Posts Tagged ‘NGDM’

Checking in

So how have you been?

I’ve been away for a bit due to illness, and while I’m happy to report that I’m feeling better, I haven’t been able to do a lot of work lately other than scribbling in my notebook to revisit later. Sadly, as a result, I missed the deadline for NGDM completion with a half-completed Yūgen set that never got to see playtesting. The game will still be completed, because initial focus group response was highly positive, but I apologize for not getting it out the door sooner.

The other main iron in the fire is the still-untitled horror game, which is getting some flesh on the bones in the form of guidelines and optional rules for emulating specific horror sub-genres like slasher films or the Cthulhu Mythos. A bevy of “dashboards” will be provided in the deluxe version game for those who want to customize their play experience, while the basic rules will be available as a stand-alone unit. Essentially, you can get the bare-bones version and do the tinkering themselves, or pay a little more and get a lot of that work done for you already.

Corona and Ghosts of Atlantis will probably lay fallow until those other projects are out of the way, and I have the mental space to revisit them. Corona in particular may be resurrected in a significantly different form due to some feedback; players are at least as interested in the IP itself as in the game I created as a vehicle for it, which is both unexpected and welcome.


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[NGDM] Card design

Designing Yūgen means designing an aesthetic around an aesthetic, and so all of the little physical details become an expression of the game’s feel and ethos as well as of the actual play. To that end, each specific aspect of the cards must serve both of those ends.

Due to cultural exchange, most people in the West are now visually familiar with the look of Japanese calligraphy, which makes it a natural choice for the representation of the images on the cards in a game inspired by Japanese aesthetics. Simplicity is a watchword, and the cards are kept to a simple black-on-white scheme both to reinforce the desired feel and to make the games more accessible: no color differentiation is necessary, no text is included. Another type of accessibility comes into play here: black-and-white cards are cheaper to print, lowering the cost of the game, either on my end as a producer or for a print-and-play version.

Because the cards need to connect, the strokes terminate at the center of one or more sides on the card, so that strokes merge into contiguous lines when cards are placed adjacent to one another in correct alignment. Not every side of the card has a connection, however, and as I experiment with scoring schemes, that may become a relevant gameplay issue: all cards have from 0 connections (the strokes on the card are self-contained) to 4 (a brush stroke leads to every edge of the card). Having too many cards with 3 or 4 connections in the deck creates an expectation in players that they have to create large images with their cards, or will inevitably result in players creating images with cut-off parts where brush strokes leave the card without another card to continue the image. This is not aesthetically pleasing! Thus, they will constitute a minority of cards, with most of them having 1 or 2 connections, preferring simple flowing designs over branching or spreading designs. In the cases of cards with 0 connections, they are special scoring elements that carry a risk: their inclusion can either increase the value of your image, or ruin it altogether!

As I finish the cards and move into playtesting, I’ll have a bit more on the scoring in future updates; as implied above, the actual mechanisms of carrying out play are fairly stable, but translating those activities into scoring is proving more complicated. But a few runs at the gaming table should help solve those problems!


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[NGDM] What is Yūgen?

Like so many interesting terms from other languages, yūgen doesn’t translate precisely into English. It’s an aesthetic term from Japanese, referring to what we might call an epiphany: the realization, prompted by art or beauty, of something profound that can’t be expressed verbally, only felt. Already, it’s an intriguing term, because it’s a term about two layers of being able to put something into words!

For the time being, I’ve titled the card game I’m working on Yūgen, because it’s about building abstract ideograms that convey the essence of a term without words. As you can see from yesterday’s photos, the cards are simple – black brushstrokes on white square cards – but made so that they can be assembled in a variety of ways from your hand. If you’ve played Tsuro or Carcassonne or any other of a great number of tile-matching games, you get the idea; lines that run off the card always lead to the center of a side of the card, and you can rotate your card to match up the lines from adjacent cards to form a contiguous flowing stroke.

There are some basic scoring rules to fiddle with, but those are coming along. I was inspired to include plain white or black stones as scoring tokens, extending the aesthetic theme further in a tactile and visual sense, but also had to consider that the original scoring paradigm would require a lot of those tokens, making the game heavy! The game also currently includes one or two special bonus scoring opportunities for particularly elegant or pleasing constructions. Hopefully, I’ll get the first rough version to the table tonight!

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[NGDM] A glimpse of the worktable

National Game Design Month started last Friday, and I’m starting to paint some cards for the idea I came up with. Have a look.

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Sorry for the prolonged silence, but I can apologize by offering you cool new stuff! Not only will there be Delve and Corona announcements soon, but I spent November – which you of course know is National Game Design Month – creating something brand new. Check out the fruit of this month’s labor over on the Games tab: a little strategy game called Monoliths of Titan. Hope you enjoy it!

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One of the rules required you to play your game, not just create it, which means I don’t qualify. That being said, that’s no reason to see the experience as a failure – far from it! The system (which I’m going to christen Spectrum) has legs, and I think I have a couple of projects for which it will serve as a suitable jumping-off point.

Still composing the rules document: I’ll post it as soon as it’s done. (Final editing and layout for House of Cards is going on simultaneously, so it’s taking a little longer than I expected.)

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First, let’s finish up our hanging fight scene. Lakshmi has taken a wound (-1), and with her low dice, that’s a big deal, so she wants to get out of this wizard’s atelier and away from the guardian automaton. Time for her to perform a complex action: she’s going to put all of her magical power (both green d4), narrating the effort as a frantic invocation to wind spirits to push her along and increase her movement speed, assisting her red d6 to escape.

Because the action spans multiple die denominations, we need to figure out timing: one way to handle this is to prioritize ongoing complex actions at each die step over independent actions. This mechanically advantages complex actions, so I’m going to hang a tag on it now to keep an eye on whether it breaks the system to do so. For now, when we get to the d6 phase for initiative, Lakshmi will get to complete her escape attempt roll before the automaton gets to act, which countermands the wound penalty step. To codify this fully, the rule we’re going to work with is this: complex actions and independent actions are separate categories resolved in that order, with wound penalties applying within the categories.

Lakshmi calls up the air elementals to help drag her across the floor to safety, rolling a 1 and a 3, which become a 0 and 2 due to the wound penalty. Then, at the d6 step, she rolls her red d6 to complete the action, adding the +2 so far from the earlier step; her die is a 5, knocked down to 4 by her wound, for a total of 6 on the action.

The automaton doesn’t speak, but it certainly has something to say about that. Hitting the keyword “Fists of Iron,” the automaton makes an attempt to use its strike to grab her and hold her fast. Sadly, the gamemaster rolls a 3, which isn’t enough. She slides in a whirl of dust through the bench to the door. We’ll say that the automaton smashes its way towards her, but she’ll be able to get away.

Something this little fracas reveals is that wound penalties get really nasty, especially on the complex action: Lakshmi’s break for freedom actually took a total of -3 total penalty, and actually killed one of her green dice on that first step. That’s pretty hard going, although if you think about it, stress can be even more detrimental (at most steps, a die takes the equivalent of a -2 penalty per point of stress, and a d20 drops to a d12: the virtual equivalent of a whopping -8 penalty). Still, one possible fix is to apply the wound penalty once to the total of the entire spread of dice on a complex action, because we want people to take complex actions – it’s one of the features of the system. This means there has to be a phase during dice allocation at the beginning of a round in which players decide which dice to chain together, and that gets iffy if another proposed rule I’ve been percolating – allowing characters to drop out of a complex action to defend themselves – is also going to make the cut.

Much to ponder here. On a different note, here’s what I’ve sketched out thus far on the fantasy setting idea (or meta-setting, I would have to maintain) that popped up earlier. In principle, it’s something that can be grafted to just about any other game setting, but it aims to have a flavor all its own: the idea of the Quest made manifest. It’s made explicit in the world itself that you can’t even get into Viridian unless you’re a Hero with an epic adventure to complete. When you prove yourself properly dedicated, the island opens up and basically gives you the Quest you need.

When the flames of justice burn low, and dark times threaten the land, a hero may strike forth from the southernmost edge of civilization to seek what is needed to set things right. One who honestly seeks right must journey due south without stopping for one span of the moon; on the dawn of the following morning, that stalwart traveler will rise and look north to see the twin Pillars marking the path to Viridian, where their Quest awaits.

Viridian is the name of an archipelago as well as its main continent-sized island. (It may also be the name of the world it inhabits, since no other landmasses have been found there.) The main island’s exact dimensions are unknown: it measures approximately 1300 miles from its southernmost tip to the edges of the frozen arctic wastes of the north, from which no traveler returns; from the Stormy Sea in the west to the Still Sea in the east, Viridian encompasses over 1400 miles at its widest.

About a hundred miles south of the Pillars, the Hero’s Road begins, and runs most of the length of Viridian to Great Mount in the center of the southern plateau. The sun’s apex at noon appears to envelop the peak of Great Mount in a blazing golden halo. While everyday inhabitants of Viridian sometimes use the Hero’s Road for their own travels, they do so sparingly and only for short distances. The Road is enchanted: it never follows exactly the same route twice, and always leads its travelers to challenges that test their abilities and resolve. The only stable points along the Hero’s Road are the endpoints, as well as the great city of Andel near the middle of Viridian.

Several other significant islands or island groups make up Viridian. Black Heart is the easternmost island in the Still Sea. Ruled by a sorcerer-king, its people are ghosts and revenants. The dead of Black Heart are bound in two ways to their ruler (hence, the Twice-Crowned): he has stolen their memories of life, and has mingled their bones such that their remains are hopelessly scattered so that, until all of the countless thousands have been laid to rest, no one among them shall know peace.

Just north of the Pillars lies a trackless frozen waste. The nomadic tribes who wander the northern steppes warn travelers that nothing is to be found in the ice, and will not travel there. The nomads’ secret is that the north used to be their kingdom: five vast and powerful cities once rose there, and their ruins may yet be shrouded in ice and snow. The legends they tell only to themselves say that, just as they believe all things have spirits that may grow powerful, these five cities birthed gods whom the tribes worshiped. These gods grew cruel, however, and turned the people to cruelty and horror, and in shame, the tribes united to cast down their deities. The legends vary from this point forward. One of the tribes either sacrificed themselves to allow the others freedom, or were so wicked that the other four rose up against them; the impassable cold that now blankets the north was either summoned by the magicians of the tribes to lay waste to their former civilization, or was created by the gods themselves in outrage at their betrayal. Now, the four tribes of the north wander the plains, venerating the small gods of all things but never building a permanent settlement to prevent a repeat of their ancient folly.

Five schools of magic are located around Viridian. The Crimson Academy teaches magic for warfare in the city of Andel. An inn called the Topaz Tiger hides a school for arcane spies. The Order of the Leaf has no fixed location, but its masters wander the island. Those who would study under the mage-prince of the Sapphire Throne must persuade one of the eleven existing students to forfeit their seat. The Knights of the Lavender Shield maintain hospitals along the highways.

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