A mere three days away.

The book is finished. It only needs a cover and then I’ll be forced to finally release it. I also need to get it printed so I have it to take with me on Sunday! SUNDAY! That’s when I have to present my game, in person, in front of and to a bunch of people who are probably way more qualified and knowledgeable than I am! Yikes.

The map is almost done. The book is almost done. The things been playtested sufficiently. The research continues. I’ve garnered a lot more attention on the project than I ever expected (I expected zero!), so that’s been a great motivator and just generally makes me feel good. But even if the thing gets zero downloads, I’ll feel happy to have finished and to have played.

Below is the display I’ll be using when I present this weekend. I’m super super happy with how this turned out and can’t wait to put the book on it.

IMG_3467

 

Update

So much for once a week!

Anyway, here’s a small update on what I’ve been doing. Mostly getting ready for the upcoming event at Baltimore Artscape. If you are in the MD area and have any interest in RPGs, please come visit us (and me!) Sunday July 22nd at The Windup Space. I’ll be there from 2-4pm.

The game itself is done. We’re putting the finishing touches on the PDF, which I expect to be all done within a weekish. At that time, I’ll be releasing to DrivethruRPG and adding a download link here somewhere, maybe. Depends on the rules.

I’m not sure who’s going to have any interest, but I’ll post around in some of the relevant subreddits and see what happens. If no one plays, that’ll be disappointing, but I’ve enjoyed the experience immensely and I got to play it myself many times.

If even a few people pick it up, I will be positively over the moon.

Feeling excited. Feeling anxious.

A Sample Playtest

TLDR: Edited a recorded part of a playtest. Added an intro to give context. You can listen/watch.

About a month ago, I was lucky enough to give the game another playtest, thanks to three willing participants. Specifically, I wanted to test weapon ranges and combat buffs for how they affected team strategy.  I am happy to report that both these aspects of the game function exactly the way I’d hoped: funly. 

One of the participants was kind enough to record the session and send me the file afterward. Time constraints made it difficult to finish editing quickly, but I finally managed it today, and have uploaded the finished product to Youtube. There are things I like and things I don’t about this, and I’ll try to put them to words in a simple list below:

The good

  • Despite it’s unusual setting and rigid mechanics, players took to the game quickly and gave glowing post-game reviews
  • My combat area map turned out okay. It’s basically my first attempt and I don’t hate it!
  • The RP at times was great, and we got to touch lightly on the real violence of combat

the bad

  • My pace isn’t great. This is less apparent in the sample, since I have edited out pauses and superfluous information and random historical tangents. I spent too much time talking.
  • My physical descriptions are not where I want them to be. I think it would be hard to picture these places in your head if you were unfamiliar with colonial architecture and customs.
  • Some volume issues and distracting sounds pop up

Overall, for a first attempt at this, I’m satisfied with the result. As with all things, practice will improve me, and I am eager to practice more.

I also included a separately-recorded, 3 minute introduction to the video that serves to replace the meandering ten minutes spent explaining things to the players.  This should fill the viewer in about the overall world enough to make sense of the events to come.

I’m worried my voice got a little too dramatic while reading, but I was satisfied enough to use it and, again, I have to assume practice will improve that as well.

In any case, you would flatter and honor me by giving it a listen and leaving a comment- good or bad (but hopefully good, ack!).

Why I Hope People Play

No TLDR this week because this post meanders, and is more about history than game design. Read at your peril.

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Last week I was on the cusp of release. Partially out of a desperation to just be done with this thing. And that’s the wrong reason to finish. So I’m going to playtest a tiny bit more. Maybe tweak, if needed. But I’m happy with how the game plays now. Mostly I’m interested in learning how I can connect this game to the very very narrow subset of people who might be interested in actually playing it.

Ultimately, just to make this and finish it and get to play it is a huge reward for me, but I would definitely like knowing that, not only did other people enjoy playing it, but other people are learning about this forgotten chapter of North American history. Strange as it sounds, I think memorial is owed to the people of the past who suffered to give us what we have today. I mean, the first 60 years of colonial Chesapeake Maryland were a time when 75% (!!!) of children would experience the death of at least one parent, if not both.

And the death rate was so high that it is theorized to be the reason tobacco was able to become as valuable as it did- fewer people alive to produce it, higher market valu20160911_125722e.

An excavation at a late-colonial town along the Chesapeake dug up an unknown servant. This person appeared to have been buried and covered deliberately in rubble beneath a shed or house. Could be murder, could be trying to insulate the body to prevent the spread of any disease that killed the person.

So I guess to me, just being able to share with people the memory of this time- so filled with terror and death and misery- means something. Because despite all those negative words, people still came and still worked like hell to make something.

I think that’s called hope.

This post veered wildly off-course from what I intended, but, you know, it’s history and I love history.

So I think I’m done

Explaining how I’m just about ready to release. Only minor cosmetic fixes remain.

Done!!

Yesterday I finished editing the guide book and I’m really really excited nervous to release! It ends at about 68 pages. Not overly long, but not short. I’m happy with it. For a long time I struggled with what tone to go for, but ultimately am glad I settled on “Concise and informative” over “Prosey and tonal.” A controversial choice, but hey, it’s my game so nyeh.

So what’s left? I need to fix my Maryland map. The text is a bit off in places, and I need to introduce some more icons to show terrain and faction territories. Still not sure if showing river flow direction on a map makes visual sense. Probably not!

What Do You Want With a PDF?

So let’s say I finish today and I post it tomorrow. I have some questions I’d love your help with. Where should I release it? I could add a download link here, but it seems like DriveThruRPG is the standard, and it might be more user friendly to plop it down over there.

I’m not expecting a tabletop RPG about religious and political strife in 1645 colonial Maryland to have widespread appeal and be The Next Big Thing, but if even one small group plays and enjoys it and learns from it, I will just be absolutely over the moon.

And I mean, the playtesters have really liked it so I feel pretty damn happy already!

But beyond that- what do you want with it? A world map, sure, but how about little battle maps? House maps? Detailed location descriptions? What extra materials do you consider important and enriching for a (free) TTRPG?

I would greatly appreciate comments on this subject!

Join the Discord

I’d love if you’d join us on Discord. On the plus side, it means you’ll know as soon as the game is released, and you’ll also have like 8 hour a day access to me to answer questions and stuff. Here’s the link:

https://discord.gg/P3ugCAy

TLDR:

I’m pretty much done. Some minor things to add and change, and that’s it. Might drop within a week. Stay tuned. Please advise me on where to best deploy.

Creating a Character Sheet

As always, scroll to the bottom for TLDR

I’m not very good at visual design. Everyone’s got talents and this just isn’t one of mine. So designing a character sheet has been a harrowing endeavor. This post hopes to briefly sum up the experience so far:

Version 0

Version 0 is made in excel. It was designed with the idea that no one would ever use it, and was mostly a way for me to push excel’s automation capabilties to see if I could automate the vast majority of stat buffs during character creation. So I have dropdowns to select the class, race, and religion, as well as a drop down for selecting the players level. Each level would automatically send the bonuses or de-bonuses (?) to the stats on the sheet so that the player didn’t really have to worry about filling them in manually. I also color coordinated the skills to their corresponding Natural Talents so players knew which points went where. It was designed for simplicity, but not really for usability. Still, it has a special place in my heart.

Version 1

Thanks to the response to that reddit post, and the realization that I’d have the opportunity to play the thing in person, I realized I needed something in paper. So I got some rudimentary design software and basically recreated my Excel sheet. Except without automation. But still with color (yay, printers will love that!) and now with special boxes that didn’t quite line up. Nice! I showed that one off in the RPG Design Discord channel and politely pointed in the right direction by Nordin, who put together a really quick better version to get me started.

Version 2

In the space of an hour, and after a short conversation, he’d sent me a mockup for what could be my game’s character sheet. On first glance, to me it looked perfect. The lines were aged a bit- appropriate to a game set 400 years in the past, and the shapes seemed more in-theme as well. Some labels were wrong, and the boxes were maybe just a teensey bit too big, but I loved it. Especially attractive to me was that dice shaped box for entering the Natural Talent points. It’s size and unique shape lent it some credibility as the games most important factor for determining the path of your character.

But during playtesting, I discovered a lot of things were missing from this sheet. Even after updating labels and sizing, I needed a space for Level, HP, Experience, and more. Unfortunately, my friendly contract with Nordin was up, so it was time to get my own hands dirty.

Version 3

So I added a space for experience, a space for level and a space for HP. I rearranged the tables and changed the fonts to match my Guide Doc. I also made a fairly drastic spur of the moment decision on what to do about “Nature”, the skill used for survival as well as a host of other things.

It seemed to me more thematically faithful to keep Nature as a STR skill, even though the uses of the skill in the real world require a fair bit of Intelligence. But keeping it in STR gave that Nat Talent 5 skills where all others had only 4.  No bueno. So after a few weeks of waffling, I just realized – por que no los dos? And so there it is, smack dab in the middle, begging for points. And rightfully so, it’s a damn important skill.

I also like it because it gives players two fundamental ways of surviving. Braun or brain. Do I knock down a small tree by shouldering into it over and over, or could I just pull down dead branches from a nearby tree?

It’s been a week since I finished this character sheet and I have to say that I’m still pretty happy with it.

TLDR

This was a first for me, making character sheets. It was a process, with many steps and tweaks and changing. But I got there eventually, and at least for now, I like the way it looks and functions.

A New Experience System

This post discusses the how’s what’s and why’s behind the new XP system I recently implemented in the game.  As always, scroll to the bottom for a TLDR.


The Thesis:

I am changing the XP system in the game to one that uses hard, guaranteed yields for any successful roll depending on difficulty. 1 Xp for easy, 5 for medium, 10 for hard. I’m going to call this Tally XP, because I kept track by marking tallies for each player. I believe Tally XP removes room for unfair favoritism, inconsistent XP yields, and tedious mathing.

Unfair Favoritism

I originally had a pretty traditional XP system. Beat enemies and get XP. Each enemy giving a predefined yield. Successful social interactions would get XP at the whim of the GM.  And what’s worse, I felt myself giving more to some characters than others. Usually, with perfectly acceptable reasons like “You didn’t actually participate in the action,” but sometimes with shakier ground caused by poor memory of who did what.

Even when I try to imagine the most ideal version of GM Me, I still find myself liking one character more than another. In one session I host, I continually root for a specific character even more so than the others. He just appeals to me on a personal level. I try not to let it cloud my judgement, but- can I stop it 100% of the time? I don’t know, so I want to remove the possibility.

The Tally XP system prevents a GM from favoring one character with extra XP because every roll has a specific yield. Your XP correlates absolutely to how many successful rolls you made. Each character might get different yields per encounter depending on effectiveness, but that’s by design!

Admittedly, a GM might still play favoritism by rewarding Hard XP yields more often to one character, but hopefully that is only coming from hard actions so that character is in constant fear of death anyway.

Inconsistent Yields

Deeply related to what’s discussed above, how do I know how much XP to give? Does one huge bear equal more or less xp than 5 green pirates? Does an unarmed enemy have less yield than an armed one? Is a series of social rolls that successfully avoids combat less value than the combat itself? I don’t think that would be fair.

This kind of moral and mathematical dilemma ultimately makes progression speed fairly unpredictable, which I think hurts the immersion of the system.

I struggled for a while with a way to rectify this, and I entertained a few different options. Ultimately, I like Tally XP for this because all players always know exactly what they should be getting. Before a roll, a GM might announce, “Roll Nature, and this is going to be easy.” Well, that’s 1 XP.

Tedious Mathing

When we fight 4 guys who each yield 19 xp and one of the characters also got a couple of successfully diplomacy checks in there and a perception check, what do I do? How should the xp be divided amongst the group? What if one character uses all his or her turns on support actions that do no damage. Does it yield an equal share? nekosi

On top of each of those having a probably not whole number answer, we also need to continually add that number to what you already had. In my system, which levels up every 100 XP, that’s not very hard, but it does feel annoying to me as the GM to have to stop after an encounter and start doing division, aka using a calculator.

Essentially, I don’t like it, so I dropped it.

Tally XP means I have three columns (easy, medium, hard) ready for each character on a piece of scrap paper, and on each roll, I just mark a tally in the correct column. Once those start to pile up, I stop to count to see if they’ve hit 100. I also encourage the players to tally for themselves. I’m only human and sometimes get too excited by the game to trust myself fully.

Conclusion

I’ve tested it out twice now and I’m really happy with how it’s working. Takes a little while to build the habit of marking each roll, but once I had it, things were really smooth. I think that some players and designers are going to really be against this, but I’m happy with it.

TLDR

Trying a new XP distribution system I’m calling Tally XP. Every successful roll yields XP; 1 XP for easy rolls, 2 for medium, and 3 for hard. Should make progression speed more predictable and consistent.