Monday 30 March 2015

Moving On Up

Feast your gaze upon the new homestead
and the fearsome guardian hound they call Dakota!!
I am the Warden!!

The transformation begins. As of the moment I write this, we are a little over 48 hours away from taking possession of our new house and, more importantly, our new lives. This weekend alone has been a mad dash of packing, purchasing and perseverance with the calendar carrying on at such an incredibly slow rate, I'd swear a 32nd day has been added to March. 

All of this and its significance brought to light because of Timehop, the flashback app, reminding me how rough things were a year ago. Last March, I was dealing with depression and struggling to understand why the fuck Life hated my guts. Now, I actually walk around with my head looking up and forward, literally and figuratively. (I'm very serious about this. I've always had to walk looking down to see any tripping obstacles waiting to make the rest of the day painful. Another unexpected consequences of this injury.) 

Everything is available and yet so much remains out of grasp. I had a chance to take a long hike this weekend after a long time away from the woods and while it came with a price (not including sliding into deep snow and having to leave my Jeep behind overnight), I truly had time to think about my future. Thanks to some research, I know time will not always be on my side (babies have a nasty habit of requiring non-stop care, I hear), but there is time. I don't have to change the world or become a household name in any circle, I just need to do something that makes an impact in my life. And my family's life. If that means I also get to attend Gencon (wherever they hold it), publish a best-selling game, tour with an improv group, or anything else I've dreamed about, that's cool. I don't need it, that's all. They're bonus prizes. Maybe it's something that comes with achieving a base line in your life or standing atop a hard won battlefield after a long war. Whatever the case, it feels good to feel good. That's all I wanted to say. The fight's not over (it never truly is). I just wanted to take a moment and share this for everyone who has read my sorrow and worried or rests under their own burden of sadness and could use the slightest of boosts knowing that what they say is true. It never truly ends, but it's up to you to set your base line and hold it no matter the cost. 

With that, let me cap by saying I'm as busy as a jackrabbit building a church for the next 30 days. Unless I've already spoken to you in private about attending a game or working on a side project/freelance job, the answer is, "Not now, perhaps another time." For those planning on coming up on the 18th for Moving Day, the parade starts at noon and bring your own lawn chairs. 

Wednesday 11 March 2015

The Past Unburied

I am the Warden!!

It's easy to forget the problems of the past. Life moves on, you push forward with a new directive, move on and leave the issues of the past behind you. Until one day it sneaks up behind you and gives your memory a good old slap to the back of the head. 

My life's been very busy these past few months. Chaotic, you could say. But it's been chaotic for a while, so that's not clear enough. It's been the good kind of chaotic, the kind where you're finally able to move on with your life. Buying a house, getting settled, a baby, a career... don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining. Ok, maybe I'm complaining a little, but it's all a welcome relief compared to the problems of the past. I've been so caught up with establishing a future that a matter of my past came back to haunt me on Monday. 

I'm not sure if it's something I've written about before or done so in any great detail. I spaced out that morning as the alarm went off to start another week. I mean, really spaced out. A side effect of one too many concussions (and yes, one is too many concussions). Sometimes, these spaced moments consist of simple concentration problems, one too many things taking place at the same time causing me to lose focus. They're few and far between compared to before as I've been training my mind to block out what I don't want to hear in the background. Neuroplacicity in action, bitches. But that doesn't mean it was the only problem. Sometimes those moments take it to another level and I fall much further. 

I guess this is another one of those posts where I write to understand what's going on in my head. Or not, as the case may be. Because that's what happens when I go this deep into space. Nothing. I go blank. And I know I've gone blank because I can feel myself wanting to tell someone I'm in trouble, yet nothing comes out. Sometimes, I'm stuck inside my own head and it feels like what a comatose patient must go through if they are truly awake in that slumber. Or maybe it's something completely different. Whatever it is, I become trapped in my own body until someone comes along to snap me out of it. Without anyone else around to bring me back, I could be stuck in their a while. 

That's what happened on Monday morning. The alarm went off at 7:00 am and something was wrong. It was too dark for it to be 7; it was that damn Daylight Saving Time. Too late and before I knew what was going on, I was stuck. I know now that an hour passed before I could muster up enough conscious thought to grab my phone and call my wife, who was asleep on the couch downstairs. When she answered, I wasn't ready to speak, so I pressed the 1 button repeatedly to form "SOS" in morse code. Yeah, fucked up, right? To know morse code and not have the ability to speak. Welcome to the damaged brain. 

By the time my wife came upstairs and helped bring me back, it was near 8:30 and my brain was toast. I was as useful as a toddler at work and the bulk of the day was spent resting and regaining my mental strength. 

It used to happen a lot, sometimes two or three times a week. Now, items a rarity. Just enough frequency to let me forget it's a problem until it comes back to kick my ass one more time. And there's no cure, just more training. Like a muscle or a broken leg; you have to work it back into shape. So I'm back in the gym once more, flexing the cranial muscle to avoid another event from happening a little longer than the last. It will happen again, I must remind myself. And I must be ready. 

Monday 2 March 2015

Do Players Need The Rules To Inspire Them?

I am the Warden!!

For the past couple of weeks, I've been reading through Fate Core and listening to a couple episodes of Ken & Robin Talk About Stuff, reflecting on Robin Laws' DramaSystem as I listen. While I'm only 2/3rds of the way through the Core and never read a damn thing on DramaSystem, the fact that both systems are known for incorporating character personalities and motivations into the game and offer a mechanical incentive for players to embrace weakness and flaws has seeped into my work on ScreenPlay.

At this stage in the game (a phrase which I'm using as a pun and not literally, but I guess it works both ways), I've focused almost entirely on the action component of things. Yes, there is definitely room for characters to flex out non-traditional aspects of a character as the Potentials work similar to aspects from Fate yet focus more on descriptive/experience traits of the character. For example, you can have Incredibly Strong, Quick Like A Bunny, or Bounty Hunter as a Potential. What's not built right into the game are mechanical benefits for embracing your characters flaws, which is instead left to the Director (GM) to work into the story as it progress.

So my question is this: do you truly need to create a mechanical benefit for accepting character flaws during play? Is it not possible for players to simply follow their own understanding of storytelling honed from years of reading and watching other stories to know it's boring as hell to have a character who is only awesome? Or do they need to receive a point of some kind like a music student getting a gold star on their sheet music every time they accept their character's goofs?

Personally, I'm in the No camp on this one, though I'll admit it really depends on the player and the type of games they experience. Seeing as ScreenPlay is not intended for just any roleplayer and every group, it seems fitting to me for there to be an understanding that people gathered around a type labelled as Writers rather than players would create interesting characters with strengths and idiosyncrasies. And that having those quirks come up during play serves the story more than it should provide a mechanical perk to your character sheet. However, this is only my opinion and so I want to throw it out to the masses for some feedback. Where do you stand on this topic? 

Thursday 26 February 2015

How To Train A Goblin?

This is the goal for Droop, the once lowly goblin slave.
Artwork by Paul Abrams. 
I am the Warden!!

An interesting and unexpected development came up in last night's D&D 5e campaign. (And what unexpected development wouldn't be interesting, eh? But I digress...) In the very early days of this campaign when the party liberated the town of Phandelver from the punk-ass band of villains called the Redbrands, the heroes took in Droop, the lowly goblin slave whose sole job was to get smacked around by his hobgoblins masters. Cut to months later and Droop has become a welcome member of the party, a kind of Nodwick, if you will. While the heroes entered the Lost Mines to wipe out Black Spider, he patiently camped outside and waited for them to return. Now it seems those days of obedient sidekick are beneath Droop and the party wants to train him to become a full-fledged PC.

It's something I've thought about for a while and considering there are already two rogues in the party, he'd be best served as a ranger. (The very first attack roll Droop ever made with a short bow provided by the fighter that ended up killing a monster. And he's stuck with it ever since.) Emphasizing on ranged bow attacks with the Hide and Disengage bonus actions could still be very useful. Now that the party has unanimously decided this is indeed the best thing for Droop and the party, it's time to consider how to make this happen.

The Right Way To Create A 1st Level Character

There are two ways of doing this. One, simply pop on his 1st-level, do a little switch-a-roo in the racial stats for goblins and you've got yourself a stew goin'. Two, incorporate the training into the campaign and have the little fella learn on the road. I'm inclined to go with the second because it makes a lot more sense to me personally and because the first option demeans the character that's come before. To suddenly jump from slave to ranger in one session seems foolish.

The DMG is not much help - the only thing I can find is on page 131, Training To Gain Levels, but that only works from 2nd level and up. A character's first level is pretty much assumed to be a significant lifetime of training (like college in our world). I could look at this option and consider that a multi-classed character can technically apply the same principles to gaining a new class in just a few days, so there is that choice. Yet, meh. Something about it doesn't quite work for me and I suspect the group.

The hard part is figuring out how to do this. How much time do I demand for Droop to become 1st level? How much effort? It seems reasonable he should find a ranger to train under, but then it risks either land locking the campaign for a while just so a goblin can become a ranger or having him take a leave of absence as he tends to his studies while his masters/friends go off to save the world.

When the discussion first arose, each of the players made an excellent case for how each of them could provide a piece of Droop's training. The cleric could teach him the ways of meditation and divine magic, the fighter would train him to handle himself in battle, the rogues offering tricks of their trade... all of them sounded entirely reasonable to me and the fact they were all so on board with this idea makes it even cooler. I couldn't help but think of the scene from Fellowship of the Ring where Aragorn and Boromir teach the hobbits how to fight just enough to let them hold their own, a feat that pays off in dividends by the Return of the King. Based solely on teamwork and player enthusiasm, I'm going with the group teaching format instead of a wise and higher levelled ranger.

Leaving us with time. Or perhaps XP? An idea I've considered is to set a negative XP chart for Droop. Starting off at, say, -2,000 XP, he would unlock some of the basic features of a 1st-level ranger while gaining XP along with the other heroes. And when he finally reaches 0 XP, it's fireworks and fanfare!

Oh, but there's more to consider. The rest of the party just hit 5th-level. How long will it take a group of five (not including Droop) heroes to gain 2,000 XP a piece? Is that long enough, too soon, or far too much to indulge these training sessions and hands-on learning through adventuring? And how much can we assume Droop already knows versus a teenage human looking to become a ranger like his father before him? And should a ranger's true 1st-level benefits (favoured enemy, natural explorer) be the benefits of hitting that 1st level and not come from a lead-in? For example, other characters don't gradually gain their next level ability. They get it the moment they hit that next level. Therefore, it's safe to assume the only thing Droop needs to learn are proficiencies and the core values of being a ranger.

A Decision Is Made!

Based on these considerations, I'm going to have Droop start the next game at -2,000 XP (but with a 390 XP boost for fighting the last sesson's dragon, as he did take some unsuccessful pot shots at it). Until he reaches -1,000 XP, there are no benefits. Once he reaches -1,000 XP, Droop will gain half of his proficiencies (one armour, simple weapons, one saving throw, and one skill). At -500 XP, he'll complete his weapon and armour proficiency training and gain one additional skill. Finally, once he hits -250 XP, all proficiencies will be complete and everything will come full circle at 0 XP when he officially becomes a 1st level ranger.

What do you think? 

Sunday 12 October 2014

Hitting the Books: The Current State of Killshot

Confession time. I haven't paid any significant attention to Broken Ruler Games over the past few months. Pretty much the entire past year. With a lot going over during 2014, all of this was put aside and left to run on its own accord. If you've tried to get onto the BRG site, you may have noticed the domain doesn't work any more. That's actually due to extremely annoying communication problems with the host and Google (with whom I purchased the domain name, and now the site is out of reach. Yeah, I've been a bad owner.

With a renewed fire under my belt (thanks to a certain vacation providing some time to think), I finally had a chance to go back over all the sales, checklists, emails, and everything. And in the interest of full disclosure, I'm happy to say that Killshot has made a profit. The below chart shows the entire line's total sales and earnings as of October 1, 2014.

After the additional costs of doing business (domain name, POD test copies, marketing, stock art, assorted business expenses) running at $506.21, what's left is $285.48. 

Killshot was an experiment in every way. I toyed around with stuff, tried out a few different settings, gave away a shitload of copies (61% of all sales were freely handed out by yours truly), and stumbled with Pay What You Want options (more on that in a bit). Not the least of which was to spend more than the money raised on the Kickstarter (unaccounted taxes and shipping being the usual culprits). Seeing these results makes it very worthwhile.

Though not profitable. 

The idea machine is clicking away on something and it's all thanks to my recent trip out to Prince Edward Island. Meeting with a couple of store owners about the possibility of carrying Killshot in their stores has lit a fire under my butt, yet it'll all be for not unless I get all the records caught up and stable so I can start moving forward on towards Phase 2. 


Over the past three months, there have been a total of 81 downloads for Killshot products. For a grand total of $0. Between free and Pay What You Want titles, not a single person put down a single cent. While very helpful for getting this game into as many hands as possible (particularly hands that are likely to actually read it, unlike those who receive them as part of a prize bundle), it does make things difficult when you are a small indie game. There's no reason for anyone to trust your enough to pay for it. The PWYW Learning Curve solidifies the greatest lesson I've learned throughout this entire endeavour: it's all about the connections. Whether its a pre-existing connection with your customers familiar with your previous work and ready to trust you once again with your next project or by meeting fellow designers, editors, and artists at trade shows, having connections goes a long way on the Internet. 

Do I recommend it for indie publishers looking to get their game out there? Yes, for sure. But do not depend your entire line on it. Tease, do not give away. Give them a reason to trust you, but don't allow yourself to be taken advantage of. 

With these updated numbers in tow, I'll be able to start looking at a few things. Time to perform the autopsy and see how it all went down so that we can learn and adapt. 

Thursday 4 September 2014

The Dice Go Boom!

Allow me to think out loud for a moment.

While looking over the latest draft for ScreenPlay... What's that? You haven't seen a copy of the latest draft, version 1.03? Well, why don't you download it right from here then. Anyways, looking over the draft, I was trying to consider recharges for Stamina and one of the considerations was for a cast member to gain +1 Stamina whenever a Writer rolled the highest value on a die.

Then it hit me. It would become easier to gain Stamina if you're rolling lower dice. You have a 1-in-6 chance of gaining a point of Stamina back with a d6 versus the 1-in-12 chance with a d12. This is the opposite intention of dice where higher values indicate more power and ability. If I'm going to keep with this theme, recharging should occur faster for those with higher values (or step, if we're going to keep up with the game vernacular.)

This is not the first time such a thought has occurred when it comes to exploding dice, though I cannot think of which game(s) it was for the life of me. Must be the fact that I write before I've barely had two or three sips of coffee. Savage Worlds does seem the likeliest suspect as that one's the signature game when it comes to exploding dice and the concept of rewarding die maximization (wow, doesn't that sound fancy?) commonly seems paired with step-based die applications (an even fancier term). You want the higher die value to increase your chances of success, yet there is a little risky luck in using lower values. d6s can explode with great frequency, as I discovered during my work on Killshot but that game had the maxing vs. stepping problem handled (in my opinion).

All die values were based on how the die was applied to the roll, not based on its strength. So all base attributes were assigned d12s, equipment and exterior circumstances (i.e. cover) used d10s, applying trained options gave d8s, specific skills garnered d6s, and players were rewarded with d4 bonus dice to apply to a single roll during the game. Skills and bonus dice were the exploding masters and they made sense, plus they were also limited in their frequency. Whenever you used a bonus die on a roll, that die was gone for good and you had to earn another one (typically by killing someone who deserved it) while skills were a one-shot deal in a scene and you couldn't apply those dice again until the next one. So the higher chance of a die exploding, the more limited of a resource it became. That left the higher values, particularly the d12s, a permanent resident in a character's dice pool because the odds of them exploding were acceptable.

Now there's an argument to be made for the value of exploding probability in a game like Savage Worlds - it allows weaker characters an opportunity to keep up with the demands of the game. Yet it also backfires in a game like Savage Worlds where the standard target number is 4, a very reachable number for a d6. Once you add explosions into the mix, there's a harsh effect on a d6's range.

Balance that off with the ultimate benefit of exploding dice: the thrill of the roll. Roleplaying games are about chance and that's where a lot of the excitement comes into play, the same way people get excited playing the odds at a casino. It's not that they have a poor chance of walking away with more money, it's the excitement and rush you get when you do win. It's about how we get to that moment by playing the game that makes the experience memorable as a whole but it's figurative roll of the dice to see if we beat the spread that creates the buzz, the thrill, and the lure. In everyone's own unique way, players get excited when they see the highest value on the die and that's why many games incorporate a reward for doing so (critical hits on a natural 20, for example).

And so we return to the crux of today's topic. While mechanically flawed and a somewhat polar opposite to how the rest of the game works, should I apply a reward system for die maximization in ScreenPlay? Perhaps, but not like this. There may be another way.

Oh, I'm sorry. That's all I have on this one. There's no revelation going on and I don't have the foggiest idea of what else I could try. That's a wrap for today, kids. 

Wednesday 27 August 2014

Business vs. Art

It's been four days applying my new writing practise and I'm ecstatic about the result so far. Not just the fact that I'm finally getting words through my fingers again but how well those words work together. Not only do I have an introduction for High Plains Samurai but it now has a voice and character. It's also brought up something else very thought provoking.

Throughout the online writing communities of the world, there are many inspirational posts about sticking to your vision, don't get caught up in what others are doing, writing is a labour of love and many more. The latest one I've seen was from Chuck Wendig and while I skimmed through it briefly this morning, there were many valid points about not getting caught up in others' accomplishments compared to your own. I have to admit I'm extremely guilty of that, especially of late. While it's not like I've been sitting on my laurels (that's a fancy word for my butt, right?), many others whom I follow are happily plugging away on their projects and getting the word out there. Not me and while Mr. Wendig's words are true to form, it does little to quench that need to kick myself in the nuts over this.

Anyone who knows what's been going on (even if it's just the basics) knows that things have been pretty crazy for the last while. I'm happy to say many things have cleared up over this summer (including a certain litigious issue) and that's created the need for new concerns and matters to address. Things that required my full attention combined with the insanity of my job (seems there really is no slow time for us when it comes to the behind-the-scenes workings of a ski resort) have made it difficult to me to keep up with the demands of my burgeoning game design career.

And there's that word. Demand. That's been bothering me, the feeling that I need to tweet more, need to post more on this blog, need to get the column done, need to move forward on Version 1.04 of ScreenPlay, need to this, must have that ready. There's a lot of must-haves when you're working on a new game, all of them part of the creative process.

Then it hit me - it's not the art of designing games that's bothered me, it's the business of selling them.  Playing to your audience, addressing them at their level, setting aside that precious creative time to plug your product ahead of time... all the necessary evils that comes with wanting the world to play your game once its ready. Maybe it's the fact that I work in marketing and particularly social media. I have to admit the more I've seriously studied this modern phenomena, the less I personal enjoy it. Maybe it's my compulsive nature as what I feel are my failings eat away at me like a gnat chewing on... whatever it is that gnats eat. (Meh, so I don't know much about the insect world. I can let that one slide.)

It's not like I haven't gone through all this before. Killshot was a big experiment in many ways and I'm still deciphering the clues it provided but there was also a major difference between then and now - I had nothing but time back then. The whole day was available to dabble in everything related to the project. Suffering from writer's block? Go on Twitter. Worn out on Facebook? Get some writing done. That doesn't apply any more, particularly in light of the fact that I have a very creative job. The biggest matter I'm still addressing is creative energy at the tail end of the day.

It also dawns on me now that Killshot was not designed as a product; it was designed as labour of love. It was art. Could that be what's missing now? Have I started pushing myself too hard to follow-up the blazing success of that project instead of noting what worked was the art of its creation. I'm a big believer that tabletop game design is an art form and if you don't believe me, just take a look at the numerous discussion and disputes regarding game mechanics across nearly every forum available. We debate game mechanics the same way museum patrons delve into a painter's vision and intentions in a particular piece. That's what I love about this craft, not the business side of things. Yet, as it is with so many things, you can't have one without the other.

And that's what's bugging me today.