Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Blade Bind Designs, Part 4

I finally managed an online playtest on the weekend, which I need to write about soon... But first, here's the next three Blade designs!

Set is named after the Egyptian god. I always wanted to include a khopesh, but it took me a while to come up with one that didn't look like it was a goggle-eyed gaping face (I kept trying to have a floating eyeball inside the back curve, but the sharp blade looked like lips on my original attempts). By the way, although a few Blades are named after gods or legendary swords, they aren't necessarily the genuine artefact. It's possible that the Blade-entity has simply assumed that identity in order to bring itself closer to humanity.

Brass Dragon came to me one night as I was drifting off to sleep. I originally had a different Blade with that traditional buster-sword blade shape, but I wasn't all that happy with the design. I really enjoyed playing around to get the crystal effect, although I might go back and try to give the scales a little extra colour contrast compared to the blade.

Templar came from the concept of "a sword made out of a suit of plate armour". I think it came out pretty well, and I pushed my Illustrator-based gradient techniques to the limit on the rendering. As with a lot of the Blades it's a bit impractical and unwieldy, but that's less of a concern for magical swords.

In the playtests, the Blades have been providing some great inspiration for character approaches and setting up situations. The game's setup is primed with a few randomly-drawn cues, such as your archetype and important relationships, and random Blade selection also adds to that.

In the recent playtest we had Michael (angel-feather), Templar (plate armour) and Miko (Shinto shrine-maiden). My character's family was a Blade-worshipping cult, but they'd chosen her childhood friend to inherit Michael. My character had gone to the East to find Miko, and was back to prove herself worthy of leading the cult. The third character had Templar, and decided to be the guardian of the Holy Grail.

I'll discuss the playtest a bit more in a future post, but it's great to see the unique and evocative designs having an effect on play.

This marks the completion of the first twelve Blade designs. At the moment I only have twelve sets of Techniques, so I'm going to slow down on Blade design and concentrate on other illustrations for a while. I do still intend to create a thirteenth Blade to round out the set (probably Excalibur, but I have no idea what it looks like yet), and I may create some supplementary designs which might get promoted to the "basic set".

Oh, and I've also been fiddling around with the book layout. Here's the latest – I just created a shadowy tendril border effect, which is a bit more interesting than the old flat gradients. What do you think?

Friday, 15 April 2016

Blade Bind Designs, Part 3

Well I still haven't managed to play another session of Blade Bind, although there's an online game scheduled this Sunday. In the meantime it's becoming increasingly difficult for me to resist starting the layout, but I'm trying really hard to keep the manuscript in one place for updates and so I don't need to repeat layout work. At the moment there isn't a lot in the manuscript that's completely finalised, but I feel like I just need to run it through one or two more tests (preferably at least one face-to-face) before I can move forward with confidence.

In the meantime I'm doing more graphics work. I should probably make a start on an iconic action-oriented illustration to grab people's attention, but I'm currently making good progress on finishing up the initial thirteen Blade designs. Here's the next set of three:

Claíomh Solais is inspired by the legendary Celtic blade. I wanted to make the metal look old and battle-scarred, but the "fuller" in the blade is actually a sort of trans-dimensional space that glows with bright sunlight (the glow-effect is a little more obvious when it's not on a white background).

Devil Wing is the antithesis of Michael the angel feather Blade. It's currently the most organic Blade, perhaps even looking like it might fly off by itself if you don't keep a good hold on the twisted-sinew grip!

Buluc Chabtan is named after the Mayan god of war, violence, and sacrifices. It's in the form of a macuahuitl, a mesoamerican sword made by setting pieces of sharpened obsidian (which these days gets used to make surgical scalpels) into a wooden shaft. I used to think that the obsidian would get knocked out in combat, but apparently the resin they used was strong enough that it wasn't an issue.

Did I mention that all the Blades are massive "buster sword" things? It's easy to lose that sense of scale when they're presented without something to compare them against. They're roughly six or seven feet long. The mystical contract each Blade makes with its Chosen gives its wielder the ability to heft it as though it were a regular-sized sword. Anyone else who tries to pick one up is going to need a lot of strength, assuming it will even let them in the first place. Or perhaps, when someone tries to pick up a discarded Blade in anger, it will simply offer them the bargain of power...

Friday, 8 April 2016

Blade Bind Designs, Part 2

Well the face-to-face playtest didn't go ahead last night, but hopefully I can reschedule it in the next week or so. I should probably try to set up another online game as well, but they do take a bit of energy to coordinate and run.

In the meantime, here's the second set of three Blade designs.

I'm particularly pleased with this set!

Glass Edge was an attempt to think outside the box and come up with something unusual and outlandish. This Blade made an appearance in the first whole-game playtest — the player described the windows breaking and the glass falling and then hanging in mid-air as the hilt materialised. Very cool!

Miko is probably my favourite design so far. The blade-shape is certainly not Japanese, but the red cylindrical shaft reminded me of Japanese temples and shrine maidens for some reason. The use of flesh-tones on the blade also give it that "is it metal or is it organic?" vibe that the original Blade, Vargr, gives off.

Oni's blade has been carved out of the horn of a Japanese ogre. The lower jaw makes it a little impractical, but hey, it's a sword longer than a person, so practicality kind of doesn't get a look-in. I used Oni in the playtest, and described it growing and morphing out of my arm. The Blade-manifesting descriptions very much put me in mind of a fighting-game's character intro, which is no bad thing.

I'm planning on including thirteen Blades in the book, each with a unique design and set of Techniques. You can mix and match Techniques to create your own Blade, and going with thirteen lets me provide random card-draw tables for people to either pick a random pre-made Blade, or randomly select a set of Techniques for a custom Blade.

I currently have thirteen Blade concepts in mind, although if I come up with any others I may end up short-listing the best thirteen and maybe including the others as inspirational images. At the moment I only have twelve Techniques for each of the three ranks, so I need one more 1, 2, and 3 point Technique to round out my tables.

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Blade Bind Playtest 1

Although I've been testing Blade Bind's duelling mechanics fairly thoroughly with a number of "white-room" tests, I recently ran a playtest of the whole game online via Roll20. It took a while to find enough testers, but Todd from FacebookLand put out the call and we ended up with five players (including me).

This is a pretty long post, but if you're interested in Blade Bind and/or playtesting, strap in!

First Session


Setup went fairly smoothly, although it did take a while. This was partly due to using a VTT and partly due to the Fiasco-like discussion about how all the characters relate to each-other and who they are, but I also identified some areas that could be sped up. I'm interested to see how long it takes in a face-to-face game.

A web of Threads
While the characters do have a web of relationships, this image is not a relationship map as such, but a map of goals. Each coloured line is a Thread, showing the Chosen's intent towards elements of the game world — characters, organisations, items, and locations, plus the other Chosen — collectively known as Knots.

You can also see some notes on "who hates who", which refers to the enmity the supernatural Blades have to each other. This enmity is independent of the characters' relationships, and is designed to cause problems. Originally it was completely random, meaning someone could end up with multiple enmities targeting them, or none.

I've since revised it so all Blades have an enmity to one Blade, and from one Blade.

Threads generate Will, which allows the characters to control their Blades. If a Thread becomes impossible to achieve (usually by its target being destroyed), then the character loses Will. If their Will becomes less than their Power, they become slaves to the will of their Blade, which then hunts down its Enmity.

This was the first time Threads saw play, and it showed me a couple of things. Firstly, it really doesn't matter what a Knot is. I had classified them into different types, but what they are makes no difference to their behaviour in the game. Secondly, some of the goals — although logically structured — were a bit convoluted and difficult to get a handle on. Some were also redundant or didn't make a lot of sense. I've now restructured the way Threads are written, and made sure to define how each one works.

Scenes & Duels

We finally got to the scenes, and had time to play through only one before we ran out of time. My character challenged her antagonistic twin brother to a duel to prove she could defeat him. The setup and descriptive play before the duel was excellent and evocative, and thanks to a good hand of cards the duel ended with my victory.

The winner gets to claim a prize, which I took to be the defeat of my brother, thus securing my Defeat Thread. Figuring out the aftermath was a little hazy since I hadn't actually seen it in play before, and wasn't sure if the "defeat" was just a thing that happens or if it should be a prize in its own right.

I've now revised things so the winner gets to either destroy or take control of a Knot, or rewrite a Thread belonging to either one of the losers or themselves. "Defeat" Threads work a bit differently now, but scoring victories against your rival is basically an "extra" in addition to the regular prize.

Second Session

We reconvened after a week or so and played through some more scenes. Things went pretty well, and I was able to identify the "shaky" parts of the Thread system and make some revisions.

In addition to better-defining prizes, I also removed the option to simply erase one of the loser's Threads. It proved too powerful. However, there's still the option to rewrite their Threads, meaning you can persuade them to stop attacking your interests and give them goals that align with yours. They don't have to follow the Threads you give them, but their decisions will affect their Will value.

The Wind Dilemma

A Wind (rhymes with "bind") is what happens after a Bind, where two Blades lock together. It's meant to represent the struggle for leverage on the razor's edge, where things can go either way. The original mechanic was for both players to play a blind card, with the high card becoming the attack and the low card having to scramble to defend. With a couple of card-counting mathematicians on the crew, though, this mechanic received the most negative feedback. They didn't like the way that it both came down to luck, and basically forced the loser to not only play their best card (in hopes of winning the Wind) but also an extra card (to make up their defence).

After some discussion and thought, I've come up with a new idea. Both play a blind card as before, but it's the suit that determines which card is the attack. Rather than the old guarantee that the attack would be high, now you can end up with low attacks or high defences. You can still end up with situations that force the defender to spend extra cards, but it's now also possible to Parry and gain the advantage.

This new idea is still untested, but I think it has promise. I have a couple of other ideas if it doesn't work out, but I think they might feel less satisfying.

Resonance Techniques

This game also saw the first use of the special Blade Techniques. We only used a couple, but even a brief look at them in play helped me get a better idea of their power level and usefulness in play. You gain Resonance whenever you Bind, and gain more when Binding against your Enmity, and then spend it to activate Techniques. In a duel where both of us were Enmities, we managed to Bind three times in a row off an Engagement; each time, he used Seal to cut off my access to another suit! By the end of the exchange I could only play one suit, but I managed to survive long enough to tag him with my (under-priced) Vampire move, steal a card, and then win in the next Exchange.

Techniques are the part of the game that needs the most testing. I've revised them given the latest version of the rules, and have a checklist set up to make sure they all get chosen and used in play at some point.


We once again ran out of time, but I could see how the game was going to play out — several characters had become Bladebound, meaning they would sever their connections to things and then attempt to destroy their Enmity.

In the first session I was worried that characters were going to become Bladebound very quickly, but we managed to go around the table a couple of times before it started to kick in. I've revised the Will values from Threads (mostly downward for Threads that aren't quite so high-stakes), and also boosted starting Will a little. It probably also helps that it's no longer possible to simply erase someone's Thread, although you can still cause the same effect by destroying important things. I might boost Will by another point, but we'll see how the next couple of tests go; I'm not too worried if the games are fairly short, so long as there's enough play to make up for the setup time and to let a decent narrative unfold.


I've spent the last couple of weeks revising and refining the manuscript. Lately I've been adding examples and a bit of flavour text, plus a couple of setting outlines.

I have a face-to-face playtest planned for tomorrow, so I'm keen to see how my changes work and if anything else needs looking at. Things seem to be coming together nicely, and playtesting is providing invaluable feedback.