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…

200 Word RPG Challenge

200 words. 200 words is not many when your fingers tend to run away with you. My fingers tend to run away with me, but I’m always up for a challenge, and it presents an opportunity to do something a little different.

The 200 Word RPG Challenge has been running annually since 2015, and it’s on now! If you have ever harboured an interest in design or RPG writing, if your an old hand, or even if you’re bored and just looking for something to do, check it out and get involved!

Constraints, like a word limit, specific theme, the need to include certain features, whatever they are, are a great way to foster and inspire creativity.

Head over to the website and join in! This years entrants are being added as they are submitted and can be found here. On their site you can also find entries from previous years. I haven’t looked at them all, not even close, but the ones I have looked at are all clever. Some are deep, some are funny, some are zany, and all of them make you wonder how a person can pack so much into so many words.

My entry is called ‘A Load of Cobblers’, and is about a group of fantasy realm cobblers talking, well, cobblers (yes, not quite what the phrase ‘Load of Cobblers’ refers to, but there are links I tells ya!).

I’m sure it won’t place, but writing it was fun enough!

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…

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.

Questions, questions, questions…

Some things I am wondering…

I have set up a Patreon account, and intend to release a number of micro-rpgs as backer rewards. These would later be released on itch and Drivethru as pay-what-you-want (PWYW) products.

I currently have two tiers, the lower tier gets the game before everyone else, the higher tier gets an expanded version of the same game. I’ve written two of these micro games so far, and have drafts in various stages for the next four or five. BUT…

I am wondering whether I should drop the higher tier, and just have one Patreon level, at which you get the expanded version. Along with this the base game would go up on itch and Drivethru as PWYW, and the expanded version would also go there at set price to match the Patreon level (say at $2, $3, or $4).

A number of things concern me:

  • I don’t want to undervalue my time in creating these.
  • I don’t want to overvalue the games and put a price point that no-one is ever going to be interested in paying.
  • I am not sure whether just having one level on Patreon (at a similar price as above) is a good idea as whatever I begin with, I must continue (though of course I may add new tiers or whatever. But what I offer now I should continue to offer – changing the price or what is received is not fair for any backers – not that I have any yet, but still).

I feel like the answer is to create a single tier on Patreon, and offer the expanded version of each micro-game as the reward. These would then go on itch and Drivethru for the same price, and the cut down version as PWYW. I could add further tiers later if there was a need to do that. How to value these is a difficult problem though, I’ve spent a lot of time looking at the Patreon accounts of many other people working in the table-top role playing game field, and there is a wide variance on what price the tiers are set at, and what is offered in return. $2 seems the entry point, but many are as high as $5. Whatever I end up choosing can always be reduced, I suppose, but not increased without a damn good reason and the likelihood of annoying any backers I do have at the time.

Then of course is the age old issue of impostor syndrome. Will anyone actually want to buy the games I am writing? Are they any good? On one shoulder is perched a little dragon saying that I’ll never know until I try it, and that I should, at least, give it a go. On the other is another little dragon telling me not to bother, that I’m wasting my time. One may be right and the other wrong, or they could both be right, who knows…

For now I remain here, chewing over the specifics of my Patreon account and what to do with the games I am working on…