Sunday 27 August 2017

New elves

Elves, the common term used by the peasantry for the Elffumkin or 'people who hide'. They are creatures born from the earth's womb, brought into the world by the unfurled leaf of the Nurin tree when the moon wanes.

Each elf is connected through the earth through a psycho-biological network called the Root. Through this an elf can communicate danger to another at the other side of the continent. Because of this, all elves are intrinsically known to one another and so have no use for names. Instead they use symbols to represent themselves, beginning as simple shapes when they are young but becoming complex fractals as they age. They age like the tree, living up to 400 years.

Elves rarely venture from their hidden natural realms as few see the benefit. Some become envoys for the race, visiting the 'stoneworlds' as they call it, to meet with humans, halflings and occasionally dwarves.

There are several effects of an elf who is displaced from its natural realm.

- remaining in a place of little to no nature for at least a day causes shoots and saplings to grow in close proximity to the elf.
- the air around the elf smells like bark.
- animals are calmed in its presence and are drawn to it.
- fruit remains fresh as long as the elf is within 100 ft.

Elves do not use stoneworld crafted weapons or armour unless they have to. Instead, they may spend one hour digging in soil in their realm to pull out a simple wooden weapon or armour. Often this is a bow or blowgun, but the earth also provides some simple bladed weapons made of wood almost as tough as steel.

Elves can't technically 'see' in the dark, but they sense their surroundings almost as accurately as if they could, though they find it difficult to sense if they are moving at speed. Dark vision is reduced to 10ft while moving quickly or performing a strenuous action.

When elves die they rot in the same way a fruit would - becoming moldy, wrinkled and smelling of earth. Their blood is like sap - amber and viscous.

Saturday 26 August 2017

My game designing story so far - part five

For a while I'd been considering giving Halberd an overhaul. I'd gone back time and again with new ideas to update it, but each time I was left cold. I'd been reading a tonne of Dunsany so I thought about how I could integrate some of his magic into the game. Once I actually began writing the thing I realised that it was turning into a completely new game. I was updating the USR mechanics and overhauling pretty much every aspect of the game, so rather than make this a rehash of Halberd I decided it needed to be a game in its own right. Enter Tequendria.

To my mind Tequendria is the first game of Dunsanian fantasy, which I was absolutely shocked by. It was probably my favourite game to create too - designing those archetypes was a hoot.

By now I think I'd found my stride after all these years. I'd grown in confidence and was losing some of that 'oh everyone's going to hate it' neuroticism I'd previously harboured.

My next project was again one I'd picked up from notes. I love cyberpunk and I'd created USR Cyberpunk to see how refined a game like that could be made. But I took a look at In Darkest Warrens and decided to challenge myself to make an ultra lite cyberpunk game. This became Wired Neon Cities. Fully playable realised cyberpunk world in a handful of pages.

It had been over a year since Quill was released and I'd been going back and forth between a Lovecraftian project - Quill's first campaign. It's actually the first thing I ever wanted to do with the game because the genre fits so perfectly, but I'd never been happy with the mechanics and story. One time I thought I had it down and started writing a scenario with mi-go, but it didn't work out. Then everything seemed to click into place. Quill: Shadow and Ink was a challenge, but I'm proud of the story that came out of it and I believe it's set the standard for future Quill scenarios.


As you can probably tell by now, if you've read the entire series, I spend a lot of my free time creating. I go to sleep thinking about mechanics and sometimes dream about the games in my head. I have a stack of notes and partial projects which I dip into but ultimately if I'm not inspired then a project will fall off the radar. If I get to the end of a book and end up disliking it for whatever reason it's thrown into game purgatory.

I feel like my gaming journey is only just beginning. I see the amazing creations that are coming out of the small press at the moment and feel inspired. I'm fortunate to be part of a community that encourages each other and helps each other along the way. There's currently a bunch of them playtesting a new game that's kind of a spiritual sequel to Quill.

So thank you to everyone who has helped and supported me on my way so far. I have a tonne to learn and maybe in the next 10 years I'll consider myself to be more than a passable creator. Let's hope.

Friday 25 August 2017

My game designing story so far- part four

I was riding the high off Quill so I immediately wanted to create more Quill - people seemed to want it. I released the first supplement, Love Letters in time for Valentine's Day, but it wouldn't be for more than a year until I properly revisited Quill. Meanwhile other people were making cool stuff for the game. Derek Kamal released the awesome Coal and Parchment set in his Homes universe (novel and The Dig RPG). It was a cool time.

What's next? I thought to myself. Determined to burn myself out I started thinking about whether I could feasibly get a full game onto two sides of A4. More of an experiment than anything else, but one that worked out well. In Darkest Warrens became the first in my trilogy of compact games - one with OSR sensibilities without being OSR. Soon after I created Astounding Interplanetary Adventures, because I fucking love Flash Gordon.

Then I crashed for a while. I went back over my notes (I tend to keep teams of them - half finished thoughts, mechanics and concepts) and decided I wanted to get into the meat of the OSR. I'd been noodling with some mechanics that took the best parts of White Box, Black Hack, and 5e and got to work on developing those. Over a series of months I started writing and playtesting Romance of the Perilous Land, an OSR game based around British folklore.

Late 2016 I released it into the wild to generally positive reviews. It was my biggest game so far, so I told myself I deserved a rest. Did I listen to myself?

Not a chance.

Next time: Tequendria, Shadow and Ink, and Wired Neon Cities.

Thursday 24 August 2017

My game designing story so far - part three

I didn't stray from Tunnels and Trolls, even during my more experimental phase. The power team of Christina Lea and Tom K Loney created a Trollish Delver line of GM adventures through Peryton Publishing, with myself and Tom alternating between releasing T&T scenarios in my Peakvale setting. I must get back into that.

I was beginning to become interested in broadening my horizons and challenging myself. In 2015 I released The Village on the Hill, my first 'storytelling' game and also my first game aimed at families. I remember making the game being a peaceful experience itself - it's a gentle game and I'm quite proud of it, despite it being one of my lesser known ones.

You can probably tell by now that I love making games. It's a hobby that, at the time, was starting to bring in enough money to supplement my income. Continuing my delve into less traditional games I wrote Canary Overdrive - a game all about badass female cyberpunk superspies.

Throughout the years I had been making notes on a space opera supplement for USR. Towards the end of 2015 this would become Somnium Void - a rip roaring space opera with a mystery behind it. I think this is the first book I released that had some buzz about it and as a result sold really well (for me). This was the point where I thought - hey, I might not be so bad at this thing.

Beyond Fear came next - a Lovecraftian USR supplement, which I believe does lite Lovecraft very well. I'd like to bring out a new edition of this with full USR rules.

The beginning of 2016 was huge for me. There I was, noodling around with my notebook when I had the idea of combining letter writing and roleplaying. I scratched out some mechanics and started playing through, honing the game and realising - holy shit, this works! Quill was by far the most off-kilter game I'd ever created and something that I'd never seen before, except to some extent with Dr Profundis. Quill sold like hotcakes and people were actually talking about it. Quite a lot of people. Soon people were getting in touch wanting to create their own versions. It was nuts! Podcasts were talking about it, blogs were reviewing it, I was being interviewed - it was pretty surreal.

Next time: In Darkest Warrens, The Pulp Hack and Romance of the Perilous Land.

Wednesday 23 August 2017

My game designing story so far - part two

So USR in its first form was on the internet and people were warm to it. I decided to get in touch with OBS and set up a publisher account, eventually uploading several previous T&T supplements and USR.

I was apprehensive to say the least. This was a bigger platform than I was used to, so generally I was worried about all these seasoned gamers hating my creation.

Turns out, most people liked it. Some loved it. Spurred on by the reception I started putting plans in place for supplements, starting work on USR Cyberpunk. This was an effort to stretch USR as far as it could go - taking a traditionally complex gaming genre and making it work for a rules lite game and I believe it may have been the first to do this.

I followed this up with The Trollmanac, which is probably my favourite T&T supplement and my first book to get some kind of award (runner-up Diehard GameFAN 2013). Meanwhile USR was gaining traction by a handful of people online, one being my friend of quite a few years Stuart Lloyd, who is a gamebook genius. He proposed creating a short gamebook for USR as an intro to the rules, which became Locket Away.

At this point I was seeing that there could be something in this game designing malarkey and I was vindicated when The Mary Sue wrote about USR in an article about great games you've never heard of. Sure, the money was still only enough to buy a monthly pizza, but it was something.

Google Plus became a haven for me as a designer. Here was a bunch of people I could talk to, riff on and ultimately be inspired by. It also served as a ground for marketing my stuff and to this day it's one of my most effective avenues for this.

Late 2013 I released Halberd Fantasy Roleplaying, my biggest book at the time. This was the first supplement which I considered a slog, having worked since USR's inception on a fantasy version of the game. It's a fun game, but not my favourite work - but you can find the origin of my Dunsanian fantasy game Tequendria right here.

In early 2014 I released my refurbished version of USR to the world, with an aim to build off that over the coming years.

Next time: 'experimental' games, Beyond Fear and stepping into the Void.

Tuesday 22 August 2017

My game designing story so far - part one

Self-aggrandizing post in 3, 2, 1...

I was probably about 14 when I designed my first tabletop game. I use the term loosely -it was a grand theft auto clone with bodily hit locations and that was pretty much the gist of it. I would sit at my desk with my biro scribbling hacked up rules and draw cool robots and suchlike in the margins because - hello - teenage boy.

I would always return to that desk and notebook - jotting down ideas for new games that I can only half remember - something to do with aliens who could infect you with poison needle claws. Nowadays it would probably be considered Gonzo. Gonzo and shit.

Fast forward, oh, six years? I get in a conversation online with a chap called Tom K Loney, who I consider a pivotal reason for getting into game design and a guy who called himself Khenn - who I'd later come to know as the great Ken St Andre. Talk turned to Tunnels and Trolls after I wanted to find out more about solo roleplaying. From there I was hooked - I grabbed a bunch of solos and had my merry way with them, filthy devil that I am. Inspired by T&T I started up this here blog, making what would be my first public game design posts.

It wasn't long before I released my first published book - a T&T solo called Depths of the Devilmancer. By now I was part of the Trollhalla group, so designers like Loney, Sid Orpin, Andy Holmes and St Andre help spurred me on. I followed Depths up with Thornguard, an open world solo inspired by the Fabled Lands series, and Forest of the Treelords, my first GM adventure.

Trollhalla became a forge for my designs, helping them get seen and talked about (a bit). I eventually went on to contribute to several editions of Peryton Publishing,'s Elder Tunnels, my first taste of working for a third party publisher.

2011 rolled around and I'd been kicking around ideas for my own system. By then I had become a fan of S John Ross' superb Risus, which got me thinking about rules lite games. I knew I wanted to create something that was easy to pick up and could run any genre. I spent a Sunday afternoon in my crappy rented house at the time scribbling down ideas. What I produced became Unbelievably Simple Roleplaying. I didn't have a presence on Drivethrurpg back then, so I put the file up on 1KM1KT and kind of just hoped people would play it and like it.

After maybe a week of posting I had my first comments and they were really positive. I was over the moon! Had I really just designed a game and people actually liked it? Sure, maybe, what, 30 people had seen it, but it was a start.

Next time: Trollmanac, the rise(ish) of USR and Google Plus

Saturday 19 August 2017

Quill wins an Indie RPG Award

It's awards season for RPG creators, so we're all dressing in our finest tuxedos and ballgowns to strut our fine selves down the red carpet, metaphorical and otherwise.

I'm excited to say that Quill has received the award for Best Free Game at the Indie RPG Awards. Who would have thought a bizarre solo game about writing letters would win an award? Not this guy.

Other winners included John Harper's Blades in the Dark, which nabbed Indie Game of the Year, Best Support AND Best Production - go John! Ben Robbins netted Best Supplement for Microscope Explorer, and #Feminism: A Nano-game Anthology by Misha Bushyager, Lizzie Stark and Anna Westerling wangled Most Innovative Game. Great work to all winners and runners-up.

You can see all the winner here: 

Some more good news for Quill - the game recently went platinum on DriveThruRPG! Noice.

Friday 18 August 2017

Grab the Zach Best RPG Bundle for a great cause

I've been away from the internet for a bit, but I wanted to let you know about the Zach Best Family Benefit Bundle, which contains more than $180 worth of roleplaying magnificence for just $10.

Zach Best is a beloved creator and founder of Conjecture Games, making excellent supplements like BOLD and UNE. Sadly Zach is in hospice care suffering from esophageal cancer.

RPG creator Jacob Ross has kindly asked a bunch of creators to contribute to a fantastic bundle in order to aid with expenses. You've got full games like ZWEIHÄNDER Grim & Perilous RPG and my own Romance of the Perilous Land, in addition to adventures like Castle Oldskull and Well of the Twice Born, as well as some great supplements. 

So please consider downloading and contributing.