Stung by Gaming – In a Good Way!

Posted on October 24, 2016 By


As I obliquely mentioned on Friday, this past weekend was the debut of B-Con, a tabletop board game convention in Denver. In addition to the standard “sign up and play” events, the show also featured lots of both open gaming and prototype games from local designers and publishers.

No, I didn’t bring my Haunted Hotel prototype. (I didn’t have time to get it actually, you know, playable by Saturday.) But I saw a bunch of sweet-looking prototypes with happy players gathered around them, and that was pretty awesome. In fact, the convention sponsored a game design contest that attracted a couple dozen prototypes that were ready to be pitched to publishers. It was inspiring to see the results of so much local game-design talent.

I can’t speak to attendance number or anything, but from what I saw, I’d call B-Con 2016 a success. Happy gamers? Great games? A chance to sample the new hotness before it’s been signed? Check, check, and check!

Here’s to B-Con, and its many happy returns!

Game DesignGamingUncategorized     , , ,

Haunted Hotel of Horror – A Random Game for Halloween

Posted on October 21, 2016 By


As I mentioned earlier this week, I had no intention of doing anything on the blog but Ghost Punchers for Halloween this year, but my fickle muse had other ideas. Specifically, she dragged me down the path of making a random board game with a spooky theme called Haunted Hotel of Horror. (Try saying it in a creepy, echoing voice for maximum effect.)

Haunted Hotel of Horror is a board game for up to four players about teams of ghosts competing to see who can most scare the hotel guests over the course of a week.



  • Game Board: The board represents the haunted hotel itself, and is divided into spaces. Most spaces have a capacity, which is how many guests can be inside it. If there are more guests in a space than are allowed, you have to move guests out of that space (through the doorway marked on the board) until the number is within capacity. Hallways (marked in blue on the board) and the space marked “Outside” have unlimited capacity.
  • Guests: Hotel guests are represented by six-sided dice. There are 20 dice, divided into four groups of five dice. Each group has its own color (red, blue, green, or yellow).
  • Ghost Counters: Each player has a set of six counters, each of which represents a ghost on his or her team. Each teams consists of three Haunters, and one Chiller, Intimidator, and Frightener.
  • Haunt Cards: At the start of each round, a haunt card is drawn that changes things up by rearranging guests and setting new rules for the round.


  1. Roll all the guest dice. Place each die in the space corresponding to the value it shows. (For example, all dice that show “5” are placed into the Lobby.)
  2. Shuffle the deck of haunt cards.
  3. Randomly choose a first player.

Playing the Game

Start of Roundhh_card

At the start of the round, draw and reveal the top haunt card, then execute whatever actions it has listed. Leave the card sitting out where everyone can see its rules for the round.

Player Turns

Starting with the first player and going clockwise, each player plays one of his or her ghost counters onto the board. Ghosts can be played in any space except “Outside.” The effect of the counter depends on the ghost:

  • Haunter: No immediate effect, but its Strength 2 will matter when the guests in its space are frightened (see below).
  • Chiller: When you play this ghost into a space, you may move up to 2 guests out of that space into an adjacent space.
  • Intimidator: When you play this ghost into a space, you may move up another ghost out of that space into an adjacent space.
  • Frightener: When you play this ghost into a space, frighten all guests in that space (see below). No more ghosts can be played in that space for the rest of the round.

You must pass if you have no more ghosts to play, or don’t wish to play any more ghosts this round. Once you pass, you can’t play any more ghosts this round.

End of Round

Play continues until all players have passed.

At the end of the round, frighten the guests in each space (except “Outside”) that doesn’t have a Frightener ghost in it.

After frightening guests and scoring points, each player removes his or her ghosts from the board, the role of first player rotates clockwise, and a new round begins.hh_ghosts

Frightening Guests and Scoring Points

When you frighten a roomful of guests, roll all the dice in the room. Each die is worth victory points depending on the value it shows:

  • 1-2: 1 victory point
  • 3-4: 2 victory points
  • 5: 3 victory points
  • 6: 0 victory points and the guest flees (put it in the “Outside” space)

When guests are frightened, the player with the most Strength in ghosts in that room scores the victory points. The player with the second-most Strength scores half the victory points, rounded down. (If there’s a tie for the most, all tied players get half the victory points rounded down, and no one else gets anything.) (And yes, you need to have at least 1 Strength in the space in order to score points.)

Game End and Winning

The game ends at the end of the fifth round. The player with the most victory points wins.

Analysis: Game Design Challenges

  • Quantity of Dice: Is 20 the right number of guest dice? I have no idea. It’s probably somewhere around there (16 or 24 might work better), but without actually playing the thing, my best guess is as good as we’re going to get for now.
  • Breaking the Ties: Right now it’s possible, if unlikely, for the game to end in a tie. It needs some sort of tie-breaker, but at the moment I got nothing. Flip a coin, I guess. Or learn to share the victory and come together to gloat over the losers.
  • Five Nights at Darrell’s: The game lasts five rounds, but that might too short… or too long. Again, without actually prototyping and playing the game, it’s hard to say.

Analysis: High Points

  • Rolling Dice is Fun: This seems dumb. And I guess it kind of is. But there’s no denying that there is joy to be found in rolling handfuls of dice.
  • Simple Yet Complex: The actual game play is simple – on your turn, play a ghost. But because the board grows more complex each turn, that simple choice is constantly growing more complicated.
  • Room for Growth: Assuming this core game doesn’t burst into flames the moment someone lays eyes on the prototype, I can see adding player powers and/or unique ghosts for each team. For example (compliments of horror guru Greg Stolze), you might have a “Reaper” ghost that says, “If a guest rolls a 6 when frightened in a space with a Reaper, it doesn’t flee, but is scared to death and turns into a Haunter ghost for your team.”

Well, there you have it. A spooky board game for Halloween. Is it any good? I don’t know. Maybe I’ll bring it to B-Con this weekend and find out. Are you going to be in Denver this weekend? Maybe we’ll find out together!

Game Design     , , ,

Fine. I’ll do a stupid Halloween game.

Posted on October 19, 2016 By


Still hashing out the details, but put together this teaser.

Are you happy now, brain?

Are you?


(Stupid brain.)

Game Design     , , ,

Renegade Muse

Posted on October 17, 2016 By


Yes, it’s October. It’s the season of Halloween and spooky, horror-themed… well, everything. But aside from Ghost Punchers (coming soon!), I wasn’t planning on doing anything to celebrate the creepiest month here on the blog. That is, until my muse went rogue.

“You should make a quick horror game,” she whispered as I woke up this morning. “For the blog. Like you did with Doomed Colony, only spooky.”

I agreed, in my half-asleep stupor, that this was a great idea in principle. In practice, I had no inspiration for such a thing.

“That’s what the random game idea generators are for,” she said.

Oh. Right. I’d forgotten about them. Thanks, muse!

“No problem.”

So now I’m mulling over a couple different game ideas. I make no promises as to whether such a game will actually get done, and can pretty much assure you that it won’t be good if it is done, but I’ll keep you posted.

And if we’re lucky, we’ll have something spooky to play come Halloween.

Game Design     , , ,

When Life Gives you Nuclear Waste, Make Godzilla

Posted on October 14, 2016 By


I’ve been a Godzilla fan since elementary school, when the local TV station would show the cheesy monster movies in the dead zone between He-Man and the evening news. Oh, I’d call myself a casual fan. There are films I’ve missed. I’ve never been to a G-Fan convention. And I certainly haven’t learned Japanese in order to experience the movies in their native tongue; that would just be weird.

Still, I’m enough of a fan that, when I heard that (a) Toho was doing a new Godzilla movie, and (b) they were doing a limited theatrical run in the US, I rushed online to buy a ticket. And I’m glad I did.

The movie did not disappoint. But it did surprise me.

As the trailer suggests, for every scene of the big G smashing Tokyo, there are three scenes of intense men in dark suits talking quickly to each other. These government officials are trying to figure out how to deal with a rampaging monster while preventing panic and any possible damage to their own political careers. While I’d expect such scenes to be dull, the director does a great job of making them just as compelling as the bits where Godzilla sets whole neighborhoods on fire.

Aside from the “West Wing Versus Kaiju” aspect, the movie also surprised me with its take on Godzilla himself. Without giving too much away, I’ll say that while it’s certainly true to monster’s legacy, it gives us some visuals and concepts we’ve never seen before. It’s definitely an evolution of the beast.

This is not a review. It’s a recommendation. That said, it’s two hours of sub-titles, and probably something like 90 minutes of government officials dramatically talking policy and precedent, so… If either of those things give you pause, you might want to wait until Shin Godzilla comes to Netflix.

Recommendations     , ,

Punching Ghosts Through the Internet

Posted on October 12, 2016 By


Over the course of several weeks, I’m showcasing the various ghost-punching organizations you’ll find in the Ghost Punchers RPG. Previously, we’ve looked at Singular Security, the Order of the Sacred Shield, and the Circle of the Ebon Star. This week, we’re going a bit meta as we check out the Ghost Spotters Network.

The Ghost Spotters Network is a loose, Internet-based community of amateur paranormal investigators. Using various forums and social media, its members exchange notes, requests for help, vile insults, and pictures of cats. Amid the usual drama and flame wars, the investigators collect reports of hauntings around the world, often with audio and/or video evidence.ghost_spotters_network

Like many such communities, the Network has no single inception date. Rather, it evolved out of several smaller groups, many of which claim to be the original Ghost Spotters.

Nor does it have any real organization. Members earn status in the group by investigating local ghost hot spots and reporting what they discover. Of course, they also earn status by claiming to investigate such things while merely spinning their weird tales from the safety of their parents’ basements. Experienced ghost punchers know to take Ghost Spotter reports with at least a grain of salt.

Most members of the Network have no supernatural abilities. Some of those who do got into punching through the Network, which encourages local like-minded investigators to meet up and teach each other their ghost-hunting techniques. Other mediums use the Network to find leads on ghosts in need of punching. Even those who disdain amateurs dabbling in their domain recognize that clueless noobs can still occasionally spot a ghost.

Ghost Punchers     , , , ,


Posted on October 10, 2016 By

An often overlooked tool in the metaphorical game design tool box is the element of surprise. After all, most people like positive surprises (“You get a car! And you get a car!”), and even negative surprises can keep things interesting (“You get a tax audit! And you get a tax audit!”) — and in games, “interesting” is always good.

Surprise comes in few different flavors:

Randomness: Ah, the roll of the dice. The turn of the card. The spin of that stupid spinny arrow thing that always gets stuck halfway through its rotation. Games and randomness have a long history together, and gallons of ink have been spilled reflecting on their relationship. (For example, here’s a talk by none other than Richard “Yeah, I made Magic the Gathering” Garfield on the subject.)

Hidden Information: Just because you’re surprised by something doesn’t mean your opponent is. When a player has his own stash of secret information, that player can surprise the other players by revealing and executing on that information. The classic example of this sort of surprise is when a player reveals her cards and secures victory, intoning the sacred mantra, “Read ’em and weep.”

Systemic Reveal: This sort of thing mostly shows up in video games. There’s hidden information, but it’s hidden (and revealed) by the game itself. Even when this twist is mechanical (“Surprise! This is just the end of the level, not the game!”), it’s usually wrapped in delicious narrative (“The princess is in another castle!”). Sometime the surprise is purely narrative. For instance, if you find out half way through the game that you’re actually the villain of the game, it’s a dramatic twist, but doesn’t necessarily change the mechanics of the game. Still, it’s a surprise.

So what does a good surprise add to a game? I’m glad you asked!

  • Surprise adds tension. If you don’t know exactly what’s going to happen next, it adds a touch of suspense to every decision you make.
  • Surprise adds engagement. When you can’t predict what your opponent (or the game itself) will do next, you’re less likely to get board or lose interest in the game.
  • Surprise adds replayability. This isn’t always true for the systemic reveal (“Yes, yes, she’s in another castle. I know.”) but it takes longer to burn out on games with sufficient randomness and hidden information.
  • Surprise makes it harder to make perfectly optimal plays. This might not sounds like a benefit at first, but lack of perfect information means there’s a chance for you to get lucky — or for your opponent to step into your trap. It also helps smooth the difference between players of different skill levels.
  • Surprise makes for memorable game stories. Yes, this can include game narratives lovingly hand-crafted by game writers such as myself… but even more importantly, it affects your story of how your game played out. (“I was down by six points, but then he played the Rock card, and I had just drawn the Paper card, so I slapped it down, captured his Rock, and won the game! It was epic!”)

Like all game design tools, surprise isn’t always the right tool for the job. But the next time you’re looking for something to spice up your design, see if a little surprise isn’t just what you need.

Game Design     , ,

The Book of Burning

Posted on October 7, 2016 By


A couple weeks ago, I shared a slice of introductory fiction from my upcoming fantasy roleplaying game sourcebook, Masters of the Endless Flame. As we creep ever closer to the book’s publication, I’d like to take a few minutes to explain what, exactly, this thing is.

Masters of the Endless Flame is a book detailing the the leaders of a dangerous, apocalyptic cult.  Yes, there are game stats (for Pathfinder), but the heart of the book isn’t overly concerned with how many spells or hit points everyone has. Rather, it’s about the characters’ schemes, conflicts, and relationships. The book is about a community. (Okay, it’s a community of power-mad zealots conspiring to bring about the end of civilization, but still. A community.)

Like all communities, the Order of the Endless Flame is made up of people with their own conflicting agendas and aspirations.

And that’s where the players come in.

Every conflict is an opportunity for a story — or in RPG terms, an adventure. Since it’s a book of powerful people and their conflicts, Masters of the Endless Flame is seeded with dozens of potential fantasy adventures. And once the players get caught up in the schemes of the Endless Flame, there’s no end to the trouble they can get themselves into.

To give you a tastes of what I’m talking about, here’s a diagram showing the relationships between the various Masters.


As you can see, with this much drama brewing, the players will have no problem finding a juicy conflict in which to get involved.

(For a previous example of this sort of product, check out Lords of Westmoor, a similar sourcebook I published earlier this year.)


Blatant Self-Promotion     , , , ,

Punching in Circles

Posted on October 5, 2016 By


Through this month, I’m showing off the various ghost-punching organizations you’ll find in the Ghost Punchers RPG. Previously, we’ve looked at Singular Security and the Order of the Sacred Shield. This week, we’re entering the pretentious, eldritch halls of the Circle of the Ebon Star.

The Circle of the Ebon Star is an exclusive group of occultists dedicated to studying and controlling the spirit realm. Its members are well-versed in mystic lore, magical theory, and spectral violence.ebon_star

The Circle is organized in a strict hierarchy. The Ascended Masters are the highest-ranked members, the Acolytes are the lowest, and there are dozens of ranks in between. It is the responsibility of the higher-ranked members to determine which ghostly incidents are worthy of the Circle’s intervention. It’s the duty of the lower-ranked members to carry out those interventions. In order to rise in rank, one must first prove one’s worth in the field. (And then come the mysterious rites… and there are so many rites!)

According to the Ascended Masters, the Circle has been defending mankind against unseen forces since the Middle Ages. They may be right. There are few public records of the group, and even their internal records are sketchy before 1872.

The Circle is very selective when it comes to new members. Only mediums who have shown themselves intelligent and capable are approached to join the group, and even then only if a current member will vouch for them.

Once accepted as Acolytes, new members are expected to carry out whatever ghost-hunting missions they are assigned. They’re also encouraged to work with other like-minded mediums in order to improve their own skills—and to keep an eye out for new recruits.

Ghost Punchers     , , , ,

Are You Not Immersed?

Posted on October 3, 2016 By


I’ve been thinking about immersion the past few days. Not just in games (which I’ve written about before) but in storyworlds in general. Specifically, I’ve been kicking around some ideas about how to keep the audience immersed even after they’re done reading the book / playing the game / watching the movie / eating the cereal (which is part of this nutritious breakfast!).

Okay, this could get some into some heavy transmedia stuff here real quick, but for the sake of brevity, I’m going to focus on the single book, game, or… um… box of cereal. I’m thinking about what we can do with THAT content that will keep audiences actively thinking about it when they’re not actively consuming it.*

Open Questions: If you want to keep people thinking after they close the book or turn off the screen, not everything in your story should be neatly wrapped up in the end. Oh, don’t leave it on a cliffhanger–unless you’ve got the next installment already done–but feel free to leave some intriguing side questions open:

  • What ever happened to that minor character?
  • What else is the chest?
  • Who sent the note?

Questions like these can keep your audience speculating for some time.

Windows of Inspiration: I previously wrote about windows in storyworld: elements in a story that hint at aspects of a much larger world. These are things mentioned, but never detailed. For example, your fantasy story might bring up the “griffon rebellion of the Black Mountains” as a tragedy on the edge of the kingdom, but never focus on it since it’s just a background detail. But the immersed audience wants to know more. And without official canon from you, the audience may be inspired to make it up. Such windows are hooks from which the audience can hang their own creations.

Affiliations: Every few months, it seems, my Facebook feed fills up with people declaring what Hogwarts house they belong to. Some folks claim their house so strongly, they buy the t-shirt, the scarf, and the… phone case? The point is, long after they’ve closed the last Harry Potter book, they still identify with a part of the world. They’re still immersed.

Finally, what might be the most important piece of this puzzle is a community. It’s a lot easier (and more fun!) to discuss open questions, share fan-works, and proclaim one’s affiliation when surrounded by like-minded people. Building a community is tricky. Doing it on purpose is extra-tricky. But depending on your storyworld (and your budget) it might be worth doing.

* I hate that when I use terms like “audience,” “content,” and “consuming” I sound like a dude with a thin tie and slicked-back hair talking to a room of marketing executives. But those words work for this conversation. They may sound cold and corporate, but I assure you they’re warm, cuddly, and full of love when I use them.

World BuildingWriting     , , , , ,