Tuesday, 20 November 2012

How to use a plan to create your RPG

Having a plan is the best thing you can do when you're engaged in any task that has an end point, like creating an RPG. There's no point in having a plan if you're not going to use it. My NaGaDeMon plan spontaneously combusted at the weekend but I'm still calm. I'm calm because I'm organised and that allows me to make a new plan. The plan is dead. Long live the plan! Let me explain how I do all that.

What's in a plan?

A plan (in the sense I'm going to use it) is a method of achieving your goal, including time spent, your other commitments and what it is you're going to actually create. I do not view the plan as carved in granite, unchanged against any storm that mother nature throws.
A plan to me is a malleable friend that helps me control my fear of not finishing.
A friend I get to abuse, cut bits off, mock, reshape at will and set fire to. It's my plan, after all. Plans help show you what's possible from the outset and when things go badly, put into perspective what you have already done and what you can still achieve.

Set out your goals

You need to know what it is that you're going to try and achieve before you start. Obvious? Yes. Until you try and do it. On the surface, NaGaDeMon's goals are quite simple:
  • Create the game in November.
  • Finish the game in November.
  • Play the game in November.
  • Talk about your experience.
Those rules get applied depending on what you're creating and who you are - for example we each have our own perception on what "Finished" is. Goals are only useful when you can measure yourself against them. When you get rules like NaGaDeMon, it's best to extend them to make more tangible ones.

NaGaDeMon is a competition against yourself, it's only your point of view that counts. My additional goals are:
  • Create an RPG, system, setting and enough resources to play it with the mimimum amount of winging it*
  • Put it in a PDF
  • Make it look nice (with pictures)
  • Put it somewhere where people can get at it
* This is my personal definition of finished, which I only ever apply to me**.
** Except Icar, which will be finished when the proof readers are done with it.

Make a list of tasks

What goes into an RPG? Fortunately, I made a handy guide on how to do just that. I used the sections of the guide to write down a big list of tasks. I broke down the tasks into items just large enought that I could finish a task in one evening. Or thereabouts. Do not keep the plan in your head, write it down. Your brain has got enough to worry about.

Right from the start, I used Trello to organise ideas and tasks. You can check the board out with having an account. Each card on Trello has a checklist that I can tick off as a I go. Some of the research I did on my smartphone (reading Wikipedia), so I could tick them off at any time.

Organising my columns

The columns in Trello are really handy for keeping my on track. I use:
  • Roadblocks - for problems, things I must address but cannot think of a solution just yet. Kept in plain view, I can see they exist but they do not block my progress.
  • Must haves - any task that is required to meet my goal.
  • Like to haves - tasks that would be nice to include but not required for the goal.
  • Batshit crazy - any ideas that crop
I move the cards as I progress, keeping the things stopping me (roadblocks) in clear view. I also like to track crazy ideas. By writing them down, I get to work on them later rather than being sidetracked during the project.

Estimate task length

With my list of tasks, I estimate how many "evenings" each item would take. I used "evening" as a measure of time because I tend to get time after my 3 year old son has gone to bed. I worked out that in about 10 evenings, I could have the system and setting done. Knowing how many evenings I had was imperative for the next step...

Work out time left

Using your own measure of time, work out how much time you have until the deadline. For NaGaDeMon, at the start of November, you have 30 days. Or 29 evenings for me. Once you have that raw number (which will look really big in a moment), take away any commitments you know are comming up. Now you have the best case amount of time. You won't get to use all of that because life happens. Now the original raw number looks really big.

For me, I took the 29 evenings (raw number) and started hacking:
  • Removed evenings where I had family commitments (4 evenings)
  • Removed evenings where work might need me (5 evenings)
  • Removed evenings where I do other things (such as GMing! - 5)
Which left me with 15 evenings in the best possible case. I knew I wouldn't get all that time because life gets in the way but at least I had a feel that there was only so much I could expect of myself given that I had 15 evenings in the best possible case.

My estimate was 10 evenings, so 15 evenings should be enough.

Negotiate more time

With existing commitments, try and negotiate time off. Do so as early as you can. Last minute cancelling of events doesn't keep you any friends, especially if it is to do a fun hobby task.

Mrs Lang, the dearly-loved-long-suffering-non-gamer-wife-o-matic-unit mk1, is very understanding about my gaming problem and as such can be negotiated with. Normally, with a delicate application of crap movies and chocolate, I can negoatiate a whole day at the weekend where she disappears with offspring #1 (of a 1 part set) to leave me in peace to create. I am much more productive during the day. I also took a day's vacation too.

Set milestones

Milestones are mini-deadlines by which you know that you need to have done certain things. Splitting up a big project into a series of smaller deadlines gives you a sense of a achievement in bite size chunks as well as allowing you to chart your progress.

I set milestones for:
  • Deciding on the setting and system
  • Writing the system
  • Writing most of the setting (enough to play)
  • Playtesting - important to set up front because other people would be involved
  • Layout and graphics. Do it last.
  • Writing blog posts, although I felt those milestones could go by-the-by

Make the plan fun

Completing tasks should have a reward. Be it the pleasure of ticking a box on a check list, putting a sticker in a potty training task or a chocolate treat. If you hit a milestone, treat yourself; perhaps get a pizza one night or if you're hard up for a few brain cells, watch the latest episode in the Twilight saga. I like ticking off items in my lists, which is another reason that Trello is perfect for me.

Re-evaluate the plan regularly

The plan needs to be checked regularly, even early on when you have it all fresh in your mind. Keep updating it. Live throws stuff at you, expect it and expect to change the plan. The plan doesn't mind being hospitalised for a bit.

Plan on fire? Make a new one

If you find that your plan has combusted then that's OK. Making a new plan out of the ashes of the old one is a great thing to do; you know where you were unrealistic and you know what is feasible. You are nearer your goal, so there is less to estimate.

Wife Unit #1 took ill on the day that I was going to have alone to do graphics and my day off never materialised. But I was not disheartened. I didn't panic. I just took a look at all my lists, realised that I had jolly well completed rather a lot and brought my playtest date forward.

Do you make plans?

Do you make plans? What works for you? Is there any planning technique that is particularly useful or to be avoided? Did you make a plan for this year's NaGaDeMon?

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

NaGa DeMon Diary 1. The beginning is nigh!

NaGa DeMon: National Game Design Month. Design a game, finish it, play it, tell everyone about it. In a month. Simultaneously a challenge and an opportunity to unbung the creative pipes and let the idea juice gush! I've been assisting Mr Nathan Russell on the Facebook page and Google+ Page, he's also updating a @thenagademon on twitter and using the #nagademon hashtag.

Taking part in NaGa DeMon makes you a Demon Hunter, winning makes you a Demon Slayer! I'll be charting my progress from Hunter to Slayer here. Either we can rejoice in triumph or commiserate together.


One does not walk simply walk into NaGa DeMon. A little preparation acts as a springboard into progress. I've blogged about that on the NaGaDeMon website, so I won't repeat it here.

What I'm doing

I have decided to extract the shared dice pool mechanic from Cloudship Atlantis and write a setting to go with it. I've played the nuts off the system itself, it needs writing down properly. The setting is the greater challenge here. I have two main ideas (had some others, too ill-formed to consider):

TRONlike 2013

A TRON-like setting set in the 2013 internet where player characters lead a double life of IT geek during the day and cybercriminal at night. Wars are waged in a sub-cyberspace between huge internet corporations, governments, anonymous hacking groups and script kiddies. Characters will topple government systems, battle the bulk of Amazon and right wrongs reporting in the press "during the day".

It's quite a well defined setting idea. A digital world that runs underneath the current internet. The shared dice pool mechanic will work really well for it.

The Wall

The town of Cling is set against an impregnable wall that stretches infinitely in all directions. The population remains stable, life is very dull; precisely why the characters want to explore. No explorer has ever returned. Every so often, things fall onto the little town glued against the wall, people call it a gift from the gods. Recently, quite a lot has landed.

A medieval setting with no magic but with some materials that make life on the wall possible (eg nutrient rich water supply). The PCs will become envoys in the first trip out to another colony - and return.

Get yourself involved

It doesn't matter if you missed the start of November, you can still join in. After all, some make RPGs in 24 hours. A month should be a doddle. It doesn't need to be brand new, the idea could have been festering in your mind for year or a project that just won't finish. Now is the time. Join the roll call, get into the social media and join us.

It won't hurt, much.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Write a game and play it. In a month. National Game Design Month

The NaGa DeMon is a particularly cruel beast. For eleven months of the year it lies in wait. Just as autumnal depression takes hold, it springs up like a particularly springy bastard and screams in your face:

Write a game, play it and let us know. You've got a month. Go!


It's the month of inexplicable outpouring of creativity. Shocked by the cold winds from the north, it's time to dust off that idea that's been freeloading in the back of your consciousness and make a game out of it. I am not sure why November is the month of the foolish expelling of thick creation juice - but it is. So get used to it.


It's the hardest competition there is because you play against you. You might drown in kudos on completion but at the very least you were there. You took part. You were part of something.

How do I do it?

The rules are quite simple:
  • Create it in November
  • Finish the game in November
  • Play the game in November
  • Talk about your experience
As far as 'game' goes, it means all sorts of things: RPG, boardgame, computer game, choose-your-own-adventure, card game, etc.

Why does this sub heading have a question mark?

Everything is being organised through the Facebook group by the extraordinary Nathan Russell. It's a name you might recognise: he wrote the unfinished but excellent Verge. He also dug deep into the very darkest parts of his psyche to give us the life shattering Droog Family Songbook (Winner of the 2011 24 Hour RPG compo). So, a stout fellow of considerable regard.

What am I going to do?
What are YOU going to do?

I've got a shed load of projects on at the moment but that's never stopped me before. I've wanted to write a computer game for ages - Elite in 2D. I also have 4 half-cocked RPG ideas hanging about (and a rewrite of Cloudship Atlantis).

How about you? Use November as an excuse and everyone else as support. Go on, I dare you. I double dare you.

Monday, 10 September 2012

Kickstarting a free RPG? Check out The Artefact

Being obsessed with philanthropy means that I've only had a passing interest in Kickstarter. However, my interest was piqued when I learned that Emmett O'Brian had launched a Kickstarter for his free Sci Fi RPG The Artefact. I love The Artefact (you can tell from my review), not only is it a fantastically well thought out setting but from a personal point of view, it made me return to Icar and improve it.

Kickstarter... for a free game... come again?

Kickstarter is a site for community funding projects. Emmett's brilliant idea is to raise money to update the graphics throughout the book and then do a print run. Depending on your budget, you can get a floppy or stiff one (soft or hard cover), or have your name listed in-game for a dollar - which I rather like.

The more I think about it, the better the idea is.

Why The Artefact?

So original, I can't think of anything more original to write hereScience fiction roleplaying games tend to be thinly veiled reproductions* of one of the following:
  • Star Wars
  • Star Trek
  • Traveller
The Artefact is really something new - based on a huge elliptical world where alien races are battling for control of it. As humans arriving on The Artefact, you must discover its secrets, learn new technology and explore without being turned into vapour. The shape of the Artefact is core to its design, with all of the horrid physics worked out for you so that you can enjoy the science rather than be baffled by it.

Don't believe me? You can download it now!. Or get the Alpha for the latest version.

Put my money where my mouth is

I've chucked cash at it because I'd love to hold The Artefact in my hands. I'm not the only one who thinks this is super, Rogue Games is a huge fan as is Nils, the world builder behind Enderra. If you've ever wanted a chance to say thank you to the philanthropists, this is it.

* My Icar included. It's about as original as Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Monday, 3 September 2012

If you were to have a library of free RPGs, what would it do?

I am leading the community to build a new library for free roleplaying games and I want... no, I need your ideas and feedback. Am I going about this the right way or am I barking up the wrong tree?

I do love my free RPGs. You know that by now. I've got a whole bunch of them on a hard drive at home. Most of them serve as a static and yet beautiful digital time capsule from a time when someone had an idea to share. Free RPGs have been shared online since the early usenet days and now there are a lot. 1KM1KT does a modest job of containing 669 of them - and counting. It does a reasonable job too - but it could be better. Browsing and exploring is difficult and search is fine when you know what you're looking for.


This is the codename for an idea that's been buzzing around the intertubes for a while: a prupose-built repository for all free RPGs and a spiritual home for their authors. The forum does a wonderful job of supporting the authors but the games themselves need a better home.

What should it do?

I believe it needs to be like deviantArt but for free RPGs. I started putting together some concepts and got some great feedback but I want more. Coding wise, I am putting together the framework and domain. There are areas I can get working without too much input - I know there will be a shared login with the forum and that we'll need document upload.

While I am getting that sorted, I need more feedback from the community - that's you, dear Reader - about what you would want from it. Whether you're a seasoned philanthropist with 10 games to your name or someone who loves finding them and reading them, I need your feedback.


Here are some crayon sketches of what it might look like. On the left is a home screen with the latest games, a featured game and random ones from the archive. On the right is the "Game" screen where you get to add documents, author, description and so on. The orange bits are help bubbles. The brown lines are Felix, my son, who wanted to help.

Crayon is where it starts

Generally speaking, I think that the model would work a bit like this:

  • A Document is a file, such as a PDF or Doc.
  • A Document has a unique version.
  • A Product has at least one document. Most will have only one.
  • A Game has at least one product. Core rules, settings and so on.
  • A Document has at least one Author.
  • A Product or Game is authored by all the authors on its documents.
  • A Game has a description and a bunch of taxonomic tags
  • A Document has a moderation state. (This is only to avoid spammers).
  • A User can be a Visitor (no login), a Guest (logged in) or an Editor (logged in with permissions)

That's the core of the model and I think it serves as a starting point. You could add another layer such as a publisher, which is a collection of Games (such as Stargazer Games) but that will come later.

Technical talk

This is the bit that you either understand or it's me saying "blah blah blah" - don't worry, it'll only help anyone thinking about volunteering! I will probably end up coding the majority myself but I will be giving out the system to the community by hosting it on GitHub. Coded in PHP with MySQL database, it will be built on the Symfony 2 framework (which has Doctrine 2 for ORM and database Migrations). It also has Twig templating, which is a well featured template engine. All the styling will start with Twitter's Bootstrap, which I will override later to create the site theme.

Now it's time for your brain!

What do you think it should do? Are there any killer features you think it needs? All ideas great and small are warmly welcome. I know comments are a bit low-fi for some opinions, so feel free to blog it, pop to 1KM1KT, G+ or send me an email on brainwiped@gmail.com. Please do not assume I would have thought of something. There are implementation details I've not included here, so you might find me saying "Thank you, yes, we'll do that!". That would be cool, it means we're all thinking along the same lines.

No idea is too stupid. Alright, some ideas are too stupid but I'm really nice to people who babble madness!

Now's your chance to make a big difference.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

The 1KM1KT store - in the name of philanthropy!

"What is this gallivanting arsehattery?" I hear you cry!

"Has the shaven fool lost his faculties along with his follicles?"

"Has he forgotten what philanthropy means, the bald face fool?"

Your angst is understandable. Afford me a few paragraphs to allay your fears...

1KM1KT now has a store

The premier* free RPG community now has a merchandising store where you can buy sweaters (jumpers in the UK), Baby Bodysuit (baby vests in the UK), T-Shirts (T-shirts in the UK) and just about any product you can emblazon a logo onto. You want a tote bag, you got it. You want a hoody? You got it. You want a giraffe with 1KM1KT tattooed onto its hind quarters? YOU GOT IT**.

There are three designs: a simple 1KM1KT logo on the front; the 1KM1KT logo on the front and "PLAY not Pay" on the back; the In Philanthropy We Trust logo. They come in a variety of colours and shapes, sizes and products. There is stuff for the ladies or the small child you keep locked in the basement. Oh, that's just me?

Why in the name of all things clean and good have you done this, Lang?

I want to run more competitions. I want to run better competitions. I want to run competitions where the authors are bowled over. To do that, the Monkeys over at 1KM1KT need some funding. I could fund more but Mrs Lang would have to give up her sushi habit and Master Lang might have to jump school and head straight for the diamond mines. We're calling that Plan B.

All profits go towards prizes for free-to-enter 1KM1KT competitions.

You know the ones, unless you've not been paying attention. Well, there was 2012 24 Hour Little Spaces, 2011 24 Hour Movie Mashup Competition, 2010 Cyberpunk Revival Project and 2009 24 Hour Competition. The more we raise, the better the prizes!

Vapourware! Poppycock!

There are many hundreds of online stores with designs never sold. Not this one. Click these delightful images - if you dare - for bigger images of the same.

Here's a dashing gent sporting the 1KM1KT logo on the front. No photoshop here, he really is that shape.

Here's the back of the same shirt. Play not Pay. It's a bold message but one we can all get behind.

Here's a smooth faced cheeky chap - how young he looks in his In Philanthropy We Trust shield T-Shirt.

I am cheap poor, I want to help

Of course you do! If I had a hat on, I'd doff it to you. If the simplest shirts are out of budget then you can help by sharing this good news on your website, blog or scrawled across the front of your home in 10 foot text. Let those whose fireplaces are already stuffed to the mantelpiece with $100 bill fire-lighters buy the merch, for the rest there's solidarity.

Tweet it, G+ it, Facebook it, for the retro-trendy-hipster-philanthropists MySpace it***.

I have an idea for a design!

Of course you do, you're a creative type - I can see that. Perhaps there's a free RPG design hanging about you would like pasted across your chest. Pop your idea in the comments or come over to the forum with your idea held high. I can't pay for your idea but good ones do get accepted! Catty_big on 1KM1KT came up with the inspired PLAY not Play slogan.

Trust Lang with my money, NEVER!

Quite right too, I'm an utter buffoon! Cafepress.com handle all the customer service side of the shirts, I ensure that the shop is up to date and that the designs I upload look OK. After that, any beef (or pork you might have is best solved by Cafe Press!

* Well, my favourite. I can't really say premier because that would suggest that someone has done some sort of objective review of all the free RPG communities and awarded it some sort of standard.

** You don't got it really. Having said that, give CafePress 6 months and they'll be able to put your logo on a T-Rex.

*** It's hip and ironic to be in a social network by yourself.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Winner 24 hour Little Spaces competition is...

SMAF-17 by Edwin Moriarty, winner of the 2012 1KM1KT 24 Hour RPG competition

SMAF-17 By Edwin Moriarty. Congratulations Edwin!

What's it about

SMAF-17 is set in a submarine prison after the apocalypse. Filled will ex-inmates, prison guards, politicians and military personnel, you are a member of gang fighting for the last resources. The system is brave, has a tasty fudge-like core but also includes some wonderful insanity mechanics and a bidding process for initiative.

The setting does a lot to fill your mind with plot possibilities and the whole game is written with a light and entertaining lilt. It could do with some more artwork and the layout is hard on the eyes in places but you have to keep reminding yourself that it was written in 24 hours.

The Little Spaces competition was difficult. The aim of creating a whole game that entirely exists in a small space is very difficult. Edwin, the £30 Amazon gift voucher is yours. I'll be in touch via the 1KM1KT forum.

And the others!

Gosh, too many great ones to mention. With so many great games, you are forced to start being really tight about the requirements of the competition. You need to do that else you would never be able to choose between them. You pour over the judging criteria and discuss the merits of each. There were some of the games that would have won if it hadn't been about the confines of a Little Space.

I'll cherry pick a few others and review them. And do a proper review of SMAF 17.

Thank you to everyone who entered and all the kind words of support across the communities.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

ENnies and philanthropy and you

Congratulations to the 2012 ENnies nominees.

Thank you to the judges for their exhausting and oft thankless task!

I have a problem

None of the the nominations in the Free RPG category are by philanthropists. They are all cut down marketing versions of commercial games. The ENnies are about showcasing the best of the hobby and I feel that philanthropy, which has been a part of the hobby since it began, is not being represented here.

Logically speaking

All the games are free in that category. They all belong there. The judges believe en masse that quick starts and previews are more worthy than the free games submitted.

We don't have review criteria for the free RPGs category as the judges are left to decide on their own. Judging is hard work as it is without having to solicit feedback about whether X was chosen over Y. There are no guidelines for judging a free RPG so all the judges have is the category title.

Where it grates

Justin submitted Heroes Against Darkness this year and suffering sour grapes for not getting a nomination. I can understand his frustration.

Avoid fragmentation

We don't need another set of awards to showcase the work of philanthropists, the ENnies is the correct place for that. There will, no doubt be the Golden Banana, which will be funded by 1km1kt T-Shirt sales (coming soon). If anything the Golden Banana should be part of the Ennies, or at least complement it.

Become a judge?

I would be ill-suited for judging commercial products because I don't play them. I only play free ones. I only review free ones. I only read free ones. I doubt being a judge for a single category is very useful at all.

What the ENnies is not

An opaque box. Tony Law has demonstrated that he's open to ideas, thoughts, feedback and wants to pro-actively find a solution.


Either the category needs caveats attached to it, i.e. that commercial marketing quick starts should be given less credence than a full game; or there needs to be a new category that represents the vast amount of philanthropic output each year.

As Tony (and others) rightly point out on Google Plus you need to keep it broad to allow the crazy free stuff equal share with the full game systems. Naming the category appears to be key in getting the philanthropic goods in there.

Once we have the category sorted out, we then need to galvanise the philanthropists for next year. Without submissions, this process is a bit moot and we might as well leave it to the industry.

We're not indie, we're philanthropists

Philanthropy is a separate beast to Indie. A niche of it but Indie also encompasses those that see PDFs for free and would include Quickstarts of Paid-For Indie products. Philanthropy is about putting your heart into something and then giving it to the world for the love of it. It is not a marketing tool.

Now we need your ideas

How do we make this work? How do we help the ENnies showcase the best of free next year? Surely, with our collective grey matter and Tony Law's help, we can solve this!

If you're a philanthropist and you're feeling disenfranchised then that's OK, it's understandable. But we can change it for next year. We can get representation for the work we do. We can applaud the best philanthropy in our hobby. It is worth it. It can be done.

Further comment and reading

Know of any more articles or comment? Post in the comments and I'll add you up.

Friday, 13 July 2012

Little Spaces entries - 16 micro bundles of delight!

During May and June 1KM1KT ran the Little Spaces 24 hour RPG competition. In just 24 hours, the brave philanthropists creatively splurged into PDFs with no regard for their own well being. The 1KM1KT mods are currently in the midsts of reading and judging the entries so we can award the "retire-now" £30 Amazon voucher. While we do that, you can check out the entries!

Hover over the picture for the game's name and author, click to go to it.

Claustrophobia by Rodney Sloan Dr. Keeton's Machine by Bender42 Fate Game - Eduardo Lozano Munera GOBLIN CAVE - Stuart Burns How I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb shelter - Luke Hawksbee I Will Be Hamlet!- Martin Van Houtte Ringworld Zombie - Jaap De Goede SMAF 17 - Edwin Moriarty SSN 589 USS Scorpion Down - Jaap De Goede Star Travels - Emmet O'Brian Tale of Narvi- Kyle Willey The Silent Void- J K Mosher Torus One - Maledictus Viento Libre - Francisco Solier Wings Keeton and the Airship of Doom - Gregory McKenzie Yes, but - Andrey Stoliarov

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Heroes Against Darkness by Justin Halliday

Heroes Against Darkness - Download for free nowI've never really* played D&D. I've never owned any of the books. The nearest I've got has been reading Order of the Stick. Then Heroes Against Darkness fluttered into my inbox, a game that unashamedly exclaims that it is D&D seen through the Justin's goggles. Tweaked. Fixed. Improved.

I bet you have house-ruled D&D into sentience. So did Justin. He then published it for free. I was priviledged enough to see Heroes Against Darkness before its major release; and it was so good that I borrowed and read D&D 2e Players Handbook and 3.5 Core Rules. That doesn't make me an expert but it makes me a few shades less ignorant. That's why it has taken me so long. I still prefer Heroes Against Darkness, so I won't refer to D&D again.

I wanna be a Half-Elf Berserker

Your character is formed by Class (your job), Race (species) and Ability scores (attributes). Class and race are not bound together but certain races are better at certain jobs. Your attributes include Strength, Dexterity, Wisdom, Constitution, Intelligence and Charisma. They are generated by rolling or assigning or a mix of the two. Then add Race and Class modifiers. That choice is left to the group.

Typical of Heroes Against Darkness throughout, Justin has given easy to use examples of use. For example, if your campaign is going to have epic characters from the off, it tells you how to do that. Without it, playing the game is the only way to tell if the scores you've chosen are appropriate.

Derived attributes are there to speed up the mechanics and Anima Points track how much magical skullduggery those reality-bending types can get up to. Advancement is with experience points and levels. Character background generation is wonderful and applicable to any fantasy RPG.

Higher is better

The mechanic is D20, add Modifiers and beat a target number set by the GM. For everything. If you're here for spiked dice juggling or non-linear mathematical acrobatics, you're not really paying attention. The magic system is simple and just restrictive enough, your class gives you a selection of spells and you burn Anima points to cast them. There are limits on how much Anima you can pour into your spell. Limits you can break. But you might die. Which is nice. I can imagine my black hearted player group devising a way of forcing magic users to do enough magic that they explode.

Combat is opposed rolls with modifiers for equipment, the situation and attribute bonus. There are different sorts of defence depending on what's coming at you. A stabby-stabby (technical term) is defended by Armour Defense and magical artillery from the cowardly Anima junkies are against Evasion Defense. It's just enough crunch to be interesting. The power (and the crunch) is contained in the modifiers, which might get a little out of hand given combinations of whether you are prone, standing, hopping, in a volcano, distracted by a passing minstrel playing a song that reminds you of the scent of your mother's hair, extra magical sword stabbyness, etc etc.

You can use a grid and minis but you don't have to.

Two Hundred and Thirty One Pages

The first 37 pages cover everything you need to play. The other 194? Oh, nothing much really. Just armour. And equipment. Potions, prices for things, rowboats - and lodgings. Smithing, magical gizmo smithing, movement, transportation, encumbrance and terrain modifiers. Oh, then there's how to roleplay encounters with combat or surprise, nasty conditions your character can befall, recovery rules, class powers, more class powers and class powers again. And spells. Spells for Warlocks, Healers and Necromancers and golly!


A GM guide at page 103, designing encounters with balance, with examples, tips, tricks and thoughts on TPK. Help with modifiers. Help with skills. Help with XP and progression. Helpful magic how-tos and rule insights.

Still hungry?

Then there's a World Building Toolkit. Governments! Medieval detail! Guilds, Cults and Orders! Seasons, taxes, laws and settlements. Inpsiration tables with pre-gen names. An illustrated bestiary with monster builder and ready-to-go template cards. Reference tables!

It is breathtaking.

Guess what's missing

There's no example setting. This won't be a surprise to Justin (or any regulars here or on 1KM1KT). The setting here is implied through the classes, races and rules but there is still a lot of work for a GM to do before Heroes Against Darkness can be run. For the time-strapped GM, I'd like to see an example setting that demonstrates its strengths and depth. You could rightly argue the world builder is good enough but there's still a lot for the GM to do. I want to be able to print it, chuck it at a GM and say GO.


Heroes Against Darkness is beautiful. Art (used with permission) peppers excellent layout and typography. It is beautifully written, the language throughout is thoughtful and evocative. The system isn't groundbreaking but it is solid, familiar, like a moth-eaten sweater you should have torched years ago. The magic sells it for me over... errr... the-other-game-I-wasn't-going-to-mention. It's an unmissable Post-Old-School fantasy RPG. Most remarkable of all for a free RPG:

It's finished.

Congratulations Justin and thank you for sharing.

* Except now-and-again at conventions but that doesn't count.

Friday, 20 April 2012

24 Hour RPG Competition - Little Spaces

The 1km1kt 24 Hour RPG Competition - win £30 in amazon vouchers for writing a bit of madness in 24 hours!

They're at it again!

Ever thought of writing an RPG and couldn't find a boot up the rump to get you started? Ever wondered what £30 of Amazon Vouchers could buy you? Ever wondered what it would be like playing an RPG that was set in a really small space? Ever wondered what sleep deprivation felt like? Ever wondered what Rob says to his dearly beloved whenever £30 disappears from his account each year? Ever wondered?

Well, we're at it again! The Monkeys over at 1KM1KT (the première Free RPG community; you do know about 1KM1KT, don't you? Good... I'll continue...) have decided that a year is enough time for you all to have recovered from the brain bending exploits of the Movie Mashup Competition and get stuck into another 24 Hour challenge. Write an RPG in 24 hours. How hard can it be?

Little spaces, you say?

This year's theme is Little Spaces. We have thought long and hard and come up with a number of small geographies for you to set a game. Blend setting and system in 24 hours to give us that snug, cramped, claustrophobic feel of a packed in place to play. Fear falling from the Dirigible or cause mayhem in a Research lab, there is plenty of choice in the list. There are some other rules too and except writing it in 24 hours, they're all pretty easy. This year there isn't any need to shave yourself.

Come on in, the water's lovely!

There's no entry fee and if you're in your 30s with a family then you can blame being locked in a dark room for 24 hours on a mid-life crisis. They'll be thankful you emerged with a shiny new roleplaying game of brilliance and not wearing pink war paint and Hello Kitty lingerie.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Game Chef 2012 begins on the 7th of April

GameChef provides me annual nonsensical joy as a huge number of games (often free) flood into the internets for our bewildered enjoyment. GameChef is a free to enter competition where you get given a theme and 4 ingredients to build a game around. The Chefnauts are tasked to do so in just 9 days. You have to submit by the end of the 15th of April or you're out of luck! At time of publishing the 2012 rules aren't up - the starting gun fires on the 7th of April.

You can find out more on the GameChef blog, join in the discussion on the official Forge forum (nice one, Vincent!) or have a look on 1KM1KT for previous entries.

I would love to enter (although cannot this year as Icar is gobbling up all my free time) and I heartily recommend you do.

Ever been a Chefnaut? What was it like? What was your game about? Going to try this year?

Saturday, 31 March 2012

Delicious Resolute Adventurer and Genius by Andrew Modro and Jason Cabral

Resolute, Adventurer and Genius (RAG) by Andrew Modro and Jason Cabral is Michael Wolf's Warrior, Rogue and Mage marinated in a tasty chilli sauce and chargrilled on adventure's barbeque. It is peppered with the taste of Indiana Jones and presented with art deco flair. A 36 page amuse bouche. Utterly confused? Read on...

All very familiar

Resolute, Adventurer and Genius takes the core of the Warrior, Rogue and Mage system and resets it in the pulp genre. This is far from sacriledge - what makes WR&M delightful is that your character's primary attributes are constructed as of proportions of typical fantasy archetypes. There is no reason this premise could be see through the coloured glass of Sci Fi, horror or The Great Typewriter Monkey Rebellion.

The title of the game denotes your three attributes: Resolute is strength, toughness and courage; Adventurer measures intuition, agility and charisma; Genius is mental acumen and creativity. Each measured between 0 and 6, although 0 in each would mean your a clumsy coward with all the intelligence of a potato. You build you character by distributing 10 points between them.

Skills give your character a role in the team (you start with 3) and a Talent gives you a certain ZING!. There's a small list of Skills - because RAG (like WR&M) isn't really about Skills. Talents are where things get interesting and it has one of those lists which cannot help but suggest cool characters to play.

Derring Do

Actions are a well known song - sing along with me (to the tune of Caribou by The Pixies):
To do a thing
Roll a...Dee-Six
Add A...ttribute
Add Skill as well
If one applies
Then modify
You need to beat

Target score...
Target scoooorreeeee!
Target scoooooorrreeeeeeee!

For any sixes that are rolled, add 5 to the total and roll again. If you keep rolling D6s, keep adding 5 and rolling again. That's called exploding die. You don't actually have to make the die explode. Opposed checks are bigger-score-wins. Combat and healing is along these lines with hit points keeping track of damage.

Luck points can be spent to change the game world, avoid a take, reroll a die or add +2 before the roll is made. All good mechanic options. You regain luck by being heroic. If you're playing a party of villains, you get points for villainy. Such as kicking cats, punching old ladies or laughing maniacally on mountain tops.


A welcome sight are some natty vehicle combat rules, which add just enough crunch to be interesting. RAG uses the chase as its vehicle combat rules, which fits snugly into the pulp theme. I heartily chuckled at the list of vehicles provided, which includes a Cargo Ship, Dirigible and U-boat! Letting my players see a U-boat in a list of vehicles will automatically generate the goal "Let's by a U-boat".

Everything else

That poor fellow (or madam) perched at the end of the table often needs as much help as they can get. The GM is provided with pulp in the 1910s/20s/30s/40s, a bestiary, help giving out XP and words of wisdom. It even has a back cover for the new player to glance over.

The book is beautifully presented, has a back cover and contents, its license is Creative Commons, it reads well (no glaring errors). There's even a print friendly version that is black and white. I love you chaps!


There are niggles. There always are. I would add more skills appropriate for genius characters, such as a skill specifically for dealing with the arcane. I'd use the Creative Commons CC-BY-SA logo on the website. I'd rename the PDF downloads so that they were instantly recognisable as RAG. Finally, I would add an example setting. It nearly has one but in an attempt to please all audiences with the different decades, it's actually made it more difficult to play.

The 14 Month Old Conclusion

Resolute, Adventurer and Genius is everything its title is cracked up to be. It is a strong game with charisma and a clever lilt to it. You will need to bring your own setting and adventures to the RAG party but once you've partied hard with this system you'll find yourself waking up in bed with a beauty; not on the dawn train to Scotland with hate gremlins drilling your skull.

Tuesday, 31 January 2012

How to write a free RPG - Chapter 8: Publish

Finish your game. Finish your game. Finish your game. Stop procrastinating and finish it. The act of creation can be exciting and a struggle but if you don't finish it, you'll never know if it was any fun to play. Publishing is what you do once you have finished. So finish it.

If you're not sure if you're finished then that's OK. I have put together a guide to help you answer the question.

Release small, release often

As a philanthropist, you do not need to wait until the game is finished before you share it with the community. By sharing early, you can draw upon the experience and knowledge of other philanthropists keen to share their knowledge. By releasing small and often, you reduce the cliff of work you need to scale before the joy of releasing. If you are having trouble finishing a large project, then release what you have. Be prepared for raw feedback early and then turn round a new version quickly. Do not dwell, sort out the problems and release again.


Licensing is very important. You might think that giving something away for free is simple but you could leave yourself open to problems if you do not slap on a license. For example, without a licence printed somewhere, print shops might not allow a prospective GM to print it! Furthermore, if you don't add a little protection, then you might find someone selling your game.

Licensing is a personal and legal choice I am not qualified to assist you with, however I can recommend giving it a Creative Commons license. Creative Commons allows you to tailor your license to your needs and gives you a handy graphic that is rapidly becoming a standard. Most game designers choose BY-NC-SA, which means "Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share-alike". Creative Commons do a great job of explaining how they are used.

Upload it

Uploading your game serves two purposes: sharing with others and backing up. When you back up, do not forget to back up the resulting PDF and the source files, images and notes. There are lots of places you can put your game for people to enjoy. If you are releasing small and often, you will want somewhere easy to update and accessible to all. If you have finished, you will want somewhere with exposure.

Backups and releasing small and often
  • Google Docs allows you to upload PDFs and ZIP files. There is plenty of space and you can keep revisions too. Privacy settings allow you to use it as a backup too.
  • Skydrive is the Microsoft solution, plenty of space and privacy options.
  • Dropbox cleverly automatically synchronises your files to the server. Ideal for backups and can share too.
Final Release
  • 1KM1KT 1000 Monkeys, 1000 Typewriters, the best free RPG community.
  • RPGNow and DriveThru RPG are commercial sellers that will also host your free game for you.
  • Lulu is a service that offers print on demand. I recommend printing at least one for yourself because it is a joyous moment to see your creation in hard copy.

Get it listed and reviewed

Make sure you let the following people know:

Now what? Support.

Chances are a huge hole has been left by the completion of the game. Starting the process again for a new game might feel daunting so instead, support your game. Support is the act of engaging with the community to promote its play. Supporting your game will give it longevity not only in the eyes of the world but for you too.
  • Start a blog, posting up characters, rule options, new adventure ideas and people's feedback. Most use either Blogger or Wordpress.
  • Add Google Analytics to your blog so that you can see where people are coming from. It is really handy to see if someone blogs about your game so you can then reply - with thanks!
  • Create a Google+ Page for your game. Use a nice graphic for the logo.
  • If you're really keen on regular updates, create a Facebook page and Twitter account. Make sure they're used, though!
  • If it is a generic system, write another setting for it.
  • Find other free games like yours and contact the authors.
Finally, let me know if you found my guide helpful!

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

How to write a free RPG - Chapter 7: Testing

Your game needs to be tested before it’s devoured by the general public. Testing ranges from simple mechanics tests all the way through to a full blow campaign play test. If you do not have a group to test with and cannot find a kind group to test it for you, there is still testing that can be done. Testing takes a long time, be prepared for this step to take as long as the rest of the game design.

If you are following the "Release Small, Release Often" principle (described in the next Chapter) then ensure you state clearly that the game has not been tested when you perform releases.

Smoke Test

A smoke test ensures that the system won’t catch fire when you try to use it. It will only find glaring holes, not mechanic niggles (see Mechanic Edge Cases) To smoke test the game, do the following:
  • Make 10 characters.
  • Write out 4 full combats step by step. Write out what everyone says and does and draw a battle map of what happens. Ensure each combat is different from your rule examples.
  • Find a non-gamer to read through the whole game to check for grammar and spelling.
  • Update the table of contents and index.
  • Check your table of contents and index by randomly picking 6 items from each, located at different places in the book and check the pages are correct.
  • Make sure that images are near the text that talks about them.
  • Print out some test pages, is it too dark or too light? Is the font large enough? If you're using a background image, does it obscure the text?
  • Ask a friend in a different country to print out on a different size, if you're in the US, try A4. If you're elsewhere, use US Letter.
  • How does it look on screen? If a friend has a tablet device, check it on there too. If not, ask the internet, a friendly RPG geek will check it out for you.

Read it again

But before you read it again, check back to the style section of Chapter 3 then read through the entire game, contents, index, everything. Make notes as read through go, do not stop to edit. Check all the captions on the images and headings on the tables. If you are linking sections of the document together (in HTML or PDF) then click every link. You might be sick of your game by now but this is a very important step, so do it. Then ask yourself these questions:
  • Does it fit the concept I was aiming for? Go back to when you wrote it down in Chapter 1 and check each item off.
  • If it does not, have I still made something worth playing?
  • Does it feel like the genre I am trying to represent?
  • Did I solve the mechanic problems I was trying to solve?
  • What’s best about the game?
  • What’s worst about the game?
  • Can I add any more images to spruce it up?
  • Is all the information I need on the Character sheet?


You’ve used too many words to describe your game. It is normal to do that, your brain is not wired for brevity when it is describing concepts. Cut down every paragraph to its bare form. Is it still intelligible? If so, keep it that way. Your second draft should be 10% shorter than the first.

Mechanic Edge Cases

The success of a mechanics system can be judged on its ability to still operate when under stress. You can stress test your system by seeing what happens when the parameters are at their limits. You cannot test all possible edge cases (especially when it comes to combinations of spells) but you can certainly pick some example worst/best case situations.
For example, if the mechanic is combat what happens when a character has maximum strength, the best weapon, highest skill, excellent armour and so on. Do you have a monster that will challenge a character like that? How many rounds will it take to kill a character like that with medium monsters? How many medium monsters will it take?
A team of 5 people all firing guns that have been upgraded 5 times should be able to kill a monster in 5 combat turns. "Upgraded 5 times" guns do 5 damage, that's 25 damage a turn. So a normal monster should have 125 hit points. Basic characters have weapons that do 1 damage will take a staggering 25 combat turns.
Ask yourself these sorts of questions for all the mechanics, paying particular attention to modifiers and special items. A sword might have a reasonable power but may unbalance the system when enchanted by more than one spell. If you find that it is difficult to find edge cases with your mechanics then perhaps the system is too complex and consider simplifying it. Spreadsheets can be useful for testing out the range of dice roles and probabilities but do not forget the affects of special powers or feats on the numbers.

Imaginary game

A good way to test your game is to run an imaginary game. Take 4 of the 10 characters you created earlier and then run through your example setting and adventures. Ensure the characters have goals that fit your setting, is it easy or difficult to create goals that are possible. Try all of the mechanics, use the characters to defeat the monsters without using your imagination (by grinding) and using imagination. During your game, try and answer the following questions:
  • What is the quickest way to end an encounter?
  • What is the best combination of skills, spells, weapons and equipment to solve each encounter?
  • Is there anything missing from the starting character setups that make the game impossible?
  • Is it fun?

Play Testing

Play testing is the act of playing the game to see if it meets your concept. It’s important to remember that a play test isn’t really a normal game. Most GMs will bend rules, ignore sections and only use 50% of a ruleset in ten sessions worth of a play. A good play test should be precisely by the rules and use as much of the ruleset as possible. You should reward the playtesters with a credit in the front of the book, or a signed copy if you are feeling flush. Make sure that your playtest group is made up of your target audience (see Chapter 1). You should playtest only when you feel the game is complete, playtesting should not be used as a tool for design, only for verification.

Playtest Pack

A playtest pack is a ready-to-go pack of information that makes it easy for the playtest group to test your game and provide feedback. To get the best from the group running your game for the first few times, you must provide additional support. When compiling your playtest pack, you can do so assuming that the player knows roleplaying games well. It should include:
  • A form for the player to put their name and contact details on. Give them the opportunity to opt-out of being included in the book credits.
  • A one page rule summary detailing the main mechanics.
  • Character sheets. Both blank and pre-generated. Although character creation should be part of the playtest, the players may not have the luxury of making a character.
  • A sample adventure that makes use of as many of the mechanics as possible.
  • A feedback form (see below).
  • A summary of what is required by the playtesters.
  • A Non Disclosure agreement (NDA) - optional as this is a free game after all.
  • Your contact details for the player to leave with.


It is important to get feedback from everyone who plays the game. Feedback forms are the simplest way to garner information but if possible socialising with the group in a relaxed atmosphere (in a pub/bar) is a good way to dig into details. Players more likely to focus on the good things if confronted but at least you can question about particular mechanics this way. Have your notebook with you when talking to play testers, write down their good ideas then and there. Do not trust your memory to remember the details. The playtesters won't mind, they will appreciate their point of view is important.

Feedback Forms

Your feedback form is there for you to gauge whether or not you have managed to satisfy your concept. Player/GM fun is important too but it is important to note that not all players like new systems at first and the act of learning them can be tiring and less fun. You can provide two sorts of questions, check box ones and written replies. I would recommend having both as play testing can be tiring and lengthy prose without inspiration from pointed questions can be difficult. Here are some example questions:

Questions to be used with tick boxes under the headings "Strongly agree, Agree, No preference, Disagree, Strongly Disagree"
  • The game's rules are too light
  • The game's system feels like [game's genre]
  • The setting feels different to other games
  • I understood the rules
  • The game looks good
  • I was surprised that the game was free
  • I would play this game again
Questions to be used with plenty of space to reply.
  • What I liked about the game was...
  • What I disliked about the game was...
  • What I thought was missing was...

What to do with feedback

All feedback is valuable, not all of it is useful. For each of the forms and notes you have made, assign them a priority and then use your concept to check to see if you feel the feedback is useful. Concentrate on the problems that are raised rather than the solutions that the players offer. As the game designer, you are the expert. Mechanics changes will mean restarting your mechanics testing (easier if you have used a spreadsheet). Be prepared that not everyone will like your game. Thank them for the feedback but do not dwell on it.

When to stop play testing

Play testing must end when you feel that the game meets the concept you originally set out. Play testing cannot be used to find every rules hole and it is possible to play test too much. Too much play testing is procrastination, pick an end date and finish your game.

Post play test release

Ensure that you schedule time after your play test is over to update the rules and put out another release of your game. Do not make the playtesters feel that you have wasted their time by sitting on the changes for a year.


Tuesday, 17 January 2012

How to write a free RPG - Chapter 6: Organisation

In this Chapter, you'll learn how to organise your free RPG. Organisation is very important because a poorly organised game can be confusing and will put people off playing it. An RPG is both read and referred to. It needs to be reference material as well as something enjoyable to read. To achieve this, you must be careful to choose a logical structure and a layout which is both pleasing and useful. This is an improved version of a previous guide to organisation.

The Structure

Organise the game in a logical structure such that it reads clearly. Explain concepts (such as Attributes) before you use them (in mechanics). You game should include the following sections in this order:

Front Cover

At the very least, it must contain the name of your game. It does not need to be a graphic but the name is a nice font. You've put a lot of work into it, I do hope you're proud of it so put your name on it, or use a pseudonym. If a GM is printing your game to convince their players to play, the better it looks the more likely the prospective GM will be able to run it.

Contents Page

A contents page should include all the major headings and sub headings. Lists of tables, images and diagrams belong in the Appendix. Try and keep the contents to a couple of pages and compress the font or line space to fit more on a page. Contents pages are used to scan from front-to-back for topic headings, if you make it too large, it does not become useful for this. Lines can be compressed as people will only scan through the Contents, they are unlikely to read it like paragraphs of prose. This is only optional if your game is under 7 pages.

Thank you / Version / Dedication

(Optional). Chances are you're going to need to thank someone for helping you through the game and this is best place for it. Might be a spouse, girlfriend (if you have both, don't include both here). Try and keep it to a page. Always put on a date. If you feel you need more than a date to uniquely describe your game, put on a version number. If you don't like software versioning (1.1, 1.2 etc) use round numbers (1,2,3,4,5...).


The introduction is likely to be the first thing that the reader will go to after the cover, avoid fluffy marketing speak. It must include the following:
  • What is in the book? System? Setting? Sample adventure?
  • What is the genre of the setting? What are the major themes?
  • What will the characters do?
  • What sort of mechanic is it (dice/diceless/pool)?
  • If you game requires another book to use (such as Fate core rules), then say so here.

Character Creation

Begin this section by listing all of the steps so that the reader knows what is coming. Then describe each of the steps, giving examples when needed. Optionally, include a start-to-finish character generation. Make sure your example character will fit into the example adventure you provide. Don't put your skills inline unless there is only half a page of them. Put them in the Appendix.


If you have designed your own mechanics, start with an introduction to them. What sort of mechanic is it? Target number? Dice pool? After this brief introduction, deal with each mechanic area in turn. Beginning with unopposed action resolution and then opposed actions. Combat / magic / narrative mechanics last. If you have a core concept that runs through them all (such as rolling dice to meet a target number), deal with that first.


For more information on writing the Setting, see the Chapter on Settings.

Gamesmaster Section

GM sections are important and at the very minimum include an Example Adventure. The example adventure should showcase your setting without relying too much on the system. Imagine the experience the roleplayers will have: They'll sit down. Make characters and the GM will begin. Make the adventure simple to understand and also get the point of the setting. Perhaps give example characters too.

Additional setting information should also be included. If there are things the players should not know but the GM should, then include them. It is normally the GM that presents the game to play to the group so make it delicious for them too.


Any item that disturbs the flow of explanation should go in the Appendix. Lists are the biggest culprit. Put them at the back, they won't get read through from start to finish and are used more like reference. It might feel a bit jarring to move the skill list from inside the character creation section but I assure you that it will be better off in actual use.

Examples of things that should really go in the Appendix are:
  • Skills
  • Equipment
  • Spells
  • Bestiary
  • Charts and Tables
  • Character Sheet

Back cover

I would have a bit of advertising blurb on the back and perhaps instructions to the print shop that it is ok to print for personal use. If a prospective GM has printed it and bound it nicely, the players will soon go to the back cover. Avoid suggesting that it is the best game in the world and that it will change the way people live their lives, instead pick out things that the characters would do and make those things sound exciting. Is the game about sticking a giant sword into the face of a particularly shifty looking dragon? Great! Tell us on the back cover.


Layout is a very subjective part of game design and as such, this section is really intended for those who do not know where to start. When deciding on your layout, take the following into account:
  • The first time your game is seen, it will be on a monitor
  • Many people still print the games for use at the table
  • Printer toner and paper are expensive

A stock layout

A stock layout is a portrait page with two columns evenly spaced. Images are placed within the text. Some packages allow you to curl the text around the jagged edge of the image (rather than being square). To maintain readability, leave a gap of at least 4mm between the graphic and your prose.
  • Margin thick enough to allow someone to bind the game.
  • Number of the chapter at the bottom in the middle. Putting it in the corner means that the person printing it cannot choose between single and double sided paper print.
  • Chapter names in the header are useful when used as reference.
  • Two columns is normally easier to read, long lines make it difficult for the eye to find the next line.
  • The above is portait, if you're going for landscape then consider 3 columns.
  • The eye naturally tracks to the top left and bottom right of the page. Put text there to keep the reader's attention. If it fits the layout well, aim to put images in the top right/bottom left of the page.