The Water Dwarves

I'm on holiday where I've found myself with a huge amount of time to be writing.

I stumbled across an image of a man scuba diving which I couldn't parse straight away - the seabed dust was being kicked up obscuring a lot of the photo. The man was holding a little machine to help propel him through the water. To my eye, in this hazy image, the man was a dwarf holding his pick in the murky depths.

Since then I haven't stopped thinking about an underwater dwarf civilisation, and how they would end up there. With a liberal use of the Water breathing spell by tribal-like sorcerer leaders, and a helping hand for a god or two, I think I've come up with a fun little story.

What's most fun is that their isolation means that they can be there in your story, but never come up. Maybe there's a legend or two of a ship traveling the ocean coming across the dead, bloated body of a dwarf where a dead dwarf has no business being. Or maybe a spark of wild magic transported a leugart onto dry land.

I added some notes in to make them possible player characters, but I quite like them being story-based, like the duergar.

Grab the document here.


Spoilers for the DM Guild adventure Giantslayer are below, so skip this story section if you’ll likely play it!

The sun shone through the canopy of the leaves above onto an eclectic gaggle of adventurers below. Adventuring often brings together the strangest of people, and this time was no different. Elves of all stripes, mingling with ruffians who made a name for themselves as pirates, and dark eyed gnomish thieves. There was as much kindness mixed in this group as there was darkness. Presumably, when travelling through the woods in these parts its best to go as a group – why else would these mismatched people be with each other?

They shortly ran into one family who did not take that advice. Two beasts cackled and berated the human family up ahead, stopping the family in their tracks. The satyrs seemed not actually to be doing any harm, other than their relentless bullying and fearmongering. The children in the back of the cart sat silent in stony faced fear.

Our adventurers rushed to the aid of the human farmers… at least, some of them did. The dark eyed gnome sulked immediately into the forest out of sight. Whilst the rest of the party helped to defeat the beasts, this gnome sauntered up to the family to “check on their wellbeing”, but not before swiping their coin purse.

A Hill Giant, from the Monster Manual.

A Hill Giant, from the Monster Manual.

Once the battle was successfully won, they gathered around the family to ensure their safety and were told their sad story. A giant had recently ransacked their village, and driven everyone out. With family in Frickley, that’s where they decided to seek refuge. Kindly, the adventurers stayed with the family to see them safely to their destination.

Once they had arrived though, it seemed that the giant – Bonebreaker they called him – had been busy. He had also been to this town and made similar demands: “feed me all your best food, or else.”

There was a mix of thoughts in the town. Should they flee right now, knowing that the giant would return again and again, or should they stay and deliver all they could? After all, with enough time they could send word to bigger cities to send aid. The inn keeper offered a third suggestion: how about they fight it themselves?

This, the populous decided, was a shit idea. Sure many of them were strong of body, but for the purposes of farming, not giant killing. But there was some hope – a legend really, which few knew if it held any truth. Jahia the Giantslayer. Likely an old lady now, but the inn keep remembered great stories about her. Maybe, if she could be found again, she would know the tactics to bring down the giant. Who better to send out to look for her than a hardy group of adventurers, who seem to have arrived as if summoned by fate itself. Also they had nothing better to do, tbh.

The adventurers agreed, and set out into the forest following a trail where rumour indicated the hermit giantslayer might be found. The forest took some time to get through. Dangerous rivers, giant insects, and odd druids (who refused to be mugged) stood in their way. But they did eventually make it to Weeping Rock, where their best guesses lead them. From a top the rock, they spotted a simmering chimney and a sleeping, old lady. As they approached they could see that she indeed was quite old now, but still looked tough in a way only fighters were born to be.

Jahia sighed in frustration at being asked to return to a role she had long since left. The party persuaded her though, reminding her of the thrill of battle, the honour of protecting those who need it, and some other genuinely heartfelt urges which I’ve forgotten.

They returned to Frickley just before the sun began to set. They chose to spend the time plotting how to defeat the giant. All night they had villages dig pits, which they filled with flammable hay, lying in wait of the clumsy giant.

They set themselves up to their satisfaction and held themselves steady, ready for Bonebreaker.

And then, Bonebreaker was killed pretty anticlimactically because we had to leave at 8pm, and I forgot to make him as dangerous as I should have! It didn’t help that he had been mostly blinded and everyone hid so well!

Although we didn’t quite finish the “thank you!” ceremony of the villagers (we’ll get to that next session), rest assured that the giant menace of Frickley has died off… for now. You can’t help shake the feeling that giants this far from their natural homes is a rather bad omen.

I’m pretty sure everyone had fun, and I really hope to be able to carry on the adventure with my colleagues every couple of weeks or so.

Rookie DM D&D Prep

My enthusiasm for D&D caught on at work, mostly in the shape of curiosity. I was fielding questions like "but can I just say 'and then I start flying up to a passing airship'?". I suggested that I could run a game for everyone, and quite a few people said they'd like to come along.

A lovely drawing by Tim P., from a lovely photo by Maciej G.

A lovely drawing by Tim P., from a lovely photo by Maciej G.

The daunting challenge for me at this point was that I have never been a Dungeon Master before, and none of them have ever played before. Encouraged by the advice of literally every DM though, I decided to push ahead.

The first issue I wanted to tackle was writing an adventure. I'm a writer, so I figure I can do this. The writing went quite easily and quite well to start with. I asked for some advice from the reddit community and got some really good thoughts back. which lead me to tweak the story some.

Unfortunately, as the story tied up at the end, I didn't like how it came out. The motivations of the NPCs seemed muddy, and so the moral choice for the players of man vs. nature wasn't so clear. I like this story, and will continue writing it. However, it wouldn't be done in time for the game at work.

I ventured out to look at the resources from the Dungeon Masters Guild. There's a vast amount of content there, and with a bit of hunting around you can find exactly what you want. What I wanted was a one off game, which could be completed in a night, for 1st level players. I was in luck, and found Giantslayer. A whole adventure for just $1.95.

As a bonus treat, instead of reading through the adventure alone, I "played" the adventure with my partner as a solo adventure. Adjusting the combat a little on the fly, it went really well.

Using a premade adventure lifted a large amount of stress from the impending game. It was certainly the smart decision. As well as a verified one: other people had already played this game. I didn't want to give the impression that D&D was too slap-dash just because of my inadequate writing. This adventure was a tried and tested one.

The other problem I wanted to tackle was some sheets in order to teach the players what they could do. I've completed the section on character creation, but the content is still quite long. I've also written the script to a video I want to produce telling new players about what D&D is, but video production is a lot of work, it turns out. Neither of these endeavours have been turned around in time for the game. Despite that, it didn't seem like they mattered.

Instead of spending hours writing a helpful tutorial on how to create your first character, I should have simply turned to the premade characters. There's quite a lot of them. Wizards have done a great job at putting the premade sheets together with enough information that a player with one knows quite well what their character can do. These sheets did much better than my 10 page document did. So long as you're there to help out, a player with one of these premades doesn't even need a Players Handbook.

So there you go. You don't need to prepare very much to be a DM. The only required homework on my part was reading through the adventure, and then printing off a few premade characters... If you're on the fence about starting an adventure, I'd recommend just doing it.

I'll talk about how the actual game went shortly!

Some classes, with interesting mechanics

This weekend I've been thinking of interesting ways of doing combat in battles with various classes for an iPhone game.

Typically, you'll find some kind of accuracy and mana combo. You can hit with you melee attack as much as you like, whilst your mana often runs out at some point. These are simple rules which are easy to keep track of for everyone involved (developers, GMs, players). However, they're a bit samey. So lets forget about keeping things simple for the moment, and look for another way to manage these costs.

Master of Defense

This is the name I'm giving to the fighter class. The names comes from the people who wrote tomes of information regarding the subject back in the day, around the Medieval eras. These aren't just sword wielding lunatics, but men (though, of course, the class shouldn't be limited to men) who have been trained by Masters of the time before them.

The resource which a melee weapons fighter would be using up is their stamina. I like the idea of adding a cost to this - you try swinging a sword around for ten minutes and tell me you aren't tired. My question here is how can we represent stamina without just giving it a number? (ie. Hey, you've got 62 Stamina left.)

Listing actions, and general description of what the character is feeling. I've said looks here, but feels would be a better wording.

Listing actions, and general description of what the character is feeling. I've said looks here, but feels would be a better wording.

When fighting - in real life I mean - you've no idea how many punches you can throw before you get tired. I feel like in games we only get that feedback because that's what is actually happening behind the scenes: there's a counter somewhere saying 62 Stamina left and you've just used an 8 stamina parry so now you've got 54 Stamina left. This calculation is shown to you for some reason, possibly just by an accident of time. I want to hide that from the player. This'll mean they will have to learn more about the character, and actually get to know their limits.

Once the character is out of stamina, they might pass out, or fumble and miss their turn. Maybe they try to swing their sword, but it hits meagrely. "You don't have enough Stamina to pay for this ability" seems lazy to me. In D&D a fighter has superiority dice to use when trying to trip someone, but why? Can't they just try to do it and hope for the best? Being tired doesn't stop you doing something - it just stops you doing it well.

Without the numbers, we can use t-shirt sizes now. Lots of stamina, some stamina, little stamina. The cost can vary a little depending on how well the opponent parries or avoids the blow, and the feedback would be along the lines of "That hit really knocked the breath out of you!" rather than "That cost you 36." Behinds the scenes we may need to track that number - that's just how computers work - but outside you'd always be wondering how far you can push your hero.

A common way for deciding if an attack hits or not is usually based on accuracy of the attack vs. the foe's defence. It's a pretty decent way of doing it. I especially like how D&D 5e handles this: attacker rolls a d20 and adds on their proficiency and their strength (or dexterity) ability score. This number must be higher than the foe's armour class. If it is, you've hit and can roll your damage dice. Otherwise, you've missed or the opponent managed to avoid damage thanks to their armour.

The d20 may be the most worrying part there, because it adds an element of frustrating luck. Using up all of your stamina on continual misses isn't going to be fun - especially because a lot of the fun comes from physically rolling the dice. When you roll the dice, as dumb as it sounds, you feel responsible for the roll somehow. (People often change their dice after rolling badly once or twice.) To counter this we add more skill and less luck. The skill here should be knowing which attack does well against a particular foe. We should drop the d20 to a d6 (making it have less impact, but still allowing Lady Luck to smile upon you) and add a fixed bonus for the type of attack you choose. This bonus could be represented as "an astonishing blow!" or "the stone giant had no idea how to avoid that!"

The aim here to remove numbers from the player's perspective - fighting isn't about numbers - and encourage knowing the strengths and weaknesses of the specific hero when put against a specific mob. The player, just like if they were actually learning to fight with swords in the real outside, should feel benefits from practising with the character.


This is a term I'm grabbing from Robert Jordan, and constitutes the spell caster class.

Mana is the common cost here, a boring number which counts down to zero when you're "out of magic". In Final Fantasy magic is (generally) just a number like this, and spells have a fixed costed assigned to them. In Dungeons and Dragons it's quite similar, in that you have spell slots, and each spell has a slot "size" associated with it. I'm not sure anyone would think that's how magic would work.

Very much hoping I can make this a story telling game - with words - rather than a reliance on images. I cannot draw.

Very much hoping I can make this a story telling game - with words - rather than a reliance on images. I cannot draw.

The way I would want it to work is that these people have a special connection to something. Maybe it's another plain which they can send quick messages to, and then hope that something on the other side hears and is interested enough to help out. Who knows really, even the channelers aren't sure. They just open their mind, say a few words of request, and then sometimes something happens. In this situation, I'm not sure why a finite number of requests is sensible. Channelers can keep talking into the void, the risk here (the constraining factor) is if anything from the other side responds.

I really liked Neverwinter's web-based side-game's method of combat. (This has since been removed, due to killjoys breaking it.) In that, your character has a certain number of dice (maybe different types of dice too), which is tied to their ability. On these dice are symbols (boo, numbers): fire symbols, water symbols, necrotic symbols. The channeler's specialisations would sway which symbols they may have. Similarly, a spell has a certain number of required symbols.

Say you want to cast the firebolt spell. It has a requirement of a fire symbol, obviously. Get just one fire symbol and the spell will work. Get six and the spell works brilliantly. Each turn, the character can cast as many spells as they like, so long as they've got dice to roll to try and cast them.

Of course, just rolling one fire symbol might not get you a very strong firebolt, but it would mean the likelihood of the spell going unanswered is low enough to keep it fun.

I would do away with ranged attack accuracy. This is magic, for fudge sake, you try dodging ethereal waves.

Deus Ex

These are people "of gods" who fill the role of clerics in other games. These people have the ability to hear and talk to the gods - something very few people have.

The currency these people dabble in isn't mana or strength, it's their god's patience with them. In a world where gods are super powerful, but not necessarily omnipotent, having a nagging acolyte every few minutes could get frustrating. Whilst they're not specifically bargaining with their god, they are asking for favours. And favours often come with a price.

It's not always the case that gods are happy with those that can talk to them.

It's not always the case that gods are happy with those that can talk to them.

The interesting aspect of this class is that the "price" may not actually happen within the battle, and the price could vary depending on which god granted the favour to you in the first place. There some tasks a god may appreciate without having to ask for it specifically - prayer in an attempt to understand their true intent, or giving generously to those who are needing. However, from time to time a god may ask of a specific quest before they'll give any more help. "I know you're on your way east at the moment, but if you go out of your way north for half a day there's something I want you to do in a small town there." The player would have to sacrifice something - time, money, or gear - to keeping the god on their side.

Gods each have their own alignments, including more evil gods. Over time, these deus ex may find themselves strongly favoured by neutral gods but disliked by lawful good ones. The more renown with a particular god, the more likely they are to help you, and the better their help could be.

The consequence of not answering the call of a god might lead to them actively hindering your progress, or just turning their back on you.

This will stop greedy over-healing or too much taking advantage of having a hand of god on your side. Whereas before the consideration would be if you have enough mana left (which will soon regenerate), it now becomes concern over what the gods will ask of you. The cost may well be just, but is it worthwhile?

It might be important to remember here that the enemy probably has a god too, something which is forgotten in most other games. Whilst the gods often don't interfere with the actions of the squishies on the ground, they certainly would step in if they thought another god was helping out too much. It might be interesting to have that come into play also, replacing the "accuracy" of a melee or ranged attack. Laito, the god who is most loved by the gnomes, has no interest in hurting them in your name.


Pact-Bound victims take the place of D&D's warlocks. These are people have, for whatever reason, made a pact with some demon for great power. Of course now they find themselves in a contract they can't get out of, not easily anyway.

Demons want only have one obsession: to take over the upper worlds, and break free of their otherworldly cells. The way they do this is by winning over the creatures who live in reality, and having them all decide the world is better with them running it. Pain and despair drive people to this awful conclusion, and so that's what demons want in return. That's the cost this character has to play with.

Along with their abilities is a pact cost, along the lines of "3 quarts of blood". The deal is this: the demon will let you cast this spell, so long as some time soon, you can repay the demon 3 quarts of blood. If you can't repay it, you give the blood yourself. These costs are likely steep. How are you going to get that much blood from this mimic beast? Do mimic's even have blood?! Well, that's something to worry about after this battle, I guess!

I enjoy this because it's not a counter that you're waiting to reset before you're back at full working order. It's a way of life for the hero. Sure, you could turn the opposite way and run from the approaching soldiers, but they do look like pretty full bloodsacks. Again, there's no obvious number required here. The three in "3 quarts" seems like a real life measurement, not an arbitrary Integer in a memory block somewhere.


High profile assassinations in medieval times were rarely done with Assassin Creed like shadow dwellers. More often, the cause of death was slow and debilitating: poison. Inedible ingredients were easier to come by back then, and many people did a lot of study as to the ill affects they have on a person. The poisoner is a such a class.

I knew before I started that trying to draw that flower was ambitious...

I knew before I started that trying to draw that flower was ambitious...

The cost for a poisoner is the effort required to get the ingredients, and the time it takes to produce the potion. In a fight, this would be visible simply by listing the number of finished (or even half finished) poisons and potions that are available to hand. Outside of combat, the hero would spend some time looking for harpscorch flowers for their seeds, and swollen squirrel kidneys for the septic liquid that builds up inside them. They might mix these two together along with some simple cornflower to thicken it up, and let the brew sit for twelve hours. After that, they'll have a perfectly good blight to smear onto their blade (or anyone's blade that wants some).

Battle often comes at inopportune times though. After only six hours a bear charges out of the woods, and is running directly towards you. What affect would a six hour fermented blight have? Any? Should you waste the batch now to try it, or risk the battle without?

The brunt of a poisoner's damage would come from over-time affects, like poison damage or making the enemy groggy for a few rounds. It introduces the tactic of guessing if it's the right time to use a strong potion or a weak one. If a monster is only going to last one more round, maybe it's not worth the ingredients to poison it.

So, like the Pact-Bound and Deus Ex, the costs here are found mostly outside of battle. They also seem more realistic.

Managing time in a game

Today I rediscovered a game I began to make over a weekend five months ago, which I had promptly forgotten about. The elevator pitch is a two player chose your own adventure style RPG, and tabletop game where the two players (or one, if you're lonely enough) choose from a stack of options available to them and follow the adventure. Along the way there's some combat and finding treasure to improve your character.

I printed the 14 pages of game I have so far because seeing your creation printed out is very rewarding, and looks great! Also, it's easier to read and edit.

One of the mechanics I had written about was the idea of "turns".

Each turn consists of three actions for each player. These can be spent in any order [and it's possible] to be many turns ahead of the player you're playing with. That's okay, as no one is counting turns.

It goes on to mention that somethings do not use up an action, but other things do depending on the circumstance.

If I remember properly, what I wanted was two fold: a way of tracking time, and a way to have events trigger ("you're poisoned for three turns"). It's incredibly clumsy though. Players will have to track how many actions they used each round. In the best case they have tokens and in the worst case they just use their fingers. Additional tokens are expensive, especially when you can do without them. The entire game will be full of "oh, I forgot to count my turns!" The mechanic is too complicated.

I had also added the concept of a day and night cycle. When you pass from one part of the map to another, to show the distance travelled the card would read "flip over your day-night token". Different actions are possible during the day than are during the night. Vampires get a strength penalty during the day, but not the night. There's a better chance to spot the highwaymen during the day than travelling at night. I like this mechanic a bunch.

The solution here, I think, is to make more of a use of the day-night cycle. Instead of "you're poisoned for the next three turns," the card would read "you're poisoned until the morning". It doesn't change the game very much, but definitely clears up the rules.

Lesson learnt: if you're writing hundreds of words trying to explain a rule, maybe throw it away and see what you can do without it.

Fast and loose with the rules

My partner and I played the Dungeons and Dragons, but the board game version.

My quick review of this game is that you can play this and have fun, but only if you put the effort in. Much like tabletop D&D, without the enthusiasm, you're just sitting around the table hitting a goblin with your sword each round. With the enthusiasm, the dungeon master can pull out a rather interesting story and give the cardboard a life.

It's a cooperative game, for 2-5 players that feels a lot like Dungeons and Dragons. After playing this, you'll likely wanna throw off the shackles of that rule book, and jump into real D&D. (Where, ironically the rule book is much bigger, but you're far more free.)

Rules as building blocks

The rule book for this game isn't very long. It's intentionally kept manageable in order to be accessible as a family game. You won't be spending hours reading the rules before you start, like you could when playing the original version. However, that doesn't mean you're stuck with just those rules. There are still gaps where they could probably add in more rules (looting a dead goblin, for instance), so we found ourselves making up rules as we went along to fill those gaps.

It's interesting because it didn't feel like the game was broken because we had to do that. We could have played entirely within the rules: "looting" isn't an action that your character can do. It's not mentioned in the book, so it's out. That would have been fine. They couldn't really call themselves a D&D game if the rules really were that ridged though.

There was one occasion where I wanted my wizard to fire her bow through a doorway, where a companion was standing. My partner double checked his rule book (the DM has their own copy, with extra content), and couldn't find anything about being able to shoot through someone, narrowly avoiding them. So, on the spot, he made up a rule: you can do it, but roll this 50/50 dice too - on success, the arrow hits the goblin, otherwise, it hits your friend.

Having space to make up house rules like this made it feel like real D&D, though I could definitely see it as a criticism of incomplete rules. Being able to make these types of rules feels like you're building a game together, rather than just playing it. Ownership of these rules brings the player and the game closer together.

Monopoly has this same aspect to it, oddly enough. Go read the rules: you'll probably find that your household has been playing it differently to the house next door. In our house, we liked to play with fines and taxes going to "free parking" and whoever lands on it first gets the money - pretty sure my dad made it up (or at least, that's just how his parents played).

There are certainly games where house rules wouldn't make sense. What would you change about Dixit or Blackjack? But when it's on the table, I'd say go for it.

Ignore the baggage

The first adventure is a typical one. The sheriff has ventured alone into the old cave system to try and sort out the troublesome goblins. He's been in there an awful long time though... Thank goodness you four adventurers have turned up, just in time to go and rescue him.

My partner - who insisted on being the dungeon master for this game - has never spent much time with goblins. Not much time with fantasy at all, actually. This was a concern of mine, initially. But he doesn't know their typical tactics, or motivations. It turns out the DM's guide doesn't fill him in on any of this either, so he kinda just had to wing it.

We ended up with some very interesting canon being formed though. When I attempted to loot the first goblin, Tim's reaction (after finding no looting rules) was to have the goblin corpse turn to dust. A little later a goblin, after his thousand year slumber, materialised out of a whirlwind of dust, and leaped in for the attack.

This isn't how goblins are supposed to behave. They're not thousands of years old, and they're not dust creatures. But they are in this game - they are in Tim's world. It was incredibly cool! This isn't the same game as everyone else played. You want normal goblins? Go and player literally any other game. It was truly unique - which is surprising when this game, out of the box, feels a little stiff and railroaded.

One of the take aways for me from this game is that it's cool to let the players build a world outside of the rule book. A game should somehow encourage imagination. Let the players figure out themselves why something is happening the way it is. Adding in the opportunity of talk about what's happening in this world makes it very fun.

You've two choices when designing your game: write out the whole backstory, and have the players be part of that adventure, or have the players write the whole thing. When the players are writing, they're more invested.

By the way, if you like the sound of that second option more, you should be playing real Dungeons and Dragons.

Why don't we do the things we enjoy

Since Overwatch came out, during my free time I get to make a choice: work on a project - something creative, relaxing, fun, and maybe even a second revenue stream - or play Overwatch. 

I'm not sure why, but sitting in front of a computer always wins. Playing a game that I'm not very good at; I've recently dropped from 50th to 44th level. In fact, it often makes me angry, yet I still play.

Building a world from the eyes of a two hundred year old Mage has never been dull, nor made me angry. Exacto blading out forest and grassy plains tiles, similarly. The ukulele has made me angry once or twice, but it's certainly more rewarding than a computer game. 

Is it just to do with effort required?  Maybe. It's certainly less work to sit at the computer and simply react to events happening to me. Am I just super lazy?

The other way of looking at it though is to see at what point I lost steam for a project.

For Barony, it's all mostly done. The next piece of work is generating the map that gets sent along with each action sheet to the player. This will involve a bunch of design work - getting a picture on to a page. That's not something I'm very good at at all. That actually is frustrating. I do know about Hexographer, and maybe I should just bite the bullet and buy that, but it's frustrating that I have to rely and learn another piece of software because of a lack in my own creativity. That's what this whole process is about: being more creative.

For Arcana Delve I've stumbled upon a similar issue: designing the cards. I feel like there should be pictures of the monster's you're fighting, and the items you've collected. Also, it required me to start using a desktop publishing program, with a mail merger style feature to produce many cards. I got around that by drawing out the cards by hand, but when you need six of the same card it can get a little boring. I've since gotten Office 360, including Publisher so maybe that can help.

Maybe I just need to stop making excuses!

It's the art that makes me struggle the most. So I feel I should be focusing on philosophy of design, and encouraging players to use their imagination rather than relying on the crutch of images. Text in place of pictures, maybe. That doesn't help with maps (or does it?) but it can certainly help on other parts of the project.

To encourage that, I've decided to set myself a daily word count to reach. It's actually really low: around 300 words per day (so this blog post should cover it), but it means I'm actually making small amounts of progress at least rather than none.

Over the mail resource management

Barony is played entirely over postal mail with real paper. A letter sent from a ruler of a small town (the player) to their clerk who's helpfully implementing their orders (the game master).

My struggle now is that it's quite tricky to have a standardised way of extracting information from players.

I've begun with two sections: the first is a "simple" method, where the player can give an overview of what they want to happen, and the second is a more detailed version where they can specify real numbers of people to work on a task. The idea here is that someone who doesn't care to play with numbers as much can just fill out the first be and be happy their turn is over.

There's a third section, where players can just write anything. Since the game master is a real person, they can interpret and work the instructions into the game in the same way a dungeon master would react to a player who invents a profession for themselves.

At the moment it is genuinely a series of forms (or tables to fill in numbers). Here's a PDF of the first, unfinished draft.

The experience I'd really like to replicate is an RTS like Age of Empires. You click a workman, and click again on the job you want them to do. Of course, that doesn't work in my medium.

On the action sheet you can direct people however you like though: splitting the militia inside the walls, near, or far. Directing people to be collecting certain resources. My problem is I'm not sure if this will be fun, or just form filling - the boring bit to get you to the more interesting story that's being built around the world.

I suppose the only way to find out is to try it out!

Story vs Adventure

Matthew Colville filled us in with his thoughts on DM's leading with a story - a series of plot points which the players must hit - versus an adventure - scenarios the players take part in, which may or may not lead onto another pre-prepared scenario. A story is Harry Potter, but the adventure is Albus Potter sitting in the Gryffindor common room retelling it to his friends.

I was taking another read through the adventure I'm writing to play with my family. Unfortunately (at least from Matt's point of view), it reads a lot like a story. The players meet in a tavern, and then get sent off on a quest into the woods, where one thing happens, which leads them to another thing. Maybe they can do these things out of order, but there are still plot points they do need to stumble upon.

I wrote it this way because it chimes with how other adventures I've read have been set:  describing the location, what the people there have to say, and where the next plot point is. I'd call this a story: a book you can read, but have no effect on the world other than artificial choices. By artificial choice I mean, like Matt mentioned, letting the players choose door A or door B. Eventually you'll loop back and end up at the other door, so it doesn't matter too much which they pick. I'm thinking here of (the short amount of) Out of the Abyss I've played, where I feel we'll get through quite a few of the "choices" before progressing.

So I'm going to go ahead and call it: pre-written "adventures" are actually stories.

When playing Into the Quiet Forest with my family it definitely turned into a story though. My family went door to door in the town, something I didn't expect. They drew our lots of the kidnapped girl's backstory - found her secret boyfriend, who for some reason hoped to never see her again, learnt about her relationship with the towns people, and her father. What happened to her mother? None of this is in the story I'd written already. I had to make it up, on the spot. I had a partially drawn picture of the girl from the adventure's text, but it was my job to on-the-fly colour her in.

It's the DM's job, but may even more so the player's job, to turn an "adventure" into a real adventure.

Rewards for Events

After recently playing Friday, a solo board game, I wanted to contrast the difference between how it gives rewards to players and how a game like Munchkin does. When the player tries something risky, how does that change the reward?

Friday is a single player game where you get to choose between two events to "fight". The card is a great example of a dual purpose card: the top half is the hazard to succeed against, the bottom is the reward if you beat it. Although the two cards you choose from are still random (you could get two of the same card for instance) you still have the benefit of making an informed decision. You know that if you win, you'll get this reward.

This makes the game much less "random", opening the door to more skill. Now you can see the reward there's a good amount of risk assessment you can do. You can contrast this with Munchkin. In Munchkin you flip a card to find your bad guy, and you attempt to fight it, completely unaware of how good the reward will be. Sure you can see how much treasures you could win, but you still might be risking your life for a pair of pantyhose you already own.

Having the event and the reward happen on the same card means you can tie them together thematically. Friday, unfortunately, doesn't take advantage of this. Tying the reward to the card means you can make the reward more sensible: if you're fighting a dragon maybe it makes sense to find dragon teeth and gold, but what would a direwolf be doing with those things?

Munchkin has no control over the rewards, other than saying the number. This makes it tricky to scale the rewards with the player progression in a game where that matters (not so much a thing in Munchkin). One of the upsides of this mechanic is that the reward can stay secret - something that doesn't matter in a one player game like Friday, but is very important when you want to surprise your friends.

Problem: fitting lots of tiles in a box

Arcana Delve works by randomly producing a dungeon as you travel from room to room. The players start in one room, decide to go north and then take the tile from the top of the "level 1" deck. They place it on the board, joining up the doors with the northern door, and then they can see what's waiting for them in the room. They continue like this until they're run out of tiles. Players of Carcassone will be familiar with this style of map building.

This leads to a unique game every time. Specific tiles could have events baked into them: "there is a trap in this room!", "there's a mysterious well in this room". So, having more tiles is a good thing. It increases randomness and the element of "I really need the next room to be the one with the healing potions in it!"

The problem I'll come across here is that there are three levels of dungeon (that's an arbitrary number, but it will definitely be above one). That means there will be three sets of tiles, each three or four millimetres high. You end up with quite a heft box.

One option is just to have a large amount of non-level specific tiles, but that doesn't work with my current idea of having the difficulty specified on the tile itself. A tile that shows up on level 3 should be harder than on the first level.

The solution I'm going to try out first is ditching the idea of a stack of tiles, where you pick from the top. Instead, the tiles are in a bag, and you can select one blindly. You may have played Carcassonne like this. When selecting a card blindly, it means I can use both sides of the tile. A different room on both sides.

This means I can have a large number of room options, on far fewer tiles. It gives an added aspect to the game too; should you put down the side with more monsters and try for their treasure, or should you choose the other safer side? Your players around you will be egging you on to take the risk, but are you brave enough?

Designing the map tiles

I have made a little bit of progress tonight with Arcana Delve, wherein I designed how the randomly generated map would work.

Carcassonne style, players will take a room piece from the stack of available ones and place it on the board, to reveal the room they're about to enter. That room may or may not have further exits.

There will be some number of types of mine level: first level through Xth level. Once the players have placed all of the levels' rooms, they can no longer discover any more rooms.

You'll note that on two of them there are some numbers. This is the mechanic I'm going to use to tell the party how many creatures were waiting for them in the room. Since this should scale with the number of players (the top row), there's a different number of monster depending on the players (bottom row).

This might be a bad idea. Sure, I can fit in three players, but why not five? At that point I'll run into problems just fitting the data on the card.

Another idea is to have just a room "toughness", a single number on the tile. And then maybe the players add the party size to that number. Instead, the monsters' difficulty changes could be on the actual monster card rather than the terrain.

Lots of ideas still to play with.

Consistent design of playing cards

I have been working on Arcana Delve today, making the basic premise as well as jumping into create the character class cards.

Prototypes for the Medic and Infantry classes.

Prototypes for the Medic and Infantry classes.

My hand writing isn't uniform - changing size quite drastically - so I'm hoping that when these cards are typed up then it will look less busy. For the moment, I've gone with putting the rule text for each special ability (Tend wounds or Dual wield) straight on the card. That's something I can change though - I could throw that into the rule book. The player will have to look up what the feature does, but after the first or second time using it then I'd expect them to memorise it.

Magic the Gathering prints a usable chunk of the rule text for each mechanic on the card, but only in the set it's released. After that, you're expected to know what the affect of Infect is. They remove it from the card because you end up with quite busy cards - like what mine look like above.

Daniel Solis' video series mentions the importance of a consistent card face.

I've made sure that the components will all be in the same place. Class name is always large in the top left, the health points and toughness is in the top right, just below is some flavour, and at the bottom is the actions they can take. This should decrease the cognitive load needed to understand the card. That's useful when you've cards like mine - full of text.

Sitting around a table, it'll be important for everyone to see what class the person opposite them is playing. I'm not sure if the bold "Medic" is enough, or if I should add in an icon. The icon might be useful: later on I can use it as a legend, to avoid having to say "Medic". Freeing up the space with a proper font, and maybe dropping the rules on the card would mean a logo would definitely fit.

The main reason I've missed off any style or drawings is because I just can't do it. Previously, I get excited about an idea until it needs some artistic design, and then I get dissuaded. These days, I like to avoid drawing so that I don't lose my excitement because I couldn't draw anything close to a person. That's the same reason I stopped trying to use InDesign actually - it's just way too complicated which was slowing me down more than it was helping.

All the numbers on the card are completely made up at the moment. I've not gotten far enough to be able to play a game of this yet, and so I don't know what numbers are sensible. I mostly put them in there - randomly - to stop indecision later on. It's better to have something down than spend hours trying to work out the best number algorithmically, wasting your enthusiasm on it.

Next thing for me is terrain tiles.

Oh, boy. There's a bunch to do.

I'd quite like to use this space showcase some of the project work I've been doing of late, as well as some of the writing I've done.

I'm expecting this to be a low frequency blog, as my project work is also rather low frequency. Maybe showing it off here will improve that.

I'd like to talk about my processes here, hoping that I can learn from them more clearly if my ideas are written down somewhere. Maybe people who stumble across this website might also find the time to point me in the right direction when I'm going wrong somewhere.

Onward with the building.