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!

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Getting Physical

On A Gaming Podcast About Nothing, that podcast that Dave and I will return to at some point, I've often been criticised for being an RPG hoarder. In the past I've downloaded every free pdf that someone has offered, tried to support every game that has flagged my attention and tuned in to every little one-page thing that looks interesting. I've slowed down on that, partly through a realisation that I was reading so little of the stuff that I'd bought or found - and using even less - partly through a lack of time and money to buy things, but also partly after some honest reflection: I just prefer to read and use RPG stuff in a physical medium.

As an aspiring publisher, I see the other side of that now as well. I think this was crystallised in my mind recently when chatting to Chris McDowall for A Random Encounter:
How has the last year or so been?
...It was just incredible to have that feeling of, “There's this many people that want to pay money to have your product on their shelf.” I'd given away these other free games and they'd probably had hundreds of downloads. But I know that when I go on RPGNow and download a free pdf, 80 or 90% of the time I never get around to opening that pdf, and the vast majority of the time I never get around to using it. The fact that someone has paid for Into The Odd at least makes me hope that it's being used.

If I make something, free or paid, I want people to read it, use it. From the limited anecdotal research I've done, thinking about myself, talking to others, I've come to conclude like Chris that the main way to get people reading something, playing a game or whatever is to get it in print. Physical products are simply more likely to be used.

Following my train of thought from yesterday, since I don't need anyone's permission to make something or to publish, then I have no excuse other than any I conjure up for myself (I don't have time, people might not like it, how will I get it done? etc). I asked some questions at the end of yesterday's post too:
  • Which project do I think will be the most fun?
  • Which project do I think has the most potential for me to learn something?
And for now at least, when it comes to the small project that I want to work on in-between the regular, ongoing project of A Random Encounter and the longer-term project of Into The Oort, my answers are:
  • One where I'm doing something small and different, which can be made physical easily;
  • One where I force myself to do something new, to practise a new skill or develop an existing one.
The second point sounds a little obvious, so I think I need to work on fleshing that thought out. In my day job I'm always encouraging people to "Plan -> Do -> Reflect -> Review" so it's about time I did some of that too. As I follow my playing around with ideas, I hope some time soon to have something to show for them, even at a rough stage. Anyone want to see what I'm working on when I have something to share?

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Pick Yourself and Pick The Project

I've been watching and listening to a number of talks to help motivate me lately. In particular, I seem to have gravitated towards Seth Godin; I read a number of his books a few years ago, with Poke The Box being a firm favourite, and I get his blog posts in my email every day. I listened to his two hour interview on the Tim Ferriss Show recently, which sparked my attention to go and look for more things of him talking.

A couple of favourites that I found on YouTube and listened to while doing the dishes of an evening include this one and this one - both worth a listen, whether or not you're doing the dishes at the same time. Somewhere in and amongst all of these recent things, two points have popped into my head and won't go away. I'm not sure where I encountered these insights in my listening and reading (I re-read Poke The Box recently too), but know that they came from Seth.

The first thought is about picking yourself: whether you have a boss or not, whatever your profession or job, stop waiting for someone to choose you. Despite being self-employed for years, this has been a hard thing for me at times. Waiting until you hear from someone in order to approach them for work. Waiting until you get this or that and henceforth have the right conditions (they'll never be perfect). Recently I've really accepted this, I've chosen myself to do interesting work - both in my day job, and in this little (for now!) RPG business that I'm running.

The second thought is one that I'm still struggling with, or rather a consequence of the second thought that I got from listening to these talks/books. I think in Poke The Box, Seth Godin raises this idea: "if you want to get better at juggling you have to throw more balls." I.e., if you want to do good work you have to start more projects, you have to start things and work on them and see what happens. You can't umm and ahh over whether or not the idea is the best it could be, you can't wait until you have enough money or no risk or the perfect team or the best circumstances. You have to take an idea when it comes your way and start the project that leads to a new something being in the world.

And I get that: I really do. I don't have any resistance to that concept.

I just don't know which project to pick! Hashtag first world problem, I have so many ideas, what can I do - what a goddamn hack! But this is what has been hanging me up at the moment. A Random Encounter is fine, Issue 3 is underway now that Issue 2 is out and available to buy (hint hint), and I'm probably going to interview for Issue 4 next week. Into The Oort is ticking along in the background, I add about a page a week to my document and make notes on how to resolve some of the mechanical issues with it.

But my brain is telling me that there is something else that I need to do. A small project to break things up. And I have a concept. My brain is jumping up and down and SCREAMING at me that, like a zine which is just an interview with one person, there is something else that I've thought of that is interesting and which I am sure would be interesting to lots of people in the RPG community. I have my concept and I have a couple of variations on the theme that have evolved from that core concept: but how do I pick? I just don't know.

Do I pick the thing that could be done in the least amount of time?
Do I pick the thing that involves fewest collaborators, so there aren't other contributions to keep track of on the production side of things?
Do I pick the thing that would be lowest risk?
Do I pick the thing that I think will be most attractive to others' tastes?

None of these seem like the right approach to finding an answer... So far, where I am, the two questions that have lead me to the small project I'm currently pursuing are:
  • Which project do I think will be the most fun?
  • Which project do I think has the most potential for me to learn something?
These are the questions which are helping me. YMMV, of course. What are the questions that you ask yourself when you're trying to decide between projects?

Monday, 18 April 2016

A Random Encounter Issue 2 is out!

I've been a bit buried under work lately, trying to get this and that done, so haven't been making time to blog. I surface every now and then on G+ to try and hype A Random Encounter in a non-spammy way, and this is my hopefully non-spammy blog post shout-out now that Issue 2 is finally finished!

I say finally, but actually it turned around pretty quickly, around six weeks since the last one came out. Issue 1 is still available in print too, but the rest of this post is all about Issue 2, where I interview Chris McDowall, creator of Into The Odd. Just as with talking to Dave McGrogan for Issue 1, it was really interesting to hear about how and when RPGs hooked Chris, and also to chat for a good long while about how he makes games and how he approaches design choices. I'm still learning how to interview really - I've been interviewing people on a podcast that I do for nearly four years, but this is a different sort of challenge.

What I liked about talking to Chris was his commitment: this is something that I'm finding I can only really articulate now that I've got the issue finished and it's out. In reflecting on putting it together, editing down and organising information, one thing that really stands out is how committed Chris is. He frequently talks about doing things well; Into The Odd was a project that evolved over years; he has a clear aesthetic idea in mind for constructing his game and the supplement that's going to follow it this year. Maybe commitment is not the right word actually, maybe the word is vision: Chris changes his mind about stuff (as he says in the issue), but he's got something in his mind about his games that is like magnetic north, something he's working towards.

And I'm not just praising him because he did the second issue of my zine! Jonny Gray made a great colour cover showing Chris on the streets of Bastion. The issue also features great art pieces by Kathryn Jenkins and Anxious P. inspired by the setting of Into The Odd. Check it all out on the zines page.

Coming Soon! Posts about something other than A Random Encounter! Posts about Into The Oort! Hints about a thing I think I'm going to do this summer (hint: rhymes with stick-parter!)! And probably the odd post about A Random Encounter, because I can't help myself...

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

A Mote In The Oort Cloud

Issue 2 of A Random Encounter is almost ready, but that's not what I want to talk about today!

What do I want to talk about? I suppose the clearest way to put it is words, words and terms. I'm picking up the threads of Into The Oort to take it further, hopefully towards a playtest bundle that people can try in the next month or so. In my day job, one of the workshops I deliver has a bit about the words that people use, how using certain words influences how people think about the topic at hand. The session is about exam preparation, and very often people frame discussion of the exam as "surviving" it - which reinforces negative associations with the event.

One of the last posts that I wrote about Into The Oort was on hexes and distances. When you run the calculations, the region of space that Into The Oort takes place in has around 500 billion hexes, each of which is a vast volume that could comfortably fit the inner solar system in it. Don't worry: Into The Oort is not going to come with a 500 billion hex campaign document! Despite the incredible size of things, these hexes are themselves tiny compared to the total volume of the Oort Cloud...

A word that I've had in mind for a while is the word mote, and as Google helpfully points out this means "a tiny piece of substance; a speck". That's what a hex in the Oort Cloud is, it's a speck, a tiny thing in the vast cosmic perspective.

While I expect that players and GMs will refer to them as hexes, and while I will have hex-shaped divisions on maps in the playtest and in the book, my thought for now is that I will refer to them as motes throughout the book. Because that's what the people living in the Oort Cloud call them, a permanent reminder that they are utterly tiny against the backdrop of the universe.

This isn't the only example I have in mind, but it is the one that I'm closest to a decision on. Aside from posts about A Random Encounter in the near future, I'll try and make some of my thoughts about Into The Oort more concrete by posting them here. If you've got any questions about it then drop me a line and I'll see if I can answer them!