22 July, 2017

EttinCon Mega-Map (Part 5)

The final work for today was starting the process of getting some colour on terrain features. First the mountain ranges...


Then the desert to the North East, and the icy waste at the south of the map.

I'm not sure how it will look dry, so I just need to wait until tomorrow before I do some more.

EttinCon Mega-Map (Part 4)

Today was the start of painting the mega-map. The whole thing takes up the full table in the art studio, even when it's been extended to maximum size. 

Before doing anything else, I need to add the latitude and longitude lines, but I certainly don't have any compass large enough to draw the arcs.

So, it's time to measure things out and pull out the string.


I've decided that I'm going to use a watercolour technique for the map. If I used heavy acrylics, or even put a coating of primer on it, it would become more difficult to sew things onto the canvas...which is one of the long term goals of the project. Using watercolour will function more as a stain on the canvas, so it might take a couple of coats to get a good rich colour happening...but we'll see how it goes.

First I'll tape some plastic sheeting down on the table, this will make sure the watercolour doesn't sink through the canvas and into the wooden table.

I've had these watercolours lying around for a year or so and have been meaning to use them, so this project seems like a good time to open them up.

First I put some water down on the canvas with a thick brush, not quite soaking the canvas, but making sure it's damp enough that when I apply colour it will spread and easily be blended.

Here's a video (sorry, I didn't realise that my hand was in the way as I filmed it).


Step by step, working through the coastlines...

20 July, 2017

EttinCon Mega-Map (Part 3)

With the sketch and the canvas taped up to the window, I can trace the basic shape and maintain the generalities of the form. The specific details of the map sketch certainly don't match the intended scale, so thankfully I've got some leeway here.

The first thing I'll do is break up the coastline a bit. Here and there I add islands, and provide hints toward river deltas opening out onto the sea. 

The mountain ranges provide hints of where streams start, and the jagged coastlines provide ideas for where the riverways end. I've also been given a few rivers to work with, so it's now a case of using a rudimentary understanding of geography to piece these components together. I'm going to use a system where rivers are noted in two distinct types on the map. Wide waterways capable of being navigated by barges and ship-borne traders will be indicated with a double thickness, while smaller rivers and streams will be marked with a single thickness line.

I break up the streams as they approach the designated mountain ranges, this reflects the way real streams join togther to form more prominent waterways. Due to the size of the map I won't bother drawing in even smaller rivulets and creeks, this also gives GMs a bit of scope for their own world development when they create scenarios to be played out on the map.

I can only fit half of the map onto the window for the purposes of tracing the sketch onto the canvas, so rivers, mountain ranges and all the basic layout work is drawn for one half before moving the whole setup across for the second.

If the black lines of the rivers indicate the natural low points in the landscape, where waters flow to, then a different colour will be used to mark the natural high points in the landscape, the ridges of mountain ranges and rows of hills. Because these two are mutually exclusive (you can't have a high point where there is alredy a low point), I can vaguely work out where the ranges are based on where the rivers are not. Then I make things a bit more intereating by ensuring the ranges are jagged with a lot of branching elements threading between the streams and rivers, as well as sometimes just protruding into plains.

The mountain ranges now need to be detailed a bit. Individual mountains are added along the range lines, and a few more branching fragments of range are added in to create a bit more interest and to make the map a bit more "realistic". After all, I hate straight mountain ranges, which is probably a factor of growing up in a mountainous area. I like to see how ranges twist and turn, and valleys meander between them. This will also make it easier to determine where forests and other vegetation need to be placed later. 

There will be quite a few elements added into this map as potential story hooks. I have no idea how they will be used, but I figure that I'll add them in anyway, as tools for the other collaborative GMs to use if the need arises.

The drawn map ends up looking like this, but there is still a long way to go, because this map will be a painted piece and not a drawn one...

19 July, 2017

EttinCon Mega-Map (Part 2)

This map is pretty loose, it's for a blank slate world that will be defined as we go. But it's nice to have some hooks for players to latch onto, and for GMs to base adventures around. I've been given a rough framework (as indicated in the last post), but pretty free reign with specifics.

Here's the working sketch.

Or, more accurately, here are the pages on which the rough sketch has been printed, scaled up to be more impressive. 

Due to the printing on A4 pages, I need to guillotine the edges...

Then tape the fragments together...

...gradually building the complete map.

I've discussed fractal hexes before, in my geomorph series a few years ago. So it's nice to see a map given to me where this system is in place. Four of the smallest hexes across make one of the mid hexes, four of the mid hexes across make one of the large hexes, four of the large hexes make one of the largest hexes. 

This works as a fairly convenient scale for the map, because I've been told that is should take roughly six months of constant travel to get from one end of the map to the other. If it takes a full day to travel across one of the smallest hexes, it takes just over half a week (four days) to travel across a mid hex, just over a fortnight (sixteen days) to travel across a large hex, just over two months (sixty-four days) to traverse one of the largest hexes, and the whole map is just over three of these largest hexes in height...so that basically gives us just over 6 months (specifically, 192 days, but let's say 200 to round things off). 

If the standard metre is based on the radius of the earth, where 10,000 km is the distance from the equator to one of the poles, it might be feasible to suggest 7500 kilometres between the equator and an arctic/antarctic circle on an earth-sized world. That also suits our purposes. 7500km divided by 200 days gives us 37.5km per day... which is a reasonable travel distance as a typical horse travel can be almost twice that. Of course, walking will be significantly less. This means a mid sized hex is about 150km across. 

Which means that is a massive ferret! 

Butmore seriously, it means that the i tended world of the setting is roughly Earth-sized and therefore I need to consider this scale when I draw the coastlines for the map. Wide beaches would be no thicker than the width of a fine drawing pen, rivers would need to be more than a kilometre wide before they'd be significant on the map... so we'll take a bit of artistic license on them. They certainly won't be asthick as the rivers currently depicted which would each be in excess of 100km wide. 

The canvas I have to work on for this project is lmost exqcly the size of the map offered. So I now need to reconsider the circular map idea. If I were to continue taking that path, a lot of details around the edges of the map would be lost. 

This is one of the larger maps I've worked on, and I don't have a lightbox big enough to trace the sketch onto the canvas, so I'll make do with a variant... the back door. That means I need to work through this stage while I've got daylight on my side.

EttinCon Mega-Map (Part 1)

I started work on the +Ettin Con Mega-Map a couple of days ago, but this is the first time I've had the chance to post about it. 

The basic concept is a map for a massive collaborative campaign setting where multiple GMs will develop elements of the world with their players during convention sessions, gradually fleshing out the world over the course of years.

But it all needs to start somewhere.

The whole thing is a continental landmass stretching from an equator to an Antarctic circle. Usually when I start a map of this size, I might begin with plate tectonics to work out where natural mountain ranges might form. Otherwise I'll start with wide regions, and then move to plate tectonics to consider how those regions interface with one another. Then, I'd consider how those regions might actually form based on climate patterns, and linked geographical structures.

In this case though, I've been given a preliminary sketch, and now I need to make it look like an appropriate centrepiece for a major undertaking. 

I've got two basic ideas here. 

Option 1.

Option 2. 

Option 1 shows lines of latitude and longitude, reflecting the massive siz of the continent. Option 2 is more like an old world nautical chart. I'm tending toward the first option because it shows how big the landmass is with respect to the world...which option 2 would be better for smaller sections of mapping that might be more accurately depicted on a flat page. 

The final image will probably be a blend of realism and typical fantasy tropes, as it will be painted on a large canvas roll.

...more to come.

17 July, 2017

Outside the Box

...but not really.

Only the most diehard conservatives and regressives would continue to believe that a regenerating alien could never have manifested a "female" incarnation. I'm happy that this has happened, but I'm probably more happy that the new showrunner has stated a five year plan for the upcoming stories of the show. I now just hope the BBC don't screw around with the screening schedule like that have in virtually every other Doctor's run during the new Who seasons. 

16 July, 2017


The background on the blog has been disconnected. Photobucket have changed their policy on linking images to external sites, and I didn't even know that it had occurred. I'll fix things up when I get a chance.

Killing Your Sacred Cows (Part 2): The Karmic Cycle

I opened up this file preparing to write a post called "The Killing of Sacred Cows", but the name sounded familiar...in the way that I might have already given a post that title. A quick search through the titles of various posts indicates that I did indeed call a post "Killing Your Sacred Cows!", and like most things in my life that generally seem to move through cycles, I've revisited this concept again. I'll probably keep revisiting the concept several more times as well.

This time it's not so much about ripping down the structure of an integral game mechanism that isn't quite functioning according to ideals, it's more about terminology...which is naturally something I can get obsessive about as a qualified linguist.

A few people took up my offer to have a look at the current iteration of the rules for "The Law", and I've already been getting some valuable feedback. I've also printed out a hard copy of the rules which I'm marking up with additional corrections and updates that will need to be applied before I run off the first Ashcan edition of the game. (For those who re interested, the offer I made in an earlier post is still valid... I hope to get the "Beta" editing done by the middle of this week, for printing before next weekend.)

Sometimes it takes a fresh set of eyes to see a glaring error, because sometimes you write something while setting up a loose framework of ideas, then you base further concepts on that initial framework,  leading those initial ideas to be solidified a bit further, then more interconnected mechanisms and concepts make it seem like the original loose framework is now set in stone.

Regular readers of the blog will know that many of my game design ideas have been a gradual evolution. This means that certain concepts have become embedded in later games, though they might actually be artefacts from previous designs. I guess I just don't notice them because they're basically hardwired to certain other ideas... but they don't need to be. That's where the killing of sacred cows comes in. Sometimes you've just got to burn the whole thing to the ground, or at least do some substantial weeding of the garden to improve it's fertility.

Have I mentioned how much I hate the names of the factions in the "Divergent" series of novels and movies? Or the discipline names in "Vampire: the Masquerade"?? Mixtures of nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, with no particular consistency across them. They feel like they were picked because the author at the time thought they were cool, and they basically alluded to what the faction/discipline was generally known for. As thought they were loose ideas at first that were never properly considered or refined before other concepts were plugged into them, and suddenly they appeared in print and were then considered set in stone for the rest of the series. I've toyed with the idea of making every skill in a game a verb. To attempt something you simply say that your character is doing some particular verb, and if you've got that verb on your character sheet you gain a bonus for it. Then maybe you might get nouns as keywords to indicate people, places, or things that you might be more familiar with (thus granting other bonuses). I "shoot" at him. I "intimidate" her. I "empathise" with her. I "disguise" myself. 

The particular issue that has been brought to light on this occasion is my designations for attributes in the game. Conflict, Influence, Knowledge, Mysticism. These all work if I'm to use the sentence structure...

I'm well versed in the arts of (conflict/influence/knowledge/mysticism).

But outside of a specific sentence like that, they get a bit unwieldy... and even though these ideas are at the core of the game, I might need to make some changes to them. The particularly odd one here is "mysticism" which is an "-ism" while the others aren't. It reminds me of "Animalism" in Vampire, which is one of the oddly named disciplines compared to the others.

Originally, the attributes were more conventionally named in one of the earlier incarnations of the system. Physical, Social, Mental, Spiritual/Magical/Mystical. This way the attributes focused on what the character was able to utilise in order to achieve their intended actions, the focus was the cause. But under the newer attribute split (Conflict/Influence/Knowledge/Mysticism), the focus is on the outcome or the effect of the action. A chracter could use physical, social or mental actions during a conflict, but the entire result is always intended to damage or neutralise an opponent. It's more about the likelihood of success when you head in a certain direction (and resolving the scene), rather than focusing on the specific steps of the way (and resolving the actions). In some RPG theory discussions, it was an attempt at conflict resolution over task resolution, but this ends up getting messy when one of the attributes is called "conflict". There's always a good reason for making these design decisions at the time (often a few of them), and since this ga e system ran through the phase when it was intended to be a game about familiars, I wanted to seamlessly integrate the magic of the setting with all parts of the game, rather than limiting it to a single "spiritual/magical/mystical" attribute, things seem to have become a bit muddied and confused in the development process.

This all leave me at an impasse.

I can strip away the core element, and substitute back in the "physical/social/mental/spiritual" attributes, which work better linguistically, and have a more traditional structure that many gamers are familiar with (this will require an extensive "find/replace" and some modification of the glyphs to better match the new nature of the attributes)...or I can try to clarify my intentions in the rules (perhaps including most of this theoretical discussion in a GM guide, with a few edits in the general rules).

Do I kill the sacred cow, or not?

14 July, 2017

The Law (pre-release Beta)

It always pays to have some extra sets of eyes looking over a project before it gets released for public consumption.

If anyone out there is interested in taking a look, and willing to offer some critique, send me a private message via G-plus, Facebook, Messenger, or even make a post here with your preferred contact details. If you manage to get something back to me before the weekend is over, indicating elements that might seem confusing, or even just simple things like spelling mistakes of grammatical errors, I'll add you to the "special thanks" list, and send you a signed, numbered physical copy of a Release Edition ashcan of the game.

Fusing Familiar and The Law

I've been thinking about ways to integrate the two games, "Familiar" and "The Law", perhaps even connecting the mutant animal game "Other Strangeness" and the unnamed Angel game. It shouldn't be hard. Most have been based in a setting that's a huge, overwhelming, dystopian sprawl... similarly, they've all been based on very similar game mechanisms which have reflected an evolving core system which began as "System 4". It's been the specific interconnectedness of these elements that's given me trouble.

Until today, when this article about a library scanning in magical texts came across my radar.

It made me think of the Librarians in Warhammer 40k, and how they might be written if the game started today. Mystics with books filled with arcane methods of harnessing the mystic energies of the warp... basically the Imperial sorcerors from Warhammer (but that's not surprising given that everything in Warhammer 40k started off as an analogue for someing in the fantasy game). Now I'd expect the same types of characters to be running around with digital tablets filled with arcane runes, probably digitally transmitting occult datastreams to metamorphic psi-crystal infused drones, so they can command the battlefield as a hive.

I've been having trouble with some of the mystic aspects of the Agents of Law, focusing more on the concept of Judge Anderson from 2000AD, but this concepts of a mystical rigger has also become interesting. I guess it's a bit "Warmachine" too. Linking in concepts from those other game projects, i becomes a more dynamic and interesting world for the Agents to explore and patrol.

13 July, 2017

Stone Mountain Available

A while ago I was commissioned for some cartography work, looking back through the blog I can see that it was 18 months ago.

Now it's available. You can visit the Kickstarter here.

I'm not posting about it because I haven't been paid for my work. +Sean Nittner was great to work with, knew what he wanted, and it was a great project to be a part of (...and yes, I was paid). I'm posting because it was such a fun project, and because I'd like other people to see my stuff in print so that I can possibly get a few more commissions later from various people across the industry.

Anyway...go and take a look. There probably aren't many more physical copies of the product available.

06 July, 2017

Getting too old for this

(also known as "One last mission before I retire")

Adventurers shouldn't constantly be improving. There comes a time when their battle scars catch up to them, when they need to use their knowledge to train a new generation, when they lose their edge and know that they'll probably be more of a liability in the field.

I always thought this was missing from the development and experience systems in a lot of games. Conversely, it's one of the things I loved about Necromunda and Mordheim. Characters don't improve, they develop... sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. But the more they develop, and the more they take risks, the higher the chance that those risks will eventually catch up to them. PTSD. Physical scars. Nervous tics. Bones that ache when the weather changes. A bad reputation that just won't go away. I can't remember who said that we like characters for their strengths but we love them for their weaknesses, but this is what I've decided is missing from The Law. Character creation is quick and easy, but over time we should become more invested in these Agents who uphold the law in a post-cyberpunk dystopia.

At the moment, there is an improvement system in the game, which is pretty typical as far as RPGs go, but I also want to include a degradation system. The improvement system follows the pattern of rapid character improvement early in the narrative, but gradually slowing down as characters reach "higher levels". I think the degradation system should be flat. At first the positives of the job outweigh the negatives, it is in a character's best interests to go out, make friends, learn new abilities and gain strength... the chances of a loss are small compared to this. Then there comes a point where the improvement rate slows down far enough to match the chance of degradation... this is when the characters have reached their prime and ny chance of improvement is met with an equal chance of loss. Eventually there comes a time when the chance of improvement is outweighed by the chance of returning from the mission worse off. It is during this end game that we get stories like "The Dark Knight Returns" or pretty much any point in the "Lethal Weapon" movies. It won't take much to add something like this into the game, and at the moment it feels like a really worthwhile addition.

05 July, 2017

Describing your GMing Style

Over the past couple of days, a meme flood has come crashing through my G+ feeds. The basic gist of the thing is to have various people describe how they GM a game using only a GIF animation.

I used the "I regret nothing"/Whose Line is it Anyway? GIF that featured as my header image in my last post. Because I often run games loosely hanging onto the reins as the players direct the story, introducing elements here and there to see where the players might take them, and often pulling in previous character actions to later stories, regardless of where they might have gone initially, and where those actions might take things again in the future. "Oh, you remember that unknown computer chip that you stole on the way through to the main mission and then pawned off for some quick cash to buy that gun you wanted... it's actually a spare part needed to regulate a biological containment unit which is slowly degrading. You've probably got 24 hours or so before the current containment system collapses."

I try to make it a point that at least half the things I inject into a game after two or three sessions of play directly come from the previous actions of the player characters...and anything else can be built off previous things that have seemed like throwaway lines in earlier sessions. Where possible, both.

But it's really imteresting to see these tiny snapshots of how other gamers in the community see their method of controlling play (or not).

If you haven't joined G+ to get in contact with the great and varied community of gamers, you should seriously consider it. If you are active there, do a search for the hashtags... #DescribeYourGMStyleWithaGIF or #DescribeYourGMingStyleWithaGIF ... there's probably a few other mutated variants of the tag around as well.

Honestly, looking at a few of these, there are clearly some people I'd love to share a game with.

04 July, 2017

Game Chef Obstacles

I've been doing the layout on the revised version of "The Law", because I want complete versions of the game available for sale at +Ettin Con at the end of the month. Similarly, I need to get started on the grand painted map for the shared campaign world at the convention (for which I'll be running one of the first games).

Lots of things happening. I might get a couple of hours to throw something together for Game Chef, but we'll just have to see how things go.

01 July, 2017

Alternate Game Chef Idea

In these last few years, Game Chef has made the claim that it's about more tjan just RPGs, it has made the claim that it encapsulates all manner of gaming...but for some reason the finalists continue to be dominated by quirky little indie roleplaying games. If you want to be taken seriously in the contest, you play to the judges and write the kinds of things they tend to like.

I think I've been a Game Chef finalist once (maybe twice), in six or seven years of entering... for quirky indir rpg writing. Every time I try something different, I get blanks...either no-one bothers to read my stuff, or those who do read it don't get it.

I try to push the envelope, open the borders, but no-one wants to come with me. Maybe I could just rewrite my game chef experiences in a quirky indie RPG autobiographical form. Meta-parody of the contest.

...Or maybe this is the year to push boundaries and actually get recognised.

They've both got just as much chance of getting recognition.