Thursday, 13 October 2016

The Voice of the Blade

One of the intriguing things about Blade Bind is the way that the Blades influence play. They are sentient entities with their own personalities and goals, yet nobody actually plays a Blade. Their personas are not given voice, yet they are impossible to ignore.


At the surface-level, the Blades influence play with their appearance. They are strange, menacing, often partially organic, and kind of creepy. Some of the strongly-themed Blades provide hints as to their origins and personalities, such as the archangel feather Michael or the Japanese demon Oni — although the entities themselves are likely to be simply co-opting mythical symbology to influence their wielders. The Blade designs act as a visual cue that the players can riff off and use to expand their own backstory and personality. The players might also decide that their Blades communicate telepathically, or even that they can speak, but that's down to freeform roleplaying.

The Techniques unique to each Blade also influence the way the Chosen fight, opening up different approaches and playstyles.


Blades deeply influence the core of the system through the Power they provide to their wielders. The Blades want you to have more Power than you can control, because then they can take you over and pursue their true objective. To that end, they tempt you to increase your Power each time you fight. It's your choice... but it's so tempting, and if you don't take the opportunity you may find yourself quickly outmatched. And if you lose too many fights, you'll find your Will eroded, and the Blade will start to use your moments of weakness to involuntarily feed you more Power. Once you gain Power, you can't decrease it — so every point ramps up the pressure to keep your Will high.

It's when a Chosen finally overreaches and becomes Bladebound that the voice of the Blade is most clearly heard. The character loses their free will, and must follow a prioritised list of actions. The Blade ultimately wants its Enmity (one of the other Blades, against which it holds an age-old hatred) to become Bladebound so the two can duel in their true forms, and one will destroy the other permanently. To that end, it'll destroy everything its own Chosen and its Enmity's Chosen hold dear.

It's possible to thwart the Blades and avoid their tragic race towards death and destruction. Defeating a Bladebound causes its Power to drop, and you can give the Chosen new purpose that may allow them to snap out of it and regain control. And there are a couple of unlikely (though possible) situations that can end the game without anyone having to die.

Rather than being portrayed by a player at the table, the voice of the Blade is forged into the very structure of the game.

Sunday, 2 October 2016

Blade Bind Kickstarter

The Blade Bind Kickstarter is on now, and runs until 27 October 2016! It's a bit of an unusual campaign, so I thought I'd talk a bit about how it's set up and what I hope to achieve. You can check the Blade Bind tag for other blog articles discussing the game's development.

At-Cost Fulfilment

I'm using DriveThruRPG to fulfil both digital and print rewards, and I've decided to go with at-cost physical Rewards. This does mean that Backers pay part up-front and will pay DTRPG separately for the printing and shipping after the campaign's finished. However, this approach has the advantage that I don't need to inflate prices to cover potential price-hikes, which means that each Backer will pay the best possible price. I'm also able to offer Rewards at less than the planned RRP, so you really will be getting a good deal. This also explains why the project has such a low funding goal.

If you aren't keen to pay before-and-after costs, you can always pick up the PDF-only option for less than the RRP.


Apart from a few illustrations (that I'm doing myself) and final details, the book is all but complete. It's written, playtested, and laid out; I just need to add the finishing touches and export the PDFs. Even if the Kickstarter doesn't fund, I'll still be releasing it on DTRPG in the next few months.

I have a couple of other items planned — a printer-friendly PDF rulebook, and a deck of custom cards. The cards will be available to everyone at the PDF level and higher as a print-and-play PDF, and I'm also offering them as a quality POD card product. The cards include a standard card deck with built-in setup prompts, and thirteen cards that provide Blade summaries for easy reference.

So since I don't need the Kickstarter to fund actual production costs, why am I running one?


Firstly, I think a Kickstarter is a good way to get people talking about the game, and to provide a focus for interest and discussion. It raises visibility in a way that releasing it directly on DTRPG doesn't.

Review and Feedback

Secondly, and more importantly, I want to use the Kickstarter to crowdsource feedback. While I'm pretty happy with the game, there may be unclear explanations or missing details that I simply can't see because I'm too close to the material. By getting more people reading and hopefully playing the game, I am hoping to catch any final rough spots and polish the game smooth before it's released publicly.

I'm going to be sending the current ashcan draft to backers at the end of the Kickstarter, and declaring a one-month review period. Once I've taken any feedback into account and made the game as good as it can be, I'll upload the final PDF and set up the print version.

If I just released the game off my own bat, there's a chance that I might then find a mistake or decide to revise a rule. Updating the digital version is easy, but updating a POD file means it's unavailable to the public while I wait for a new proof, which can take 3 to 7 weeks to arrive here in Australia. I'd rather avoid that inconvenience if I can.

In Conclusion...

Backers will get access to the game before the public release; they'll have the opportunity to help me improve the game and make it as good as it can be; and, by joining the Kickstarter, you'll be paying less than the final RRP.

So yes, it's a bit of an unconventional campaign, and even if you don't decide to back it I hope you'll give it a look once it's released to the public!

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Shifting Power

I've been reviewing and revising Blade Bind over the last couple of weeks, having settled on an approach that addresses as many of the problems discovered during playtesting as possible. Yet, recently I realised that with all the changes, I've kind of removed an important element that's been in the rules since the start.

This is going to get a bit game-mechanics technical, but hey, it's the name of the blog, right?

How Things Started

This is to do with Power, one of the two major defining stats. The more Power you have, the more cards you draw at the start of a Duel, and therefore the more likely you are to win. You start with a little, and it slowly increases as the game progresses. If Power ever becomes higher than your Will, you lose control and become Bladebound (which is a Bad Thing). You generally can't lose it once you get it. In the original rules, you gain Power:

  • Voluntarily, at the start of a Duel: This is important because it represents your Blade tempting you to accept more Power, and because it's your decision that will ultimately doom you.
  • Automatically, on a loss: This is important because it's a consolation prize. If you win a duel you get to change things to achieve your goals, so on a loss you gain more Power which both brings you closer to losing control and makes you more likely to win your next fight.

What Changed?

In some of the playtests, it became apparent that Power values were getting too high too quickly, resulting in duels with lots of cards that took longer to resolve without being more enjoyable. There was also a problem at the start of the game where the first character to lose a duel would end up two Power ahead of anyone who hadn't been in a duel yet, which is a huge difference early on.

To address those issues, I tried out a few alternatives. In the end, I settled on the following arrangement:

  • You gain Power voluntarily, at the start of a Duel (as above).
  • On a loss, you lose a point of Will from your starting pool: Everyone starts with three free points of Will. As far as becoming Bladebound goes, it doesn't make a difference whether you gain Power or lose Will, so this is a handy way to keep the pacing the same while preventing Power inflation.
    • If you've already lost your three starting Will, you gain a point of Power instead.

What's the Problem?

I ran a playtest with the revised rules, and it all seemed to go well. People started to risk going Bladebound at about the same time as they ran out of their starting Will and began gaining Power, so there was a sudden explosion of Power just as the game came to a climax. Brilliant, right? 

I thought so, but then I re-read a passage I wrote about how defeating your friends just makes them more powerful so they can come back and hit you harder next time, and realised it was no longer true. Winning or losing doesn't really affect how likely either side is to win or lose next time.

What's the Solution?

I have one possible solution, but it may require a little tweaking, playtesting, or feedback before I lock it in. It's the same as the revised version, but with one addition: On a loss, you also gain a point of Resonance.

Resonance is the power-source for your Blade's special Techniques, super-powered moves that allow you to break the rules in interesting ways. Normally you only gain Resonance when your Blade binds against another (like the game's name, right?), so it can be a hard-to-get resource. Gaining Resonance on a loss doesn't increase your card-count, but it does make you harder to beat. I think it's a cool idea because I'd like to see more Techniques used in play, and having more Resonance will certainly increase the opportunities to use them. 

I'm thinking of tweaking it so you gain 1 Resonance for each point of Will you've lost so far (so, 1 to 3), which would be huge since the 3-Resonance Techniques are very powerful. However, I'll need to playtest this idea in a full game to see if that amount of Resonance will unreasonably affect the flow of the game.

Monday, 1 August 2016

Blade Bind: Sword Practise

I just released Blade Bind: Sword Practise, a FREE introduction to the card-based duelling system that forms the mechanical heart of Blade Bind. With it, you can get a feel for the sword-fighting and test your skill against a friend or a random game-controlled NPC.

The full game includes much more of course, including —

  • A character creation system that sets the Chosen up in a web of conflicting goals.
  • Techniques that make each of the predefined Blade flavoursome and unique. You can also pick and match to create your own custom Blade.
  • A Will/Power system that tempts you to increase your power while walking the fine line of control over your Blade.
  • Winning a Duel gives you the power to achieve a goal, or rewrite a goal for yourself or one of the losers.
  • Quickstart setups for a three or four player game.
  • Advice for facilitating a session.

I still have some illustrations to do, but the bulk of the editing and layout is done already. I'm planning to run a small Kickstarter in the next couple of months, mostly so I can pay for an editor to give it a once-over, and also to crowd-source a bunch of external feedback and playtesters so I can get it into the best possible shape before releasing the PDF and print-on-demand books to the public.

I'll talk more about my Kickstarter plans in another post.

Friday, 15 July 2016

Blade Bind's Final Form!

Okay, that's not what the picture is actually of, but I recently locked down some of the major details in the way a game of Blade Bind progresses that crystallise it into a “final form”.

This is what happens to you if you lose control and let the Blade take over.
The one part I still have to finalise is the Blade Techniques – special powers unique to each Blade. They will need a bit of fine-tuning and testing before they're ready, but they are minor details compared to the overall chassis of the game engine. And in fact, I needed to know all the details of how the game was going to work before I could make sure some of the Techniques would be suitable!

I ran an in-person playtest a few weeks ago, and was hoping to run another to try out an alternative Will/Power progression structure, but game groups are proving hard to organise at the moment. After talking it through with Nette, who played in the aforementioned game, we realised that the alternative didn't look so appealing on paper for a few reasons. Having rejected it, that means I'm moving ahead using the rules from the previous playtest.

One of the main issues I've been trying to fix is card inflation. In early versions of the game, you could choose to gain Power at the start of a Duel, and also gained it automatically on a loss. Since the number of cards you draw is equal to Power, it was easy to end up with eight-card hands before the game was even close to ending, which meant the fights dragged out without much extra enjoyment or strategy.

In the new version of the rules, you start with three free Will. You can still choose to increase your Power at the start of a Duel. Each time you lose, you lose one of those initial points of Will. Once you run out of them, you gain a point of Power on a loss. The net result is the same, but you don't get the massive inflation of Power until you run out of your three starting Will – which also seems to be the point at which people are in danger of becoming Bladebound and triggering the end-game. It also helps address another early problem we had, where those who participated in the first scene gained a significant Power head-start.

What's the big deal with Will and Power anyway? Well, if your Power ever goes higher than your Will, you become Bladebound – the Blade fuses with you and takes control, using you as a tool for its own vengeance while also laying waste to everything in its path.

So, what's next? Apart from the Techniques, I need to go through and revise the manuscript a couple more times. I want to add a page about facilitating the game. The layout design is pretty much ready and waiting for the content, but I want to make sure I have the manuscript well polished before I start on that.

And, of course, I need to do a bunch more illustrations.

Friday, 10 June 2016

PowerFrame RPG – One Year Old!

It's been one year since the PowerFrame Core Rulebook went live for sale on DriveThruRPG! I thought I'd take the opportunity to look back on how it's done, and look forward to the year ahead.

I know a lot of companies don't release sales figures, so I thought someone might find it useful if I put some out there. Keep in mind, PowerFrame is a first-release title from an unknown author, with no Kickstarter fanfare and limited social media reach, so the figures are no doubt modest. But if you're looking at releasing your first game you might be in the same boat, and might like to have some idea what you could expect.

I did do a bit of promotional ground-work, posting art as I finished it off and discussing aspects of the system on the blog. I also released the free PowerFrame Primer about a month before the Core Rulebook, which not only let people see whether the system interested them but also gave me a way to contact a self-selected audience once the Core Rulebook came out.

Core Rulebook

The initial Core Rulebook release was PDF-only, $10 for a 240 page book. Initial sales were good; I would have been happy with 10 sales in the first week, but I ended with 16 in the first day. I sold 44 copies in June 2015 (21 days), and hit 50 not long after, reaching Copper Best Seller.

In August 2015, I released a print-on-demand version for $29.99. This helped boost sales figures a bit, as people who were waiting for a hardcopy started coming on board.

In October I released the Spell Companion supplement, which again helped buoy sales of the Core Rulebook a little. After reaching 100 units though, things began to plateau, with zero to two sales per month. There was a spike in December when Games on Board, a game store in my local area, bought several print copies.

In February 2016 I offered a $5 discount on both PDF and Print, and once more began to move copies – mostly PDFs, but the odd book as well. I finally reached 125 units sold, and the Core Rulebook became a Silver Best Seller!

In May I released the Fantasy Races supplement, which once again seems to have spiked sales in the Core Rulebook and other products.

Now, a year after the initial release, I have sold 151 copies of the Core Rulebook, 22 of which (15%) were print books. Of the profit earned (somewhere just under $800), around 60% has been from PDF sales and 40% from print sales. I can attribute most of the recent sales to the price drop, but at the same time many of those customers also picked up the supplements. I'm not sure if I should end the discount once I have another supplement or two out there, or if I should keep it low as an incentive to buy lots of associated product!

Accumulated sales for the past year. The Core Rulebook is the clear best-seller. You can see how the Spell Companion followed along with the Map Packs before swinging upward. The Primer isn't shown, as it dwarfs all the other figures. 


If there's one thing I can say for certain, it's that people love free stuff! The Primer saw over 200 downloads in the first month, and has over 600 downloads to date. That's a conversion rate of nearly 25% into sales of the Core Rulebook (although I'm sure some people don't bother downloading the Primer before making their purchase). I think the Primer really helps people to make an informed decision whether to buy the game or not.

Squexagons & Hexes Within Hexes

I released the Squexagons blank map pack in May 2014, while I was still working on PowerFrame, to test the waters at DTRPG and see what was involved with setting up a title. It has been a very slow seller, with 11 sales in the first month and an overall average around one sale per month (34 sales to date).

A year later, I released the Hexes Within Hexes blank map pack, which has shown almost identical sales figures to Squexagons. Both still get occasional sales, but they are never going to hit the big times.

I am considering making some hex map terrain packs, with tile-able and rotatable scenery designed to print on A4/Letter paper, to see whether they do any better than blank grids. I think it's worth an experiment; there's a lot of competition out there, but there's also bound to be a lot of demand for new and different scenery.

Spell Companion

I released the Spell Companion in October 2015. Initially it followed the same sales graph as the blank map packs, so I was discouraged and didn't think it was worth putting work into more supplements. However, the sales graph really picked up once I offered the discount on the Core Rulebook, and it overtook the long-selling Squexagons in April this year. It's currently my second-biggest seller and revenue earner, and with 46 sales it's very close to earning its own Copper Best Seller badge!

Fantasy Races

I'd been working on the Fantasy Races supplement when the Spell Companion came out, but shelved it until I noticed the improved sales. I finished off the art and released it in May 2016. It had an immediate sales surge, outperforming all of my other small releases to date. It's still accumulating first-month sales, but in its first three weeks it's already sold more copies than any other supplement has in the first month.

Sales per day, for the first 31 days of each product's release. Again, the Core Rulebook is the runaway best performer. You can see the Spell Companion mimicking the Map Packs, and the Fantasy Races tracing a similar graph but with an initial boost (most likely due to my now-established audience).

The Future

I can only speculate that either Fantasy Races is the sort of supplement people want to see, or else it's a natural and cumulative benefit of my expanding audience. Either way, it's encouraged me to start working on more supplements. I don't really want to get stuck on a "supplement treadmill", but it's worthwhile to work on them when I don't have any freelance jobs on, and in-between working on my new games.

Currently I'm putting the finishing touches (and art) on Pieces of Six, a massed battle supplement that lets you use regular PowerFrame character write-ups. I'm also outlining and chipping away at content for Modern Creatures, Gothic Races, and Mecha Files. I am also thinking of releasing a scenario, or small city setting/situation pack for people to drop into their games, or maybe even working on a full-fledged setting sourcebook. I have a wealth of material from the past twenty years of PowerFrame campaigns, although most of it will need to be dusted off and given a critical eye in the light of modern system revisions.

Thanks for your interest and support in the past year! I hope you'll stick around and keep an eye on what I'm up to in the years ahead.

Friday, 13 May 2016

What's So Great About Blade Bind?

It's my birthday today, and yet another attempt to run a face-to-face playtest of Blade Bind has fallen through (I think this makes five times, now)! But not to fret – I've run a couple of online playtests since my last development post, and I just had a brainwave yesterday that seems promising, so things are looking generally positive!

I was going to write up playtest reports, but after waiting a few days to let the outcomes percolate through my brain I kind of ran out of steam on that front. Today, rather than bore you with my mechanical musings (which I may save for a later post), I thought I'd talk a bit about why I think Blade Bind is so cool.

Tense Duelling!

I've used my several years' experience with historical fencing to develop a card-based duelling system that's abstracted and relatively simple, yet with all the tension, tactics, and risk-taking of an actual sword-fight.

Evocative Prompts!

During the setup, random prompts and evocative art help the group quickly give shape to their characters and the things they fight about. In one playtest, the Blades Michael (the archangel feather) and Templar (the plate-armour) led to a story about an esoteric Christian cult and the last guardian of the Holy Grail. Drawing for random archetypes and relationships has led to intriguing combinations, such as a selfish ascetic and a pair of volatile lovers.

Instant Action!

Once the setup's complete, the game explodes out of the blocks with instant conflict! While your power will increase as the game progresses, the stakes are high right from the start. As your very first scene you can attempt to seize control of an organisation, assassinate your target, or destroy the evil artefact. The stakes only get higher as you wrestle with your own Blade for control of your burgeoning power.

Relentless Pressure!

As the game progresses, there's a struggle between trying to get your Power high enough to win duels, while not having it exceed your Will (because you'll turn into a "Bladebound" puppet controlled by the Blade). The Blade constantly tempts you to raise your Power, but losing your grip on the things you care about causes your Will to slip. While Will constantly shifts up and down, Power can only increase – thus the balancing act becomes ever-more precarious.

Structured Gameplay

Inspired by Shinobigami, Blade Bind provides a rigid scene structure and conflict resolution. While you can try to persuade people to your cause, Duelling is the only mechanical resolution system. The winner gets to decide the fate of whatever's at stake, or they can rewrite one of their own goals or a goal belonging to one of the vanquished.

While it's possible to resolve the game purely mechanically with no roleplaying, the setup creates characters with a web of relationships and motivations, which tends to inform your decisions. It really is designed around melodrama and tragedy, and roleplaying your character to the hilt with scenery-chewing portrayals really brings the game to life. You may find your character's goals forcibly rewritten, but as with Fates in Tenra Bansho Zero, this also helps inform your roleplaying and describes your character's story arc. When people really get into character and describe cool, evocative lead-ups to duels, it's like story-mode on a console fighting-game!

In Conclusion

While Blade Bind certainly won't be everyone's cup of tea, I'm really excited to be developing it, and hope that I can connect with players who revel in the experience it creates!