On Firefly…

The above clip has been doing the rounds over the last couple of days, it’s by Stephen Byrne and you can see more of his work here: https://www.facebook.com/ArtworkOfStephenByrne

The timing of this clip coming out was rather appropriate given I was sitting down behind the GM screen this week to run Firefly. It’s been a while since I ran a game, in fact it’s been almost a year. The last time I ran anything was at excellent Strategicon Gateway convention in California, LA. Unfortunately I can’t afford to fly out there again this year so it seemed fitting that my first time back in the GM seat I ran the Firefly scenario I ran there. The scenario, entitled Niska’s Race, is one I’ve now run about half a dozen times, so I’ve been able to flesh it out enough that there are a selection of possible scenes and complications I can introduce depending on the actions of the players. This time I had only two players and just under 3 hours to teach the system and run the adventure so the prior run throughs meant I could strip back anything that might prevent derail finishing on time.

Running the scenario multiple times also means I’m in the interesting situation of getting to see how different groups approach it. I always try and lean towards the ‘present a problem without having a defined solution’ style of GMing, it encourages player creativity and involvement and this scenario is proof of that. Each and every time I have run the game it has turned out completely differently. I’ve seen players (using the same set of pregenned characters) go for smash and grabs, stealth infiltrations or seduction to get to their goal. Betrayals, bribes and beat downs have all been employed in different run throughs of the same scene making it a new game for me, the GM, every time. Best of all I’ve been able to see half a dozen set of reactions to the scenarios twist, all influenced by the choices of the players. It’s an immensely satisfying position to be in as a GM and one I’m looking forward to replicating with the next adventure (working title “Big Blue Fish”, my old group should know exactly which scenario I’m talking about).

The Reset Conspiracy

One of the things about learning how to layout and produce a game as I go along is that every so often I come across a rather major issue that forces a rest on a particular aspect of the game. This time? The font. I mentioned this particular issue in the last update, that the text of the gag ghee wasn’t rendering correctly in certain versions of acrobat and having spoken to Adobe tech support it appears that this is due to a bug with that version of the software. A bug that they have no immediate plans to rectify and which means I need to find a replacement font for Project Cassandra.

Hopefully this shouldn’t be too big of a challenge, typewriter style fonts are fairly common but this time around I’ll be testing the output in a variety of formats before I layout the main document. Right now I can’t afford an Acrobat Pro subscription so testing it with that is, unfortunately, off the table at the moment. All in all this is one of those annoying but not too critical bugs. It would have been a different story if I’d already published the game but for once it seems like I’ve rolled a twenty on that spot check.

Edit 1: Actually ignore all that, as it seems to be an issue with multiple fonts, possibly even all of them. Next stop – getting in touch with the Scribus community and seeing if I can find anybody with access to Acrobat Pro to run the file through the preflight tools. Hopefully that will solve it. Meanwhile if you have any experience with this sort of thing then any ideas / suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

Edit 2: Ok, so looks like it is an issue with embedding font, subsetting works fine. Progress of a sort but not sure why the two differ in their output.

State of the Conspiracy: The Candidate Release!

It’s been a while since a ‘State of the Conspiracy’ post has incorporated any new material so here’s a big one: A brand new version of the game that has the potential to be damn near complete. Download Project Cassandra: Candidate Release.

I say near complete for the simple reason that with the addition of a couple more pieces of artwork I think it would stand well as a finished game. I like the material, I like the look and it feels like it has everything it has to have.

But… there are a few things that the game could really do with. The first is some proof reading and external playtesting. I’ve been collecting feedback from a few people and playtests as I go but I still feel like it would be great if I was able to find somebody who was willing to pull it apart and make me question / defend what I’ve produced.

The second is that while I’ve run it for a number of groups I’ve not had the chance to get somebody else to run it and I need to know how well it stands up without my presence. Third, Scribus and Acrobat. Yeah, publishing tools strike again. There’s some weird issue with the fonts that I suspect are down to how Scribus is embedding them but on certain versions of Acrobat for Android the text just comes out like this:

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So I’ve got to sort that out, luckily one of the kind folks at Adobe Support is having a look at it for me but in all likelihood it’ll mean running the document through Acrobat Pro but I’m holding off on that until everything is done just to save on subscription costs. Even with those caveats though getting to this point is a great feeling especially with my target release date of the US elections in November.

Then it’ll just be a case of deciding on my next project…

State of the Conspiracy: The Stuck on a Train Update

As we move into election season (in the US) it seems appropriate to update on the state of Project Cassandra, especially as I’ve set myself a goal of release on or around the week of the US Presidential elections. The short version: it’s nearly there. The longer version with a but: it’s nearly there but I’ve had some rather severe issues with creativity and motivation of late.

Right now I’m focused on two aspects, final edits and layout. The edits are coming along smoothly, the biggest issue is one of consistency. In some sections I address the reader directly while in others I’m more abstract and indirect. Resolving that shouldn’t be too hard, I just need to set aside a period where I can go through the entire document at once and ensure that I stay in a single frame of reference. Luckily for me I’m not only half way through a long train journey right now but it’s going nowhere thanks to a fallen power line. Yay.

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Layout is also progressing but at a much slower pace. After the debacle with the Tower Fall pdf compatibility I’ve gone back to the start. First up was a switch to the latest dev branch of Scribus and a new from scratch document… which of course generated some new issues that I need to investigate and address. The second half of the layout process has been artwork. At the moment I have enough that I could, in theory, complete the game and have all 4 characters illustrated if I reword their descriptions (Sarsin for example would need to be an ex-cop rather than a former member of the secret service). It’s not ideal though as that would mean losing a few images from the rules sections. I’m going to see about the feasibility of getting a couple more pieces commissioned but that will depend on how busy the artist is over the next few months and my budget.

A proportion of the artwork, however, is stock art that I’ve been able to acquire for the grand total of… nothing! For those I’m now working to edit and fade the images. Or rather I’m learning how to edit and fade in the way that I want. It’s taking a while but I do at least feel like I’m making progress and am enjoying the process. My aim is to have all the free stock art selected and edited over the next few weeks, after which I can start slotting it into place.

Take 2: TowerFall is live on DriveThruRPG! And this time it works!

After much faff a new working version of TowerFall is now live on DriveThruRPG! Suffice to say this took far longer than I wanted it to but I can say that it was certainly a learning experience. First lesson is one that I’ve tried to drill into my students many times, always double check everything.

The second is that PDF format compliance is apparently rather difficult to get right. In order to identify the issue I turned to a free trial of Acrobat Pro as this seems to be the standard for the creation of PDF printers files (the X-1 and X-3 formats). I’d been working on the assumption that something in Scribus was failing to meet the standard and thus causing the conversion error on DriveThruRPG. Imagine my surprise then when all my original files pass the preflight checks in Acrobat and are reported as meeting the standard. Better yet, if I open them in Acrobat then export them again they suddenly work with the DriveThruRPG system.

Brain clonk. Yep. Both pass the preflight checker, only one works.

My guess at this point is that there’s some sort of subtle error with the Scribus formatting, possibly associated with font embedding based on some further research. I’ll bring it to the attention of the Scribus forums to see if it’s a known issue and if there’s any work around. If there isn’t that leaves me with a quandary, namely that I can’t justify the cost of a regular subscription to Acrobat Pro let alone the full creative cloud software that includes InDesign.

In the long term I’m sure I’ll work out something, the completion of Project Cassandra is still a way off while my Demon Hunters adventures are slowly coming together. I’m hoping to participate in GameChef 2016 if the themes manage to grab me, the ingredients for that go live this evening.

So wrapping up with that link once again: TowerFall is now actually properly live on DriveThruRPG

LunarShadow Designs now on DrivethruRPG

Correction: Ok, so my below post was rather premature, it seems that there was an issue with the file that neither I nor the preflight software at DriveThruRPG spotted. That resulted in a corrupted file which I also failed to spot before I put this post up. So it’s been a learning experience, if only in why not to jump the gun with files. I’m currently trying to resolve the issue but that’s taking longer than I’d like, once it’s sorted I’ll make Tower Fall available again.


Another quick update but I didn’t want to hold this one back. Following the release of Tower Fall, my first micro RPG, I’m glad to announce that LunarShadow Designs can more be found on DriveThruRPG! You can find my publisher page at http://www.drivethrurpg.com/browse/pub/10032/LunarShadow-Designs while Tower Fall is available to download from https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/183370/Tower-Fall-Micro-RPG

I’ll still be releasing material here on my main site but where possible the final products will also be available at DriveThruRPG. While Project Cassandra remains a priority I’ve a few other pieces outlined, including another one page game and an adventure collection for the Demon Hunters RPG.

Demon Hunters / Faith Corps: Tonal Conditions

Just a quick post to highlight a hack over at Spirit of the Blank, where Mike Olson has been sharing some details about using the Faith Corps system (aka the Demon Hunters system) for running Star Wars. One of the aspects he’s tweaked is the way conditions work, introducing the idea of predefined, character specific mild conditions. It’s a hack that I really like, especially for convention games where it provides players further insight into their character. This is especially emphasised by the fact that Mike has eschewed from the approach of describing physical harm but instead favours emotional responses to stress. For Star Wars it really fits with the tone of the films, where characters tend towards taking only a small number of moderate (or greater) injuries while also being constantly stressed by the scene or antagonists.

All in all it’s a compelling tweak and one that I’m likely to incorporate in future, both when running Demon Hunters and when designing my own systems.