Tag Archives: Dragon World

Dragon World Hack 0.3

Dragon World is a game I’ve been working on for a while now, and at this point one of my more polished games. It’s an Apocalypse World hack (or as the parlance came to be in the time since I started working on it, a Powered by the Apocalypse game) for comedic fantasy in the general style of anime series from the 90s like Slayers and Dragon Half.

This new version has important tweaks and revisions throughout, but not any huge changes. It also adds the Shiny Paladin class to round out an even dozen in the book, and the setting section has several new entries, including the Kickin’ Rad Skeletons, the Desert of Yunqarth (with the Ma’al of the Western Fields in there somewhere), and the Moon (home to a degenerate Lunarian civilization that at this point can only communicate through interpretive dance).

I’ve had a heck of a lot of fun with this game already, and I’m currently running a playtest campaign that I’m enjoying a lot. It’s high on my list of games to full-on publish before too long, though it will undoubtedly need some more tweaking first.

Dragon World Hack 0.3
Dragon World Playbooks

August Update

Time for some updates on various projects again!

Dragon World

Dragon World wound up being the project that I settled on to concentrate on. Of my too-many RPG projects it’s the one that’s probably the closest to fruition, the one that’s been the smoothest and most fun in playtesting. It also doesn’t hurt that I’m generally in the mood to take the piss out of the fantasy genre, which seems to need that more than ever. I’ve made some small refinements to the rules, but a lot of the work I’ve been doing has been working on filling out the text, refining play advice, improving the DM moves, and adding setting elements. I also added the Shiny Paladin to the core classes, and I’ve been drawing on Inverse World for ideas on how to better express a setting.

Related to it, I’ve been reading The Humor Code, a book written by a journalist following a psychologist trying to build and test a theoretical framework to explain humor. I have a long blog post in the works about it, but the core concept of humor that I was groping towards was that the core of it is things that thwart (perceived) expectations. A pun thwarts our expectations of what a word means, a leader being a buffoon may be unsurprising, but it plays with perceived expectations, that kind of thing. This isn’t so different from the psychologist’s “benign violation theory,” which posits that humor comes from violations that turn out to be benign in nature, and I think helps explain why some things can take the form of a joke but not be funny. I’m pretty sure there can’t be a magic bullet for humor, but I think there’s a lot of potential in a humor RPG made with an awareness of a theoretical framework of some kind.

Oh, and when I mentioned that for the eventual Dragon World Kickstarter I want to have “& World” be a bonus thing, I got like three people expressing interest in making it. I need to get Dragon World ready first, but & World is definitely happening. I have no idea what it will actually be, but still. Also I kinda want the first supplement full of new classes to be called “Dragon World Class Collection I: The Codex of Gimmicky Weirdos.”

Five-Card Fictions

A while ago I picked up the book Second Person from the MIT Press, and more recently I ended up opening it up again after letting it sit on the shelf for a long time. One thing mentioned in it that I found especially fascinating was Life in the Garden, a sort of story toy where you have a set of cards with story snippets, and you shuffle them and draw 5, which you then read in order to form a story. Unfortunately it’s long out of print and used copies go for $120 or more, so I got inspired to try making my own similar games. I wound up starting on a project I call “Five-Card Fictions,” which will be a series of such games. The first one, which is now at the “fancy prototype” phase, is called Miyuki Days, and is a thing about a Japanese schoolgirl that is variously mundane, surreal, and yuri. I used icons from The Noun Project to add more of a visual element, and pixel art I commissioned a while back for the cover. I also added some suggestions for alternate ways to use the cards, both single- and multi-player.

tumblr_n9feuzC9iL1qfum8so2_1280After that I’m planning to do two more. The second is going to be Thralls of the Red God, a sword and sorcery tale. For the third I’m hoping to do something in the style of Jorge Luis Borges, but I’m finding it’s been long enough since I last read Borges that I need to get reacquainted with his work to really pull it off. (And after the third one I’ll stop and not run it totally into the ground.) Miyuki Days will be up on DriveThruCards before too long, while the others are going to take some time to get sorted out.

The Bird Game: Deluxe Edition

One of the weird little things in I Want to be an Awesome Robot (a book pretty much made of weird little things) is “The Bird Game,” a sort of self-parody in that it’s a mini Channel A style game where instead of anime you make birds. I decided to make a POD “Deluxe Edition,” which adds new cards, in particular “Question Cards” that save the Bird Czar the trouble of coming up with questions. That step had been taking forever, but somehow or other with some googling I managed to get it finished fairly quickly over the weekend. The game purposely has a little bit of a cheap look (no Clay Gardner graphic design brilliance for this one), using public domain photos of birds and such. It’s very silly, and it will also be up on DriveThruCards before too long.

Question Card BackWord Cards Back

Progress Sort Of

I wanted to take some time to write a bit about what I’ve been up to, admittedly in part just to not have that D&D post at the top of my blog. I’d rather think about making and playing cool stuff myself than worry about what’s going on elsewhere, and I have a heck of a lot of cool stuff going on. On the other hand I’ve had some writer’s block and had a hard time getting serious writing done, which is probably a lot to do with why I keep getting ideas for more random projects.

Magical Burst
I’m just about ready to wrap up my first playtest campaign of the 4th Draft. It’s exposed a huge number of issues with the game, and Versions 4.1 is going to take a good amount of work on various fronts. Right now I’m right about to where I need to step back from the project and mull over all the feedback I’ve gotten and my experiences with the playtest. One key thing I’m definitely writing into the GM advice is to let the magical girls have some semblance of normal lives, because that’s where a lot of the tension and drama of the game come from.

Golden Sky Stories Stuff
Apart from stuff like taking care of the few remaining packages that went missing or got returned, the major thing left to do with GSS is finish up the remaining original material. I was able to knock another thing off the to-do list when I found an artist for Faerie Skies, namely Clove, who among other things did the cover and some other art for Inverse World. He sent me the first of his sketches for Ellisandra the elf, and I am ridiculously happy with the results so far.

Dragon World
For some reason I got inspired to look at Dragon World again. This led to spending an evening reading through the 25k or so words I’d already written, and brainstorming more classes. Among others, I’m working on one called the Digital Invader, which is an MMORPG character being mysteriously projected into the fantasy world. I’m also making some minor tweaks to the rules here and there. It’s going to need more playtesting of course, but it’s looking really good, which I guess shows the advantages of building off of an existing system rather than trying to build one from scratch. Also, using this as an excuse to start watching the 52 episodes of Slayers I haven’t seen. I kind of want to Kickstart it, both to get it out into the world and to have the excuse to see what classes and such my various gaming friends and colleagues could come up with. (Ben Lehman already floated the idea of doing either a maid class or something based on Ryuuko from Kill La Kill.) Also possibly custom dice, though of course I’m getting way ahead of myself.

That also has me inspired to look at what else has been going on in the way of PbtA games. Since I already backed the Kickstarter I finally started reading Inverse World, which turns out to be pretty fantastic, particularly in how it evokes the setting. Likewise there have been some really great new third party Dungeon World playbooks like the Princess and the Dashing Hero. Although core Dungeon World seems really good at what it does, some of the third party stuff seems just spectacular, especially for the stuff where they weren’t beholden to D&D cliches. (And that’s before we talk about Monsterhearts, which is just astonishingly good.)

Slime Story
Looking at all this Apocalypse World-based stuff led me to think about the possibility of reworking Slime Story as a Powered by the Apocalypse game. Slime Story is a concept I came up with literally about 8 years ago, a present-day setting where mysterious magical portals have appeared and started dumping cute monsters like something out of a Korean MMO into the world, and while in many places they’re under the control of warlords or corporations, in suburban America a subculture of teenage monster hunters has arisen. The “Slime Engine” system that I’d been struggling to put together may eventually turn into a good base for Slime Quest (my anime/JRPG-influenced fantasy heartbreaker), but the more I think about it the more it seems a poor fit for Slime Story’s weird mishmash of monster hunting and teenage slice of life. Among other things, it definitely calls for a system where many monster fights are routine and come down to a few quick die rolls.

i.hate.everyone
I got inspired to finish and publish i.hate.bronies, the MLP-themed expansion to i.h.e, and further to do a prototype of i.hate.gimmicks, an experimental expansion with a bunch of stuff to try out new mechanics (which I’ll have to do some actual playtesting on). I also got inspired to do a Game of Thrones expansion. I was going to call it i.hate.thrones, but I realized that i.hate.joffrey might be a better name. It’s coming along slowly though.

Sharkicane vs. Dolphoon
Not an RPG thing, but after watching the RiffTrax Live of Sharknado I got inspired to write this incredibly weird story. The sharks are using dark magic to summon up the Sharkicane, and the dolphins may be our only hope. Also, I realized that the reason the people are being so slow and dumb when they should be evacuating right away is because the sharks’ sorcery has dulled their wits.

Beyond Otaku Dreams
And for an added bonus, reading Epidiah Ravachol’s Swords Without Master (in Issue 3 of Worlds Without Master) got me thinking about Beyond Otaku Dreams. It’s a game I really want to make happen, as it’s based on personal experiences far more than any other game I’ve done. SWM has this intriguing thing where you roll to set the mood as either Jovial or Glum (with passing the dice around the table being an important part of how you play the game), which put me in mind of how Beyond Otaku Dreams is about a collision of Hope and Delusion. It’s incredibly tricky to figure out, since it needs to be a simple but carefully-made mechanism for group storytelling, and it generally gives me a feeling of trying to build a castle in the air.

Dragon World Hack v0.2

I’ve posted about it a good amount already, but Dragon World is my 90s comedy fantasy anime hack for Apocalypse World, a very silly fantasy game. Dragon Half and Slayers are major inspirations, but just about every fantasy anime I’ve ever seen figures into it a bit, along with Discworld and the sillier parts of every D&D campaign I’ve ever been in.

This is the “Hack” version of the game, so to play you’ll need to have a copy of Apocalypse World, or at least a good knowledge of how AW works.

Here are the major changes I’ve made from the previous version:

  1. Leveling Up: I replaced marking experience with leveling up, which characters can simply do once per session between scenes.
  2. Guts Points: PCs now have Guts points that they can spend to avoid Falling Down (or to affect die rolls), but every time they do they have to make a roll to avoid having a Stress Explosion.
  3. Wealth: The group shares a special Wealth stat that can fluctuate up or down, and which they get to roll on when they buy stuff.
  4. Story Threads: Instead of connections/History, PCs now have Story Threads, which encompass other PCs as well as other story elements. These don’t have mechanical significance, but they do create relationships and story hooks.
  5. Setting Ideas: I filled out my initial section of NPC and setting ideas.

Dragon World Hack 0.2 PDF
Dragon World Reference & Class Sheets PDF

Yaruki Zero Podcast #19: Back in Action

If you know me at all, you know that I’m really random about when I get inspired to actually do things, such that I jump from project to project all the time. The other day I got inspired to revive my project to do an iRiff of Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, which in turn led me to get some better recording gear, which in turn inspired me to get back into podcasting. This first new episode is a recap of what I’ve been up to in terms of my own game design and translation projects. There’s quite a bit to cover. I started using Audacity (which is quite good), and didn’t feel like messing around trying to get the music in this time around, so for better or for worse this episode is an hour of just my voice.

Yaruki Zero Podcast #19 (62 minutes, 16 seconds)

Very awesome caricature of Ewen courtesy of the talented C. Ellis.

Dragon World: Moar Stuff

And now even more blather about Dragon World.

Guts and Falling Down
My major new innovation is what I’m tentatively calling “Guts points.” The idea is that players have these points that they can spend to avoid falling down (and for things like enhancing die rolls), but any time you do you have to roll with Sanity, and on a failure you have something like a Maid RPG style Stress Explosion.

Dram/Plot/Story/Fate/whatever points aren’t a bad mechanic, but I think they tend to be bland too, and they would feel doubly so next to the level of flavor you get in a typical AW-derived game. I like what I have so far with Guts points for how they have obvious risks and feed back into the fiction in an interesting way.

Advancement
In recent years I’ve had mixed feelings about advancement and rewards in RPGs in general. On the one hand people do genuinely just plain enjoy getting and using shiny new things for their characters, but on the other hand it can create weird incentives and makes the game that much harder to design for. There’s also stuff like how, much as I enjoy D&D4e, some improvements are in an important illusory. You gain more HP with each level, and +1 to just about every die roll at every even-numbered level, but level-appropriate monsters tend to grow at a comparable rate.[1] One of the many, many brilliant things about the Sacred BBQ RPG is that hit points and accuracy are static and super-simple, and leveling up simply gives you more and better powers to use.

Anyway, I mentioned in my last post how the default Apocalypse World advancement rules are a very poor fit for my gaming group. For Dragon World players will simply get to “gain a level” once per session. This has to be between scenes, and it nets the character a Guts point and an AW-style advancement. With D&D4e in particular my friends and I have found levels to be first and foremost a pacing mechanism, and actual experience points are more important as a way to budget balanced encounters than as a thing to hand out to PCs, since it’s easier and equally effective for the DM to just periodically tell the players to level up. That way the DM is basically saying, “Okay, now it’s time for you guys to do Level X stuff.” I’ve never really liked having individual characters advance at different rates, and tying it to character advancement is, at least for my group, much too strong of an incentive.

Story Threads
I basically tossed out the AW Hx/History mechanic because I find it fiddly and misplaced in Dragon World. But what I love about it is that it creates a story and history between characters, so I’m keeping some semblance of that even if it doesn’t have mechanical force behind it. One thing I’ve been thinking about (and ranting about on Twitter a bit) is that part of why RPGs have traditionally allowed for the risk of death is that they’ve also traditionally been poor at providing tools to help come up with other things that can be at stake. At one extreme there’s old-school D&D where your starting character is, like, a guy with a sword and no particular connection to the world. At the other extreme is something like the Smallville RPG, where PCs basically only die if the player allows it, but they’re bursting with connections and affiliations, and the GM/Watchtower’s main job is to mess with those.

My idea for Dragon World is to take the History concept and extend it a bit beyond History/Connections, though not as crazy as Smallville’s Pathways system, because while there’s a lot to like about Pathways, I really don’t want to have character creation take a full session. The concept I’m going off of is to have something like the Bonds in Dungeon World (where you fill in the blanks of sentences with names), except that the players come up with a short list of NPCs and other elements that can also go into the blanks. This is going to be a fair amount of work of course, and I’m finding that the stuff I wrote for connections/Hx feels a little weak sauce for “story threads.” So, that’s another thing I get to rewrite 11 times over.

Space! Wanna go to space!
Yet another idea that’s been floating around my head that I won’t be actually getting into any time soon is to basically make a sci-fi version of Dragon World, in the vein of stuff like Vandread, Irresponsible Captain Tylor, Tenchi Muyou!, Space Pirate Mito, etc. (Also maybe a little bit of Ryo Kamiya’s Infinite Universe mini-RPG, though that one is ludicrously over the top.) It would of course face the issue that sci-fi doesn’t have nearly as many clear cliches as D&D-ish fantasy, plus I think I’d have to address vehicle combat in some way. I definitely want to give it a name that doesn’t quite make sense, like Universe World or Galaxy World.

Also, I’m looking forward to making a “space cat princess” class that’s a cross between Eris from Asobi ni Iku yo! and Di Gi Charat.

[1]On the other hand everyone concerned tends to forget that you really don’t have to use level-appropriate challenges all the time in 4e. One of the coolest things in the Dark Sun campaign I ran was the PCs escaping with a paragon-tier monster in the form of a skill challenge.

Dragon World: Monsterhearts Lessons

Monsterhearts is one of those things that doesn’t necessarily interest me personally, but where I think it’s awesome that such a thing can exist. It’s an Apocalypse World hack that turns it into a teen paranormal romance game, and does a damn good job of it. It’s a genre that’s easy to make fun of–it’s aimed at women, Twilight is a seminal entry, it’s overdone to the point of getting its own shelf at bookstores–but Joe Macdalno unironically embraces it. I don’t know that it’s a game I’d want to play, but the Skins and Moves point to amazing things happening in it. The Mortal character is basically Bella Swan, and it gives you the tools to explore everything that’s messed up about that, including the things Stephenie Meyer isn’t talented enough to get into. Practically every character type makes me want to see/read something with them. “Twilight, but well-done and the boyfriend is a demon” could be amazing. (I also want a Twilight parody where the Bella type girl has a whole reverse harem of supernatural boys, but that’s neither here nor there.)

The other thing about Monsterhearts is that it really makes the framework of Apocalypse World its own. Dragon World has suffered in some places because I stuck too close to AW, whereas Monsterhearts embraces basic AW exactly as much as it needs to and no more. For example, aside from their sheer flavor, one of the things I like about the Skins in Monsterhearts is how they’re simpler in certain places. Each has only one set of stats (you get to add +1 to any one stat, which reminds me a lot of how certain Japanese TRPGs work), and the range of advancement options always include 2 slots for skin moves, 2 slots for moves from other skins, 1 gang, and a +1 to each of the four stats. Calling them something as simple and evocative as “Skins” is a nice little touch too. Even though I have a million other things to work on, reading Monsterhearts set wheels turning on Dragon World, hence this post.

I’ve done a fair amount of playtesting of Dragon World, and it’s right at that point where I know I’m onto something, but it needs work. I’ve also found that for me at least 3 players is the sweet spot, and 5-6 players is too many. I don’t know how it stacks up with other AW-derived games, but I’ve found that Dragon World requires a certain amount of GM attention per player, especially in terms of making their Temptations and Heart’s Desire relevant.

One of the biggest things I want to change is how character advancement works. Apocalypse World’s experience rules just plain don’t work well for my group. Highlighting stats is easy to forget, and it creates perverse incentives that lead to players trying to spam relevant moves. Monsterhearts includes the “Singleton Rule,” which says that you can’t mark experience from a given move or stat more than once per scene. While I like that idea–and will likely use it as a house rule any time I run AW or its progeny–for Dragon World I’m still planning to just drop the experience marking concept entirely and have players get one advancement per session. There are some other moving parts that tie into marking experience (like History), but after looking at Monsterhearts I’m feeling a lot more confident about slicing things out.

Relationship mechanics are one of those things that are very appealing for certain kinds of games, but a bit difficult to get right. Monsterhearts’ “Strings” system is note-perfect for the particular game. Strings are a currency you gain per character, and you can spend them to get an advantage over someone. Relationship mechanics have the issue that it can be hard to make them able to keep up with what’s going on in role-play, and Strings are ephemeral in just the right way, so that they don’t seem like they’d be trying to dictate or play catch-up with how characters relate to each other except insofar as they convey a very visceral advantage. This is definitely going to influence Slime Story whenever I get back into working on it. As for Dragon World, I’m thinking that while connections are awesome for developing the characters’ stories, the game doesn’t have any great need to assign a number to them. For DW’s source material I think helping or hindering others should work a little differently, and doesn’t really tie into relationships per se.

One of the big things in Dragon World that needs work is Falling Down. Not unlike Toon (or Teenagers From Outer Space), damaged characters are temporarily, comically incapacitated. The difference is that in Dragon World I made it binary–either you stay up or you Fall Down–with the caveat that for powerful enemies you need some kind of MacGuffin to make them Fall Down. As currently written, there’s the issue that PCs can be very resistant to falling down, but when they do fall down it kind of sucks because the player can’t participate in the game until the next scene, and they had no control over it. For a while I’ve been thinking about adding some kind of currency that players can spend to avoid Falling Down, and in turn I’ve been thinking that it would be very genre-appropriate for it to be easier or cheaper to avoid Falling Down by having some kind of freakout (not unlike a Maid RPG Stress Explosion) instead. I’m not sure what to call said currency, but it could well have other uses, and of course interact with certain moves. I definitely want to put a cap on how many a character can accumulate in order to prevent hoarding.

This is in addition to the stuff I was already looking into, notably story moves (a kind of temporary and sometimes detrimental move representing a story element like a curse or a certain situation) and an abstract wealth system aimed at getting PCs into trouble. I’ve also been working on an assortment of NPCs and setting elements, and trying to generally make the text better. I definitely needed a little extra distance from the text to come back to it fresh, and I can see the cracks a lot more clearly now. On the other hand this is a game I really want to play, because if I can pull it off it’ll be bursting with bright, silly fun.