Monthly Archives: November 2017
Grandma’s Hard Candy Flavors
I decided to get a jar of old-fashioned hard candies, like grandmas everywhere kept in candy dishes in the old days, to enjoy for the holidays. There were a huge variety of shapes and colors among the candies, which were really fun to look at. The packaging didn’t include any information on what flavor any of them were, but I think I’ve worked most of them out.
The Bad Spot on the Apple
The Tears of Children
Plaque Control Toothpaste
Leftover pancakes soaked in too much syrup
Amused and want to encourage me to write more stuff? Feel pity and want to help me afford better candy? either way, you can consider contributing to my Patreon. 🙂
Weird and Street-Level Heroes
These are entirely random ideas, at least in part driven by cold medicine, on quirky heroes at the street level, where gangs and men with brass knuckles are still significant threats.
Look, if the Defenstrator and Wild Dog can be heroes…
For no particular reason other than to have some fun.
Babe. An aging, portly male vigilante with a baseball bat, catcher’s helmet, chest protector and leg guards… and a significant close-combat skills, if not a ton of endurance. Gives kids in his neighborhood oranges if they’re good.
Beulah. Inspired by Edison/Tesla contemporary Beulah Henry, Beulah is a one-woman engineering firm, with the motto “Have Wrench, Will Travel.” Often works to solve local neighborhood problems large companies and municipal groups refuse to get around too, but also sometimes solves murders or stops crimes.
Flying Rat. Low-rent Batman-type, with a Pigeon motif. Not a billionaire, just someone with a trust fund big enough to order custom paint jobs on cars and catalog-shuriken, semi-concealable body armor, kendo and Krav Maga classes, bribe a network of pizza delivery drivers and homeless kids to spy for him, maintain prepaid legal services, and not need a 40-hour-a-week job. Operates from the Pigeon Coupe, his fixed-roof sedan with custom hood ornament and some police gear.
Isiah Mordecai Mortal. Private detective who, if killed, shows up at the edge of the nearest township to his corpse at the next sundown. Has business cards with “I.M.Mortal” on them.
Jean Hatchet. A firewoman who refuses to back down from villains, local thugs, or corrupt officials, and carries her fire axe with her almost always. When not in her fire fighter’s uniform, wears sneakers, slacks, a dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up, and a thin tie.
Paintball. A young, athletic woman with a paintball mask and paintball gun. She is an expert paintball sniper and shootist, and mixes custom paintball colors (with UV inks) she delivers to local police in advance so if she is seen shooting a robber to mark them on camera, the police can prove a suspect is the one she shot.
Pellet. Paintball’s young male sidekick (a fact she accepts only grudgingly), who also uses paintballs but delivers them with a slingshot.
The Magic of Little Details
Worldbuilding can often get bogged down in big-picture questions and large-scale issues. Yes, there’s use to knowing how rivers flow from mountains to sea level, what kinds of natural barriers are likely to become borders, and how socio-economic statuses can form political lines. But those questions still just outline nations and factions. At the scale that most players are interacting with your world, it doesn’t really matter in play if the border between Heroton and Badlandia is a river, a mountain range, or a big blue dotted line that runs through a flat plain. What DOES matter to players is how those places feel and act differently while you are within them.
And for that, it’s often useful to throw in just a few little details.
If the common drink for a culturally-interlinked area is a tea just known as Steeps, maybe the people in Heroton like it strong and bitter, while the peasants of Badlandia make it weak and sweetened with honeysuckle. Elves prefer red Steeps, while human throw away the red stems as tasteless. The dwarves of Ironbeard make Steeps with weak beer to ensure no diseases remain in the local water, while the gnomes of Rillridge ferment it until foam forms on the surface which is then skimmed off.
None of that *matters*, but those kinds of tiny details, when used in sparing moderation, can help bring regions and cultures alive. Players who don’t care can wave it off, but those who enjoy engaging in fictional cultures have the option of paying attention, and offering the Big Bad of Badlandia honeysuckle-sweetened Steeps at the peace conference. And maybe he smiles, and notes he actually always preferred it strong and bitter, like his parents made it… suddenly given a new context into his background, based on how he takes his tea.
Nearly anything can be made into this kind of cultural detail and, as long as you don’t load every city with 27 things you expect players to keep track of. Adding just one or two tiny differences can help immerse players, and make regions distinctive.
Nearly anything can be made into this kind of detail, but it helps if it’s something publicly noticeable (how the Halfling war bakers of Gnabysko bless their battle muffins in secret ceremonies isn’t going to impact player perception much, unless someone is playing a Halfling war baker), minor (so players don’t feel they must remember the detail or get into cultural trouble, which can feel like homework), and relatable (details that tie into activities players understand are more easily understood and remembered—the fact there are 17 “proper” foot stances for fighting with an orroc gutting axe is interesting… but for players with no melee combat training experience it doesn’t connect to anything they’ve done).
You can also build off a detail, creating slang and cultural notes that play off the detail. This can help the detail be memorable, but it also invites the players to dream up such phrases and ideas as well.
For example, let’s say you have decided that in the Free City of Campaign, street performers put out a boot for people to toss coins into, rather than a hat or other collection device. That’s easy to work into a campaign as an observed behavior, unlikely to make any player feel they have to memorize it, and replaces a common occurrence in a way players are likely to understand.
Once you’ve done that, it’s easy to see how some local slang might develop around the tradition. “Giving you the boot” could mean firing someone, so they now have to earn money on the street, while “Earning your boot” might indicate you are good enough at some performance to make a living as a busker. Having a “hole in your boot” could indicate someone is stealing from you, and “looking in the toe” could mean you’re scrounging for every last coin (like checking the cushions of your sofa).
If players show interest in a detail, and explore it, you can build on it. Maybe the boot tradition dates back to when soldier came back from a war, and without enough work used their hard military boots to gather coins as beggars, and the tradition grew from there. Maybe there was a tax on all labor performed ‘without boots” that was designed to exclude hard workers, but street performers used this to get around it. You don’t HAVE to do that kind of background work, but if players dig around it shows they have an interest in that element of your world.
Tiny details like this should be sparing, to ensure a world remains familiar enough for players to be comfortable with it. These are seasoning for the main course of your world, rather than the entrée itself. But used properly, that kind of seasoning can elevate the flavor of your creations, and make them much more memorable.
Putting My Boot Out
I have a Patreon. Feel free to throw a few coins in as I sing and dance. 🙂
A microfeat usable in nearly any d20-based game.
Some people will love this feat. Some will hate it. There will be disagreements if it is overpowered, or underpowered, or a feat tax, or shows a quantitative misunderstanding of how any particular d20 game works.
Which is funny, given that a feat in a blog that doesn’t even tie itself to a specific game system is about as unofficial as you can get.
Sometimes, things just go your way.
Benefit: Once per game session when you make a d20 roll, after seeing the result, you may immediately decide to instead have the d20 result be treated as a natural 20 (as if the die roll had shown a 20).
Some people will love this Patreon. Some will hate it. There will be disagreements if it is a great value, or a terrible value, or shows a quantitative misunderstanding of how crowdfunding works.
It’s Not “Just a Game” When It’s Your Career
It should, perhaps, be no great surprise that when I publicly discuss my various mental health issues, professional failings, and depression-driven concerns of failing others, one common refrain is “Relax. Don’t worry about it. It’s just a game.”
I know that, at least in most cases, these declarations are coming from a palce of caring and a desire to be helpful. But, in fact, they are spectacularly unhelpful for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is: it’s not “just a game” until it exists and you and your friends are deciding whether or not to play it.
When it’s still being written? It’s a project in a business, no different than making the donuts for a coffee shop or writing music for a professional band. It is work that not only pays my bills, but that is used to generate money to pay the bills for my colleagues, coworkers, and friends.
Now in the case of things I am writing for myself, to be published as a pdf or at most POD for Rogue Genius Games? Then if I fail, I most likely impact only myself. I need the money, but anyone else I involve isn’t brought in until the project is done—though in the case of projects I need to develop for freelancers working with me, THEY are certainly in financial limbo if I can’t find the time to get the project out.
But for some of the other companies I work for? The ones who do print runs of hardback books numbering in the thousands, with developers, editors, layout artists, art directors, customer service agents, warehouse/shipping crew and so on? Those companies live and die by the ability to schedule and plan to get these books out on time, with all the steps needed to do that tied to my ability to produce the words. If I fail, there are anywhere from a handful to dozens of people whose livelihoods I am threatening. For them it’s not “just a game,” it’s the product that pays for their health insurance, apartments, mortgages, retirement funds, and so on.
No, I don’t stay up at night worrying about if some player somewhere has to wait an extra 30 days to get their hands on an adventure, or a new character option. But I do feel the full, hefty weight of being one of the early cogs in a financial machine that feeds people.
The game industry is brutal. Even big, established companies are no more than a handful of flops from going under, or at least having to make hard choices that can lead to cutting back, laying off, or changing plans. I work for some very smart people, but I have also seen companies that were common names in the games industry go bankrupt even without a project being late.
This industry is brutally hard under the best of circumstances. Unprofessionalism, tardiness, poor quality, or a dozen other things I could get wrong can have real impacts on the quality of life for other people.
THAT is what I worry about. And, to some extent, I hope every freelancer thinks about it at least occasionally.
Once it exists and is sitting on your table, it’s “just a game.” When it covers payroll, it’s a business. A profession. A career. And, as a freelancer, a duty.
Speaking of My Career
I have a Patreon, which allows me to take time to write this blog. Check it out!