Category Archives: projects

More on Kagegami High

Since it’s about the only thing I’ve made any real progress on lately, I might as well post a bit more about Kagegami High.

Early on I laid out a bunch of tables and other stuff to built out the setting and the game, and the lion’s share of the additional writing I need to do is simply completing the tasks I’ve set for myself, like writing up the 36 classmates and 18 faculty members, and filling out a bunch of random event tables for different general situations.

Aesthetics

I’ve ended up spending a lot of time adding visual elements to Kagegami High, and far more of them than for pretty much anything I’ve done before. Despite that, at least for now I haven’t commissioned any original artwork and probably won’t unless I decide I want to crowdfund an updated/deluxe version of the game. The game’s source material includes a lot of titles that tend to express things in ways other than illustrations, and what visuals there are for Welcome to Night Vale tend to be the sort that allude and imply things rather than showing them outright. The purple Night Vale logo with a crescent moon inside of an eye really sets the mood for the audio content, and in a way it makes sense to do something like that for a certain kind of role-playing game.

I’ve been using the Noun Project a lot in my various games and such (to the point where the $9.99 a month for a pro subscription has been well worth it for me), and the black and while symbols for things have been incredibly useful for Kagegami High, both as-is and as raw materials for creating the things I actually want. While it was a simple matter to get an icon of a soccer ball to be the symbol of the school’s soccer club, for the “Popular Girls Club” I used two existing icons to build the one I wanted:

popular

The other thing I’ve been able to do is make weird schoolgirl silhouettes to scatter throughout the book. It took me a little while to figure out the right process for this, and now I may have gone a little overboard.

  1. I start with stock art, usually from DLSite or one of the many sites offering stock art for RPG Maker. In both cases the key search term to know is 絵素材 (esozai) literally “picture materials,” but basically “stock art.” Not all of these are at print resolution, but that’s one of the benefits of making them into silhouettes and vectorizing them.
  2. In Photoshop, press Ctrl-U to get the Hue/Saturation adjustment dialog, and drag the Lightness slider all the way to the left to make the entire thing black. (Though you may need to use a paintbrush to fill in any white spots left over.)
  3. Open the image in Illustrator (or paste it in).
  4. Click on Image Trace to create a vector version. Maybe tweak the settings a little to get it how you want. Click Expand, then use the Ungroup command to separate the new vector object from the original raster image. Get rid of any extraneous stuff left over from the conversion.
  5. Once I have the vectorized silhouette, it’s pretty easy to take some Noun Project elements and turn it into something especially weird. The Noun Project’s app for macOS lets you drag and drop, making that step super easy, but it’s not too big a deal to download the SVG file instead. Regardless, the Live Paint tool is invaluable here since it lets you easily fill in parts of objects, much like the paint bucket tool in Photoshop. In the example below, I started with this eye icon, and filled the pupil with black and the white with, you know, white, so that it didn’t totally disappear when placed on top of the silhouette. Thus we have a gangly schoolgirl with one vividly visible eye, and in a form that can print smoothly at any scale.
  6. Since I’m still doing layouts in Word for some reason, I save it as an EPS file, which I can then embed into the Word doc.

untitled-1So yeah. Between icons and silhouettes and a few other things, the book will probably have a few hundred visual elements (in addition to some shenanigans with fonts and Unicode characters and such). It’s something that fits this particular game really well and wouldn’t work most of the time, but I’ve been very pleased with the results, and not just because it’s inexpensive.

Rules Stuff

The rules are another thing that I’ve given more attention that I expected to. Early on in the process I started by literally copying and pasting the rules section from Schoolgirl RPG as a starting point, which is to say I began with the lightest possible implementation of the Maid RPG rules, and from there I got inspired to make some important changes.

The biggest thing was that the Ghostbusters RPG and Spooktacular made such an impression on me that I decided to graft a variant of that dice system onto M.A.I.D. Engine chassis. Rolling a bunch of dice has smoother probabilities and is just more viscerally fun than rolling a single die, and the Ghost Die (which becomes the “Weird Die” in Kagegami High) generally adds a lot of fun. While the notion of something hilariously screwing you over doesn’t fit as well, having a die trigger something weird (which can just be a random event if all else fails) works nicely. (It also gives me an excuse to get custom Weird Dice made!) This also consequently meant that the scale for stats needed to be a little wider (1-6 instead of 0-4), and generally led to some tweaks elsewhere in the game.

I also added Principles and GM Moves, descended from the principles and MC moves of Apocalypse World. These are essentially a distillation of the techniques I’ve worked out for playing/running Maid RPG, adjusted for how I envision Kagegami High working. The GM moves are a little different from AW’s MC moves in that some of them fall into the realm of actual mechanics, presenting stuff like calling for random events and assigning Awesome Points into that clear format.

The most recent–and most experimental–addition is the concept of “invoking a trait,” which lets players spend Awesome Points to leverage a Special Quality or other trait into making something happen in the fiction. It’s tricky because unlike Fate (where the idea came from, of course) Maid RPG wasn’t designed from the ground up with that sort of thing in mind, but I definitely do like the idea of having a procedure for making Special Qualities and such come into the game in an interesting way.

There’s still plenty left to do, but I’m definitely looking forward to playtesting and eventually publishing this one.

Spooktacular

My deluge of freelance work has evened out a little, so I’ve had some time to seriously work on Spooktacular, to the point where I’m starting the first playtest. The core idea of it is simply to make an updated and streamlined serial-numbers-filed-off version of the 1986 West End Games Ghostbusters RPG, but it’s been a really fun and interesting project to work on so far. (Also, Amy Veeres is contributing some writing.) As things stand it’s most likely going to be a PDF/POD Yaruki Zero Games release. Most of my printed self-published stuff has been in 6″x9″ format so far, but I’ve been trying out and generally liking 7″x10″ lately. Part of it is just that it’s big enough that my habit of including a bunch of tables doesn’t require too much squeezing. Anyway.

I think I would sum up my overall approach as taking the core mechanics from the original RPG and more or less doing the rest by way of my own ideas and inspirations, creating a take on busting ghosts that’s uniquely mine, based on the related media and games I like and my own ideas about the whole thing. Stuff like InSpectres, Buffy, and Mob Psycho 100 (a currently airing anime series) played into the themes, and games like Apocalypse World, Maid RPG, PDQ, and Risus influenced the design.

ecto

Themes and Stuff

Coming at this as an adult fan has let me more seriously examine the themes behind Ghostbusters and write about my own take on it. The original movie was more about running a business, while the remake is more about science and skepticism, and I find both pretty interesting. The appeal of the overall franchise I think is in that where horror movies tell us that the unknown is deadly and only barely survivable, here the paranormal is not only something people can defeat, but something that can become another job. While there are serious challenges and the possible end of the world to consider, Ghostbusters also deal with a lot of ghosts with all the nonchalance of an exterminator spraying for termites.

I’ve realized that while the characters can and probably should be a bit weird and quirky, it’s like Fiasco in terms of being something that works best with relatively normal characters rather than cartoons. A lot of the appeal and humor comes from the juxtaposition of supernatural horrors with that mundane aspect. Ghosts as a verifiable phenomenon and the busting thereof are things that the premise superimposes on an otherwise pretty ordinary world, and it’s really interesting to think about what those ripples result in. (To me that’s one place where Ghostbusters II kind of fell down, since it tried too hard to “reset” the characters back to being nobodies who had to start from square one.)

One of my favorite parts of the book so far (and the one Amy is contributing to) is the “Interesting Places to Hunt Ghosts” section, which profiles various cities in terms of what it’s like to be a paranormal investigator there. I started with places I’m familiar with–San Francisco, Albuquerque, and Washington D.C.–and Amy is adding Philadelphia, Kyoto, and London. While I have nothing against New York, I’ve never been (I’d like to some time), and for me the personalized specificity of SF or Washington is much more interesting to me personally. I can imagine busting ghosts on Capitol Hill or a Google bus plodding down Market Street much more vividly than the streets of New York, and bringing that kind of personal experience to the table helps it feel more grounded.

Game Mechanics

While I kept most of the very core conceits of the original game, I am making some changes, a mixture of personal preference and general attempts to improve it.

The biggest change I made to character creation was simply adding a bunch of optional d66 tables for the various things you have to come up with. This is a technique I first came up with for Magical Burst (inspired by Maid RPG), and it’s served me well in a bunch of other games since. It’s a way to present a bunch of examples, provide a quick out for anyone who’s stumped, and gently shape the tone of the game, so it’s something I’ve wound up using a lot in my various games. I’m also inordinately happy with adding “Ate a Telephone Once” to the table of Quirks as a nod to the GBRPG rulebook’s penchant for using eating a telephone as an example.

The second biggest change is the addition of Archetypes, which give you a broad character type (Charlatan, Parapsychologist, Esper, etc.) and a special ability that you can use by spending Awesome Points (which are Brownie Points under a different name). While I do like the addition to the game, it’s becoming clear that I need good reference materials to keep it from becoming a drag on character creation.

In 1989, WEG put out a second edition of the RPG called Ghostbusters International, but fans by and large found that it overcomplicated the game. I’ve tried to implement a handful of ideas from it while streamlining it as much as possible. One of the major things that GBI does that looks like it would pointlessly slow down play is to use margins of success a lot. While you have the option to just treat it as a binary pass/fail, the game encourages you to subtract the target number from the roll result and compare it to a chart to see how much the character succeeded by, which is kind of a lot of extra math to pack into every single roll in what it supposed to be a pretty freewheeling game. We’ll see if it survives playtesting, but I came up with the concept of Exceptional Success and Ridiculous Success for when you succeed by 10 or 20 points (respectively), which I’m hoping will make it easy to do something with crazy rolls without excessive math involved. Likewise, I added the concept of damage to stats from GBI (with a little inspiration from Risus and PDQ), but tried to simplify it as much as possible.

I did away with any semblance of initiative or movement rules (not that the original game had a whole lot of that), and instead basically wrote a couple paragraphs about doing it the way Apocalypse World does (which also happens to be more or less how Maid RPG does it).

Anyway

I’m hoping this will be a fun game, and my own unique take on something that was a defining part of my childhood. (an obsession that the new movie actually rekindled stronger than ever). It’s generally been really fun to work on, and I’ve already commissioned James Workman (who did the illustrations for Fantasy Friends) to do some artwork for it.

Kagegami High

I haven’t written about it all that much here, but lately I’ve been working pretty intently on Kagegami High. Of my self-published games, Schoolgirl RPG is the most spontaneous and also one of the most successful. I ended up making quite a bit of material for it, put together a Complete Edition (with a POD version available), and then giving it a rest. When I decided to come back to the game, I had the idea to create a book that presents a premade setting, a high school with explanations of places, students, teachers, etc. I’d barely gotten started on brainstorming for that when the idea for Kagegami High took over.

Kagegami High Cover_

Continue reading Kagegami High

Channel A Reprint

Asmadi Games launched the Kickstarter for Channel A in early 2013, and since then the game’s been enough of a success to sell out its entire first printing. I’ve had a lot of people say some very nice things about it, and one game designer said they played it at his wedding even. There are also multiple YouTube videos of people playing it, including one featuring ladies in bikinis that I don’t really know how to react to.

Anyway, I’ve been getting a lot of people asking where they can actually get the game. For a while there were still some copies floating around some retailers, but that’s pretty much dried up for now, leaving only the barebones PNP version for people who want to try it out. I’ve been talking to Chris at Asmadi Games about it for a while, and we finally figured out how to handle things.

Asmadi is now holding a preorder drive for the reprint. We need 500 preorders into order to launch the reprint. On the plus side, for $32 you will get not only the game, but the new A-Soft expansion (which lets you play the game as a contest to pitch weird video games, and which will probably go for $10 when sold separately) as well, with shipping included. If you’re interested, you can put your preorder at the Asmadi Games store.

banner_ChannelA

I’m still working on the Chaos Edition that I’ve discussed a bit before, which will be a standalone expansion that adds some nifty new twists to the gameplay, but those new twists mean that I have to do more playtesting. In the meantime your help getting the reprint and A-Soft off the ground would be hugely appreciated.

More On Pix

I’ve been working on Pix quite a bit since I last blogged about it, and while there’s plenty left to do, I’ve made some considerable progress.

CatkdpeW8AEw4bl.png_large
A placeholder cover thing.

Hybridization
Pix is a lot of different things coming together, and it reflects my unique influences and style all throughout.

On a pure design level, it’s a deliberate and transparent blend of two of my most important game design influences, Golden Sky Stories and Apocalypse World. I’ve ended up writing a pretty enormous amount of GSS material, and I’ve reached a point where the vast majority of my game design efforts have a significant amount of AW’s DNA in them, particularly in terms of moves and principles. While I adore GSS overall, I’m in the odd position of having written around 150 pages of material for it, including 13 original character types. (4 more and I’ll be tied with Kamiya himself.) With Pix I have the freedom to tweak every little rule however I want, and it’s decidedly refreshing to just get in and tinker like that.

Undertale was a vitally important source of inspiration for Pix (and the selection of character options will let you make reasonable facsimiles of most of the cast), but a dozen or so other titles inform its sensibilities to varying degrees, including Homestuck, Steven Universe, and Adventure Time. There’s enough of a melange of influences and creative choices that to me at least Pix doesn’t feel like it quite mimics any one. The fact that it’s a non-violent game also separates it from most of those titles, which will happily blend in a hefty dose of violence.

Continue reading More On Pix

Pix

The other day I finished playing Undertale. If you’re not familiar, it’s a pretty incredible PC game that’s… hard to properly explain without spoilers. The trailer calls it “the friendly RPG where nobody has to die.” It takes place in a world where, following a war between humans and monsters, the monsters were sealed underground. You play a human child who finds themselves in the lands of the monsters, trying to find their way. You wind up in a lot of fights, but you have the option to  try to deal with them in a peaceful way (though it’s not always easy). It has a pretty distinctively quirky style to it. In some ways it reminds me of Homestuck, but then the creator of Undertale also composed music for Homestuck.

Undertale definitely seems to have struck a chord, and is a huge success in terms of both raw sales and inspiring tons of fanart and cosplay. I think that like Homestuck it speaks to subcultures and experiences that pop culture doesn’t really cover, but where Homestuck is a sprawling work of incredible scale (the creator once mentioned that if they do in fact put the whole thing out in book form it’ll be something like 40 volumes), Undertale is a relatively short experience, though certainly a memorable one. It has a lot to say about violence in video games (not unlike how The Stanley Parable is a commentary on choice and plot in video games), some interesting worldbuilding, and lots of charming and memorable characters.

Very much like how Madoka Magica helped crystallize what I wanted to do in a dark magical girl RPG and paved the way for Magical Burst, Undertale helped bring a vague soup of ideas together into the idea for a game that I’m tentatively calling “Pix.” (Or that may just be the name of the setting if I can come up with a better name for the game itself.) I’ve been wanting to do something with the inspirations that titles like Homestuck, Adventure Time, Steven Universe, and Cucumber Quest have been putting in front of me for several years now, and Undertale was what led me to the spark of an idea. Just as Magical Burst isn’t quite a Madoka RPG, Pix isn’t going to be an Undertale RPG per se, but its own animal, albeit with a healthy dose of Undertale inspiration.

Pix is the name of the land where the game takes place. The inhabitants are a little vague on the details, but its origins involve a tormented child finding escape in a video game, until her tormentor comes into the game world, and then some kind of cataclysm happens. Pix is a fragile mishmash of different kinds of reality, tethered to the human world by the Rainbow Spire. It has definite aspects of video games in its basic reality, but it’s rather like what happens with the NPCs when the player’s character isn’t around. The inhabitants of Pix try to live peaceful lives and help each other, partly because they know they need to in order to survive. They do receive information and artifacts from the human world, so they tend to get a bit fixated on pop culture. The aim of the game is to foster weird but gentle stories with a touch of pathos and (nonviolent) adventure.

So far the game is looking to be sort of a hybrid of Golden Sky Stories and Apocalypse World, with the twist that PCs are made by combining a Type (the general sort of creature they are) and a Job (what they do). This is kind of like what I was thinking of doing for the possible Adventure Time-inspired GSS setting, though I’m planning to change the basic structure a little more, and have AW-style stuff for naming and describing characters. I haven’t gotten too far into writing up the Jobs and Types (because I need to nail down more of what mechanics there are for Powers and Weaknesses to play with), but I do like how (for example) the Nerd job (which can variously be a super-scientist or just a huge dork) has a “Shipping” power that helps other people become friends.

Although I’ve now created two setting hacks for GSS, I haven’t done all that much tinkering with the actual engine before. Pix thusfar sticks fairly closely to GSS on several points, but parts ways in many others, and I’m trying to simplify certain parts (like connections). On the other hand I want to try for something kind of like Undertale’s Act commands, giving some degree of mechanical support for coaxing and befriending creatures you encounter.

I don’t start a project with a big manifesto in mind, but while Pix started with a burst of random inspiration, I think I want it first and foremost to be a heartwarming game that says “you belong.” The PCs are going to mostly be good-natured weirdos who are kind of broken inside, but need each other. Even when they’re lizards or sentient patches of fire, they’re people with their own feelings, hopes, and value.

Anyway, I have way, way more than enough stuff to take care of just now, but I wanted to do a bit of a brain-dump on this, since I’m finding it so exciting.

About Magical Fury

Back in October I participated in a “tradgames jam,” and over the course of a few days wrote a first draft of a game called “Magical Fury.” The idea was to write a short and simple dark magical girl name, to play around with some of the ideas I’d been developing for my “Star Princess Astraia” story and hopefully shake out some cobwebs on Magical Burst. Magical Fury is kind of its own animal, but also kind of a Magical Burst Lite, with some similar things handled in a much simpler and smoother way. It’s hard not to draw comparisons between the two games, but then Magical Fury pretty much exists because of my dissatisfaction with Magical Burst.

Compared to my attempt at a Magical Burst novel (Magical Girl Radiant Yuna), Star Princess Astraia is a bit more brutal, and more focused on conflicts between magical girls. In that respect it hews a bit closer to Madoka Magica, as well as Lyrical Nanoha. It has reincarnation of magical girls (a darker take on what happens in Sailor Moon) as a major conceit, and thus magical girls have a (potentially risky) ability to look back to past lives. (Thus the story’s inciting incident is when a magical girl shows up at the protagonist’s work, threatening to start killing people unless the reincarnation of Star Princess Astraia reveals herself.)

It’s kind of a Powered by the Apocalypse game, in the same sense as The Sundered Land, and generally a very light, story-oriented game. The dice mechanics pretty much some straight from Sundered Land, and are a lot like if you took the basic AW rules and assumed that everyone has a +1 in all stats. It doesn’t use anything like HP or Harm though. Moves give outcomes and sometimes call for magical girls to take points of Magic or Trauma, which in turn can make them have problems (kind of like fallout in Magical Burst, but much simpler). After writing moves that say things like, “When you have a moment of true desperation…” or “When you try to do something that affects the real world…” I feel like I’m definitely using the framework much better than I did in Magical Burst.

One of the major things I like about it is that it has the part about girls becoming magical girls hard-coded into the default way to start playing the game. It’s a really important moment in virtually every magical girl story, and I think the lack of such is a big weakness of Magical Burst.

It also reduces combat down to a handful of rolls. While the tactical combat system I put together for Magical Burst is fun in its own right, it’s also time-consuming enough to dominate each game session. While I don’t dislike tactical combat–I enjoyed playing D&D4e regularly for years–there are times when it isn’t what I want, and when protracted battles just get annoying. Cutting it down to a few rolls and evaluating the outcome is a really refreshing alternative. I wouldn’t want to go that route in every game, but it seems to work pretty well for this one.

The new revision I’m working on adds an element of turn-taking scene framing inspired by Shinobigami. Shinobigami is a Japanese RPG (with an English release from Kotodama Heavy Industries planned) about modern-day anime-style ninjas. It’s a bit more mechanistic than what I have in mind for Magical Fury, but the basic gameplay puts PCs in competition and has them take turns setting up scenes trying to accomplish various goals. They thus ferret out secrets, form bonds, and have the occasional skirmish as well. Magical Fury’s take on it will be a bit looser, with the option to start a scene and see where it goes, and with the GM taking turns that they use to complicate the PCs’ lives and have threats creep closer.

Overall, Magical Fury is much more a “story game,” much more a set of tools to provoke you into telling an improvised story together. At this point I really don’t know where I’ll go with it, but it’s one of the projects I’m the most excited about just now. At the very least it’s going to be a massive influence on whatever Magical Burst turns into next, but I kind of want to bring Magical Fury to fruition on its own. A thin, simple book that won’t be table-torture for whoever I get to do layout.