I almost never buy fiction in print anymore, but I’ve got every Discworld book in print; it felt right that I should read this one in print as well.
I commissioned some artwork for Bleakstone from one of my favorite old-school artists, Steve Zieser. Steve brought Bleakstone’s dominant intelligent species — humans, skurliths, uzbardim, null slimes, and gharrudaemons — to life, and I couldn’t be happier with how they turned out. (Thanks, Steve!)
If you’d like to read more about any of these species, check out the anchor post for the Bleakstone campaign setting.
December 21, 2015 update: I’ve just learned that Steve Zieser has died after a long battle with cancer.
I had the privilege of working with him just once, on this project, but had chatted with him several times since then. He was a great guy, warm and funny and generous — not to mention a fantastic old school artist.
You’ll be missed, Steve.
What’s next for Bleakstone?
With Focal Point in wide release, I’m slowly turning my attention to other projects. I’ve been poking at Bleakstone for the past year, since I first posted about it here, and my plan is to invest additional time and money into the setting to get it ready for publication.
I love Bleakstone. It fires my imagination, and I want to see it in print. I’ve got specific ideas about how a setting like this should be published, and I’m looking at the best ways to implement them.
With an impending move to Seattle, the next couple months are going to be pretty patchy in terms of project time, but Bleakstone will continue to progress, slowly, in the background.
Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West (paid link):
All night sheetlightning quaked sourceless to the west beyond the midnight thunderheads, making a bluish day of the distant desert, the mountains on the sudden skyline stark and black and livid like a land of some other order out there whose true geology was not stone but fear.
I started this about three years ago, the same day I finished inhaling The Road (paid link) in under 24 hours, and it didn’t strike me right. This time, it’s striking me right.
I’ve read the quoted sentence at least 10 times, and I’m still finding new things to like about it.
So far, I’ve looked up an average of a word per page in this book. I love that, too!
If you know me well, this might be surprising — I don’t think of myself as a musical person, and I’m partly tone deaf. Prior to this, the only time I’ve ever done something musical by choice was in my sophomore year of high school, roughly 20 years ago, when I was in a Renaissance choir for a few months. And that was barely by choice, as I was doing it to spend more time with my then-girlfriend.
But the didge? The didge is neat. (This one was made by Tyler Spencer.)
So far, the only thing I’m good at is scaring the dog. But I’m making progress! I can get a drone pretty consistently, and it’s occasionally not terrible.
Playing it feels right to me. It seems to require the same relaxed-but-focused state as target shooting and, in delicate situations, hiking on mountains. I like that state, and achieving it helps me feel balanced.
It’s also a good stress reliever, which is welcome right now. I can’t always make time to spend a whole day on a mountain, but I can scare the dog for a few minutes and feel something pretty similar.
Same-sex marriage: now legal in all 50 states!
What an amazing day!
When my daughter asks me where I was when I heard the news, “in a McDonald’s drive-thru” is maybe not the most dramatic answer.
Holy shit, what a fucking fantastic thing. It’s electric. My whole body feels like it’s vibrating.
After posting The Thief, the fourth game I designed, I started thinking about the third, Storylike. I designed Storylike for my daughter, Lark, for New Game Day 2014, and we played it with my wife, Alysia, and our friend Jaben.
I came away thinking it probably needed some work, but a year later I haven’t done that work. So why not put it out there?
I’d probably design it differently now, but in cleaning it up to publish I realized that that’s not a bad thing — Storylike reflects what I wanted out if it in 2014. It’s a snapshot, and a playable one; we had fun playing it. I might tweak it someday, I might not.
My design goals for Storylike were:
- Create an RPG for my daughter, age four, that plays quickly enough for her attention span but which includes some traditional RPG trappings. There are dice, you roll them to see what happens, you have “hit points” (sort of), and the game has a “strong GM” role. It plays in about 30 minutes.
- Use as many of the standard polyhedrals as possible, as she’d just bought a set of her own. (Storylike uses d4, d6, d8, d10, and d12).
- Make it easy to tell which dice are which on the character sheet, since she was still working on her numbers at the time.
- No math, just compare results, because addition doesn’t come easily to her yet. Every roll is one die vs. one die, high die wins (players win ties).
- Encourage creative thinking, teamwork, and perseverance. Storylike does this through Talents, which require creativity to apply; dice odds, which incentivize helping; and Problems, which anyone can have and which need to be overcome.
- Assume the GM can improvise a short game on the spot, and don’t provide advice for doing so. The GM was me, so for good or ill the game assumes I know what I want to do with it.
- Fit the whole thing on one page. It’s two pages if you count the character sheet.
The odds of success also tell you quite a bit about the game:
These odds incentivize players to help each other (which increases your roll to the next die type) and to try to use their abilities (d4 is the “I don’t have that” default, and gives the worst odds), but the odds are always tilted in the players’ favor thanks to players winning ties. The possibility of failure exists, but it’s not rampant; that felt about right for my kiddo.
My favorite things about Storylike are Problems, Hidden Talents, and the visual character sheet. You can tell that the latter wasn’t designed by an artist, and that I created it in Word. Anyone with a drop of design talent could sexy it up in just a few minutes.
I like Problems because they’re so flexible. They can be injuries, sure, but they can also be conditions like Afraid, Embarrassed, or Dazed. Problems were inspired by stress and consequences in Fate, but they distill that combination of tracks and aspects down to a single mechanic for the sake of simplicity. Hidden Talents are similarly flexible, and they also signal that characters should develop during play.
If you try out Storylike, I’d love hear what you think of it. Enjoy!
I hadn’t planned to enter the 200 Word RPG Challenge, but then an idea popped into my head, followed closely by another, and one spilled out of me.
The Thief is a solitaire RPG that takes a few minutes to play. You need a handful of coins and possibly something to write on.
The Thief was inspired by the TV series The Wire and the video game Papers, Please; the Prince Valiant RPG, which uses coin-tossing; and current events. It’s not what the title makes it sound like it might be, but it’s not subtle about what it actually is.
I love nanogames, roleplaying poems, whatever you want to call them — short-form games, as a form, are fascinating. To date, my favorite is Stoke-Birmingham 0-0, in which you play the most boring people possible with the most boring lives possible and, over the course of (if memory serves) fifteen minutes, attempt to say absolutely nothing of interest. It’s hilarious.
200 words is a brutal constraint. I struggled to strike a balance between brevity, clarity, and the tone I was after. It required multiple drafts to get it down to 200 words, which was a surprisingly enjoyable process — I dig creativity with constraints. (And I played it conservative and counted the title, byline, and copyright language against my 200.)
The Thief took me about five hours to produce: one hour for the first draft, another to find the woodcut and header font, and three hours to rewrite, redesign, playtest, and proofread. The mechanics went through several iterations, three of which I playtested, until I found the mix I wanted. For about five minutes, the game took an abrupt dogleg and was about time travel, but it didn’t take me long to see that that wasn’t right for it.
I played the final version before submitting it to the challenge, and it did what I wanted it to. If you try it, I hope you get something out of it.
Lulu’s Law for tabletop RPGs:
“Within 24 of hours of placing a Lulu order, you’ll find out about a gaming book you should have ordered.”
Here’s how that usually breaks down for me, step by step:
- Place Lulu order for gaming book(s). (Use coupon, of course!)
- Bask in warm glow of a job well done.
- Note release of new awesome gaming book(s) on Lulu within 24 hours of order placement.
- Curse the gods and the heavens above.
- Place Lulu order for gaming book(s). (Use coupon, of course!)
- Repeat 1-5 until living in warm cocoon of gaming books.
- Die alone in moldering heap of gaming books.
(If you’re looking for Lulu recommendations, here’s my list.)
One of the fun things about having blogged for a long time is that I sometimes remember writing something years ago and, when I do, I can just go read it again. And man has this article from my Treasure Tables days back in 2005 come full fucking circle 10 years later: I’d rather rake leaves than do prep.
I’ve reached the point with prep where I’m entirely unwilling to do more than a few minutes of it, if that. Games that require prep are basically off my radar as a GM. I’ll read a book, I’ll noodle about a couple of things, but that’s my limit.
Game prep, you’re pretty much dead to me.
I picked up 188 RPG products in 2014 (plus a few more than arent in RPGGeek’s database yet), 43 of which were published in 2014. Of those 43, I’ve spent enough time with enough of them to tease out a partial list of 12 favorites — partial because there are books I expect to love which aren’t included here simply because I haven’t had a chance to read them.
- The Chained Coffin – Michael Curtis (Stonehell + DCC RPG + a setting inspired by one of the least-known authors in Appendix N, Manly Wade Wellman + a fabulously run Kickstarter that turned out a beautiful product = win. There’s a ton of stuff in this boxed set, including a killer spinning prop.
- The Clay That Woke – From the concept to the execution, this is a fabulous book. It oozes mood, and the system — which uses tokens, not dice, drawn from the krater of lots and compared to an oracle — is fascinating. This is one of my favorite things I backed on Kickstarter in 2014.
- Cosmic Patrol – This oddball improv game marries a genre I don’t care about (Golden Age sci-fi, robots and rayguns) and a publisher I don’t associate with weird little games (Catalyst), and the marriage is groovy. I liked the core book so much that I bought the whole line.
- Cthonic Codex – This hand-assembled, limited edition boxed set is a buffet of peculiar, evocative goodness for any fantasy game. It’s a setting unto itself, presented in incredibly appealing . . . fragments, I guess? It’s hard to describe, but superb.
- Dead Names: Lost Races and Forgotten Ruins (paid link) – Like other Sine Nomine books (e.g., Red Tide, which is awesome), while this is a Stars Without Number supplement it’s really a toolkit for generating weird places and species that works just as well for other games and genres, and a good one at that.
- The Dungeon Dozen – This is in my top three for the year — it’s superb. I liked it so much that I reviewed it on Gnome Stew. If you’re a fan of old school games, old school art, and/or random tables, buy it.
- Dwimmermount (paid link) – After the most painful crowdfunding roller coaster I’ve ever been involved with as a backer, I crossed my fingers that Dwimmermount would be as good as 2012 Martin hoped it would be. And it is! It’s a weird, wonderful monster of a dungeon that begs to be explored.
- Guide to Glorantha – Moon Design’s two-volume doorstop dominates any shelf it sits on, and both books are simply stellar. I have no idea if I’ll ever need or use this much information on Glorantha, but I’m glad I own them.
- Obscene Serpent Religion – Need a freaky serpent cult for your game? Of course you do! This is a toolkit for creating one, and for doing so cleverly with a minimum of effort and a lot of flavorful inspiration.
Despite trying to be thorough I’ve probably forgotten something, and I’m confident more favorites will emerge as I make my way through my to-read pile mountain. Happy gaming!