31 July, 2017

I might do RPGaDay again this year.

I've done it in previous years, often with modifications to the questions. I guess I've got a day or so to think about it. 

30 July, 2017

EttinCon Debrief (Part 3)

The last session of the day was the first session where +Leah Wenman and I took part in separate games. During the first session I ran, while she played...during the second session, we both played. Session 3 saw me running "The Law", while she played a freeform dinner party game based on Jane Austen novels, appropriately called "Pride and Prejudice".

Session 3: The Law
There's a notion in many parts of the roleplaying community where a game is better if it has more players. I can understand how a convention organiser might believe this, more butts on seats means more cashflow...thankfully EttinCon isn't like this, but I can see in certain other conventions how this might be considered the case. The thing is that I've seen many people gloating on social media groups about "how great a GM they are because of how many people they have in their games". I know that I haven't always been immune to this idea, I used to love having regular games with up to 10 players in them, occasionally getting more...I'd similarly enjoy blowing apart the traditional convention structure of 5-player teams to offer sessions with 7-8 players, often knowing I could adequately amuse such a group for a 3-hour timeslot. But looking back on my years (decades) of running games at conventions, some of the most fun and memorable games have played to the other end of the spectrum. Quality not quantity.

I don't know if this is really true, some people enjoy small games, some people enjoy large games. What's probably more to the point is knowing what specific players like, and how best to accommodate a game to their preferences and playing style. Long story short... I don't see a lack of players as a bad thing, but more as a chance to tell more personal stories in a more intimate setting.

I had 2 players for "The Law", for a session scheduled to handle 4-6 players. I asked the players if they wanted to continue, or if we should fold our session into one of the other games of the night. They were still enthusiastic, and I said that basically since it's a game based on Judge Dredd, and since he usually works alone or with one or two other key agents, it probably fits the genre better to gave a lower player count. Besides, the recent Karl Urban movie within the setting had Dredd and Anderson...2 characters... we'd be fine.

Of the 9 pre-gens I'd written up, we ended up with a socially suave and sophisticated black man named Carter, and a whip-smart psychic female with mutant blood named Isaacs. Both field agents.

I set our sector to Yellow status, an average difficulty for our first public run, and to test the way investigations are handled I added a minor investigation into the mix. This meant rolling 2d6 to determine how many tokens were applied to the investigation (and thus how many successes would be necessary to solve the case)... I rolled two sixes. It was going to be a tricky one.

I have designed "The Law" to work as a mix of random encounter crime clean-up, and narratively based investigation. In this case, I picked two random agents from those not chosen...these agents were designated as possibly corrupt, or possibly being framed for corruption by someone else.

Without one of the combat oriented characters being chosen, things went far less violently than I thought they might, instead agents gained allies, persuaded people to do things that they probably shouldn't have done, read rights to people and judged them, shooting them down or applying violent force occasionally when arrests were resisted. Mysterious happenings occured, and gradually our agents pushed toward an answer.

Since it was the last session of the convention, we had to finish on time. So things probably ended more rushed than I would have liked, but generally it all worked.

...and it worked well enough that one of my two players bought one of my proof copies of the game, So that's always a bonus (Thankyou, Aby Shiels).

A few changes might come through in the next iteration of the rules, and maybe a few clarifications in the upcoming Dispatch/GM guide, but this week we'll definitely see the coregame rules made available as a pdf through the standard channels.

EttinCon Debrief (Part 2)

The last debrief post started going longer than I expected, so I've decided to break the debrief into three parts for the three sessions of the day.

Between Sessions 1 and 2 was lunch, looking at the stalls set up by the local game store "Afternoonified" and a few others who came in for the con...and generally stressing out because I thought I'd left almost everything for my evening session of "The Law" at home. Thankfully, that last bit turned out to be a false alarm. But stressing about that, filled yhe rest of the hour-and-a-half before session 2 began.

Session Two: Honey, I shrunk the Heroes!
This is the first time I've played +Sage LaTorra and +Adam Koebel's Dungeon World, and the first time I've played rather than GM'd anything for a long time. I played with my wife, in a game run by +Saul Alexander.

Interesting premise that was basically what the title promised. Five stereotypical fantasy adventurers filling the standard character tropes, all shrunk down by the evil curse of a witch...trying to find a way to grow big again, and generally survive a hostile world of bugs which seem the size of dogs, and carpets that seem like forests.

I can see why Dungeon World has the following it does, it strips back a lot of the crap from D&D, generally streamlining everything into the AW mould, but it still has that issue where every power has it's own quirky mechanism, and those quirky mechanisms are very formulaic in the way they enter play and manipulate the flow of the narrative. That said, I'd probably play this before playing another game of Pathfinder.

I felt a bit lost in the game playing a thief in a tiny world, where none of the obstacles faced in the game were traps or locks, and most of the "monsters" encountered were in pairs or swarms, so my poisons which affected a single target had minimal effect against the rest of the attacking horde. No real blame to be pointed; but in the scenario given, it really felt like the party's cleric and mage were the most useful characters (with their assortment of spells and abilities), followed by the ranger and fighter (with their combat skills, and the ranger's similarly miniaturised falcon)...then me, with less hit points than the combatants, less useful abilities than the mystical folk. I giess if I had a better understanding of the "adventuring gear", I could have MacGyver'd my way through various situations, but this didn't rally become apparent until the final half hour or so of play.

Generally the story focused on five adventurer's shrunk by the infamous witch Laughing Anna Pigpaddle. They had been trapped in a crystal ball, and the game began with the ball fallng off a shelf, shattering and releasing us. Through play we escaped the pantry of the witch, then headed across the floor of the main room of her hut. As time ran out, we released a Salamander fom the witch's fireplace, which proceeded to burn down her hut as we escaped. I still thought we'd need to find something to dispel our curse, but the deus ex machina at the end of play saw us all restored to full size once we reached the edge of what was basically an "area of effect" spell contained within the hut. It didn't feel like we accomplished much, but I guess not all games meed to weave a complex narrative. It was fun as a "little adventure" diversion.

It also allowed two more locations to be added to the map, "Pigpaddle's Peak" and "Salamander Swamp".

EttinCon Debrief (Part 1)

The convention I've been working toward for the past couple of weeks has now been and gone. Three sessions: two GMing, and one playing. Here's how it played out for me...

Session One: The Ballad of Jericho Julip.
This was a session GM'd by me. Running a twisted variant of Paul Tevis's "A Penny for my Thoughts". I actually wasn't sure about the best way to handle this session, I had a vague idea in mind, but couldn't work out the best way to address it. 

The premise of this session was a two part story, where each act was formed by characters who had been attacked by "Nether Shadows" who had wiped their memories. It basically played out in two iterations of "Penny". First with the characters in the mountains explaining...
  1. What their life was like before the adventure began
  2. How they became entangled in the machinations of the mysterious Jericho Julip
  3. What strange event happened on the way up the mountafin pass

The memory seeds fr the game were the traditional assortment of adventuring gear that fantasy characters might have on them...ropes, parchments, swords, shields, holy symbols, rations, etc. In each case, a player would pick a specific item, and it would be theirs...they would then link the item to the memory which was being elaborated. This followed the basic premise of the original game, with "Yes, and..." questions, followed by pairs of actions chosen by the player as they reconstructed their truth. 

One of the things I really need to rein in when I'm running this game is the length of questions and answers. The narrative control in the game needs to be snappy, fast, because otherwise one convoluted option will be forgotten as a second convoluted option is proposed. Having one or two players really get into their descriptions, while other players struggle to find the words can lead to an unbalanced play experience. This gets worse when a player feels that their leading questions and elaborate actions are their moment in the limelight, and their only chance to shine. This generates a nasty feedback loop where player after player tries to out-do one another. So I really need to control this aspect of play.

To change the pacing of the game (because otherwise things would have run over time), I cut the second act down from three questions to two.
  1. What happened on the way down the mountain?
  2. How did you betray the other characters to obtain Jericho's treasure?
  3. What final action did you take to ensure the treasure would be yours?
The whole idea of this s cond act was to turn the story into a "Lock Stock / Snatch" scenario. It didn't quite work out that way...but that's a factor of the way the earlier parts of the story unfolded.

The communal nature of narrative building in this game means that the evolving story is a wild beast that twists and turns in unpredicatable ways. We saw lycanthropy enter the story, a heist involving ancient texts stolen from a grand library, an arsonist assassin who killed a town of halflings, and a recurring theme as Jericho Julip rounded up the characters by beating them over the back of the head and shanghaiing then into his strange caravan of merchant traders, freaks and slavers. Players drew on elements of one another's stories to weave an interconnected tale where destiny pulled disparate characters together throgh threads of fate.

Apparently, as the tale unfolded, Jericho had lost his leg to a witch who carved his femur into a bone flute (in the possession of one of the characters), this bone flute was required to play one part of a three part tune, along with a music box (owned by another character), and a chant remembered by a secretive order of Monks. If drinkng from an enchanted chalice (picked by a different character again) while listening to the tune, a character enters a state of ethereal projection, where they can step into frozen fragments of time, and change the destiny of the world through consensus of their wills.

The moment they stepped into was a temporal fragment when two titanic creatures fought one another in a shattered landscape. The landscape was shattered through their blows and strikes against one another, the creatures were a dragon glistening with the colours of the rainbow, and the primordial ettin.  (The five players in the game were given the option of deciding who should win this battle by secret ballot...the dragon won 4-1). The primordial ettin was entagled in the dragon's coils, and like a boa constrictor, the dragon strangled and crushed the ettin... who exploded in a rain of stony shrapnel spreading for dozens of miles in every direction. Those fragments of stone would become the origins of the ettin race (figuratively and legendarily, if not literally).

This gave us the first location to be marked on the mega-map... Ettin Pass.
(also marked were "The Carrot Lands" in honour of our were-rabbit and his ancestral home)

28 July, 2017

EttinCon Tomorrow

I guess tomorrow is the big day.

The game is ready to go, even if the props aren't completely up to a standard I'm happy with.
The books have come up pretty well, and hopefully they might generate a few orders for the first proper print run. I might even sell one of the three prototypes I've generated. 

The thing that's got me bothered is the scemario map that I started working on a few months ago, but never got around to completing... and now Murphy's law has kicked in, and the 3D printer isn't working for me to make a stand. 

So, I might end up making a stand from cardboard.

Since I'll be busy all day tomorrow, expect a report on the convention outcome in a couple of days.

27 July, 2017

Law Proofs

After working on the Ettin Con map fairly solidly for a week or more, it's nice to get back to my own project. 

I've had feedback, I've made changes... and now I've generated a few proof copies of the game. Which mght hopefully sell on Saturday at EttinCon, so that I can pay to put some petrol in my car. 

I'm pretty happy with the way these have printed, now it's just a case of using the guillotine to get them to the right size, and using the oversized stapler to assemble them (probably not in that order).

25 July, 2017

EttinCon Mega-Map (Part 7)

The map is almost ready for playing on. Just need to take a few photos of it, then digitally stitch them together in Photoshop...

First attempt.

Need to try again

23 July, 2017

EttinCon Mega-Map (Part 6)

More colouring today.

I've tried to get more images, and even a couple more videos of the work procss, but my iPad hasn't been charging well, and there have been some glitches, so hopefully these images will suffice.

My aim in colouring is to get cooler colours mixed with blues and more whites toward the south pole of the map, and warmer colours with more yellows toward the equatorial regions. There's lots of splotches and blending and varying techniques to give a range of terrain impressions. Darker areas indicating forests and jungles, lighter areas indicating grasslands and plains.


One of the last steps is giving some more definition to the mountain ranges which have started to get a bit lost among the other colours that have now been added. 

Almost done.

22 July, 2017

EttinCon Mega-Map (Part 5)

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


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

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

EttinCon Mega-Map (Part 4)

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


Step by step, working through the coastlines...

20 July, 2017

EttinCon Mega-Map (Part 3)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

19 July, 2017

EttinCon Mega-Map (Part 2)

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

Here's the working sketch.

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

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

Then tape the fragments together...

...gradually building the complete map.

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

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

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

Which means that is a massive ferret! 

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

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

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