#RPG Games & Art

This went over pretty well.

Game art is normally pretty… conventional. Figures, in action, intending to draw the reader/viewer into the action and to place their own character/self into the action. It’s meant to excite and engage but it does tend to mean that however talented the artist, unless they have a particularly distinctive style it can all look much of a muchness.


This didn’t.

I don’t think it has to be that way, necessarily. Photographic art has never really worked, even in LARP books it just ends up looking faintly ridiculous, though Bradstreet did well enough with augmented and altered photo-tracing. Science Fiction art went through a period of abstract and pop art covers from the 60s to the 80s and a few efforts in gaming seem to have worked. My own Agents of SWING consciously mimicked pop art on the cover and used silhouettes throughout the interior for most of the art – which went over well.

There have been less… successful experiments as well. Perhaps most memorable was the utter disaster of ‘Barbiepunk’ (Cyberpunk 3.0) which whatever its problems and successes in its text, nobody could take seriously because of the dolls used to illustrate it. Pretty cool in their own light, as objects, they just didn’t really work as illustrations and led to a great deal of mockery and scorn. I thought it was pretty brave, but being brave isn’t always enough and sometimes it is a horrible mistake. Like pushing any limit, sometimes there’s pushback and the gaming audience can be quite conservative in a lot of ways. It’s a shame, but it’s something we all have to deal with – it’s why we see so many different takes on the standard fantasy tropes, and why they continue to do OK to well, while other genres have a harder struggle.


Michael Manning art.

Working with the fetish artist Michael Manning on Gor has been a bit of an eye opener. The art is conventional in some ways, but the style and approach is something new and different. It has a very distinctive style and was a conscious decision to go for black and white as a stylistic choice, rather than simply by the necessity of budget and printing costs. Its striking, minimalist in some ways, fascinatingly detailed in others and it’s going to make the Gor RPG books into something truly unique.

This experience has me thinking of other possibilities, more experimental art, but it’s hard to gauge what people’s reaction might be, what the right projects to experiment with might be.


Selkirk’s art.

One artist I recently found is Selkirk, whose art is a kind of grotesque, muscle-bound, physical extremism, like Peter Chung (Aeon Flux) on steroids. Its fetishistic, though not one I happen to share, but also kinetic, exuberant, different. Its the sort of thing I’d love to use for a barbarian fantasy type project, but would people go for it? I don’t know. It’d be a hard thing to find out without taking a big risk – or doing a crowdfunder. Would the art still be as effective if it were tone down a little? It’s hard – again – to know. Crowdfunding would take some of the risk out of it, but a failed crowdfunder still takes time, effort and energy to run and promote.


Arabesque tiles.

Another possibility is to take a cue from those pop-art and abstract covers from 3/4 of the way through last century. What would people make of abstract, geometric or mathematical art in game books? What if one were to illustrate in an Islamic/Arabic, non representational style using tiles, patterns or representations like tangrams? Would people be forgiving of that? Would they accept such an artistic style choice?

Hexagonal tiles could be interesting, given the love of hex-maps in gaming circles. Would that work, to echo that pattern throughout a game book? What about illustrating with words rather than pictures? Box-out sections the size of art inserts, but words, descriptions of characters, places or things.

Interesting things to think about, lots of possibilities to weigh up.

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#RPG Granular FATE

3359095-twd1FATE is a very adaptable and useful system but it does lack some aspects (ha, ha) that limit its usefulness in some regards. As a pick-up-and-play system it’s accessibility is worth a great deal but for more experienced players or those who enjoy a bit more system granularity or grittiness it has a few issues.

Here’s some idle thoughts on how to possibly address some of these issues.

In order to increase granularity in the system, it’s necessary to increase its ‘range’. As standard, FATE rolls four FATE dice (or 2d6 one taking away from the other) giving a range of +/-4 (or 5) from your starting point. Doubling this range simply means doubling the amount of dice rolled, eight FATE dice or, if you prefer 2d10 (one taking away from the other) giving a range of +/-8 (or 9).

Difficulty on The Ladder would range from +15 to -4.

Granular games tend to be aiming for a more ‘realistic’ or ‘simulationist’ approach and as such bonuses and rules for FATE points and Aspects should remain the same, rather than being doubled. As such, Refresh, number of Stunts and so forth should also remain the same.

Characters have the usual Aspects and Stunts. They get double the normal number of skill points (40) and if you use the pyramid it would break down like this.

One +8 Skill.
Two +6 Skills.
Three +4 Skills.
Four +2 Skills.

Stress (Physical and Mental) starts at 4 with the usual number of consequences, though their value is doubled.

Each two points in Will of Physique adds one point of Stress to its appropriate Stress track, at 10 an additional Mild Consequence is added.

Shifts  & Style
Succeeding with style (five or more shifts) has all the usual benefits, but additionally can be used to smack enemies with temporary negative aspects or to do two points of damage (filling in the next lowest available stress box, if there is one, next highest otherwise).

Weapons & Gear
Typical weapons range from 1-8, which allows for a greater range of effect. Where, for example, in normal FATE a dagger and a shortsword might both be rated at 2, with the extended range you can split this between 3 for the dagger and four for the shortsword. Since weapon Aspects aren’t as powerful, they should also be more standard and should get a free activation each combat scene, perhaps on index cards with little tick-boxes marked on them.

We Hate that which we Fear

HatredThe controversial computer game Hatred was put up on Steam for Greenlight, gathered some thirteen thousand positive votes, into the top ten projects up there, then was unceremoniously pulled as ‘something we wouldn’t sell’. Then, to everyone’s surprise – given the fervid atmosphere around media of all sorts at the moment and the viciousness with which it is being fought – it was put back up. This was apparently due to the intervention of Gabe Newell himself.

So, what’s going on?

Panic, mostly it seems, followed by calmer heads and a rare showing of actual principles.

Steam is in a powerful position, dominating digital sales. Newell has talked about not wishing to become a bottleneck – though that ship has sailed in regard to adult games. That is, however, exactly the position Steam is in and creators are hostage to Steam’s good will. As has been said previously when a project was pulled from steam – albeit for different reasons – if you’re not on there your capability to make money is crippled.

This, then, is a rare and encouraging victory for free expression, going against the grain of recent developments and this weirdly conservative culture that seems to have sprung up amongst millennials.

What is Hatred then, exactly? It appears to be – and we don’t know all that much really at this point – a game where you step into the boots of a misanthropic spree killer and set out to kill as many people as possible. Distasteful to many, I should think, offensive to others, but why would that be sufficient reason to censor something by itself?

I don’t think that it is.

I think that in order to justify controlling or eliminating something you have to prove that it does harm. Not that it offends people, not that it blasphemes or violates the precepts of some ideology, not that it upsets or triggers someone, but actual, real harm. After all, consumption of media is optional and contrary to what some people believe, the overwhelming majority of people are perfectly capable of telling the difference between reality and fantasy.

Hatred is the apotheosis of the shooter, stripped of the paper thin justifications and plots, devoid of zombies, robots or aliens. As such, I think it’s something that needs to exist. What is it? What will people’s experience of it be? Why would anyone enjoy such a thing?

Catharsis, I think, will be a large part of it. Who hasn’t been stuck in traffic at some point in their lives and thumbed imaginary buttons to unleash a hail of machine-gun fire to clear the way? How popular are survival fantasies, zombie movies, transgressive comics like Crossed? Why? Hatred flips the ‘othering’ and makes the protagonist the ‘other’, the madman, the alien – at least in his mentality.

Fun, sounds terrible, how could one have fun slaughtering hundreds of people? ‘Fun’ is a variable term though. We ride rollercoasters for fun, by experiencing fright and exhilaration. We watch horror films for fun, by experiencing disgust, fright, terror. Through games, books, films, comics and any other media you can think of we experience emotions, ideas and points of view – but at arm’s length, a safe distance.

Games have become one of the most dominant art forms over the last forty years, truly leaping to the fore in the nineties, but despite being interactive and immersive there is no sign that they have had any causal effect on violent behaviour. In fact, violent crime of all kinds has dropped steeply over that period. Correlation is not causation, but after many, many studies failing to establish any causal link – despite great pressure to get that very result. If there were any link this is not what we would expect to see.

Might some people be affected by media? Yes, but these are people who already have issues. There’s been some evidence to suggest that a release can also be healthy, even for these people, a valve through which they can safely bleed off the pressure from their inner demons.

What’s an acceptable level of risk though?

In the UK, around 9,000 people die of alcohol related illness or misadventure each year.

Videogames, or media of any sort, have been directly linked to… barely any deaths over any number of years you care to mention – with the exception of explicit ideological or religious texts. Things we wouldn’t countenance banning.

That sort of puts the whole thing into perspective, doesn’t it?

“In time we hate that which we often fear.”
― William Shakespeare, Antony and Cleopatra

#Gamergate The Card Game Demo Video

Here’s a quick demo of how you play Gamergate The Card Game – as people were asking.

These are the home-printed cards.
You can get the download HERE.
The hardcopy HERE.

#RPG Ars Goetia – Faust’s Footsteps – OSR Ritual Magick

This is a Chronicle City release.

Get the PDF HERE.

The Ars Goetia is the summoning and binding of spirits, demons, to the service of the ritual magician, granting them powers and gifts beyond the ken of mortal men. Derived from the Lesser Key of Solomon the Ars Goetia describes the arts to summon and bind the seventy-two demons bound by that ancient sorcerer.

Beware though, for the slightest mistake in the process and you may be cursed, harmed, bound to the demon’s service yourself or dragged – screaming – down to hell.

This kind of magick and its practitioner, the Ritual Magician, may be more thematically suited than conventional ‘D&D’ style magic for a pseudo-medieval or renaissance era game.

The book includes…

  • The Ritual Magician – A new character class.
  • A brief lesson on ‘Olde English’ typography.
  • Familiars.
  • The summoning and binding process.
  • A d666 table for the consequences of crossing a demon.
  • The 72 demons of the Lesser Key of Solomon divided by rank, with the powers they can confer.
  • Sigils and insane illustrations from the Goetia and Dictionairre Infernale.
  • Compatible with OSR games, most especially Lamentations of the Flame Princess.

5e Hacks – Skills & Deadliness

Lockpick_by_InkthinkerDeeper Skills
General skills are fine too, but some people prefer a bit more granularity, to be able to be really good at one thing and to suck at another, to specialise to better describe their characters or to round them out. An alternative to the simplistic, binary yes/no, skill is to provide points to spread between the different skills as the player sees fit.

Another option – given the hugely broad nature of the skills in 5e at present – is to allow for specialisations. These would be narrower ‘sub skills’ that you could take more than once, giving an extra +2 boost to the skill score only in that specialised sub area.

EG: Haluk of the Mountain Tribe doesn’t want to pump a lot of points into general Athletics, but it doesn’t make sense for a mountain tribesman not to be able to climb. So he puts the minimum of one point in, but makes it a specialisation. So he has Athletics (Climb Only) 3.

EG: Frater Dominus doesn’t care about heathen religions other than his own order’s opposite, evil, number. So he has Religion (Order of Light) 6, Religion (Order of Darkness) 6, despite only putting four points into each.

Consider also allowing Intelligence and Wisdom bonuses – and penalties – to affect the skill point pool, for a more skill-oriented game that encourages specialisations.

Barbarian: Skill points 8, +4 each proficiency increase (or 1 per level).
Bard: Skill points 10, +5 each proficiency increase (or 1/1/1/2/1/1/1/2 etc).
Cleric: Skill points 8, +4 each proficiency increase (or 1 per level).
Druid: Skill points 8, +4 each proficiency increase (or 1 per level).
Fighter: Skill points 8, +4 each proficiency increase (or 1 per level).
Monk: Skill points 8, +4 each proficiency increase (or 1 per level).
Paladin: Skill points 8, +4 each proficiency increase (or 1 per level).
Ranger: Skill points 10, +5 each proficiency increase (or 1/1/1/2/1/1/1/2 etc).
Rogue: Skill points 12, +6 each proficiency increase (or 1/2/1/2/1/2 etc).
Sorcerer: Skill points 8, +4 each proficiency increase (or 1 per level).
Warlock: Skill points 8, +4 each proficiency increase (or 1 per level).
Wizard: Skill points 8, +4 each proficiency increase (or 1 per level).

Standard D&D is not especially brutal, once you get past your first few levels. Hit Points are an abstraction that can drive more ‘simulationist’ players to distraction.

A first level Barbarian in standard rules starts with around 12+ hit points. There is not a single weapon that can possibly kill them in a single blow. This is great for heroics, but again – less good for grim and gritty settings and rules. The answer isn’t, necessarily, to reduce hit-points because this sort of range is about right, the answer may be to increase the potential, possible damage that a weapon might do – outside of the context of criticals.

Attacks would do a multiplier of themselves for damage, so a dagger would do 1 (1), 2 (4), 3 (9), 4 (16) damage with bonuses added onto the total at the end.

Multiple dice would roll individually. So a 2d6 maul rolling 3 & 4 on its two dice would do 9+16 = 25 damage, with armour being applied to each dice and the bonus to damage from strength etc being applied at the end – if any damage at all gets through.

To offset the deadliness and to further make the combat classes more effective, it’s necessary to alter the relationship with armour.

As well as making one harder to hit – deflecting attacks – armour now also reduces damage by the amount it increases AC over 10. Padded armour reduces damage by 1, while platemail reduces it by 8. Shields continue to boost AC as normal.

Inspiration points can also be used to completely evade an attack and take no damage.

Criticals are just automatic hits with no additional damage.

Tiny Creatures increase their AC by +2.
Small Creatures increase their AC by +1
Medium Creatures have no modifier.
Large Creatures reduce damage done to them by 1.
Huge Creatures reduce damage done to them by 2.
Gargantuan Creatures reduce damage done to them by 4.

God_of_War-Ascension_25bCreatures with armour (over AC10) reduce damage by the amount it is over 10.

A barbarian stikes a Fomorian with his Battleaxe, he rolls a 5, for 25 damage, +2 for his strength for a total of 27.

A Fomorian is a huge creature, reducing that damage by 2 to 25 and has natural armour 14, reducing it by another 4 to 23, he’s down to 126 hit points.

Our level 8 Barbarian meanwhile has 103 hit points and hide armour, for 2 points of protection.

He gets hit for 3d8+6 (Greatclub)


70 hit points. Leaving him with 33.

He probably shouldn’t mess with giant monsters by himself.