In keeping with the Norse-ish theme of the country from which most adventurers in Dragon Heresy will originate from, I decided that the magic would be a bit more flavored. 

Here’s a look at the box for the flavors of magic. You’ll recognize some of the text as right from SRD5.1, as is appropriate. Some is new.

Magic and the Runes of Power

Magic flows through the world in many forms, and some forms
have been studied and refined such that particular flavors or applications of
power can be manipulated. These are described by the meaning of some of the
runes of power. There may be other schools or methods of magic in other lands,
but the mages of Torengar classify them this way – it is very likely as much a case
of the tools (the runes) shaping the thought patterns of the arcane
practitioners, which thus shapes the spells themselves.
As such, these runic categories are applied to all spells, in
the belief that all magic functions in essentially the same way, whether it
derives from rigorous study or is bestowed by a deity.
The runic names help describe spells; they have no rules of
their own, although some rules refer to the runes.
Algiz. The rune
magic of Algiz is protective in nature, though some spells have aggressive
uses. They create magical barriers, negate harmful effects, harm trespassers,
or banish creatures to other planes of existence. The rune Algiz means
protection, or a shield, used defensively.
Ansuz. The magic
focused through the Ansuz rune reveals information, whether in the form of
secrets long forgotten, glimpses of the future, the locations of hidden things,
the truth behind illusions, or visions of distant people or places. The meaning
of Ansuz is a revealing message or insight, and (not coincidentally) is also
the rune of Woden, who specializes in far-seeing and deep knowledge.
Dagaz. The rune
magic of Dagaz is invoked to deceive the senses or minds of others. These
spells cause people to see things that are not there, to miss things that are
there, to hear phantom noises, or to remember things that never happened. Some
illusions create phantom images that any creature can see, but the most
insidious illusions plant an image directly in the mind of a creature. The
meaning of Dagaz includes both awareness and blindness.
Ehwaz. The spells
of Ehwaz involve the transportation of objects and creatures from one location
to another. Some spells summon creatures or objects to the caster’s side,
whereas others allow the caster to teleport to another location. Some Ehwazs
create objects or effects out of nothing. The rune Ehwaz represents a horse or
horses, and connotes travel and journeys.
Gebo. Spells
invoked with the knowledge gained through study of the Gebo rune change the
properties of a creature, object, or environment. They might turn an enemy into
a harmless creature, bolster the strength of an ally, make an object move at
the caster’s command, or enhance a creature’s innate healing abilities to
rapidly recover from injury. Gebo has the connotation of a gift, sacrifice, or
fair exchange – giving up one thing to gain another of equal or higher value.
Jera. The rune Jera
signifies the life cycle and the harvest. Jeran spells manipulate the energies
of life and death. Such spells can grant an extra reserve of life force, drain
the life energy from another creature, create the undead, or even bring the
dead back to life. A complicated rune, Jera’s association with necromancy is
only part of it’s meaning, and the rune magic of Jera includes birth, life,
death, and life-from-death (which can be as broad as ‘ressurection’ but is also
‘fertilizer’). Creating undead through the use of Jeran rune magic is not a
good act, and only neutral or evil casters use such spells frequently.
Mannaz. Spells cast
with the Mannaz rune affect the minds of others, influencing or controlling
their behavior. Such spells can make enemies see the caster as a friend, force
creatures to take a course of action, or even control another creature like a
puppet. Mannaz means “mankind” or “people,” and has a
particular connotation relating to the attitudes of others to you and relationships
in general.

Thurisaz. The
primal energy of magic, the directed force of destrution and defense, is
symbolized by Thurisaz. Such spells manipulate magical energy to produce a
desired effect. Some call up blasts of fire or lightning. Others channel
positive energy to heal wounds. Thurisaz has many connotations, all of which
derive from power used with consciousness and wisdom in matters that must be
resolved using force, violence, or physical compulsion.
One of the more challenging and enjoyable parts of writing Dragon Heresy is creating subclasses. Don’t get me wrong – the basic subclasses provided with the SRD5.1 are nice, and a good start.
But the defining of additional sub-classes isn’t just an exercise of “ooh, cool powers.” I have done more world-building in defining these than I have in trying to build the history of the setting. Who the adventurers can be needs to be a reflection of the world in which they live, and these subclasses are a gateway to that.
I teased +James Spahn the other day about a paladin ability I made with a tie in to his personal fondness for a particular animal. Here’s the completed draft, which has not yet been torn asunder by my playtesters. But I thought it would be fun to share.
Paladin Oath of Yggdrasil
The Oath of Yggdrasil places the paladin directly in the service
of the protection of the World Tree against those that would do it harm. This
includes all “outsiders” such as demons, devils, dragons, and other creatures
from beyond the universe that would seek to unmake the tree and remake the
world to their own image.
The paladin of Yggdrasil is of the world in a profound way, and
seeks both to protect and to know all that lies under its branches. They consider
themselves the personal servants and warriors of Woden, who sacrificed himself
upon the branches of Yggdrasil to gain the wisdom of runes. More aggressive
followers of the druidic gods may also be paladins of Yggdrasil.
Tenets of Yggdrasil
Though the path of the followers of Yggdrasil can be as varied as
the worlds that shelter under its branches, paladins hold generally to these
tenets.
Fight the Dragons. Wherever
chromatic dragons are encountered, they are a threat to the world tree and must
be fought and slain. This is doubly true for fiends and outsiders, whom the
tree is said to exclude from the world.
Protect the Tree. Always
act to protect the tree from harm.
Serve Woden. Regardless
of your call to other Aesir, always remember the sacrifice of Woden, who hung
speared upon Yggdrasil to bring the light and wisdom of the runes to the world.
Travel. To serve the
tree you must know the tree. Wander far, learn much, and take pleasure and joy
in the many branches of the tree.
Oath Spells
You gain oath spells at the paladin levels listed.
Oath of Yggdrasil Spells
Paladin Level
Spells
3rd
faerie fire, longstrider
5th
misty step, moonbeam
9th
call lightning, protection from energy
13th
dimension door, freedom of movement
17th
legend lore, teleportation circle
Channel Divinity
When you take this oath at 3rd level, you gain the following two
Channel Divinity options.

Ward of Yggdrasil. As
an action, you present your holy symbol and speak a prayer censuring aberrations,
dragons, or fiends using your Channel Divinity. Each affected creature that can
see or hear you within 30 feet of you must make a Wisdom saving throw. If the
creature fails its saving throw, it is turned for 1 minute or until it takes
damage.
A turned creature must spend its turns trying to move as far away
from you as it can, and it can’t willingly move to a space within 30 feet of
you. It also can’t take reactions. For its action, it can use only the Dash
action or try to escape from an effect that prevents it from moving. If there’s
nowhere to move, the creature can use the Dodge action.

Branch of Yggdrasil. By
invoking your connection to the World Tree, you cause 20 contiguous square feet
(four 5’ squares, which must touch) to turn into difficult terrain. Any that
start in, or cross this area suffer 1d8 + your Charisma bonus as Control damage.
Use the paladin’s Spell Save DC as the target to overcome the difficult terrain
by attacking to break free.
Word of Ratatosk
Starting at 7th level, you gain the powers of the messenger being
Ratatosk, and the ability to use the sending spell at will. Dogs and wolves within
120’ must make a DC 15 Wisdom save or else they will stop whatever they are
doing and suddenly look towards the target of your communication, wherever it
may be, because SQUIRREL!
Woden’s Sacrifice
Beginning at 15th level, you may perform an echo of Woden’s
sacrifice of himself to gain power, knowledge, and foresight by voluntarily reducing
you vigor maximum by 15, you gain a
point of inspiration that you may use yourself, or bestow upon others, by
spending your reaction. When you take a long rest, the lost vigor is restored,
and any unused points of inspiration are lost.
Root of the World Tree

At 20th level, your connection to the World Tree increases to the
point where you never need to eat or drink, as you derive sustenance from
Yggdrasil itself. You may also invoke an Aura of Vigor that allows you, as a
bonus action, to bestow an additional 3d6 temporary vigor to another creature.
The aura lasts for one minute, while the vigor lasts for one hour. This power
will not affect aberrations, dragons or any creature with chromatic dragon
blood or bloodline, or fiends. Once you invoke the aura, you must take a long
rest before you do it again.

So, my SRD-based RPG, Dragon Heresy, is getting closer and closer to reality. At this point, I can almost count on one hand the number of tasks required to get the written part of the manuscript finished.

By looking to create a finished, playable, “if I had to I could just put this in a crappy PDF and play the damn game” format, I hope to avoid one of what looks to be the classic mistakes of bringing a small-company RPG to market – not finishing it.

Just look at the projects that draw the ire of watchdogs like +Erik Tenkar and others. Mostly, someone seems to have an idea, they Kickstart it – and it frequently is a great idea – and the project doesn’t get finished. There can be an infinite number of reasons, many of them good, some of them not-so-good, and at least one has drawn criminal charges.

So I’ll avoid that one. But I’m ready to admit I’m probably going to walk into quite a few more.

I’m going to go stream-of-consciousness for a bit, mostly because I am writing this in fits and starts.

The GURPS Experience

Technically, this isn’t my first rodeo. Sort of. I’ve written for Steve Jackson Games something like thirteen Pyramid articles and one book. 

So I can write, at least theoretically. 

But do you know what that doesn’t prepare you for?

Everything else.


Don’t get me wrong. I have enjoyed working with SJG. Sean and Steven and PK are great to work with, and there’s a contingent of co-authors like +Peter V. Dell’Orto and +Christopher R. Rice  that make collaboration a pleasure, not to mention some folks like Hans and +Shawn Fisher who do work in areas I’m very fond of, and I help them out (and they help me) wherever I can.

One thing that’s great about SJG is that they’re professionals. They write good contracts, and they stick by them. They make it very clear what they’re looking for, have a painfully complete style guide, and only take your proposal if they’re sure that (a) you can finish it, and (b) they can sell it. And when they do, they pay, promptly and in full compliance with the contract. If you are straight with them about delays and difficulties, they will work with you to fix them.

As a result, as I’ve tried to set up my own workings for the Dragon Heresy RPG, I have very, very consciously modeled some of what my impressions are of their internal workings, plus some business practices that I have learned over fifteen years as a professional engineer, project manager, and personnel manager.

Some Take-aways


Things I’ve done and am doing?

Contracts

I’m trying to write good contracts. This was a rocky start, because my attempts to be clear and also provide multiple points of contact with my creatives and myself (I like a four-payment model for contracting. A small amount down to prove I’m serious and make the contract binding, some more when agreement is reached on exactly what the work will be – a full rough draft, for example. A third payment when the first publishable draft is done, and then the remainder on final acceptance. The largest payments are the middle ones, with roughly 70% of the payment being in those two.

Why do it that way? Why not do differently? I’ve had good luck with that method, it gives people milestones to work for, and encourages contact with me as project manager. Plus, it’s more cash flow to the artist, which from what I can tell on the internet, can’t hurt.

The other part of that is to always be very, very, very clear as to what is in and out of the scope of work. Writing it down gives both parties recourse to engage in common ground as a discussion of expectations. And much like RPG campaigns themselves, unequal or unclear expectations is where things most often break down.

Get lots of help


Open up your favorite big-publisher RPG. Look at the credits page. See all those names?

Every single one of them had something important enough to do that (a) they were paid for it, and (b) they needed different people with different skill sets to do.

Know what’s still missing from that credits page? Marketing. Sales. Web design. Store-front maintenance. Your Favorite Local Gaming Store. Playtesters and the equivalent of the SJG MIBs to get the word out.

I have engaged +Rob Muadib to do layout for the game, and he’s kicking ass and taking names. He’s great to work with, he takes my suggestions and also knows when to say “no, trust me. Do it this way.”

We seem to work well together.

I am, for the moment, the project manager, writer, art director, editor, marketing executive, and . . . gah. Too much. I’m going to have to plan and execute my own crowd-funding, too.

I will be asking for lots of help from friends – mostly in the form of advice.

Make a budget. Make it real.


One of the big scary things that writing a 200,000 word game entails is that there are a lot of up-front costs. Especially if you want it to look like a pro game.

The biggest cost by far is art. I supect the game will wind up being clsoe to 300 pages. That means that I will need something like a minimum of one piece of artwork per four pages, through I’m planning on one piece per three pages. That’s about 100 pieces of artwork. I’m figuring fifteen full-page mural-style images, more or less, the facing-pages for each chapter. That will leave something like 95 pieces of artwork needed as a rough budget, and I’m figuring about 0.3 pages per art piece (three 1/4 page pieces and one 1/2 page piece per four pieces of required art). 

That means about 40-45 full pages of artwork, and the going rate per page seems to be about $100 for black and white, adn $200-250 for color. I will likely need different B/W art (because the baseline version of the book should be black and white so it comes up easily on eReaders and prints well) and color art. So I will budget $4500 for B/W art and $11,000 for color art.

Editing something like this game seems to clock in at about three cents per word, and a ballpark for indexing is about $10 per 1,000 words. So I might need as much as $6,000 for editing (yeek!) and another $2,000 for professional indexing. Those costs are going to be borne regardless of color and black and white. If you think you don’t need an editor, you’re wrong. And no book (or few books? I’ll go with no book) that is a reference book, which is what an RPG rules book is, a technical reference, can stand without a good index. That’s one area everyone can learn from SJG. Every reference will have a page number, too – no instances of “Frombotzer: see Widget.” It will be “Frombotzer 126, 130-131 (also see Widget).

And don’t forget that crowdfunding takes its cut too, so plus-up your goals to account for that.

Oh, and shipping. At-cost coupons are a good way to deal with that, but some people hate that with the fiery passion of 1,000 suns. I’ve seen others mention a second “escrow” account where each person kicks in their own shipping. Need to find out more about that. Because I’ve heard 1/3-2/5 of sales can be international, and shipment of books overseas can be a nightmare. Be aware, plan for it ahead of time, or at least have a plan to make a plan.

Play it once, play it loud


The other thing I’ve found, again and again, is there’s zero substitute for playing the game. None. I have thus far run four to six stand-alone sessions of the game, and have kicked off two campaigns and expect to run one more. 

I learn something every single time I play. Sometimes it’s positive – the rules work like they think. Even better when it’s a positive surprise – the rules work like they’re supposed to, and also produce a really cool other result. Sometimes, as in the recent orc dogpiling incident, things don’t go as planned, and nothing teaches thoughtful rules writing like a TPK. Had my players been less mature, I might have lost them. Fortunately, they’re all writers, bloggers, game designers, and willing to help out. So no worries there and the rules are better for it.

Listen to folks, but have your own voice


Part and parcel with playtesting is listening to your testers. Don’t just listen. Force them to talk to you. Ask questions. Be thoughtful about the answers.

But it’s not game design by committee. It’s my game. Mine. It has to be fun, but I define what that is, either explicitly or implicitly. And every player will have their own thing. I’ve got one player who loves fiddle and optional rules. The other gets angry when thieves have a d6, let alone d8, hit die (or whatever passes for hit dice in Dragon Heresy). 

That span of opinions is valuable, but it’s up to me where to set the dial. I don’t intend on changing the d8 hit dice of rogues to d4s, but I do intend on harmonizing the sneak attack feature with the new ruleset. I don’t intend on writing the optional rules that have been suggested into the core “play it this way” game. But I am including an Appendix XX or Vault or something with a selection of optional rules that have come up in play, or been suggested along the way, or were nifty ideas that I came up with that I want to try. 

But much like a movie, where very little is on screen that the director didn’t place there deliberately, the same should be true of the game. 

Have a project plan


At some point, and that point is Real Soon Now, I need a Gantt Chart of how this thing needs to come together. Now that I can see the end of the writing process, I can put down good time estimates for finishing the creative work. Then art plans, crowdfunding plans, more art, editing and indexing, layout, and a final round of revisions. 

Plan for success, plan for failure


The purpose of the basic black-and-white document my team is producing, with donated or public domain art, is to ensure that if you back the project you will walk away with a playable, tested product. I hope to make it better, but I hope that I can at least raise the $5,000-$8500 needed to pay for the editing and indexing (or whatever people come in with when I send those two things out for competitive bidding). Readable and usable first. Then pretty. 

But there will be at least two or three levels of “pretty.” First is recouping costs for already paid funds, then improving B/W art, then full-color, and then maybe if it goes gangbusters, an offset print run of high volume. 

But if it all goes into the tank, and doesn’t fund at all? I will still have a B/W PDF that looks good (because it does look good) and plays well (because I’ve run it enough to know it does play well), and can try and go to market with it. If I fund at a minimum level, the backers will at least get that, and any goals beyond it are bonuses for everyone, including me. But never, never, never gamble funds of your own that you can’t afford to never recoup. Ever. If you must overextend, you better darn well incorporate, so that if an angry dwarf mob files a lawsuit, you don’t risk your house as well as your game-design reputation. LLCs are cheap, relatively speaking. I think I can set one up for less than $200 here in Minnesota.

And if it really goes nuts? Raises a half-million bucks? I’ve already got a sequel in mind. So there’s that.

I’m sure I will have other thoughts. And I know I didn’t write down everything I have yet to do, know I have to do, or need to think about. But this is where I am here, and while I’m nervous about the prospects, I’m not drowning. 

At least not yet.

I’m starting to really see the end of this.

What I’m trying to get done this week:

  1. Backgrounds. Want to get them done, at least to first draft status. (finished 6/15)
  2. Shields. Want to make these decisions, revise the rules, publish them in advance of next month’s games. (conceptually finished 6/15, will ripple changes later Wed)
  3. Character subclasses and multi-class options. Decide what they will be, and start with populating them. (starting Wed night)
How am I doing?

There’s a lot below the break – this is pretty major status report.

Shields
Based on the dominating behavior of the shields in last Friday’s game, I knew I needed to revise the rules. As it turned out, I’d confused myself a bit in play, and was running them a tetch wrong. The way I should have been running them made them still good. but much less special than the “U Can’t Touch This” dance that my orc bandit was doing against poor +Tim Shorts. My first revision was fun, and good, but ran into a few problems with application when it seemed that what was good about arrows also applied to true warhammers – what 5e would call a ‘military pick.’ That wasn’t really where I wanted to go.

So naturally I started with special cases, and “this doesn’t apply to X” type exceptions. Well, great. Now you need to break out a freakin’ flowchart or something. And was it really that realistic? This is an SRD5.1 game . . . why is the word “realistic” even in my damn lexicon?

So this morning I just said “forget it. This particular special ability – two of them, actually – makes shields cool enough to be going on with, they’re easy to remember, and everything else just works like the core rules.”

That felt better, the “default” way of playing will then be “it works like everything else,” and you can get on to rolling dice, eating pizza, drinking beer (or the beverage of your choice – for me, it’s Apothic Red), and killing monsters and taking their stuff.

So I think one more editing pass and the shield rules are done.

Backgrounds


I’ve got, um . . . 18 of them, which are each wide enough to accommodate tons of things. The Artisan can be a mason, smith, woodworker, or anything like it. The Combatant has a background in organized violence, like a mercenary company, praetorian guard, or grunt soldier. The Ruffian is more personal, less organized. She might have been a gladiator, town guard, bouncer, or thug. Broad enough to allow creativity, defined enough to make it clear that they’re different from each other.

Each of them is pick from the following list of skills . . . with the top choices in bold, but with a few more to round out in case you will already get one of those with your race/class choice.

As noted earlier, I refined my “point allocation” method and inserted that into the text, and have usefully used that to balance, more or less, these backgrounds. That the Acolyte, the one background in the SRD, works out exactly right using this method was not a coincidence.

I have populated Ideals for all of them, as well as the “stat block,” which are the skills, languages, tools, and class feature. Now I have but four more to finish Personality Traits, Bonds, and Flaws. Then I’ll tell my playtest team “Make ’em better” and hopefully get some suggestions of “swap this out with that,” with the notion that once I’ve done the job of actually putting stuff on paper, “change this to X” is a hell of a lot more fair request to make of a playtest team than “invent X for me.”

Subclasses and Multiclasses


The SRD5.1 has the main classes already defined. One of those, though, has been the subject of huge amounts of discussion on the net, and taking that to heart, I found an alternate version that I really like. That meant that an ability usually associated with that class was orphaned, so it migrated over to another class and that defined the second subclass for that one, killing two birds with one stone.

My rogue class picked up a “this is the way people play this anyway” subclass, and since some of the other subclasses feel more like job descriptions to me, I don’t miss their loss. 

I’ll be using what I will call “explicit multclassing” to demonstrate how to get the feel of some of the missing material. I think the half-dozen examples that I’ll put in the book will work out well.

I think this will be a challenging section to write for me. Finding original or at least not-too-badly stolen class abilities, and then balancing them so that they’re appropriately cool for the level, is a new skill for me (“What? I get BASKET WEAVING as my 17th level Druid ability?”)

What’s Next?


Well, if I can get all that done, it’ll be a fantastic week.

What else?

Grappling


If you’ve been on this blog at all, you know I like to write grappling rules. Given the amount of crap various systems get for them, at worst I’ll be indistinguishably bad, at best they’ll stand out. I’ve already seen in playtest that they work, and since you’ve seen them before if you’ve been paying attention, I know that they should be closer to “stands out” than “lost in the piles of suck.” 

That doesn’t mean people won’t hate them. There hasn’t been a rule published that someone doesn’t hate. But since I try and constantly refer to my rules for grappling rules while revising them, hopefully I won’t go too far astray.

But I did do a fairly substantial pass, based on playtester feedback, on these rules this week, as a parallel effort to the shield and background work. I think I’ve got one or two things left to resolve, mostly in scaling. Two pixies, for example, who are STR 2 and DEX 20, had a hard time resolving their little pixie wrestling match (“In this corner, we have Tinkerbell . . . in that corner, her nemesis Vidia. Let’s get ready to rumble in the sands of Neverland!”) in a way that wasn’t stupid. I think I have a line on fixing this, and that should solidify those rules.

Plus a new Feat that I really should call the Georges St-Pierre, which is actually called Weapon Grappler, that gives people a bit more ability to use their weapons while grappling, as well as enabling certain “sword-taking” moves by making it easier to get in close to an armed foe. That’s such a cinematic classic that I wanted to enable it explicitly. Optionally (because Feats are optional), but explicitly.

Feats, Stunts,  Techniques, Maneuvers . . . 


The question of Feats, and the recent (and excellent) Unearthed Arcana on them, really brought home one thing – make sure that if you’re writing a feat, that it doesn’t carve out something anyone should be able to do and make it only available if you have a certain thing. 

Anyone should be able to Disarm, Trip, perform a takedown, or even choke someone into unconsciousness. Studying it should make you better, but anyone can play.

So I’ll be including a list, likely in the “optional rules” section, that hopefully provides advice on how to structure such things, and a list of examples. I don’t want to call them maneuvers, I like the idea of a nod to GURPS by calling them Techniques, but may wind up calling them stunts. All are accurate.

Spell List Revisions


I’m dreading this. But the changes to the rules – even though I like ’em – make me have to go through a lot of the combat spells and tweak ’em to better fit within the rules structure of the game. This is tedious, repetitive, formulaic work, but needs to be done. 

It’s one of the reasons, actually, that this is a full RPG book and not just a 20-40 page “here’s a rules hack” document or even a blog post. Stopping play to do math because the spell needs to be tweaked to the new concepts? No way. That’s my job to work it out ahead of time for players and GMs, and with the SRD publication, I can do it for my audience’s convenience. 

Setting Details


I have a great history for the setting that gives a lot to hang the games on, and makes “go forth and murderhobo in the wilderness!” not just something you wink at, but an explicit setting feature. A few other things are done that way too – take the conventional RPG tropes and make them setting-supported.

I’ve contracted with a talented cartographer, the first real money I’ve laid out for this, but it’ll be worth it. I already like where it’s headed, and as she says, she hasn’t even started with the real drawing/art yet.

I suspect that I will be pulled between “release the setting as a separate product” and “put it all in the main book” in terms of how I do it. I will likely reach out to industry pros and get their thoughts on this one.

Oh, and I’ll likely have to work out treasure tables and rewards for the setting, since some of the assumptions in that part of the book might not be straight outta the standard guides.

Monsters and Foes


Again, this could be “here’s the setting-specific monster book!” since just the foes in the SRD works out to be 60,000 words long. That’s a lot of stat blocks. 

What I’ll do is likely put in a good cross-section of foes into the main book, so that it’s stand-alone, and then integrate specific regional foes – literally ‘There Might Be Giants here in this part of the wilderness” into the setting book. That way the core book has enough to start, and if you want more detail done for you, you can get it. If you want to go all “it’s my sandbox and I’ll play like I want to,” booyah, I think that’s great.

Magic Items


One of the setting conceits has to do with magic items, and I won’t go into detail. But they’re not sitting on every shelf in every store in the land. So I need to cherry pick.

This, of course, will not be “thou shalt not,” because GMs are going to do what they want – and should – no matter what. But while you can always pull stuff from wherever, having certain things be ‘yeah, this fits’ and certain others be ‘well, that’ll be different-but-cool’ is part of what I think I need to do as a designer.

Optional Rules


There’s been a lot of “wouldn’t it be cool if . . . ” from my playtesters. Some of that I have just said “no.” Some I have included in the primary text. Many more I say “nice, but I don’t want that level of complexity required to play the game, so Optional.”

Then I go and design the primary rule to be the mid-point of where the optional rules will be.

Primary example: shields. The medium shield is the only shield in the SRD. It’s the only shield in D&D5 as well, I believe, though I’m sure somewhere there are rules for other types, because it’s an obvious reality to emulate.

But the primary rules have just the medium shield. The optional ones will include light shields (bucklers, for example) and large shields (tower shields) with rules for those. Great flavor, easy to picture in your head, but “I want a sword, I want mail armor, and I want a shield” is part of the simplicity I’d like to enable in the game, while still giving the nod to more.

It also keeps my focus on easy assimilation of the game, which is a good thing.

Finishing Touches

After that, the primary writing is done, and we’re into pre-production!

  1. I get to work hard(er) with my layout guy to get a preliminary layout with holes for artwork
  2. I have to provide draft art direction for each hole. I’ve been engaging in some conversations with artists, and have generally been pleased. My goal is to put public domain or donated art in the pre-pro draft. I’m not wealthy enough to lay out the estimated $30,000 I’ll need to do the entire book under self-financing a priori. Alas.
  3. Again, post preliminary layout I will also conduct a recruitment drive for phase 2 playtesting, where I ask probably 50 people to play the game as written in the PDF, and come back to me with comments. 
  4. With a prelim layout and more feedback in place, I can engage an editor and an indexer to do professional jobs with this. I can guarantee, though, that my index will be: “Equipment, p. 99; (see also Gear, Crap, and Treasure)” rather than “Equipment: see Gear.” If you can anticipate enough how someone will want to look for something to have an index line for it, you can include a freakin’ page number. 

At some point I will crowdfund with Kickstarter or IndieGoGo. But my goal is to only do this step when I have a PDF that could be sold as is, though perhaps not with the full production values I’d like. Then the crowdfunding effort is “Make it pretty” rather than “finish it, hopefully, one day.” 

I’d hate to incur the Wrath of +Erik Tenkar, after all. 

And I have a title for the game, but have been coy about sharing it. I wonder when the right time is?

I’m looking for links and pointers to any of the following things

  • Verified public domain black and white and color with fantasy themes.
  • Images that you own personally but are willing to donate
  • Images that you own personally and are willing to defer payment on until a crowdfunding event at a later date

In the second two cases, I’d be looking for a non-exclusive use licence. Go ahead and sell it to someone else if you want. If I actively commission a work (which again would be post-funding or under the premise of deferred compensation), exclusivity would be negotiable on a case-by-case basis.

Anyway, my general philosophy is that you can’t eat exposure, but you can certainly die of it. So I want to pay my artists. In fact, I insist on it. But reality, for the moment, suggests I rely on public domain and donated art as placeholders, eventually to be replaced as I can afford based on crowdfunding.

And the sooner I can start working with actual images, the better.

Thanks for any help!

As the light at the end of the tunnel becomes clearer, it appears that to make the book I want to make, I’m going to need art.

Lots of art. (“a Picasso or a Garfunkel!”)

I’m far enough along in the writing process that while I can clearly see that I have a lot to do, it’s a very bounded lot to do. I have setting ideas and I need to put them to paper. I have some more character classes and backgrounds to work out. I have a couple rules to finalize, but mostly they’re done. I have to migrate a few things that my first-round playtesters have brought up (like variant shield sizes and more-detailed rules for relative strength of creatures) into the alternate rules appendix in the back of the book.


+Luke Campbell pointed out a neat alternative to Microcope that’s both free and a bit more on-point for what I want to do for the history part of the project too, called Dawn of Worlds (that link is a direct download, not a landing page – fair warning).

So now I need to start thinking about money. Because for a book that will likely be 200-250 pages when done, sourcing full-color artwork (plus some monochrome) is going to be expensive. So while I’m thinking about budgeting, I started thinking about where other Kickstarters can and have gone wrong. I’ve got a good source for that in +Erik Tenkar, of course, who has kept track of enough kickstarters that he can probably give me a good list of “don’t do X” behavior.

One thing I think I know to avoid is the promise of “goodies” like custom dice or T-shirts. I may well eventually do that, but I think that my first crowd-funding option will be simple. Judge interest, establish a funding base for a company and secure the right IP for what I want to do, and give me the right budgetary outlook so I can look at printing the books. Lulu is clearly an option, but I have to imagine that a full-on printing house will do it for less money, which helps everyone. My (hopefully existent) audience, because a lower price offering will be under more people’s casual spending threshold, and me, because I can still ensure that a profit is made from this, even if it’s a low one. But with nigh-on 100 pieces of artwork needed to fit the bill for the kind of game I want to make, that’s looking like a near five-figure art budget.

I do OK in my day job, but not so much that I can just shell that out casually on my own hook. Well, unless my job lays me off and they give me “a package,” but that opens up an obvious other can of worms. As the old joke goes, the best way to make a small fortune in the games publishing industry seems to be to start with a far larger fortune . . . 

The other thing that I will need to look at is things like indexing. While a good index seems to provoke a satisfied nod from the buying/gaming public, a bad one brings out packs of deinonychuses. Hungry ones. And deservedly so, because nothing is more frustrating than having to look up a rule, checking the index, and then spending the next five or ten minutes of game time bouncing from place to place and just not finding what you know is there somewhere.

I’ve got a good partner in layout, and his preliminary efforts have been very good. We’ve got a suitable first-round cover that I think can be improved but probably doesn’t need to be. 

So I’m kicking off a game, run by me and with as many of my first-round playtesters as possible. The rules aren’t “frozen,” but at this point we’ll be playing the existing 130,000-word draft as-is, with notes on rules changes only impacting the play of the game if the entire table says so, because the current draft is 6.5.7, and the players deserve a non-shifting set of expectations to play in.

But it’ll let me see what the team wants to do. Do they want to hang out and adventure in town? Guess I need a town. And residents. Try and make it through the early levels using the town or nearby fort as a base of operations? That seems reasonable, and so I’ll need maps, bad guys, and a few areas of play. What about if they want to either bring on hirelings or, perhaps, become hirelings themselves? I’ll need some of both in the NPC chapter, then. 

I’m even tempted to break that into two games, running every two weeks interleaved, so that I can see what more than one party will do.

Then, as things get fleshed out, eventually I’ll want to let other people take what can only be described as a beta release and play it without my help or direct consultation. That will probably coincide – or even be part of – the Kickstarter process, where either heavy contributors, the first N contributors, or some combination of both become my broader playtest pool. I won’t be able to get 100,000 playtesters like Fifth Edition, I suspect (and if I do . . . gulp), but a few dozen to even as many as 100 would be spectacular. 

But putting my day job skills to use, the process/project will go according to a definite schedule that I expect to hit, with beta copies, art, layout, and final copies and printing and delivery like clockwork, because project management is what I do for a living, as a manager of $5M capital equipment design and build, process transfer and troubleshooting. I’m not afraid to ask for help and advice (and if you get the feeling that this post is doing exactly that in places, you’re not wrong) from a wide variety of people, and I expect to act on that advice. 

So buckle up, because this is going to be a wild ride. 

I posed a question on Google+ the other day, asking if a blog is to update content at the same time on any given day, when would readers prefer that content to appear.

By a ratio of 66:1, people took the question in the spirit with which it was intended, which was to the good.

Here’s the quick results, which haven’t really changed shape as the tallies went from 25-40 votes to over 60. I doubt more will change it that much.

So, basically 8 in 20 probably would like to see their content appear before they wake up in the morning, so it’s the equivalent of  reading the newspaper at breakfast. This may well be “let me mark things I want to read later by +1’ing them, or noting interest somehow.” 

The next chunk about 5 in 20 – and this did change hands a bit – is the “before noon” crowd, which probably says “I read blogs during lunch, so get your content up before that.

Combined 6 in 20 are afternoon or night-time readers. So really, that 4pm to midnight range is not when people want new content showing up.

But only 2 in 20 look for new stuff from lunch to the end of work. They’re busy in the afternoons, whether it be weekend or weekday.

So “in the AM” is where it’s at. I’m going to assume that midnight to 2am isn’t really in the running, but I’ll ask a more-specific question about when people sit down to read from about 2am through noon, and see what gives. 

Thanks for participating so far.

***

In other news, I’m going to try and hold to a rough schedule for Gaming Ballistic in 2016. I’ll be playing in more games than last year, which is great. Two GURPS games and maybe a D&D game, each week. Not sure if I can keep up that full pace, but regardless, here’s what I’m hoping to do:

Monday
Reloading Press
Tuesday
GURPS Supers Write-up
Wednesday
Open
Thursday
GURPS-Day, Melee Academy, GURPS 101
Friday
Open
Saturday
D&D Write-up or some other system notes
Sunday
Sunday Review

The “open” days will either be blank, or if I have an idea that doesn’t fit into another category, I’ll throw it down there. We’ll see if I can keep it going.

Well, here we go, Last day of the year.

So, where did I go in 2015?

Volume

I wrote 211 posts in the last year, or about one every 1.75 days. That’s about on my dsired pace of 4 posts every 7 days, so mission accomplished there. 

Content

I only got one or two Firing Squad videos out, and those early on. I had made arrangements to get two more and utterly failed to deliver my usual and desired pace of one every month or two. So that was a miss.

I started playing, and blogging about, D&D Fifth Edition in 2015. Unsurprisingly, these posts utterly dominated my “best posts ever” list due to the huge player base in D&D. My post on the probabilities and math behind The Standard Array rose to become my highest-viewed RPG post. The next-best? Exploring the Advantaged/Disadvantaged mechanic. Two more D&D-themed posts, one on grappling and another using my Horcpower calculator, round out my top 10. The rest are Firing Squad interviews, and the top is a comparison of two real-world pistols on a real-world range. Yeah, there are GURPS stats there, but I think I drew in a lot of people deciding between a Walther PPQ and a Springfield XDM. To quote Tony Start: “Is it too much to ask for both?”

I started to get tired in a blog sense in about June, and I even wrote about it. My daughter was just getting over (or in the middle of?) colic about then, I was travelling a lot, and generally having a rough time. So volume started to decline a bit.

I published a few articles in Pyramid this year – only three, though. They’re fun – Dire and Terrible Monsters was co-authored with Peter. On Target might be my favorite rules hack ever. And Schrodinger’s Backpack was a rare “let’s do less with specificity, rather than more.” I’ve got one more article in the slushpile, but nothing after that, though I’m starting to write a novel alternate set of rules for damage and injury, but I suspect it’ll be quite a while before I up my efforts there. 

I did, however, write 13 posts on comparative RPG design that seem to be well thought of. They were a bloody ton of work to complete, but they helped me flesh out my thinking on RPG combat mechanics, to see where rules matter, where they help, where they hinder, and what works for me from both a design and play perspective. 

I still didn’t get around to finding a Fate, Night’s Black Agents, or Savage Worlds game to try out, which means that some of the writing above was just theoretical.

2016


I’m currently either playing in, or about to play in, two GURPS games and one Basic D&D game. 

I would love to get in on another D&D5 game. I enjoy that system, and the Majestic Wilderlands game that +Rob Conley was running was great fun. Real Life killed that one for many of the players, and we’ve not made the effort to restart it.

The GURPS Castle of Horrors game is struggling a bit. The game is very house rule intensive, and some of the mechanics (Path/Book Magic, a new system for determining number of hits for high-rate attacks, Technical Grappling) require a certain amount of mastery to pull off smoothly. Plus the interface (combo of MapTool and Skype) often leaves something to be desired, and a lot of silence due to lack of clues. And we rarely finish a combat – we tend to call it as “the tide has turned.” This can be frustrating, and we’re in the process of figuring that out. 

Plus,  more philosophically, I think I have an issue with “fish out of water” campaigns in general. I designed my own character, of course, but I made a fairly mundane former special ops, SWAT, private investigator type. He’s got some melee skills, is very, very good with a rifle, and he’s one of the few with Tactics (which we always forget to roll). But this makes for very bimodal fights. Three 7d6 attacks against any mundane creature is pretty much “deader than hell in one round.” Any non-mundane creature tends to be immune, and that puts me in the “flailing around with limited armor – though we fixed that recently – and a sword that I’m not great with.” 

The upcoming game will be +Christopher R. Rice running a Supers game, also in GURPS. This is going to be very eye-opening for me. The highest point totals I’ve played or GM’d with in any GURPS 4e game top out in the 250-400 point range. As a player, I think Cadmus the Warrior Saint was the highest. 

My PC in the upcoming game is just shy of 900 points before he straps on a powered armor suit that adds about 300 more. I’ll probably write more about him in the future, but I want to play a few games and let that settle out.

The final Basic D&D game is with +Jonathan Henry, and it’s got a strong nostalgia factor. Basic D&D has few hard-and-fast rules, so there’s a lot of GM arbitrage. Characters are very fragile, which is part of it. So that one’s just like buttered popcorn to me.

I hope to get my daughter into RPGing this year. Maybe a Fate superheroes game, which would give me a chance to play/run Fate, and the rules-light nature of the system should allow her age group to rock out. More boardgames with her as well – she’s taken to Pandemic like a fish to water, and we were gifted with King of Tokyo, Rampage, and Castle Panic for Xmas this year. Maybe get her into X-Wing Miniatures, since she loves Star Wars too.

Looking back at 2015, it feels like it was worse than it was. I mean, +Jeffro Johnson hit me with the #3 spot in his Blog-olympics for the year (I was #1 in 2014 on the strength of the Firing Squad interviews, and #3 for Violent Resolution), so there was something valuable there. I had some of my most widely-read posts as well, thanks to branching out into D&D. 

But with a severe injury setting in for the last quarter (I blew myself up on Oct 6, 2015), sitting at the computer has felt like a chore. I did write 37 posts in that time, or about 2.5 days between posts. But that’s why it seems slow, I guess – that’s a significant slowdown from my usual pace.

I think I need to return to my prior habits. Two gameplay writeups a week, and two or three RPG content articles. The Melee Academy and GURPS 101 (maybe expand that to Gaming 101?) series were quite fun and popular, and those haven’t seen real attention for a while.

So, 2015 felt like a loss of focus. 2016 needs to get it back.

Challenge accepted. Happy New Year!

When I wrote Technical Grappling for GURPS, I had a basic design philosophy: use the same concepts as a striking roll – attack, defense, damage – to inflict a variable amount of effect on your foe. In this case, the effect is control and restraint, rather than injury.

+Peter V. Dell’Orto liked the concept enough to strip it down a bit and use it to great effect in his Dungeon Fantasy campaign.

I wanted to see if I could break into the D&D world a bit, and when I saw that Swords & Wizardry, my reintroduction to the D&D world courtesy of +Matt Finch, has some mechanical issues with the grappling rules, and that D&D5 was interesting but not that much better, I decided to collaborate with Peter and see if we could bring TG to D&D.

We decided on the OSR and Swords and Wizardry rules because they’re simple. One can extrapolate from S&W to other editions of D&D because you can add stuff. Feats if you’d like, treating monsters (which in S&W have a fairly minimal stat block) like characters, or using D&D5‘s Conditions to define results? All of those can be added to the system, but stripping them out to play S&W would be quite difficult on the fly.

In any case, Peter’s big on just enough rule for the job, so he’s a perfect compliment to my tendencies to the reverse.

I hope you like Gothridge Manor #8 – go, um, grab it, wrestle it to the ground, and let us know what you think!

New blog alert!

+Michael Eversberg II is blogging, and covering topics near and dear to my heart. Weapons, guns, fighting, GURPS, and he’s got d20 stuff in there too.

Go check out his stuff, and you’ll find longish, well thought out posts covering a lot of combative stuff.

Chain Link and Concrete. Go read it.