Friday, 22 July 2016

Odd Oracles

I'm working on two issues of A Random Encounter at the moment, and turning some ideas over in my head. I was transcribing my interview with Patrick Stuart for Issue 4, and we talked a bit about blogging and why he started, and it got me thinking about when I started blogging about games. This blog started on 21st March 2012, but on the same day I posted something on a Tumblr that I used to use, about the very first game that I GMed: In A Wicked Age.

I like In A Wicked Age: the Oracles that produce the inspiration and elements work really well, they produce a rich fantasy world at the table with no prep, and I think that playing it a few times gets you in the flow with the dice mechanics. There's a bit of AP in the post, and I was playing with Patrick and David, so it was a good game. There were also a couple of musings about the Oracle idea itself:
[Patrick] mentioned that there were “Oracle hacks” of the game, and I can understand why this would be quite cool to do. Because the set-up is so fast, straightforward and fun, it’s quite a freeing game to play. ... In my head I’m already imagining urban fantasy possibilities, superhero settings and even - dare I say it - zombie game settings…


We hacked together an Oracle or two and played some Tales From Zero Point, which was an element of a bigger space setting that we created collaboratively. I loved that the Oracle could produce a great game with no preparation. We could turn up and really tune in to make a creative story; and at the same time, I still felt that it was a bit clunky with the mechanics, and as someone running the game I wanted something to help support making NPCs and places - even just little possible story threads for the players to explore (I'm not a railroad fan).

For a little while now I've been turning over mashing an Oracle-setting-generator-thing with the Into The Odd resolution mechanics: a strip-downed game that could get people up and running quickly with no prep. Draw some cards to get character and setting inspiration from an Oracle, and while PCs roll dice to flesh out their characters, the GM can roll some dice or draw cards to flesh out the setting in an organic way. I think it's possible to do this in a reasonably small game, that provides a lot of prompts and support for the GM and the players to come up with the backdrop for a great one-shot every time they play, or which could organically create a sandbox-y story - each session being either an "episode" or just the next steps.

And now that this idea is back in my head again... I guess I have one more thing to add to the to do list... :)

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

An Odd Idea: Mechsuit O.D.D.

On top of working on A Random Encounter I have an on-again/off-again relationship with a hack of Into The Odd set in a semi-hard sci-fi setting at the edge of the solar system. Into The Oort, if it ever gets finished, will have spaceships, zero-gravity derring-do, exploration of ancient human megastructures and centaurs. (really)

Despite having only so many hours in the day and enough creative pursuits already, my brain keeps saying, "Nathan! Hey Nathan, think about this..." I blame Chris McDowall: he wrote a game with a very easily hacked set of mechanics. This post is the latest "odd idea" that I've had... It has some blanks and some spaces which are currently boxed out with [] square brackets because I haven't got that far yet. But I think I will, sooner or later...

Mech suit by flyingdebris

Monday, 11 July 2016

In The Works

The last few months have been difficult. A couple of busy periods with the day job, plus family medical drama put RPG and zine stuff on the back burner. Even writing this post was delayed. I sat down to do this last night, and then my daughter, who had been a little out of sorts all day threw up. I spent most of last night asleep on her bedroom floor, and most of today wandering around in a semi-zombie state.

Difficult is relative, in reality, I'm a very fortunate guy. Among many things I've been using to buoy myself up recently has been Neil Gaiman's instruction to "make good art" - come what may, just get on with it. Listening to a couple of guests on the Tim Ferriss Show podcast has helped too, particularly Seth Godin and Kevin Kelly. Onwards and upwards, and all that.

In the next few months then, here's what you can expect from me (with some indication as to where they are in terms of completion):
  • A Random Encounter Issue 3 - Vandel J. Arden
    • Main interview done, transcribed and first editing pass done. Follow-up questions thought through and sent out. Cover commissioned. Print bonus in the works. Interior art in the works. ETA: end-July/start-of-August.
  • A Random Encounter Issue 4 - Patrick Stuart
    • Main interview done, will start transcription this week. A couple of follow-up questions identified. Cover commissioned, along with interior art. Print bonus is a mystery at the moment but a couple of ideas are tickling my brain. ETA: end-August/start-of-September.
  • Fort [working title]
    • It's coming up on the one year anniversary of Oddpool, and I had a couple of pages of follow-up ideas for the areas around that haunted and cursed place. Fort will be a Pocketmod-sized supplement about the area to the west of the river, a hold-out of civilisation and a strange place. People who think they're normal, living between a dead city and miles of marshland, but who are a bit... odd. (may or may not be inspired by the geography and locales of my hometown and surroundings) ETA: September/October.
My home office is starting to look like a small self-publishing outfit - which, I guess is kind of what it's becoming. As well as two issues of A Random Encounter, a re-print of Oddpool and two more issues of the zine on the way soon, I have the print runs of two other things that I've done in the last few months. These are for my dayjob, but couldn't have happened without my experiences of self-publishing RPG things.
As Issue 3 moves closer to completion I'll be announcing subscriptions - which will work out at the same cost as individual issues, but I'll throw in pdf copies as well for instant gratification - I have candidates for Issues 5 and 6 who have been tapped and given positive responses. So subscriptions to begin with will be for up to the end of this year/Issue 6. I have a big list of names for 2017, but if people are happy to support subscriptions I want to make sure I can deliver the goods.

I'll be posting RPG ideas more in the coming days as my brain needs space to vent while I get on with transcribing audio, editing three podcasts for my day job and working on admin and emails. I need to find creative outlets! I think I'll be offering a game or two for AntiGenCon this year, so just working through some ideas for that too... Currently a game of Maze Rats is winning out, but I might also run Escape The Undermaze too.

Want to know more about anything here? Comment below or email me! Thanks for reading, N.

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Zine Subscriptions Are Coming

Issue 3 of A Random Encounter is coming along slowly but surely. It's taking longer than the previous issues. Last week I finished one work project and started another the very next day; I've gone from a mentally challenging project to a mentally taxing project. I'm planning then re-planning, spinning ideas around and then seeing what comes back. I'm advertising, sharing and getting out of my comfort zone.

Which hasn't left a lot of time for transcribing, I'm afraid, but it is moving forward, and as it does I'll start the layout process, breaking up the pages and so on. Each issue gets easier and harder to do – easier because I know how it's supposed to look and I'm used to doing certain tasks or looking for certain features; harder because my standards are getting higher with each issue, I want each issue to be even better than the last.

I'll be setting up subscriptions sometime soon though, as this is something that people have been asking about since Issue 1. My plan is to offer subscriptions through to Issue 6, which, all being well, is going to come out in early December. Issues 3 and 4 are in production, with interviews recorded and artists in the loop. I've just reached out to creators to interview for Issues 5 and 6, and gotten positive responses from both.

My plan for subscriptions is that they'll be print and pdf bundles effectively:
  • On release day, subscribers will get the pdf sent out to them before it's live on Payhip or DriveThruRPG and print copies in the post before anyone else.
  • There will be two subscriber plans for 2016, essentially offering Issues 1-6 (for anyone who has not got the first two issues) and Issues 3-6 (for anyone who has), all with UK, EU and World shipping options built in.
Subscribers will be helping to lay the financial foundations for the rest of this year's production: I want them to get the best deal that I can offer. Shipping from the UK is not cheap and eats a huge portion of the print cost, but I still think it is better than me offering the zine as POD (for now at least).

Throwing this topic over to you, dear reader, for comments. What else do I need to think about in terms of offering a subscription for A Random Encounter? If you do a zine and have offered a subscription before, what have you found to be the interesting/challenging/valuable points about doing so? What are the non-obvious advantages/disadvantages of doing it? Was it worthwhile for you to offer a subscription? Any thoughts/comments will be gratefully received!

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

A few thoughts on playing

I mentioned in the last post that I had joined the pre-medieval Japan 5e game that noisms is running on a Sunday morning. This is the first campaign that I have played in for a long time – in fact, I'm really struggling to think about how look it must be since I have played in a regular game. A couple of years maybe...

I'm not going to AP about it all, you can go read noisms' wonderful, atmospheric descriptions. My character, Pasekur, a heroic former-NPC ranger who had been helping the party, was pretty lucky – lots of 20s, lots of useful skill checks – until he wasn't. First of all losing his axe on a fumble, then falling victim to a natural 20 from an opponent who clubbed him on the head with a rock, instantly killing him.

Taking over Toitoi, Pasekur's sister, was a little tricky. I'd not rolled up a character in 5e before. Not that this is hard, but it's just different. Over 90% of the games I played or ran in 2015 were either Into The Odd or hacked from it, and I think the others all came with pre-gen characters. While it was simple enough to play 5e, rolling up a character in a system I wasn't au fait with anymore was weird.

All that said, I like my druid – a class I've never played before – and am enjoying playing her. The setting oozes atmosphere. I've no idea how much prep that noisms has done, but the game feels seamless. There are no “loading times” - hang on a minute, erm, yeah, so, hmm – when we ask about something there is a response.

Like when I started playing RPGs in 2011, the more you play the more you want to play. June is a busy month, but I'm hoping to run something in that time... I'm sure I'll post about it here when I do.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Playing Soon: a rambly little update

The last couple of weeks have been frantic and strange. There's some illness in the family unit at the moment (which is thankfully on the way to being treated); work has been frantic as there's been a lot of it on recently but also frantic-state inducing because there is a little less than in previous years; I'm spending spare time when I find it slowly but surely working on Issue 3 of A Random Encounter, and trying to figure out if I have capacity to run a modest little Kickstarter in the summer*...

It's been a busy week! Yesterday, in my work persona, I launched a book that I co-wrote with a friend, and that's been a whirlwind - both to get it from idea to published in under four months, and also to attend to all of the launch day prep and work. And I'm on the cusp of announcing an independent workshop, which is the first time that I'll ever have done something like this and is hugely scary and exciting at the same time (the unknown and the great challenge).

But! All of that is being pushed to one side, because slowly and surely I am playing more games, and this is good.
  • A few weeks back I ran a game at OSR Day Manchester, and played another one.
  • I've played in the two most recent sessions of noisms' Old Japan 5e game, which has been a lot of fun (even if my ranger got killed by a bird-man wielding a rock).
  • A friend that I play Netrunner with has expressed some interest in playing an RPG soon, and I'm thinking Deep Carbon Observatory using The Black Hack...
  • In interviewing Chris McDowall for A Random Encounter, he expressed an interest in playing Apocalypse World - he's wanted to play it for ages but not had the chance... We're looking at dates now for a short Hangouts campaign.
Anyway, this is just what's going on with me. I have a 100-copy print run of Oddpool waiting to be assembled, and which I might offer as an incentive for people to help me shift some more issues of the zine. I'm definitely going to set up subscriptions for the rest of this year too, as I think I have interviewees in place for Issues 5 and 6 (just got to get confirmations, but it's all really exciting!).

Last thing then I'm going to sign off: I saw this awesome little CYOA zine being shared on G+ and just had to get it. The idea of solo or CYOA stuff has gone around my head from time to time over the last few years (due to the difficulty I have every now and then of making time for games) so this has me excited that this could be a viable little outlet for awesome ideas.

*I might not run the Kickstarter, but I might do a few little microgames and offer them as a print-only bundle... Watch this space.

Friday, 29 April 2016

Projects Update, April 2016

Just after I released Oddpool in September, I wrote a short post about the various projects that were on my to-do list stuck on the wall next to my desk. Following something that I had seen Warren Ellis do in his regular mailing list email, I had decided to give them "cute" or "vague" names, descriptors that might only be tangentially related. Over the last six or so months my priorities and interests have changed, so here's my updated list of names and where I am now:
  • Project STUDIO3: this is Issue 3 of A Random Encounter, where the focus is Vandel J. Arden. I've interviewed Vandel already, and now that Issue 2 is out, I'm starting the transcription process. This is on track for a mid-June release.
  • Project STUDIO4: Issue 4 of A Random Encounter. I did the interview for this yesterday, and I'm aiming for mid-August for this one.
  • Project OORT: I'm working on Into The Oort slow and steady; I didn't have the time or focus until recently to put the hours into this, but I'm getting there. It's taking longer than I thought, but it's coming...
  • Project ESCAPE2: this will be the updated version of the print extra that came with Issue 2 of A Random Encounter. It's a little A5 micro-game. I had a lot of fun playing it recently, and I've heard from others who are going to give it a go soon. I think it's pretty good, but as part of another project (TBA) I'm interested in making this as slick and well-presented as possible.
  • Project SHADES: this has morphed from what I had envisaged originally, but I still see this as a near-future, gritty, Cyberpunk-y sort of thing. Expect to see something of this over the coming months.
  • Project JAGD: a recent idea for a one-shot game. It has phases that I'm trying to link together, but is sort-of random, sort-of procedurally generated. Like so many things in life and games, it's about the journey. Expect to see something of this over the coming months.
These are the things in my head at the current time, and I think my wife and I are going to also be working together on the writing for Project SOLO, which I mentioned in the last post. You'll hear more about STUDIO3, STUDIO4 and OORT in due course: out of the others mentioned here, which do you want to hear more about?

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

d100 Ship Names for the Oort Cloud

Out in the Oort Cloud people use spaceships. Sure, you could have a lot of fun playing a game about asteroid mining, or what happens on the last human outpost, but for my money you can have more fun flying between different places and causing trouble looking for interesting things along the way. That means spaceships.

I've posted a work in progress idea before about what ships are going to be like in the game, both game-mechanically and setting-wise, but one thing I've not mentioned is names. I am a massive fan of the late Iain M. Banks. The names of the Culture Ships in his novels are astounding; I love the thought, the humour, the outlandishness and sometimes the way a name can make you go "Huh? Why that?" While the spaceships in Into The Oort are going to be much, much lower down the technology ladder than a Culture GSV, two aspects of their names are things that I want to follow: the ship classes and their names.

I'll follow up in another post about ship classes, but for today I want to share a starting point, d100 spaceship names. If you're playing Into The Oort you're free to do what you want, make some up, come up with a cool setting idea and have them be derived from that. Or you can use some of my names, from the list below the cut. And if you do check them out, scroll down to the end for another thing to expect from Into The Oort.

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Reflections: Escape The Undermaze

I said at the end of my last post, an AP of my little game Escape The Undermaze, that I was still reflecting and thinking things through, and I still am to some extent. I set out to make a "Minimum Viable Product" version of Into The Odd, complete rules, setting ideas, encounters and locations, plus the motivation for the adventure but all as small as possible. It fits on a single side of A5 (I created a simple "cover" as well) and clocks in at just over 500 words.

Reflections on running it:
  • It was fun to take inspiration from encounters the party hadn't met yet (and might never meet), and weave them in to the fiction. So, for example, the big bad is an undead scientist who "wants to perform a living autopsy." When the party found a dead body, I was inspired to have this person be a victim of the creature, even though they might not encounter her: the corpse was found with innards on the outside, but surgically removed and neatly arranged.
  • Despite my "complete rules" provocation above, I ended up writing "This game is incomplete, but functional" in the game text, and I stand by that. During play I used luck rolls, changed descriptions of locations and details of encounters simply because they felt appropriate to the unfolding story.
  • For the longest time I've had a mini-manifesto idea in my head about resourceful use of items; the thought came one day when looking at the item list in Lamentations of the Flame Princess at all of the non-encumbering items and thinking, "This is like a dungeoneering problem solving tool-kit!" Which is not an original thought, but never mind. For Escape The Undermaze I made 75% of the equipment non-weapon-y, everything from chalk to rope, beer to bread. It was great to see people using a broken bottle and a stick as an improvised spear, using a flute to calm an animal and soap to create a slippery surface.
  • I organised the game and setting information in a certain way, and think it's fit for purpose, but also think that if when I do a second edition I'll make the page as an image rather than try typesetting in Open Office. There are seven key pieces of GM rules that are set out, and I'm sure they could be both better worded and better laid out.
  • It was a lot of fun to run!
I want to run it again actually. I could possibly be tempted to try and run it over Hangouts in the near future... It's currently only available in print as a bonus to Issue 2 of A Random Encounter, but I'm wondering about making it more widely available in pdf. If you've seen it - as a print purchaser or contributor - what do you think? Is it neat enough to sell as-is in pdf?

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Actual Play: Escape The Undermaze

Yesterday was a Manchester Games Day, and me, Chris, Barry and Nick met up to play some games. I was excited because I had offered to run Escape The Undermaze, my tiny little RPG about thieves trying to find a way out of a labyrinth beneath a dead scientist's house. The game's mechanics are stripped-down from Into The Odd, and everything about the game and setting is on a sheet of A5. I made it as an experiment, was 95% sure it would work, but still hadn't tried it with a group.

The cover side of Escape The Undermaze

The thieves were:
  • Chris, playing as Gizzard, we weren't sure if that was a first or last name;
  • Nick, playing as Trevor Mountjoy, a disgraced officer;
  • Barry, playing as Evans the String, a wily thief capable of Macgyvering out of any situation.
Technically everything below is spoilers of a sort: the sequence of Undermaze locations and encounters are generated from tables and a simple procedure. If you were to play this these would be shuffled around based on what the procedures spit out; plus you as player or GM would be inspired to use the ideas differently. I guess I'm saying, this AP has details that are both unique to this game and potentially common to any game of Escape The Undermaze. Sort-of spoilers below the cut!