Thursday, November 30, 2017

Winter update

This weekend: I'll be at Dragonmeet in London on Saturday with the Pelgrane crew. I love visiting London, and Wednesday I got to attend Arsenal's 5-0 tonking of Huddersfield, so all is well.

Work in progress....
The first five books mentioned on this list are Pelgrane projects for 13th Age. After that the list moves to other companies and other games.

[[cover art by Jessica Chung Ti Lee]]
Fire & Faith:  The third of the battlescenes books by Cal Moore, with ready-to-run mini-adventures for the icons who rely at least partly on faith: Diabolist, Crusader, Priestess, Great Gold Wyrm. The book didn't quite make it into print in time for Dragonmeet. Printed copies are showing up later in December, for now you can pre-order at the Pelgrane store and get the PDF.

[[cover art by Melissa Gay]]
Book of Demons: This one is in layout. Among the reasons the book will be notable is that it contains a rarity: a new 13th Age character class, the demonologist, something I put together after initial work by Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan and another early draft from Paul Fanning. Elsewhere in the book, the six hellholes Gareth created are wild. He'd written art suggestions that I said were not-doable, "tone it down, a lot, this is just too convoluted, no artist is going to want to handle this," I said. And then Cat Tobin went and proved me very wrong, finding an artist named Agathe PitiĆ© who pulled a full Hieronymus Bosch. 

Book of Ages: I'm midway through developing Gareth's wonderful combo of DIY chronicling and sample ages, full of monsters and magic and spells from the ancients. Not sure of publication date yet but it's next in the pipeline.

Shards of the Broken Sky: I've got a bit of final devwork to handle on ASH LAW's big adventure. Art is midway. Maps are still needing to be arranged.

Loot Harder: ASH's new book of treasure, with bits from a few couple other writers. To be published in 2018, either just before or just after Shards I believe.

13th Age Glorantha: It will be a 400+ page book from Moon Design. We recently shared Chapter 3: Playing in Glorantha with KickStarter backers. Six of the book's eight chapters have been laid out by Chris Huth. Layout finishes soon. I'll be handling indexing and other final bits when I'm back from Dragonmeet. I'm amazed by the final layout. Jonathan prefers not to see our books as they're in progress, he likes to wait until they are done--he's in for a treat!

Wrestlenomicon: A two-player card game from Arc Dream Publishing, presently in open playtesting, aiming to be on Kickstarter sometime in 2018 since its art by Kurt Komoda is complete and we're just getting the mechanics right. (See the previous post in this blog.)

Dragonfire: I didn't work on Catalyst's new Dragonfire game of D&D deckbuilding directly, but my business partner Jay Schneider did, and it's pretty much a second edition of the Shadowrun: Crossfire game our Fire Opal design group created, which is why Mike Elliot and Greg Marques and the rest of us are credited as designers. As a second edition, I think Dragonfire is an improvement over our Crossfire mechanics. I believe Crossfire may be getting an update soon to match some of the improvements, and I'm excited to see Dragonfire's progress in the months to come.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Wrestlenomicon!

[Hyades Head Slam, by Kurt Komoda]

Dennis Detwiller & Shane Ivey of Arc Dream Publishing came up with the idea of pitting Cthulhu vs. Hastur in a cosmic cage fight. They came up with dozens of funny card names and Kurt Komoda supplied wonderful illustrations. But the rules they started with didn’t live up to the concept and the art. Dennis & Shane decided they didn’t really have a viable game. And that’s when I got involved, meeting Dennis at a convention, hearing that they had a fully-illustrated game with no mechanics, and jumping at the chance to join the team.

I designed a couple systems that had interesting pieces but weren’t fun. Then I hit on the idea of presenting the fight as a battle between great slow-moving cosmic entities who launch attacks that unfold over time and space, arriving after the enemy has had a chance to see them coming and figure out what they might do in response. If it’s not actually a unique game mechanic, I don’t know other games that used the idea first. I’m sure I’ll hear whether the mechanics have unknown ancestors during this next piece of the process, a wide open-playtest.

If you’d like to be part of the playtest, you can sign up at Wrestlenomicon.com. This first (and perhaps only) playtest is going to run for something like five weeks. Assuming it goes well, the game’s developer, Sean McCarthy, and I will process the playtest feedback and get the game ready to roll. At some point thereafter, when they’ve recovered from other Kickstarter heroics, Arc Dream will run a KS for Wrestlenomicon . . . . since there’s definitely more that can be accomplished in this cosmic ring!
[[Fistful of Cultists, also by Kurt Komoda]]

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Dream-Quest, Dreamlands cards


Here’s why I love Kij Johnson’s The Dream-Quest of Vellit Boe:
a)     Kij Johnson is one of my favorite writers, and the fact that I haven’t read all her books yet is a symptom of deliberately rationing her work over time—next up: Fudoki.
b)     The Dreamlands are my favorite part of Lovecraft’s mythos.
c)      Vellit Boe’s dreamquest works as mythos journey, perspective-shift social commentary, and a trip into the lives of real people in a surreal world.
d)    Brutal mid-paragraph shifts from normality to deadly violence. They remind me of the non-transitions in the movie version of No Country for Old Men. This is how violence slams into real life, not with musical cues.

Here’s why I love Heather Hudson’s Dreamlands Christmas Cards that are on Kickstarter for the next couple days, and can be found here:
a)     Hilarious use of the mythos' brightest corners.
b)    Cards that translate both in and out of fandom.
c)     Homage to Calvin & Hobbes. 
d)     At least one card that requires a scenario: (Santa Claus vs.) The Black Galley!



Monday, October 30, 2017

Design notes from Operation Dauntless

I love design notes in games. When I’m working full-time on my own games, I admit there are times that I end up reading the designer’s notes in new games in more detail than their rules, particularly with wargames that I’m not likely to play in the next few months.

The design notes I’ve enjoyed most recently appeared as a 48-page booklet in the GMT game Operation Dauntless, designed by Mark Mokszycki. It’s a grand-tactical simulation of battles in June 1944, during the British offensives in Normandy. Not the same cup of tea (or even the same meal!) as the roleplaying games and card games I’m usually involved with as a designer, but this is work I appreciate as both stellar design and as a thoughtfully-described process.


The game’s mechanics are deceptively simple. Let’s call them elegant! They’re adapted from an earlier game by Mokszycki about the Finnish/Soviet war, Red Winter. In fact, Mokszycki’s design notes mention that he originally expected Operation Dauntless to be a simple conversion of mechanics from the earlier game. Eight years of design and development work later, that was patently not true, but it was too late to turn back the tanks, he was committed to this labor of love.

I’m sure that’s part of why I enjoy these notes so much. Hearing about multiple detailed and heavily playtested approaches to a close assault system, over a period of years, certainly reminds me of game mechanics conundrums we faced during 13th Age in Glorantha, when a system we thought would easily flow into a different world had to be revised to do the new world justice. 

But the appeal of these notes goes beyond my own process-identification and my fondness for WW2 grognardia. If you’re any type of wargamer, or a game designer, there’s a lot to learn from Mokszycki’s detailed discussions of iterative attempts to simulate specific elements of historical battles. What makes these process notes pay off in the end are elegant and approximately-correct abstractions that both solve his historical-simulation problems and help create a gameable experience.

I may end up playing Red Winter before I play Operation Dauntless, especially since a member of my gaming group has married into the Finnish way of life! If there’s more to say about how the game mechanics match the design goals, I’ll speak up after rolling the dice.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Red Base Yellow Base

Walking our dog Roo early this morning in the fog, outside the Rainier Arts Center, I found myself standing on what felt like an art project, or perhaps a section of a game board, one base red, one base yellow.


Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Crazy Boss Monster

A couple years ago there was a pivotal moment when a close friend of ours had started a job that immediately looked like it was going to be a disaster. My wife Lisa helped save us all, saying “I’m sorry, I just don’t have the energy to spend the rest of the year being surprised by how crazy your boss is. You need to quit. There’s no mystery here, it’s just going to happen again and again.”

That’s how I feel about mass shootings in America. We can’t be surprised. The pieces are all set up and the shooting will begin. As the Gun Violence Archive indicates, nine days out of ten, it’s only a question of who and where.

Our friend quit her crazy job. Then she chose a path that was four times more sane. Judging by American political history and our current president and Congress, I don’t have hopes for a similarly rapid shift to a sane approach to gun ownership. But first steps are important. A gun lobby that fights against background checks for gun owners, restrictions against mass-murder-certified assault weapons, and against keeping silencers more-illegal-than-not is no one’s friend. It’s a crazy boss monster, and it’s time it was opposed by our elected officials, even the ones whose campaigns were bankrolled by gun money.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Fire & Faith & a Fallen Lammasu


I just finished developing and editing Cal Moore’s Fire & Faith: Battle Scenes for Four Icons, the third of his battle scenes books for 13th Age. The glorious bits that you won’t forget include a hellhole invasion (Crusader), bloody encounters with a demonic circus (Diabolist), a quest through a dragon’s dreams (Great Gold Wyrm), and overworld combat-mathematics in the Cathedral (Priestess). Along the way there’s an ogre mage knight riding a fallen lammasu (art by Rich Longmore above), a drow sorcerer riding a silver dragon, and demonic gladiators that are my game-mechanics gift to GMs who enjoy upsetting the players’ concept of how fight scenes should play out.

Like the other battle scenes books, Fire & Faith will be published in black and white with dozens of illustrations by Rich Longmore. It will also have a full color map folio, including labeled and unlabeled versions so that the maps can be easily repurposed.

If you combine these adventures with Cal’s earlier High Magic & Low Cunning and The Crown Commands, you could play a by-the-book ten level 13th Age campaign using only battle scenes adventures!

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Top Level Security


The Frame: I heard the story I’m about to relate as it was happening, from people inside the building speaking off-the-record to an outsider. I wasn’t in a position to find out more at the time, and I liked the Story-Of-It-All so much that I haven’t tried to follow up and find out what, if anything, people eventually learned about how this happened! Maybe by posting this I’ll discover the Truth, but I admit I’m pretty happy with the mystery . . . .

The Story: A couple years ago, the Redmond Microsoft campus had an unprecedented security problem. I say unprecedented, but technically that may not be true if you watched Seinfeld.
As part of the deal that brought Skype to these shores, Skype employees were provided with breakfast on the Microsoft campus. It was part of the contract. Many people took advantage of the perk.

And then the Skype-breakfast muffin tops started disappearing. Not every day, but often, the tops of the muffins were gone. Eaten? Disappeared, in any case. No one came forward to take the credit. The muffin-topping continued. Take that, Skype!

So people started taking steps, including setting up cameras. That didn’t work. Which started seeming weird. I’m not sure how seriously anyone was worried about it, but there were impromptu patrols by semi-concerned employees.

The last I heard, a patrol thought they had found a woman acting suspiciously in one of the kitchens, but when she realized they were fairly crap vigilantes, she just walked away and no one figured out who she was. 

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Stuff at GenCon!

It’s not only GenCon’s 50th birthday this year; it’s my wife Lisa’s 50th, and they coincide. So I won’t be at GenCon this year. I’m sorry to miss out on seeing friends I only see once or twice a year, but I have no complaints, it’s going to be a great birthday!

There will be several games and things I’ve designed or contributed to showing up at the convention.


First, at booth #1317, Pelgrane Press will have copies of Lions & Tigers & Owlbears: 13th Age Bestiary 2. I haven’t seen the physical book yet so if you get a copy you’ll be ahead of me. You should be able to find authors like Wade Rockett, Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan, and Jonathan Tweet at the show and often at the Pelgrane booth. Artist Naomi VanDoren (Purple Dragon, kowha, etc.) will be in the art show.


Speaking of art, Campaign Coins has repackaged the 13th Age icon tokens with a color backing card. They're up for an ENnie and they'll be on sale at booth #842. 

Pelgrane panels will also be discussing the next few 13th Age books in the pipeline. One of them, the Book of Demons, contains the new demonologist class, which is presently being playtested by former 13th Age Monthly subscribers and which I’m working on more this week.


And speaking of playtesting, Arc Dream Publishing will have playtest decks of the Wrestlenomicon card game I designed the mechanics for at booth #431! I'm happy with mechanics I’ve never seen anywhere else that capture a wrestling match between gigantic elder gods! It helped to have card art finished by Kurt Komoda and hilarious/devastating card names provided by Dennis Detwiller and Shane Ivey. I got to focus on carving mechanics to live up to the art’n’concepts. The game is going to have a wider public playtest you can sign up for on the Wrestlenomicon site, and then a Kickstarter.


Meanwhile over at the Chaosium booth, #829, they’ll have the first three laid-out chapters of 13th Age in Glorantha. Chris Huth, the layout artist responsible for this design, is taking a break from layout to attend the show, where he’ll be running games and working at the Pelgrane booth a bit. You can see more samples of the layout in this update on the 13G Kickstarter page.


More coming in a later post . . . .

Monday, July 17, 2017

Thunder Alley & Apocalypse Road

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Thunder Alley is a pretty great NASCAR racing game by Jeff and Carla Horger, published by GMT. Read more comprehensive reviews of Thunder Alley’s clever racing and drafting mechanics here and here.

Neither I, nor anyone I’ve played Thunder Alley with, have been NASCAR fans. But as an evocative simulation of bump-and-grind team racing, Thunder Alley has succeeding in making nearly everyone who has played it in our games say something like “Wow, I never really cared about NASCAR, but if this is how the tactics work, I could pay more attention.”

I admit that we haven’t followed up on that by following NASCAR. But we’re all looking forward to playing the game again, it’s an elegant design that’s extremely fun.

And speaking of looking forward to playing …. What I’m really looking forward to is the Car Wars style version of Thunder Alley, cars with weapons racing on closed circuit tracks! The game-in-the-making is called Apocalypse Road. It’s presently at around 337 orders on GMT Games’ version of crowdfunding, the Project 500 system (aka P500) that requires 500 pre-orders to get published.

P500 preceded Kickstarter, it’s one of the early crowdfunding systems. P500 works extremely well for GMT but I’m not certain it’s working as well as it could be for Apocalypse Road. GMT mainly publishes historical games. It has some science fiction successes, but they’re considerably less wacky-looking than Apocalypse Road. I’ve got a hunch that few GMT P500 people were ever into Car Wars. I believe that Apocalypse Road will benefit from getting noticed by a wider fantasy/science fiction-oriented gaming audience.

Take a look at the ApocalypseRoad development page. It’s combat racing, something like automotive roller derby: you’ll score points for completing laps with the cars on your team and for eliminating opposing cars. You can build cars for speed or for combat or maybe you’ll want both.

I’m fond of the Horgers’ recent Grand Prix. It’s a lot more predictable than the madness of Thunder Alley. But I’m hoping for the chaos of weaponized racing, and hope the game gets noticed by people who like a good car war. 

Image result for apocalypse road game

Friday, June 23, 2017

We Shadows have Offended

The massive opening of The Yellow King Kickstarter project has caused me to reconsider an event that took place on June 21st, just prior to the launch of Robin D. Laws' new GUMSHOE game.

I was talking with the London half of the Pelgrane Press publishing team on Skype. Behind Simon, a woman in a summer skirt dithered in the doorway, obviously wanting to talk with him but not wanting to interrupt as he talked into his headset. She came back a couple minutes later and knocked to get his attention.

Simon got up and talked with her a bit at the door, too far from the microphone for me to hear. He closed the door and said, “They’re doing a performance of Midsummer Night’s Dream in the hallway and they’re worried that with the door open, people will think I’m part of the play.”

I said, “That’s the most perfectly English thing I can imagine."

A couple days later, with The Yellow King surfacing, I’m not sure what I saw. People putting on A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the hallway? This is normal now?

Friday, June 16, 2017

Fire Giant and Snowy Owlbear: 13th Age Bestiary 2 is ready to roll

illustration by Rich Longmore

This fire giant soldier is smashing his way into reality: Lions & Tigers & Owlbears: 13th Age Bestiary 2 is (almost) finished with layout!

What’s the hold-up?

It’s the fact that anyone who buys the SnowCubEdition of Bestiary 2 as a pre-order before June 21st gets their name in the book’s credits. Layout artist Jen McCleary is waiting for that list on the 21st to put the final touches on the credits page.

Soon after that the layout PDF will go onto the Pelgrane store bookshelf of everyone who bought the SnowCub Edition and the book will head to the printer.

I’m thrilled with the final 304 page tome! Every designer and artist contributed something special, Jonathan showed up with insightful sidebars, I wrote a two-page appendix to support folks who want to use these monsters playing 13th Age in Glorantha, and towards the end, partly because of comments from people who purchased this pre-order, we added new building battles tables that include weakling and elite creatures as well as different sizes of mooks. Our thanks to everyone who is contributing by picking up the SnowCub

Friday, May 26, 2017

Card Brain

Card game design has become my hobby. When I need a break from doing roleplaying design, I work on a card game. The pieces of the brain involved in card game design are different enough, for me, that I get to relax.
      I recently designed a fierce little two-player experience that has become my wife Lisa’s favorite game. You know a design is going well when you get trash-talked in the first playtest session. Lisa handily won the first game. As we were shuffling cards to play again, she patted my hand. “You played very well,” she said, meaning the opposite. 
      It looks like I’ll have news about the game’s publishing-arrival in a couple months. 

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Alarums & Excursions #500 arrives this Sunday!



[[art by Lee Moyer]]

Lee Gold is putting out the 500th monthly issue of the Alarums & Excursions roleplaying fanzine on May 21st.

A&E is an amateur press association. Each issue contains pages from two or three dozen contributors who discuss rpg systems, write-up sessions and entire campaigns, review newly acquired games, share game mechanics ideas, and comment on everyone else’s writing. Yes, it’s a lot like a play-by-mail version of an all-rpg-topics-considered online discussion folder. You can find the details and contribution guidelines here.

Back in high school, I found my clan when I followed a plug from Dave Hargrave in the Arduin Grimoire and sent Lee money to get hold of A&E #67. Over the years the clan has included most all the people who helped me enter the gaming industry and a powerful ring of lifelong friends. If this is the first you've of the fanzine, see A&E's Wikipedia page for a small slice of the past and present contributors.

I haven’t been contributing lately, but in honor of the anniversary, I arranged for a color cover from my comrade Lee Moyer. I’m also going to contribute a zine to the issue, including notes on some of the campaigns played in my 19-years-and-running Wednesday night gaming group.

Former A&E contributors who read this: Lee would love to hear from people with short updates, mentioning how you heard about A&E, when you started reading or contributing to it, and what you are up to now. In fact, Lee would love to hear more than that from former contributors; issue #500 isn’t necessarily a reunion but it could be. You can go the full-fledged contribution route at $1.75 a page, or you can send Lee your update by email at lee.gold@ca.rr.com and she’ll get it into issue #500 as a filler if it reaches her at by 5 pm Pacific Daylight Time on May 21st.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Home Art Gallery: Tyger Tyger

I loved this painting when I saw Heather Hudson working on it years ago. When Heather sold it as a print several years ago, I jumped at the chance. The print blazes to the left of my desk.

Heather and I met when she was illustrating M:tG cards and then painted some of the most fun cards in Shadowfist. Of course this painting is neither of those things. It's drawn from William Blake's poem The Tyger. If you haven't read it recently, follow the click trail.

I admit that I haven't spent much time with Blake's writing. Maybe I'll get reacquainted after Steve Dempsey unleashes his Gumshoe game on English mysticism, which I hope ends up with the name Fearful Symmetry.

You can find the prints and cards that Heather sells now here.


Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Gamefest in Denver, April 21-23

I'm spending this weekend wrapping Lions & Tigers & Owlbears: 13th Age Bestiary 2 up for layout.

The weekend after, April 21-23, I'm joining around nine other gaming guests and many many other gamers at Gamefest in Denver, the gaming wing of the bigger Star-Fest convention.

My schedule looks something like this:
  • Saturday 10:30am-12pm - Game Designer Panel Q&A - Hosted by Boardgame Corner of Dice Tower (Panel Room)
  • Saturday 1pm-5pm - 13th Age (RPG Room)
  • Saturday 6pm-10pm - 13th Age Glorantha (RPG Room)
  • Sunday 10am-2pm - 13th Age Glorantha (RPG Room)

Convention games are fun for introducing people to experiences they've never been eaten by before. I'll be drafting some of those experiences from Bestiary 2, even for the 13th Age in Glorantha games, since Bestiary 2 includes an appendix about translating many of its monsters to Glorantha.

Thinking ahead and setting up my gaming travel kit, I'm finally retiring my original copy of 13th Age. Not from my desk, it still has some miles left for domestic duty, like a soccer player who is retiring from the national team but will keep on suiting up for the home league. Here's its current condition:


I've been  referring to this copy of 13th Age as 'the broken book' for years, ever since I was running an event at a Gamerati convention. Eric Fell and Derek Guder and some other fun people were in the game, but it was a 7 year-old boy walking by with his dad who nailed me. He looked at the game table and said, "Why is that book broken?"

"Because it's well-loved," I finally get to respond.


Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Saturday Night at MoPOP: Hall of Fame 20th anniversary party & panel

This Saturday, March 4th, a mile or so from the festivities at the Emerald City ComicCon, MoPOP, the museum formerly known as EMP, is  celebrating the 20th anniversary of its Science Fiction & Fantasy Hall of Fame with a short panel discussion, costumes, tabletop gaming on the second floor, a Star Trek discussion, and a dance party.

Dungeons & Dragons is one of the inductees this year, and I'll be on the 7:40 Q&A panel alongside Robyn Miller, one of the creators of MYST, and two other special guests. I'll have ample time to talk gaming after the panel, and admission to the event includes the ability to check out other exhibits, including the Fantasy: Worlds of Myth and Magic exhibit I helped design.

And if you haven't seen the new Star Trek exhibit, it's great! Even friends who don't particularly like Star Trek loved it. Saturday night there's an 8:30 event, Trek Talk: Exploring Star Trek's 50-year Impact on Pop Culture, Fandom, and Geekery  that sounds like a great intro to the new gallery and includes Wende Doohan, one of the other Q&A panelists, the wife of James Doohan, who played Scotty.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Wearing the Cape: the book & the Kickstarter


My favorite superhero novels are in the Wearing the Cape series by Marion G. Harmon. The series is humane, well-written, and one of the rare superhero treatments of time travel and its consequences that builds (and foreshadows) an interesting story instead of stumbling over itself. The plots are worthwhile, the characterization is excellent, and though I sometimes disagree with the author's politics and politically-informed worldbuilding, those spots make for interesting thinking.

Harmon has always talked about his interest in roleplaying, and he's now in the last four days of a successful Kickstarter bringing his Wearing the Cape world to the FATE system. So far I haven't been a FATE player. I'm finally going to give the system a serious spin via Wearing the Cape.

One of my favorite things about the Wearing the Cape books is how well their fight scenes express the personalities of the characters. Jeff Grubb wrote about this in the Kobold Press book, The Kobold Guide to Combat. Jeff's essay is called "Why we Fight: Combat as Communication." When I read Jeff's essay, the first thing I thought of were the three books of the WtC series that had been released at that point. I'm happy to say that later books in the series have lived up to the early books' promise on this score. I suspect the RPG system can handle this well, so I'm looking forward to the release of the rulebook, which should happen via PDF a week or two after the Kickstarter ends. Yeah, this rulebook is finished.

Even if you're not interested in the Kickstarter, look for the Wearing the Cape books for great examples of combat scenes that communicate who the characters are, and why we should care.