Laying it all out…

If you ever find yourself Googling ‘How many fonts are too many fonts’, chances are you’ve already used too many fonts. At the moment I am working on my next micro-RPG, tentatively called ‘Corsairs’, and I’m moving out of my MS Word based comfort zone, and delving into the deep waters of Affinity Publisher.

Affinity Publisher is a program designed to do, essentially, what In-Design does, it’s a publishing program with a whole bunch of functions and features that I am unfamiliar with, and do not understand. Making the leap from Word, where I can make something that looks pretty reasonable (at least to my untrained eye), and into the murky waters of a desktop publishing program has been enlightening, frustrating, tear-inducing, and invigorating. Yes, it’s been a roller-coaster.

No cover image yet…

Corsairs has been an interesting project, essentially I am working on two very different drafts. The first is the draft of the rules and game itself, and the second is a draft of playing with the program and trying to get it to do things. The first is ground I feel comfortable on, and the second has been a struggle, I won’t deny it.

Luckily for me there are a whole bunch of tutorial videos on the Affinity website, which has been a massive help. I also downloaded the Affinity Publisher Beginner’s Guide, by Nathanael Roux, which was very informative, and came with a bunch of backgrounds and fonts that have been very useful! I would highly recommend Nathanael’s guide, not only does it come with useful resources, it is also a great source of general information about the program itself.

So why make the leap? I suppose it’s because I wanted to stretch myself, and to try and make the games I’m releasing look a little more professional and well put together than they have in the past. Am I succeeding? Well, I am not familiar with the ins and outs of visual design, but I am slowly coming to grips with the program, and I am enjoying the flexibility it offers. This was something I had been intending to do for a little while, but have been putting it off. I’m glad I finally made the leap. While I’m sure that the games I release will still undoubtedly look like they were put together by an amateur (no denying it), I think that as a whole, they will look better produced than what I had been releasing previously.

Little details, like the ease of adding art to the document, the ability to create Master Pages, and the capacity to use the background around the document to make templates and tables you can copy and use throughout are all elements I am enjoying. I am even slowly becoming more familiar with such terms as kerning, who would have thought it!

I have been enjoying using Affinity Publisher, and I am strongly considering getting Affinity Designer to go along with it. All the box outlines and diagrams in Corsairs I have drawn in Corel Painter Essentials, but the capacity to shift between Publisher and Designer is something that really has me curious.

Affinity Publisher is an excellent program, and while learning it (and I am still learning it) has been a roller-coaster, it is pretty straightforward to use, and offers a lot of flexibility. Having struggled through creating something close to a working draft of Corsairs, I think I would find it hard going to turn back to Word. Affinity is well worth the entry price, and I’d thoroughly recommend it to anyone.

The beginnings of a character sheet takes form as a Master Page which I can drop in anywhere. No matter where it appears in the document, any alteration to the master page alters them all. A great and very useful feature!

Corsairs will be, I think, the next game released by Caradoc Games. It is coming together nicely, but more about that in another post…

Colludium One…

Colludium One… No! It’s not some rare element superheroes are made of, it’s not some rare element worth strip mining a precious living planet for… It’s a bundle of 17 Indie RPGs! Which is better, when you think of the social and political ramifications of the former possibilities! You can get it on DriveThruRPG here, or a slightly different bundle of 15 games on Itch.io here.

A while ago Marcus, of Blue Golem Publishing (here on DriveThruRPG and here on Itch.io), put out the call to a number of indie/small press rpg creators to feature in a bundle for release on DriveThruRPG and Itch.io. Happily, my game Owlbear Omelette, is one of those available!

Marcus put in a huge effort and a lot of work to get all these wild horses pulling in the same direction, but his efforts have reached fruition, the Collidium is here!

The Colludium bundle contains a collection of small press RPGs, some of which are funny, some of which are serious, all of which are awesome. I feel quite proud of the fact my own little game, Owlbear Omelette, sits among these titles.

17 Indie RPGs for less than the cost of the average core book? Colludium One is available from DriveThruRPG, and a separate bundle of 15 excellent games (some the same, some different) is available from Itch.io.

Exploring the Jungle

I wrote last time about working with a co-designer (Ark Angel Games) on a few games. All of these were spun from the same core concept, but all of these have developed along quite different paths. One which has moved the furthest in this process, seems the closest to finished, feels like it is in the tweaking stage, is tentatively called Colour Jungle. It probably won’t be called that when we pitch it to a publisher, but it’s what we call it for now.

Over the last few weeks the core mechanisms seem to settled, now we’re working on player powers, and simple games are hard work. Complex games are hard work too, but simple games are a different type of hard. Tweak this power, just a little, and it becomes too powerful, tweak it back, in a different way, and it becomes too weak. Trying to find a nice balance for the various player powers (we are working on six core powers, with a few more in the wings), is tough work. The only way forward is through playtesting, testing, testing, testing, and just when you think it feels right, testing some more.

When playtesting, be aggressive. Don’t be nice to your opponents, don’t be magnanimous, generous, or kind. Be brutal. Exploit the powers you have in the game in as many brutal and blunt and subtle ways as possible. Manipulate, dominate, and orchestrate, but never capitulate. Playtesting is about breaking things, about finding the holes and the weaknesses and ways in which the game system falls apart when pushed.

The powers we have settled on are close, but there are weaker ones still, and possibly a strong one. The more we test and play and test again, pushing a prodding, ruthlessly struggling for the best outcome every single turn, the closer we are to honing those down and getting all the little ducklings in a row. It’s been fun, and we’ve played this one a lot. Still, it needs to be played more. A few tweaks yet to make and a few powers yet to hone before I think it will be ready. Within a simple game engine, a little tweak is often troubling work though, a little tweak can resonate against the simple engine in significant ways. Little tweaks are rarely little. I think we’re close though, and getting closer…

Owlbear Omelette!

How would you fare, as a sneaky Goblin sneak sneaking into the Goblin King’s dungeon?

The goal?

To filch an Owlbear egg for omelette making purposes!

Why?

It could be the moonshine, it could have be the endless pasty gruel, it could be a sense of pressing social inequality that comes from not being a Goblin King chowing down on Owlbear Omelettes every other morning!

Whatever the reason, here you are! The only way forward is forward! The only thing left to do is get an Owlbear egg! Oh! And get out alive! Garrr!

Owlbear Omelette is the latest micro-rpg from Caradoc Games. It can be played as theatre of the mind, or as an OSR style grid based game.

The Expanded Edition of Owlbear Omelette contains much extras! Including secret goals for extra sneaky Goblins, rules for Armour, and rules for the random creation of the Goblin King’s dungeon!

The basic and expanded editions of Owlbear Omelette are available to patrons right now, click here to support and start the quest for the greatest omelette ever tasted!

The basic edition will be available soon from DriveThruRPG and Itch.io…

All the Colours…

I’m working with a co-designer on a series of card and board games. It happened fairly quickly:

Karl: “Did you want to work with me on this design.”

Me: “Hell yes.”

Us: <Initiate torrential stream of concepts/>.

Karl (of Ark Angel Games) and I quickly found three core concepts to explore, all originally centered around the use of transparent cards that Karl had concocted. How things have changed in the months since.

Iteration, playtest, iteration, playtest, iteration, playtest. Two of the three are on version 3 or 4, while one is on version 11.

Some of these have come together quickly, feel close to being ‘right’, one is a work in progress, still missing a core something. All of them have changed, as is only good and right.

It’s like finding a path through a jumbled and dark room, ironically, one that you yourself have created. Feeling for what’s in front, trying to find the light switch. Once the light switch has been located of course, it’s not the end, oh no! The room needs to be surveyed, assessed, ordered, tidied, and made presentable.

At different points throughout the iterations I feel like I’ve found the light switch, but the playtest to follow reveals I have, in fact, found nothing of the sort. Things work differently in the mind to how they play out on the table, and that, while obvious, highlights *again* the vital role that playtesting has in the design process.

I have a brilliant idea! It will work! It will be glorious! It will add depth, and strategy, and… <initiate playtest/>… it just doesn’t work at all. How did I not see that!

Time and again we have come back to one or other of the games and asked ourselves – what do we want this game to achieve? If this game were on a shelf next to other games of a similar weight and a similar depth, what would those games be? What is the target audience? What other games do the people who will play this game play? Knowing the destination is vital to keeping it on track. But, by the same token, being open to a change in destination is also important.

Working with a co-designer has been a great experience. The ability to bounce ideas, come at things from other angles, and play to different strengths has been fantastic. If we have a tendency to spin one idea into three, that’s ok, I’m confident that one or more of these is going to turn out great!

Breaking Eggs

You can’t make an Omelette without breaking eggs, as the saying goes. The same is true for game design. Owlbear Omelette has been through a number of revisions, most recently an update to the random dungeon system that will be in the extended edition.

Run Goblin! Run!

The dungeon creation rules started as a card driven system: split a deck of cards into three, divided by colours and numbers. Flip this card, then that card, corridors, rooms, and encounters defined by suit and then number… Explaining it to a friend at a later stage I realised something that should probably have been quite obvious earlier: all the same could be achieved through dice rolls. In fact, rolling dice and checking tables is simpler than splitting up a deck of cards into three specific decks, and then having to check tables.

The Lost Paladin… Which way did the rogue say to go?

It’s funny how, in the moment, we can get lost in needless complexity. That the solution to a problem we see can swiftly spiral into complication. But… would the dice system exist without me having first created the overly complicated card system? No, it would not.

There is much to be said for building the thing; complexities, complications, warts and all. Once the things exists, in a form that approximates, roughly, painfully, and no doubt awkwardly, what you want to achieve, cut it back, pare it down. Ask of the thing: what can be done more simply? Is there another way to achieve the same thing?

I changed from cards to dice not just because the system is simpler, but because it doesn’t ask the GM or the players to pre-prepare. Thinking about the physical actions required of either preparing or executing an action in the game is important. Such things can add a fun aspect to the game experience when they are deliberate and purposeful, but can detract from the fun just as easily. A system that involves some sort of procedure or preparation can be a barrier to entry, a step or series of steps that add needless ‘busy work’ to a process that doesn’t necessarily require it.

I have a tendancy as a designer to add all the things in, one idea leads to two others, which in turn add some system or sub-system, and so the teetering pile grows. This is a part of my process, and just as important as growing that messy pile, is the act of going back and shaving it down, of cutting away and reorganising. Of removing the things that don’t add to the experience, but simply add processes. This cutting back is the step that is key… As I wrote at the beginning: when making an omelette, you need to break eggs.

Owlbear Omelette will be the next game released by Caradoc Games. The basic edition will be available as a free download in all the usual places (Patreon, DriveThruRPG, and Itch.io), while the Extended Edition, which includes extras such as fun secret character goals, armour rules, and random dungeon creation, will be available exclusively to Patreon supporters.