Category: Making

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

BDG’s Commedia Del Anime Chart

Hey, did you like this video?

I liked it. I liked it and it gave me a list that was useful as a way to consider collections of characters (like roleplaying characters, or the cast of a book you’re working on), and that seemed a fun thing to play with. Problem is, the complicated system that BDG outlined here isn’t presented with something like a spreadsheet to copy and fill in on your own.

Sooo

I did that.

Here’s a link to a viewable chart, which you can Make a Copy of and fill in with your own characters. Have fun!

Expanding Fighting Fantasy

Thinking about solo adventures.

Far be it from me to point at the everything right now, but you may not realise it, but a lot of normal avenues for me are cut off – I don’t have access to playtest groups right now. Despite this, people are still TTRPG’in it up, tabletop living in online forms like Magic: The Gathering’s camera systems or Tabletop Simulator and the like. Also, Discord is getting a workout as a RPG room for a lot of people, and I know that my booklet games have been selling well on DriveThru.

That got me thinking: What can I do with just a book, for people who don’t have a ton of room or time to play with other people right now?

I loved the Fighting Fantasy books as a kid, because I also didn’t have access to specialised equipment and I didn’t have any friends. These books were an adventure that I could play and share with only the single monopoly dice out of my second hand boardgame we kept in the cupboard. They also could be obtained from the libary and local book exchange and crucially, not paid for with money.

If the main thing of mine people are buying right now is a book, and I want to give people stories and adventures and settings to play around in, then what about a solo RPG gamebook? That seems an interesting idea to at least explore.

There’s going to be a linked question here, which is, “Well, why not do this in twine?” or “Why not make this as an actual video game?” or “Why does this have to use a deck of cards when this other thing could do the job?” and the answer to that, largely, is shut up.

Not to be entirely rude, but the reason to do things with this medium is to do things with this medium. I’m not trying to get into programming languages – I know how to design game, I know how to design a game narrative, and I know how to format a book. What’s more, when you start using a digital model, you introduce more tools that often will handle things you do better – things like tracking inventory and whatnot. If you’re dealing with a gamebook or a pdf reader, you can tell the reader they have to do something, if you’re non-confusing, the player will be able to make it work.

A few ideas for this!

1. Flow

The typical problem of a gamebook is that you can emulate a linear flow from point A to point B, but it’s often hard to make a book construct a space. This is because some elements are time-sensitive – the first time you enter a room, you may encounter a version of the room that’s got things in it, but once you deal with them, the book has no inherent way to track that.

Now, there is an option for this – to treat the narrative as an entirely linear flow. Lots of good tricks here; using it as a narrative story that works as part of a journey is pretty good when you deal with something like the Lone Wolf books by Joe Dever. You could also make the narrative about being pursued – backtracking is inherently a problem.

There’s also the hamfisted way some of these narratives work by teleporting you places, or having you kidnapped or moved on. That’s a thing to bear in mind.

One idea for playing with memory is that your character sheet has a fold-over section, with a lot of out-of-context marks on it; when you do the thing the context mark indicates, you make a mark on the non-folded section, and that means that when you eventually flip that section out, you have a bunch of points that represent things you did, and they then send you to a story point that relates to that.

2. Adding Cards

A way to make the game remember – or forget – things is to use some cards. A deck of playing cards could be used to break up into a number of decks; you could have a final encounter represented by a few cards on a table, as a form of rudimentary AI. You could have treasure decks that mean you don’t find the same items in the same locations all the time.

You can also use cards to represent accomplishments – when successful, you can remove cards from a deck, so that later in the dungeon, they won’t show up. This can also be used to make the combat system more complicated in an interesting way.

I’m particularly interested in this because of how it relates to using a deck of cards to randomise encounters and add resistance without necessarily making the bulk of the book into repeating workhorse enemies and monsters.

3. Legacy Elements

Asking someone to physically write on the book is a bit sketchy, but you could have a legacy character sheet with a fold-out section that lets you draw on specific sections of the sheet to indicate things that have changed. Then you can use that section of the sheet to relate to the next (or all next sheets that follow, depending on how you feel about roguelikes).

This is particularly interesting because if entries are numbered, it’s entirely possible that you can make some entries go away with legacy rules; you have an entry that’s only accessible through the legacy elements, threads of story you can’t reach in the first play, but can in the second. That there’s hypertext.

August Shirt: Magic Nonsense!

I’ve really become way too into shirts that need explanation and nobody’s going to ask for it.

Here’s this month’s shirt designs:

This design relates to that 300 year old magic trick from a Scam Nation video I shared. here it is, on a shirt:

You can get this design as white text or black text!

But wait, there’s more!

And here’s this design on a shirt:

You can get this design in black text or white text!

How To Be: Sumireko Usami (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 authoritive 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.

This month, we’re going to become a god damned Touhou.

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Being Bored and Being Boring

If you’re in any kind of communal RP space, chances are good, you’ve dealt with strangers who are interested in playing with your character. The art of striking up roleplay with semi-strangers in a social space is something that builds up over time and it’s a skill. It’s a skill that I realise that I seem to have but also that lots of people around me, I see, don’t necessarily have. I want to impart one simple, small piece of advice in this context, then.

Odds are super good, you’ve either started a conversation with, or had someone else try to start a conversation, with “I’m bored.”

Okay.

Here is a simple little magical trick here: Don’t ever do this.

With this phrase, you are signalling to the other person that you have the least interesting mental state; that you have nothing to talk about yourself, and that by volunteering this, you are asking them to address that. What’s more, because roleplaying spaces tend to be communal and cooperative, people are likely to try to help you out there, to try and bring you in and entertain you.

Me, I don’t. Someone approaches me with ‘I’m bored,’ my immediate response is ‘well, bummer,’ then I stop paying attention to them. Because what they’re asking me to do is entertain them. If I’m ever feeling in the mood to say ‘Well, I’m bored,’ I recognise that that impulse is itself boring, and I’m asking someone else to put up with that and fix it.

There are two alternatives I want to suggest for you: One, approach people and ask them what they are doing. Show interest, and that interest is something you can offer. Ask people questions, see what they’re doing, see what is interesting rather than present what is boring (yourself). The other alternative, is rather than approaching a stranger with a demand – I’m bored, entertain me – you approach them with an offer. Come up with something interesting to do – a small scenario, or a common interaction or a roleplay interaction that let people have a chance to express themselves. Some examples would include asking for directions or dropping something nearby.

The irony is that I understand some of these ideas are functional tools from pickup artists, or people attempting to reconstruct masculinity – the idea is that to be bored is to be boring, so don’t be boring, and always have something to do. But being from a twisted root doesn’t mean the idea is fundamentally bad – there’s value in recognising that other people are not there to entertain you, you are there to create entertainment with one another. Share, don’t demand.

Now, I am going to set aside the possibility that ‘I’m bored’ is a signal. You folks can work out what to do there.

Imposter Syndrome

You have this?

You probably do. I mean you’re reading my blog, you’re probably not particularly endowed with tons of confidence, I imagine. Or maybe that’s just me imagining that my audience is mostly composed of fragile queers, because I don’t have a lot of confidence in my own work and hey look at that, here’s a segue to our subject!

Imposter Syndrome is the term for the psychological pattern of being unsure that one’s praise or accomplishments are legitimate. There’s a lot of reasons for it, some tied to things like self-assessment, and how difficult it can be to subjectively grade your own performance, and also, an awareness of how your own process and outcomes are related to things like good luck.

Speaking just from experience, the games I’ve made the most money selling are the games that still surprise me, given the type of games they want to be. I know that when I stand in front of a stranger at a table, I can tell them things and they, largely, are going to have to believe me, because why wouldn’t they.

For me, this means it’s really easy to believe it’s not that I have skill in making games, it’s that I have skill in convincing people to buy games.

I’ve taken a strategy to fight this.

The thing is, an imposter is a term we use to refer to a type of con artist. It’s a trick. And the second part of that term is the important one: It’s artistry.

It is not an act of being an imposter. I am, like a cool and stylish thief, using words and ideas and presentation to convince people to pay attention to me, and that even if I don’t deserve it, the fact I can command it, the fact I can lift it, is a cool and clever con. You can make people pay attention to you, you can make people respect your work, and they never get to see the five or ten or fifty drafts to see how good the version you made finally came out. They don’t get to know you’re the kind of person who had to double check for the ‘mentiond’ typo a dozen times.

You aren’t an imposter.

You’re an artist.

You’re taking attention and you’re making use of it, and then you are dancing on.

What you’re doing isn’t fraud.

Rather, what I am doing is an attention heist.

When does a Trick Start?

Are you watching closely?

Magic is the art of manipulating attention. Any time a magician says okay, so here’s the trick, or now here’s where the trick starts, they are straight-up just lying. Any time a magician says now watch closely, there is nothing for you to see. It’s one of the tools of the magician, to simply direct your attention to something, because it’s something that doesn’t matter any more when they tell you to do that.

That’s it.

That’s the lesson.

Magicians want to control your attention and any time you think they’re showing you something, they’re trying to make sure you see nothing.

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Slugs and Loads

I make fun of Harbomb Resguy for his play conditioning term which, to my deep regret, people are using, which is, you know, whatever, but part of why I dislike the term is it’s doing the job of a word that we already had written down in books (and have had for fifty years), suggesting that you’d invent the term if you didn’t understand or know the first word. To this end, I want to be clear about these terms I use in game design, where I do not think I got these terms from game design. I learned these terms from magic – magic tricks, or as they’re known, illusions Michael.

In this case, these terms are slugs and loads.

Since these ideas come from card tricks, you might not want to know what they are, to preserve the illusion when your extremely cool and sexy friend does card tricks, and I should give you a spoiler break.

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July Shirt: Absolute Cdestiny ApocalyBse!

Sooo, hey.

Police eh.

They’re not great.

Anyway, here’s some unrelated t-shirt or sticker designs that play with that joke I like making, about that time a webcomic was bad!

Here’re the designs:

 


These designs have been added to the Loss Collection I maintain on Redbubble, and you can get them on pins and stickers and masks, which is still super weird to me.

Here’s the 2×2 ACAB design, and here’s the 2×2 1312 design!

How To Be: Chandra Nalaar (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 authoritive 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.

This month, we’re going to talk about the hottest of Pansexual Messes, Chandra Nalaar and you may be asking me ‘well why didn’t you do that during Pride Month?’ and the answer is because Wizards have not been exactly well behaved on this issue and I’m not about to do their marketing work for them just this moment thank you bloody much. Instead we’re going to talk about Chandra on her own time, thank you very much.

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Reaper Space

don’t go there

it’s reaper space.

Everyone warns you when you move through the ports and bases and outposts. It’s the big zone where ships don’t travel; trade routes route around it; no corporate rig will travel into Reaper space at all. Not any of the big ones, at least, not one of the superheavies. Reaper space is uninsured space. Nobody’s dragging you back out of that.

You haven’t seen a Reaper, of course. Nobdoy has, or if they have, they don’t know it. Nobody’s that sure about the way the Reapers look, though there are a few of their artifacts. You’ve seen one – hanging once in the foyer of a citadel, dangled from the roof, this immense machine that looked like a tank, with an entire assortment of blades on the front and an enormous engine out the back, seemingly made to do nothing but plow forwards; the blades were attached to a wheel, which was itself screwthreaded – so each blade flicked and clacked and dug into the air when they ran the machine –

Which they did, for a little bit.

For demonstration purposes.

Watching it turn an entire shuttlecraft into pieces with all that sound, the shredding and breaking.

Brr.

It’s not like you need to worry about Reaper space. Reaper space has barely any planets in it, and there’s only one outpost out near the dead zone that serves as a border to Reaper space. Maybe a few planets, sure, probably with some cultures on them that are probably not spacefaring, or if they spacefare it’s to do minor, small trades – the trades of a culture that doesn’t have an empire or corp yet – and when the talk of reapers happens they just shut down their satellites and pretend nobody’s home.

There are pirates, of course.

After all, uninsured space is unpatrolled space.

Gotta be careful out there. It’s Reaper space, but it’s full of scum and villains too.

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Hey, Kid, Wanna Do A Podcast?

Do you wanna make a pod-caaaast?
Do you wanna notice ums

The ways you hold your breath
And silence like death

And making reference to bums?

We’ve had a lot of time on mics lately, haven’t we? Maybe you’ve learned a little bit about crosstalk, maybe you’ve even lashed out and got yourself a nice new mic, for work purposes? And you might have been binging content because everyone is doing that right now?

Well, you should try and make a podcast!

About what? Well, that’s going to be up to you. What this post is about is giving you tools and techniques and resources.

First up, tools!

Zencastr is a recording program that runs in your browser window and runs a call that it then records. This is really useful if you’re doing a podcast with your girlfriend who lives a thousand miles away in Canada (and that’s not a joke), because you can just hand her the URL to the page, press the record button and Zencaster will record all the audio for both of you. It’ll be synced up, you can bring in up to three people on one call in the free version. It’s a solid resource! What’s more, it can put all those files automatically into your…

Dropbox! This is a good way to keep large, shared audio in a controlled space when you’re collaborating over distance. You may not need this if you’re just recording yourself (though we’ll talk to this). OneDrive can do something similar, but I don’t have direct experience with that, so I wouldn’t say.

Audacity! This is the bread and butter of audio recording. This is a very rudimentary audio editing program, and if what you want to do is cut audio up, delete some passages, clean up background noise and maybe filter out mouse clicking, this is going to do the task just fine. You will need an encoder to record mp3s, which you can learn about here, on this Lifewire page.

If you want to distribute your podcast, I’d recommend you set up a WordPress blog and use the Podlove add-on. These will step-by-step you through the process that lets you make an RSS feed that people can search up using their existing podcast recording software.

That’s it! That’s all you need, really!

I recommend for your first podcast, you either talk to a friend for about half an hour, or you recite or explain something you care about for about five minutes. The former you have room to react to one another and come to understand how hard it can be to use the time you have, and the latter shows you how much effort goes in to making those five minutes meaningful and clear. If you have plans for fiction and storytelling, try reading someone else’s story for a little bit – not releasing the episodes, just reading them – to get an idea for how quickly you can go through a story.

Finally, Freesound and Kevin Macleod’s Incomptech are excellent resources for sound effects and music.

Hope this is helpful!

A List of Things I Don’t Really Know Much About

Time to time I’ll have someone ask me questions or suggest topics and while I’ll give everything a go, sometimes I have to use complex topics I don’t understand to launch off into spaces I do. That’s why Fullmetal Alchemist is a great place for me to talk about Paratext, but not so much a place for me to talk about guns.

Here then is a short, non-comprehensive list of things I don’t know much about

  • Cars. Pretty much all cars. I know the basics of how a car works, in that there’s an air-and-fuel engine that makes tiny explosions that drive some pistons and then the rest is just controlling that and making it work well, but that’s all I got.
  • On that front, competitive car racing. Grew up surrounded by it, met some very important people in it, no clue how it really works. I have a tiny bit of knowledge about one thing in NASCAR and that’s it.
  • Firearms. I’ve never handled one. I think I may have handled pieces of one at some point but I genuinely think I’ve never been closer than five feet away from a gun, and that was probably on a police constable’s hip. Any conversations I have about guns are going to focus on culture around them rather than the devices themselves.
  • Modern military operations or aesthetics. There’s a real space for people like me who know their asses from their elbows talking about ‘real soldiers’ and whatnot, but that ain’t me and if you see me commenting on it, odds are good it’s because I’ve read something someone who knows about it is saying.
  • Makeup. I have applied it once or twice to other people and experimented with using it to hide injury. I do not know anything meaningful about it.
  • Recent anime. I’ll check out some stuff that gets recommended, but only once it’s all done and nothing that needs a hundred damn episodes. I want enough familiarity to talk to people at cons, not enough to go all Mothers Basement on things.
  • Driving. See also cars: I don’t drive, don’t know how to drive.
  • Code. I have opinions about how people should talk about code but I don’t know how to do anything more complicated than Twine or Wiki coding.
  • Ways to divert the flow of history by killing, meeting or changing single events. I just don’t know this stuff. I know there are some people with firm opinions on it, and I think it’s a good idea to consider the ways that individuals have diverted history through accident, but I am by no means an expert.
  • Islam! I have some broad, general criticisms of religious institutions as institutions, but if you asked me to provide specific criticisms of Islam, I wouldn’t know where to begin, and it wouldn’t, I imagine, be interesting at all.
  • Oh and while we’re at it, Judaism! Everything I know about Judaism is filtered through a fundamentalist Christian background. I may know more than you expect, but I don’t know anything about Judaism as she is lived today. I may know some things that are meant to evoke jewish-ish-ness, but you can fill a barn with what I don’t know here.
  • Stand up Comedians! Lots of these guys blur together, for me! And I do mean guys!
  • Music. I can tell you how music and lyrics make me feel, but I am clueless about how to make music. I don’t know how to sing well, I just know how Choir drilled me.
  • Game Theory. This is a wing of mathematics, and I don’t know much about it. I do Game Studies, which looks at games as cultural entities. There is some interesting stuff with ‘Game Theory’ but it’s mostly about the idea of rational actors responding to incentives, like much of economics, rather than anything to do about how political agents move.
  • Carpentry. Not a clue. There’s this thing that Ian Bogost has talked about, with using the term to refer to doing philosophy through making stuff, but actual joinery and stuff? Not a clue.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh. It looks like a game that has nothing meaningful in common with the games I play, but looks like it does if you don’t know either game that well.

Why this?

Because I think it’s worth taking stock and thinking about what you’ve been asked. I want to be able to hold on to the ability to say I don’t know and not have that be a wound against me. It’s nice to feel like an expert, it really is – and I try to limit that to when I’m dealing with students, who I actually have an authority over and where my expertise is what they’re literally paying for.

Everywhere else, it’s important to hold on to your own capacity to be a dumbass.

Pride Shirt 4: Gay Wrath Month 2020

As with previous shirts in this, the month of Jesus Christ What Next 2020, these are decorative, fun items that are ways for you to spend your disposable income in ways that amuse you and I do not think that you should view them as making moral statements or supporting me for its own sake.

That said, I’ve been having some pretty complicated feelings about Pride Month of ltae, because Pride isn’t an emotion I ever really feel at the best of times. There are other feelings I’m a little more tuned to.

Here’s this week’s design:

You can get this design on Redbubble or on Teepublic.

How To Be: A Squid Maid (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 authoritive 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 Pride Month! Since I haven’t done one of these on a single straight character yet (if you believe my fanfics), I had to do something a bit special and out of the ordinary, and so, let’s do something that’s extremely culturally important.

That’s right. It’s Squid Maids time.

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Pride Shirt 3: Pronoun Stamps

As with previous shirts in this, the month of Jesus Christ What Next 2020, these are decorative, fun items that are ways for you to spend your disposable income in ways that amuse you and I do not think that you should view them as making moral statements or supporting me for its own sake.

Still! This here’s a set of shirt designs for showing off pronouns of choice and making a bit of funny text along with them.

Here’s an example.

 

You can get this design on Redbubble or on Teepublic.

Pride Shirt 2: This Shirt Says Trans Rights

Ho boy, this month is a great time for me to be advertising products eh.

Well, look, these shirts are, as always, made to be fun and decorative. You are not making a political statement by buying my shirts. In fact, if you have Politicking Money floating around, hey, why not uh, hey, why not spend that on people’s bail funds, rather than on my silly shirts.

If you have money that will help you feel less constantly anxious, or you want to buy this shirt because, I don’t know, it’s a work expense or something, hey, cool, go for it.

Here’s this week’s design:


No stickers of this one, because, uh, the sticker would say trans rights, and then I’d need to redo the design. I can do that if you want.

You can get this design on Redbubble or on Teepublic.

Burnwillow

Science fiction, fantasy, and the hyper-reality of genre media lets us explore things that aren’t real, or true, but make sense to humans who are used to things that are.  We can set rules for the way a world is, and the audience is just going to go for it while you get around to explaining it.

Burnwillow is a superhero who I’ve had around for a while; first created back in the original City of Heroes, then expanded in the Generation 4 roleplaying space, and then remade in the new City of Heroes Homecoming, she’s had a lot of time to have her backstory revised. The person who made her story to start with and the person I am now are two very different people and know very different kinds of things about the kind of person she is. Tracing her origin, I think she may have been created as early as 2007, when the term ‘Burnwillow’ came up from the Magic: The Gathering set Future Sight.

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Game Making Friction

I’ve talked about friction in the past. The idea is that in any given action, some energy is lost. When I brought it up, I was talking about the energy lost on interfaces – paying attention to the way the game works, or how you’re going to make the game work in a particular way. It’s one of the reasons why a lot of great games get designed within genres once someone establishes a really good control scheme – check out how many classic platformers use B to run and A to jump (or the other way around, I’m not a NES dude, c’mon).

I’ve also talked about how genre is a library of tools. When you know what a genre is and what a genre does, you can use that genre to do things. Draft lets you have players make competing choices at the same time, it lets you hide information. Deck builders let you take game actions that result in something growing, and that thing is itself unreliable, so once you know the mechanisms of thata, when you understand the genre, you can use that to do things like the fog of war or the unreliability of galactic economies or even things like unreliable children or confused storytelling. These are all options once you understand what a Deck Builder is, or how it works.

What I’ve been thinking about – a lot, lately – is the friction not in game play, but in making.

My computer was in a pretty sorry state last week. Thanks to a failure of hardware, I’d had to replace one part of it, and that had meant a bunch of hardware had been standing around going hey, things are different now. One of the big tricky parts was that my hard drives were all convinced they’d been made by some other Talen Lee. This meant I had to transfer files around, format the hard drive, and then, go through my various files and update and reinstall things. I had to reinstall all my editing software. Had to set up a bunch of interface and system tools, had to get my shortcuts all set up, had to make sure file associations were working, and this also meant that there were whole directories of stuff that I wasn’t using any more that I hadn’t cleaned up.

It was pretty pleasant as an experience, but something it made me realise was how much of what I was doing prior to the shakeup was spending time and effort maintaining a lot of unorganised stuff. I didn’t need to have a correct filing system, because, as long as I was always working on it, I was pretty sure I knew which files were important to what I was doing. In some cases, this cleanup was like archaeology.

This isn’t some paean about the importance of cleaning up. Right now, I think there are a lot of us who are Cleaning Up Everything. But it did put me in mind of how much time we spend putting up with poor tools rather than getting proper ones, how many times we create something new rather than build a template, and how much time we spend reinventing things in our creative process.

I am, once again, thinking about friction.

May Shirt: Splat the Rich!

A thing I should know better than to do is make something because someone on Twitter says ‘oh, I need this on a shirt.’ I did it this time and did they buy a shirt? Did they flipptertegibbets. But that’s life.

This was an exercise in playing with masks and layers with a nice set of new paintbrushes that look like spatters, rotation and randomisation, as well as lookaliking fonts and styles! Aslo there’s nothing wrong with using childish axes of engagement to solidify meaningful ideas like ‘gender is chosen’ and ‘the uber-wealthy will kill the planet if they are not removed from their unearned position of privilege.’

Here’s the design:


And here the design is on our friendly gormless supposedly unisex Redbubble model:

And here’s the design being modelled by the Teepublic ghost:

This design is available on a host of shirts and styles. Particularly, strangely right now, Redbubble are offering it on two-inch badges and on masks.

You can get this design on Redbubble or on Teepublic.

How To Be: Gardevoir (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 authoritive 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 this time, because you on the Twitters voted for it (whether or not you realised you were voting for it specifically), this month’s choice is the elegant mind dancer Pokemon, Gardevoir.

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Designing Names

You know what’s really hard?

Naming things.

Oh, there’s the challenge in naming people, that stuff’s probably always there. Maybe if you’re the author of a book or you like naming OCs or the like, you’ve seen the difficulty involved in giving your characters names that work well for who they are, that maybe convey a bit of meaning, that don’t tend to recur in particular ways. I know DMing D&D gave me insight into the ways that I reuse certain name components; in one game, I had NPCs, in unrelated spaces, named Buto, Bruno, and Brutus, and what those NPCs did has long been lost to my players’ memories, but I am still periodically teased about choosing such similar names. Those were to me, useful workhorse names that stood apart from one another just enough to be easily grasped, but I didn’t consider that players were going to have conversations with them, in the same session. Players see patterns, and they saw the pattern in those names, assumed they were connected, and were deeply annoyed to find that they weren’t. In that, I messed up – there was a chance for a link and I wasted it.

People names are hard, even fake people names, of course. All the names in One Stone, for example, came after much agonising over different texts, trying to find things that could obliquely reference where they came from or had some linking purpose that made the story space of the world make sense, or stuff like that. I understand there’s some fuss right now about an asshole naming a baby, which I’m kind of not inclined to give any air to, because one, they’re an asshole, but two, it necessarily involves bringing up the baby, and look, that baby didn’t do anything to deserve being tweeted about. Twitter is a bad enough website, let’s leave babies out of it.

Naming places is also hard. I did a whole thing about how for ten years in my D&D setting, I had a kingdom called Kyngdom, and resisted every effort to deal with how obviously stupid that was. Many names were first drafts that I just never addressed because I was too embarrassed to admit they’d literally been pulled out of the air, and my worldbuilding was as much about grab-bagging things on the fly and pretending I had a plan than it was in any way about foresight and a meaningful narrative underpinning the world.

What else is hard is naming game mechanics. Game mechanics need to be named in a way that’s easy and coherent and referential. Words want to be long enough to convey what they do – ideally in a way that you never need to explain them beyond naming them – and short enough that players can talk about them twice in one sentence. They need to change tenses for clarity – imagine if you had a game mechanic named ‘sheep,’ the hassle in dealing with whether this sheep sheeps your sheeps or sheep. There’s also an urge to name some mechanics for the setting, like how Exalted tries to rename ‘player group’ for every different type of Exalt, as if bands and circles and leagues and coracles are all terms that people are going to use properly like the collective nouns for types of vole.

Then there’s the challenge in naming games at all. Our best game names seem to be things that we came up with as a pun, or where stand-in names that never got replaced. Fabricators was just a name for the file I was using to make the cards. Murder Most Fowl was made as a pun name while killing time at a convention. Good Cop, Bear Cop was mishearing someone. Many of our worst game names tend to be the ones that I spent some serious time on – like the Domains of Meh was iterated on multiple times. The Roads to Springdell is a name I like a lot because it conveys the idea that players are on the way to something but not there yet, but it has done absolutely nothing to move the game itself, in all of its tight and charming glory.

I think about this a lot as I try to name some game mechanics, as I look at work of other people asking for my input and I read rulebooks, trying hard to grapple with the difficulty we have in just giving the components we’re talking about names.

Hands And Bags

Been thinking about bag builders lately.

If you’re not familiar, a bag builder is a type of game where you have a bag – an actual, physical bag – that you can’t look into very easily. You put things into the bag, ideally things that are hard to tell apart from one another by touch, and then players draw things out of the bag and check the results that indicates.

In its simplest form the bag builder is a slower, more elaborate form of dice. You have a random distribution of potential outcomes, and players choose one. It’s slower because a dice roll is stunningly quick and you can roll four or five dice at once. Really, dice deserve a special mention here because when you’re rolling dice it’s faster to resolve the four or five dice than it is for the player to process the result.

Bag builders swerve wildly away from dice when you start to think about what kinds of control you have. Now, you can make dice do weird things with probability but generally speaking if the game starts with 1d6, you have a hard time making that dice mathematically behave like 1d8. you can usually go down – odds and evens lets the dice behave like a 1d2 – but you can’t readily go up without getting into bell curves and distribution matrices.

For a bag, though, if you want something to be 1d7 you can just put in 7 options in a bag. That’s a pretty basic use for a bag, just to make a sort of softer dice. It puts the cognition on the ‘roll’ earlier, too – players retrieve the object from the bag, and look at it – the action has stopped, and the result is literally in their hand.

The bag builder being a more ornate and elaborate thing means that it won’t be as good for simple turns and simple actions. I think that a good bag builder wants to draw from the bag, say, once a turn, make it the centerpiece of a turn. Rerolls (putting tokens back and drawing again) are valid, but generally, if a player does something with the bag, that should be the turn, and then the choices come from what to do with what you draw.

Here are a few things I think about doing with bag building mechanics.

  • A game with one common bag, everyone is adding to. The bag contains a signifier token for each player, and a number of other tokens. At the start of the turn, you pull tokens from the bag until you pull one with a signifier for each player, and the remaining non-signifiers are used to trigger game events. This could be used to represent something disastrous – each token claimed from the bag is a monster they have to fight – or it could be somehing good. Maybe the tokens represent customers coming to your shop.
  • A game where each player has a bag, and players contribute tokens to other people’s bags. Maybe this represents cooperation or hindrance – you can put good numbers in other players’ bags to hopefully improve their performance.
  • A game where enemies are stacks of tokens, and damaging them results in dice being put into the enemy bag – which indicates each enemy is having a sudden surge of power as they’re damaged.

Some themes I think I can do with Bag Building:

  • Collaborative creative processes. These are naturally messy. Putting ideas into someone else’s bag so they can gestate on them and then when they come out, it’s not something you can force.
  • Cooking and potion brewing! Throw recipe ingredients into the pot and then pull them out when they surface! This is a place explored by Quacks of Quedlingburg.
  • Space trading! I like this one because travelling from planet to planet gives markets lots of time to react weirdly. It can be that each planet has a standard set of ‘needs’ and the tokens from the bag can introduce new needs, or diminish the demand of old needs, so you have some demands that are consistent and some that aren’t. 
  • Ecological behaviour. Imagine if tokens represent types of animals, say, a food source C, predators that eat them B and predators that eat them A. You pull a handful from the bag, and then see how many A B and C that handful can support.

Try out bags for designs that:

  • Want randomisation but don’t want to keep looking up tables
  • Wants something tactile to take out and put down
  • Wants to customise dize conveniently
  • Wants a building and randomisation system, but doesn’t want tons of shuffling

 

April Shirt: Timely FF7 Reference!

One piece of content I’ve been enjoying having on in the background while I work this month, inasmuch as I ever can, is Graeme Stark doing a long play of Final Fantasy 7 – the original one. It’s great, he loves the game so it helps to temper my disdain for it. Anyway, one thing that’s been echoing in my head ever since I mis-heard it over my shoulder while he plays is the phrase on this design.

Here’s the design:

And here the design is on our friendly gormless supposedly unisex Redbubble model:

 

And here’s the design being modelled by the Teepublic ghost:

This design is available on a host of shirts and styles.

You can get this design on Redbubble or on Teepublic.

How To Be: Corvo Attano (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 authoritive 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.

This time, we’re going to try and capture the feeling of the Knight Protector of the Empress of Dunwall woops oh no it’s all gone wrong, Corvo Attano.

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MTG: Mel Candy

I’ve spoken in the past about Magic The Gathering‘s player psychographics, characterisations that the game developers use to describe and discuss the types of players that engage with their game. These archetypes are Tammy, Jenny and Spike, and they also kinda line up with other, similar efforts to categorise gameplay choices from the work of Roger Caillois, immense racist and clown-hater.

In the conversation about player psychographics, one Matt Cavotta introduced the idea of the Vorthos, a type of player who cared about and engaged with the game because of its lore, someone for whom the fiction of the play took paramount presence. In Magic’s case, it kind of needed this distinction because there’s a whole collection of people who engage with the game for reasons that treat the game as a secondary element of the game.

And then, with Vorthos, there was one more name that Mark Rosewater introduced, bringing their player nicknames up to five: Mel.

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March Shirt: Big Mood

What do we have this month? Well, it wasn’t made to be any kind of trend chasing, I just felt like playing with a classic videogame logo, and now we have:

Here it is on a different supposedly unisex model over on Redbubble:

And here it is on the Teepublic ghost.

Like the shirt? Well, you would, wouldn’t you. You can go get it on Redbubble or Teepublic.