Sunday, 19 March 2017

New Frontiers

I'm going to see if I can get into a routine of posting on Sundays to talk about what I've been working on for the past week. On top of my current freelancing jobs, I've been spending a lot of time thinking about Ark Frontier.

Ark Frontier will be a setting and campaign supplement for PowerFrame. I want to play to the system's strengths, so in short, it's a technofantasy hexcrawl inspired by JRPGs such as Final FantasyWild Arms, and Star Ocean, and also by an obscure old anime called Genesis Surviver Gaiarth.

The Premise

Civilisation on [WORLD] is on the brink of being wiped out by monsters in an event called the Phantom Storm, when a generation ship from Earth — the Ark in the title — lands. While the humans can't save the world, they are able to use their advanced technology to fight back the Phantoms long enough to get a sizeable number of refugees on board. Thankfully the Ark was designed to turn into a self-sustaining arcology city on arrival, and so tens of thousands of people are able to weather out the Storm.

Eighteen years later...

Although many thought it would never end, the Phantom Storm has finally abated. Phantoms still roam a land that is now unrecognisable, but they are no longer a constant threat. Refugees from the Ark — some of whom have never seen the sky of their home-world — emerge to explore and reclaim this new frontier.

Fusion Culture

One thing I wanted to do was come up with a frontier exploration setting that didn't either re-cast native people as "savages" to be wiped out (orcs, inscrutable aliens), or erase them altogether. Instead, the uninvited colonists from Earth (who were perhaps fleeing some desperate calamity of their own) opened their arms to the local peoples; recognising the value in saving a civilisation on the brink of extinction (and one that could help them understand the nature of their new world), and uniting in the face of overwhelming adversity.

That's not to say there aren't tensions within the new culture that has been forged in the heart of the Ark. Traditionalists hold onto their old ways, while the youth of three species have grown up together and look to the future. There are feelings of resentment, but also gratitude and reliance.

On top of the humans and two native species (that I haven't completely figured out, so I'll talk about them later), the events since the landing have split people into several demographic groups.

Natives lived through the Phantom Storm and boarded the Ark as refugees. Some are grateful to the humans for coming to their aid, while others resent the interlopers coming uninvited. These are the last survivors of the old civilisation, and keep its traditions alive as best they can.

Landers are humans who crewed the Ark when it arrived. Most of them are part of a "generation crew" contingent who stayed awake for the hundred-year voyage, but a few were woken from cryosleep shortly after arrival. Most were happy to help the Natives (whether out of humanitarian ideals or pragmatic considerations), but some have grown to resent their presence and their drain on resources as the years wore on.

Arkborn are children who were born on the Ark once the doors were closed against the Phantom Storm. The very oldest of this generation may be those carried onboard as infants, too young to remember a life outside. This group is the most culturally united, with members of all three species mingling freely. Many chafe against traditions, and want to explore the outside world.

Sleepers are humans who have only recently been awoken from cryosleep. Due to the influx of refugees, the Ark could not support all the humans being awoken, and so thousands have remained in stasis until the colony could begin expanding. They still remember Earth, and many now suffer from culture shock as they are dropped into the new society that formed while they were sleeping.

While the focus will be on exploration and trying to figure out the mystery behind the Phantoms, I'm hoping that a well-thought-out culture and differing points of view will create dramatic tension and provide opportunities for intelligent antagonists.

That's all for this week! Let me know in the comments if you have any questions or ideas regarding Ark Frontier.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Blade Bind is available!

Hey, so it's been a while since I posted here! Once the Blade Bind Kickstarter concluded successfully, I was head-down finishing the work and keeping the Backers up-to-date on Kickstarter. I'm pleased to report that I delivered the project on-time, and the Blade Bind PDF, book, and cards are now available to the public on DriveThruRPG!

Available in softcover or glorious hardcover!

A lot of people have been downloading the free cards PDF, but I'd like to point out that the print-and-play PDF is just a courtesy product; it only includes the Blade Reference Cards, and you also get that print-and-play file when you download the rulebook PDF. It's useful if you buy the book without also getting the PDF I suppose, although the PDF is included free with physical copies.

Plus, you can get a cool tuck-box for the physical cards!
A big thank-you to all my Backers for making Blade Bind a success!

What's Next?

I'm working on several freelance projects at the moment, as well as some supplements for PowerFrame (including a setting book). I also have some ideas for a Blade Bind supplement, and I pulled the Thunder Hunters document out of storage to take a fresh look. So there's plenty of stuff keeping me busy! I'll try to post about what I'm working on soon.

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.