A Guide to RPG Design

A Guide to RPG Design

Ramsey “Tome Wyrm” Lundock

 

Part 2

 

The Importance of Settings

 

The first step in designing a game is to decide on the setting. The rules mechanics must work together with the setting. If there is a mismatch between the rules and the setting, the ‘reality’ of the rules will win out and cast the setting in an unexpected hue. For example, if you envision a dark world of horror, but the rules mechanics place the heroes on equal footing with the abominations they face; the players’ fear will soon dissolve into thrill, turning it into a game of high adventure.

To avoid letting the rules determine the setting, you need to make a conscious choice about the setting and choose your rules to fit the setting. Every game system has its strong points; and thus necessarily each also has its weak points. Even ‘universal’ game systems have biases, and these biases determine which setting work best with the rules. For example, if a game system dedicates three-quarters of the combat rules adjudicating melee combat, the system won’t work well for modern adventures where the majority of combat occurs at a distance: the players will feel that the subtleties of firefights have been neglected, and when the occasional melee breaks out, the rules will be cumbersome, taking too long to resolve relative to the more meaningful gunfire exchanges. It is impossible to design a game system which is completely neutral; to put it in a metaphor, even white is a color. So the only way to prevent unexpected setting biases from creeping into the game subconsciously is to make a conscious decision about the setting at the beginning.

It is not necessarily bad to let the rules dictate the setting, provided you are aware of the effects and make sure the setting is in harmony with the ‘reality’ of the rules. For example, if a skilled warrior can hold his own against an army, why would anyone go to the trouble and expense of raising an army in the first place? In this setting, ‘war’ would quickly evolve into single combat between the champions of each side.

To really understand how the rules will impact the setting, it is best to get other players’ insights and watch how actual games unfold. Game creation is an iterative process, so after the rules are in place, revisit the setting to see if there are any places at odds with the rules and decide whether it is the rules or the setting which must give way.

 

Consistency in your Setting

 

“What’s the difference between fantasy and non-fiction?”

“Fantasy has to make sense.”

 

Consistency is vital to your setting. Every game world must follow its own rules of internal logic. These rules have nothing to with rolling dice. Consistency is also surprisingly difficult to maintain as you write. Consider the following examples of sentences that might show up in game products:

 

“Magic works by combining essences of the four elements (earth, air, fire and water) in various combinations to produce effects.”

 

“The villagers ask the PCs to eliminate the necromancer who has been terrorizing them and use holy water to cleanse the taint from his lair.”

 

or

 

“The power output of a spaceship’s fusion core sets a limit on the fastest star-drive it can activate.”

 

“While short on luxuries, the March Hare orbital platform offers weary star-farers a chance to enjoy a hot shower and a cold beer while getting their spaceship’s power cells recharged.”

 

Laid side by side like this, the contradiction is obvious: a magic system based on the four elements doesn’t include either ‘necromancy’ or ‘holy’ magic. A spaceship powered by a fusion core shouldn’t need to have its power cells recharged by an outside source, and if for some reason the ship was outfitted with both a fusion core and power cells, it would be the capacity of the power cells, not the output of the fusion core which limits the speed of the star-drive.

A game designer could well write either of these pairs a single setting without realizing the problem because they are separated by dozens of pages. As authors, we get caught up in our own worlds and don’t see the contradictions. But readers struggling to understand our vision will catch and resent every contradiction.

The only thing which annoys readers more than inconsistencies, is dismissing the inconsistencies by saying, “because it’s magical” or “because it’s high-tech” or worst of all, “just because.” As stated in the opening of this section, fantasy and science fiction are founded on logic. The real world is random, arbitrary, and cruel. Fantasy games give us an escape where, even if we get eaten by a hideous monstrosity, we know that our fate was determined according to the rules, not just because. And sci-fi fans are even more obsessed with logic (“Live long and prosper”) than fantasy fans.

To maintain consistency throughout your setting, before you start writing, you need to decide how the magic and/or technology of your setting work, what kinds of effect they can produce AND WRITE THE RULES OF YOUR SETTING DOWN!

Writing down the rules of your setting makes sure that they don’t slowly evolve in your mind as you work on the game. This rule book doesn’t need to be in publishable form. In fact it’ll probably be a dry list of facts and cause/effect relations. Some of these rules may become literal rules in the game mechanics, but not all of them will be necessary for the readers.

As you write, refer back to your techo/magic facts list often to remind yourself what is possible in your world. As your setting develops, you may feel the need to add to your rules. When you add to your rules, do this with great caution. It may seem like a good idea to make hulking suits of powered armor more feasible by saying they use gravity neutralizers to help offset the staggering weight. But unleashing gravity canceling technology on your setting has far ranging consequences. Flying cars and cheap space flight come to mind quickly, but what about construction? Is it possible to offset the weight of a building and just keep adding stories? What about weather control, preventing rain or snow by taking away the gravity which would cause it to fall?

(On the subject of powered armor, this one has tripped me up personally: is it ‘power armor’ or ‘powered armor?’ Readers will notice inconsistent terminology.)

Changes to the rules should be given even more consideration than additions. A change to your guidelines means there must be at least one corresponding change in the setting itself. If you do make a change, go back through everything you’ve written to see how all of the repercussions playout.

This brings up the next point important for consistency. Consider how the technology or magic will affect the setting. Start by thinking of the role you intend for the fantastic elements to play. Then think about how the technology/magic could be misused. Then consider totally unintentional side effects. (Would gravity neutralizers trigger a jump in obesity, because people could simply turn off weight they don’t want?)

For a more fantasy themed example, consider the widely accepted trick of being able to create water magically. What happens to the water after it’s created? Does it disappear back into magic vapors at some point? What happens if you drink the created water? Does it quench thrust? Does the water disappear from inside you causing you to dehydrate? If the created water is permanent, wouldn’t it be possible with effort to irrigate all of the deserts, would there be any deserts left in your setting? Couldn’t creating water lead instead to problems with areas being too wet? Wouldn’t wizards use the water as a weapon to flood out their enemies?

In the real world, actions and inventions have unforeseen side-effects. Since we can’t even predict the results in our own lives, no one honestly expects that you’ll think of all of the possible outcomes. But your readers expect you to think of more consequences than they can. After all it’s your world, with home-turf advantage you should be able to stay ahead of your readers. So put serious effort into thinking through the consequences: If dragons fly, what’s the point in building castle walls? If it’s possible to teleport individuals and goods, why are there any transport ships? If there is a very real danger of contracting an unknown disease on an alien planet, why are explorers be allowed to go straight for the bar upon return to civilizations instead of being locked in quarantine? If superheroes have been around for generations, why have none of them been recruited by the police force?

If you can manage to plug even a few of the holes that people have been trained to overlook, your world will stand out in the readers’ memories as well considered and realistic. But the need for consistency is not limited to serious games; some of the best comedies take the hallmarks of fantasy and sci-fi and follow them to their inevitable, absurd conclusions.

While preparing your notes to write from, it’s also a good idea to jot down notes about the non-human creatures which appear in your setting. Be as concrete as possible. You may know that fairies are small. But does small mean 2” tall? 6”? Half-an-inch? While all would be considered ‘small’ there are significant differences in how fairies of each size would interact with the world. And your readers will notice if you describe the fairies as different sizes in different places.

Finally, make some notes about the culture and organizations in your setting. Unlike your technology and magic which are immutable physical laws of your world, it is possible to bend the rules of society. But since your readers want consistency, it is best to let them know when the rules are being bent.

For example, suppose there are two important NPCs you want to include in the setting: a man of noble blood waiting to succeed his father and a crass but good hearted noble who was promoted after showing valor in battle as a common foot soldier. The first belongs to a society where nobility and titles are determined by heredity, and the second belongs to a society where nobility and titles are based on merit. These two at first seem incompatible, but rather than rushing to create a new kingdom and a new culture so you can ‘fit both of them in,’ consider how the rules of society could be bent. Merit based systems often take into account the merit of not just the individual, but also the merit (i.e. money and influence) of his family connections as well. Today we call that corruption but in many times it was considered common sense. Thus even in a merit based system a powerful family might hold a virtual guarantee of receiving certain honors and offices. On the other side of the coin, even in the most byzantine and calcified aristocracies, there are ways for new members to break in. A king, emperor, or other sovereign may grant a title to an outsider just to remind the nobles who’s really in charge. A noble house may adopt an exceptional commoner into the family to secure his support. Of if they feel threatened by the power he’s amassing, the existing aristocracy could grant a low ranking title to an outsider in order to bring him into the existing power structure to make him explicitly under the command of other nobles (and thus subject to punishment if he disobeys them.) If the upstart is truly powerful enough, he might invent a noble pedigree for himself (normally claiming to be an illegitimate child of a noble) and force the family to accept him. Of course it need not be strength of arms; an outsider with enough fiscal power might be able to buy a title.

There are many different types of power which can be wielded: military, economic, religious, magical, political, ceremonial, criminal, technological, entertainment & public opinion, etc. Every society has at least a couple of different power structures related to these different types of power. Almost by definition, the different organizations will accumulate different members and use different criteria for advancement. Thus if you want a powerful local female ruler, but have fraternal political structure, perhaps rather than a noble she would be more comfortable as a nun, or as the head of a merchant house, or as a crime boss.

A Guide to RPG Design, Part 1

A Guide to RPG Design

Ramsey “Tome Wyrm” Lundock

Thanks to everyone at Comstar Media and Avalon Game Company for putting up with me as I learned all of these lessons the hard way.

 

Introduction

 

You have a great idea for a new game. I haven’t even heard it yet and I already know it’s a great idea. There are untold multitudes of great ideas for games out there.

Designing your own game has become something of a rite of passage in the RPG industry. Using professional game systems you can design fascinating adventures, original characters, and even entire new worlds; but the game mechanics still lock you into the existing ‘reality’ of the game system. And, there are always a few things about even your favorite system that you think should have been handled differently. Designing your own game allows you to tailor every detail of the game to fit your vision perfectly.

But turning your vision into a playable game requires long hours of planning, hard work, and revision. The advent of desktop publishing has made creating a game easier than ever before. But ‘easy’ is still a far cry from ‘automatic.’

This tome collects lessons learned through years of, often painful, trial and error. The tips, tricks, and tools outlined in these pages will help you develop your dream into the best game possible. There is no single ‘right way’ to make a game. You need to find the way which works best for you. Although the topics are arranged roughly in order from initial conception to finally promoting the game, the creative process is far from linier. Issues which will come up late in the process have a direct bearing on earlier stages, forcing you to go back and rethink.

Better games raise the level of the entire industry, drawing in more customers and more money. And a stronger RPG industry benefits us here at Avalon Games. Thus you could say that my desire to help you and your game succeed is not entirely altruistic.

 

The Reality of Fantasy

 

The worlds we create are fantasy, but as a game designer you must deal with the reality around you. And this reality can intrude into your fantasy.

 

Letting others Play in your Sandbox

 

The hardest part of writing fiction, especially games, is that once you share your work with others, you lose control of your world. The easiest to understand example would be fan fiction, where people who enjoy your work take your characters and write their own stories. When you write, your characters become your friends and the world becomes your home. It is rewarding to see other people enjoy your work; but no matter how closely a fan copies your style, they will never do things exactly the way you do. It can be emotionally difficult to watch people mishandle you characters and your world. There are legal (although not effective) recourses against fan fiction, but with a game, you explicitly invite the readers into your world to play.

Once others are involved, it is no longer your private world, and you can never get it back. Be warned that people who play your game will do things you never intended: raze towns, kill important characters (in horribly graphic ways), rewrite character personalities, newbie adventurers will slay epic monsters. Worse, the players will append your world with bizarre locations while removing your favorite places from the map. They will ‘read between the lines’ and discover absurd ‘truths’ about your world.

If you work with a publishing company, the alterations to your world start before the product even reaches the consumers. Very few publishers will accept a work without checking to make sure it fits into their existing product line. Most publishers will offer at least a few suggested changes. In most cases these changes are valid improvements if you’re willing to let others have a hand in your creation.

Publishing and sharing your world with others can be a wonderful social experience that is impossible with private writing, but it requires letting go of your world so that others can enjoy it on their own terms. You have to decide for yourself if it is worth the tradeoff.

 

Setting Reasonable Goals for your Product

 

How many adventuring parties would wander out into the wilderness without supplies, maps, or even a goal just to see what will happen? (OK, too many parties actually do this, but what would become of them if they didn’t have a GM to get them back on track?) Yet, many aspiring game designers start out “just to see what will happen.”

Without a goal and a plan to work towards that goal, your game is unlikely to get past the stage of a collection of notes and sketches. With a clear goal in mind, you can evaluate the different options available to you and determine which ones will help advance your plan. There are many things you can try which will be fun to do, but won’t necessarily help your game succeed. There is nothing wrong with strolling down these side roads during your journey, provided you’re aware that you’ve strayed from your course and never forget your final goal.

Even if you get caught up in the side treks and your game never makes it past the planning phase, that doesn’t mean it is a failure. If your goal is to create a game that you and your friends can have fun with, then a collection of notes and sketches is all you need, and any effort you put into going pro will be moot.

At the other extreme, if your goal is to get your game printed, exactly the way you envision it with 300 full-color glossy pages, then you can’t complain if you end up with an empty bank account and 420 unsold copies in your garage because turning a profit was never part of your goal.

These are a couple of extreme examples. Most people do not set all-or-nothing goals. Instead, most plans consist of a final pie-in-the-sky dream and a series of increasingly ambitious milestones to mark progress to the impossible dream. Even if you don’t make it to that final destination at the end of the rainbow, reaching several of your milestones is an achievement in which you can take pride.

And you are allowed to change your goals along the way. The next milestone might require more time, money, and energy than you are willing to invest. There is nothing wrong with being satisfied with your accomplishment and resisting the urge to go a bridge too far. As you progress, expect to have your rosy visions of the game and fantasy market mercilessly shattered. There is every possibility that you’ll decide your original goal has too many drawbacks and you want to set off in a new direction. Changing your goals isn’t necessarily ‘giving-up’ or ‘failing;’ taking new information into account and rearranging your priorities to suit your current situation is a sign of maturity. Just don’t change your goals too often, or you’ll descend into disorganized chaos.

To help you set reasonable goals for yourself and your products, we’ll examine the current state of the fantasy and game market. In this day and age, any advice is outdated as soon as it is published, so rather than specifics we will focus on underlying truths, market forces, and trends with a full head of steam which promise to continue well into the future.

 

State of the Market

 

“How do you make a small fortune in the game industry?”

“Spend a large fortune.”

“What’s the difference between a game designer and a large pepperoni pizza?”

“The pizza can feed a family of four.”

 

This section is not intended to scare you away from the industry, but the fantasy and game industry can be a pretty scary place, and we won’t sugar coat the facts. There will always be nostalgia for the ‘good old days,’ but make no mistake, you have chosen the best time in history to write your game. Never has it been easier to collaborate with coauthors; find publishers and artists; proofread; and get your game to market. But publishing wouldn’t be an adventure unless there was the chance of failure. Sending you into the dungeon without first warning you of the pitfalls and monsters which await won’t do you or the industry any good.

The professional fantasy author is something of a Loch Ness Monster: often spotted, more often speculated about, but almost never confirmed. When you start to look into the ‘pros’ you find that most of them work another job in addition to their writing (Tolkien and Asimov both worked in academia in addition to their fiction writing), were paid by a company which went bankrupt for spending too much (including author salaries) on developing its products, or that even though they work at a game company, writing is only a small part of their duties.

Astute writers may point out the example of J.K. Rowling, but she writes fantasy-mysteries, and ‘mystery’ has traditionally been a larger, better selling genre than ‘fantasy.’ Thus the example is not entirely applicable. Later pages in this book cover the concept of genre more in depth, but for the time being, let it suffice to say that fantasy is not the largest genre. The number shift around a little depending on who analyzes them and how, but fantasy never comes out on top. It is usually trumped by things like: self-help, biographies, romance, mystery, and children’s books. In fact fantasy, science fiction, and horror are usually grouped into a single group which for years was dominated by the horror works of Stephen King. And this is a discussion of fiction; games are a tiny fraction of the total fantasy fiction market. Or to look at it from another perspective, consider the markets for board games like Scrabble and Life as compared to the market for role playing games. (Scrabble and Life are both property of Hasbro, names used without permission as examples of Americana culture)

There are currently game companies with paid staff. How much they are paid and how much of their time they get to spend creating are separate questions which I’m not in a position to answer. But today these game companies recruit primarily, perhaps exclusively, through their various fan clubs. Thus, if your goal is to work at a game company, your best bet is to start courting a particular company: be an active contributor to their forums; enter their contests; go to gaming conventions, meet the staff, and ask them where they scout for new talent. An entire book could be written on the tactics to land a job at a game company, and having never done so, I am not in a position to write it.

If you want to call all the shots, then you should start your own game company. The vast majority of game companies operate around the break-even point.

Today’s large game companies all started out at small ventures, so there is a non-zero chance that with the right circumstances your company could make it big. But in listening to stories from people who founded the companies which now dominate the game market, a reoccurring theme is the “years” at the beginning when the company paid its employee little or literally nothing, forcing them to find other means to support themselves. So this seems like sound advice: if you found a game company, you have to be ready to financially support both yourself and it by other means.

The other thing most people don’t realize about founding a game company is that writing is actually only a small part of the publishing industry. Even publishers which start out as ‘self-publishing’ usually end up recruiting outside authors because they are too busy running the company to write. In fact, the more successful you are, the less time you’ll have to write.

This means that game companies always have a backlog of projects they want to publish, but not enough time to write them. This drives them to hire freelance authors to work on the projects. Working as a freelance author can be fun, it can also be stressful, and it is probably the fastest route to get a game with your name on it published. Freelancing also allows you to control the amount of time you spend working on games; it’s your choice which jobs to take and which jobs to turn down.

We’ll cover the fine are of freelancing in more detail in its own section. For now, let’s look at the numbers for making a living as a freelancer. Five to ten cents a word is considered ‘pro-rate,’ so to support a minimalistic $20K a year lifestyle, at top pay rate you would need average over 700 words every day. This may not sound like much, but there is more to writing than just putting words on paper. 700 words a day means: finding an opening, writing a query letter, receiving a response to your query letter, writing the piece, editing the piece, submitting the piece, HAVING THE PIECE ACCEPTED (always the tricky part over which you have no control), revising the piece based on editorial feedback, proofing the final copy, having the company ACTUALLY PUBLISH THE PIECE AND PAY YOU (again, not a given) and helping the publisher to promote the work… for 700 words, every day without a vacation. For this discussion, we also need to say that most game publishers don’t pay pro rate.

In short, writing a game is not a step towards a larger goal: writing a game is a grand adventure which is both the journey and the goal wrapped into one. Don’t sabotage your game with unreasonable expectations; appreciate your game for what it is and enjoy the adventure.

Avalon Dungeon Tiles

Been hard at work the last few month putting together some great new battle tiles for you fans.  Each set will offer a few passages or rooms, all set to 1″ for figure use.  All of these will be a layered PDF, so you can turn off or on set features as you want.  Each comes with a ton of features, so there are a bazillion different combinations for you to play with.

 

Here is a list of what we have so far…

Dungeon Passages, in two styles, each set to 15′, 10′ and 5′ wide passages.  They come with lot of great features, such as magical wards, blood smeared fl,doors, slime, pits, water filled, and more.

Dungeon chambers, in the same two styles, with all kinds of rooms, and shapes and sizes.  The also will come with all kinds of features, including pits, magical fog, crystals and more.

Crypts, both as passages and Chambers.  Dark and evil, these are filled with coffins, and come with all kinds of features just like our other sets.

Specialty rooms.  These feature several sets of chambers with a common use, so far we have Wizard’s Lairs (With a study, lab, library and casting rooms). Torture rooms and Prisons, Temples, Magical Gates, Chasms, Treasure Rooms, Throne Rooms, and more Tombs.

Dungeon Entrances.  These small sets offer a sleet entrance to a dungeon, and include Cave with hidden entrance, temple, ruins and more.

We also have plans for select sets that feature a set racial lair or location.  So far we have the Dwarf mines, and chambers worked up, but have many more planed.

If that was not enough, we are hard at work on sci-fi based tiles as well.

So hold onto you seats, its going to be a wild ride.

Fan content for Arcana

Been some time since I offered this up, but it came up again this weekend.

 

We here at Avalon are always looking for folks to add to the setting, and have offered player and fan generated content in the journals over the years.  Some examples have been coins or the realms, house swords and some other fun stuff.  If you even generate anything and think it would be fun to add to the system, drop us a line and we might add it to a journal.

 

This of course also goes for any of our games and products, and have had fans offer up all sorts of good stuff over the years. We have even hired a few to re-work old games and to make them new again.

New game

Been some time since I ran a game and so this summer I started a new one with some old friends.

Here is the primer I set up for them….

 

Avalon

 

Across the silver sea and beyond the mists of dreams lies a city. Near the peaks of nightmares and standing at the foot of the Walls of Choice stands the eternal city.

 

Avalon.

 

Home to a dark queen of great power and her feuding brood, Avalon is the shining city on the horizon, the eternal realm, the home of true magic. Here all begins and all ends, the city forever standing the test of time, legend, and myth.

 

Before Avalon lays a grand harbor surrounded by high cliffs of white stone. Beyond endless is the Silver Sea and its many ports of call in the mists of dreams. The city then rises above the waves, rolling up the sides of a lone mountain, the peak high above the city’s many towers and spires. Near the peak lies the castle of the Black Rose, a tall fortress of dark stone and black metal gates. Here the Queen, Moab, sits upon her Rose Throne, ruling all before her.

 

To the south lie the many fields and dells of the Misty Lands, where the farms and orchards of the simple folk feed the many inhabitants of Avalon. The vineyard produces wines, the olive trees offer oil of great flavor, and the fields are an endless supply of fruits and grains for bread and pies.  The further from Avalon one walks the greater the mist gathers, until one becomes lost to the city and finds themselves in the Dreamlands.

 

To the west lies the great Arden Forest, primal and ancient. Great trees rise up to kiss the skies, and as one moves deeper into the woods the more savage and old the forest becomes. Monsters lurk here, things out of nightmares and lost to time and legends. Jabberwockies, dragons, and unicorns roam these woods, as do fairies and other lost folk.

 

To the north one finds the Hills of Darkness and then the Mountains of Nightmares, places of dark thoughts and dark needs. Monsters roam the slopes of these peaks, while griffins and rocs fly the skies seeking prey. Finally, one passes beyond the peaks and finds themselves on plains void of life; little grows here as one sees the great Wall of Chaos rise up upon the horizon, a seething barrier between what is and what is not. Here madness thrives; chaos and demons are spawned and fester, lusting for life.

 

Queen Moab and Her Family

Queen Moab is the eternal queen of the realms of Avalon, its royal monarch and sole authority. Moab is a ravishing beauty; well known for her flowing raven hair, slim figure, and noble manner. She is sung about in dreams and legends speak of her regal ways.

 

The queen has several children, from several husbands.

 

The first husband was noble Arthur, a great king out of the mists of dreams. It is said that the two met on the field of battle; Arthur was the only man that could defeat Moab and so she took him as her husband. The two were very happy and lived together for many years; the great castle that would be their home was founded at this time. Arthur died in battle a long time ago, defending the realm from an invasion of giants out of the great Arden Woods.

 

Moab mourned the death of Arthur for many years, her tears said to have formed the Sapphire of Power.

 

Her next husband was a brash, loud man, Zeus. A king in his own right he was the master of the storm, lightning, and thunder. Their marriage was deafening as they argued all the time and he was rumored to have licentious appetites. Moab finally caught him with a young maid in the Queen’s own bed, which turned her cold and hateful. Enraged, Moab took his head, had the maid’s legs sewn together and then dropped her into the ocean. The girl was a sorceress of some skill, however, and used her magic to transform into the Sea Hag. Now she sinks ships, devouring any women she finds and makes the men her slaves, myrmidons in her army of the watery dead.

 

The last was Math, a student of Tiamant. He found the eye of the queen and become her lover, though never her husband, for Moab would have no more men tied to her. Math left the city on a quest of unknown nature, never to be seen again. Some think he was slain by Tiamant, while others say he fled the queen’s wraith when she found out a secret about his past.

 

Tiamat

The mad witch, she is power incarnate. Some say she was and is the true power of the realm. What relationship exists between Tiamat and Moab is not clear—some think the crazy hag is Moab’s mother, some say a sister, while others say she is the cursed first daughter of the queen, born of Moab’s union with a demon out of the Chaos Wall.

 

Tiamant appears to be a young girl of about ten years old, with wild hair, and one red eye and one blue. She often talks in riddles and to herself.

 

What is clear is that she is a vastly powerful mage, a shaper of reality and a true adept to the power of the blue flame.

 

She has taught all of the royal children the basics of the blue flame and its powers, but few can call her a true teacher or mentor.

 

The queen and Tiamant do not get along; the queen has on more than one occasion publicly wished the mad child-witch dead or gone. Still, the mad girl remains, causing trouble and talking in her riddles.

 

The Blue Flame

Deep within the mountain next to the city, reached by a hidden door in the castle, lies a maze of passages and tunnels. Traps, dead ends, and death wait those that enter. At the center of the maze exists a cavern high and dark. In the middle of the cavern is a well and rising from the gaping hole is a haunting blue flame, eternally burning and powerful.

 

At the center of the blue flame lies a black rose. How the rose got there and its purpose only the royals of the realm know and they do not tell their secrets.

 

It is known that the flame is their power and it is from the flame that they can walk the lands of dreams, reach places no one else can enter, a power no others can hope to understand, let alone wield.

 

Pushing through the Flames

Each member of the royal family is trained by Tiamant to survive the ordeal of the blue flames, to steel their mind and body for the coming trial. Only members of the royal family have ever survived this ordeal and now none dare try save the royals.

 

The trial begins after the royal enters the chamber of the flame and walks to the edge of the well. There they reach out and try to push their hand into the flames and touch the rose within. At first there is little resistance and no pain, but as the royal pressed harder into the flames a stiff resistance can be felt and a slight itch runs along their arm. Soon the itch turns to a cold burning and the pressure felt grows more difficult to push through. At this point the royal has pushed their hand into the flames and the blue of the flames grow brighter and more intense.

 

As the royal positions their arm deeper into the fire of blue, they feel a burning deep into their arm and a crushing of the bones. They are sure the flames are eating at their flesh and their hand and arm is wracked with agony. It takes a supreme effort of will to resist the pain and a mighty strength to push deeper into the fire. Now the forearm is deep into the flames and the light fills the cavern with blue energy.

 

The pain becomes all-consuming—the royal is sure their arm is burned away and the crushing has snapped their ribs and turned their bones to powder. Their arm is fully into the flames at this point and all the royal knows is the pain and the need to touch the flower. Finally, with the last bit of willpower and strength the royal has, they prick their finger on one of the rose’s thorns and a single drop of blood flows. The royal is now attuned to the flame; the pain all gone and their mind expanded to fill the whole of creation. They are one with reality and can from this point move themselves to any place they can think of—no barrier will stop them, no magic is powerful enough to hold them at bay.

 

Those that are not of the royal family that have tried this trial burned, their flesh stripped of their body and consumed by the blue flames.

 

Excalibur and the Four Gems of Power

In the realm there are four great items of power. The first is Excalibur, the sword of Arthur, the first king of the realm. The blade is of a black metal, deep and shining with a blue light. It can cut any material and is deadly in battle. Only the royals have ever wielded the blade and it is the true token of power for the kingdom.

 

Next comes the four Gems of Power, stones that hold magical might and deep eldritch power. The lesser stone is a Sapphire, set in a ring of black metal not unlike that of the blade of Excalibur. The stone stores power and if worn by one of the royal family its power can be released.

 

Next comes the Emerald set as a necklace, once more of black metal. The stone’s powers are a close secret, held by the royals and used only by those men and women with the blood of Moab flowing in the veins.

 

Next comes the Ruby, set as a broach in black metal. It is said the Ruby can tap into the flow of time itself.

 

Last is the Diamond, an unadorned bright stone the size of an egg. The stone has been lost for many ages and its location unknown.

 

Coins

After all the children of Moab were born, Tiamat struck a series of magical black metal coins, giving each child a full set.

 

One side of the coin has a rose with a dragon in flight above, while the other side holds the visage of one of the queen’s children. Two other coins were included with each set, one with an image of the castle gate and the other of the Queen’s Square in the city of Avalon.

 

When held by a member of the royal family, these coins can be used to activate several magical abilities. The most common use is as a means of communication between the different members of the royal family. When spun the coin will allow a mental contact and conversation between two or more members of the family. The user of the coin spins the correct coin and, with some concentration, makes a connection with the person of the coin’s image. The two can communicate as if they were speaking, although no one can hear them talk as the communication is a form of telepathy.

 

With each coin spun, another member of the family can join the conversation. A connection, when generated, feels like a small itch in the contacted person’s brain, but the connection does not have to be answered and can be ignored.

 

With effort, one can even use the coins to create a gateway between the two royals; once the connection is created one member can reach out and draw to them the other member of the family, bringing them from any distance, and even through the mists of dreams.

 

Those in the know think that the coins are linked to the blue flame in some way and there might be additional uses and power the coins offer.

 

Birth Order

Arthor

1st and 2nd children

Gain extra personal and warfare points.

 

The children of Arthur are by birth skilled warriors and generals, taught by their father to be great soldiers. These children are much older than the youngest brood and were adults already when Math’s kids were born.

 

Zeus

3rd, 4th, and 5th children

Each gains more body points.

 

Like their father, these children are rough, loud, and strong. Older then Math’s brood, these weere all teenagers when Math’s kids were born.

 

Math

6th and 7th child.

Gain extra sorcery points.

 

Quiet and thoughtful, the children of this mage are skilled in the arts of sorcery and magic. These are the Queen’s youngest children and barely out of their teens.

 

The Royals and Age

While everyone in Avalon seems to live long lives compared to people in the dreamlands and among the people of Avalon, the royals are especially eternal, some say even immortal.

 

The royals, once they reach adulthood, seem to slow down their aging, taking decades or even longer to show any signs of advancing age.

The older children have seen several generations of people in Avalon come and go, while the middle children are just now experiencing this effect as some of the people they grew up with have now started to die of old age.

 

This, of course, has colored the way the royals see other people. The older children of Arthur have seen several generations within the city come and go, so to these firstborn children of Moab the common folk are transitory—only institutions and family lines remain true. The middle children are just now understanding their immortality. The younger children have yet to experience this effect as they have just now reaching adulthood and their peers are still the same age in appearance.

 

Note: You, the player, will have to figure out how this has colored your character’s views and personality, based upon your position in the birth order and background. Maybe your character fell in love early in adulthood only to watch as that loved one grew old and died. Did this turn them cold and distant to the common folk? Maybe it made them more open and loving to those that they feel will only be around a short time.

 

Positions within the Realm

There are several positions in the realm that the royal children hold.

 

The Queen’s Right Hand

The queen often needs someone to officiate at her court, to set agendas, maintain appointments, and to act as diplomat and advisor. The Right Hand was often more of a ceremonial position until queen fell ill. Now the position carries much political clout as the royal who holds the title can set more than just the agenda for the day, but direct the debate at hand, disallowing those they do not respect to see the queen in an official audience.

 

The Queen’s Left Hand

When the queen needs a killing, she calls upon her Left Hand. This is her enforcer. This royal must be a bodyguard at court and her dark messenger. The queen’s executioner is a feared member of the court and the queen’s dark will.

 

Steward of the Castle

The Steward is in charge of the castle proper, its guards, and servants. The charge of the castle’s Steward is to keep it well maintained, safe, and secure. They are in charge of the Queen’s guard and the castle’s well-trained soldiers.

 

Steward of the City

The city’s Steward sees to the safety, order, and maintenance of the city of Avalon. They are in charge of the Small and High Councils, and hold the power of veto over all acts of taxes, levy, and laws that these two bodies generate. The Steward is also in charge of the City Watch and guard the city’s long, high walls.

 

Steward of the Woods

Keeper of the great Arden woods, this Steward is charged with keeping the woods safe from monsters, to seek out foes of the realm within the woods, and to train and equip the woods’ many rangers.

 

Steward of the Sea

This Steward is in charge of the Royal Navy, its sailors, and fighting men. The steward must keep the sea-lanes open and free of pirates and seek out monsters of the deep and slay them.

 

The Queen’s Favorite

For whatever reason, you have always been the queen’s favorite child. She has doted on you more than the others and gifted you with expensive gifts. This, of course, has not gone over well with the other children.

 

Tiamat’s Student

For whatever reason the mad witch took you in as a student, which mostly meant that you fetched her odd bits of this and that, or sat and listened to her ramble on about the oddest things. Still, she taught you more about the flame and magic than the other children of the queen.

 

Secrets

Coins

Tiamat create a special set of coins for her and Moab, which contains the standard set of coins all the royals hold, but includes other coins as well. What these other coins depict is anyone’s guess. You do know that Moab kept her coins in a hidden drawer within her desk, which sits in her study. Tiamat’s coins may well lie in her tower, but finding anything in the great chaotic mess would be a task unto itself.

 

Hidden Passage to the Chamber of Flames

All of the royals know of one way into the chamber that holds the blue flame, as all have been taken there by Tiamat when they were first sent to the trial of the flames. There is another route through the maze, though more dangerous, as it crosses several chasms and pit falls, but it is faster, as well. The exit is by a hidden door behind an outcropping of stone to the rear of the chamber.

 

Hidden Stairs

The cliff to the rear of the castle is high and cannot be climbed, so sheer are the stones. There is a hidden set of stairs, cut from the stone itself, which rises from a hidden cove under the castle’s cliffs, traversing up to hidden gate at the castle’s lower garden. The stairs are dangerous to climb, narrow and wet.

 

Shadows of the Flame

Out in the mists of dreams there lay shadows, minor reflections of the blue flame. Sorcerers out in the mists use these reflections to cast spells and gain power. None are as powerful as the royal of Avalon, though. A royal of Avalon can use these reflections in the same way as the true flame, but to a lesser power level and ability.

 

Avalon Once More

Tiamat once told you in a moment of what seemed like clarity, that this was not the first reflection of Avalon, but one of many that she has created, each different, but always holding the queen and her children, although the brood often switches position, gender, and even may be skipped over from time to time.

 

“It will all come to an end once more when she dies again,” the mad witch moaned and then gave you a baleful eye as she realized what she had said. She let you live for some reason, but it is the closest you have ever come to death. It was entirely too clear she did not want you to repeat this information to anyone else.

 

Moab’s Brother

Moab had a brother once, but he was slain by her in a struggle for dominance. This was long before she came to the lands that would eventually become Avalon. You only know this because Tiamat once slipped that Moab’s older brother “was a better sorcerer than his sister, the queen.” The mad witch glared at you after as she realized what she had said, and it was clear she did not want you to repeat this information to anyone else.

 

Math Lives

Lord Math, Moab’s third mate still lives, trapped, you think, somewhere in the mists of dreams. What he was up to and who or what trapped him is not known, but you did once, while traveling in the dreamlands, come upon a clue that he is held in a place called the Tower of the Four Powers.

 

Arthur was Murdered

King Arthur, first lord of the realm, died defending the realm. This is canon; everyone knows this. What is not known is that he was actually poisoned, and died on the field of battle, weak from the drug. Who did the deed you do not know, but a witch you met once in the mists of dreams said she was the one to concoct the drug. “A foul drink that would make the lord of Avalon weak for a time, just enough to be sure he would die in battle.” You could not find the witch thereafter, no matter how hard you have searched.

 

Shape Shifters

Both the Queen and Tiamat can change their shape, both skilled shifters. Tiamant of the two is the most skilled, but the queen was also able to take any form and shape she wishes. The two often use this power to spy on foes and to weave misinformation.

 

Black Metal

Excalibur, three of the four gems of power, and all of the magical coins use a black metal. Most know not where this metal is mined, but you do. Seems that Tiamat, by some eldritch means, is able to reach into the Wall of Chaos and pull forth the metal.  She seems to use the power of the flame to protect herself from the madness of the wall and its many dangers, but the reward is a metal of great magical power and potential.

 

 

Game Mechanics

The game will use a very limited and simple system for conflict resolution and game play. Players will assign points totals to a set attribute or skills, ranging from 0 to 6. When a conflict arises in the game, the players will compare like attributes or skills and the player with the higher value will generally win the conflict. To this total can also be added the players’ actions, the set-up of the situation, and other factors, so just because someone is better than you at a set task does not mean you cannot out-think them and set events in motion that will allow you to beat them anyways, regardless of their mastery of the given skill or attribute.

 

Within the game there are three attributes, each set between 0 and 6.

 

Body

Covers all physical actions and abilities. This reflects your overall health, resistance to pain, strength, and quickness.

 

Common folk out in the mists of dreams will have a body of 0, while the common Avalon citizen will have a body of 1. All royals start at a body of 2.

 

Mind

How thoughtful, wise, cunning and intelligent you are. This also reflects your resistance to magical and mental attacks, the ability to think outside the box, and how creative you are. As with body, most dreamlanders have a mind of 0, Avalon citizens a score of 1, and royals start at 2.

 

Social

How adept you are in interactions with others, how charming you can be, or how deceitful you may be. This reflects your ability to lie, tell when someone else is lying to you, bluffing, bargaining, and the general appeal you have to others.  As with all the other attributes, 0 is the standard for dreamlander, 1 for Avalon citizens, and 2 for the royals.

 

Skills

There can be any number of skills that a character can have, as it is up to the player to determine what their character can or cannot do. Like attributes, the rank of the skill is from 0 to 6.

 

Rank and their Effects:

Rank 0: No skill in the area at all, no ability to perform the skill.

Rank 1: Proficient, basic ability, and familiarity with the skill in question.

Rank 2: Expert in the use of the skill.

Rank 3: Master of the skill; you have an understanding of the skill in question and a full mastery of its basic and expert uses.  You even have some understanding of its secret and hidden uses.

Rank 4: Lord, you are a true master of the skill and expert in all its useful and secret ways. Few can say they are better than you.

Rank 5: Paragon, you know the secrets of the skills and are one of the few in the whole of reality that can perform the skill with such easy and deft use.

Rank 6: Godlike use.  There is nothing you do not know about the use of the skill. Few if any can say they are as good as you and none can say they are better.

 

Within a set skill you can have specialties, added mastery of a set use or aspect of the skill. To each of these you may add points to the specialty and when said specialty is in use you may add the extra points in that specialty to the skills base score.

 

Example: You have personal combat at level 2, but have specialized in parry at level 1. When in a fight, you may parry an incoming attack, forgoing an attack of your own, but when you do so you have an effective skill of 3, not level 2.

 

No skill can be raised beyond 6, even with specialty points or items bonus.

 

Possible skills usable. This is not a full list just the most common skills in the game

 

Personal Combat: Your ability in melee fights, whether it be with a weapon or with your fists.

Warfare: Your ability to lead troops, tactics, and manage a battlefield.

Sorcerer: Basic skills in magic and casting spells.

Conjuring: The summoning of creatures and objects out of the mists of dreams.

Enchanting: The creation of items of power.

Shape Change: The ability to change your shape, form, and appearance.

Lore: Skilled in the understanding of history, academics fields, and cosmology.

Adept of the Flame: Basics skill in the use of the powers of the blue flame, coin use, and dream-walking.

Athletics: Ability in sports, physical activities, and skills.

Stealth: Ability to move about without notice, set traps, sneak, and lie.

First Aid: Medical training, surgery, healing of all types.

And so on….

 

Items and Creations:
You may spend points creating items of power, allies, or organizations. For each character point you spend you may create four points worth of items or allies. You may never apply more than four points to any one item or person.

 

An ally created in this way will have the points generated applied to attributes and skills. Thus, if you use two points to make an ally, you could create them with a body of 1 and personal combat of 1. An item created this way might have damage set at 2, or it might add to your personal combat by 2, etc.

 

You do not have to spend the character points converted on the same object or person, but may spread them around. Example: You could spend one character point to generate 4 ally points, spending 2 points on one person, one point on an organization, and one point on an item.

 

Organization Size:

1 Point: Small group, 5 or so in number

2 Points: Medium group, 50 or so in number

3 Points: Large group, 100 to 250 or more

4 Points: Huge group, up to 500 strong

 

Points may be spent on members of a group as well, giving each a set skill or attribute at a set level.

 

Example: You create a group of bodyguards, so set the group number to 1, and then give each member within that group a personal combat of 2 and a body of 1. This group costs four points total.

 

Remember a group, item, or ally can never have more than four points spent on it in total.

 

Items that add to damage show the base damage the item will deliver. This is compared to the target item’s or person’s body. If the damage is equal to the body of the target, wounds or damage are generated. If the damage done is higher than the body of the target, there may be severe damages or wounds generated, or the character may be even killed outright or an item destroyed in a single blow.

 

Most items out of the mists of dreams do 0 damage, while an Avalon weapon would do 1 point.

 

Note that when creating an item that does extra damage; add the new amount to what the item can do naturally. Example: A sword out of Avalon does 1 point of damage normally, so when you buy one point of damage it will now do 2 points of damage.

 

Note that some items and materials may do or even stop higher amounts of damage. Items made from the black metal are set at a base of 4 damage while items made using the power of the blue flame are set at a base of 3.

Arcane Lords

Working on a new boardgame which we will put out through our mini-game product line. Fantasy war, cards, map tiles which can be enchanted and flipped over, figure flats, and more. Full color and its going to be available as a POD so you can get great printed copies.

More when we get closer to a release, but it should see daylight n the next month or so.

Monsters By Email

We just signed up to use Nicholas Cloister’s of Cloister Publications for use of his wonderful monster and critter images. He will be coming out with some really exciting images of monsters this year and we get to use some of them.

Most we will use for a critters of the Fringe product to go along with all the other Fringe stuff coming out this coming year. We also might add a new section to Game Geek using the images as even more monsters for Pathfinder and the Fringe.

You can check out samples of the art at…

MonstersByEmail.com

Rob

Monster Hunter Playtesting Report

So we have been playtesting a few sessions of Monster Hunter and thought it time to fill you in on it some more.  While we plan to release the whole thing as a Pathfinder setting, RPG and a tabletop system, right now we are focused on the tabletop version.

 

So what is Monster Hunter?  Well think of classic monsters, vampires, werewolves and Frankenstein and the like and have them grouped into factions of like-minded monsters.  Then have them battle it out in a turn of the century, gothic horror setting.  Blood, nightmares and horrors all rolled into one big bang.

 

What we have tried to do this time around is give you a fast passed skirmish system where you have a master boss, as well as plenty of heroes and underlings to use as cannon fodder. All of the factions will have special abilities and flavor, which will make them stand out, but all will use the same basic system so everyone is upon the same page as far as rules and the like.

 

The system will use action points to allow characters to move, make attacks and use special abilities, which there will be plenty off, so those all important combos will be there to tweak and discover.

 

Combat is simple, roll a set die, and if you equal of exceed the target’s AC you score a hit.  Now the fun comes in with the critical feature of the game, anytime you roll a die’s maximum possible result you score a critical and can re-roll that die again, adding the result to your total.  Each time you roll the critical, you get to re-roll the die.  In the last player test Josh rolled a single D6 three times in a row, each time with a new critical and came up with a score over 30+.  I hate him some times…

 

Now add in this ability to roll several dice, or different types and you have some great fun.

 

An example would be a typical vampire claw attack.  Most vampires use a single D4 with their claw attack but may bump the attack by another D4.  So they roll 2D4 most of the time.  A typical AC is around 5 or 6, so if the vampire rolls well they will hit most of the time doing 1D4 damage.  If thought, they can score twice the AC target number, say a 12, then they do a 1D4 plus another 1D4 in damage.  Score three times the AC target number and the damage moves to a bonus 1D6, and so on.  The trick thus is to get as many dice into you hand and to over power the target number, allowing you to do more damage, or to generate more effects.

 

So far the system has run rather well and in the final stages of work.  We will then move on to the all-important balancing of the factions, which takes the most time and the most play testing.

 

We will continue to post reports on the progress of the system and offer peeks at the art and other goodies as they get done.

 

Rob

Avalon Games