Tag Archives: Dragon World

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.

Dragon World Hack (v0.1)

Dragon World is my Apocalypse World hack for stuff inspired by 90s comedy fantasy anime, and to a lesser extent the silly parts of a typical D&D campaign. I was most directly inspired by Dragon Half and Slayers, but quite a bit of other stuff crept in. This is a very silly game, and the MC (or rather the “Dragon Master”) section is in part a distillation of what I learned from running Toon and Maid RPG.

I decided to put a rough version of it up on the site for people to enjoy and hopefully play a bit. This is the “hack” version, which lacks explanations of some of the basic rules, such that you’ll need a copy of Apocalypse World (or at least to be well-versed in the basics of AW) in order to play. It’s had a little bit of playtesting, such that I refined the basic moves and the Pure Sacrifice, Dumb Fighter, and Conniving Thief character types a bit, but there’s also a lot of stuff I finished up in one big rush over the weekend.

Download Dragon World Hack v0.1 (PDF)
Dragon World Hack Playbooks and Basic Move Reference Sheet

Other Ideas
I’m pretty happy with the selection of character types here, but I literally have about 30 ideas for others, plus I’ve found that the game very frequently inspires people to suggest new ones as well. If I publish a proper book, there’s a very good chance I’ll end up doing some kind of compendium of character types as a supplement. I’m also going to be working more on a few other possible things for the rules, and a section with setting and NPC ideas.

“Story moves” are kind of a neat little thing I came up with the other day but haven’t implemented yet. I’ve been reading through the Discworld novels from the beginning (which is why stuff like Failed Wizard, Oblivious Tourist, and Octogenarian Barbarian crept into my list of possible character types), and in the first two books there’s the thing about how Rincewind has one of the eight great spells from the Octavo stuck in his head and all the trouble it causes. A story move is a thing like that, represented as a special move that at turns helps and hinders the character, and also has an end condition of some kind, after which you lose the move and get a free advance.

Steven Savage suggested adding a wealth system, which would basically be a special stat shared by the group that would fluctuate depending on when they bought major stuff or found treasure, and there would be treasure with associated custom moves to make their lives more interesting. It could fit in nicely with Temptations and make room for some kind of merchant character type, but I’m still thinking about it.

2011 in Review

I’m apparently making a yearly review post a regular thing now. Also, I’ve been hugely inspired to blog over the past couple weeks, but then there have genuinely been a lot of exciting things going on.

Actual Gaming
This past year I did a lot of gaming with my Friday group, which has been going through a series of short campaigns for some time. Our longest game was also our best. We started off playing Smallville and then switched over to Primetime Adventures, which wound up working out incredibly well. The game was kind of a Smallville-ish thing, a present-day setting where people with superpowers were emerging (to the chagrin of the Greek gods), without any real DC-inspired elements per se. That was what inspired me to write Entanglements, which got its first test run as part of the setup for our “Ameripunk” Wushu game (my character was a bibliomancer trained by Mark Twain and entrusted with the Amerinomicon). I do still need to make some refinements to Entanglements, but it seems to work pretty well.

For a variety of reasons what had been my “main” group heavily dropped off gaming. We did get in some D&D and had a ton of fun with Gamma World, but we nonetheless went from gaming most weekends to someone maybe getting a bit of something together every other month. I think it has a lot to do with human factors more than anything. With working 40 hours a week, attending another game group, and hanging out with friends most Mondays, I’ve tended to spend the better part of most weekends writing and recuperating from the prior week. It also doesn’t help that our game of choice is D&D4e, which while definitely easier on the DM than 3rd Edition nonetheless takes a fair amount of work to run. I tried to run a Dark Sun game, but I kept ending up having plans slapped together an hour or two before the game started. I’m hoping to rope that group into playing Dragon World, because it’s a fun game I can bullshit my way through running, and because if our D&D games are any indication we can definitely get into the right spirit. We’re also getting back a member who’s been absent for a few years, and I’m hoping that will help reinvigorate our gaming.

Conventions and Whatnot
This year also saw the first time I ran a convention booth by myself, first at a tiny anime convention called Kin-Yoobi Con, and then at the Alternative Press Expo. Both were interesting learning experiences, though by the end of APE I was ready to swear of cons for a while. Anime fans are definitely more receptive to RPGs than indie comics fans though. Neko Machi had kind of a rough second year too, and we’re hoping to reinvent it somewhat (with a format change and such) and relaunch in early 2012.

Game Projects
I only did two Kyawaii RPG things this year, and one of them I started and finished yesterday. I still have like half a dozen unfinished ones that I’d like to work on and haven’t touched.

The anime series Madoka Magica was a massive thing in 2011. For me personally it was the dark deconstruction of the magical girl genre I’d been wanting for years, and it inspired me to design an RPG that I titled “Magical Burst.” I have far too many works in progress, but this is easily the most promising and most popular. I put the rough drafts of the game online just for people to read, and it totally took off, becoming a standard of the 4chan /tg/ crowd. I keep coming across threads where people suggest it, and in one case I came across an unfinished Black Rock Shooter game where the creators had thrown up their hands and said, “Just use Magical Burst.” I don’t know how much is my accomplishment as a designer (there are parts of it that make me wince) and how much is other factors, but it’s helping motivate me to actually get the game done for a change.

Dragon World is the other new game I started on, and it proved very fun to both work on and to play (when we did a 3-session playtest). The idea came from when I finally got around to reading the Dragon Half manga, and this “90s comedy fantasy anime” game also draws inspiration from Slayers and a host of other titles. It’s based on the Apocalypse World rules, though of course with plenty of changes for the game’s very different genre. I’m planning to put a “Dragon World Hack” PDF up for free once I get some more things done.

Golden Sky Stories is of course the Japanese RPG I translated and that we’re gearing up to do a Kickstarter to publish. I’ve posted a good amount about it already, but I’m really excited to finally get it out into the world. I’m also working on putting together an original replay that’ll be a free preview of the game in English. I have the rough manuscript and artwork all ready in fact, so I’m just waiting for a friend to tackle the editing and layout. For the game itself, Clay is still working on the layout, and for the Kickstarter I basically just need to wait for my friend to finish up tweaking the video and fill out stuff on the Kickstarter backend for the launch.

Gamer Culture and New Stuff
I’ve made a habit of lurking in the grognards.txt thread on Something Awful. It’s a collection of the most terrible things said by grognards, and is up to about 1500 pages now. It’s kind of therapeutic at times, and it’s helped me get a better perspective on how D&D has changed over time. Probably the biggest lesson from grognards.txt however is simply: people are at their best when they’re actually doing stuff they like instead of bitching about things they don’t like. There are OSR blogs that come off as obnoxious and curmudgeony (at best) when talking about RPGs published less than 20 years ago, and yet when they’re earnestly expressing their passion for old-school swords and sorcery I want to cheer[1]. I’m also contemplating doing a “grognards.mp3″ podcast episode with dramatic readings, though with everything going on it’s been really damn hard to find time for podcasting. I have a whole solo episode recorded that I haven’t had time to edit.

For a while now I’ve been interested in trying to expand the medium of RPGs in new directions, particularly in terms of components and presentation. I’ve talked before about looking into using board game components (and I still want an RPG that makes good use of a spinner!), and I love how (for example) Jake Richmond is making good use of comics to teach people how to play his newer games. In December I hit on the idea of making an RPG in the form of a smartphone app and designing it around that medium as much as possible, an idea that won the “Brain Full of Games” contest, which consequently has me starting on a design document for Raspberry Heaven (my Azumanga Daioh inspired slice of life schoolgirl game) as an “RPG app.” I’m already talking to some programmers, so things stand to get really exciting on that front in 2012.

I’ve come to be a bit irritated at gamers, at least as represented on online forums, for how they can come across as having desperately narrow tastes in RPGs. For my part there are things that don’t interest me (board games, horror, zombies… I could go on), but there’s almost nothing in the way of RPGs I wouldn’t be willing to play if a friend really wanted to run it. And yet, if you propose any slight deviation from the books and (standard) dice formula you’ll get a chorus of naysayers. But on the other hand I’ve realized that there are a lot of potential design elements that are uncommon in RPGs in part because they’re difficult to use well. I think part of why resource-based diceless games are rare (for example) is that they only really work when you depart at least somewhat from the traditional paradigm of rolling for success and failure. An RPG that’s totally ordinary except for having players spend points instead of rolling dice for action checks is creating a bunch of perverse incentives and substantially changing the basic flow of things in an awkward way. On the other hand Golden Sky Stories works as a resource based game mainly because the tone of it is so non-competitive.

When all is said and done my desire to mess around with the medium is driven not so much by a desire to find a blue ocean strategy that’ll be a giant success or something, but rather the tantalizing creative challenges. I’ve lost some sleep over ideas for the Raspberry Heaven app, in part because there are so many things I can do differently from an analog RPG that I find just fascinating. I’ve also just started reading up a bit on interface design and such for mobile apps, and given that these days I rarely have my iPhone more than a few feet away from me for any length of time, taking a closer look at this thing that’s so ubiquitous in my everyday life would be really interesting even if I weren’t looking to design an app. I’m hoping that if I can get the Raspberry Heaven app off the ground it’ll at the very least merit making more attempts at this newish kind of game.

At this point 2012 is looking to be a really exciting year of making stuff happen. It’s hard to say what stuff specifically, though I sure has hell want Golden Sky Stories to be out the door and into people’s hands.

[1]On the other hand any discussions of sexism anywhere near the context of gaming seems all but guaranteed to produce posts that are maddening or just depressing depending on how tired I am.

Yaruki Zero Podcast #18: Cel*Style With Jake Richmond

Yaruki Zero Podcast #18 (45 minutes, 19 seconds)

This is Jake Richmond’s second appearance on the podcast (the first was Episode #11, back in late 2009), and he joined me to talk about Cel*Style, his new games, and his experiences selling and promoting those games at anime conventions like SakuraCon. I’m also a contributor to the tabletop gaming news site MiniEnt, and a more succinct written article is available there.

  1. Let’s Talk About Neat Things: Jake is interested in the food cart scene in Portland and wants to start one to sell awesome noodles. Ewen’s been geeking out about Slayers because of Dragon World.
  2. What is Cel*Style?
  3. Some other neat Cel*Style Games; Anima Prime, Tulip Academy
  4. Girl x Boy
  5. Panty Explosion Perfect
  6. The infamous head-punching incidents (also recounted on Found in the Alley, but this is the extended version)
  7. Selling at Anime Cons
  8. Future Games

This podcast uses selections from the song “Time Machine” by To-den from the Grünemusik album of the same name, available for free from Jamendo.com. If you like the song, consider buying some CDs from Nankado’s website or via Jamendo.

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

Design Journal: Dragon World

“Something is wrong with these people, and I don’t know what it is.”

I’ve said it before, but Apocalypse World provides a fascinating framework to work with. There have been certain big hit games that have thrived in part by encouraging hacks and customization. Fiasco’s playsets are an obvious example, and there are AW hacks, IaWA oracles, and Technoir‘s transmissions are poised to become the next example of this phenomenon. Technoir also joins AW in having a printable player reference book[1], an idea I think I’ll have to try for quite a few of the games I’m working on.

The more I work with moves, the more fun I have with them. Where AW has moves that play into desperate badassery, Dragon World moves reinforce a very different kind of fiction. I’ve ended up writing a lot of moves that say things like “You end up looking stupid in front of everyone.” Writing up moves for the different character types is proving a little harder, and I suspect that’s where a lot of the real challenge of this thing is going to come from. Here’s my first draft of the Explosive Mage character type, which is basically for players who want a character like Lina Inverse from Slayers. I’m not satisfied with the moves yet.

Writing the MC moves for Dragon World is really interesting too, since in a sense I’m trying to distill my own best practices for running silly games like Maid RPG. And when I think about it that way, it becomes incredibly awesome in my head, since it means I’m using ideas and techniques that go back to when I first got my copy of Toon back in middle school, literally something like 20 years ago[2]. I’m too intuitive a designer to make some grand point about how humorous RPGs should work, but I think I’m on the track with Principles like “Break your toys in the name of comedy.” Comedy is subjective and challenging and all that, but I think if an RPG can give players better tools for, say, horror, then the same is surely true of humor.

The thing that’s been sticking in my head for quite a while now is how slapstick characters react to physical punishment. Toon handles this by having Hit Points[3], except if you run out you Fall Down for three minutes and come back. A while back I dug out my Toon rulebook and ran a session. It was a lot of fun, but the whole time part of my brain was saying, “Cartoon characters don’t have hit points!” I’m still feeling out how to handle this kind of thing, but I think that cartoon physics work more on a scheme where characters are fine until they hit a certain threshold, whereupon they Fall Down, and then the scene changes shortly thereafter. Right now I’m trying to figure out how to implement that, and especially how to implement it gracefully within the framework of Apocalypse World’s rules. The big problem with a binary system like that is making it work appropriately for a genre where powerful evil overlords are pretty much a given. For that I think I’m going to have to sit down and really rigorously brainstorm.

Also, it occurs to me that if I finish this and try to publish it, finding someone who can do the right style of art is going to be a challenge.

[1]Though AW’s ludography mentions that Vincent got the idea from XXXXtreme Street Luge.

[2]The fact that there are notable things in my life that were 20 years ago makes me feel old, though my grandma would tell me that I’m nowhere near old yet.

[3]Specifically, a Toon character gets 1d6+6 HP, and things typically do 1d6 damage. Also, I’m trying to not think about rewriting Toon to use AW moves.

Yet Another Project: Dragon World

I may need to come up with a better name, but I ended up starting up yet another RPG project. I’ve been reading an obscure and in my opinion tragically overlooked manga called Dragon Half. When the renowned warrior Rouce went to slay a dangerous red dragon, he ended up marrying her instead, and the result of their union was Mink, a “dragon half.” She’s ridiculously strong, but all she really wants is to meet the handsome monster hunter/pop idol Dick Saucer. The magna got a 2-episode OAV series, which barely touches on Mink’s grand adventures. (There are, however, scanlations out there…) Webcomic artist Josh Lesnick also cites Dragon Half creator Ryusuke Mita as one of his major influences, and having finally read the manga I can definitely see why.

It occurred to me that Dragon Half is part of a genre of anime/manga, along with titles like Slayers, Maze, Ruin Explorers, and Those Who Hunt Elves, and that I really enjoy that genre. I don’t really go in for the nostalgic lamenting of the current state of the anime industry that’s become so trendy these days, but there is something I miss about the style of anime that made me such a fan back in the 90s. Since I’ve had Apocalypse World on the brain after it helped me get over a major design block with Magical Burst, it occurred to me that I could probably rejigger the basic rules of AW to make a game for that genre. AW’s moves–both player and MC moves–really reinforce the genre, and changing them is a very powerful tool to make a game that does what you want it to. I’ve tentatively titled it “Dragon World.” Thanks to Dragon Quest, in Japan “dragon” strongly evokes Japanese-style Western fantasy, but I already get it mixed up with Dungeon World in my head, so I’m going to be on the lookout for a different title.

Rules-wise I’m probably going to drop the concepts of harm, gear, and barter (i.e., a lot of the stuff that puts the apocalypse-y stuff in AW). I need to explore the idea more, but I’m increasingly of the opinion that rather than having “hit points” or whatever, characters in a very comedic world (whether wacky anime or Looney Tunes) should have more of a threshold before they fall down, after which the scene ends and the action jump-cuts to whatever consequences there are. (Though in Dragon Half if the foe is a disposable monster they’ll often jump cut to Mink and company eating its roasted carcass.) Likewise, gear tends to be part of characters’ overall shtick (like Gourry and his Sword of Light) and money will tend to be ephemeral one way or another (food bills, thievery, etc.).

My tentative list of character types goes:

  • Adorable Mascot (Mappy from Dragon Half)
  • Conniving Thief
  • Dodgy Alchemist
  • Dumb Fighter (Gourry from Slayers)
  • Explosive Mage (Lina Inverse)
  • Half Dragon (Mink)
  • Nutjob Cleric (Amelia from Slayers)
  • Tweaky Shaman (a nuttier version of Fam from Ruin Explorers)
  • Useless Bard (pre-4e stereotypes of D&D bards, and a bit of Lufa from Dragon Half)

The MC moves are especially interesting to work on, since they very directly relate to the flow of the fiction (and I’m going to have to start watching relevant titles with an eye towards how stuff works in terms of moves), so there’s stuff like add silliness and introduce a new version of an old nuisance.

The other thing about AW that’s striking is the sheer economy of it. The rulebook feels like it’s written as though the book is a necessary evil for conveying the game, and it’s very clear that this is the right way to play/run the game. Moves often take up one to three sentences where other games would write them as a paragraph; AW gives an evocative name and the minimum text to tell you what a move does, and continues to the next one. Given my penchant for overwriting my games, the game’s economy of prose may turn out to be a good influence, but time will tell.

Mostly, this is a project that seems like it’ll be really fun to work on and even more fun to play. I started a thread on the AW forums, though the response has been kind of anemic so far, not that I expect a huge overlap between Apocalypse World tinkerers and Slayers fans. Anyway, I just wanted to toss this out there.