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. 

Monday, 25 August 2014

Getting Back In The Ring

I've put this off for far too long.

If you read that sentence and heard Ian Holm's Bilbo in your head, then we're off to a good start because that's exactly how it sounded when it came to me. I've been away from a couple of things for too long now and it's time to get back to it. What am I talking about? Gamemastering and writing. I believe I've taken steps to help fix that. 

First one's easy: start running more games. As you can see from last week's posts, I've started running a mixed online/in-person D&D game but that's just the beginning. While I love my Ottawa playtesters, I need to whip out a lot more playtests for ScreenPlay and stress test this mofo. Which is why I'm looking into starting up a semi-regular online group to do that very thing. Details are still being worked out and I haven't established anything other than a fist-clenching oath to get it done, so stay tuned. If you're interested already, comment below. 

The next is as critical to Gamemastering and playtesting and so much more: writing. With my career and personal life demanding so much attention lately, my time at the keyboard has suffered for it. That needs to change and I may have something to help fix that. Sure, sure, setting aside time is great and a lofty goal but I need something suitable to my current lifestyle. 

To paraphrase the South Park kids, I learned something this weekend. I'm a morning person (who also likes staying up late but that's a different matter altogether). The sooner I can get to a task, the sooner and better it will be done. Over the weekend, I happened to wake up extra early on Saturday while the missus slept in and spontaneously decided to finally clean up the garage. With nearly three uninterrupted hours as people sipped their morning coffees and stores prepared opening for business, I cleaned and ended up with a better result than originally intended. Get an early start, get better results. Translation: I need to write something as early as possible in the day to get something done. 

My plan (and it's Day Two right now) is to not putz around on any social media until after I've written at least 500 words on a project or personal entry. (Yes, that includes blogging since I can write that much easily in one sitting. I should also note this doesn't include work's social media as I gets paid to tweet for them.) 

Has it worked out so far? It's already the second day and I have an opening legend for High Plains Samurai and a blog post talking about how I'm going to get more writing done. So far, so good. 

Thursday, 21 August 2014

The Lost Mine of Phandelver: Adventurers Assemble!

It begins.

Calling on old friends (some of whom I haven't rolled dice with since the early half of 4e) to answer the call for adventure, we set about crafting a party of young and eager adventurers. Yep, we started up our new D&D campaign last night. 

Originally designed as a Skype-only campaign, it quickly became a split between live at the table and Skype (not my preferred Google Hangouts but I never expect people to create accounts for anything and Skype is what they know). Dangnabbit if one of the players insisted on driving to my house every two weeks. While I normally dislike playing with this split, DMing is totally different - they have to stop talking and listen to me. So with one player live on stage and the others reporting from outlets across Ottawa, we rolled characters and killed goblins. 

And it was good. 

We have Ulthgar the dwarf cleric of Moradin, a stern and grizzled acolyte who dreams of rising to the ranks of power within his order. A dwarf of his word, he sees the signs left by the gods and those left by the wicked as guidance in how he will best serve his beliefs. 

Kazzarak is a half-elf barbarian from the frigid lands of Icewind Dale. Quick to step into danger and eager to right wrongs, his path lead him to Neverwinter in search of glory and riches in the dungeons of the Underdark and the battlefields of Faerun. 

Paiden, a human fighter, is the quiet member of the group but don't let his silence challenge your opinion of him. What he lacks in social skills he more than makes up for in a keen eye and quick reflexes, lashing out with his shield to protect those under his watch. 

Finally, we come to Rennik, a lightfoot halfling rogue whose early years spent at sea have now brought him to the shores of Neverwinter looking for work. Ever eager to return to the rolling waves of the ocean, he displays incredible deftness skulking about the forests and cities of the mainland. Perhaps there is more to this fellow than meets the eye.

After assembling their characters (using a mixture of players with the new PHB and those with only the Basic PDF), we went through a very basic introduction of how everyone came to know each other and was hired on by Gundren Rockseeker to deliver simple mining goods to Phandalin. Of course, they fought goblins and did a fine job of it too (only 4 points of damage was taken, thanks to the quick reaction of Paiden sparing Kazzarak the horrors of an arrow in the back). I won't go into any extended details of this prologue but things are already looking very promising. The group is quite eager to get started and I had a chance to go through my initial hiccups with any new system (even if it is something familiar like D&D). In two weeks, shit gets real.

If the news of a new edition of D&D (or you're just finding out that D&D is still alive and well), check out their website

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Players Handbook Revealed!

I am the Warden!!

Oh, yes, I'm actually that excited about the "return" of D&D that I brought back the classic intro to every blog post. Not that the excitement ever went away, but I've felt out of touch with it these past three years as my interests turned to more independent, modern and assassination-y things. While I enjoyed playing both 3rd and 4th editions for a time (and currently play in a weekly Pathfinder game on Fantasy Grounds), my gradual time-out was a combination of player, DM and publisher exhaustion. I had run my course with them and simply felt the need to move on to other games. Mostly working on my own, mind you. 

Now that D&D has relaunched the brand with a much cleaner and refined edition brought about by a couple of years of excellent marketing and public development - and a whole new attitude towards the game - the new Player's Handbook arrived by way of courier yesterday and I fucking love everything about it so far. To keep things simple and avoid clogging my day (and yours) with a never-ending post about it, here's a simple point-form list of what I love going into my first 5e session tonight. (Just a hint, that's how much I've embraced the new edition - I emailed a bunch of old players from the precious 4e group and strung together a new group.) 

  • It truly has undertones of the previous editions. Aside from the heavy influence of 3e mechanics, there are some carry-overs in approach from 4e (mostly with monsters and adventure design) and the complete separation of miniatures feels very AD&D to me. Add to that how the cover and binding of the new PHB has undertones of the original AD&D PHB - red/orange colour scheme with a black bar running down the spine. Maybe it's just me, but it definitely feels like they borrowed elements from all editions in the visual design as well. 
  • This edition's core feels incredibly simple to learn and play. While all games have this premise in practise, most of the big ones fall victim to their own gluttony and start to overload it with minute details and conditions. 5e feels simpler. (I say "feels" because I've yet to run anything myself and have only played the early playtest editions, so this is all based on initial read-throughs.) As an older dude with less time on his hands than the glory days, not getting bogged down with specifics, stacks of DCs and exceptions for every little detail is HUGE. This one's perhaps the biggest reason why I'm jumping back into the fray and is part of a promise I made to myself getting back into D&D. Stick with the core material and published adventures. Save my time and energy for the table, not the time required beforehand. Not needing to review 25+ pages of rules content before every game helps. 
  • It's familiar yet refreshingly new. As mentioned above, much of the mechanics and character options feel very 3e with some new touches that make a significant different in my opinion. For example, the paladin's Divine Sense ability is nothing extreme or overly powerful but gives the class a whole new outlook and roleplaying opportunity. That's why many of the original class and racial features continue to work in this new edition but with more simplicity. An opportunity attack is just a reaction, everyone gets them and you only get one reaction per round. Done! Little alterations can make all the difference. 
The true test comes tonight (and possibly in two weeks, seeing as tonight is really just character creation with the hopes of starting off the adventure, Lost Mines of Phandelver, from the Starter Set). Will these opinions hold up the Court of Gameplay? Let's find out. 

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

It Doesn't Work Like That...

This post begins in the most compromising of situations, yet one where I'm sure most of us end up getting our news in this new age of social media. I was using the little boy's room, scrolling through Twitter to catch up on everyone's Gencon plans when it became apparent that everyone was talking about one of my icons. Unless you've just turned on your own phone, TV, or opened your eyes and removed sound-defeating headphones, you know exactly who I'm talking about and why.

After the initial shock of Robin William's death came the even greater blow - suicide. Since then, I feel as if I've lost a parent, an idol I've looked up to as a beacon of the improvisational mind unlike any other we've ever seen and may never see again. Perhaps were it not for the nature of his demise, had he passed away from old age or even from a condition we already knew about in great detail (he did have a history of heart complications), it would have been an inevitable conclusion to a tremendous life. Sure, it would be sad to know there would no longer be a new Robin Williams joke, but as the final punch line before leaving the stage as all performances must come to an end. This is not the end any of us were expecting and so grief is mixed with shock.

That's not why I'm taking to the blog today of all days. As much as I'd like to go into my favourite jokes, performances, and films (which there are many), my heart is filled with loss and confusion. I've never met the man. Save for one glorious night when I caught him performing live in Ottawa less than three years ago, he was someone who bounced manically across my TV and blasted out one brilliant joke after another from my speakers. Yet I feel like I've lost a deep connection to a kindred spirit. I'm at a loss and feel uncertain as to why I would feel this way about the death of a celebrity and artist. Perhaps this is what Elvis fans went through on their fateful day all those decades ago.

Perhaps too it is because his depression has now become blatantly apparent that I'm struck with his passing. As someone who's faced such demons personally and through those close to my life, this is the first time someone "close to me" has made the final judgement on their life and it's truly shaken me to the core. Here I sit at my desk, quiet and passive, unwilling to participate in casual conversation or basic interaction. I do what I need to do to get the job done before going home and... well, we'll just have to see where these emotions go from there.

It's remarkably easy to think that if only someone suffering from depression had expressed it sooner, we as a people could have done something to give them reason to push those thoughts aside and continue to be part of our lives. But it doesn't work like that. While I'd like to believe that if we knew what he had planned yesterday, thousands of us would have raced to his home, pulled him aside and hugged him, told him how much his gifts mean the world to us, and hope that this outpouring of emotion would be the key to unlocking his happiness. But it doesn't work like that. None of his positive elements - from his career to his family - were enough to quell those thoughts telling him he was unworthy of life. In his mind, there was only one rational option and it's one the majority of the world finds a coward's way out or an unfortunate end to a brilliant man. There were no warning signs, nothing to give those closest to him reason to keep a closer eye and an effort to correct those horrible thoughts. If that was the case, today would be another day with him in it and we'd be all the happier. But it doesn't work that way.

Perhaps that is what strikes me. The sudden disappearance of someone's spirit in the blink of an eye, one that was snuffed out by their own hands. And the fear that as someone close to another with severe depression, there is nothing you can do to stop them. Honestly, all you can do is provide your support, your love, your admiration and give them opportunity to decide for themselves. Perhaps what shakes my core is knowing this may not be the only day this feeling haunts my soul and that, when it comes down to it, there's nothing I can do except offer as much love and respect as possible. The rest is up to the afflicted individual; the choice is up to them.

There are a few facts about depression I do not adhere to and some I feel are misguided efforts, but we all deal with our burdens in our own ways. If medication is what aids you, all the more power to you. If it's emotional support, so much the better. Whatever you feel keeps your head above the water, it is the head that gives commands to the body to continue paddling. All we can do is encourage you to keep kicking. The rest is up to you. 

Sunday, 20 July 2014

First Aftermath: ScreenPlay's Premiere


If you've had a chance to read the latest addition to Under the Hood (, take a moment and read about my anxiety going into this past weekend's first playtest of ScreenPlay. Then come back here to the present. 

Now it's done and there's been time to digest. Suffice it to say - and not intending the brag - but holy crap was that article bang on! The game went very well (other than rather lengthy mechanics discussions that went on a bit too long for one player, but he was a good sport about it) and there are definitely some revisions ahead. Yet the overall feedback was excellent! Those who loved it adored it and those who enjoyed it thoroughly did so. The main issue is some redrafting of gameplay and redefining (or even altering completely) descriptions, outcomes and reactions. Still, it worked as it was intended and the reaction was wholly positive. 


I've had some time to ponder these changes and there'll be a list coming up in next week's Hood so keep an eye out for it. 

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Developing Ironbound

With the first ever playtest for anything ScreenPlay going down in less than four days, I've been working on drafting up some rough material for Ironbound. What is Ironbound, you ask? What a great question. Allow me a moment to introduce it.

Ironbound is a dark fantasy ScreenPlay where magic has been outlawed and its practice declared a sin by the Church. Picture a D&D-style world without the benefit of high magic merged with the harsh times and environment of Iron Age Europe. To combat these magic-users and the monsters they summon, an elite unit of soldiers known as the Ironbound are dispatched to investigate rumours of magic use and eliminate them using any means necessary (including the study - but not the practice - of magic). In this world, iron is considered a symbolic counter to magic and its affinity with the natural world (magic operates as a form of witchcraft with fireballs, summoning undead, and all that standard fantasy stuff).

In this game, the crew takes on the role of assorted members of the Ironbound dispatched to the town of Behn upon word of grave robbing and a kidnapping. While I have a few rough notes and mental concepts for the setting, my main goal is to have all the player components ready to rock and roll by Friday night and that means developing roles for the players.

Roles are a tricky part of character development in ScreenPlay, particularly for the lead roles. While there has to be some locked-in aspects to work with the story I have in mind, some flexibility is required for players to contribute to the final script. That is the purpose of gameplay - shared storytelling. It's why working on Ironbound as my very first ScreenPlay can be very helpful because the lead roles can be as loosely defined as roles within a medieval military unit. They must also simultaneously allow each crew member (player) opportunity to add their own personal touches to the cast they created for these roles, so here's what I have in mind.

Using the scout role as an example, here's how roles could possibly function in the game using the draft as it exists at this very moment.

The Scout

Magic-users typically dwell in the dark corners of the forests and thrive on the protection of unchartered territories. The Ironbound rely on scouts to guide them safely to their destinations, avoid detection, and discover clues to the successful completion of their missions. While no two scouts are the same, they are trained in the arts of tracking, stealth, infiltration and wilderness survival.

Equipment: Unlike others within the Ironbound, scouts are not commonly equipped with the heavy weaponry and armour of their brethren. As a scout, your cast member can start off with your choice of one-handed melee weapon (+1 steps to attacks; +2 damage), ranged weapons (+1 steps to attacks; +2 to +4 damage), and leather or hide armour (+1 steps to defence). Feel free to flesh out the rest of your scout's equipment as needed.
Grapple (Minor Complication): Scouts can place this Minor Complication on an opponent so long as the scout can use both hands (with at least one unarmed) and applied stealth into their triggering description. You must spend 1 Stamina to apply this Complication. The opponent is grabbed from behind by the scout and cannot move, speak, or make any noise capable of attracting the attention of another cast member without removing this Complication.
Skills: Scouts gain +1 steps when providing a description or reaction involving tracking, stealth, infiltration or wilderness survival.
Unseen: Whenever a scout has the benefit of moving in concealment or can take advantage of heavy coverage (such as behind a thick canopy of trees or bushes or a wall), you gain +1 steps to any Potential used to silently approach and attack a single target.
Wild Past: Scouts are commonly discovered in many backwoods outposts and uncivilized corners of the country. Develop a backstory for your scout with this approach in mind and include a superstition or biased opinion/viewpoint of magic in your character's personality. When you effectively play out this aspect of your character, you gain +1 steps to resist the effects of a spell.

What Do They Mean?

Even if you've had a chance to read the current iteration of ScreenPlay (available for download here), some of this means squat diddly to you. Allow me to explain.


For your average role-player, this is all standard fare but the mechanic of weapons and armour is a little different. One of the catches for each ScreenPlay is that they'll each require their own shopping list and I haven't gone into great detail on that as of yet. Not until I can see how often Complications actually come into effect and see a game in action. I do have a general guideline for Ironbound at this point.

One-handed melee weapons provide +1 steps to attacks and feature no other special features. They're nothing fancy and you still need to get in close to use them just as you would with unarmed combat. Two-handed melee weapons provide greater harm to your opponents and provide +2 steps in combat but they come with an alternate Complication that can temporarily eliminate them from your list of resources. Ranged weapons grant +1 steps and the advantage of distance and Ironbound's weapons mean they all come with the alternate Complication titled "Out Of Ammo," meaning you either bust the bow string, lose your arrows, or anything else you can think of at the moment. Armour simply increase your opposed roll by +1 steps for light to medium and +2 for the heavy stuff.


I'd like for every lead role to provide a Minor Complication in the character's repertoire and this one seems the perfect fit for a scout. To ensure it's not abused (particularly against extras), it comes with a mandatory cost of 1 Stamina should a scout fail to completely subdue an opponent. During my first go at this role, it seemed like such a thing should be a Major Complication but that would require grappling to having far reaching consequences beyond normal subduing of your enemy. This way, a scout who fails to kill an enemy with a stealth-based attack can at least prevent them from calling out for help or running away.


A common provision for roles, this is a very basic skill system where the cast member gains +1 steps under very interpretive conditions.


As with Skills, the Unseen ability allows a scout to benefit from poor visibility when they're trying to do their thing. It's a way of offsetting what I'm expecting will be a weaker role in open combat and based on my experience with thieves/rogues from other fantasy games, it really places the emphasis on the player to interpret how they can apply such an ability.

Wild Path

This is something experimental I'm trying for lead roles, something where the player can stretch their imagination and put their own spin on a role while gaining something for their efforts. In this case, finding a way for the scout to gain an extra bonus against magical attacks and effects based on their unique history. To be honest, I'm not sure if the wording on this one will stand the test of time, but it's enough to get the ball rolling and develop some feedback after the playtest.

What do you think? Good potential, too questionable, or there's really only one way to find out as you reach for your dice?

Download Version 1.01 of ScreenPlay's rules from here.

You can learn more about the development of ScreenPlay (AKA the Phoenix Project) on the Roleplayers Chronicle site.

And I'd like to give credit to Fraser Ronald for inspiring me to try signing all my blog posts with related links. If you're interested in anything you see here, you'll be equally or more happy with his own work and can find it here

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Let The Judgement Begin!

And so it's time to start up the engine and get this new game out there into the world. On Sunday, I announced the first two phases of Project Phoenix in the 100th post of my regular column on Roleplayers Chronicle. First, there's ScreenPlay, a free supplemental RPG where players take on the role of Writers developing a movie script in co-operation with the Director (AKA the GM). Second comes High Plains Samurai, a mash-up of post-apocalyptic westerns and magic powered by the ScreenPlay engine. You can read all about them straight from the original post. 

That's all the technical talk. For my personal blog, I want to write about the personal challenges of undertaking this project. What crazy crap is going through my mind? What are my worries and beliefs? What are the behind-the-scenes going-ons in the eventual build-up of these games and this system? All of them are the kind of questions I'm looking at posing right here. And the first one is perhaps the most obvious...

What the hell was I thinking?!!

Right now, I'm nervous. It's been a while since I not only had a new game to plug, but maintained any significant presence online. Ever since the start of my new job (ironically as a Social Media Specialist), I've been almost entirely focused on my work's SM presence and not my own. With ScreenPlay (and eventually HPS), I need to get back on the horse and start plugging. Am I confident in my work so far? Definitely. I really like the tone and feel of ScreenPlay and honestly feel very proud of how different it is from Killshot. One thing I wanted to avoid after the Killshot Reloaded Kickstarter failed was failing to develop my game design skills further. I didn't want to limit myself in design styles and there are considerable differences between Killshot and ScreenPlay. With those differences come unique challenges, such as hoping those who appreciated my earlier work will like what they see in my new work.

It's all water under the bridge right now because the 9-page early draft of the rules has been posted for public scrutiny. There's no going back now. The next step is taking those written rules and putting them to practise. The very first ScreenPlay playtest goes down on June 18th with a little dark fantasy script I like to call Ironbound. I'll keep you posted as we get closer to that day. Until then, I have a paper bag to breathe into. 

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

The End of the Beginning of the End

When life finally starts to fall into place, it does it all at once. It's really starting to feel that way.

It's been a while since I posted anything on this here blog and it's been with good cause. I've been swamped. My personal life - or reality, since we're all online to escape from it, I imagine - has been ripe with responsibilities and adjustments that have taken priority as my family and I attempted to get ourselves back on track. Along the way, I've attempted to juggle a few other projects, run some games, play in others, and make it all work without going crazy.

I'm happy to say it may finally start paying off.

Not going into any great detail, but if you know anything about the struggles we've been going through then I can say they're finally coming to an end. Not starting to come to an end… coming to an end. For the first time in years, I feel as if I have control over my life and some room to maneuver. The timing couldn't be any better as I'm planning to officially announce my next personal RPG project in two weeks. Yep, the one I've been documenting on my Under the Hood column on Roleplayers Chronicle (hence the reason why I've barely posted here). Add to that my wife starting a new job tomorrow, a raise at my job, and so many other tiny details…

There's still some shell-shock, I'll admit. Sometimes you're down in the gutter so long that it's impossible to remember what it's like at ground level. That's all we've ever wanted, to stand at ground level for a while. Now it seems we'll have that chance. Sometimes it's not about carrying on the good fight against all odds because determination is not a guarantee for success. Sometimes it's about knowing what matters most and learning when you've been punched in the gut enough to walk away and show dignity in defeat. Sometimes that makes you a better person than sticking it out to the bitter end. Sometimes you just want to be normal again.

NOTE: One of those aforementioned projects was Mercenary Breed 2.0, a science fiction RPG project I worked on with Aaron Huss and his team from Mystical Throne Entertainment. As of yesterday, it's officially complete and ready in both Savage Worlds and Legend editions, so check it out and see if it's up your alley. My own credits include one-half of the writing team for Xenopedia (an alien guide/bestiary) and editor for many different chapters throughout the entire saga. 

Wednesday, 14 May 2014


I lost a job today. A real one, not a freelance writing/design gig but one where I show up to work and get paid in the real world doing real things. Pizza delivery, to be exact. And I got a call last night telling me that my services were no longer required, effective immediately. 

It's a kick in the nuts, for sure, but not altogether sure how upset I am about that. Enough to blog about it, yeah, but only because having the extra cash was really helpful in these tight times. What's worse is that it's because $60 went missing during my last shift there. Not that I was accused of anything, just that my services are no longer needed. Which means I was fired for stealing or incompetence. Seeing as the job was under the table, nothing to do about it. I don't even feel an insult to my honor because it's not the only slap to my integrity lately. 

The better part of yesterday was spent in legal mediation and while I can't get into the details, allow me to simply state it was a bigger slap to the face than I had expected. Being accused of stealing/losing $60 is nothing compared to being told I can't hold down a job for long and therefore would not have had a successful career as a press operator. 

But I'm not here to bitch about the details. I'm here to write about the heart of the matter. Perspective. It's what we all try to discern in times of crisis and losing it causes us to lose our identity along the way. We become embroiled in a cloud of doubt and define ourselves based on our struggles and not our accomplishments. After having my testies verbally handed to me yesterday, it's become apparent that I've lost perspective on life and my battles. I'm so unbelievably tired of defining myself by these events and allowing them to eat away at my spirit. I've spent so much time concerning myself with how my choices and actions will be viewed and interpreted only to have everything thrown in my face in a way I did not expect. And these struggles aren't going away any time soon. If anything, they're digging in their heels. 

Well, so am I but I'm also not going to focus my attention on them either. Let me focus on how I am and simply be that person, let all these barbs, whips, and chains flail around as they will. I can't let myself be defined by what others think of me or do to me. I need to be me. 

Monday, 24 March 2014

A New Direction For The Hood

You may or may not know this but I've been writing an online column for Roleplayers Chronicle going on two years now called Under the Hood, dealing almost exclusively with RPG mechanics and the industry from a design/publishing standpoint. While it took a back seat to my brief rest period over the past couple of months, it returned to the forefront this past weekend with a new direction: detailing the entire design process for a new project I've undertaken, tentatively called "Phoenix."

Check it out, if you like. Details are a bit light at the moment and additional posts arrive every Sunday (give or take) on Roleplayers Chronicle

Thursday, 13 March 2014


Today is my 40th birthday. 

Ugh. Let that be an indication of how I feel about today. 

For the past year, I've been dreading this day. Like, from the moment I turned 39, I've been mentally and emotionally prepping myself for today. If anything, today and the dreary build-up to it has probably played a significant part of my mood lately (duh!). 

Why? It's the halfway point of the ride that is Life. Odds are pretty solid that reaching 80 is not in the clouds (none of the men from either side of my family have hit that milestone) and 40 is pretty much when the body hits that marker like a marathon runner midway through the race. You see where you are at that point and time compared to the other runners and begin to evaluate what you need to do in order to catch up and overtake them. What seems to be bothering me the most is that I'm far back from the rest of the pack in what matters most for the last half of this marathon: financial security. To put it simply, I have $78 in my RRSPs, rent my house and have no investments or assets. And this is not entirely because of the accident, that simply pulled the last rug out from under me (my credit score, which is now about as low as a dung beetle sinking in quicksand). 

To explain this properly, let me give you the answer from a financial advisor I saw two years ago when I was trying to sort out my debt problems. I had no job, no timeline when I could return to work and owed quite a bit to some rather pushy collection agencies. "There's nothing you can do," I was told. "You have nothing to protect and nothing they can take instead. You can't even file bankruptcy. You have no option other than not paying your debts because what little you have has to go towards basic needs and support." Ouch. And that was two years ago. It's only grown mold since then. 

My wife and I have been talking about it over the past week since I admitted to myself (and everyone else) that I'm depressed and she had a theory on why that is. "You live in the now. If you don't like what you're doing, you just stop doing it." Hearing that spoken out loud by someone else is one of the revealing no-baronets that flicks on the lightbulb. It's something you know all by yourself, but smacks you across the face when it's acknowledged by someone else. And it's true: I've never done things with forethought and great personal planning. I go with the flow and see where it takes me. If I don't like the ride, I get off and take a cab home. 

What's helped over the past couple of weeks has been the direct recognition and offers of moral support I've received. And while I generally find Facebook birthday wishes hokey, it has shown something I've banked over the years: people who genuinely care enough to take the time and write or call to offer their support and encouragement. Something about that helps, especially today. 

Ok then. Let's splash a little water on the face, swig down some Gatorade and work on the last half of this race. I hear the hills get bigger when you hit the 50s marker. 

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

12 Angry Mercenaries

During my temporary break from the rigours of the world, I did schedule in some GMing/playtesting for my little critters in Xenopedia. Did I simply run an ordinary game of Savage Worlds substituting other aliens with my own creations or write a new adventure specifically to test these buggers out? Nope, not quite.

For a few months now, I've had an idea to test out an action/survival style of play akin to Aliens or Dog Soldiers. While the intention was to try it out for a different, Optional System-style system, something about Savage Worlds seemed appropriate so I said, "Fuck it!" and dove right in. The object is simple: have each player start with 4 characters, each one an exact clone as the other 11-15, and whittle them down to a few surviving 3 or 4 PCs.

A tskohan striking a pose. One of the new
xenon found in the upcoming Xenopedia.
Illustration by Andrew DeFelice.
Here's the plot. In this particular version of Mercenary Breed, a platoon of mercs work for the Ryleh Corporation, which specializes in prisons and remote law enforcement/security. Tasked with dropping off a high-profile inmate to a maximum security installation known simple as The X, the PCs need only escort their prisoner - a particularly bizarre xeno called a tskohan (see the concept artwork to the right) - from their shuttle to its cell and they're on their way back home.

If only that were true. Something's gone horribly wrong at The X. No sooner do they arrive and leave the comfort and protection of their ship, cells are flung open and a massive riot begins all around them. Their ship is ejected from the docking bay and blasted into bits, security droids are dispatched to eliminate the mercs, and everything in this place is looking to kill them. All of this orchestrated from unknown forces operating from the prison's main level. The mercs must now do everything they can to stay alive and figure out what the hell's going on in this floating madhouse of mayhem and death.

Here's the catch: each PC in the game does not start out as a full-fledged Wild Card. Kind of a half WC, half extra build. They all start with the same abilities (Agility d8, Smarts d4, Strength d8, Spirit d4, Vigor d6) and can assemble their own weaponry/armor (using the standard $500 starting point). All players have 4 mercenaries to start with. Once they've selected their gear and slapped on a name for their mercs, it's go time. Right into the action. As each merc is killed one-by-one, all currently surviving mercs receive 1 point towards character enhancement to spend as if they were still in character creation. What this does is allow each merc to become more and more defined as time goes on, plus allowing the players to adjust a merc or two to suit the challenge at hand. For example, if the players find themselves constantly in need of a tech in their crew, all it takes is one survivor to slap that point towards a Computer skill and now you have someone who can try and break the security code on the door.

Not Too Much Death, Not Too Much Survival

The challenge in adapting characters for Savage Worlds play is giving it just the right amount of death. This one's key because character progression is based on mortality, so just like any other system, you need to progress at just the right level. As I intended this adventure to run about 5-6 sessions and leave each player with at least 1 merc standing by the end, I needed to remove around 1-2 mercs per session. That would allow survivors to gain a couple of skills or even an Edge once per session.

Pulling this challenge off has been tricky. After two sessions, only 1 merc has died and the source has become obvious: Bennies. Rather than spending a Benny to re-roll a weak die, players are using them for soak rolls. As this is a playtest adventure and you never know what will happen until you try it, I decided to keep the Benny rates the same - each player starts with 3 per session. Not enough to give every merc a shot, just enough to leave one of them hanging out to dry. It turns out this has become a major kink in mercenary death/progression rates and a change had to be made.

What we decided on was to reload the Benny pool so that each player starts a new session with a number of Bennies equal to the number of dead mercs on their hands. If you start with all four of your mercs alive, you gain 0 Bennies. Down to the last one? Then you have 3 Bennies to start the session, just like a real character would provide.

I'm hoping to run the third session in a couple of weeks with the revised Bennies rule. Hopefully, that will do the trick and help get me back on par with my quota of character death (which is an odd thing for a GM to consider). Until then, I'm not sure if I want to share too much of the plot seeing as I may want to publish this adventure (as a stand-alone Savage Worlds thing or a unique addition to the Mercenary Breed setting) and will need to run a new playtest to ensure all revised rules work from the very beginning next time around. Guess there's only one way to find out.

You can read more about Mercenary Breed and Xenopedia from Mystical Throne Entertainment's website. 

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

A GM's Day Tribute

It's GM's Day, a time for those of us seriously dedicated to roleplaying games and the craft of GMing (whether you appreciate the work of another or strive to become the ideal model of gamemastering) take the time to give a shout out of thanks and snatch up some sweet stuff from our wish lists. As a publisher, I could simply take the time and push my own products through DriveThru's massive sale but it seemed lacking of the day's intent.

Then it hit me. I don't think I've ever taken the time to publicly thank the other GMs who amuse, entertain and enlighten. So wrong and I'd like to take this time to fix it. These are the select duo who have always impressed me with their hard work and dedication, inspiring me to make my own skills better. I'm not confident enough to say I've been successful, but my heart's in the right place and that's good enough for me right now.

The first is perhaps the most passionate GM I've ever known and one-half of an inseparable pair (despite the two living in different countries). I've known Derek for over 25 years (ouch) and while we're not in contact any more, I'm not sure there's anyone else I've ever met who invested so much of his soul into his games. He has an infectious enthusiasm to every one of them and prides himself on getting new players to take up the dice. Derek is also a builder; carpentry runs in this man's blood and he's used it to create some truly impressive displays over the years. While I've never been handy enough to consider some of the goodies he's made over the years, it's one story in particular that remains locked in my mind.

We're going way back to high school for this one, back to the days of Dark Sun. While we normally played in his parents' basement, we came over for a midday game (I'm thinking we skipped school because there was no one else home) and gathered around the dining room table for a change of pace. There was a map laid out on the table and we were knee deep in the adventure (not entirely sure which one we were playing as I've never been good at remembering that part) when one of the players discovered a secret passage.

"Grab the other end of the table," Derek said and the two pulled it open as you would to add an insert. Secured underneath the table was a secret underground layer to the map, resting in secret for hours while we played unsuspecting of the awesomeness he had waiting for us. All miniatures and furnishings were firmly in place, waiting to be unlocked. And if you know Derek, you know he's completely unable to keep a secret without having a giant grin on his face. That sense of awe he created by catching us off-guard is something I want to produce in every game I run.

Next, we have the second half of the Dynamic Duo: Dave. Also someone I've known since elementary school, Dave's thing in high school was running Ravenloft and he was very good at it. Not just because there were more miniatures than you could shake a stick at (for which he probably had a stick-waving miniature we never had a chance to see), maps aplenty, and every supplement/adventure published under the sun, it was how his version of Ravenloft became our One True Campaign. PCs died and others lived, but not without scars, stories, and a heavy dose of fear. What I remember most about those long nights of Ravenloft was not how my character was scared but how I genuinely felt that our characters were screwed. In a good way.  

What Dave also taught me was that roleplaying games were stories told to an audience smaller than an off-Broadway production of a phone conversation but 1,000 times better. We all wanted to create our own winding campaigns because of his and each of us dabbled in all of the many settings TSR released in their heyday: Forgotten Realms, Dark Sun (as mentioned above), Planescape, even Birthright. None of them ever compared to Dave's Ravenloft campaign. Playing those games was not about the individual session; it was about the campaign, something I miss terribly as an adult trying to get a single story arch told in 6 sessions, let alone an evolving campaign running three years and 15 levels. He taught us to respect our enemies because they had no respect for us and he played all his monsters this way. Mortality was our greatest nemesis and the only way we would learn to respect it was to confront it.

Both of them showed how fun it was to run a game and while it's been years since I've seen them, let alone sat down with them for a game, there's little time gone by when I haven't sat in the GM's chair and hoped I could invoke that same feeling into my players.

So to Dave and Derek, out there in the world prepping their next game, I say thanks for killing so many of my characters and keeping me wanting more. Happy GM's Day, guys. 

Monday, 3 March 2014

Weight of the World

Anyone who's used to reading this blog, catching the infrequent post here and there, or simply know anything about my work may have noticed one indisputable fact: I ain't written a damn thing on here in over a month. Yeah, it's been a while and like all absences, there's a reason. Maybe even several but they're all lumped into one category. Regardless of those reasons, it's become manifested in a near inability to write. Anything. Regular readers may notice something missing from the start of this post, a signature catch phrase marking the beginning of every other post every made on this blog because it just doesn't seem appropriate right now. Or any more.

I've been having a very hard time lately. Stressed, weary, and depressed. It seems the weight of the world has finally bore down on these shoulders that have endured so much low these past three-and-a-half years, leaving me with only two choices. Carry on as I have been for some time and push these struggles aside until yet another date or accept reality and do something about it. In a bizarre way, I've gone with a lazy version of the second choice and dumped a few challenges from my list.

My readership is low, so expecting everyone to know what's going on is silly. Even then, I've never truly shared my burdens and those of my family, instead willing to tease snippets and move on before anyone can poke and prod. Big mistake. I've been keeping a lot to myself for a while now and it's taken a toll, such as...

  • The physical pain. Mild compared to what many others with chronic pain endure on a daily basis, yet still an issue nonetheless. Yes, there's medication but those come with side effects as well, from lack of appetite to riding the high and the following lows when you have to take a lot of pills. Winter has always been tricky with regards to pain as the fluctuating temperatures cause the nerves to fire up or slipping on a patch of ice tweaks my foot in just the right way to send me out of commission for the rest of the day. Mix that with bad knees and a propensity to lean heavily on my good (left) side too often and you have a glimpse of what's going on. 
  • The cognitive issues. This has recently become a serious concern as my full-time job ramped into high gear during the ski season. Working in a low-traffic, average office setting started out well and I was rather impressed with myself for being able to operate - even thrive - in an open environment. Now that people have been moved around and this place has become a phone-ringing, conference-calling, power-meeting place-to-be for everyone in Front Office, things have become complicated. I've suffered five episodes of what I call "fuzziness," including one incident where my co-workers called 911 when I was passed out at my desk and was non-responsive for several minutes. By the time I returned to functional, the paramedics had already arrived to do their thing and I was done for the day. 
  • The workload. Related to the cognitive issues, this is more about the number of things on my plate at one time and is also the area with the most control over my situation. In a given week, I had my full-time job at Calabogie, a part-time job delivering pizzas until midnight, freelance work writing for Xenopedia/Mercenary Breed, keeping up with house chores while my wife powered through her school work, taking online classes, rough designs for projects like Optional Core, walking the dogs, tutoring and finally trying to have some time to relax and re-power the engines. I'm a very task- and deadline-oriented person and failing to keep up on so many duties was doing serious damage. My schedule was so crowded, I had to bail on visiting my family for Christmas and I still haven't had a chance to see them for the holidays (they're only a two-hour drive away from us). 
  • The financial problems. I've never been good with money. Something I said last month stuck with me and has become my new motto: "I've never had money but I've always had my pride." The accident brought on serious consequences to our finances, especially when I wasn't able to work for three years and had to support my wife with her own problems. (We're getting there, don't worry.) Money was always tight and the only means we had available were through the insurance company (who bailed after two years) and the still-ongoing lawsuit. Now that I'm working from the bottom of a new ladder and still struggling to keep up with our payments - including rent - all while busting my ass to keep up with these waves, money problems have become a major sore spot. To the point that I literally shake and feel chest pains when I see a bill in the mail or try to sit down and update our personal budgets. 
  • The missus' medical issues. My wife has a serious form of epilepsy (she's also been unable to work for three years now) and depression. Before the accident, I was her rock and was able to keep the world immediately around her stable while she learned to cope with her recently diagnosed conditions. Since the accident, it all became too much for her and there have been problems I will not go into here. They aren't my problems to share but the stress of knowing I'm powerless to do anything about them is mine and I'm sharing that. 
Neither one of these takes precedence over another and they all intermingle with each other. For example, working two jobs to try and stay afloat increased the pain, which bumped up the amount of meds I was taking, leading to that shitty feeling and fogging up my cognitive functions, meaning I had to miss out on some work days and not get paid for those missing days. All of this has been reasonably kept to myself. No more. 

It all came to head when my wife received $4000 from OSAP (Ontario student loans) related to her school work. We didn't expect this money and our first thoughts were on someone screwing up. "Nah, can't be right. Someone will realize their mistake and it'll be gone in a couple of days." At that very moment, I freaked out and broke down. Like lying on the floor in the fetal position broke down. The straw that broke the camel's back. Or so I thought. There was another situation but, like I said, it's not my problem to share. 

There are a lot of people in the RPG community who battle depression and I think it's safe to say I'm one of them. It's not the first time hitting this brick wall and it seems to be a reoccurring challenge for creative types in general. They've been bold and made a point of sharing their issues to varying degrees of detail through blogs and tweets and I commend each and every one of them for taking the first step: admission. Perhaps it's time I did the same. 

In all honesty, part of me wanted to do the same years ago and be forward about my struggles but I listened to my lawyer and kept it to myself. Not that I'm a chatty person (I'm very quiet in the flesh unless we're talking gaming and game design, then you can't shut me up) but in my writing. I write because I can't express myself verbally the same way I can do with my fingers. But I was encouraged against such posts simply because it was all related to the lawsuit and I just don't give a shit about that anymore. I've allowed myself to become victim to a system that assumes more than assures and let the accident dominate my life, only to let me down and leave me out in the cold. I want to become my own man again and prove to myself what I'm capable of so fuck what I've been told. I've been a victim for far too long.

It's what I learned about depression long ago - you have to get yourself out of it. That's my take on such matters and not to be taken as gospel in any way, just what I've discovered about my depression. It's about perception and opinion with little to nothing related to fact. I have many reasons to be proud and happy - I won a fucking ENnie award for my first ever original RPG design and I'm married to someone whom I truly love and loves me just as much, if not more - but my opinion is that I've failed myself and those who count on me. Kind words, gentle reminders, and coaching from friends and family can only go so far. The solution is up to the individual. I can't be depressed while my wife suffers from clinical depression, that's what I tell myself. I need to fix myself so I can help her and be what she needs. It's not something I'm saying for her sake; it's for my own and it's what's prompted me to do what is necessary for both of us. A happy hubby makes a happy wife and vice versa. 

To that, I've made serious changes in my life. First, I took a break from all writing, including work on Xenopedia and Mercenary Breed (to which major thanks goes out to Aaron Huss from Mystical Throne, the publisher, for his incredible understanding and help with the situation), changed my part-time job to another one with less hours and better pay, started working from home once a week, dropped out of my online graphic design course, stopped tutoring (for now), and started enjoying time at home without chores, tasks, or duties. The missus has also dropped out of her course and that has taken a huge load off both our shoulders. We're starting to see the benefits of these choices already and there are more smiles in the house than there has been for a while. 

I am the Warden and I am depressed. I'm telling my story because it must be told, because silence only makes matters worse, and I want others to know they are never alone out there.

(To learn more about depression and its symptoms, I found this website to be helpful as a starting point.)

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Filling the Galaxy - Phase 2: Assigning Categories

In the midst of this mighty vacuum is the potential for
thousands of unique aliens... but what are they like
as a people?
I am the Warden!!

The response we've received for Mercenary Breed 2.0 and Xenopedia has been outstanding and now the pressure is on us to keep that enthusiasm going and keep you pumped and anxious for the final release (scheduled for Spring 2014).

Personally, I was psyched when this fell into my lap too. I'd played some Savage Worlds in the past and really enjoyed the simplicity and well-rounded application of the system; it felt like D&D without the same feeling of strict limitations for character development. That's not what got my creative juices flowing when virtual hands shook and it was time to get started on Xenopedia. It was the idea of creating aliens from scratch.

I didn't want these aliens to feel like "game aliens." By that, I mean I wanted them to seem like real creatures - bipedal, four-legged, or slimy crawlers - discovered by NASA satellites and researched extensively before converted into Savage Worlds stats. They had to feel alive as a species before they could pop as individuals.

Think of humanity. As a whole, we are an incredibly diverse and ranged species capable of great deeds both pleasant and nefarious. As individuals, we may share genetic dispositions, traits, and habits based on geography and culture, but how would an alien culture view us as a species? Our culture defines our individuality as much as it explains our species as a whole, a crucial aspect I wanted to cover in Xenopedia when it seemed most others did not. Information such as how they ran their society, their tendency towards aggression and/or peace, and their grasp of technology could open so many doors for GMs looking to include them in their Mercenary Breed campaign (or any other SW campaign, seeing as Xenopedia is designed primarily as an open-source alien guide).

The trick was containing an entire species' potential within four pages in a 6x9 format with readable text. Plus there was the regular format set down by the publisher and Savage World standards. There was no extra room for the extra bits I wanted to add on, nor was it acceptable to shorten the details already required by the publisher. I needed a compromise.

Cue the categories.

The beginning of each entry starts with a shorthand description of the species' general scope of government, military, and technology. These three were chosen (with some helpful input from some G+ followers) as the dominant factors in understanding the species as a whole. For example, if an alien's home world is part of one massive empire, the alien is more inclined to share certain traits and habits (such as accents and dress) compared to an alien whose home world is divided into hundreds of different factions. An aggressive species with a full-blown military could mean an individual alien has military training and combat training versus a pacifist species with a focus on education and diplomacy. Finally, their use of technology dictates their frequency and reasons for being in the vacuum of space; a low-tech species may only be encountered on their home planet or been forced into servitude on other planets.

Every species begins with the following categories: Society, Military, and Technology. Each category is divided into four rankings numbered from 0 to 3, with zero indicating no connection whatsoever. For example, the cephlon is a solitary alien rarely encountered by mercenaries in their career and many other planets believe this species is a myth - they are ranked as Society 0 because they have no common government or communities. Compare that to the hokoth and their peacekeeping empire (Society 3) or the territorial jhet (Society 2) and you'll get a glance at the potential. Xenopedia's introduction contains a simplified explanation of each category's rank as a guideline for embellishing the alien's culture, practices, and home world.

Each category works as a cultural Trait, if you will. Much in the same way reading an alien's Strength at d12 tells you it is very strong, noticing a species' Technology category at 2 tells a GM it has a basic grasp of advanced technology, but has not developed its own means of interstellar travel. Just like regular Traits, categories are freely interpretative to whatever you need for your particular sci-fi campaign.

Next: Let's get to some aliens, shall we? In Phase 3 of Filling the Galaxy, I'll show you the early designs for one of the galaxy's fiercest threats - the crafty cephlon.

Monday, 6 January 2014

Filling the Galaxy: Announcing Xenopedia & Mercenary Breed 2e

I am the Warden!!

It's official. I can now talk about my latest project.

Behold the press release from Mystical Throne Entertainment, posted this morning!

Aaron T. Huss
Mystical Throne Entertainment
Mystical Throne Entertainment Announces Mercenary Breed 2.0 for Savage Worlds 
SHAKOPEE, MN JANUARY 5, 2014 – Mystical Throne Entertainment is pleased to announce the development of the second edition of Mercenary Breed for Savage Worlds. 
Mercenary Breed originally made its debut in 2012 and was received well. This original edition provided a compact toolkit and sandbox setting for space opera adventures and campaigns. Mercenary Breed 2.0 promises to considerably expand on these original principals by growing from its original roots, providing a considerably more complete toolkit and sandbox setting, but embracing all aspects of sci-fi tabletop role-playing including space opera, military sci-fi, sci-fi fantasy, and more! 
Mercenary Breed is the first Mystical Throne Entertainment product to exhibit a new development format consisting of three core setting books: a player’s guide, called the Mercenary’s Handbook, and GM’s guide, called the Galaxy Guide, and a universal bestiary, called the Xenopedia. Additionally, the Xenopedia can be utilized across all Savage Worlds sci-fi settings as it doesn’t require the Mercenary Breed setting for use. This new format means players will only need to purchase the Mercenary’s Handbook and GMs can choose which aspects of Mercenary Breed they wish to utilize in the Galaxy Guide and Xenopedia. Also, those playing in other sci-fi settings can pick-up the Xenopedia without having to get the full Mercenary Breed set. 
Mercenary Breed 2.0 is a considerable expansion to the current edition, which comes in around 32,000 words. The Mercenary’s Handbook alone comes in around 62,000 words! This new series is being co-authored by Aaron T. Huss, the original creator of Mercenary Breed, and line developer, The Warden. The Xenopedia is being illustrated by Andrew DeFelice with each xeno entry having its own character portrait. “It’s kind of likeTraveller for Savage Worlds,” said Aaron. “You get a very flexible sci-fi toolkit and a sandbox setting filled with opportunities!” The Warden adds, “This is an exciting opportunity for both existing fans of Mercenary Breed, but new players and GMs as well. We’re taking the open-ended sandbox options of the original edition and helping GMs by filling in some extra details for them to pick and choose as they see fit. It’s a bit galaxy and there’s plenty of room for interpretation – that’s our goal.”
Mercenary Breed 2.0 is due for release in Spring 2014 and blog previews will be found at the Mystical Throne Entertainment website:
Mystical Throne Entertainment is the publishing and creative outlet for Aaron T. Huss. He currently holds licenses for Savage Worlds and Colonial Gothic and is a third party publisher for Legend. 
The Warden is a regular freelance writer for Mystical Throne Entertainment, president and owner of Broken Ruler Games, and creator of the ENnie Award winning Killshot RPG.

Thursday, 2 January 2014

The Unveiling Begins For [secret project]

I am the Warden!!

Word has come in from the publisher of [secret project] and its official announcement is coming Monday, which means I can finally get ready to start blogging about it. Not only that, showing off some prelim sketches and discussing the design process, inspirations, and breaking down the Savage Worlds mechanics to fit the zany crap that's been pouring out of me head.

That being said, Monday is still another five days away from this post's launch and posting a teaser about an announcement doesn't warrant your attention alone. So behold the following post from the Savage Insider Facebook page.
The new project's bestiary book is truly one-of-a-kind. Not only does it provide a collection of entries, each one is given a 4-page spread (6x9 layout) providing a deeper look at the entry instead of just providing a few sentences of flavor alongside a stat block. Why is it so unique? Within this particular genre, bestiaries like this are truly rare! Not only does this mean you can use the bestiary within any setting of the same or similar genre, it also means you can use these entries as allies, connections, major NPCs, plot providers, enemies, fodder, and virtually anything you can imagine.
This is actually the fourth teaser mentioned by the Insider and they've revealed a few clues about the expanse of this particular project. It's a Savage World project based on an original publication by Mystical Throne Entertainment, the publisher of Savage Insider. This release will include three volumes: a player's guide, a setting guide, and a bestiary. What I can tell you right now is that bestiary has been my baby for the past three months. I have been working on a Savage Worlds bestiary for a yet unannounced setting expansion, as well as a few other duties to come with the official announcement on January 6th.

The timing for this announcement couldn't be better as I could really use the blogging boost I get from working on any project. As I mentioned before, [secret project] has broken from my standard work habit and has been an itch I've wanted to scratch from the top of a very tall building. Soon, the relief of a good hard scratch can begin.

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

A Year of Incredible High and Challenging Lows

I am the Warden and it's finally the end of 2013!!

Hmm, seems a bit harsh for this past year, doesn't it? It's been a dicey year (this time, pun not intended) and for the past week I've been really eager to see this one come to an end so we can get that "fresh start" feeling you get with January 1sts. I've never been a stickler for holidays and exact traditions, but the concept of setting goals and establishing a sense of revision with the launch of a New Year has always struck a chord with me and it's a welcome resort now more than ever.

Truthfully, there are many reasons why 2013 was a momentous and terrific year. Getting married, winning an ENnie, returning to the workforce (twice), taking an online graphic design program, dropping out of the online graphic design program, my wife going back to school, getting a car, and seeing the latest Hobbit with my nephew were the definite highlights. So why the eagerness to ditch those 365 days like a date with a woman you find out to be your cousin? Good question.