So, GenCon has come and gone, and I got a lot of business done while I was there. Some of this will be reflected in what projects GB is working on.

The Tower of Justice – Adventure Scenario

The brief scenario that I over-prepared for (two hour session, but I wanted to ensure we didn’t run out of fun) went over very, very well. I can confirm that 15 folks, from newbies to grognards, went through it, and despite grappling appearing constantly, everyone was engaged and had fun. The give and take of control damage was as compelling to them as it was to me.

The scenario is built around the Dragon Heresy world, and the strong undercurrent of Norse-ish mythology that flows through it was well received.

The “do we or don’t we go this way” puzzle that was supposed to be one of the scenario forks (which one needs for a con game, though much less so for a campaign) was so compelling (and frankly, not hard enough) that both parties just got it. I came up with a good re-arrangement of things that will resonate better with sandbox play, as well as providing larger exposure to more potential resolution pathways.

So . . . I’ll be publishing this, for real. The GenCon folks that were at my table will get free copies and playtest credit, if they email me. Otherwise, I will work it up for 5e and Swords and Wizardry, at least, plus of course Dragon Heresy.

There’s a ton of work done already, and turning it into a short adventure supplement should be fairly quick. I suspect that I can re-use a lot of art I’ve purchased for Dungeon Grappling. I may even re-use the Dungeon Grappling layout template, which will push my InDesign skills to grow and improve.

In short, I don’t think I’ll need to crowdfund this one. We’ll see. I could also Kickstart it when it’s basically ready and see if folks have enough interest to help me fund custom art. That way, I’d be able to work with some old and some new artists – many of whom I met at GenCon – on a very short project with little risk. Test out working relationships and whatnot, and keep in practice for crowdfunding. Besides . . . I love generating new art (well, paying others to do so).

What about Pathfinder? I will need to consult my oracles; I’m not as good with this ruleset than others.

The adventure itself stands at 11,500 words – roughly 23 pages as-is, which would grow a bit with maps and fleshing out all parts of something designed for “until it’s done” rather than “cram into two hours.”

Dragon Heresy: Starter Set?

I watched “Ashcan” versions of various games in development fly off the shelves in the Indie Game Designer’s Network booth for four days. The 5e Basic Rules were pretty popular.

So, I’ve got a project that will be in editing for a while, but is fully playable. The system plays well and has some neat tweaks to it. The setting is compelling enough, and has loads of room to support adventures.

So I’m pondering and chopping a very, very limited version of the game that only covers Level 1-4, ditches all optional rules, and is otherwise a nice intro. I’m shooting for something like 60,000 words, which is about 15% of the total three-volume set.

I’ll see how far I can distill it. There are advantages to doing this that solve some issues I had with my Kickstarter planning, too.

The full game is still progressing! And again, with the artists I chatted with, I’m very hopeful I could go from “funded” to “done” in a reasonable time period through the glory of parallel processing. But . . . I think I can get something fun out there that’s playable, and will only improve with time as Ken does his magic on my writing.

Venture Beyond

Just for completeness’ sake, David and I are closing in on a first-complete-manuscript. We’ve nailed down a lot better where we’ll be conventional in business development process, and where we’ll take risks for the sake of time to market.

I’m feeling good about where we are, at least for now. Not much of an update, but as with a lot of “below the waterline” stuff, there’s a lot to unpack in the words “making progress.”

At GenCon, I sat on a panel. My first one, on how to get into the games design industry. I’d included this in my write-up/summary for that day, but the title didn’t give away the summary of the panel. So:

It was me, Andreas Walters (Baby Bestiary), a graphic design guy whose name I unfortunately can’t remember, and a real heavy hitter who was a big-dog project manager with a huge resume. I joked that I should just go sit in the audience.

In truth, though, he was talking mostly about how to manage a staff. Multiple writers, artists, a full time editing or layout staff (or at least many of them on contract), and running a big project by the scrum method.

For most of the folks there, I was a better model. I am currently doing what they want to do. So I added value.

Some things covered?

  • Yes, you need a professional editor. Yes, you. Always.
  • If you are looking to work with a game company, the first thing they will do is check you out on social media and see if you’re an ass-hat who picks fights. Several names were mentioned as folks not to emulate, including some fairly well-known names. But if you’re online picking fights, trolling, and generally being disagreeable, it is (in my mind correctly) assumed you will be a prima dona who is more trouble than they are worth, and your proposal and idea will be rejected (in truth, your proposal will be rejected anyway, by and large). If you want to be a game industry professional, the key words there are professional first, industry second, and game third.
  • Don’t pitch your new cool game to established companies. They don’t want it. WotC or Paizo or SJG have their own in-house things to do. This is probably true of most established companies. Want your game done your way? You’re going to need to do it yourself or find a company like Andreas’ or mine who is actually trying to build a portfolio of games and act as a rent-a-skill house for project management, art direction, etc.
  • When talking to a company about terms, rights, IP, etc., don’t expect there to be a One True Way of contracting and rights and IP assignment. Most of these contracts are ad hoc at the smaller guys, and negotiable at most of them. The folks that do have a One True Way probably don’t want your idea anyway. See a theme here?
  • No one is going to steal your Cool Game Idea. No one. Of the four folks on the panel, we probably had 20 or more ideas in the hopper. There are more ideas than time to work them. So we don’t much care about yours enough to steal it. That’s not an insult: you’re more likely to get helpful advice, and best wishes.
  • Much like in a roleplaying game, the key to happiness is to set expectations and meet them. Are you thinking you might be late? Say so early. Most companies can react to a well-timed and early note that things aren’t going well, that your computer or dog died, your wife left you, and your pickup truck broke down. They can’t react to “we needed this to be ready for GenCon, and your last minute note of panic means it won’t be.” You will simply never be employed by that company again.

Those were some remembered highlights from the panel. There was a lot covered, and it was a good time. I left my battle-mat in the meeting room, though. Alas, it was a casualty: missing, presumed lost.

I’ll add on a bit, thinking about it more.

Creativity and rules design are good skills to have for a writer and designer. For a publisher, someone that wants to bring games to market, you will need a whole lot of project and people management. You’ll need a suitably-sized rolodex (or digital equivalent) of contacts for artists, editors, layout pros, and printers. You’ll need to know more than just the basics of print specs, and what kinds of binding and production values are worth paying for. You’ll want to know the break-even points between POD and offset, and how to limit your risk. You need to know critical path theory, and what that implies for deadlines and parallel processing of work. You’ll need to know how to soothe ruffled feathers, give direction without giving offense, and work with folks you might not have at your dinner table, and to give hard negative feedback even to those you’d eat with, party with, or do adult things with. You’re a professional, and that has certain connotations. They can be a bit different for each person and company, which is why corporate culture matters. You’ll need to know the sticking points for artists, writers, and others. When to let folks keep their work as their own copyright, and when to insist it belongs to you.

Business is business, even when it’s the business of fun.

Thursday is GURPSDay – but GenCon 50 messed up my schedule, so I will post as much as I can since Aug 11!

Welcome to the second year of GURPSDay, and here’s the pull for this week.

We’re currently drawing content from 89 blogs. Only 11 more to go until we’re pulling from 100! But we’ll need your help.

How? Two action items: post more, recruit more. It’s really that simple. More posters is more posts, and more interest in GURPS.

Below you can find the blog activity for the last week. There’s a whole lotta awesome GURPS going on. Read all the posts.

Not every blog posts about GURPS every week, but some are ridiculously prolific! The list is randomized, so different bloggers will be highlighted at the top of the post each week.

As always, if you’re interested in having your blog consolidated here, navigate over to The Instructions Page and drop me a line. Take special note of the RSS Settings Fix if you’re on WordPress.
Continue reading “GURPSDay Summary Aug 11 – Aug 21, 2017”

I was at GenCon’s 50th Anniversary this past week, and I had the honor of observing the first of Gaming Ballistic’s Dungeon Grappling demo games, and playing in the second. Here are my thoughts, for those that are considering its use:

Summary

It’s not as scary as you probably think.

Qualification

I have 20+ years experience with D&D in general, maybe five or so with Pathfinder, and a month or two with 5e. I have always felt like grappling, in general, has gotten less attention than it deserved in pretty much any system, including all editions of D&D, and have had characters/moments in-game where I’ve found myself grappling (with the rules and/or the enemy) and found them a bit awkward. At the point of the convention, I had not read the Dungeon Grappling book (and still haven’t as of this writing—but I will), though I am quite familiar with its spiritual-ancestor, GURPS Martial Arts – Technical Grappling, so I did have a basic understanding of how it works beforehand.

Observations

In my brief exposure to the Dungeon Grappling system, I found it to actually be very easy to understand and smoothly integrated. It uses the normal attack-damage mechanics. “Control” is just damage of a different sort, the accumulation of which inflicts one of a handful of “grappled” conditions. Those conditions are well-defined and sensible, using established mechanics. A character can “attack” to add more to his own control, reduce his enemy’s control, aid allies’ grapples—it’s very intuitive. It works the same against larger or smaller opponents. The book has all the right cheat-sheets in easy-to-find places. I know the book does delve into more detailed grappling situations—and I generally like the more crunchy stuff—but really, the little bit that I observed is all you need to make grappling in D&D a bit more interesting, and it’s simple enough that I couldn’t give anyone a good reason to not use it.

And, I’m told Dungeon Grappling addresses that burning question I’ve always had in D&D and never found and answer for: how far can you throw a halfling? 😛

Note from Gaming Ballistic: Pretty darn far if you’re an Ancient Red Dragon

My 2¢.

Saturday was packed for me. I was busy from 9am until 10:30pm with good important stuff. Sunday, the last day of the con, was basically open for me – a free day – until the show closed, at which point I was to help tear down the booth.

The Big Day

Well, I awoke realizing that I’d left my battle-mat in the booth. No big, assuming it was there. I beat feet over before, it turned out, that the convention hall opened, which was 9am. So I went over to my gaming room, set up early, then chatted with some of the IGDN members there. I described my grappling system to Sarah at the booth, and another member sat down, and “oohed” and “aahhed” over my book, which was on the table. She opened it up and started avidly reading. I just grabbed a pen, signed it, and made a gift of it to her. If she’s that enthusiastic, she can have one! Continue reading “GenCon: The Big, The Free, and The Teardown”

Today was eventful as hell, from a personal level, as well as a professional one.

Dungeon Grappling: Tower of Justice

So, I ran the Con Scenario that was shorthanded Grappling Smackdown but is formally called The Tower of Justice.

The seats were supposed to be filled; I had three initial no shows, but then three folks showed up and really wanted to try. So full house . . . and then the actual three showed up, which meant I had to ask the newcomers to leave. All were gracious about the entire thing. One player had his young son along, and it was very clear he was going to sit and watch. No frickin’ way. I asked “will your son be joining us?” “Can he play?” “You tell me . . . can he play? If he can, he’s very welcome.”

So seven seats for a six-player game. The young one was an Evocation sorcerer. Dad was a dragonborn bard. We had a human paladin of Tyr, a Thief/Rogue, another dragonborn bard (but he said that testing the new grappling rules was the ONLY game he insisted on playing; this guy was a dream player/playtester), a human ranger, and a young lady who had never played DnD before who took her hand at a half-elf fighter.

All played well, engaged in the scenario, and were gracious about learning the new rules.

I started by making them write down their grappling stats, which were not on the sheet. I did this deliberately so I could teach them the key levels and what they mean.

Your grapple DC is 10 + whatever. It’s your hit roll for grappling, and will nearly always be lower than the Armor class.

Your hit roll for grappling is 1d20 plus your athletics skill bonus.

Your damage roll for grappling is your hit die type, plus your strength bonus.

Write down the following levels: Grabbed; Grappled; Restrained; Incapacitated.

Calculate your restrained max, your grappled max, your grabbed max. Incap is higher than restrained by one.

There are things you can do with your control points. Here’s a list. If you think of anything else cool, let me know and we’ll adjudicate it on the spot.

So . . . what happened?

Highlights

  • They quickly figured out the puzzle that gave the directions to the back door of the Tower of Justice, and I figure that if I let the group tomorrow find the same puzzle, they’ll also go that route. I may just railroad ’em into the main way, to test the other half of the scenario. I have a reason why this isn’t completely lame, I swear
  • the fight with the hobgoblins between the waybridge and the tower went very well. I needed more monster tokens, but otherwise, the players were determined to grapple as much as possible, and so were the hobs. The fight went well for the players, and though a few wounds were taken, it wasn’t bad.
  • The climb of the 150 foot cliff ran into a major design issue that I know how to fix, but I saw the problem coming soon enough. More on that later.
  • The big fight with the Glabrezau demon (four attacks, pincers, fists) opened with the PCs deciding to whittle away the demon’s HP from behind a magical barrier. That would have been tedious but effective. Then someone (the Dad bard, actually!) decided to Leroy Jenkins the demon, several others followed suit. The demon grabbed the paladin for 45 control points, turned that into 10d4 injury . . . and rolled abysmally, doing fewer than 15 HP of damage. So sad! I was hoping to rip him in half.
  • The players saw the never-played-before fighter grapple the demon . . . roll a crit and max damage, and restrain him. They dogpiled him by grappling, and incapacitated it! That meant they could kill it by fiat, which they did.

That took the entire time. I got some great feedback on the grappling rules. In short: they were playable and fun, useful but not complex. These WORK. And they work with strangers who were not (to my knowledge) game designers, unless the 10yo was a ringer.

The Lowlights

  • Swapping out players was a time killer, and meant that we got very close to running out of time at noon. This will be an issue tomorrow since I have to be on a panel at noon in another building.
  • The climbing rules were cool on paper, but as we were about to run through it, I realized this was going to be an insane number of dice rolls and tracking. I figured out how to fix it, now I just need to implement it. No worries there.
  • The tree puzzle is too compelling and will likely 100% of the time short-circuit the bridge and front-door approach. I’m not sure if that’s bad or not, but it’s an observation.

The Booth

I did another stint at the booth today, five hours. Heel wasn’t quite as bad, but I took care to walk around today (walking and running are both better than standing for me).

Highlights here?

Sold some Dungeon Grappling

I was a lot better at pitching other folks products

I really need to pick up Fragged Empire. The graphic design is a thing of beauty. Setting seems interesting too.

I also need to learn about the Apocalypse World engine. A lot of the games seem to like using it as their core system, and there must be a reason for it. I may or may not agree with the reason.

Had a polite disagreement with a designer who described tactical wargame elements in RPGs as pointless. I think they have their place, and enjoy the hell out of them. The perspective has merit I think, in that it puts an adminstrative overhead on both player and GM in terms of stats, rigor, and play speed that you have to understand, accept, and find fun.

He does’t. I do.

That’s cool for both, but there are two sides to that coin, and if you think only one of ’em has value, you’ll be a worse designer than if you understand at least the impulses that drive both points of view, and consciously address them. Even if that means ignoring one; at least do it with malice aforethought.

I reviewed a set of grappling rules in another designer’s system. Pronounced them very abstract, but since they were the same level of abstraction and used the same mechanic as his other conflict resolution systems, I pronounced that they obeyed the rule of ‘use what’s there’ and was thus satisfied.

Steve Jackson(!!) dropped by the Indie Games Designer’s Network booth. Turned out he wasn’t just looking around. He was there to see me.

(swoon)

We chatted about the DFRPG, the Kickstarter, and I showed him my Dragon Heresy flier. He responded by telling me something that nearly made my eyebrows crawl out of my head (not sure I can say what it is), but that will make GURPS folks very happy. There was also some egging on by me of the notion of a modern action boxed set, since (sez me) “GURPS has the best firearms rules currently in the market. Clean ’em up, simplify for speed, and you’d have everything you need to shoot folks and take their stuff, or any other plotline.”

I also talked with D. R. Lunceford, gigerman on the forums, about a great many things. He is responsible for the graphical look of the blog. We agreed it was time to start the web design for the dragon heresy website and page. We talked about a few blog improvements, and game design. And shields and grappling and shooting. Good times.

I also made arrangements to have drinks with Ken Hite to discuss Dragon Heresy progress.

Spoke in rapid succession with the folks at Thomson-Shore and KrakenPrint. Now I know of four potential vendors for my books, all of whom are reasonably priced for offset and make great looking books.

All in all, an excellent day.

Tomorrow

Tomorrow is going to my equivalent of BUDS. Well maybe not. But it’ll be a busy, hectic day.

  • 10-noon: Second Dungeon Grappling demo
  • noon-1pm: I’m on a panel on how to get into the game industry
  • 1-5pm: DFRPG session with Sean, Christopher, Joseph, and others!
  • 7pm-?? First attend the Delta Green panel that Ken Hite is speaking at (’cause Delta Green is a great setting and I’m honestly curious), the go to drinks and talk Dragon Heresy

Sunday is all mine.

 

Second day of GenCon. The crowds were amazing, and this was the first day.

Got up, skipped breakfast, did a bit of prep, and then headed over to the con. With the Exhibitor’s Badge courtesy of the IGDN, I got to go in early. It was amazing the transformation of the place, all the boxes gone, carpet laid in place, and row on row of stuff I love.

The Steve Jackson Games booth is more or less on the way to 2437, and who did I happen to run into but Sean Punch. A big hug and a quick chat later, I continued on. I walked the floor until bout 11am, bought a copy of Symbaroum, talked a lot about grappling, art, game design, and printers (including one that several folks used to make beautiful books based in Lithuania), and generally said Hi to folks I’ve interviewed. David Kenzer, Benjamin Loomes (Syrinscape), Ken Hite, and others. A lovely chat with an Irish lass from Pelgrane, who was great fun. Many others.

Then lunch, where I was joined with an avid Pathfinder dad and his son. They’d packed 7 people into a rented van and drove 16 hours cheek to jowl to get here. We talked about all sorts of stuff, I pitched both Dungeon Grappling and Dragon Heresy, and dad told son that this is networking, a soft-sell, and why it’s important. They took fliers.

Then booth day. Five hours in the IGDN booth, putting the sales pitch and Q&A on folks. Got to know the product in the booth better and better as the day went on. Moved some DG (maybe five copies, which is better than all of Origins; if that happens for 4 days or picks up it’s not crazy that the 20-30 copies here could sell out). Lots of other stuff moved, but it was interesting to see what. Some folks just bypass the booth; the Indie crowd isn’t their cup of tea, by definition. Others couldn’t be arsed to even mention 5e or Pathfinder.

In truth, there’s something for everyone in that booth somewhere, but definitely skewed to “not mainstream.” Mine and The Book of the Tarrasque were the only 5e products there. No Pathfinder. A few Powered by the Apocalypse. Maybe a Fate or two. Lots of new systems, lots of story games. Christopher Rice would bring folks by so I could say hi, since I couldn’t go to them. Met J Edward Tremlett for the first time. Introduced Christopher to some of the indie guys, which seemed fruitful.

Five hours of that and my injured heel was ready to kill me. Nonetheless, I walked over to the Munchkin Tavern and had dinner with Christopher and Joeseph Bravo. Then back, had a drink and finished up my prep for the Grappling Smackdown tomorrow.

Room 239, Table 10. 10am.

Here we go . . .

Travel

The trip in, other than being exhausted from (a) being up until two freaking out about being prepared for my two Grappling Smackdown games (I still need to make the rules for swimming and climbing, but I’ve got a good model in my head) was substantially uneventful. Got to the airport with a minimum of stress, short direct full flight. Was overbooks, and if the gate attendant weren’t visibly one of the most surly and dour folks I’ve ever seen, was sort of expecting to hear:

“This flight is in an overbooked situation. Consult the Frequent Flier table for your bonus, but otherwise roll for initiative…”

The trip from airport to Downtown Indianapolis was by taxi; I would have rather taken a shuttle, but they seemed to be few, far between, and indifferently labeled.

16,000 Steps

I’m here with the IDGN – the Indie Games Designer Network, as a booth worker. They’ve got Dungeon Grappling on display and on sale, along with a huge amount of nifty other games. Some are more straight-up fare, and others . . . not so much.

But it’s incredibly arduous work to set up a booth with lots of product in it. Those neat even rows of product don’t just arrange themselves.

But setting up these booths is absolutely no joke. Lifting, walking, stress, and “Even More Boxes.”

Look at the Size of that Thing!

GenCon 50 is just huge. My recent convention experiences have all been Minneapolis Wizard World Comic Cons. These have been dwindling in size for several years. I don’t know if GenCon 2016 was full-on as awesome as this year seems to be, but wow. Just wow. So much stuff, so many companies, so much swag. The quality of the graphical presentation of both the booths and the games is impressive as hell.

Old Friends, New Friends

I got to meet Hunter S face-to-face at the Steve Jackson Games booth. And James Loomes from Syrinscape! I saw his (gorgeous!) booth and came up and said hi. He had this look like “I know you,” and I reminded him I interviewed him on the firing squad. We chatted, but of course, everyone was frantic with setup. I saw but didn’t visit Kenzer and Company, so I’ll do that tomorrow.

Can’t wait. Tomorrow morning I’ll go for a hard run first thing, then get over there and wander. I’ll be at the IGDN booth (2437) from 1-5pm. Come say hi.

What happened before

We do the right amount of recon, and discover that homeless are disappearing and being killed from their old haunts beneath the city. We spend some time in a old magically inclined pub and find out that the Conclave is very much out of resources. Nonetheless, we hit the morgue and find that in all likelihood ghouls are coming out of the tunnels to eat and kill.

We prepare for an armed incursion. We have the right background on ghouls, try and optimize our loadouts accordingly (cut, burn, holy water, not guns). It’s time. We’re goin’ on a dungeon crawl in the sewer tunnels. Let’s get it on.

Continue reading “Ceteri Campaign S0E10 – Ghoul on Fire”

I think my first and only trip to GenCon was in 1994 or something. It was still in Milwaukee. West End Games was there, and I got to see Timothy Zahn and the WEG designers talk about Star Wars. Was cool.

Now, many (too many) years later, I’m GenCon bound again. I am kinda losin’ my mind about it.

First, the good: I’m playing in the Dungeon Fantasy RPG first-game experience with Sean Punch. That was a Kickstarter reward, and I expect it to be a hoot.

Next, the freakout. And while normally I’m good with crowds and pressure, this feels different.

  1. I’m a member of the IGDN and working the booth. I’m hoping that goes well, although there are things about it that are not optimal, it’ll be a good way to interact with a ton of folks coming by the booth, pitch my and others’ stuff, and see how things go.
  2. I’m running two games, the Grappling Smackdowns.
  3. The adventure I will run isn’t quite done yet. And I realized how much stuff I’d IDEALLY like to have to run a game (maps, tokens, lots of dice, all sorts of stuff) and how much I rely on my computer to run games these days.
  4. It’s been a while since I’ve GM’d at all; it’s been a while since I’ve GM’d 5e or Dragon Heresy in playtest, and that was with a very well-trusted group.
  5. I’m on a panel for the first time ever. We’ll see how that goes.

Anyway, I’m sure this will be a wonderful experience yadda yadda yadda. But my demo session isn’t nearly as complete as I want it to be (of course, I would have ideally finished it a month ago an playtested it eight times with eight groups), and my not-GenCon/not-writing schedule is packed today and tomorrow.

So . . . feelin’ queasy.