Punching Ghosts, Punching the Clock

Posted on September 28, 2016 By


Over the next few weeks, I’ll be showing off the various ghost-punching organizations you’ll find in the Ghost Punchers RPG. Last week, we looked at the Order of the Sacred Shield. This week, we’re casting our gaze upon the professional punchers of Singular Security .

According to its business card, Singular Security offers its wealthy clients “discrete extranormal security solutions.” Extranormal, of course, is code for “ghost” and security solutions means “punching.”singular_security

Singular was founded by ghost puncher Andrew James in 1984. After watching a movie about scientists who made a living capturing ghosts, James took out an ad in an upscale magazine offering his services as a “paranormal security consultant.” Freelance ghost-punching was a niche market, but James charged enough for his services that he didn’t need many clients. Over the next 30 years, the company expanded to offer solutions to mundane (if unusual) security challenges. But while it’s adapted to the market, it’s remained both discreet and expensive.

Today, Singular’s clientele is primarily made up of corporations and wealthy individuals. James himself is mostly retired, but the company has a small staff of mediums in its Chicago office to handle its important clients. For new or less-important customers, Singular hires local consultants to handle the on-site investigation and ghost-punching. These consultants are typically brought in when a client suspects that a property is haunted, and would like the ghostly squatters discreetly dispatched.

For Singular, discretion is the key. Consultants who draw attention to the client or themselves are fined, and may have their contracts canceled. Egregious offenders also find themselves sued for breach of confidentiality. But for the punchers who can keep their mouths closed, temping for Singular is good gig.

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The Big Payoff

Posted on September 26, 2016 By

This is what happens when you Google "pumpkin rampage"

As the days get shorter, the air turns colder, and natural generally transitions into “contemplate your own mortality” mode, I find myself avoiding thoughts of the grave by focusing on something cheerful, like tabletop game design! Today, for instance, I’m having some thoughts on the concept of “payoff” and I’d like to share them with you.

As a player, it’s satisfying to see the strategy you’ve been working on over the course of the game pay off in a fun and dramatic way. Here are some tips on adding that moment of sweet catharsis to your own game designs:

Hanging the Gun: In games, “payoff” typically comes from a sort of “Chekhov’s Gun” — something the player sees early in the game that promises to be awesome (“Wow! This card does a million points of damage!”), but “pays off” for the player later in the game. Make sure your players are aware of the payoff early enough in the game to take advantage of it.

A Promise of Payoff: When I look at the game and see something awesome that I’ll eventually be able to do, I suddenly have a goal (beyond just winning the game) a motivation to reach it, and a new strategy to help win the game. (“If I can build up enough pumpkin seeds, I can play the ‘Pumpkin Frenzy’ card and score 100 points! I’d better start growing more seeds!”)

Actual Awesomeness: Sometimes a payoff looks like it will be awesome, but in reality… it isn’t. Maybe there’s so much work to get there that the payoff isn’t worth it. Or maybe the payoff, which seemed amazing at first, turns out to merely be good or okay or a little sad actually.

Investing in Payoffs: Related to the above, every resource I invest in the payoff should actually go towards the payoff. When I dedicate myself to the payoff strategy, I shouldn’t have to worry about the resources being drained away by the rules of the game.

Don’t Deny the Payoff: One of the most frustrating things I’ve experienced in a game is when another player, with very little resource expenditure, shuts down the payoff I’ve been working towards all game. It’s one thing if we’re both racing to get the payoff, or if she spends a bunch of resources to deny me the payoff. But it’s something else entirely if she casually plays a card or rolls a die result that totally pulls the payoff plug.

Finally, it’s worth noting that your game might have a narrative payoff. For example, if your game is called “Pumpkin Rampage,” you’re implying to the players that there will be some sort of pumpkin-related rampaging before the game is done. Likewise, if the “story” of the game is a journey or mission, the payoff should be the end of the journey or the completion of the mission. (Even if the player fails to complete the story, that failure should also be a payoff, and not just the sound of air being let out of a balloon.)

Do you have any examples of “payoff” from your favorite games? Post them in the comments and share with the group!


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A Cult of Personalities

Posted on September 23, 2016 By


Earlier this year, I published Lords of Westmoor, an RPG sourcebook detailing the rulers of the fantasy realm of Westmoor. Today, I’d like to announce a follow-up sourcebook, Masters of the Endless Flame. Like Westmoor, Endless Flame describes a community of characters with their own goals, secrets, and conflicts. Unlike the previous book, this one focuses not on a geographic region, but on a wide-spread cult dedicated to an ancient god of fire and destruction.

I’ll be posting more about the book as it nears publication, but for now, here’s a bit of the introductory fiction.

On the morning before Baron Chayce died, he was wearing the heavy, pine-green woolen riding cloak his son had given him for his forty-second birthday. He pulled the cloak tighter against the chill mists as he trotted up to where Lady Mora surveyed the ruined keep from atop her own horse.

“It’s still not for sale,” he said. He smiled, but there was nothing friendly in his tone.

“I was afraid you would say that,” said Mora. “Even though it’s –”

“Nothing more than a crumbling tower and wall in the middle of the forest,” said Chayce. “You’re right. It’s worthless to me from a tactical standpoint. But as I keep pointing out, it’s still well within my fiefdom, and letting another take possession of it would be poor tactics indeed.”

Lady Mora sighed.

“I guess we shall have to do this the hard way, then.”

The baron grinned.

“I know of your ways, m’lady. I assure you, I have no secrets you can use against me, and riches enough to ignore any crude attempts at bribery.”

“Yes, ‘tis true,” said Mora. She sighed again. Her voice was full of regret. “Since you won’t accept gold, you’ll have to pay in blood. I’m afraid only one of us shall be returning from our morning ride.”

Despite himself, Chayce glanced around them. The mist now seemed thick and ominous, as if hiding a hundred daggers. He forced himself to laugh.

“You would threaten me? On my own lands? If you return without me, my family will know what you’ve done, and they–”

“They will be grateful. At least your son will be. When I spoke with him last night, he seemed eager for you to have a riding accident. He’s quite hungry for your throne, it seems.”

Chayce’s face reddened. He glowered at Mora, and his hand twitched toward his sword.

“So you’re willing to kill me over a piece of useless land. Is this part of another game you’re playing at court? Or is it a scheme for… the Endless Flame?”

It was Mora’s turn to glance at the mist.

“Where did you hear that name?” she snapped.

“A mutual friend,” said Chayce. “A friend with many shining blades.”

At the word “blades,” the baron lifted his hand and whistled. Lady Mora heard movement from behind the trees and slipped her hand towards the dagger on her waist. She would not go down without a fight.

What’s in the woods? What’s with the “shining blades?” And why is the cult so interested in questionable real estate transations? All these answers and more can be found in Masters of the Endless Flame, coming soon from Hardy Tales.

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Punching Ghosts for the Lord

Posted on September 21, 2016 By


Over the next few weeks, I’ll be showing off the various ghost-punching organizations you’ll find in the Ghost Punchers RPG. Today, I’m kicking off the series with the Order of the Sacred Shield.

The Order of the Sacred Shield is a secret society within the Roman Catholic Church sworn to combat the “forces of spiritual darkness” such as ghosts. sacred_shield

The Order has existed in various forms for centuries. It’s been part of a dozen different major clerical orders, and was even shut down altogether for about 60 years in the 1800s. (“Wait. Are we still funding these guys? We don’t have room in the budget for this madness. Cut it!”) Today, it’s a small but independent organization operating out of a basement office inside the Vatican.

Traditionally, only priests and nuns could join the Sacred Shield. But since the number of mediums in the ministry has dropped, the Order has opened up membership to lay Catholics. Furthermore, the Order is willing to work with mediums from outside the church if necessary, but assigns them Order “shepherds” to help with theology and report back to the Vatican. These contract punchers are both sworn to secrecy and paid well enough to ensure they keep these oaths.

The Order doesn’t have the resources to investigate every ghostly rumor. Instead, its leaders rely on local clergy to pass along verifiable hauntings. Once they’re sure there’s actually something to investigate, they dispatch a team to uncover the truth and, if necessary, punch that truth right in its undead face.

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Not Dead, Just Sleeping

Posted on September 19, 2016 By


A friend recently asked about the Doomed Colony board game.

“What ever happened with that thing? I liked where you were going with it. It looked to be shaping up nicely, but we haven’t seen anything about it on your blog in a while.”

The answer, which I’m sharing you with you now, is that the game is lying fallow.

In other words, I’ve put the game on the shelf for now, but intend to come back to it later. By stepping away for a while, I can come back to the game with fresh eyes, and have a better perspective on what’s working and what’s actually a hideous tumor of a mechanic clinging to the game like a malignant leech.

Sometimes a game design goes fallow because I need to turn my attention to more pressing matters, like making money so my family doesn’t starve.

Other times, I let it go fallow because I’ve hit a wall: the game isn’t quite working well enough (or at all) and I see no clear path to improvement. Rather than bang my head against that wall, I set the project aside so I can take another run at the wall after I’ve had a chance to think of its weak spots and build up my skull.

With Doomed Colony, it’s a bit of both. The game is pretty good right now, which isn’t good enough. And while it’s fun to work on, it’s not paying the bills (yet) so it needs to go to the back burner to make room for projects with dollars attached.

Not every game design needs a “fallow” stage. Not even all of mine go through this. But if you find yourself bored, frustrated, or distracted with your game design, I’d encourage you to consider walking away for a bit. You never know what fresh inspiration you’ll find when you come back to it.

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The Ecstacy and Agony of Playtesting

Posted on September 16, 2016 By


It’s been a crazy week, and the craziness shows no sign of letting up, so I don’t have time for an in-depth discussion of, say, ghost-punching as a political metaphor, or the role of awkward 1980s teen comedies in today’s transmedia world-building. All the same, after a great playtesting session last night, I do want to take a moment to give a shout-out to everyone who’s helped playtest my tabletop games over the years.

It’s a strange feeling to put a game in front of players for the first time. The game is new, raw, and vulnerable. I feel kind of new, raw, and vulnerable myself. It’s a weird mix of flattering and terrifying: “They’re here to judge MY game” but also “They’re here to JUDGE my game.” And no matter which way I look at it, I don’t want the game (and by extension, ME) to let them down… but know it probably will.

That’s the thing. Playtesting shows how the game can be better, which leads to changes, which need playtesting, which shows how the game can be better… You get the idea. It’s a virtuous circle, spiraling the quality upward with each iteration. Improvements can be incremental, and sometimes aren’t improvements at all (“Wow. That change fixed the problem, but caused the rest of the game to catch fire. Sorry about your eyebrows, folks”). Playtesting the same game over and over requires patience, dedication, and an endless supply of snacks.

So here’s to you, playtesters! Without you, our games would stink! And there would be far fewer of them to play!

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Punching in Groups

Posted on September 14, 2016 By


As I recently promised, I’ll be sharing slime-covered snippets of some new Ghost Punchers material over the next few weeks. Specifically, I’ll be examining how some punchers come together to pursue their crusade. After all, while we’ve looked at the types of people most likely to embrace the higher calling of spectral violence,we’ve never discussed how they get along together.

Not all who punch ghosts do so alone. Over the years, ghost-punching organizations have arisen to support the safety and effectiveness of their members. These shadowy groups have never been populous or influential in the world at large, but play an important part in defending humanity from the horrors of the spirit world.

While there are dozens of such groups operating at any given time, here are four of the most well-known in ghost-punching circles:

  • Order of the Sacred Shield: A religious secret society of exorcists and pugilists operating from out of the Vatican.
  • Singular Security: An exclusive security firm whose agents punch ghosts on behalf of its rich and corporate clients.
  • Circle of the Ebon Star: An ancient order of occultists dedicated to exploring the spirit realms–and punching them into submission.
  • Ghost Spotters Network: A loose community of amateur, part-time ghost-hunters who hang out on the Internet exchanging insults, memes, and reports of paranormal activity.

Intrigued? Great! Come back next time when I poke the Sacred Shield with a sharp stick and see what comes out!

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Return of ThanksGaming: This Time It’s Personal

Posted on September 12, 2016 By


One of the things I love about tabletop gaming is how it fosters a community. It’s especially awesome when that community can give back to the local community around it.

Gamers Giving is a non-profit organization dedicated to exactly this sort of thing. One of its largest events each year is ThanksGaming, a sort of mini-convention that raises money for various local charities. In the past, the event has raised money for food shelves, veterans’ support groups, and other programs. In October, ThanksGaming is back — and this time, it’s personal.

Earlier this year, the seven year-old daughter of a member of our local gamer family was diagnosed with type-ALL leukemia. While Taylor fights the good fight against her cancer, lengthy hospital stays and necessary work absences have taken their toll on her family’s finances. That’s where Gamers Giving can help.

ThanksGaming 2016 will be a 24-hour gaming event held on October 8-9 at Total Escape Games in Broomfield, Colorado. In addition to a crazy amount of RPG gaming going on, there will also be door prizes, a silent auction, and the usual madness that seeps through the cracks around hour 19 of non-stop games.

If you’d like see what games are being run – or, you know, sign up to play something – you can do so here. (Note that you can browse games, but won’t be able to sign up for anything until you register for the event on the website.) If you’d like to help out Taylor and her family, but won’t be able to make it to the event (because you live in Japan or Minnesota or something), you can still contribute to their fundraiser directly here.

Please share the links and spread the word. With your help, we can make this year’s ThanksGaming the best one yet!

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Ghosts of Future Past

Posted on September 9, 2016 By


You might think, in this world of giant spiders, dropping robots, and doomed colonies, that I had completely forgotten about Ghost Punchers.

You’d be wrong.

While I haven’t showcased Ghost Punchers here for the past few months, I have been quietly toiling away at this RPG of Supernatural Investigation and Violence. I’ve even been playtesting. And starting next week, I’ll be sharing some of the fruits of those quiet labors with you, my patient and lovely ghost-punching enthusiasts.

Until then… Stay punchy, my friend!


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A Harrowing Tale of Data Survival

Posted on September 5, 2016 By


When my laptop’s battery dies, it doesn’t give a polite, C-3PO-like, “Pardon me, sir, but I seem to be out of power and will be shutting down now.” Instead, it commits sudden, silent suicide. “Screw you, meatbag! I’m out of here!” More than once, I’ve dived towards the computer, power cable in hand, only to have the screen go black just as I reach it.

Fine. These things happen. I plug it in, power it up, ignore its whiny “Windows wasn’t shut down properly” message (“And who’s fault is that, you stupid computer?”) and get on with my life.

But Friday morning, it didn’t come back.

Oh, the computer said it was starting Windows. But what it actually started was a black screen with a mouse cursor on it. Not so much “Windows” as a single window open to the infinite void.

I spent the weekend trying to fix the problem, but eventually realized my worst fear: I’d have to nuke the hard drive entirely and reinstall everything from scratch. It was at this point that I realized what a debt I owed my buddy and ace game designer Kevin Wilson. For it was at his insistence, some two years ago, that I signed up for the Carbonite remote back-up service.

“This is your livelihood,” he’d said. “Your files are your business. Without them, you’ve got nothing. You don’t want to screw around with this.”

He was right, of course. He’s still right. And it was because I followed his advice that, while this ordeal has been frustrating, it hasn’t led to gnashing of teeth, the rending of garments, or the desperate act of taking the laptop to a repair shop.

Back up your data, folks! The life you save may be your own!

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