Packer’s First Milestone

Posted on August 28, 2017 By

I’ve hit a milestone on my Packer’s Last Resort card game: I can no longer playtest it by myself.

Oh, I can still make sure most of the mechanical tweaks are working, and that my math hasn’t turned the game into a collapsing, flaming wreck. But as I simultaneously played four different hands during my last testing session, I realized that it just wasn’t working anymore.

Solo testing is great for two types of games:

  • those with perfect information (in which every player knows the complete game state, like in chess), and
  • cooperative games, since the players are all working together to beat the game.

(It’s also great for completely random games in which players make no decisions (like, say, Candyland), but if you ever see me designing one of those, it’s a coded cry for help and you should call the police.)

Packer’s Last Resort is none of those. Each player has a secret hand of cards, and plays a card in secret each turn. So not only is information hidden, there’s actually a bit of bluffing in the game as well. (“Did he really just play a ‘Fight’ card, or he merely messing with me?”) And trying to bluff when you’re playing the roles of all the players? That’s a bit rough. It’s safe to say it’s no longer an accurate representation of how a real game would play.

Fortunately for me, I’ve got a good community of playtesters and fellow game designers in the area. Unfortunately for them, the game’s still got some serious issues (there are approximate 10 minutes of fun in the 20 minute game), but I look forward to using their feedback to file off the most jagged edges…

…and move on to the next milestone.

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A Flash of Desperation

Posted on August 25, 2017 By

I love writing fiction. I love the world of Ghost Punchers. So I’ve smashed these two loves together like a pair of Siamese twins joined at the fist in order to present a bit of ghost-punching flash fiction. If you enjoy it, please share it! (You can find previous ghost-punching flash fiction here.)

Desperate Measures

The bartender cocked a skeptical eyebrow at Jackson. “You sure?”

Jackson tried to answer, but found there was too much static on the line between his mouth and his brain. Instead he nodded and tapped the bar in front of him.

The bartender turned his eyebrow to Lori. She curled her lip at him.

“You heard the man,” she snipped. “Another shot.”

A moment passed. Jackson was afraid the bartender was going to cut them off.

“Fine,” the bartender grunted. “One more. But that’s it. I’m not losing my license over this. And if your dad pukes, you’re mopping it up.”

“Whatever,” said Lori. “And he’s not my dad.”

Jackson gave her a bleary-eyed look. “Close enough,” he muttered.

“Yeah, yeah. I’ll send you a father’s day card if it’ll get you back to work.” She slid the photo in front of him again. “Anything yet?”

Jackson focused on the image and let the alcohol penetrate the rusty hinges of his steel-trap mind. He saw what he’d been seeing since the client had given them the picture yesterday: eighteen children, all fourth-graders, standing on and in front of a set of playground equipment. A school building loomed in the background. He couldn’t see the name, but knew it was Keller Elementary, where the client worked. The kids were smiling. But one of them didn’t belong.

Jackson shook his head. “Nothing. Sorry.”

A shot glass appeared in front of him.

“That’s the last one,” said the bartender.

Jackson mumbled his thanks and wrapped his fingers around the glass. He raised it in a mock toast to Lori.

“To desperate measures,” he said, and slammed the liquor down his throat.

Jackson closed his eyes while the drink did its work. He could feel exhaustion creeping around the edges of his mind, like a hungry wolf circling a campfire. He hadn’t slept in three days. The booze wasn’t doing him any favors on that front.

He opened his eyes and looked down. There were nineteen kids in the photo.

The newcomer appeared the same age as the others, but instead of a smile, he wore a deep, dark scowl. He stood behind a grinning blond girl in a princess t-shirt. His hands were on her shoulders. Heavy. Possessive.

Jackson tapped the girl.

“That’s him,” he said. “Or… her. He’s the… the threat. She’s possessed.”

Lori pulled out her phone. “I’ll let the client know. He’ll need to keep her separated from the others.”

“The boy,” said Jackson. “He’s old. Nineteen fifties? Forties? Looks mad.”

“The school was built in 1952,” said Lori. She hit the “send” button on her phone and started digging through through her bag. She pulled out a photocopy of an old yearbook page.

“One of these guys look familiar?”

Jackson nodded and pointed at a black-and-white portrait. The boy in the picture had a different hairstyle and shirt than his counterpart in the class photo, but the scowl was the same.

“Him.” The word was surprisingly hard to push past his now-numb lips.

“Figured it would be. Charlie Alcott. He died there over Christmas break, 1955. Froze to death, apparently.”

“Revenge?”

Lori shrugged. “I guess? That would explain why he stuck around, and why he hits right before they shut the place down for break… Which is tomorrow.”

Jackson had a witty reply, but his campfire was going out. He slumped forward and cradled his head in his arms on the bar. From somewhere far away, he heard Lori whisper.

“You did good, old man. You did good.”

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Pillar Snake

Posted on August 23, 2017 By

My Patreon patrons already read this weeks ago, but for everyone else… Previously, I wrote about unique, individual “pillar characters” who appear in multiple stories across the storyworld and fulfill important structural roles within the world itself. Below is one such character from the Empire of Venom & Silk storyworld.

Rannon “the Snake” Tave

Rannon “the Snake” Taver was a hunter who roamed the plains of Shuna-Korvassa, stalking the local wildlife for their meat, bone, and hides. Though he hunted for the sake of his extended family, he enjoyed his quiet life of self-reliance and solitude.

When the spiders sent their stalkers swarming into the region, Rannon tried to ignore the incursion. So long as the invaders left him alone, he left them alone. But when he saw the suffering of those living and dying beneath the spiders’ rule, he knew he had to do something.

First, Rannon turned his skills towards hunting stalkers. This was satisfying, but it didn’t really help those who were staggering beneath the invaders’ yoke. So he has now become a smuggler.

From his years of tracking prey, Rannon knows the best routes for slipping through the rugged plains. He also knows how to make detailed plans (and contingency plans) that leave nothing to chance. Armed with these skills, Rannon has dedicated himself to smuggling food, weapons, and other goods from the Stronghold, through the Hunting Grounds, and into the Webbed Lands. He is often found in Poraz, trading his various bones and hides for goods to help those in the occupied realms.

Rannon is a master planner. He is exceptionally cautious, and has never come close to being caught by the spiders or their human minions. However, his constant vigilance doesn’t allow him to get close to anyone else, and threatens to blossom into irrational paranoia.

Role: Rannon is the archetypal “smuggler of the Hunting Grounds.” He represents, in a general way, all the smugglers who make their living sneaking people and goods through these spider-infested lands.

Quote: “Give me swords. All you got. Don’t worry how I’ll get them into Zira. I got a plan.”


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Too Little Misery

Posted on August 21, 2017 By

I’ve continued to bang away at Packer’s Last Resort a bit since last week. The latest iteration (which you can still download here) is better, but still has some problems:

Too much food! There’s still too much food, and not enough desperation. The problem here is two-fold. Not only does it tamp down the game’s tension (and thereby the fun) but it makes the game longer. A longer game with less fun is never a good time.

  • Solution: The next time I test it, the “Forage” card will just give 2 Food to the player, rather than 3 and giving an option to get Food for the whole group. (No one chooses that option anyway.)

Too little danger! Without an outside force adding pressure, the players are likely to dawdle. They’ll ignore the whole “traveling to Colorado before the deck runs out” aspect until they’ve got enough Food to safely make a go of it. While that makes for wise travel across the mountains in the 1800’s, it makes for a lesser (and slower!) game experience.

  • Solution: I’m adding a “Blizzard” counter to the game that “chases” the players down the Journey Track. Some of the Journey cards now have “blizzard” icons; when one of these cards comes up, the Blizzard counter moves. If the Blizzard catches up to the players, each of them takes a wound.

Not enough stress! Okay, there are probably enough Stress counters floating around in the game, but they don’t really do anything at the moment, so taking on more Stress doesn’t affect things one way or another.

  • Solution: I added a rule that says that if a player gets too much stress, that player snaps! He or she must immediately choose and attack another player (per the “Fight” card). I like how this plays, but because it suddenly makes Stress a good thing, the cards that mitigate Stress will need some serious tweaking.

I’ll kick around and solidify these changes this week. If I like what I see, I’ll post an updated version for you folks to kick around too. In the meantime: keep your friends close and your cutlery closer!

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A Flash of Spectral Violence

Posted on August 18, 2017 By

I love writing fiction. I love the world of Ghost Punchers. So I’ve smashed these two loves together like a pair of Siamese twins joined at the fist in order to present a bit of ghost-punching flash fiction. If you enjoy it, please share it!

Pyre

“I don’t know, Rachel. I mean, look at her.”

Doug kept his voice low as he nodded at the new girl Jackson had sent over. She was small—tiny, really—and young enough that she almost looked at home here in the abandoned high school. Large glasses, a pink backpack, and a studious ponytail completed her “serious student looking for extra credit” look. It didn’t help that she was flipping through a pile of water-logged textbooks and nodding silently at whatever she was reading.

Rachel shrugged. “Jackson vouched for her.”

“Jackson vouched for Andre, and look how that turned out.”

“True. That was… unfortunate. You want to call it off?”

Doug sighed and shook his head.

“Nah. We’ve got a job to do. If they’re going to start remodeling next week, we got to take care of that thing in the basement sooner rather than later.”

“Fine. I’ll talk to her. See where she’s coming from. She if she’s… like Andre.”

Rachel turned to the girl and waved.

“Danita? Could you come here a sec?”

“Yes, Ms. Boone.”

Rachel could feel Doug rolling his eyes.

“Please. Just call me Rachel.”

“Okay, Rachel. Are we ready to do this?”

The girl’s eyes shone behind her glasses. She practically vibrated with excitement.

“Yeah. In a minute. We were just wondering… How much experience have you had in the actual… you know… punching? I mean, Jackson says you’re an expert when it comes to like, lore and rituals and stuff, but… you know. The violence…?”

Danita smiled.

“This is my third mission. On my first, I helped take down a ghost clown. I was mostly back-up, but I got a few good licks in.” The girl pantomimed swinging punches.

“Last month, I fought a dog. I mean, okay, it was a ghost dog, and probably not really a dog at all, but a ghost manifested in the form of a dog. But I punched the heck out of it.”

“Was it a big dog?” asked Doug.

“Not really. Like a small husky, maybe? But it was fast. With sharp teeth.”

Rachel looked at Doug. Doug shrugged and nodded.

“Well, we’re glad you’ve had that experience. Because the ghost in the basement here is pretty tough. We’ve already tried to root it out once. It didn’t go well.”

“I got a concussion,” said Doug.

“So you need more muscle,” said Danita. “And that’s why Jackson brought me in.”

Rachel smiled. “Exactly.”

Danita looked around. She pointed at the back of the room, where a door and its frame were blackened from fire and smoke damage.

“Is that the basement down there?” she asked. “Can I take a look?”

Rachel said “Sure” before Doug could say “That’s a bad idea and we should all go together after we make a plan.” Danita strode to the door and threw it open. She stepped onto a landing and peered down into the darkness.

“I see it,” she said as Doug and Rachel joined her by the door. “It’s a big one. Did it die in the fire?”

“We think it started the fire,” said Doug. “It’s been here a long time.”

“Then it’s time for it to go,” said Danita as she skipped down the stairs.

Doug and Rachel looked at each other, their eyes wide.

“She’s not…?” they both asked.

But she was.

Danita hit the bottom of the stairs at a run. She charged the ghost (which sort of looked like a gorilla in a human suit with stop signs for hands) and leaped onto its back with a roar.

“You don’t belong here!” she shouted as she punched her fist through where the ghost’s spine would be, if it had had a spine. She grunted, then pulled something moist and wriggling out from deep within the beast’s ectoplasmic flesh.

The ghost screamed.

And then Danita really got to work.

Doug and Rachel stopped at the bottom of the stairs. Three times they started towards Danita and the ghost, but each time they stepped back, frozen by the waves of violence, viscera, and vibrantly obscene language washing over the scene before them.

When it was over, Danita straightened her ponytail and caught her breath. She smiled sheepishly.

“Sorry about all that. I just get carried away sometimes.”

“Uh huh,” said Doug.

“I’m calling Jackson,” said Rachel. “We’re keeping her.”

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The Pillar Queen

Posted on August 16, 2017 By

Previously, I wrote about unique, individual “pillar characters” who appear in multiple stories across the storyworld and fulfill important structural roles within the world itself. Below is one such character from the Empire of Venom & Silk storyworld.

Alanna, Queen of Zira

Since the day she was born, Alanna was groomed to take the throne of the city-state of Zira. Her tutors filled her mind with history, science, and economics. The generals taught her military strategy. And her father, the king himself, taught her how to play the sometimes-cruel game of politics in Zira-Shun.

When the invaders attacked, Alanna’s father send Zira’s army into the field to try and hold them back. Alanna quickly realized that they had no chance. They would be wiped out, and Zira would fall as Ahbiz and Namzi had fallen before them. Alanna tried to convince the king to recall his troops and negotiate a truce with the spiders, but he refused to listen. So she killed him.

Upon seizing the throne, Alanna parlayed a peace with the invaders. It was more efficient for them, she pointed out, to have the rulers of Zira-Shun provide them with the food and slaves they needed, rather than to hunt for such assets themselves. Alanna swore fealty to the spiders. As proof of her loyalty, she offered her younger brother to serve as host for a telepathic “rider” spider in order to be a conduit between her and her eight-legged masters.

Today, Queen Alanna never leaves the palace grounds. She meets with nobles and mediates between them and the spiders, but has no qualms about sacrificing any number of commoners to keep the spiders satisfied. She’s done the math. She knows what she much do to keep her city and its territories from ending up like Namzi-Shun.

Alanna is a detached and dispassionate queen. While she values her subjects, she values them as resources to be cultivated, hoarded, sacrificed, and spent for the good of the realm. She is thoughtful and logical. She never rushes to judgment, or allows herself to be swayed by passions–neither her own nor others’. While those around her may quietly question her methods, none can deny that they have kept Zira-Shun alive (and its rulers in power) while the other realms have collapsed into chaos and anarchy.

Role: Queen Alanna is the “face of the conflict” between the humans and spiders of Zira-Shun. She is literally the face of the corrupted aristocracy who have betrayed the rest of humanity in order to preserve their own lives.

Quote: “Our esteemed friends have informed me that they need another hundred bodies for a project in Ahbiz. After midnight, send the collectors into the lower levels of the city and bring me whoever you find sleeping in the gutters there. If there are not enough street-sleepers, visit the hovels. Drag them from their beds if necessary. Try not to kill anyone. We may need them next month.”


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Watching the Sausage Be Made

Posted on August 14, 2017 By

I’m still hacking away at Packer’s Last Resort, but if you’ve got a stomach for games that are lumpy, uncooked messes… you can hack away at it too.

I’ve uploaded the latest iteration of the game as an ugly, crudely-done print-and-play file. The file includes a version of the rules and cards so new, I haven’t technically even played with them yet myself. But it’s an improvement over the previous iteration, which wasn’t horrible, so this one should be no worse than simply bad. Downloading it and looking it over probably won’t give you eye-cancer.

A couple notes:

  • This iteration is focused on food, and keeping it scarce enough that players are desperate enough to turn to in-game violence and cannibalism. The previous version had too much food. Does this one have too little? Still too much? Guess we’ll find out.
  • The game also includes a “stress” resource which mostly doesn’t do anything at the moment. Oh, it might make you freak out and attack another player, but that mechanic feels a bit shallow. The whole “stress” thing isn’t pulling its own weight, and I intend to fix (or cut!) it once I’ve got this “food balance” bit figured out.
  • I feel it’s worth reiterating that this is not a good game. It’s not even a done game. It’s the second of what might be dozens of iterations, the merest seed of what might some day grow up to be a good game.

So why bother sharing it, if it’s barely even playable? Partially to gain any initial feedback you fine folks may have, and partially to simply share the game-design process. Some people aren’t content to just eat the sausage; they like to see how it’s made. If you’re one of them, please feel free to download the PnP file and let me know what you think.

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Packer’s First Prototype

Posted on August 11, 2017 By

As promised earlier this week, I recently plopped the revised prototype for Packer’s Last Resort onto the table for a playtest. It was a cold, lonely playtest in which I myself played the parts of four different players, like some sort of game-designing Peter Sellers. It’s fine, though. I prefer to keep these initial playtests strictly internal. If the game metaphorically explodes and catches fire, I’m not putting anyone else at metaphorical risk.

So how did it go?

I’m glad you asked.

The Good: The game didn’t explode; that’s good. And there were moments of drama and interesting decisions (what some might call “fun”); that’s even better. So I know this isn’t a terrible design, and worth pursuing for a bit.

The Bad: As commonly happens with the first drafts of rules, I forgot to include some key instructions. Like when to draw cards, or when cards are discarded. (Turns out these things are kind of important in a card game.) I also neglected to include “give each player some food so they don’t starve on the first turn” in the set-up section of the rules. It was easy enough to just scribble the hot-fixes onto the rules (“Draw cards here you idiot!”), but that’s one more reason I prefer to test by myself at first.

The Ugly: For a game about people so desperate and starving that they’re willing to kill and eat each other, there wasn’t much desperation or starvation. There was, in fact, a surplus of food. It was like each round, the players found another food station at the local Old Country Buffet. Without food as a motivator, the rest of the game systems just sort of… sat there, bored and mostly unused. For the next iteration, the players will start with less food, and lose more over the course of the game. Trudging your way through snow-covered mountain passes is hungry work.

I’m sure there are issues in the game beyond food levels, but that’s the most glaring problem. Once I’ve turned that dial to where I want it, I can start tweaking the others in order to maximize the fun.

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Up From the Ashes

Posted on August 8, 2017 By

Last week, I wrote how my original design for the “Alfred Packer Leads a Bunch of Noobs Into The Mountains and Ends Up Eating Them” game was no good. “Burn it down!” I wrote.

And so I did.

And since then, I’ve completely revamped the game, written a new set of rules, and put together a playable prototype.

I’ve also given the thing a name: Packer’s Last Resort.

Now, as of 6:00 AM Tuesday morning, I haven’t had a chance to actually play this prototype. It looks fun on paper, but paper-fun doesn’t count for much if the real thing’s a bore. I’ll be kicking the tires on this bad boy over the next few days. If it holds up, I’ll share the results here with you fine folks. If not… Well, I’ll just have to burn it down again and go back to poking at the ashes.

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A Pillar of the Fallen City

Posted on August 2, 2017 By

Previously, I wrote about unique, individual “pillar characters” who appear in multiple stories across the storyworld and fulfill important structural roles within the world itself. Below is one such character from the Empire of Venom & Silk storyworld.

Mora Nash, Scavenger of the Fallen City

Mora grew up on the streets of Namzi, where she learned to be strong, ruthless, and utterly self-sufficient. As a young woman, she found employment as an enforcer for a crime lord. She didn’t particularly enjoy breaking the bones of those who couldn’t pay their debts, but the job paid well and her employer treated her well.

When the spiders invaded Namzi, the crime lord was one of the first to flee the city, and Mora was at his side. Their refugee band was desperate, but wealthy and well-armed. Nevertheless, when they encountered an invader hunting party, most of the refugees were wiped out–including Mora’s boss.

Mora tried to build a new life for herself in the city of Zira, but Namzi was the only home she’d ever known. She returned to Namzi, but found it virtually destroyed… and ripe for the looting.

Now Mora supports herself by digging through the ruins of Namzi in search of valuables. As a child of the city, Mora knows the best places to look for loot, and the best ways to avoid running into cultists, monsters, or other scavengers. She occasionally guides groups of outsiders who come to Namzi looking to recover specific documents or artifacts. To her surprise, Mora’s found that she’s good at leading, and even grudgingly enjoys it. In her wildest flights of fancy, she imagines heading up an effort to rebuild and resettle the city… then shakes her head and gets back to work.

Mora prefers to be alone. She is gruff and short-tempered if forced to deal with other people, and denies the rumor that she’s fiercely loyal to the few she considers friends. What Mora lacks in social skill she makes up for in physical prowess. She’s tall and muscular, and stronger and nimbler than most people her size.

Role: Mora is the archetypal “scavenger” often found in the Fallen Realms. While her story is uniquely her own, her life amongst the ruins is similar that of most people of her profession.

Quote: “Quiet, you idiot. You see those double doors? Your ‘sacred cup’ or whatever is through there, but see here? Right in front? That’s a spider cultist. Looks like he’s standing guard. What else is in there? And don’t lie to me, or I’ll gut you right here.”


This post was made possible through the support of the heroic patrons of my Patreon page, who got to read it weeks ago. If you like getting content early, and having a chance to offer your own suggestions on it, I’d encourage you to swing by the  Patreon page and see what we’re up to.

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