Thursday, 31 October 2013

To Kickstart or not to Kickstart?

I'm hoping to get the PowerFrame core rulebook squared away early next year, and have it ready to release commercially. I'm looking into options, and seem to be at a bit of acrossroad: do I Kickstart it, or just put it up on DriveThruRPG when it's ready to go?

There aren't all that many reasons for me to run a Kickstarter that I can see. It would be nice to have an up-front lump sum so I can afford to spend some quality time finishing off the document, and it would be pleasant to get a return on the capital outlay I've made on Adobe CS software over the years. And it might give me an idea of how much interest there is in the game, which would be a useful gauge - do I keep writing and developing things for it, or should I move on to something else? Kickstarters also tend to garner quite a bit of attention and publicity, and I would probably access a wider audience of potential customers than through my current social media channels.

On the flip side, I'm not planning on doing an actual print run. If anything, physical copies will be print on demand. Apart from that, I don't want to complicate a Kickstarter with physical rewards even though custom dice would be cool. And even if nobody pays me a cent, I can keep working away on the document in my spare time until I'm happy to release it. Kickstarters also demand a fair amount of effort to simply run the campaign, and there are logistical considerations such as taxes to take into account. I'm not entirely sure I have enough on offer to actually raise a decent amount.

So my other option is to work on the game until I'm happy with it, and then simply publish it on DTRPG for PDF and POD sales. I would then promote it through my various channels, and probably generate a small volume of sales in the "long tail" model. I could also develop and release additional material if and when I develop it, without being beholden to Kickstarter deadlines.

So, opinions? For a game that's almost finished, and for which my production costs (apart from prior investment in software) are negligible, is it worth running a Kickstarter? Would it simply be easier and just as good in the long run to just publish it on DTRPG?

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Rippers: Prologue

Since our D&D Next DM's on an extended holiday, a few of us from that group decided to get together for a game in Savage Worlds' "Rippers" setting. I'm GMing; there were going to be three players, but James wasn't able to make it for this first session.

Michael had made his character ahead of time, but Annette had been otherwise occupied. We started work shortly before Michael arrived, and managed to get her character organised after a couple of hours. Although she enjoys roleplaying, she's expressed a dislike for character creation, so we discussed the issues around that a bit. Character creation in some games can be a bit of a slog, and while Savage Worlds is not quite as convoluted as the current D&D Next, it is up there a bit. The need to have a good grasp of the available Edges is probably the biggest hurdle to overcome. I've also found that, instead of buying Edges and Hindrances near the end, character creation in Savage Worlds is usually best done by starting with the Edges you want and then buying Attributes and Skills afterwards to ensure you meet the Edge requirements.

Annette explained that she dislikes the process of trying to find the right way to express her character concept in game terms. It's one thing to describe them in prose, but another thing entirely to translate that into numbers and game options. "If you want your character to do X, you have to take points in Y" was just not engaging or exciting for her. The pitfalls of the concept-to-mechanics process were also made abundantly clear when Michael's professor of archaeology turned out to not actually have the Knowledge (Archaeology) skill - an omission that was rectified in play by swapping out one of his other skills. The need to manipulate multiple interacting segments takes a certain amount of concentration; not only do you have to know which Edges to take, but Attributes are affected by Edges, and Skills are affected by both Edges and Attributes.

Character creation is often seen as a chore - a necessary evil that needs to be suffered in order to get to the fun bit. Mind you, some people do actually enjoy the character creation process itself, although that probably depends on the game. I talked a bit about some of the other games I'd run lately that approach character creation somewhat differently. Apocalypse World (and the *World games in general) give you a guided package deal where all of the thematic choices have been compiled for you, so you just need to go through a checklist and pick some stuff that sounds cool. Some games such as Fiasco and Annalise build character creation into the session itself. Annalise also starts with very vague character outlines which become fleshed out during play, while Fiasco defines characters only by their relationships and requires you to hash out a consensus of who these people are in freeform discussion before the game proper gets underway. In Fate, a high concept aspect such as "Disgraced Professor of Archaeology from Cambridge" would tend to avoid the problem of forgetting to buy all the mechanical widgets to suit your concept, although Fate still has Skills and Stunts to select or build.

During the session Annette also mentioned that she didn't mind spending Experience Points to buy more things for her character; it's just the huge lump of character creation that's a bit much to deal with all at once. I suggested a system (like Leverage or one suggestion in Fate) where you start out with little more than a broad character concept and then fill in the details as they come up in play. "Oh, we have to get away? Well, it turns out I'm a stunt driver! And I can hotwire this car!" It's something I might look into using heavily in a future game.

Anyway, on to the Actual Play!

  • Annette plays Gregory Pratchett, an alienist with a gift for physically battling the forces of darkness. His encounter with a werewolf led to the Rippers showing an interest in his talents.
  • Michael plays William Baker, a Professor of Archaeology who uses knowledge as a weapon. On his expeditions across Europe he began uncovering signs of the occult. In Eastern Europe, one of his parties was all but wiped out by a vampire. He was kicked out of Cambridge for publicly airing his views on the supernatural, losing his tenure and his marriage. The Rippers recruited him shortly afterwards.

The two recent recruits to the Rippers' London Lodge meet briefly with Johann Van Helsing himself. He welcomes them to the organisation, and immediately provides them with a mission. The Rippers' information network had picked up news of a disturbance at Canary Wharf. It sounds as though it might be Cabal-related, but the Rippers don't have any definite information yet. The pair are sent off into the foggy London night to see what they can discover.

Thick fog rolls across the dockside warehouses. On the other side of the street, the wan light from a tavern is the only cheer to be seen in the gloom, but the place does not boast the raucous sounds normally heard from such common establishments. The pair make their entrance to find the bar nearly empty, with only the innkeeper and a few sullen workers nursing their drinks. A group of three are gathered near the back, two men comforting their obviously shaken comrade - Alf, the man who had been attacked.

The overdressed Rippers interview Alf, gaining his confidence with drink, coin, and encouraging words. He tells them that he was working in one of the warehouses when a long, narrow crate burst open, smashing him in the head with a flying plank and knocking him to the ground. He was dazed, but recalled the scent of roses and had the vague impression of a form shambling away. By the time he came to his senses, his mates had come to assist and drag him away. The men refused to return to work, much to the chagrin of their boss, so the wharves have lain idle since late afternoon. The men aren't sure where the ship that carried the crates had sailed from, but believe it had come through the Mediterranean. Pratchett and Baker ask if Alf will show them to the site of the incident, but no force will motivate him. His friend George, however, is eager to help.

Baker manages to jimmy the lock on the gate, and they enter the docks. George leads them between rows of warehouses. The eerie silence is broken only by the noise of movement some distance to their right, but they ignore it and press on to the warehouse where the incident took place. The storage area stands unchanged since the afternoon, with a devastated crate on the floor and stacks of them against the wall. Baker discovers a scrap of dried cloth in the ruined box, which smells vaguely of perfume and dried herbs. Pratchett breaks open one of the other crates, and discovers a mummified corpse nestled beneath the packing straw! The sound of rattling chains from the front gate cannot deter them from their investigation, and they are loath to go see what it is in case they disturb some night-watchman. Pratchett runs the corpse through with his sword-cane to test it for signs of animation, but it appears to simply be a dry husk. They search for clues as to the crates' origins, but find only a cargo lot number stamped on them.

They hear a strangled scream from the street, and finally call off their investigation to rush to the front gate. They see a drunk man sitting against a lamp-post with his neck at a fatal angle, and catch sight of a stiff form shambling away into the fog. They pursue it, and the figure turns to confront them - a mummy, risen from the tomb, with blazing green eyes. It prepares to attack, but Pratchett speaks to it in Ancient Egyptian and persuades it that they have been sent to help it in its task. In a dry husky voice it hisses "the Eye of Osiris" and motions for them to follow.

Their undead friend leads them through a series of back alleys, thankfully sparing them from any more run-ins with the public. However, it becomes apparent that the mummy's destination is a soiree at an inner-city town house. They try to persuade it to wait until the party is over, but its master compels it inexorably towards its goal. Since they can't deter it, they are reluctantly forced to fight it. Pratchett whips out his sword-cane, and Baker attempts to put a couple of ruonds in it from his pistol. The mummy tries to shrug off the attacks and make for the garden wall, but Pratchett pursues it and stries it down. As it falls, it crumbles into a pile of dust and bones. Pratchett is unimpressed, as he was hoping to keep it as a pet. Baker Rips some powdered bone from the crumbled corpse to turn into extracts.

The pair gatecrash the party to attempt to gain control of the Eye of Osiris, but just as Baker is about to make an announcement to clear the crowd he spots Johannes Van Helsing among the guests. Van Helsing heads for a side-entrance, and the two wayward Rippers take this as a cue to withdraw, encouraged by the doorman. Before they can be escorted off the property, Van Helsing catches up with them and sends the doorman away. They move to a secluded garden courtyard, where they debrief Van Helsing on the mummy and the Eye of Osiris. Van Helsing explains that the party is being held by his associate, a minor aristocrat who is an avid collector of Egyptian artefacts. He will investigate the Eye of Osiris personally, and instructs the two Rippers to return to the Lodge, get some manpower, and return to the wharves. He also expects a full report in the morning.

Unfortunately, by the time they return the site has been cleared. There's no sign of the dead man or the crates of mummies. Even the broken crate has been cleared away. Their investigation frustrated, they return to the Lodge, where Baker creates two extracts from the mummy's remains.

>>> Chapters 1 to 3

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Ongoing Development

Here's a review of the development work I've been doing lately on my games Neon Burn and PowerFrame.

Neon Burn

For the last couple of weeks, since the Neon Burn playtests, I haven't been doing much actual writing. Instead, I've been letting some ideas about Neon Burn percolate through my brain. They are just about at the point where I can consider putting together a revised framework for the game.

So to recap, the main issues I found during the playtests were:

  • Awarding Sparks to players when they portrayed their characters' Passions felt like a cheap bribe, and led to some undesirable "button-mashing." Since Passions don't change much, I also get the feeling that this would lead to repetitive sessions since you can always be rewarded for the same things.
  • Talents weren't enough to keep people engaged during the Event. They simply didn't take much mental effort, and from the amount of Sparks we had, there was no incentive not to spam them whenever they made sense - so, no tactical decision-making.

Taking out the Passions > Sparks > Talents pretty much guts the core of the Build-Up, and also leaves the character creation process a little bereft. Therefore, something else needs to take its place. Here's what I have so far:

  • Characters
    • Roles still exist.
    • Talents may change into a single Special Ability for each Role, or maybe a choice from a limited list.
    • Sparks have currently been removed; instead, Talents may have some other restriction on their use. They may be reintroduced somehow.
  • Scenes
    • The Lead can flexibly define their own mechanical goal for a scene by declaring what they hope to increase, and what they are willing to risk losing. The Gain and Loss elements will combine to determine the Difficulty and Width for the roll.
    • The Lead will also need to frame the situation to explain how it makes sense. For example, trying to increase Performance at the risk of losing Sponsorship may be because the vehicle modification might require the team to remove parts supplied by a particular sponsor, or add parts supplied by a competitor.
    • Gains on task rolls add to the Tension Pool, which replaces the old Challenge Pool.
  • Tension
    • If left unchecked, Tension will add to the Field, making the Event harder. Tension can be reduced in a number of ways:
      • By introducing Complications that make rolls harder;
      • By introducing Stakes that are resolved depending on the outcome of the Event;
      • Possibly by introducing or resolving Drama between the player-characters. I've yet to figure out exactly how that would work, mechanically speaking.
    • Perhaps Sparks will come out of resolved Tensions somehow.
  • Motivations
    • Instead of multiple Passions with their own Burn ratings, each character will start a session with 1 Burn, giving them 1 die to roll.
    • When a potential Motivation comes up during a scene, players can claim it by writing it down.
    • Each Motivation that's relevant to a situation grants 1 Burn, adding an extra die to their pool.
      • Perhaps limit this to three Motivations of any kind, and up to an additional 3 that have Stakes attached?
      • Perhaps the prize on offer will tend to count as a Motivation attached to a Stake?

That's most of the structure so far. It's a little looser than the previous version, but I like the freedom that gives player in defining what a scene's about, and what gets their characters fired up. I've realised that there's an advantage to leaving a "fruitful void" for the players to fill in.

At the moment, the role of Sparks is uncertain. Perhaps if they're only generated in small quantities through dealing with Tensions, they might still make a good power-source for talents. +Nathaniel also suggested using them to assert authorship over certain elements or to define outcomes; given the fairly loose control the Lead has over the narrative, and that anyone else can already suggest stuff, I'm not sure if it's necessary. Perhaps if Sparks were still flowing in large quantities, they could be used to "pay" for new fictional elements or narrative control or something.

As far as keeping people engaged during the Event, it looks like the best way to do that is to give everyone a dice pool to manage. The basic ones are of course the Team's Vehicle and the Field. In addition, any Rivals were introduced during the Build-Up make for obvious candidates. There are a couple of options for any "left-over" players:
  • Introduce additional Rivals; perhaps not major ones like the story-defined Rivals, but a sort of baseline competitor, maybe with a custom Vehicle.
  • The Field could be split into more than one pool. I'm not that fond of this approach, since the Field runs pretty much "blind" and sets the basic competitor difficulty.

The main issue with having players run Rivals is that controlling them while still wanting your own Team to win is a conflict of interest. Players could make poor tactical choices for the Rivals and leave them at a disadvantage. Because of that, I need to come up with some basic "programming" for them to ensure they behave like they are trying to actually win. The basics of NPC racer programming are:
  • Start with their highest Gain, and assign it to the Width slot that has the highest other result in it that it will beat.
  • Repeat this process until you run out of Gains or Width, or until none of your remaining Gains can win any slots.
  • If you can place dice to create matches and eliminate someone else's Gain, do so by favouring matches to Vehicles with the best Position, or that will result in a Gain for a Vehicle in a worse Position than the one you're cancelling.
  • If you still have Gains to assign but they can't win or cancel any slots, just put them wherever you want.


Also this weekend, I realised that I don't have an awful lot left to do on my PowerFrame generic RPG. I've been filling in some of the details and scratching things off my to-do list. The main areas remaining are:
  • I need to write the "How to run PowerFrame" chapter.
  • I need to finalise the Magic chapter and decide whether I want to include as many Spells as I can, or strip back the list to the basics and put the more esoteric Spells in a PDF supplement.
  • I need to create a whole lot of illustrations and diagrams.

Altogether it looks like it's coming along nicely, even though I've spent a lot of time questioning the way the game works on the most fundamental levels. But my friends and I have played and run it for over fifteen years in one form or another, and even though I've tired of it lately, it's still the closest it's ever been to a finished product.

I'll probably release a pretty comprehensive bestiary as a separate PDF, because the creature statblocks will take up a fair amount of space and I don't want the core-book to bloat too much. I'll be including several pages of example creatures to use as examples, but it's largely meant to be a toolbox game where you can develop your own content. 

I guess the Spells are an exception to the toolkit mentality, though, since the core of a Spell is an atomic exception-based mechanism that causes a specific effect. Each of these "Major Arcana" need to be spelled out, and the process of creating your own is not rigidly definable.

Rather, the Spells themselves are versatile because you can combine the Major Arcana (the "what" of a Spell) with various Parameters (the "where and when") and Minor Arcana (the "who") - as described in a previous post on the subject.

So, things are going reasonably smoothly at the moment. I'm going to be moving house at the end of the year, and I hope to have a few employment-free months of domestic bliss that I might be able to use to get these games into publishable shape.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013


This is just a quick note to let my readers know I'm about to activate banner ads on this blog.

Normally I dislike online advertising, so I hope you'll appreciate this isn't a decision I've taken lightly. I'm preparing to move cities so I can live with my partner, but at the moment I have no job waiting for me there. I'm attempting to secure some additional revenue sources so I can support myself for longer.

Now it may turn out that the ads are just too annoying, or that the income they generate isn't worth the trouble. I am definitely hoping I can focus the content to gaming-relevant stuff that my readers might actually be interested in. However, I won't know any of that until I try it.

If the ads have a negative effect on your reading experience, please do let me know.

Thanks for your patience and understanding!