A Guide to RPG Design


Ramsey “Tome Wyrm” Lundock

Part 3

Close the Circuits


One of the basic principles of any kind of electronics is that power will flow only through closed circuits which form a complete circle. (Sometimes this circle involves a lightning rod or the body of an unwary electrician, but there is always a closed circle). But a ‘circuit’ doesn’t have to be electronic. It can refer to any circular journey. So this basic principle applies to your game world as well: unless you close the circuits, power won’t flow.

The most important circuits to worry about are the ecological and economic ones.

The first refers to the ‘circle of life’ also known as the food chain, where plants are eaten by herbivores, which are in turn eaten by carnivores, which return nutrients to the soil through their excrement and their bodies after death. This is of course an over simplification. A single ‘loop’ around the circuit might involve half a dozen predator/prey relations, not to mention scavengers, omnivores, parasites, fungi, etc. Every year scientists discover new surprises about Earth’s complex, diverse ecosystem, so no one honestly expects you to plan out the entire ecosystem of your world (and if you did, no one would want to take the time to read it), but don’t populate your wildernesses with nothing but giant predators who exist for no other reason than to attack the adventurers.

Although it is important to close the large scale circuits, your readers are more likely to notice the small scale ecological imbalances. Simply put, everywhere you have a concentration of living creatures, be it a city, a dungeon, or a spaceship, you need to include ways to get food, water, and fresh air (oxygen) in; as well as a means to get refuse, waste water, and stale air (carbon-dioxide) out.

Economic systems are also circular. The first economic transactions were barter: I give you something and I get something. This is a simple circle between two people. A famous example of an economic circuit is the “Golden Triangle” of 17th and 18th Century Atlantic. This trade circuit operated between Europe, Africa, the New World, and back to Europe; trading rum for slaves, slaves for sugar, and sugar for rum along each leg of the journey respectively. This example also shows that an “economically viable” system is not necessarily “moral.”

Money complicates the issue, allowing loops involving numerous people who may be unaware of all of the participants, but the basic principle remains the same, everyone has to give something and everyone has to get something. Even in the case of imperial Rome, which lived off taxes collected from the empire “importing everything, exporting only power,” you need to remember that “power” (military strength of arms, police services, government administration) is a valuable commodity. How people in the outskirts of the empire felt about Rome, and whether or not they wanted those services, is a different matter, which does not change the fact that taxes<–> power, is viable economic circuit.

Even criminal activity must obey the laws of economics. Pirates and other robbers don’t steal for the joy of burying the treasure; they fully intend to spend the loot somewhere. Unless there was someone willing to do business with the thieves and monsters in your world, there would be no reason for them to steal money. And as ironic as it sounds, through various exchanges, this money must make it back into the hands of the very people who were robbed (or others like them). Unless the victims have a chance to earn back what was taken from them, the victims would soon run out of money, thus the thieves would run out of victims, and the entire cycle would collapse.

When creating your circuits, you can’t include the player characters. Almost by definition the player characters break the preexisting circuits. For example, rescuing a princess breaks the ransom-for-hostage circuit. This means that every treasure, person, or weapon the characters liberate from the enemy was intended for some other use; it wasn’t put there just for the characters to find. So rather than throwing in a pile of currency or a cache of high-tech weapons to reward the player characters, put serious through into where those items came from, and where they were intended to go.

Player characters will establish their own circuits, but those will play out over the course of the game and are not necessarily part of the prepared setting.

In a perfect world, all of the cycles would be closed. But Earth is not a perfect world. There are numerous examples where a new species is introduced to an area “short circuiting” the local ecology by taking too much and not giving back the nutrients in a form that other organisms have evolved to accept. In economics, if one person or group spends without producing it leads to a variety of social problems involving indebtedness and poverty. You should feel free to include “short circuits” in your setting (a dragon who hordes treasure without spending it; or a vampire who preys on humans without returning any nutrients to the soil), provided that you realize that these short circuits are not viable over the long term. And if you let the realistic consequences of these short circuits play out in your world, your readers will be amazed by the realism of your setting.

More IF Threats

PlM2b-SS1 Vinx (the snake goddess)                    CR 5

An android modeled after storybook creatures that were themselves inspired by Hindu myths.


Type Large (long) electromagnetic

Tech Level VII

Cost 600,000cr; Maintenance & Fuel c120,000cr (depending on wear and rest cycles allowed)

Init +2

Senses darkvision 120 ft.; Perception +4




AC 21, touch 12, flat-footed 19 (+2 Dex, +9 natural)

hp 6d10+40

Fort +1, Ref +3, Will +0

Resistances none

Immunities death effects, disease, charms, compulsions, phantasms, patterns, morale effects, paralysis, poison, sleep, stun, nonlethal damage, ability damage, ability drain, fatigue, exhaustion, death from massive damage

DR 5/magnetic

Vulnerabilities magnetic, electricity




Speed 40 ft.

Melee 2x punch +11 (1d4+5) or tale whip +7 (1d4+5 + grab + blood drain)

Ranged none

Space 10 ft., Reach 5 ft.

Special Attacks tail grab, constrict (1d4+5)




Str 21, Dex 15, Con -, Int 9, Wis 9, Chr 9

Base Attack +6, CMB +12, CMD 24 (immune to trip)

Feats Ability Focus (tail grab), Exsanguinate, Improved Grapple

Skills Perception +5, Survival +5

Languages unknown language (installed at time of purchase), Galactic Standard




Environment manufactured

Organization solitary, pair, nest (3-24)

Treasure high tech parts




While generally classified as an android, the Vinx is in fact more of a cyborg. The only reason they are not classified as a cyborg is the creature’s brain is one of the things replaced, leaving the Vinx essentially a machine with bionic parts. There is a fine line between between a cyborg and a machine, but the loss of the brain definitively crosses it.


Vinxes are one of the more difficult constructs engineered for Dreamland. Fashioning a working snake-like body at man-size that can function fully in multiple environments as well as in tight and delicate spaces – that is a feat in and of itself. And that is on top of all of the other difficulties of combining a working humanoid upper body with the snake-like lower half and connecting it all to six independently working arms. The resulting programmed movement of the Vinx is a little wonky, but it was a wondrous feat – at least for its time. The fact that the neural network can take input about sensed objects, maneuver around them, and utilize any of it’s six arms to interact with said objects, and can do so all at once, is something that would have won any number of awards – at least, it would have if the Vinx had been engineered in public (and if those engineers hadn’t been arrested for illegal experimentation on live creatures).


The purpose that the Vinx was engineered for can be detected even with a casual glance by the observant eye: Vinxes have boobs. Reptiles don’t. Boobs are for nursing young. That’s not something that snakes do. And really, nothing more needs be said.


What’s more, they have a slotted metal covering for their chest, which covering is inset into the skin in such a way that it doesn’t come off even as the creature’s torso bends and twists along with the undulating sways of its lower body that it must make in order to move. Pure fantasy add-ons.


One of the other major issues with the design of the Vinx is the fingers of the upper four arms. The original concept for the creature was to have only these four arms. However, it was proved to be impossible to make these immensely long fingers functional while also not being so delicate as to be easily broken. Simple bone proved to be far too prone to breakage, and anything heavier hindered both movement and dexterity. However, the funder for the Vinx insisted on the design of the hands. Eventually, then, it was compromised that a third set of arms would be added, these being functional, while the upper four arms and hands would be constructed of a hardened alloy that makes those hands resistant to damage but leaves them unable to grasp objects with any sort of functional dexterity.


Gazing upon the features of the Vinx, some may be brought to ask why anyone would be attracted to such a long-fingered, snake-like creature with kelp-like hair. But then, it takes all kinds. There were always a few who were attracted to the monsters of the Hindu-inspired stories, going all the way back through history.


Cities Vinxes have the capacity to build cities, but not the inclination. Instead, they tend to build nests within caves and gullies. These nestings tend to be matriarchal in organization, but not because females are the center of Vinxian society. Instead, warrior males tend to wander away from the nest after mating, leading otherwise fairly solitary lives, while the females remain to rule and protect the nest, along with a secondary class of servant Vinx of both male and female sexes. Frequently these servant Vinx are neutered so as not to disturb the eggs of the brood mother elites of the nest. These same brood mothers thus rule the nest both militarily and domestically.


Common Armaments – Vinxes are not commonly engineered with weaponry in mind. However, they are fully capable of wielding weapons in their two active hands. In addition, their four useless hands can be replaced with metal claws (see special equipment), thus allowing those arms to be used as weapons as well. The Keepers of Dreamland never intended for Vinxes to use their spare hands in this manner, but the Vinxes have made a number of such adjustments to their bodies since the time of the Keepers.


Lacking much in the way of technology and the ability to reproduce, when Vinx wield weaponry, they mostly favor Medieval weaponry of various kinds. While they are capable of wielding more advanced weaponry, such weapons typically rely on things such as ammunition, which the Vinxes have no way of resupplying. Which is why, for the most part, if a Vinx picks up an advanced weapon, they will only use it on a temporary basis, essentially until the ammunition runs out, and then they will discard it.


The acquisition of solar-based reloading ammunition would thus be of a great boon to them.


Tactics – Vinxes are more than capable of advanced tactics; however, most Vinxes have never encountered a situation where they could learn advanced tactics. Their mindset is, essentially, stuck in the Asian Medieval period that they were designed for. In that sense, they will move in various formations and utilize large-scale group movements – if numbers allow. They are very hierarchical, and follow the orders of their current leader to the letter. In combat outside the nest, it is mostly elderly brood mothers who lead the Vinx forces, while the younger, egg-laying brood mothers remain in the nest breeding. In combat within the nest, the defense of these young brood mothers is of utmost priority, and the entire rest of the nest will lay down their lives in order to protect them. Should they ever have any eggs to protect (or think that they do), these eggs are considered of secondary importance, since brood mothers can always breed more. And of tertiary importance is everyone else.




Blood Drain Reservoir (Ex) Vinxes have the ability to drain the blood of the creatures they bite. However, since they are mostly machine, they cannot actually process this blood. Instead, they have a blood reservoir, which must be periodically emptied. In order to do so, the Vinx must be hooked up to some sort of draining device. Their Dreamland dome had a number of such devices set into various walls, and many of those devices are still in working order, but in a pinch a tube and a container works, and in much the same way as siphoning gas.


Darkvision (Ex) The ability to see with no light source at all, out to a range of 120 ft. Colors cannot be discerned with darkvision; it is black and white vision only. It is also not heat-based vision. It does not allow creatures to see anything that they could not see otherwise — invisible things remain invisible. The presence of light does not spoil darkvision.


Exanguinate (Ex) Due to the aggressive nature of their mechanical fangs, Vinxes can drain the blood from a creature at twice the normal rate, or 2-4 points of temporary Constitution damage for every round they are successfully coiled around a target.


Fake Eggs (Ex) Perhaps the most unusual feature of the Vinxes is the fact that they lay eggs. Being a construction, and a mostly mechanical one at that, Vinxes are incapable of having offspring. They are incapable of gestation at all, lacking any of the required organs. Their brood mothers are programmed to produce eggs at the given time after intercourse, and these eggs are made of plastic. And yet, plastic though they might be, the Vinxes will care for them and protect them as if they are real, believing them to be real. Of course these eggs never hatch, and eventually simply disintegrate at the programmed time.


The only way for new Vinxes to actually be made is, of course, for them to be manufactured. And with the Keepers gone, there is no one around to engineer new models. The Vinxes lack the technical capacity to do so, or even the mental capacity to realize there is a problem. Only that rare specimen that develops sentience has a chance of realizing the inevitable doom of the Vinxian species, and even the rare sentient having that realization has a problematic chance of that happening given the creature’s limited neural network.




Vinx Hand Claws

Type mechanical modifaction

Range self

Interference none

Description All Vinxes can have their four long-fingered hands replaced with a set of long-fingered alloy claw hands. These razor hands look very similar to their regular hands, except the fingers are all replaced with long blades. This modification allows the Vinx to wield these hands as weapons, but also makes it impossible for these hands to be utilized in even minor tasks outside of combat.


The claws are a 1d4 cutting weapon, and a Vinx can wield all four in one round as a full attack action as a full natural attack.




Abilities Str +6, Dex +2, Con NA, Int -2, Wis -2, Chr -2

Speed 40 ft.

Natural Weapons 2x punch (1d4) or tale whip (1d4 + grab + blood drain)

Racial Modifiers none

Special Abilities darkvision, natural AC +3

Senses darkvision 120 ft. blood drain reservoir, fake eggs, immune to trip

Resistances none

Immunities death effects, disease, charms, compulsions, phantasms, patterns, morale effects, paralysis, poison, sleep, stun, nonlethal damage, ability damage, ability drain, fatigue, exhaustion, death from massive damage

DR 5/magnetic

Vulnerabilities magnetic, electricity


IF Threats part 2

Ki3-S-X (devil-girl droid)                                        CR 2

A droid designed for those of a certain “discerning” taste.


Type Medium electromagnetic

Tech Level VII

Cost 50,000; Maintenance & Fuel c3000cr (depending on wear and rest cycles allowed)

Init +1

Senses blindsense, darkvision; Perception +0




AC 16, touch 11, flat-footed 15 (+1 Dex, +5 natural)

hp 2d10+20

Fort +0, Ref +1, Will -1

Resistances none

Immunities death effects, disease, charms, compulsions, phantasms, patterns, morale effects, paralysis, poison, sleep, stun, nonlethal damage, ability damage, ability drain, fatigue, exhaustion, death from massive damage

DR 2/magnetic

Vulnerabilities magnetic




Speed 20 ft.

Melee slap +5 (1d6+4) or tail whip +1 (1d4+3, range 10ft.)

Ranged none

Space 5 ft., Reach 5 ft., 10ft with tail whip

Special Attacks none




Str 18, Dex 12, Con -, Int 18, Wis 6, Chr 15

Base Attack +1, CMB +5, CMD 15 (11 vs. trip)

Feats Red Eye Glare

Skills Computer Use +8, Knowledge (psychology) +5, Linguistics +5, Perception +2; Racial Modifiers +4 Computer Use

Languages Galactic Standard and a dozen other languages




Environment manufactured

Organization solitary

Treasure high tech parts




The Ki3-S-X droid (commonly pronounced Kissex Droid, aka the Devil-Girl Sexoid) is an android designed for clientele of a certain taste. It is an early model of such droids, notably lacking in both feature list and immersion. However, no other company except the Keepers has catered to this particular desire in such detail and in such robust eagerness to please. And thus, while the Ki3-S-X could easily be surpassed in its duties by a well-designed modern droid, no one has even attempted to do so. And the story that the Ki3-S-X was made for is long since buried in the past, and thus the end result of a new droid wouldn’t be quite the same anyway – modern designers just wouldn’t interpret the story in the same way. Which is why, amongst this small circle of devotees, the Ki3-S-X is still legendary. It is so even if this circle are now only but a few elderly men clinging to an ancient tome no longer published or praised outside of their little circle.


A number of cultures have tales of demonic creatures with feminine qualities and a dark temper, and certain individuals within these cultures have always been attracted to these creatures, tales though they might be. With the advent of androids, though, fulfilling such fantasies is no longer a thing of costumes and pretend. An entire realm can be fashioned wholecloth that has such creatures dwelling within it, and thus such fantasists can live out the entire tale before their own eyes, instead of just pretending. Such recreations cost more than a trifle, of course, but there are those willing to pay any price to fulfill their fantasies.


Of course, in this the age of the biomod, an actual creature could be fashioned to fulfill the fantasy even more compellingly, as well. And most creatures of Dreamland were bio-engineered in just such a manner, and for that very reason. However, with certain creatures, the cost and difficulty of bio-blending a creature with the right attributes and the right psyche to offer the appearance of that storyland creature, all built around the right mannerisms and actions that will make the creature seem real – that becomes a task of monumental proportions, and consequently monumental costs.


A living demonic creature with the proper mix of desires and playfulness is not so easy a thing to produce on command out of a heap of genetic material. With such cases, where the necessary attributes are just not to be found in nature, it is far easier to stretch some bioskin over an android to the desired physicality, and then program in the desired behaviors to the exact desired detail. Because, after all, a computer does not resist a command that goes against biologic necessity, since there is no biology within it.


An early android design, Ki3-S-X’s have little programming outside of their area of expertise – that expertise primarily including entertaining, waitressing, and the performance of certain “demonic” rituals. Now that tourists no longer come to Dreamland, the Ki3-S-Xs have largely lost the purpose to which they were designed, and so they listlessly wander around their dome, cleaning and maintaining it as they have been programmed to do, even as their dome slowly collapses around them (since their maintenance programming does not include the mechanical side of dome maintenance). They were not programmed with desires, so now they are essentially without purpose or compass. Few Ki3-S-Xs ever achieve true sentience, and even when they do, it is often a difficult and stunted process to enlightenment. The end results are often a sentient creature as twisted and demonic as the stories the Ki3-S-Xs were built to represent.


Cities As a basic entertainment droid, the Ki3-S-Xs do not built cities, nor anything else for that matter. Even when gaining sentience, learning crafting skills isn’t something that’s particularly high on their to-do list. For the most part, Ki3-S-Xs dwell in the buildings of the Keepers, their makers, though they can exist in just about any building anywhere. They need very little in order to continue to exist – or perhaps it would be better to say, “ to continue to run.” They only difficulty they have is finding recharge stations and repair bays, as well as creatures that can repair them when damaged. With the Keepers gone and no more tourists visiting Dreamland, this is an ever increasing issue amongst the Ki3-S-Xs. But most of them lack the sentience to do more than clinically register the need for repair and to go and sit in the local repair bay for a while, waiting; they lack the drive to actively seek out a way to save themselves that lies outside their basic programming.


Technology Despite being fairly advanced droids for their time, Ki3-S-Xs are programmed with almost no technological ability. They do have an affinity for learning such skills, though, if they ever gain sentience, and they do lead very long lives – theoretically infinite if they find a way to stay under repair.


Common Armaments – As a machine built for “entertainment” purposes, the Ki3-S-Xs don’t come with weapons, as such. However, they are capable of a slap as a part of their entertainment programming, and, if the safety protocols are removed, this slap can be used as a somewhat effective weapon. Their tails can also be used as a whip which, again, if the safety protocols are removed, can be put to some use in combat. However, without alteration to their core programming and basic computer structure, a Ki3-S-X will never be an effective combatant, being incapable of wielding or even learning the uses of any other other weapons. Not that the physical construction of their hands and hooves would allow them to effectively wield most normal weapons anyway, even if their computer matrices were to be rebuilt.


Tactics – Ki3-S-Xs are an entertainment droid, and thus they have no programming for combat. While their safety protocols can be removed, thus allowing them to do effective damage, they still will not fight with any specific battle tactics or organization. They are an intelligent creature and can follow orders, and they can even learn orders, but they cannot learn the reasoning behind the orders – at least, not without a massive reworking of their neural network. And so, without someone there to constantly give them commands, their tactics will remain rudimentary, at best.




Blindsense (Ex) Utilizing a form of mechanical echolocation, the creature can locate all creatures within range of its blindsense ability, as long as it has line of effect to that creature. It need not make any Perception checks to discover such creatures, sensing them as fully and as easily as if the creature were standing there in plain sight of regular vision. The creature must be able to make its echolocation “scream” in order to receive the benefits of its blindsense ability. The echolocation scream is outside of the range of hearing of most bipedal beings; however, it is audible to a number of four-legged animals.


There are, of course, ways of evading echolocation, especially wherever there is access to advanced technology.


Darkvision (Ex) The ability to see with no light source at all, out to a range of 120 ft. Colors cannot be discerned with darkvision; it is black and white vision only. It is also not heat-based vision. It does not allow creatures to see anything that they could not see otherwise — invisible things remain invisible. The presence of light does not spoil darkvision.


Fingerless (Ex) While this creature does have fingers, they are not of a length or a jointedness to allow them to finely manipulate tools, thus preventing them from such tasks as painting or writing. (Though they have specifically been designed to allow for cupping and stroking.) In addition to preventing them from a number of mundane tasks, this construction prevents such creatures from wielding most weapons, including any gun that utilizes a grip or a trigger (ie, most of them). A wrist-mounted gun with a push-button trigger would work for such creatures, though.


Hooved (Ex) Despite being a bipedal creature, the creature has hooves instead of feet. This construction means that the creature is unsure of their footing, making it very easy for them to trip and fall, or to be tripped (already factored in), while also slowing their base movement. And they take these disadvantages without the normal counterbalancing advantage of being able to gallop that a hooved creature of four legs gains.


Language Chip Slots (Ex) As an entertainment droid, Ki3-S-Xs are designed with a certain amount of adaptability. One of those adaptabilities is languages: They come pre-programmed knowing a number of languages. However, despite their linguistic versatility, that number is far from sufficient in comparison to the number of languages encounterable within the Fringe. In order to compensate for that fact, the Ki3-S-Xs are built with a dozen computer language chip slots, a half-dozen in each horn. The slots are located on the backside of the horn, with individual coverings sliding open when pressed on in their right way, so allowing a new chip to be inserted, thus instantly granting the Ki3-S-X “knowledge” of a new language. Of course, any chip that is removed causes them to lose knowledge of the associated language. In other words, knowledge granted by the chips isn’t stored in the regular brain.


Red Eyes (Ex) As a part of their “devil” design, Ki3-S-Xs are built with yellow-red eyes that glow with an inner light. While unimportant in most situations, the intensity of the glow can be increased at will, which can be a little unnerving (see Red Eye Glare below), but also provides a light source at the intensity of a candle flame. Notable, though, this is a red light source, which can have certain natural effects.


Red Eye Glare: When Ki3-S-Xs increase the wattage in their glowing red eyes, the sight can be unnerving to a number of different humanoids. While active, the Ki3-S-Xs can spend a movement action to fix a target with her eyes, and that target immediately becomes unnerved for the rest of the round. The target must be able to see and can’t have their back to the Ki3-S-X for this effect to work. Simply avoiding the Ki3-S-X’s gaze does not make a character immune to this effect, and once the unnerving is in effect, simply turning their back will not remove the effect (turning your back on an unnerving creature is not the way to remove fear of it).




Ki3-S-X’s Harness

Type battery mechanical device

Range self

Battery Life 1 week on a charge

Interference high magnetic, emp blasts

Description As easily may be observed, Ki3-S-Xs typically do not wear much in the way of clothing – as befits their particular design paradigm. Being droids of a certain programming, they actually don’t have any compunctions about wearing clothing at all, but due to the strictures of those they entertain, the Ki3-S-Xs must pretend to a type of modesty which they do not actually share.


The Keepers who designed them did not want to waste the space of clothing, though, and so they developed the Ki3-S-X Harness. Typically, an android has to recharge its batteries at a rate similar to that of a human’s sleep cycle. The Ki3-S-X Harness acts as an extension battery, however. While wearing the harness on full charge, a Ki3-S-X can go for a full week without the need to recharge its battery. Thus, it will be fully awake and alert for the entirety of that week. What’s more, the harness can be removed and charged separately from the Ki3-S-X. While it typically requires 24 hours to fully charge a Ki3-S-X Harness, the Ki3-S-X can exist on her own power for that period, and then plug in the newly charged Harness, and so go on for another full week. After which, both the Harness’s and the droid’s energy will be exhausted.




Abilities Str +4, Int +4, Chr +2, Con NA, Wis -6

Speed 20 ft.

Natural Weapons slap (d6) or tail whip (d4 + Reach)

Racial Modifiers +4 Computer Use

Special Abilities blindsense, darkvision, fingerless, hooved, language chip slots, natural AC +5, red eyes

Immunities death effects, disease, charms, compulsions, phantasms, patterns, morale effects, paralysis, poison, sleep, stun, nonlethal damage, ability damage, ability drain, fatigue, exhaustion, death from massive damage

DR 2/magnetic

Vulnerabilities magnetic

New stuff for free for IF

Here is some new stuff for your IF games….



Origin World

As a special bonus, the creatures of the Infinite Creatures II come with their own unique Fringe world (thus allowing for a wider range of environments than are currently cataloged in the populated worlds of the Fringe. Of course, this in way means that these creatures must be used with this new world, nor that they even must be used in the Fringe setting. This new Origin World is, instead, a way of introduced strange and otherworldly sci fi creatures into a campaign within their own unique work with as little need for work from the Gamemaster to make that happen. Instead, these oddities come with a world ready made to receive them, which can be plopped down into any Infinite Futures campaign.



System: DLM 2

Owner: not held by any power

Tech Level: varies wildly, but the base origin is VIII

Shape: spherical

Sentient Population: estimated over 3 million, but unknown

General Classification: terraformed habitable world

Description: Dreamworld is a small world deep in the Fringe that has a lone orbit around a yellow sun.   Its system lies far from any other habitable world and even farther from any trade lanes. Many suspect that Dreamland was chosen for terraforming for the very fact that it was so isolated. And there are those who also suspect that the entire world itself is artificial – which is not to say that they believe it is a manufactured world, rather it is a world that was towed into the DLM 2 System and then terraformed. However, most consider it to be a rather fanciful idea that some species would go to all the time and trouble to safely move an entire world into another system all in order to turn it into an isolated playland for the wealthy.


Dreamland is certainly a playland. Or at least, it was. There is some native flora to Dreamland, but almost no native fauna. What native fauna did exist has now been largely supplanted by the terraforming process and the transplantation of offworld species. Indeed, the fauna that now exists on Dreamland is mostly biogenetically modified creatures that were engineered to fulfill a certain role within a storybook setting. Vast environmental domes were built to house these settings, with each dome devoted to a particular storybook. These storybook domes were then offered up as entertainment to wealthy tourists, allowing them to live out a version of the story, but specifically being allowed to change things within that storyland as they saw fit. Some domes were even made to be dangerous, with aggressive creatures fit for hunting or war. While there were many protections implemented into these domes, making them far safer than the actual wildernesses and wars that they represented, still visitors could well be killed, and this fact was stressed to all who chose to visit those domes. But then, those who came for those domes wanted that very experience.


In order to produce and maintain the Dreamland domains, Dreamland’s keepers bred the creatures of the domes in vast underground repositories. Particularly the creatures of the war domes were bred en masse, because they had to be in order to maintain the viability of the setting as needed with the numbers that died every single day.


At one time, the only parts of Dreamland that were inhabited were these vast domes that are scattered across the land. The creatures bred to live in these domes were bio-engineered to have just enough sentience to fulfill their roles in the storyland, even if that meant they sometimes had greater or lesser intelligence than the creatures they were intended to represent as written. After all, the storyland designers obviously needed creatures intelligent enough to learn to fulfill the needs of the story – yes, even when that story defied the creature’s natural instinct or all logic (the public can be very insistent about following the “lore” of the story). But at the same time, the designers wouldn’t want creatures so intelligent that they could easily rebel from the strictures of the dome and the story encapsulated within it.


Dreamland was a financial success, too. At least initially. Whether or not it was a long-term success, though, that remains unknown. At any rate, some centuries after the building of Dreamland, the park’s keepers abandoned it for reasons as yet unknown. The Dreamland Keepers left no records behind of themselves or the then state of the park, or even how much they had siphoned off of the tourists. But then, a number of the attractions were certainly illegal under Core Worlds law, so the total wipedown of all information is – in a way – perfectly understandable.


After the Keepers’ leaving, the Dreamland domes endured for a while, but eventually the machinery that made them function started to break down – an end that was oft aided by the sentient, biomodified dwellers within those domes, many of whom had started to seek ways of escaping their limited environments, even if that meant breaking their dwelling place. The domes were well-constructed – as needed in the harsh environment that is the outside world of Dreamland – and many of the domes still retain some of their functionality even in their semi-ruined state. At least, a person can often seek shelter and sustenance within. Of course, other inhabitants of Dreamland may well be seeking the same, and may well be loathe to share.


Once escaped from the limited environments of the domes (those that could survive the outside atmosphere, at least) they did not seek a harmonious existence with the other sentient creatures in the same position as they. In fact, a number of the various species instead sought – and still seek – to rule the planet. It is a harsh world that they thus have brought into existence – one of terrible warfare across a limited environment over scarce productive resources.


A number of mining outfits would likely be very interesting in the various and abundant minerals located underneath the planet’s crust, except for the fact that the world is so remote, thus leading to the need to burn a lot of resources just to get to the world and then burn more to bring the mined resources back out. Not to mention the fact that the many species of Dreamland are even more hostile to outsiders than they are to the other dwellers of Dreamland, and these various species are not without their defenses, even if they are not so technologically advanced.


The most advanced species of Dreamland have only reached Tech Level 6, and, as mentioned, there are no other worlds in the Dreamland system, habitable or otherwise. Not to mention, there are no other systems with habitable worlds anywhere nearby. Thus the inhabitants of Dreamland have been prevented from expansion into space. However, they have intercepted communications from outside their sphere of influence, so they are well aware that there are other species out there. What is more, there is nothing prized more highly than a piece of advanced technology or a castaway from some other world that washes up on their shores. They do not always treat such flotsam kindly, but they do always appreciate the knowledge it brings, as well as the chance of one-upping their neighbors with that knowledge in their constant struggle for mastery of the world.


Special: Massive radiation clouds sweep across the lands of Dreamland, as regular as rain on other, safer worlds. The movement of these radiation clouds is regular, and thus it can be predicted in much the same way as a meteorologist predicts the weather; however, no one on Dreamland with the capability of measuring these radiation currents actually does so, outside of a few private scientists, and even that is usually only out of interest of protecting their own fieldwork.


The radiation clouds of Dreamland are unusual in that they pick up various minerals and chemicals from the mineral-rich surface, and that frequently alters the consistency of the radiation cloud. A Dreamland cloud always acts as a radiation cloud, inflicting radiation upon anyone who enters it unshielded, but it will also tend to inflict a number of different effects in addition to the radiation. These effects are related to whatever minerals are then in the cloud, and thus while a cloud’s effects will be fairly consistent from one day to the next, it can change from one season to another as the cloud moves across the landscape.


While the effects a cloud contains are actually quite predictable and can be determined by any number of disciplines of science (from geology to meteorology), to the casual observer these effects can seem random. But in general, a cloud will contain two of the following effects, in addition to its radiation effect:

  • Acid: the cloud contains an acidic component. Thus, in addition to doing radiation damage, the cloud does acid damage. This damage is calculated separately from the radiation damage, and it can be resisted in its entirety. While within the cloud, every exposed character and every exposed article of clothing and equipment takes 1d4-1 acid damage for every 5 minutes they remain exposed. A person can make a Fortitude save to half this damage, as normal (minimum damage 0). (The acid damage is thus slow, and it is more damaging to equipment – which tends to have little resistance to acids – than it is to people.)
  • Bright: the cloud contains a mineral that glistens when light is cast upon it. In any light of daylight level or greater, the cloud causes a washout effect to anyone in the area, thus causing a -1 to all rolls that are influenced by sight (including combat rolls), which effect last for 1d4-1 rounds after leaving the area of the cloud. Unlike most cloud effects, a character does not need to be inside the cloud in order to be affected by Bright, only needs be within sight of it AND in sight of a source of light.
  • Din: The cloud has picked up an abundance of minerals that works to deaden sound. Within the cloud, this can cause sounds to appear to be coming from much farther away than they actually are. But then, in another instant, due to the vagaries of the cloud, a different sound at the same distance can be heard at near normal volume. This effect makes determining things by sound much harder, thus causing a -4 to all sound-based rolls, including adding a +4 to resist any sound-based effects. Creatures that utilize echolocation have this effect doubled, and creatures that rely on echolocation (because they are blind or for any other reason) instead have this effect tripled, and so suffer a -12. Creatures that rely on echolocation will thus have to succeed at a heavily-penalized Perception check even to navigate a Din radiation cloud, since they will have effectively been made blind.
  • Dust: One of the most common additions to a cloud is Dust, or an assemblage of dirt and hair and the other stuff found under your bed. While a little bit of dust is of no matter, a great deal of it obscures vision and clogs throats. While under the effects of a Dust radiation cloud, characters have their vision reduced to 1/10 of its normal range, and movement is reduced by one factor (Hustle requires the effort of a Hustle but only results in a Walking speed) unless the character succeeds at a Fortitude roll each round against the strength of the storm. Should they succeed at their Fortitude roll, the character can move freely within that cloud for the rest of that one round.
  • EMP: a number of minerals interfere with electronics, but certain combinations of chemicals and minerals can drain them of energy. Electronic devices carried into an EMP radiation cloud will eventually have all of their power drained. The rate at which the cloud drains power depends on the strength of the storm. Every minute that such a device is within a storm, it must succeed at a Fortitude save against the strength of the storm or lose one charge. Anything that relies on a battery power or similar will thus eventually be rendered useless if it continues to remain within the storm. Whether or not the storm can render electronics permanently useless or simply drains them of power, that depends on the interactions of the particular radiation of the storm. If a storm makes electronics permanently useless, then any charges lost are permanently lost, and if the device is reduced to 0 it also takes on the broken condition. All such damage can be repaired.
  • Magnetic Pulse: a number of different elements can interfere with sensors. Whether the particular elements within a Magnetic Pulse radiation cloud reduce sensor range, have a chance of obscuring sensor detections, have a chance of distorting sensor readings, or simply eliminate the possibility of taking sensor readings is up to the Gamemaster.
  • Polar Wave: One of the primary methods of determining direction is to utilize the natural magnetic forces of the world. Within a Polar Wave radiation cloud, however, these natural forces are distorted, thus causing false readings. Whether that leads to the storm messing with the reading of what is due north or simply causing the reading to spiral around randomly, that depends on the type of wave generated within the cloud.
  • Reflect: Certain materials naturally reflect light, and a Reflect radiation cloud has picked up a large source of such materials. These materials are often used in Reflec armor – armor specifically designed to reflect light-based weapons, such as blazer rifles. The range and damage of all such weapons are halved for every square of such a cloud that they must pass through. Thus, while such weapons due technically work within such clouds, there are many who simply say that Reflect clouds prevent the use of light-based weapons, since the ability to penetrate such clouds in an effective manner is lowered so close to uselessness as to be effectively useless.
  • Strong: the intensity of the radiation is unusually strong in this cloud for a radiation of its type, doubling the effect of either the radiation or one of the above effects.
  • Toxic: the air within the cloud is toxic. While the air may contain the specific ingredients needed to breath, the relative amounts are not such as to make the air breathable. A character entering poisonous air immediately falls under the effects of asphyxiation, which follows the same rules as drowning.


Special II: Dreamland is a smaller world with a low gravity. While not a Moon-like gravity, by any means, those traveling upon this world can safely jump twice as far and twice as high, and falling distances are doubled (for instance: falling 100ft on Dreamworld is the equivalent of falling 50ft under normal gravity).


Special III: Dreamland has a non-breathable atmosphere for oxygen-based life forms. While there is oxygen in the atmosphere, and while the bio-engineered “natives” of the planet can breath the toxic air, normal oxygen-based life forms will asphyxiate if they try to breathe it. The air of Dreamland isn’t so bad as to be immediately deadly, but an oxygen-based life form attempting to breathe it will immediately find themselves short of breath and know that something is wrong. They will not start asphyxiating for one round for every point of Constitution after they attempt to breathe the air, but after that point they will start to asphyxiate as normal (under the normal rules for drowning).


Because the atmosphere of Dreamland is nearly right for oxygen-based life forms, such creatures do not need to wear full space suits in order to survive in the atmosphere – an oxygen mask or even an oxygen-line mask filter is more than effective enough. Most Core Worlds expeditions have access to small masks that fit over the nose and mouth and that have compressed oxygen in small, three-inch canisters inserted into the side of the mask that grant air for one -three hours (depending on the size of the inserts). Most such masks have a canister insert in each side, thus allowing for twice the amount of air, while also allowing a canister to be replaced while the secondary canister is still supplying air.




Converting Pathfinder HWM into 5e D&D

With the release this week of the 5e D&D version of Heroes Wear Masks I thought we should look at some of the design choices. For the most point converting HWM Pathfinder into 5e D&D was not all that hard. 5e D&D system is a bit more simple then Pathfinder, but overall the systems are more of less the same.


Two rules that did not convert as well was Hardness and Damage Reduction. While both are covered in 5e D&D, they are for the most part very simple systems. The choice became, how do we convert them into the new system and should we. In the end both Hardness and DR are used a lot, especially in the Powers book, so we had to have them in the new edition for 5e D&D. The second question then was to either switch to the more simple system that 5e D&D offered, or stay with the old Pathfinder system, or even come up with something new.


With Hardness we sort of made a hybrid of the two systems. Now you use Hardness +10 as the object’s overall Armor Class, and keep the hit points the same. You have to Hit the object first, and then you can do damage to it directly. The thought being that while you can grab and bash at the object all you want, to do it any harm you have to get past it’s basic toughness. Once you have done that you can damage the object in question. This sort of combines in some ways both systems, but made it usable.


DR on the other hand, in 5e D&D is just that you take ½ damage for that sort of attack, while in Pathfinder it reduces the damage you take from attacks. The 5e D&D system did not allow for the DR to increase in use, as it does in the Power book, so we just kept it the same in the new version. Best to allow characters to grow in power was the thought, and the old DR system allowed for that.


Overall the conversion from Pathfinder to 5e D&D was not all that hard and it has allowed me a real handle of the new D&D system. We for sure are converting IF to 5e D&D and may also offer up some of our other Pathfinder stuff.

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.”




“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.




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.