepared and ready to be eaten. By naming the thing, you don’t change its function (“food-maker”) but you say a lot about the world around it. Off the top of my head, you could call it the…
- Food Replicator,
- Stone of Nourishment,
- QuikMeal 2000,
- Harvoot’s Endless Food Bag,
- Dietary Nutrition Delivery System,
- Altar of Divine Sustenance, or
… and each name gives the audience different glimpse into the world you’re making.
No words of world-building wisdom today. No pearls of game-design brilliance either. Jaxar the Barbarian was up at 3:30 AM, which meant I was up, which means that my sharpest edges are a bit dull this morning. My brain’s still a bit foggy, and in true dream-like fashion, it keeps obsessing over one thing:
It’s almost GenCon time.
Looking at the calendar, I see that’s not strictly true. The big show is still four months a way, but in the time-dilated world of tabletop game publishing, July 30 is right around the corner. For publishers with products hitting the street at that time, the clock is ticking to get those files to the printer (and if you’re printing in China, you might already be too late). For freelance game designers, the pressure is on to polish up those prototypes and start making arrangements to show them to interested parties.
I’ve been known to say that it’s hard to see the forest when the tree in front of you is on fire. But it’s at times like these that I look up, gaze across the woodlands, and realize the whole forest to the horizon is in flames.
Not that I’m complaining. It’s far better to scramble for a finish line against the clock than to meander in a vaguely goal-shaped direction with all the time in the world.
…But it would be a lot easier to scramble on a full night’s sleep, Jaxar.
In world-building, it’s easy to get caught up in history. After all, the world that we’re building is based on everything that’s come before, and today’s conflicts are the results of yesterday’s conflicts. But crafting all that history is a trap, and here’s why:
No one cares.
Okay, there might be a Tolkein-style obsessive fan out there who can’t get enough backstory, but by and large, your audience wants the story that’s happening RIGHT NOW. They couldn’t care less about the stories that led up to this point.
Now, am I saying you should ignore your world’s history? Of course not. But you should treat it like dirt: It’s the soil, the ground, the rock that everything is built on… but no one thinks about it much. It’s just there. Still, dirt is important. It’s where you plant story seeds to grow the stories that your audience actually does care about.
No one cares about the field, but they love the crops it produces.
If you want to listen me ramble more on the subject of world-building, I’m running a class April 25 through May 16 in Denver and we’ve still got some slots available.
(If you want to read another RPG designer’s thoughts on history in RPG, check out Asparagus Jumpsuit’s blog posts on the subject.)