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.