2019 Progress: Halfway there?

As ever time marches on and all too soon the first six months of the year have passed. Given my hope of this year being the one where I move a host of projects forward I thought it would be worthwhile to do an update on my goals for 2019.

Have dones

  • Written and playtested Ghosts of Iron for the Crystal Heart RPG. I’m in the process of revising the text before I submit it. Should be released to Kickstarter backers later this year.
  • Completed the draft for Trick of the Light, my next Demon Hunters adventure starter inspired by the Slice of Life web series. Currently editing and moving it to layout so should hopefully be released soon (ideally before GenCon).
  • Drafted three missions for The Sprawl and handed them over to @HyveMynd for editing / layout. Aiming for a release later this year.

Ongoing

  • Attending conventions – I made a 1 day trip to UK Games Expo 2019 and will be attending BurritoCon 3 in Manchester later this month. I’m also aiming to attend DragonMeet later in the year, if I do I’ll be running games as part of Games on Demand.
  • Progress on Project Cassandra! I posted up the current characters and a rules summary (which is now itself out of date) and am in the process of putting together a playtest packet for BurritoCon. First public playtest since the disaster of Dragonmeet.
  • I have notes for the remaining two Slice of Life adventures and have decided that the Clean-up Crew scenario will be a Fiasco playset given how well the episode meshes with that system. These will be my next focus after Ghosts of Iron and Trick of the Light.
  • The D&D Immortals campaign continues and has passed the tipping point, with the characters ensnared by Destiny and heading towards some epic showdowns with the previous generation of Immortals.

Will I evers

  • Patreon. With the change in how Patreon were going to charge creators I decided to sign up for one with the thought of actually starting it later in the year. Right now I’m sitting on it for the simple reason that it won’t work until I manage to build some interest in what I produce and the first step in that is to actually produce some material. I haven’t released anything since last year and right now I don’t have a core focus for any Patreon project. I don’t know if there is enough interest in material focusing solely on Demon Hunters while most of my other projects have been standalone. Regardless of whether I ever do use it my first goal has to be building up a catalogue of material I can point to.
  • The Kingsport Tribune one-page Cthulhu idea looks like it is going nowhere, just didn’t come together though it did give me some practice with a newspaper style layout.
  • Rocket Demons of Antiquity is on the backburner for now. I’ve come to the conclusion that it is a scenario that will require an ongoing campaign to delve into as opposed to my typical one-shot playtests. Plus I’ve got at least three other adventures inspired by previous campaigns where I already know the story-beats to write up first.
  • DMs Guild material – While I have notes for a few products I’ve yet to make any move or progress towards writing them up. Although I expect they would be far bigger sellers than anything I’ve produced to date I’m fortunate enough to be in the position where that isn’t a priority so I can focus on the material that most interests me.
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Forward Planning: Playtesting

It’s hard to understate the value of playtesting a game or adventure. The human brain excels at filling in the gaps and seeing what it expects to see, so when you’ve been immersed a piece of work it’s all too easy to overlook simple errors or conflicting information. You know that the map to the dungeon can be found in the secret archives of the thieves guild but then forget to mention that the thieves guild even exists. Or maybe you alter the adventure hook and now a merchant is not only the big bad antagonist but is also found dead during the opening scene. Suddenly the players are paranoid about shape-shifting doppelgangers and you’re left with either retconning everything or trying to adjust the plot on the fly.

In a home game, GMs are expected to adapt as they go but when it comes to publishing an adventure those little (and sometimes large) errors just cause headaches. Another GM reading what you have written doesn’t know all the little details that you omitted due to space limitations or that your players always break into the wizard’s tower on the first floor, hence why there is no description of the ground floor. It’s up to interpretation, which is why published material should always be playtested and read over by an editor. Trust me on this, it’s a lesson I have learned the hard way.

With that in mind last week I ran a playtest for Ghosts of Iron, the first step in identifying any potential issues that I had overlooked or details that I had omitted. As the writer I went in with a few clear questions I wanted to answer:

  1. Does the adventure work as written? Not ‘does the version floating around in the head work’ but does the one-sheet writeup provide enough detail at the correct points for the players to know what they need to do and be able to do it.
  2. Is the adventure fun? I’m serious here, as an experienced GM it’s easy to fall into the trap of assuming you will always write a daring tale of thrilling heroics but that is never the case. I’ve written and run adventures that just fell flat before so I couldn’t assume that this one would automatically be enjoyable.
  3. Are the difficulties appropriate to the task at hand? It’s all too easy to write a challenge that is impossibly difficult or, conversely, absurdly easy. This is especially true when you assume a particular party composition with the associated skill sets.
  4. Can it be broken? There is truth in the statement that two heads are better than one. It’s especially true in gaming if there is a challenge that the GM has set then at least one player will think of an unexpected way around it. This is good, and isn’t something to be avoided. The issues you want to avoid are those that completely break the scenario, that turns 4 hours of fun into a 30-minute tale of there and back again.

Thankfully, the playtest worked pretty well. I was careful to keep to the details as they were written and from my perspective, it easily passed the first two hurdles. On the third, we identified a few points where the difficulties as written assumed the PCs possessed a less frequently used skill (which they didn’t) while the combat encounters were appropriately balanced given the action-orientated nature of the mission. As for the final question, can it be broken? Almost. The players did identify a possible way to bypass the first third of the mission due to a missing detail during the mission briefing. It’s an easy fix and one that I’m glad we spotted.

Beyond those core questions, the playtest also picked up on smaller, non-critical issues, such as elements that needed to be clarified or highlighted better. So while a major rewrite isn’t going to be required (this time) I have plenty to work with before passing it on for the next critical step – external editing.

Forward Planning: Practice makes perfect

Alongside the research angle, my second starting point for writing Ghosts of Iron is one of practice, by which I mean immersing myself in Savage Worlds. It’s a system that I have both run and played but that I haven’t given as much screen time as others such as Cortex. As a GM I know that I can run it but I also know that, at present, when it comes to the intricate rules details I’d be reaching for the rulebook to double check edge cases.

Fortunately, I’ve got an easy solution to this – run it. My ongoing series of Monthly OneShots is a perfect way to both dive back into the fast, furious, fun of Savage Worlds and to introduce more players to the Crystal Heart setting. There are already a number of short adventures available, released to promote the Kickstarter while the fact that I am comfortable running one-off games will allow me to playtest individual elements from Ghosts of Iron before I bring them all together into the complete adventure.

The final step will be updating everything to Savage Worlds Adventure Edition, which was only kickstartered last year and which is still in production. While a pre-release is already available the finalised rules aren’t due out until later this year. For consistency, I’ll work from the Deluxe edition and then update to the latest edition that has been properly released.

So if you’re in the Liverpool area and want to get your game on keep an eye on the Sugar & Dice RPG group for my Monthly OneShot announcements.

Forward Planning: Savage Worlds One Sheet Adventures

With the successful completion of the Crystal Heart Kickstarter in December, I find myself in the fortunate position of starting 2019 with a commission to write RPG material for somebody else. The brief for the adventure was broad – something that an Agent of Syn might face, including an NPC ability or hazard to demonstrate knowledge of what makes Savage Worlds fast, furious and fun! My pitch, as presented during the Kickstarter campaign was:

ghosts

So where do I start? How do I go from a pitch to a finished adventure? I’m aiming to cover that process through a series of blog posts as I develop Ghosts of Iron.

Right now, that answer is research. While this may be my first commission there are a wealth of resources I can draw on. Firstly, there are my own adventure starters which were designed around a similar framework to One Sheet adventures – streamlined overviews that outline the adventure but require additional GM input to fully flesh out. It also helps that Pinnacle, the company behind Savage Worlds have a treasure trove of One Sheets available as free downloads from their website. I’ve begun mining that to put together a framework – what should be included, how do I highlight sections, how much detail do I give locations vs NPCs vs plot. Once I have identified those I can start to take my existing notes and begin to fit them to the page.

Secondly, there is the Crystal Heart setting itself. While the book is still in development Eran and Aviv have already showcased the world through the webcomic and accompanying page notes. Over the coming months, I’ll be going back to that repeatedly, to pick up on details that I might have missed and to ensure that my adventure embodies the spirit of the setting.

Crystal Heart Kickstarter: Final 24 Hours

24 hours! That’s all that is left for you to back the amazing Crystal Heart Kickstarter from Up to Four Comics. If you’re still on the fence then let’s summarise what you’ll be getting at this point:

  1. A full-colour setting book with 200+ pages of details and amazing artwork.
  2. Six, yes count them SIX short adventures, two of which are available now as free downloads and one of which will be written by yours truly.
  3. Ten bonus crystals for use in your games, with suggested adventure seeds for each.
  4. Themed bennies, available as both PDF or a  physical add-on.

You can get all this in digital format for a mere £15, back it while you still can.

Crystal Heart Kickstarter: Now with stretch goal by me!

I’ve posted already about the Crystal Heart Kickstarter and how amazing it is going to be but as of today, it becomes personally awesome. Why? Because I’m going to be writing one of the stretch goals! If the campaign hits £20,500 then I will be writing a one-sheet adventure titled ‘Ghosts of Iron’. The teaser, courtesy of the Kickstarter:

Piracy is nothing new to the Islands, but of late a new name has come to the fore: Arakil, the iron-clad ghost ship that attacks from beneath the waves.

The Kickstarter runs for another week and at the time of writing is sitting at £18,629, well past its funding target of £12,000. Find more details (and back it) via the Kickstarter page or head to Up to Four Players to read the webcomic that showcases the world (and the fantastic art by Aviv that will be throughout the setting book).

Kickstarter Alert: Crystal Heart campaign setting

While I enjoy the system I’ve never been a big backer of Kickstarters for Savage Worlds, even to the extent that I didn’t back the recent campaign for the latest edition of the core rules. Of the many settings only Deadlands and its spin-off Deadlands Noir have really grabbed me. Everything else has gone on my “I might pick it up eventually” list.

Until Crystal Heart.

Developed by Eran and Aviv through their webcomic Up to Four Players, Crystal Heart presents a world in the process of uncovering lost artifacts and knowledge from an advanced Bygone Age. The most powerful of these relics are Crystals, gems of unknown origins that channel unique abilities and powers to the wielder. The catch? The only known method of controlling them requires that the user have their own heart surgically removed and replaced with the Crystal. Only one organisation admits to possessing the skills necessary to do so, Syn. Their Agents are relentless, fearless. Heartless.

The setting is beautiful, intriguing and while only a small percentage of the world has been explored its clear that it has a depth to it that many settings lack. Best of all? A setting book is on Kickstarter right now, the project went live earlier today and is already sailed past the 50% mark.

So what’s included in the Kickstarter? For £15 (~$19) you’ll get the full setting book in PDF format plus any bonus PDFs which are unlocked via stretch goals. £30 (~$38) + shipping will net you the physical book plus all the PDFs while the £55 (~$70) + shipping ‘fan’ level rewards you with all the PDFs, the physical book, print issues of the Up to Four Players comic, dice tray and sticker sheets. In contrast to many Kickstarters, Eran and Aviv have gone for a relatively simple tier structure, with only a single, limited quantity, high-level pledge at £175 (~$225). For that, you get to create a Syn Agent to be included in the setting book, which will include character artwork by Aviv.

The details of the stretch goals have yet to be announced but will include additional content for the core book, a collection of one-sheet adventures and custom Crystal-themed bennies. Given the goal for the Kickstarter is likely to be reached within the first day it shouldn’t be long before the details for these are unveiled.

If you’re interested in the Kickstarter then you can find it here and it’s running until Tuesday 11th December. If you want more information about the setting then I’d highly recommend the comics, which can be found at www.uptofourplayers.com and if that isn’t enough then how about checking out the free starter set, which includes an overview of the setting, pre-generated characters and an introductory adventure? You can download that via the Up to Four Players website or directly from drivethruRPG.