Sunday, 23 April 2017

Freelancing, Fighting, and Falling!

This week I've been pretty busy with freelance work, so I haven't made much progress on personal projects. So I figured I'd talk about the various things I've been up to.


I've been editing the manuscript for Altais: Age of Ruin, a far-future fantasy that looks pretty unique. As a bonus, it's by a fellow Australian! It's one of the largest editing jobs I've worked on to date, and making sure I get enough done each day to ensure I hit the deadline is going to be keeping me pretty busy until the end of May or so.

I just finished up he last art piece for the Motive Agency Storytelling System, or M.A.S.S., which is also by an Australian author! I think it may also go by the name Plot Device, but I'm not sure what the final published title will be. It's a generic system that seems pretty flexible; I've done illustrations for a weird mashup of pulp/modern/noir but with human/puppet/cartoon characters, as well as superheroes and fantasy adventurers. I'll let you know when it comes out, or if there's a Kickstarter or anything.

Last year I did a heap of layout work for Johnn Four's Roleplaying Tips. This year he's given me the task of managing the production of a second edition of his book NPC Essentials. I'm pulling material from his archives to expand the content, editing and formatting it, and then getting it ready for digital and print. It's an interesting challenge, dealing with a project of this scope! Apart from my own stuff, I mostly just deal with things after the final manuscript's already been assembled.

I've also been doing a couple of short edits on scenarios for Arcana Games, namely sprucing up their Trouble in Waterdeep scenario for the DMs Guild, as well as a new adventure for their original game, Blood & Bone.

As you can see, I've had a lot on my plate, which is why I haven't managed to finish any of the following things:

Blade Bind: Sparring Partner

I've made good progress getting this automated duelling tutor for Blade Bind programmed, but there are still a couple of hurdles to jump before it's ready for external testing.

I managed to sort out how to handle Jokers in most situations, where you get to draw a new card and then play one from your hand with a wild suit. However there are a couple of situations (on an Engage and Wind) when it needs to be handled differently because both players reveal their cards simultaneously. That means I need to reveal both cards before you draw and replace, and I also need to allow for the edge-case where both players reveal a Joker!

Hopefully I'll get a chance to nut that out over the next week, now I've finished up the art job.

Fallen Princess

I've recently started playing a new app game called Fallen Princess. It's a fun little JRPG-style fantasy battler where you follow the exploits of Princess Aki and her army of monsters as she scours the countryside in search of gold and dark magic. It puts me in mind of the little I've seen of Disgaea, and the writing is pretty amusing.

Anyway, the real reason I bring it up is, it's got me thinking about grid-based mini battles and elemental systems.

I'm tempted to try writing a JRPG-themed RPG with a system for building your own tactical battlefield manoeuvres. I'm trying to figure out if I can do something with the stats to keep them inflating so that you kind of enter a new sphere of power at every factor of 10 while keeping the system fairly simple. So characters might start out with stats from 10-100, but then they can "limit break" to get stats in the hundreds, then the thousands, and so on with no theoretical limit. It's a nice pipe-dream, but I haven't actually worked out any specifics yet. I just want to use my Super Dungeon Explore minis for something other than SDE

Part of me wants to make a brand-new system, and part of me wants to come up with a revised edition of PowerFrame. I dunno; in some ways it might be easier to start again from scratch!

The elemental system in Fallen Princess is fairly straightforward: Fire > Earth > Lightning > Water all go around in a circle, each dealing extra damage to and resisting damage from one element (so Fire both damages and resists Earth). There's also Light and Dark, which both deal extra damage to each other and don't get extra resistance against anything. It's nice to see that alternative approach, as a reminder that not everything has to fit neatly onto a magic circle. That isn't going to stop me trying to fit my elemental systems into a neat circle, though.

Incidentally, Altais has an unusual magic system that relies on parallel dimensions that let mages manipulate the forces of reality, so it has "elements" like light/heat, gravity, electromagnetism, time, and space. It puts me somewhat in mind of the list I've been working on for Ark Frontier.

~ ~ ~

Hopefully I'll have some more progress to report next week!

Monday, 17 April 2017

Blade Bind: Sparring

A few days ago I had a brainwave, and started working on a Blade Bind side-project — an automated duelling tutorial.

Teaching the nuances of the duelling system has been a concern of mine ever since I wrote it all down. While it makes perfect sense to me because I know it inside-out, it's important to get everyone in the group up to speed fairly quickly so they can get the most out of the game. I've considered making a tutorial video — and I still might, but I'm working with a sub-par setup for filming.

Then I thought about creating a "Choose Your Own Adventure" type tutorial, with text and graphics in a PDF, and using hyperlinks to jump from one passage to another. But in some ways that's quite limited (the player would only ever have the same "starting hand"), and in other ways it's massive (each possible card play creates a branching network of possible future plays that quickly becomes unmanageable).

Then I remembered Twine!

I've been noodling away in Twine for a few months now, trying to turn one of my old scenarios into a complex CYOA story. If you haven't heard of it, Twine is an app that lets you write branching interactive stories, but it also has the capability to handle variables and perform various functions. It's missing a few things I'd like (such as for-next or while-wend loops), but I'm learning to work around those.

Most excitingly, it actually has arrays and structures called datamaps, and functions to manipulate them, that actually make building and handling a deck of cards quite simple.

I'm writing the tutorial like a sparring match between you and Siân. She cajoles and encourages you, as well as explaining why things are happening and what your choices are. I'm hoping a few games will help people really get a feel for the duelling system.

I've made good progress in the last couple of days. At the moment I have all the basic functionality in place, and the main thing I still need to do is deal with all the places where you might play a Joker. Since you can play a Joker any time you could play a card, and a Joker lets you draw a new card, then play one from your hand to replace the Joker, and change its suit if you want, it requires a bit of extra handling. I'm trying to figure out if I can put all the Joker code into one passage and then just call it from wherever, but I need to make sure it won't cause problems with the way I keep track of which cards are in play.

Twine outputs the whole game as a single HTML file, so I can either find somewhere to host it online, or provide the files for download. Hopefully I'll have all the bugs ironed out in a couple more weeks!

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Frontier Elements

Looks like I forgot to write a post last Sunday. I've always been a terrible diarist. Anyway, for those of you left in suspense by my last post, I'm here to talk a bit about the "elemental" setup I have in mind for Ark Frontier.

I put "elemental" in scare-quotes because they aren't elements in the sense of being fundamental building blocks, even in a mystical sense. I'm trying to avoid starting with the typical earth/water/air/fire setup, and instead go with something unusual. My list is still in flux at the moment, but the basic concept revolves around different forms of energy (or lack thereof). In that sense, they are more like "properties" than elements.

The Elements

Initially I was thinking of Light, Dark, Fire, Cold, Spirit, Spark, and Gravity. I want Light and Dark because I have some cool ideas for thematic Phantoms, and I want Spark so it can do extra damage to tech devices like Lightning does in Final Fantasy.

There are a couple of obvious opposites in the list: Light/Dark and Fire/Cold. I am considering splitting Spirit into Life and Death, which would provide separate classifications for both healing magic and undead-type Phantoms.

What's holding me back, though, is that I can't think of an "opposite" for Spark... apart from something like insulation/inertness, which isn't particularly exciting as an "element" in its own right. Then again, perhaps it could work if I define it as negation. Call it Silence perhaps? It could cover counterspells and warding, and maybe de-power magical crystals. I'll have to think about it.

I guess if I go with all pairs, then Gravity and Antigravity are the obvious other split. Gravity (Sink?) gets to do crushing, heaviness, high pressure, and attraction, while Antigravity (Float?) covers lift, lightness, low pressure, and repulsion.


Phantoms are magical creatures, most of which are strongly aligned to a single element and express some of its properties. A few may combine aspects of more than one element. Their elemental nature also defines the things they are resistant or vulnerable to; each will have a custom list of resistances. I don't just want to have a standard set of reliable resistances, although they will fall along thematic lines for the most part (Dark resists Dark and is vulnerable to Light).

The area around the Ark will be plagued by a few Phantom varieties, with new and unusual types encountered when the explorers reach new territories. In this way, the composition of the world itself will help maintain the sense of discovery and uncertainty as the players learn how best to handle different Phantom elements and types.

Elemental Crystals

Normally Phantoms dissolve and blow away when they are killed, but it's possible to use a spell to harvest elemental crystals off them. You get different grades of crystal depending on the Threat of the creature (although I've yet to define the effects of the different grades), and there's another new spell that lets you fuse smaller crystals together to make larger ones.

Elemental crystals will have a variety of uses, including mana sources, ammunition, and changing the elemental properties of armour and weapons. I'm thinking one of the native species can also absorb the crystals to change their personal elemental alignment.


That's about as far as I've got with elements so far. I'm not sure what the subject will be next week (assuming I remember to write an article). I've been working on a card game too, so I might report on how that's going.

Monday, 27 March 2017

Ark Frontier Organisations

This week I'd like to talk a bit about the organisations and factions in Ark Frontier.


Last time, I discussed the different groups that have emerged due to different life-experiences. I really like generating complexity by combining several basic options. In Ark Frontier, your species, group, organisation, and occupation form the basis of your social identity.

So far I have the following major organisations, no doubt with more to follow.

The Council

This is the group that's officially in charge of the Ark and all its inhabitants. It's made up of representatives from all three species, although I've yet to determine its exact nature. How many members are there? Are members elected or nominated — perhaps it's different for different species? Are representatives from different factions, regardless of species divisions?

In any case, this is the organisation that makes the hard decisions in the best interests of the colony. Many no doubt find it slow, inefficient, and painfully cautious.

Colony Defence (The Line, Liners)

The equivalent of the military, this group is charged with keeping the new settlements safe from Phantom incursions as people start to slowly spread out from the Ark. Liners patrol the expanding borders and check in on settlements regularly, but they are responsible for holding the line rather than pushing it forward; that job falls to the Blazers.

Colony Defence also controls the Ark's entire supply of exo-suits. They have three different models: the Pioneer hardsuits, Vanguard powered armour, and Destiny mecha. These pull double-duty as construction machinery and armoured combat vehicles. Some would like to use them for expeditionary missions, but the Council feels they are too valuable and few in number to risk losing them somewhere inaccessible.

Blazers (Trailblazers, Adventurers)

This is more a collection of loose groups than a coherent organisation, though there is a shared sense of camaraderie and an informal guild that helps coordinate teams. Blazers venture into the wilderness to explore, fight back Phantoms, and extend the colony's safe-zone. They uncover ruins from the fallen civilisation, and seek to uncover the cause of the Phantom Storm. In essence, they are classic fantasy adventurers.

It's a dangerous yet thrilling life, and many Arkborn are drawn to it with a blazing passion.


Brave souls who have chosen to leave the cramped safety of the Ark to build new homes under the sky. It's a hard life, but one eagerly welcomed by many of the native population as they resettle and rebuild. Some feel a little resentment towards the human settlers, but for the most part there is plenty of space and enough of a shared history of cooperation that nothing has come of it yet.

Exodians (Breakers, Pioneers, Outsiders)

When the Ark first opened its doors, some of the older native folk ignored the Council's warnings, leaving with their families to reclaim their ancestral land. They are outside the Ark's jurisdiction and protection. No doubt many of them fell to roving Phantoms, but some well-equipped and canny groups have established strongholds and carve out a life on their own terms. What happens when the Ark's settlers build far enough out to encounter an Exodian settlement remains to be seen...


Shortly after the Ark re-opened its doors, a small number of sorcerers learned how to summon and control Phantoms. This practice has been outlawed by the Council because of the obvious dangers it poses, and so Summoners must operate in secret. There is a secret society of Summoners who see their skills as a way to neutralise the threat posed by Phantoms, and perhaps even put them to good use battling their wild kin.

Other Organisations

I haven't fleshed them out yet, but there will also be a number of gangs; a criminal organisation that built a black market during the years on the Ark and are now looking to expand their influence throughout the new colony; possibly some sort of magic college, though I've yet to properly define the available magic; and presumably a general school system to train people towards useful professions. And no doubt others.

I was going to also talk about the elemental nature of the Phantoms, but it's getting late so I'll have to save that until next time!

Sunday, 19 March 2017

New Frontiers

I'm going to see if I can get into a routine of posting on Sundays to talk about what I've been working on for the past week. On top of my current freelancing jobs, I've been spending a lot of time thinking about Ark Frontier.

Ark Frontier will be a setting and campaign supplement for PowerFrame. I want to play to the system's strengths, so in short, it's a technofantasy hexcrawl inspired by JRPGs such as Final FantasyWild Arms, and Star Ocean, and also by an obscure old anime called Genesis Surviver Gaiarth.

The Premise

Civilisation on [WORLD] is on the brink of being wiped out by monsters in an event called the Phantom Storm, when a generation ship from Earth — the Ark in the title — lands. While the humans can't save the world, they are able to use their advanced technology to fight back the Phantoms long enough to get a sizeable number of refugees on board. Thankfully the Ark was designed to turn into a self-sustaining arcology city on arrival, and so tens of thousands of people are able to weather out the Storm.

Eighteen years later...

Although many thought it would never end, the Phantom Storm has finally abated. Phantoms still roam a land that is now unrecognisable, but they are no longer a constant threat. Refugees from the Ark — some of whom have never seen the sky of their home-world — emerge to explore and reclaim this new frontier.

Fusion Culture

One thing I wanted to do was come up with a frontier exploration setting that didn't either re-cast native people as "savages" to be wiped out (orcs, inscrutable aliens), or erase them altogether. Instead, the uninvited colonists from Earth (who were perhaps fleeing some desperate calamity of their own) opened their arms to the local peoples; recognising the value in saving a civilisation on the brink of extinction (and one that could help them understand the nature of their new world), and uniting in the face of overwhelming adversity.

That's not to say there aren't tensions within the new culture that has been forged in the heart of the Ark. Traditionalists hold onto their old ways, while the youth of three species have grown up together and look to the future. There are feelings of resentment, but also gratitude and reliance.

On top of the humans and two native species (that I haven't completely figured out, so I'll talk about them later), the events since the landing have split people into several demographic groups.

Natives lived through the Phantom Storm and boarded the Ark as refugees. Some are grateful to the humans for coming to their aid, while others resent the interlopers coming uninvited. These are the last survivors of the old civilisation, and keep its traditions alive as best they can.

Landers are humans who crewed the Ark when it arrived. Most of them are part of a "generation crew" contingent who stayed awake for the hundred-year voyage, but a few were woken from cryosleep shortly after arrival. Most were happy to help the Natives (whether out of humanitarian ideals or pragmatic considerations), but some have grown to resent their presence and their drain on resources as the years wore on.

Arkborn are children who were born on the Ark once the doors were closed against the Phantom Storm. The very oldest of this generation may be those carried onboard as infants, too young to remember a life outside. This group is the most culturally united, with members of all three species mingling freely. Many chafe against traditions, and want to explore the outside world.

Sleepers are humans who have only recently been awoken from cryosleep. Due to the influx of refugees, the Ark could not support all the humans being awoken, and so thousands have remained in stasis until the colony could begin expanding. They still remember Earth, and many now suffer from culture shock as they are dropped into the new society that formed while they were sleeping.

While the focus will be on exploration and trying to figure out the mystery behind the Phantoms, I'm hoping that a well-thought-out culture and differing points of view will create dramatic tension and provide opportunities for intelligent antagonists.

That's all for this week! Let me know in the comments if you have any questions or ideas regarding Ark Frontier.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Blade Bind is available!

Hey, so it's been a while since I posted here! Once the Blade Bind Kickstarter concluded successfully, I was head-down finishing the work and keeping the Backers up-to-date on Kickstarter. I'm pleased to report that I delivered the project on-time, and the Blade Bind PDF, book, and cards are now available to the public on DriveThruRPG!

Available in softcover or glorious hardcover!

A lot of people have been downloading the free cards PDF, but I'd like to point out that the print-and-play PDF is just a courtesy product; it only includes the Blade Reference Cards, and you also get that print-and-play file when you download the rulebook PDF. It's useful if you buy the book without also getting the PDF I suppose, although the PDF is included free with physical copies.

Plus, you can get a cool tuck-box for the physical cards!
A big thank-you to all my Backers for making Blade Bind a success!

What's Next?

I'm working on several freelance projects at the moment, as well as some supplements for PowerFrame (including a setting book). I also have some ideas for a Blade Bind supplement, and I pulled the Thunder Hunters document out of storage to take a fresh look. So there's plenty of stuff keeping me busy! I'll try to post about what I'm working on soon.

Thursday, 13 October 2016

The Voice of the Blade

One of the intriguing things about Blade Bind is the way that the Blades influence play. They are sentient entities with their own personalities and goals, yet nobody actually plays a Blade. Their personas are not given voice, yet they are impossible to ignore.


At the surface-level, the Blades influence play with their appearance. They are strange, menacing, often partially organic, and kind of creepy. Some of the strongly-themed Blades provide hints as to their origins and personalities, such as the archangel feather Michael or the Japanese demon Oni — although the entities themselves are likely to be simply co-opting mythical symbology to influence their wielders. The Blade designs act as a visual cue that the players can riff off and use to expand their own backstory and personality. The players might also decide that their Blades communicate telepathically, or even that they can speak, but that's down to freeform roleplaying.

The Techniques unique to each Blade also influence the way the Chosen fight, opening up different approaches and playstyles.


Blades deeply influence the core of the system through the Power they provide to their wielders. The Blades want you to have more Power than you can control, because then they can take you over and pursue their true objective. To that end, they tempt you to increase your Power each time you fight. It's your choice... but it's so tempting, and if you don't take the opportunity you may find yourself quickly outmatched. And if you lose too many fights, you'll find your Will eroded, and the Blade will start to use your moments of weakness to involuntarily feed you more Power. Once you gain Power, you can't decrease it — so every point ramps up the pressure to keep your Will high.

It's when a Chosen finally overreaches and becomes Bladebound that the voice of the Blade is most clearly heard. The character loses their free will, and must follow a prioritised list of actions. The Blade ultimately wants its Enmity (one of the other Blades, against which it holds an age-old hatred) to become Bladebound so the two can duel in their true forms, and one will destroy the other permanently. To that end, it'll destroy everything its own Chosen and its Enmity's Chosen hold dear.

It's possible to thwart the Blades and avoid their tragic race towards death and destruction. Defeating a Bladebound causes its Power to drop, and you can give the Chosen new purpose that may allow them to snap out of it and regain control. And there are a couple of unlikely (though possible) situations that can end the game without anyone having to die.

Rather than being portrayed by a player at the table, the voice of the Blade is forged into the very structure of the game.