Category: Making

Articles in this category are about tools and ideas about making things, and my belief that you can make things.

Print and Play: Adventure Town, Pt 3

For this latest update on Adventure Town, let’s talk about the actual things you’re trying to roll. Unicode is nice and includes a set of die faces (⚀ ⚁ ⚂ ⚃ ⚄ ⚅) so we can use an ordinary text editor to sort out an example of our play boards.

You’re rolling dice to make your businesses and investments in the town do things which will give you money, which will in turn let you buy things to upgrade the town. Ownership of things in town gives way to complex rules, so the personal tableau should be as simple as I can make it.

Any given die roll in a d6 set is as likely as any other, so while we can construct a number of die roll setups, no matter how outlandish they look, they’re as probablistically likely as one another provided they want the same number of dice. Plus, it’s a drafting game – you roll 6 dice, you pick the ones you want, you use them.

Here’s an example, based on what I have in mind.

Let’s do a quick mechanical rundown of the ideas represented here:


This is where the player draws a symbol or signs a letter or makes a drawing that represents ‘their property.’ When they advance on the town board, they get to sign this symbol onto the properties they built, which also shows which buildings trigger at particular events.

I like this being something the player draws, it gives you some feeling of ownership on the space. We’ll have to decide what kind of space we want it drawn in later – like its shape and dimension.


These are simple cash ins: You can trade two dice of the sets type, and get a payout. Every time you get that payout, you put a cross in the box next to it, and that means some of them can run out. This feelsl ike things where the player is only so able to make money off things a certain time before the demand dries up.


Plans let you spend one (or more, depending on how many) dice you drafted to cross off die in the Plan list. Plans are more restrictive, in that:

  • You can only work on one Plan at a time
  • Every time you advance a plan, you have to do it with the exact numbers you need to advance it.

This means that a player might roll a 3, decide they want to start on the third plan, and then can’t advance any more plans until they cash in a 4, then a 3 again to finish that plan. Plans make your other payouts better, though – both payouts for opportunities and triggered things from businesses. Consider these a way to earn XP when you want to do something with a die roll other than throw it away to the Old Crank in town (who will buy any die for 1 coin).

You can advance plans with as many or as few die at a time as you want, but it’s your whole turn; so if you draft a 5 and a 6, and only the 5 is useful to your active plan, you don’t get to cash in the 6 for money.


These are different, because quests are big cash payments. They might not even be cash – it might be that they give you another currency, like Quest Points, you can use to cash in for some specific buildings (like, say, a Wizards’ Tower or a Cathedral). Quests, like Plans can only be advanced one at a time, and need the exact next roll to advance.

Also, some adventurers will finish quests for people, based on what they’ve got.

Other Features

I know one feature I want on this is a corruption row – a line of tickboxes that just give you 2 coins every time you hit them. You can use this to make money when you don’t like your die rolls, but excessive corruption can lead to bad effects, and some player boards might secretly punish you (or reward you) for excess corruption.

Print and Play: Adventure Town, Pt 2

Time for more thinking on our print-and-play game tenatively titled Adventure Town. What I know I have is a game loop. I know what I want the play experience to be for the players.

One player rolls a handful of dice, and the dice are drafted; players convert those dice into currency, either by a direct conversion or using a detail on their board, showing which dice they took and what they used them for. Then, players can spend coin on their turn to build things in the town.

With this simple game loop, we define some boundaries of the game. Let’s go over them in terms of wants:

I want a key player to roll some dice, then I want the dice drafted; the player who rolled them gets the biggest share, then the next player gets fewer, then hopefully the next player gets fewer and fewer and so on. I want this number of dice to be large enough that it’s hard to ‘hate’ draft – if you’re passing five dice, you can’t really rely on taking away the one die someone two seats away might want.

I want players to care about what happens when the dice are rolled, but not stress too much about what other players are doing except in a general sense. I want people to care less about individual short-term actions, and more about what they see their opponents trying to do.

I want players to feel like they’re in charge of something. I see them as representing a group, but also making changes to the town as the game goes on. This could make them big and wealthy landowners, but if they were, why would they be hanging around in podunk nowhere? Seems better to have players represent groups – maybe family businesses, investors, workers, cults and guilds.

I want players to have their own play space, and I want them to have a common board space. I can use the common space to track things that people do to affect everyone – in this case, I want them to play and deal with the idea of the town space to see players marking territory and claiming ground. I don’t want the town board to lock options off from players, though – so I don’t want buildings to be only usable by the people who build on them.

I want the building of a building to be a little bit of an event. I want players to recognise that they’re doing something that’s kind of cool, and maybe get to mark it, or sign it.

I want the game board to change. I don’t want to remove buildings that are already in place, though, because that seems to represent a traumatic destruction of the board. Also, players are mostly interacting with the board with pens or pencils, which don’t show destruction as easily as they do creation. Even a big ole x through a square can be missed by comparison.

I want there to be some feeling of procession through time. So with the desire for board change as well, I think I want to create the feeling people are moving through the town.

With these wants in mind, here’s an example of the ‘town’ board I have in mind.

This design means that each turn, from the deck of adventurers, three adventurers arrive, and they trigger things in town. This means each turn cycle has players doing things, building an investment in the town, and then adventurers turn up, and the town does things based on those investments. This could, if I do it right, play out a bit like Machi Koro, except instead of rolled dice, it’s a sequence of adventurers.

Problems with this board off the top of my head:

This might wind up being too tight! I might decide to make the town squares bigger, and not include a space on this board for those cards. I may not need 3 slots, or I may need more than 3 slots. After all, they don’t need to be on the board, and the deck won’t have room to live on the board.

  • The town squares might be too small at a glance.
  • The town squares don’t have to be squares. They could be rectangles, fill out this space in
  • I might have too many town squares. I might want to make it a 9×9 or 4×4 grid, or maybe get a little odder, with some buildings occupying multiple squares, perhaps signifying their importance.
  • I might not want there to be a tree relation between spaces. As it is, I put in the lines to give myself a vague idea of what I was doing, but it’s by no means essential.

Here’s another example while I’m at it:


Bullet Journal Module: Day Tracker For The Swindle

The thing I’ve come to really love about Bujo is the question ‘what is that for?’ can always be answered with ‘the things I want to use it for.’ This is a module I made for my Swindle runs; I want to try and get a run faster than my 16 day current best, I want to know how long I spend in each zone, and I want to know how much influence the ghost bonus/multiplier and number of computers influence what I’m doing.

So I made this!

The note of K vs D: K are runkiller levels, places where there’s simply too much in the way and the day has to be considered a total waste, not even able to advance multiplier. This is when you get things like computers in areas you need bombs to reach before you can possibly afford bombs, or multiple security-locked computers before you can get security hacking. D however is just when you heck up and die.


Making Fun, Episode 7 – Getting Started

Hey holy heck I made another one of these!

This time the challenge was learning the tool. I feel a lot more confident with Vegas studio and learned how to overcome a couple of really embarassing early problems.

If there’s anything you want to see me explore as a topic, please, lemme know!

The Traits Of Objects

You may have heard about the idea of ‘objectification.’ When I wrote about Daredevil, I trotted out a list – Instrumentality, Agency, Ownership, Fungibility, Violability, and Subjectivity. Where’d that list come from? Is it a tool you can use for your own writing?

One of the things I like with critical tools is that you can turn them on work that exists, and illuminate traits of the work you wouldn’t otherwise notice, but also, like an inverted puzzle piece, you can turn the tool on a work you’re developing yourself, and in the process, see spaces you can use to fill things out to achieve what you want. In this case, the tool is useful for avoiding the objectification of a character, which is to say, you can use this checklist to imbue a character with character.

As for the list’s origin, it’s from the work of Martha Nussbaum, and her writing was about people, not about media. It was also expanded by Rae Langton – whose work primarily focuses on sex and pornography. I don’t have a strong grounding in either of these creators, and I have the nagging feeling that digging into the views of a pair of 50+ year old Feminist Philosophers will find something nasty and TERFy. So don’t take my appreciation of this tool as an endorsement of them.

The full list, including both Nussbaum and Langton’s categories, and the questions they ask, is as follows:

  • Instrumentality: Does this character exist to only enact the purpose of another? Are they a tool? Could you replace them with a vending machine?
  • Agency: Is the character ever demonstrated as having their own purpose, their own ability to make decisions for themselves?
  • Ownership: Is the character ever depicted as being literally the property of another? And if they are, is that depiction ever showing that as being reasonable? Parents, for example, are often depicted as owning their children. How do you think of that relationship?
  • Fungibility: Can the character be swapped for another character of a similar type? Is the character replaceable? How would the actions of the character differ if another character was called upon to do the same thing?
  • Violability: Can people act on the character without consequence? Can you punch them with no followup?
  • Subjectivity: Does the character’s individual experience and personal opinion ever matter? When they disagree with someone is it because of a personal interpretation of events? What fuels that thought?
  • Reduction To Body: Can the character be thought of as just a particular component of their body? Are they a fist to attack someone with, a foot to step on someone? This is very common in pornography – is a character, for lack of a less crude term ‘Tits The Girl?’
  • Reduction To Appearance: Does a character matter primarily in terms of how appealing they are to the senses? A good test of this again, is to check how these characters could be organised in terms of being ‘the hottest’ or ranked for appearance.
  • Silencing: Is the character voiceless? Are they treated as if they are voiceless? Does it ever matter if they say anything? Do other people react to what they have to say?

Sometimes there are some really weird things you can get by applying this toolset. For example, lots of the characters in Joss Whedon’s work are fungible – they almost all can say the same lines of dialogue. Zack Snyder’s Perry White in Batman V Superman hasn’t really got Subjectivity – he exists to oppose Lois Lane’s efforts, without a justifiable rationale for doing so. But you wouldn’t necessarily assume that Perry White is objectified as much, in this case, as he is just an object.

Not every character in a story needs to be a non-object. There will always be room for goons and audiences and randoms. Stories thrive on having objects in them. The thing to look out for in your own work is if all the objects you’re using have common traits – if all the black people in your story, for example, are fungible, you probably have a problem. If when you need a random character to dismiss as being meaningless, you reach to make it a woman, you’ve got to wonder why you keep doing that.

And also knock that off.

This list also makes a valuable way to examine your characters and see if there are new ways you can add dimensions to them. Make them more real. Just recognise that sometimes, a messenger can just be a messenger, they don’t need a backstory and a family and seven layers of motivation if they’re going to turn up and tell you that Rosencrantz and Gildenstern are dead.

Print and Play: Finding Your Boundaries

With the launch of My Patreon (which I launched this month you should check out my Patreon), one of the questions I have had to struggle with as opposed to my compatriots on the service is what service I offer that’s entirely digital. I make videos and blog posts – which I love doing – but games, card games and board games – they’re pretty tricky to shift digitally.

But there is a dark art for tabletop games, an art that is mysterious and strange, where no physical property passes between us, my reader, but you still get a game and you get to have a physical object in your house you like that makes you happy, and I don’t have to like, mail it to you. And this is the dark realm

of print and play.

Print and Play is something I have ‘technically’ done. I have a couple of games which offer pdf downloads for print and play – games like The Botch, Dragon’s Favour and Push-Pins are all available as print-and-play games. Push-Pins is a bit of a special case and we’ll talk about it later.

The premise of Print-and-Play is pretty simple: Rather than sell people printed cardboard bits and pieces, I sell you the files and you print them out yourself to make nice cardboard bits and pieces. There’s a lot to like about Print-And-Play! Some quick thoughts :

  • It’s cheap! No warehousing, no storage, no distribution costs! If someone wants your game they can buy the files!
  • Player control! If a player wants to test a game out they can print it out cheaply and make do and they’re out very little, but if they love it, they can make it fancier
  • The player is a primary producer! This means that you can include rules like drawing on a piece or destroying a piece and the game still functions just fine, and if the player wants to reset the game it doesn’t cost them a lot of money.
  • The process of crafting is itself fun! Players can individualise how they want their unit to work, decide things like the weight of tokens they want, they can decide how many tokens or markers they want – lots of good stuff there!

It has some problems, too!

  • It’s cheap! Players do not spend a lot of money on Print-and-Play, and it’s not uncommon for some games to get their start as Print-And-Play freebies.
  • It’s a crowded marketplace for the audience! There are lots of people out there making print-and-play games, so it’s hard to get yours noticed.
  • Print-And-Play is often a testbed for bigger releases! This can mean sometimes your amateur game is competing shoulder to shoulder with presentation values you might expect in a big budget game someone’s spent some serious money on!

When I start working in a design space, a thing I like to do is find the boundaries. For example, when we started making games for DriveThruCards, one of the rules was that a game had a maximum deck size, and DTC couldn’t provide tokens. That informed my designs, and that’s why we have our games like Middleware and Fabricators sitting at 120 cards. As we started to use tuckboxes, I started to design to make a game that fit comfortably in a tuckbox – so 54 card minimum.

Before we go into what I intend to do with Print-And-Play (inspired by but not exclusively for Patreons), I’m going to outline boundaries that I can see for designs. Now, I am not a seasoned Print-And-Play designer or player! This is me getting into this space! Fortunately, there are wonderful people on the internet already making these things, so let’s check out an example of someone providing instruction on putting together some nice quality components of Print-And-Play.

Now, I know it’s a long video, you don’t have to watch it all, but I provide it here as a reference.

Here are some thoughts on boundaries:

  • The cheapest-quality cards people make for their games are to print out the cards on normal A4 paper and cut them out with scissors. This isn’t good for shuffling and can be hard to randomise. There are a lot of steps up from this, though!
  • Tokens can be replaced with all sorts of other things, like nails or toothpicks or whatever, unless those tokens need to convey some play/game information you have beyond marking the presence or absence of a number of things.
  • If designing nice tokens, square tokens seem easier to cut than round tokens. Lots of games use round tokens, but there’s no need for them. Hex tokens are also arresting, and fit together nicely, but if you’re not going to make them fit together for some reason, if you don’t need that shape, the hex token seems pretty annoying to cut out.
  • You are asking for a direct investment of your player’s time to get the game to work. In some games, you may include things like reminder cards or randomiser cards, or some bitty tokens that track unnecessary things and cost you almost nothing to include. When you’re costing user investment, you want to avoid these things.

With that in mind, what are some things that I can see doing with Print-And-Play?

  • Small-card count games. Games like The Botch which only need a small handful of cards.
  • Shuffle-light games. As it happens, games with small decks often don’t need shuffling either.
  • Single-sided cards. Things like Magic: The Gathering’s double-faced cards or the backs in Downspout or Burning Daylight won’t really work so well
  • Tokens, counters, chits and bits! You can have these!
  • Mats and boards! A character sheet style arrangement, with a printed sheet with fields a player fills out!

I have some ideas already, and hopefully next week I’ll have some work to show you on this.

Rules are Stupid

The D&D Alignment system is nonsense.

This isn’t some deep wizardry here. This is just a really rudimentary fact. The entire system is phrased like it’s a moral judgement framework and there’s been a truly enormous quantity of writing trying to thread the needle of explaining a moral framework that is both simple enough that a game system can handle it, while also making a way of representing actual human interactions that can’t be exploited by the most sophomoric seventh-grade part-time evil dictator.

The main lesson of the morality system of D&D is a greater one for designing rules in general, though: Rules are stupid, or rather, rules cannot make choices or judgements. Rules are things humans interact with, they are not capable of making complex judgements themselves. What you want a rule to do is interface quickly with a player asking it a question: Hey, what happens when I do this?

The rule should, ideally, serve as a sort of curve bend in a pipe – player intention runs towards it, and that pipe just directs the player’s intention in the right way, with as little friction as possible.

How does this apply to the Alignment system? Well, largely it means you have to start acknowledging it as a silly rule, and accept that it’s not really going to be a good tool to use to direct player intention. If you have a Paladin who tortures someone and whose player expects their moral standings to stay Lawful Good, your problem there isn’t in game rules, it’s that you’ve got someone in your group who thinks they can justify torturing people as a good thing.

What it means is that you need to approach the morality system as a set of flags: Spells that want to ‘blast evil people’ can be used for dramatic reveals, or things that impede ‘good characters’ from entering should be as simple as a boundary or barrier… but you shouldn’t be using them as a moral system, just as a way to put simplified flags on things.

Or, you know, just ask yourself if it’s worth it to have spells that want to try and make complex moral judgements on the fly?

Term: Hidden Role

A hidden role game is one in which a player or players, selected out from the group, have some element of their play goals altered in a way that sets them apart from the group. Hidden role games are not always asymmetrical team games, but they often are.


Hidden role games are most obviously useful for making deducing who is on what team part of the game. This is the basic core question of games like Secret Hitler and The Resistance: Avalon – the gameplay is almost completely about working that out.

Nonetheless, Hidden Role is not a mechanic limited to this. You can use it as part of a larger game, where for example, players are largely competing to put together a set of resources, while one player is trying to prevent that without being noticed. You can even make hidden role games where the hidden role is itself a power – look to games like Maskerade and Coup.

Finally, Hidden Role games can be made co-operative as a way to ensure quarterbacking can’t or won’t happen. Players can’t actually determine an optimal path of what players should or shouldn’t do without literally knowing what they actually can do.


Hidden role games can kinda bottle anxiety. It can be exciting and thrilling to play a hidden role game with your needs and wants a secret, trying to keep from being caught, but it’s stressful.

Hidden role games also tend to be comparable to one another.


Maskerade, The Resistance, One Night Ultimate Werewolf, and Battlestar Galactica.

btw, I have no idea where that header graphic is from but it looks like it’d make a great hidden identity game