2013 was quite a year for me, plus I haven’t done a proper podcast in ages (literally over 2 years…), so I decided to do an overview of my year, covering the Channel A and Golden Sky Stories Kickstarters, Maid RPG, Fate and Adventures of the Space Patrol, Destiny Dice, Beyond Otaku Dreams, and a few other odds and ends.
This podcast uses selections from the song “Click Click” by Grünemusik, available for free from Jamendo.com. If you like the song, consider buying some CDs from Nankado’s website.
I had started writing a design journal post about Fantasy Friends, and then I realized I had made such a post before and I was mostly rehashing stuff I’d already written about. In a way that kind of typifies a lot of what’s been going on with me in terms of game design: there are a lot of things I have more or less figured out in my head but still need to finish doing the actual writing and such. I think that has a lot to do with the Golden Sky Stories Kickstarter eating up so much of my time, but the good news is that for the purposes of the actual shipping of physical goods part my own work is very nearly done. All of the many physical items are variously already at the warehouse, on their way to the warehouse, or will be going to the warehouse once printing is done. All that’s left for me is to post some updates and handle letting backers update their mailing addresses when the time comes. After that we still want to get the remaining PDF stuff done in a reasonable amount of time, but it’s not going to be nearly as much pressure. Anyway, I decided to write a blog post about what I’ve been generally working on.
One of my major projects right now is Friday Knights, a playset for the currently-Kickstarting Costume Fairy Adventures RPG, the inaugural product from David J. Prokopetz’s Penguin King Games. The game is about cute fairies who wear costumes that give them magical powers (there’s a deck of costume cards) and how they generally get into trouble. I’m writing a scenario/playset where your fairies wind up in a house where there’s a D&D game going on. I’ve made a good start on it, but there’s plenty of writing left to do.
Adventures of the Space Patrol
The other day while googling to see what people were saying about Golden Sky Stories I came across something that gave me pause. Someone had pointed out that in describing the Space Agents I had portrayed the male characters in a variety of ways, but managed to talk about pretty much all of the female characters in terms of being young and pretty. I’ve generally been trying to be better about inclusiveness and diversity, both to better serve my audience and to challenge myself to break dumb cliches, so it caught me off guard that I’d managed to do such a thing without even realizing it. On the plus side, that promptly gave me the idea to make Billy Smith’s mother a playable character, which is a dynamic that you pretty much never see in RPGs. Generally tweaking and playing around with the other characters is also going on my to-do list for the next revision of the game, whenever I can make time for it.
I’m also planning to include more robust rules for creating original characters. While I like having premade ones in many different ways, it seems pretty clear that a big chunk of the RPG audience wants the ability to make solid original characters. I also picked up the Fate System Toolkit. It’s packed with all sorts of ideas, but the one that interests me most is Conditions, though I’m not at all sure whether they’re really the way to go. Something to experiment with in playtesting.
A few people have been asking about Magical Burst. It’s another one of those projects where I’ve pretty much figured out what I want to do, but need to find the time to actually do it. That puts it pretty much at the top of my list of things to do when GSS isn’t eating up quite so much of my life. I also need to find time to sit down and watch more of the magical girl anime that’s come out (the Madoka movies, Day Break Illusion, Fate/kaleid liner Prisma Illya, and I’m sure I’m missing something). Of my many neglected projects Magical Burst is easily the one I most want to make happen, and a Kickstarter is a very distinct possibility once I get the rules nailed down. (Though after my experiences with GSS, I’m definitely going to keep extras and stretch goals on a tight leash next time around.) As I mentioned before I want to continue having a free version of Magical Burst available, something along the lines of how Anima Prime has a no-frills free version and a fancy book with illustrations and such.
I haven’t gotten around to posting it, but I did a revision of America’s Next Top Reality Show, making it so that each card has two title words, plus a demographic listed between. That way the game has 144 title words out of a 72-card deck, and doesn’t need for the players to have dice on hand. The game is working pretty well, though it has a very different energy from Channel A, plus we tend to feel kinda dirty after playing it, in a way that doesn’t happen even with Cards Against Humanity. ANTRS parodies something really prevalent in our culture right now, and potentially in a pretty cutting way, since sometimes it does feel like reality shows use some kind of randomizer.
Fighting Fighters Coliseum is the title I’m tentatively giving to a game that’s going to be a kind of successor to Channel A, still a party game, but with a little bit more in the way of rules. The idea is that instead of titles, you assemble your final attack name from words on cards. The game would also have a set of character cards, which double as both player avatars and opponents, with different special abilities for both. There’s still some details to work out, but putting together a list of words from special attacks was pretty much just a matter of culling through lists of such.
Something’s going to be happening with Maid RPG soon. Nothing earth-shattering, but something. I should be revealing it in about a month or so.
The other day I sent the first draft of Faerie Skies out to backers, along with a request for fans who are from the UK (or just knowledgeable about it) to offer feedback on how I portrayed the English countryside. Thankfully it looks like it’s mostly small details that I missed, and not anything really huge or offensive. As I said in the backer update I’m more of an anglophile than the average American, but I’ve nonetheless lived in California my whole life. On the other hand I’m definitely going to take some liberties with fairy lore, just as Kamiya did with Japanese myths. This is partly because I basically have to make something that works with the GSS rules, and partly just to better fit with what I think would be more fun. Faerie Skies is going to need some fine-tuning and some more playtesting and such, but in the meantime I’ve been working on Fantasy Friends, mainly because being productive helps me not be crazy anxious about the whole Kickstarter thing.
Looking through old Monster Manuals (and the Fiend Folio and Monstrous Compendium and such) for monster ideas was kind of daunting. In AD&D1e the monsters are for the most part terribly vicious things, many of which basically exist because an evil wizard figured out a demented new way to kill incautious adventurers. WotC’s takes on D&D focused that much more on monsters that you fight, and at times it seems to be full of angry, spiky, glowing things, especially in the higher-numbered books. Navigating the game towards having friendly versions of beholders and gelatinous cubes make sense feels a bit daunting, since unlike with more classic mythical creatures the D&D monsters have very seldom been made friendly. (Rusty and Co. is pretty fun though.) Fox spirits could be downright terrifying in Asian myths, and the old, unvarnished fairy lore reads like a long list of things to stay away from if you want to stay alive, but the works of fiction around them make them relatively easy to picture as friendly. (And with fairies, the friendly modern version is now more prevalent, so there’s a lot more about happy pixies and elves and a lot less about Jenny Greenteeth eating children.) In GSS, the henge’s self introductions usually address the myths about them, and in some cases they “debunk” the myths. This is especially true of Kuromu the cat henge, who wholly rejects the veracity of folk tales about bakeneko and nekomata and such.
I realized that for the creatures I want to put into Fantasy Friends I essentially need to carry out this same process, though I have to start a little further back as it were. Under the influence of anime and Discworld and such (plus looking at real life), I hit on the tack that in this fantasy world most beings basically just want to live their lives, and it’s mostly politics, ignorance, and misunderstandings that keep them apart. Without that Dark Lord jerk mucking things up, the so-called Forces of Darkness would just be people (with a rather broad definition of people) being more or less decent to each other. For people in an unremarkable little village, the sight of a beholder or whatever is still quite a shock, but ultimately coexisting is better than fighting for everyone involved.
I also ended up using Mononoke Koyake as my template for how to approach the new set of character types. In MK, each character type has a whole two extra pages that lay out basic info on the character type, eight or so possible reskins, the rules for how they transform, and advice on naming. This was basically the only way to even make a dent in the possibilities presented by “monsters from D&D and similar fantasy works.” I had considered doing something like this for Faerie Skies, but found that it didn’t really feel necessary, as the different types of fae didn’t lend themselves to there being too many sub-types. For D&D-type monsters on the other hand I ended up with things like an Aberration character type, which covers beholders, rust monsters, chimeras, and so forth. The others are Constructs, Dragons, Elementals, Shapeshifters, and Slimes. Some of these can be quite powerful in D&D terms, but then this is where the way that GSS operates somewhat orthogonally to typical RPG concerns is very helpful. In GSS’ later supplements there are new character types like the Elder Henge that have some very potent powers (snake henge actually have some powers that affect time!), but a power that costs a full 20 points of Wonder is unlikely to be usable until the story is winding down in the first place. And perhaps more importantly, when the final objective is to help people and heal relationships and such, special powers only go so far in the first place. I’ve seen Powers like Peek Into Hearts undo a GSS scenario’s Gordian knot, while flashier powers go unused.
One thing I’m adding in that’s pretty much new for GSS is magic items. In game terms these would basically be a “container” for 1-2 Powers and possibly a Weakness, and in story terms they’d essentially be a plot element roughly on the level of an NPC. Characters wouldn’t just own random magic items, but an item could play an important role in the story. Very much like with Faerie Skies, I’m rounding out the book with a sample town (“Grassdale”), some story seeds, and some new NPCs. So far the NPCs are basically just the archetypes that a fantasy town calls for, such as the priest, innkeeper, and hedge wizard, not to mention adventurers.
Overall it’s kind of surprising how different an energy this project has from Faerie Skies. Fantasy Friends is RPG-style fantasy, and while there are some tropes I want to hit, I’m basically making stuff up, whereas for Faerie Skies I culled through about a dozen different books for reference, from classic literature to recent RPGs. Not having to worry about getting a real-life culture right is also rather freeing. The tricky part is the volume of stuff I have to tease out to create a GSS character type. For fairies coming up with 12 powers and 6 weaknesses was basically a matter of digging until I found enough ideas in fairy lore, while D&D monster writeups tend to have relatively few things that can work as GSS-style powers, and in many cases not a lot of other source material on account of having come from the game with little to no basis in myth. Fantasy Friends also feels a lot more like I’m subverting a genre. Taking something with violence at its core–in some cases so much so that it can obscure everything else–and making a nonviolent heartwarming version is challenging yet oddly appealing. Anyway, I should actually get something done instead of sitting here blogging about it, so I’ll stop here.
The pre-release of the Golden Sky Stories PDF is off to backers, which means that people are getting their first taste of the full version of the game. (Also, Channel A has reached most backers, and is now available in the Asmadi Games web store.) We have a ton of stuff to do yet (a good portion of which is in other people’s hands besides mine just now), but I wanted to take some time to talk about what I’ve been doing with Faerie Skies, the first of the two alternate settings I’m developing for GSS.
For Faerie Skies I’m sticking very close to the basic rules of Golden Sky Stories, essentially adding fae as a new group of character types and providing supporting material to go with them. The challenges then are more aesthetic than mechanical, since I’m setting myself the task of creating a suitable take on fairies out of the great mass of folk tales and their many reinterpretations. There are certain major archetypes of fairies, but once you include all the regional variations (even just within the British Isles) there are literally hundreds of different types, often with oddly-spelled Celtic/Gaelic names. With some help from a friend who’s well-read on the subject I’ve settled on a set of six character types: brownies, elves, gnomes, nymphs, pixies, and pucas. The aim is to put together a set of archetypes that cover a reasonably wide range of types of fairies while avoiding a lot of the decidedly non-GSS elements of the folklore. The original folk takes are largely a series of warnings; “stay the hell away for faeries” is the most common moral. I don’t want to wholly go into Disney Fairies territory, but I also need to make something heartwarming for GSS.
In Faerie Skies, elves are specifically the faerie nobility, the Tuatha de Danaan and such, beautiful, magical, and melancholy. Gnomes are workers and creatures of the earth, nymphs are nature spirits (which can be water spirits, wind spirits, dryads, etc. depending on how you flavor them), brownies are helpful household fae, and pucas are shapeshifters with animal traits. On top of that there will be guidelines for using henge and mononoke to create other faerie characters. A cait sith can simply be a cat henge, the Black Dog can be a dog henge or a michinoke (or a bit of both) depending on how you flavor it, a will-’o-the-wisp is hands-down a michinoke (and basically a Western equivalent of a hitodama), and so on.
Teasing out enough material to come up with 12 powers and 6 weaknesses for each character type is one of the more difficult parts, since creatures from folk takes tend to alternately be totally vague or flagrant deus ex machina in terms of the special powers they display. Elves and pixies have been fairly easy to come up with traits for, while brownies have been a lot harder. On the other hand the sum of fairy lore has more potential ideas for powers and weaknesses than even the 108 slots I get from 6 character types, and I may end up making some optional powers and weaknesses players can slot in to further customize characters. (Which is actually the approach they took for the Touhou Yuuyake Koyake book.)
Faerie Skies is also going to include a selection of NPCs, similar to the archetypes included in the GSS rulebook, where they’re not so much character writeups as a delivery system for plot hooks. Some of these are simply more Western/British character types (like the Vicar), while others are people with distinct relationships to the world of the fairies (like the Sighted, who is touched with the ability to see through fae illusions). Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black’s series of children’s books The Spiderwick Chronicles is turning out to be an excellent source of inspiration for how it shows different ways human characters can interact with fairies. Along with the people I’m putting in some animals (like sheep) and faerie creatures (gryphons, unicorns, the White Stag) that might play a role in stories. I’d like to do a writeup of an English town too, though being an American city kid makes that quite a challenge.
Digging into fairy lore and works of fiction for ideas has been a pretty interesting experience. RPGs instilled in me an interest in mythology, and while I wasn’t more interested in fairies than other kinds of mythical creatures (and maybe less so than the likes of the tengu), I always found them interesting, enough so to inspire a flirtation with Changeling: The Dreaming. I’ve also been rediscovering things like the movie Labyrinth that I haven’t been near in ages. All in all this is proving to be a really fun project, though there’s still quite a bit of work to do all around.
Having been a victim of an oddly-spelled Gaelic name my entire life, the likes of the Cait Sith and Gwragedd Annwn have my sympathy.
I’m using the word “pixie” in the modern sense here. In the actual folk tales a pixie is a kind of brownie, and to the extent that the little people with fluttering wings are a thing, they’re more typically called sprites.
It also doesn’t hurt that Mark Hamil did the voices for the audiobook.
Thinking about it now I’m feeling a little nostalgic for trips to the Sunnyvale library, which had among other things a bunch of AD&D books and stuff like Folk Legends of Japan.
I probably should take some time to mention here that the Golden Sky Stories Kickstarter has launched at long last. We’ve been just totally blown away by the level of support we’ve gotten, and while we were confident we would get funded, it’s massively exceeded our expectations, blowing through $18,000 worth of stretch goals in about a day and a half. Or to put it in perspective, we’re neck and neck with Evil Hat’s Fate Dice Kickstarter.
You can read about GSS in more detail on the Kickstarter page and its updates and comments. Right now we’re in the process of working out additional rewards and stretch goals and some other issues, and we’ll be doing a major update soon. The whole thing’s been really emotional for me–including a hefty, powerful dose of stress if I’m perfectly honest–but also unbelievably gratifying. We worked really hard on this–and we have a good deal more hard work ahead of us–and people are responding far more than we’d dared to hope.
(Also, I just got interviewed for an episode of The Jennisodes, though it’ll be a few weeks before that episode goes live.)
Also well worth your time if you do anything that uses Fudge Dice, though the Fudge Dice Infusion KS is the one that needs some backer love if it’s going to succeed. Also, I think I might be one of the very few people on the planet who actually has too many Fudge dice already, as I have two GM packs from Grey Ghost, the wizard set from Evil Hat, and four red runic Fudge dice from Q-Workshop.
Some time in June or July I’m going to place an order for 2,000+ books. And those books are going to have to go somewhere, and at current count a lot of them are going to have to go to about 700 separate people.
Golden Sky Stories is taking even longer than the overly long time it had been taking, mainly on account of Real Life being difficult for us. I’m hoping to finally launch the Kickstarter in early 2013. The layout is now just about done barring a couple of tiny corrections, and we’re close to getting the math lined up for the Kickstarter. In the meantime I’ve got a little treat for anyone who’s been interested in learning more about the game.
“The Broken Window” is a Golden Sky Stories replay made from a recording of a game session I ran for some friends a few years back. I put it together in order to give readers some idea of what a typical session is like, though GSS is quite unlike a typical RPG in many ways. The PDF has original art by Sue-chan, layout by Clay Gardner, and copious footnotes to help you understand what’s going on. The story is about how a broken window ultimately led to new friendships.
An Aside on Writing Replays
This was the first time I typed up a replay. I don’t know that I’ll make a habit of making them (if nothing else in subsequent attempts to record game sessions I started feeling like having a recorder was kind of a jinx or something), but it was an interesting experience all the same. It wasn’t as painstaking and irritating as the transcriptions I did for a linguistics class that one time, but it really exposed the differences between spoken and written language. In face-to-face role-playing we really do use inflection and gesture a lot, things that are hard to capture in writing. This was that much more of a problem because I was trying to transcribe a 2-year-old audio recording. There were times when one of my friends would say something like, “And then I go boop!” and me from 2 years ago totally understood, but in the present I had to guess. It may be our Northern California dialect, but we also say “okay” and “like” a whole lot, and it’s only really obvious when I’m trying to transcribe stuff and every line seems to start with “Okay,” and include an unnecessary “like.” It was a lot of work to type up, but not too bad, especially since the entire recording was only 90 minutes. After doing this, I think I’d like to see more replays in general, because they force you to engage role-playing in a different way, especially if you’re the one doing the writing.
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.
Lately there’s been some discussion of some pretty awful stuff that happens in the RPG scene, to the point where I get genuinely tempted to distance myself from the whole thing. I’ve been working on a blog post trying to address some of the awfulness, but it’s long and depressing and given the kinds of discussion that sort of thing can attract I’m not sure I can really handle it at the moment.
Right now I want to blog about something more pleasant. I want to talk about happy, pleasant RPGs. It can be frustrating to try to talk to people about these kinds of things, and I see two major reasons. One is that violence is so ingrained into RPGs that many people just can’t even comprehend how you could have one without it, much less how it could be fun. The other is that I’ve found that any time you propose doing something unconventional in an RPG design, people act as though you’re demanding that the entire hobby should be that way from now on. I’m very big on variety, and while I’ve been involved in some very memorable long-term campaigns, to me the sheer variety of games available is one of the best things about the RPG scene we have today. When I say I want to see heartwarming, non-violent RPGs, I’m saying so from personal experiences that show to me that they can be great, and I mean I want to see them alongside all kinds of other games.
I figure we’re a bit overdue for an update on what’s going on with Golden Sky Stories, so here goes. Right now the plan is to launch the GSS Kickstarter on the heels of Tenra Bansho Zero‘s Kickstarter. Assuming Andy and Luke keep on schedule, that means we should be launching the GSS Kickstarter around the end of June. That means we have a couple more months, and we’ll be using that time to get everything in order so that when we do our own Kickstarter we’ll be that much more able to get everything out to everyone without undue delay.
Slow and Steady Does the Layout
The graphic designer for Golden Sky Stories is none other than Clay Gardner. He is the designer of OVA: Open Versatile Anime, and has done graphic design work for a huge variety of projects, including several games from Minion Games. The original Japanese version of Golden Sky Stories was already a feast for the eyes, but Clay is using his graphic design skills to add another layer of polish all the same. He recently put up a blog post where he shows off what he’s doing with the power descriptions for rabbit henge. Clay’s currently about halfway done with the layout, and I’m really liking how it’s looking so far.
A while ago I hit on the idea of making a new, original character type for GSS as a Kickstarter reward. Ben Lehman (who you may know from games like Polaris and Bliss Stage) stepped up and offered to try his hand. About a day later he sent me his first draft of a writeup for fish henge. We’ll be doing some refinements between now and the Kickstarter of course, but Ben’s writeup is already wonderfully whimsical and mythical. It’s a bit of an “advanced” character type that’ll be a little tricky to play.
I’ve also been working on a writeup for “pony henge,” which are indeed partly inspired by My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, albeit with plenty of elements inspired by reading up on horses on Wikipedia. Looking up idioms/cliches about an animal is a great way to come up with powers for henge by the way. I’m still working out what exactly to do with these new writeups, but at present I’m thinking of having the fish henge be a Kickstarter exclusive and having the pony henge be a freebie.