Tag Archives: Dragon World

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.