Wednesday, April 29, 2015

How Miniaturization Covers My Crappy Inking

I tried my hand at inking with a brush pen when I started doing the Slipstream figure flats. Actually I was doing them as concepts of what the other aliens looked like and it occurred to me that they would be prefect for figure flats. Anyway I decided to do the quick and dirty, Saturday morning cartoon style. After all there is a lot of art to do.

My inking sucks. What's more, the Faber-Castell brush pen wore out its tip quick. Suddenly I couldn't do fine lines. I thought it was just my lack of brush control. Considering I was working on a mini sketchbook (5.5 x 8.5) I thought I was going to really need that finer point. Anyhoo, my inking got steadily worse as the pen wore out and all of my characters were made up of these thick lines.

Well yesterday I started to shrink them and put them into a tri-fold document. Given that the Slipstream flats are 1.25" tall, these things got majorly shrunk. They're so tiny, that I'm glad they have thick lines. finer detail would just get lost. here's an example of an Aridian in both full size and flat size. I hope this shows up right.

So my crappy inking was a blessing. The moral of the story is that thick lines are necessary if your going to shrink the image a lot. I'll keep going with the brushpen but I bought some Micron pens for practicing detail work on other art. My inking is coming along well and my proportions and posing are getting much better. I got five female alien versions done today. Hopefully I'll be able to put together the figure flats sheet before the end of the month.


PS> If you want to see more of my crappy inking, the other figure flats are posted in this thread.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Taking a Little Break

I received a pm over on the Pinnacle forums to draw up a Slipstream Characters for a player's daughter. I did it, but like my other Slipstream pieces, it was awful.

Some I'm taking a break to teach myself how to draw again, how to ink, and how to work bigger. I'm currently using a tiny sketchbook and the Faber-Castell brush pens seem to wear out quick.

If I find I have something to get off my chest, I might make a post later this week.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

So Savage Rifts is Happening

I'm sure that if you read my blog, then you have heard elsewhere about this chunk of news.

I have to say that this news creates a very surreal experience for me. The first game I had ever bought for myself was Robotech so I did cut my teeth on the Palladium system. My friend ran a combo of the Heroes Unlimited and Mechanoids that was awesome. Before Rifts, we were already taking various Palladium games and combining them. Rifts was a natural, expected result when it came out.

Now despite the fact that I have fond memories of the games I played, I hated the Palladium system. It surprises me that in all of these years the system never received an update. It was a shame since the Rifts books had excellent setting ideas. But I couldn't get over my issues with the game system so I turned my back on Palladium 25 years ago.

Now Rifts is coming out for my favorite game system. My mind is blown. The past has returned to haunt me. It should be good news but I am still suspicious. Rifts had serious design problems, where an unoptimized character build could be killed in a single shot because he didn't have MDC (think Tank armor) as his personal armor. There were pistols that could blow holes into Veritechs. The power creep in that game was insane. I know that the Savage Worlds mantra is "Design for the concept. Don't do a straight port." But I do wonder if fixing the damage scales will violate the concept. 

Well, we'll just have to see. Really the only burning question on my brain is "Can meez haz Savage Robotech nowz?"

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Short Games

So I've been playing D&D 5E Encounters on Wednesday nights. For those who don't know, D&D Encounters are, well.. this is from their website...

D&D Encounters is our weekly Wednesday play program, geared for a casual play audience with short sessions each week. It serves as a great introduction to our main storyline events, and uses material right from published adventure product. Each session only takes 1-2 hours to play, so it’s easy to fit your game in after school or work. And each week there’s a new and exciting challenge. Jump in anytime!

It sounds like a cool idea, but I'm having some problems with it. I don't know if the source is the GM, or if this is how they really intend it to go.

One to two hours is not a very long time to game. It might work fine if heroes are given clear problems with quick resolutions every week, such as "You come across a an empty wagon the has been attacked by dire wolves." You fight the stragglers then learn that the wolves have taken the children back to their den for feeding later. You fight the Dire Wolves in their den and rescue the kids. It's quick, it's clear, and it has a resolution.

But that's not how we are playing. We are playing the game like any normal game, with a long quest involving many battles, rping, etc, but we are doing it in 2 hour snippets. The result is we lose the game's momentum every time we stop, long bouts of role playing often leave us with little progress, and sometimes crucial party members are absent for a game.

I've played for 3 sessions now and I still haven't a good idea of how the game flows.

Lastly, my experience at my FLGS with D&D 5E hasn't been the best (although this is a criticism of the group at this FLGS and not the game itself). When I went to join, I was told that all of the tables were full with regular groups. I was finally shoe-horned into a group whose players didn't show up on a regular basis. In short, I felt like I was being treated as an outsider during an event that was designed to advertise the game to people who weren't already playing it.

The North West Pathfinder Society gets mad props on this one. If you walk in and the tables are full, the organizers will draft a gm to start a new table. They will make room for you. Although there are regular players, there are no regular groups. In my experience, I think NWPFS has the advantage since their games are longer and scenarios get resolved that day. No "To be continued".

So what has all of this to do with Savage Worlds?

Well it's good to get out there and play new games. See what is working for the big boys and steal/adapt it for your own game. My take away from this experience is that if you want to run a long campaign, it might be advisable to break it into manageable chunks so that in each sitting a chunk of the plot can be resolved.


The overarching plot is that the characters must hunt down a madman who is gathering the power to destroy and reshape the world. However, each night I run this game I will only have about 4 hours before I have to get back to real life responsibilities.

So one scenario might be "The players must retrieve a stone tablet from an illegal art collector that might hold clues as to what the madman is planning." A little roleplay, a raid, and the resolution is getting the tablet.

Next scenario is "to hunt down and find a lost historian who can decipher the tablet." A bit of travel, a fight against cannibal kobolds, and a resolution where they free the historian and get the translation.

This stuff may sound basic, but I've played too many games where the goal for the night is unclear, the party gets sidelined with role play shopping, and by the end of the night the story hasn't budged an inch. The players go home feeling like nothing was accomplished and the drive to resolve the main campaign conflict starts to wither and die.

So be careful with your short games. Don't try to play them like 8 hour games. If you try to stretch the plot told in short games with too much minutiae or off campaign distractions then your going to lose player interest. Short games need to be tight, focused, and move the plot along, even if it's just an inch.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Building a Setting

There is a difference between a cool story idea and a game. Being in the video game field I have had a lot of people pitch me their "game" ideas and what follows is a story. Here's an example:

"So there's this girl and she comes from a long line of ancient beings who are like angels but they look like demons, but they helped create the religion of this world."

Interesting story, if a bit cliched. However that was a story pitch, not a game pitch. It misses out on the biggest questions of game design: what will the player do and how will they do it?

If you are planning on using an established rpg system, the "how will they do it" question is mostly answered for you. Although you may need to add some new rules here and there to fill any gaps or capture the feeling you are going for that the system might be missing.

But first let's start with the basics:

What is the action?

What will the heroes be expecting to do in your game? Are they spies committing acts of espionage on rival governments or evil organizations? Are they exploring dungeons looking for loot? Are they taking the One Ring to Mordor?

This is the single most important question in your game. Answering this question informs you about what kind of campaign you are building: an open ended campaign where there is a new quest every week or a fixed goal that ends the story. Use the answer to this question to create the elevator pitch to your players. 

What is an Elevator Pitch? Imagine you walk into an elevator and inside is a big hollywood producer! You have only seconds to grab his attention before he shuts you down or you reach the next floor. So you have to communicate enough of your idea to peak his interest before the meeting is over. A good pitch is short, one or two sentences. It should communicate who the heroes will be, what type of action can be expected, what genre, and the promise of a conflict or mystery (or both).

Example of a Fixed Goal Elevator Pitch: The heroes are pirates on an alien, watery world with a dark secret. With magic, cutlass, and cannon they must uncover the secret to save the world from a growing evil.

Example of an Open Ended Elevator Pitch: The heroes travel around in a funky van, uncovering the truth behind haunted locations and ghostly occurrences. 

Before you add in any more work, you should pitch the idea to your players and see if it interests them. Their input might even alter the pitch into a new concept that they are more eager to play. 

Once you have a winning concept, take notes! Throw down every idea you come up with about the setting. Don't bother editing yourself at this stage. Just because you jot something down in a notebook, that doesn't make it canon to your setting. You can weed through the ideas later or as you play. What you think of as a bad idea may play into your world as it evolves around your players.

What do I need?

Once you have your pitch, next is figuring out what you will need to play. Obviously you'll need to pick a game system. If you can pick one that already has the rules you need for your chosen genre, great. If not, you will need to create a few items.

For the pirate pitch, I will need:
  • gear appropriate to the setting
  • rules for magic
  • rules and stats for ships and ship to ship combat
  • the source of the dark secret, how it is threatening the world, and what might the heroes accomplish to defeat it
  • any additional rules that I might need to give the setting that pirate-y feel, like rules for being drunk or the advantages and dangers of carousing.

Ironically I have to do less work for the Open Ended pitch up front:
  • rules for gear appropriate to the setting
  • rules for magic if I intend to consider it real
  • any additional rules to reinforce the setting. In this case since I am dealing with hauntings, a fear mechanic would be necessary.

For the pirate campaign, because it is telling a fixed conflict I need to create that conflict as well as important locations to that story. I have to create the world with a check list of things that the heroes can to do to resolve that conflict. 

Side note here: The story should be flexible enough that the heroes can fail to meet some of the requirements and still bring about the resolution to the conflict, or have the freedom to find a new way to end it. Remember, you don't want to railroad your players!

For the ghost hunting campaign, I'll need to tell a new story every week. I will have to design "What everyone in the area thinks is happening", "What is actually happening", and a possibly a unique twist to the monster to make it memorable and keep things from feeling stale.  

That's really it for the basics of creating your own campaign. Nail these two and everything else ought to fall into place.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Starpunk - This will be a tough post.

My mojo-block is at it again. I have the gear and the starships and the arcane background. The time has come for some adventures...and nothing. Creative block.

It's not total block as I have plenty of ideas for D&D-esque adventures, even adventure ideas for Star Wars. Something about Starpunk specifically is blocking me, so it's time for more self-examination/ blog therapy.

As near as I can tell, the problem is that I am working in a vacuum. Established settings already have a life to them. If I want to run an adventure against a crime syndicate in Star Wars, I know that I can grab the Hutts for it and that my players will have a good idea of the environment, the alien mentalities, everything that makes the adventure breathe. The bulk of the work has been done for me in these settings and I don't really have to explain anything.

But in building my own universe, I have to start from scratch. This is complicated by my avoidance of the Planet of Hats Trope. I didn't want to pigeon-hole my aliens into specific stereotypes, but as a result I destroyed any short-hand I could use for myself and my players to establish the feel of the setting. I am discovering that trying to build a setting as huge as infinite worlds with infinite aliens, a type of short-hand might be a necessity I shouldn't have over-looked.

So now I have infinite choices with nothing established for me, and I'm getting mojo-lock. What's worse is I am beginning to question whether or not I have lost my creativity. As an artist, the very idea scares the sh#t out of me. My dogged determination hasn't let me quit but the more I push, the more I'm stuck. I have spent hours of time coming up with nothing.

Fortunately everything I have done in the way of equipment and rules is good and generic enough for a space-fantasy style game. But it is clear that I am going to have to completely rework my setting idea if it's going to be of any use to me. I'm also going to have to get over my desire to stay away from tropes used in other common games if I am going to make this setting accessible to my players.

It's also possible that Sisyphus is clawing at my brain again. I though I would save myself work by creating racial templates, which is true, but what I also did was get rid of any setting flavor that individual races might introduce. One piece of advice I came across on the net was to "build 4-5 major races and let other aliens be background set dressing". In other words, flesh out a handful of core races, and I can add new races as I see fit as set dressings for adventures. If the design is popular, then I can always add said race to the core with a more fully fleshed out background.

Ugh. I thought that creating a homebrew setting would be easy. At least it's giving me stuff to write about.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

D&D 5E Test Play

So yesterday I figured I would try playing D&D 5th Edition at my FLGS (Games and Gizmos in Redmond).

Since it and Pathfinder is pretty much 90% of what is being played in the area, and since Pathfinder is becoming a bit too bloated with power creep and supplement books, I figured that perhaps it was time to look at a new system.

I didn't actually buy in to 4E thankfully. I appreciate what they were trying to do, bring new players into the game, but it was too much a board game for my tastes. I have heard a lot of good things about 5E, easy of entry and faster combats, but what made me truly want to look into the game was the abbreviated stat blocks I saw in the Monster Manual.

However, the books are $50 each and that's a $150 buy in to the system. I want to experience it in play before I decide to buy. Especially since there are bound to be more Monster Manuals and Fiend Folios on the way.

So I joined into a D&D encounters group. We played for two hours that covered my character introduction, the long walk down a cave corridor, and finally an encounter with 4 flying zombies and a mysterious dark mage in the background. The combat lasts only a few minutes and didn't give me much of a feel for the rules play. Plus we were only 3rd level. I will say that there was no rules-lawyering or looking up things in the book. I'll keep playing with an open mind, but I'm also keeping an eye on supplement saturation. So far it looks like they are focusing on campaign splat books which is awesome.

Of course, one problem with waiting before buying into a game like this is that if I do decide to pull the trigger, odds are the buy in cost will have gone up with a lot more supplements being available. That's what kept me form Star Wars Saga and to an extent Pathfinder (although I do own the Core book).

It's seems to be a real Catch 22 in our hobby. To keep the publisher going, they need to produce more content to buy. But the expense of that content and the buy in for the game saps our funds and may keep players from exploring other systems. The publisher wins, but I'm not sure the gain from the arrangement. It explains why Savage Worlds and Fate are enjoying a boom, with their low priced core books. Unfortunately I don't see many of them on store shelves.