Category Archives: Games

I write about games! I write a LOT about games! Everything I do about games is here, in this tab, in some way.

Inquagnito Mode!

You know how I wrote about how there was a chance that cool design I had of a Quagsire sneaking around in a mask wouldn’t ever be able to be published because discoverability was functionally broken?

Well turns out I lied.

Here’s this month’s design. I recommend getting it on a sticker (cheap) or a hat (pricey), but as always, you can get it on a shirt.

3e — Challenge Ratings Are Hot Garbage

Sometimes an article is just a big tweet, and this is one of them. In this case, the bigness of the big tweet is however, beyond the boundaries of a mere tweet, so let’s go. The 3rd edition Challenge Rating system, which was replaced in 4th edition by the XP budget of each encounter, was hot garbage and nostalgia for it is at best rose-tinted glasses, and at worst a signal of complete mechanical illiteracy.

Let’s talk about the 3rd edition system for creating* balanced** combat*** encounters****, the Challenge Rating system.


* Sort of.
** Sort of.
*** Sometimes.
**** Sort of?

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How To Be: Some Jojo (in 4e D&D)

In How To Be we’re going to look at a variety of characters from Not D&D and conceptualise how you might go about making a version of that character in the form of D&D that matters on this blog, D&D 4th Edition. Our guidelines are as follows:

  • This is going to be a brief rundown of ways to make a character that ‘feels’ like the source character
  • This isn’t meant to be comprehensive or authoritative but as a creative exercise
  • While not every character can work immediately out of the box, the aim is to make sure they have a character ‘feel’ as soon as possible
  • The character has to have the ‘feeling’ of the character by at least midway through Heroic

When building characters in 4th Edition it’s worth remembering that there are a lot of different ways to do the same basic thing. This isn’t going to be comprehensive, or even particularly fleshed out, and instead give you some places to start when you want to make something.

Another thing to remember is that 4e characters tend to be more about collected interactions of groups of things – it’s not that you get a build with specific rules about what you have to take, and when, and why, like you’re lockpicking your way through a design in the hopes of getting an overlap eventually. Character building is about packages, not programs, and we’ll talk about some packages and reference them going forwards.

And now, it’s time to engage with something that is a challenge on two axes: First, the challenge presented by unpicking what it even means to make it, and second, the challenge of dealing with the standard memetic conversation that unrolls when you bring it up.

We’ve been a Touhou. We’ve been an Ukyou. And it’s time, now finally, it’s time, to be a Jojo.

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Game Pile: Silver & Gold

If your full time job is ‘cares about board games,’ for the past few years, pretty much since That’s So Clever hit the scene, you’ve probably developed a distaste for the continued and widespread promulgation of the genre of x-and-write. Roll and write, flip and write, draft and write, pass and write. Basically I think that a German developer made a design that meant you could get those cheap marker pens at a price that worked for scale and suddenly the industry was off to the races.

One of these games is Silver & Gold, a 2019 German-made game that was pretty easy to play even if you didn’t speak German. It got popular, then it got translated and exported, then it got even more popular, and I can see why.

I really enjoyed playing it.

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CoX — Hexcalibre

Time to time, I write up an explication of characters I’ve played in RPGs or made for my own purpose.  This is an exercise in character building and creative writing.


The witch, it’s said, is someone who knows things. She’s some usually-a-woman, usually old, usually removed, who has Ways of making magic happen. It’s curses and potions and strange, ancient rituals or the turning of the stars, knowledge that the witch has, and you don’t. The witch, it’s said, is the woman who Knows Things.

She’s Bridgitte on her forms, Jett to her friends, to the city that knows her as a heroine, she’s Hexcalibre, and she knows what swords know.

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4e — Dwarfeons & Dragons

Dungeons & Dragons is a game system built around giving players a useful, handleable group of tools to build a character. You have the simplest two lego pieces to snap together; what you do (your class), and how you were born (your heritage/race). A elf fighter is not the same as a half-elf fighter is not the same thing as an orc fighter, for example. These cultural groups then let you inform the world; after all, if there are elves and orcs in the world, there are probably places that those elves and orcs grow up. And thus the player options build the world, and the world building feeds into how the player options feel.

If you have crystal cities of a floating city state full of elves, the players will get ideas for that, and how they interact with the world, based on that. If the elves live in great green forest villages that hang from the branches, that’s going to give them different ideas. And if the elves, I don’t know, come from an elf mine, that’s going to give you a different perspective.

It’s a great system. I love it. I honestly think it’s one of the best things about the game, and the fact that it gives you a pair of dials to spin serves as an onramp that almost any player can get engaged with quickly, and that serves to anchor your decisions going forwards. Great system, I think it does a great job.

Anyway, I don’t like the the Dwarf and the Dragonborn in 4th edition D&D.

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Asset Brainstorm #2 — Kenny Sci-Fi RTS

As a matter of practice, it’s important to me that I keep demonstrating different ways to engage with games. Making games is a practice, and when you can look at game assets and consider ways to apply them, you’ll begin to see how much of game design is stuff you can do. Therefore, on this blog I’m making it a project to regularly grab some game assets I couldn’t make myself, that are made for game designers to work with, and see what ideas they inspire.


Still no, uh, still no catchier name than that huh?

Oh well.

This time, we’re looking at the endless well of wonderful stuff that is Kenney Assets, focusing on the ‘Sci-Fi RTS’ bundle.

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MTG: The 2021 Mechanic Toybox

2021 was a big year for Magic: The Gathering product. There was a truly stunning amount of new stuff put out there, including the MTG: Alchemy digital-only product.

Largely, I played none.

I played some! I have some commons-only starter decks for playing with my niblings, to teach them how to play the game, but I haven’t bought anything new from the company. I don’t know, it’s not a high priority to me to buy cards, to get the physical things. I think my MTGO collection has swelled a little, a few dollars dropped on a few cheap cards from recent sets to play around with them.

I did, however, also make 365 (and more) custom magic cards, one a day, shared to Reddit, and that was the thing that represented my main engagement with, my main play of Magic: The Gathering. That meant every time a new set dropped, it presented me with a bunch of new mechanics, new ways to format cards, and new card faces, that I could use to play with creatively.

What tools did I get to play like this, in the year of 2021?

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Kickstarter 2021 Autopsy

In December 2021, Kickstarter mentioned a plan in Bloomburg business to pivot to NFTs, putting their previous existing system onto a blockchain technology. With that in mind, I made a serious decision to simply divest myself of Kickstarter until I heard definitively that they absolutely weren’t fucking doing that, because the last thing I want is a trust-based crowdfunding system to tie itself to a thing that makes scams a lot easier.

Which is a bummer for me, because Kickstarter is a system I really like, and I really like using it, in my particularly privileged position. See, I have spending money I can dump on modest purchases throughout a month and it’ll just, you know, be something my budget can handle, between Patreon money and just, you know, one of the weird effects of working for a university.

And… well, what did that look like, in 2021?

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First They Must Catch Us: Reconcepting Halflings

The fire crackled, sat in the centre of the group. Four sets of boots, three large, one small, glimmered orange as the campfire’s light licked over them in pinions of orange and gold, contrasting with the deep dark of the woods, and the deep, suffusing blue of the glass-dusted sky.

“So the story goes, the story goes,” the creaky-voiced half-elf said. “Shipwrecked, they say. A crew of fifty survivors, and food enough for twenty five. They drew lots, and half the number accepted their end – casting themselves from the rocks to save the survivors the cost of them.”

“We have a story like it.” The orc said. “The strongest half went into the jungle, without any supplies, to show they were strong, and to give the weaker half the best chance to survive.”

The human pushed a stick into the fire, and shook her head. “Grim stories.”

“Stupid stories.” The fourth said. They sat forwards, their hands waving animatedly. “I don’t know about the folk of yours, but for us? We’d all find a way to do with half as much.”

“You can say that,” the half-elf started.

“Yeah. I can. And then I live it. We live it.” The Halfling gave a grim smile. “We are the ones who always survive.

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Game Pile: Zeliard

If you listen to a PC Retro Gamer, and since you’re reading this, you are, then you may be familiar with certain gaming studios that were responsible for the enduring blocks of the media landscape of the 90s videogame scene. More than people may intuitively realise, companies often made an engine then made a host of games off that engine, meaning that Bullfrog Software made Magic Carpet and Gene Wars even though those are two seemingly very different games.

One of these landscape markers was Sierra Software, later Sierra On-Line, over in the PC-dominant format of Narrative Adventure. Now, it was a mistake to think of Sierra games as just the Kings Quest, Space Quest, Leisure Suit Larry, Mixed Up Mother Goose genre that they were, since Sierra also published ports from other consoles, like Atari Games’ Oil’s Well, and they imported a number of French games like the Gobliiins games which were also obscure narrative adventures, so you know, that’s not helpful. Point is, Sierra published a lot of games, including real-time strategy games (like Caesar), shooters (like Nova 9: The Return of Gir Draxon), business managers (Jones In The Fast Lane), and even mecha war games (the Earthsiege games).

But people mean ‘narrative adventures’ when they say ‘Sierra games.’

Wanna see when they released a Japanese action-RPG?

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The best of 2021, Part 2 – Game Making

Alright, so yesterday I established we’re going to talk about some ‘best of’ writing in 2021, but then I went and banged on about some nerd stuff like elves and dragonborn (two things that actually didn’t come up but you’re not going to go check, not really, who cares). Today we’re going to push that nerd crap off the table and instead focus on the much more interesting question of hey, what about making games?

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The best of 2021, Part 1 – D&D

I wrote some bangers last year.

I sat down at first to give a sort of top ten articles of my own last year, that weren’t covered by specifically the header of How To Be, Game Pile or Story Pile. I tried it, and found that I had run out of slots for ‘absolute banger of an article’ in two months of summarising posts. Then I realised there were whole trends of things to write about and then I realised, hell, this is my blog, you’re here for my content, and unless you’re Vincent or Tab or Kate (hi, you three), odds are good you miss an article or three I write.

We’re going to do three of these this week. A whole bunch of bangers, divided up by the type of writing it is, and why I might want you to go reread it. First we’re going to talk about general content – stuff that I think you should link to other people outside the blog, posts that explain some complex concept in a way I’m proud, but also which doesn’t necessarily fit the other stuff.

And so here, I’m just going to bring your attention to a big pile of things I’d already written that are really good and which I know have escaped your attention, yes you, and today, it’s going to be about the Dungeons & Dragons, DMing and Worldbuilding articles.

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MTG: December’s Custom Cards — No-Effort-November

I’m a firm believer in, as a content creator, No Effort November. Use that month to belt out anything that wasn’t that hard for you, or use it as the catching tray for content that you wanted to get done this year but didn’t have time to make it work in and won’t really fit in the jovial tone of December.

With that in mind, my December cards, the ones I’d be working on in November, are all the cards I came up with through the year, couldn’t find a place for or fit into an existing theme and therefore got dumped unceremoniously in a file labelled ‘2021, misc.’

There’s no theme. No coherence. They’re not colour balanced. I was tempted to post them without art, to really hammer home on No Effort.

Anyway, after the fold, a bunch of cards.

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Game Pile: City of Heroes Homecoming 2021

Last year I ran through some of the recent changes that have been happening in City of Heroes Homecoming, a free MMORPG I play that lets me make superheroes that kick Nazis in the face. I love this game, I like playing it, and I like using it to make characters. You may have seen me post about that.

What’s happened since last year, then, for this MMORPG with no paid developers?

Well, we’ve had two major releases, known as ‘pages.’ These are sorts of releases that are meant to build up to form what would, back in the day, have been ‘issues.’ These are fan-developed expansions that involve adding new class material, new content, new powersets and even new systems designed to make old content feel ‘right’ while addressing balance problems.What I prioritise for these guides is information about things you can make and do.

Like, there are some really cool systems at work here: There’s been a system for guiding you around for exploration badges, and another system for letting you share thumbtacks in a team, and while those are genuinely interesting and cool systems to see introduced to an old engine that works on what we all know as ‘spaghetti code,’ but while those things improve user experience, and definitely have a chance to encourage less-enfranchised players to explore things they hadn’t, they’re not the same as the bread-and-butter of an alt-reckless game with a lot of ways to play superhero dress up dollies: More stuff for new characters.

The big additions on that front this year have been the Travel Revamp and the Bunch of Rocks update.

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Game Pile: Print N Play Extravaganza!

Okay, it’s really near a gift giving day, or a family gathering day, or something like that and you kind of think ‘I should have brought some games with me’ and now you realise you’re out of luck on that front because shipping timing sucks and so does everything else right now. This is also me pretending you’re travelling to visit people this Christmas, because, well, ha ha, but hey, you may be one of the people reading this blog who just… doesn’t Christmas.

That sounds nice. I hope you have a great december.

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Decemberween: People Make Games

At some point in the past ten years I became a fan of board game semi-employment project turned full time job Shut Up & Sit Down, featuring Quinns Quinntington and Matt ‘Jammsponge’ Lees. But if you’ve looked in the secret bonus content of those board games, you may notice an occasionally weirdly young looking face that has gone unaging for the ten years he’s been showing up, and it is that fellow that is Chris Bratt. What’s he do, aside from roll dice in Matt’s living room? Why, he works (worked? I dunno, time, whatever) for Eurogramer, and now he is part of the team over at People Make Games.

People Make Games is a great, informative channel about games that treats them not as commercial products but as human things, made and designed and played by people. It’s, you know, that thing, I do, except they’re focusing on things I can’t do – like interviewing important figures and going to Peter Molyneux’s house without shouting at him about guillotines. And look at that, since the pandemic lockdown, they went and acquired themselves a Quinns of their own!

They’ve done an introductory video on Blaseball, the game of Baseball Without Mercy, Baseball Perfected, Baseball As She Is, And Always Will Be. I’m not an expert in Blaseball, but I have a bunch of friends who are very into it, and I love watching them reacting to the game every weird-ass season. It’s a wild game and a great cultural space and people get to partake of it in a way that only works with the metaphor of real baseball team and support to work with.

I also quite liked this long-form dig into a game made by Halfbrick Studios that sort of had to be scrapped, and the interesting question of whether this is a function of the game, or the culture of the space and the people within it. Like, this whole message of this narrative could be ‘there are some types of games that corrupt the experience of people around them’ like haunted objects, but maybe the ghosts that haunt those games are in us, and the people who aren’t willing to lose when they’re not having fun.

And then there’s what’s probably? the big one this year? As I write this?

Basically, there’s a videogame platform and company that’s bigger than Ubisoft, and its player base are mostly children, as are most of its developers and designers, and that sounds wild but it sounds even wilder when you throw into that the statement ‘and the children aren’t being paid for their work.

Oh and because a few days ago this post needed an update, here’s a followup:

People Make Games is a great channel with some long, slow, thoughtful thinky-ready-processy kind of games talk there, that doesn’t approach things the same way most people in the game space do. I really like their work, so go check them out.

Decemberween: (Most Of) Eternal Glories

This is kind of a four parter. First of all, the common linking source for this group is The Eternal Glory podcast.

This podcast is hosted by three dudes, Phil Gallagher, Brian Coval, and Bryant Cook, who on the About page are posing in their finest ‘Substitute Teacher Resume Picture’ which it turns out is kinda appropriate since Phil and Brian are teachers. I don’t know if Bryant is or isn’t, sorry Bryant. I guess I know which of the three content creators I’ve been paying the most attention to.

These three dudes have a podcast, where they talk about Legacy as a format, looking at things like what I’d call stratas of the format; not necessarily the ‘up to date let’s have discussions about it immediately, the latest and hottest decks’ but rather sort of long-form conversations about things that decks and families of decks can do in Legacy.

You might have heard me refer to Legacy as ‘a bad format nobody plays.’ I stand by that in general – certainly when we’re talking about Magic in general, Legacy is not a format that we should be trying to promote because it’s inherently limited, and even its most accessable form (Magic: The Gathering Online or heavily proxied play groups) is kinda shaky as hell. Yet despite that, I have watched a lot of Legacy content this year, and it’s all entirely from paying attention to this podcast and two of its hosts.

Phil and Brian are both teachers who have become kind of full-time content creators this year as the lockdowns continue. They make interesting videos based on donations – you pay them some money, and give them a Legacy deck, and they’ll show it in play and talk through changes. It’s a pretty great system and it means that I get to see a lot of cards in Legacy that are some people’s favourites. Sometimes they’re tiered cards, sometimes they’re just things from the random wildness of Legacy in action.

Legacy isn’t a ‘good format’ in that it’s hostile to new players and complicated in a way that even a complicated game like Magic: The Gathering isn’t. You kind of have to love it for its own sake. And these people do, and I can enjoy their love, which they show and communicate honestly and well.

They all have youtube channels; I can’t speak to Bryant’s, but I can speak to Brian’s, which I follow, and Phil’s, which I regularly comment on. Watch a video on the commute to work, or before bed on a night, make a funny comment about something funny in the video, and that’s all.

There’s one from Brian I liked, and Phil playing my favourite Legacy deck (which is ridiculous to say):

I have had some sour experiences – Phil’s audience seem to want to negotiate about whether or not I should use words they don’t understand? – but they’re great channels I enjoy watching.

Oh and this isn’t to say anything bad about Bryant’s channel. I just don’t know anything about it.

Game Pile: Your Own Fake Artist

Okay, we’re going to talk about bootlegging games.

A Fake Artist Goes To New York is a fantastic game. I do not hesitate to recommend, if you want, to spend the money buying a copy so it can live on your shelf and easily and conveniently bring together all the components you need in your life. I think it’s a great game design and has a great aesthetic and I heartily recommend that you play it ‘properly.’ Buying a copy shows support for the creators and also gets you a nice box which organises everything neatly for you. It’s even quite cheap, considering the price Oink games used to command, and it’s domestically available in Australia too, so you don’t have to wait months for it like you used to, and it’s not being choked by the same international supply problems that are impacting the board game industry in general.

But.

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CoX — Abra

Time to time, I write up an explication of characters I’ve played in RPGs or made for my own purpose.  This is an exercise in character building and creative writing.


Antimatter Breach Resonance Apeture; a phrase first coined in a 1500 page scientific paper about an organically-integrated chemical engine that could create portals limited to the surface of that organic object.

ABRA: The military research program seeking to develop technology that would allow self-deploying mass-driver weapons, objects that teleported themselves and massively increased in volume upon arrival.

Abra: The boy caught up in the experiments designed to make that research real, with that self-same technology integrated into his body.

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How To Be: Kipo (in 4e D&D)

In How To Be we’re going to look at a variety of characters from Not D&D and conceptualise how you might go about making a version of that character in the form of D&D that matters on this blog, D&D 4th Edition. Our guidelines are as follows:

  • This is going to be a brief rundown of ways to make a character that ‘feels’ like the source character
  • This isn’t meant to be comprehensive or authoritative but as a creative exercise
  • While not every character can work immediately out of the box, the aim is to make sure they have a character ‘feel’ as soon as possible
  • The character has to have the ‘feeling’ of the character by at least midway through Heroic

When building characters in 4th Edition it’s worth remembering that there are a lot of different ways to do the same basic thing. This isn’t going to be comprehensive, or even particularly fleshed out, and instead give you some places to start when you want to make something.

Another thing to remember is that 4e characters tend to be more about collected interactions of groups of things – it’s not that you get a build with specific rules about what you have to take, and when, and why, like you’re lockpicking your way through a design in the hopes of getting an overlap eventually. Character building is about packages, not programs, and we’ll talk about some packages and reference them going forwards.

Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts is a Netflix TV series created by Radford Sechrist that started its life as a webcomic. The series is something I’ve praised in the past as being uncomplicatedly excellent. Set in a post-apocalyptic far future populated with anthropomorphic animals, it’s a story of a journey of adventure, beset on all sides by a dangerous villain with superpowers who, if he catches our heroes, may destroy their ability to ever defy him. It’s a great adventure structure, and one you should feel free to steal, and central to it all is the character of Kipo, a girl with pink skin whose position in the story is at the intersection of multiple sequences of events, set in motion before she was even born.

And like, I don’t normally do this, but I’m going to put a spoiler warning here. If you read these articles idly, and think you’d like to watch Kipo at some point, you should go do that before reading this article, because I’m going to talk about some stuff Kipo can do that isn’t obvious from the start of the story. I mean, oh okay, shock and horror, Kipo is special, obviously, you know that and I know that just looking at the fact the series is named after her, but nonetheless, I just want you to know, going on, that there be spoilers.

Good?

Good.

Okay, onwards.

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3.5 Memories: Worse Than The Fighter

In Dungeons & Dragons 3.5th Edition, a thing that’s not at all un-awkward to say, there was a set of hardbound expansion books released as a group to satisfy groupings of characters as an archetype. The first set of these, released around 2003, were The Complete Divine, The Complete Arcane and The Complete Warrior, a trio of books that kind of told you what they were about in the name. You had arcane spellcasters, divine spellcasters, and uh, everyone else, I guess.

The Complete Warrior had to bear up as the space for all the classes that weren’t divine spellcasters (but the ranger and paladin can play here too, sure) and all the characters who weren’t arcane spellcasters (but there’s stuff in here for melee spellcasters). Barbarians and Rogues and Monks all got to cram in on this book, but based on the name and the style, and of course, the preponderance of feats in this book, this is the book that’s for fighters.

It’s also a pretty cool book, if you’re looking at the good stuff in it that you want to use and make sure people can use. LIke this book has tactical feats, a category of feat that kind of roll together a small number of ‘not enough for a full feat’ advantages into a single grouping, and that’s a really good way to expand expertise on fighters. Prestige classes in this book include the Actually Good Frenzied Berserker, the kinda decent Tattooed Monk, the sorta-maybe-why-not War Chanter, the busted as hell Warshaper and that’s four classes worth having access to in most campaigns. The excellent Combat Brute tactical feat is in here, and uh

Anyway, the point is this book is one of the books I think of pretty positively.

It’s also a book that features the rare examples of a class actively worse than the Fighter.

The ‘Samurai.’

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Structural Boundaries On Making

The medium is the message. The structures of things are more powerful than the things themselves for changing the world. There are constraints on things that are about the way they are delivered and deployed that defy the mere conventions of pure aesthetics. We talk about what media does but so often that is a question fighting with what media can’t do — because of resources like time or affordances like culture.

I’m gunna talk about making and selling Invincible Ink games.

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Game Pile: A Short Hike

I don’t feel like I have a lot to say about A Short Hike in and of itself. It’s a lovely charming little game. I don’t know if there’s some clever mystery at the end of it, or some twist in how the game works, because as I post this, I’ve only played a little bit of it. Like, oh, say, forty minutes.

I think it’s a pretty sweet little game. I like its style, I like how it feels. It’s a cosy game, and I’m just not very well-acquainted with cosiness. But while I played this game, I talked a little bit about game design, about courage in choices, and about workloads and my own history with games.