Slice & Dice! – Handmade Dice!

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This week’s entry is going to be on the short side, as it was written while Tangent Artists

The 1-sided die!

The 1-sided die! Get them now, before they tear a hole in the fabric of the universe.

were while at Marscon. This is our 4th year at the Williamsburg-based sci-fi / fantasy con, and we’re delighted to once again showcase our comics, books, and gamer stuff. Also, we’ll be offering up one of our signature impulse items: the One-Sided Die!

In our webcomic CRIT!, we poked fun at wizards, gaming, and a little bit of breaking the fourth wall. Afterwards, we started wondering: could you actually make a one-sided die? A little bit of Sculpy modeling clay, twist it into a mobius strip, and voila! You have an affront to time and space!

The first con we debuted them, we got a lot of people who chuckled, more who didn’t get it… but when a a math teacher bought six, we knew we had a winner. While we’ve sold a number of them over the years or given them as freebies on top of larger purchases, their greatest strength comes with their ability to draw people over. Crying “1-sided dice!” aloud is enough to get several con-goers to about-face and come closer to see what the heck you are talking about. As we say, “a critical success AND a critical failure with every roll!”

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Sculpey: Looks like gold, smells like toxic death.

Since then, I’ve made a few other hand-made dice. They are not perfectly balanced, and thus I stay away from the most commonly used dice, sticking to odd things that players would seldom or never use. Here are a few close ups:

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Why, yes, that is a D5 in the back. Poor D5, you get no love.

I actually have a rough mold for the three-sided barrel dice, which I’ve found work best with a “menhir” motif. The design gives tons of space on the sides for non-functional runes and swirls, but painfully little room for the “number.”

For the four-sided barrel dice, I like using either the

I fart in your general direction...

I fart in your general direction…

pointy Cleopatra’s needle-style obelisk,or with the castle tower.

The towers are fun, in that they use the number of windows as the number on the dice face.

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Greyskull shall be MINE! Bwaaahahaha

Most of my towers use expensive stone clay, so I thought I’d appeal to the seven-year-old in me and make a few towers in Skeletor-Purple.

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They’re more impressive when they’re not wet and gooey… like babies.

To finish and to help accentuate the texture, I always give them a quick wash. Black works for most of the dice, but the yellow and off-white dice need brown.

This time I experimented with sparkly black. I like the finished look, but it changes the texture. The sparkle paint I used has a more plasticy “feel.” This might be a drawback, or mean that it has a thicker coating protecting it. We’ll see.

For your dungeon raiding pleasure!

For your dungeon raiding pleasure!

Here’s a final shot of the sales box, including some older dice. Feast your eyes!

Happy conning, my friends!

Tangent Artists in their natural habitat.

Tangent Artists in their natural habitat.

 

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GAME CRAFTING – LOSE YOURSELF IN YOUR WORK

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In which Dave gives you a preview of the card game Dystopio, and a strange approach to the creative process.

Let me start, as is befitting a member of the group named “Tangent Artists,” with a little background. I have a friend who’s writes fiction as a hobby. While she publishes a small portion of it, she is less than enthusiastic about the rest… so she DELETES IT. Removes it from her hard-drive and the world, never to return. The very idea of this keeps me up at night. That is an act of heresy on par with wrapping myself in a burning flag while clubbing an orphaned baby seal with a crucifix and cursing at my grandmother. It’s simply not done.  I never throw away anything I write: my hard drive contains old ClarisWorks and .txt documents from the dawn of the internet. I have three composition notebooks containing a novel I wrote by hand during NaNoWriMo, which I have yet to transcribe into digital form (I’m holding out for a cheap voice recognition software). I have tiny pocket notepads with the home-made Magic the Gathering card ideas I dreamed of during middle school history classes (Wizards? Call me!). I throw nothing away.

Sadly, “nothing” includes non-literary items too. I’m a terrible packrat, with no sense of organizational skills. I have an orange Home Depot apron that I keep in my closet just in case I need it for a costume someday. I have stacks of Styrofoam packing lying around, in case I want to make scenery for a game I never play anymore with friends who want to play it even less. It may have some advantages (my car always seems to have a silly hat in it, and not by design), but it also makes finding stuff an ordeal.

photograph by Николай Аввакумов,  distributed under an Attribution 3.0 Unported http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/deed.en

photograph by Николай Аввакумов, distributed under an Attribution 3.0 Unported http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/deed.en

Flashback a little less than a year ago: Around the same time this blog started up, I started working on a new card game. I was inspired by Stalin’s 5-Year plans; his first five year plan took four years, his second took seven. It reminded me of the Eddie Izzard line about Microsoft:”lt’ll be done by Saturday… Tuesday… next week…  We’ll bring it out when we’re *%$#ing ready, right?” To me, there’s something darkly comedic about the whole thing, resulting in a game about players trying to create the most brutal and oppressive regime they could. The working name of it is Dystopio, and we’ve made sure to pepper with allusions to serious works like 1984, A Brave New World, and Fahrenheit 451, as well as pop culture settings like Tank Girl, Judge Dredd, and Death Race 2000. I made spent a weekend making mock-ups on index cards, played it with the Tangent Artists, and took notes on the feedback.

AND THEN I LOST IT.*

Earlier this month, our group was planning to go to Brunswick Games Day, where I had hoped to run a pick-up game of Masters of Umdaar. However, I had also planned to test Dystopio out, but was unable to find the mock-ups.

“Hey, no worries, I’ll just write them down again.”

To my horror, the only notes on my computer were nearly a year old. They had my rough brainstormed ideas, but nothing concrete.

I remembered the basic mechanics: every player has a Plan. It counts down from 5 to 0, going down by one each turn. If it reaches the end and the player possesses the necessary Projekts (one specific one, and one general one), then the player wins. If the player doesn’t possess them, then the Plan fails, and the player has to start at year 5 with a new plan.

Example Plan: Human Hatcheries. Requirements: Projekt – Genetic Engineering + 1 Ministry of Education Projekt.

Of course, my notes didn’t have the A + B = C information… all I had was my rough list of dystopian themes and several different names for ministries (in honor of George Orwell, the British term “ministry” sounds more imposing than the American “department.”) So, I rewrote them from scratch, brought them to the show, and ran a few games, and got more feedback.

And then I found the old cards.

THE MORAL OF THE STORY

You hear all of the time about editors and English teachers saying, “write it again.” For a packrat like me, that’s harder than it sounds. Our work is our children, and even when trying to write from scratch, I’d intentionally try to make it close to the original as possible. Even in our brains, we are packrats, refusing to throw anything anyway.

Now, I would never advice you intentionally lose your notes. Likewise, I understand that certain projects have a deadline that doesn’t allow you months to forget your previous phrasing; but the end result is fantastic.

Essentially, I now have two complete versions of the game to compare with each other, picking the best of both. It’s like having a co-writer that happens to be you. Unintentionally, I was renaming weaker cards and coming up with odd rules that I wouldn’t have come up with before.  Here are some more examples:


Old combo: Gov-recreation drug + Ministry of Facts Projekt = Touchies Movies 

New Version: Recreatio-Drugs + Ministry of Safety Projekt = Super Soldier Steroid.


Old: Mandated tv + Ministry of Freedom Projekt = Murderball 

New: Mass Diversion + Ministry of Safety Projekt = Murder Sports


When in doubt, it also means that losing a work is not the end of the world. Even if it’s not quite the same, that may be a blessing in disguise. One way or another, that idea is like Minerva, buzzing around in your skull until you let it out.

Happy crafting!

* I lose a lot of stuff. I sadly missed posting last week because I wrote an entire blog post on my laptop and, you guessed it, lost the laptop. It turned up in coworker’s car.

Paranormal Investigation Tool – Follow the Bread Crumbs

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I’ve been working hard on a new aid for Paranormal Investigation games this week, and haven’t got a chance to make a new post. So, to kill two birds with one stone, I’m giving you a sneak peak of the work in the progress. Presenting:


THE BREAD CRUMBS GENERATOR!

researcher discovery

BREAD CRUMBS – A PARANORMAL INVESTIGATIONS CLUE GENERATOR

The goal of the “Bread Crumbs” system is not to create a full adventure for you- like any Fate Core game, it requires some creativity of your group’s part. Rather, it’s here to help generate clues and ideas. It’s really up to you, the gm and the players, to string together the relevant bits into a narrative.

Will this fashion a masterpiece of mystery, the likes of Agatha Christie? Nope. But it’s great for your average, “villain of the week” style one shot adventure.

HOW DOES IT WORK?

The Bread Crumbs system uses a principle called Apophenia, which Wikipedia defines as: “is the experience of seeing patterns or connections in random or meaningless data.” In essence, we start the group with a crime scene. At the scene is a murder victim, killed in a specific way, an item, and a few random sensations. Let’s say you get “a bullet to the chest,” “a banana,” and “a strange sense of well-being.” What’s the connection between them?

At the start, absolutely nothing. However, as you question witnesses, follow hot leads, and uncover more clues, (ex. More bananas, and a huge pile of cash), your group can now start putting it all together.

Maybe they discover a ring is smuggling street by magically transforming them into bananas. Maybe a Love God / Goddess from a Tropical nation is luring greedy banana-republic salesmen to their death. Maybe the banana’s a red herring, planted there to by the NecroCats to frame their worst enemies, the Were-Gorilla gang!

But how do I come up with the connections? Hopefully the players will provide connections on their own, but if not, we recommend some source books on the symbolism of various objects. It also helps to brush up on your mythological beasts: if the random chart generates feathers and talon-marks, you might decide to make the monster a cockatrice and drop a few cockatrice-themed clues along the way (ex. County fair with a rooster that lays eggs.) Most importantly, keep an open-minded. Don’t pick the weirdest theory for the villains, pick ALL of the weird theories!

This also combos well with the Brainstorm system introduced in “Atomic Robo RPG.” We will be releasing a similar, Investigation based system in the near future.

QUICK (AND THE DEAD) MISSION BUILDER

Before you start, make sure you create characters

Create Urban Legends – have each player and the GM create at least one each (although, if a player’s feeling creative, don’t put a maximum.) Some of these (or all of them) may not show in the story, but it’s nice to get ideas before you start.

Generate a Mystery (see below)

Go to the scene of the crime and Investigate. Generate a Location

As soon as you get there, start making supporting characters. Make sure you include a Face character or two for every organization and location. Don’t just have a random cop, have Carl the Chubby Meterman. If the murder’s in a back alley, have the owner of the restaurant Greasy Ginny, already answering questions to one of the detectives. These people seem incidental now, but could end up your suspects, eye witnesses, allies, enemies, and potentially future victims.

The team then gets to scan the scene for clues. Each character may attempt to use an appropriate skill to survey the scene. Investigate is the best skill, but Sixth Sense can be used to pick up Sensory Clues, and certain and situations allow characters to use other skills (ex. A stunt that lets a mad scientist investigate with Science!; a smooth talker using Rapports to question witnesses; Connections to dredge up rumors from your network.)

Successes: For each Success, the group gains one clue. You can only have a total of three Evidence or Corpse clues, so any further clues must be Sensory Clues.

Succeed with Style: If a character succeeds with style, you can gain a boost to aid another player with their search, or may take an additional aspect about the crime scene- this likely not a full clue, but rather a “hunch” about the nature of incident.

Fail / Succeed At Cost: No matter how many characters you fail, you always gain at least one Clue. Alternatively, don’t forget that, with Fate, you can always Succeed at a Cost.

Example “Success at Cost”: Finding a bit of evidence by tripping over it (giving you a Consequence to show your hurt leg or hurt pride); getting contradictory eye-witness testimonials; discovering an important bit of evidence and accidentally destroying it before it can be examined closer.

Clue chart:

If your group rolls on the same twice in a row, roll twice in a row, to assure a mix of the three.

Corpse Clue – Roll on the Corpse Clue Chart
0 Evidence Clue – Roll on the Evidence Clue Chart
+ Sensory Clue – Roll on the Evidence Clue Chart

Whenever they search, they always find SOMETHING, even if it doesn’t seem important. A bent fender. A phone message from Crystal. A bar napkin. Even if they lead no where now, some player might make a connection you never thought of.

Once the crime scene and all witnesses are exhausted, try to follow the clues. Maybe a forensic scientist can analyze the mud sample, or a guest lecturer can tell you more about an ancient symbol. Dig into the victim’s past, stake out similar locations in case it happens again. Reward player proactivity with more information.

When providing answers, draw connections threads between the events and aspects that are proposed (including the Urban Myths). If the trail grows cold, have the crime reoccur, or introduce someone who knows more than you (a hired assassin coming for you; a new witness; a rival to the enemy; the critically injured victim regains consciousness with vague memories.)

The Twist – Just when everything’s going smoothly, add in a plot twist. This can be something of your own devising, or roll on your adventure’s Twist table. When in doubt, remember the Urban Legends… maybe your Mexican Standoff with the Romanian Mafia gets interrupted by Elvis and his Alien abductors.

The Reveal – The mystery is exposed. Maybe it was a creature you still know very little about, or maybe it was really Carl the Chubby Cop the whole time.

[SKIPPING THE CORPSE & EVIDENCE CLUES FOR NOW- GOTTA SAVE SOME FOR LATER, RIGHT?]

GIVING OUT SENSORY CLUES

The _sense__ is __(category), a bit like __example.__

This means you roll for the sense chart, then on the matching description chart, and then your group picks one of the examples in it. This gives you a definite fact (ex. It IS sweet), and less concrete suggestion (ex. “it reminds you of jasmine”). This lets you alter it slightly later if need be! Make sure you let the group in on picking the description. Ex. You can read the full list and let them pick; you pick “fruit” and let them throw ideas of which fruit it is.

For example, a roll might include “The smell is sweet, a bit like almonds.”

Which Sense?: If a character has no particular focus, roll on the following chart. However, if a player has an aspect that suggests that one sense is stronger / more appropriate than the next, allow the character to pick which one. (Ex. A psychic picking up the Sixth Sense Clue; a werewolf with the aspect “Follow Your Nose!” getting a Smell Clue.)

Sensory Clue – Sub-Chart
0 +
Another player picks one! Smell Touch
0 Sight The GM picks one! Sixth Sense
+ Taste Hearing Pick one!

SIGHT

The location itself appears to you be ______, much like a _______

Sensory Clue – Sub-Chart
0 +
Disarray Neat Phony
0 Hidden / Blind spots In Full View Secrets Revealed
+ Snap Shot All in the Details Seen This Before

Disarray – The location is in shambles. You might mean: there was a great struggle; someone was looking frantically for something; the attack was made in hot blood; the attacker was a beastlike in its savagery.

Neat – The location is startlingly neat and tidy. You might mean: the victim was subdued without a fight; the murderer was someone the victim knew; the murderer is a master of stealth (vampire, ghost, ninja); attack was calculated and made in cold-blood; the attacker wasn’t looking for something / wasn’t a robbery.

Phony – You can’t prove it yet, but your gut tells you something about the placement of the body and articles feels fake, altered, or unnatural. This might be: a phony suicide letter or “dying message”; a half-hearted robbery; objects / evidence that looks planted; a “random” attack with perfect timing; an assailing “stranger” who knew too much.

Hidden / Blind spots – The murder occurred in a spot that is secluded, dark, or obscured from others. This might mean: the murderer is a creature of the night / has night vision; the murderer is hurt by sunlight; the murderer is an ambush hunter; the murderer lured the victim into the location; the victim agreed to go into the secluded place (trusted murderer, doing a shady activity.)

In Full View – The murder happened in spot that was well light, exposed to the elements, and where others could easily see it. They might mean: there are witnesses to the d

Secrets Revealed – upon investigation, you find a secret way in, possibly utilized by the murderer. This might be: a hidden door; a grate leading to the sewer; a passage behind a portrait.

Snap Shot – Something in the area let you catch a blurry picture of an unknown person at the scene, possibly the murderer. This might be from: the victim’s last selfie; traffic camera; ATM camera; satellite image.

All in the Details – You find a near microscopic piece of evidence that other eyes would miss. Roll on the Sensory table to see what you find (reroll any Sixth Sense or additional Sight results). It’s not much now beyond a simple smell or touch, but it’ll be more defined when the lab gets to analyze it.

Seen This Before – The sight seems strangely familiar to you. This might be: you have been to this spot before; you’ve seen an identical before (perhaps an unsolved case!); you recognize the victim from somewhere (maybe searching the mug shots will help).

SMELLS

The smell is ______, a bit like _________.

Sensory Clue – Sub-Chart
0 +
Floral Caustic Common Chemical
0 Metallic Foul Sweet
+ Smokey Earthy Spicy

Floral – perfume, cologne, lotion, flowers, green tea, violets (turpentine), fruit

Caustic – acidic (hydrochloric acid, sulfuric acid, vinegar, ammonia, lemon), basic (rubbing alcohol, methanol, quicklime, paint thinner, hydrogen peroxide), cleaning agents (bleach, detergent, soap, disinfectant, chlorine, “pine-fresh”), poisonous (bug spray, pesticide)

Common Chemical – Shoe polish, aerosol, hair spray, soap, new car, alcohol

Metallic – ozone, copper, burnt oil, melted plastic, ammonia (ex. Smokeless powder ammo)

Foul – rotten (flesh, wood, milk), bodily fluids, rotten eggs (sulfur, brimstone, gas), B.O., poo gas, fish (nickel tetracarbonate)

Sweet – fudge, vanilla, almond (cyanide, marzipan), cookies, rotting fruit

Smoky – candles, tobacco, gunpowder, fuel, wood, burnt meat / flesh, incense, burnt rope, gasoline, burnt hair, black tea, coffee

Earthy – damp leaves, mud, sea breeze, minerals, rust, grass

Spicy – pepper, garlicky (onions, phosphorous, arsenic), mustard (mustard gas), mint / menthol

TOUCH

The touch is ______, a bit like _________.

Sensory Clue – Sub-Chart
0 +
Gooey Slick Rough
0 Sharp Soft / Smooth Rubbery
+ Cool Hot Unearthly

Gooey – mucus, goo, adhesive, glue, tar, syrup (honey, maple, soda), plant sap, insect / spider silk, congealed blood

Slick – oil (gun oil, lighter fluid, cooking oil), grease, makeup, butter, snot, sweat, scales, ice, mold, lubricants

Rough – grit, sand, salt, dust, wool, sandpaper, sharkskin, bark, hair stubble, plaster

Sharp – fragments (glass, porcelain, metal shavings), splinters, shrapnel, shark skin, thorns / prickles

Soft / Smooth– moss / mold, wax, fabric (silk, cotton, satin), petals, natural (fur, suede, down), dirt / clay, marshmallow

Rubbery – rubber, skin (leather, skin), plastic, mummified / jerked flesh, leaves, latex (prosthetics / make-up, rubber gloves), dried goo (see Gooey)

Cool – Ice, Liquid (water, rain, alcohol), metal, long dead, from cold place (freezer, ground, teleport), balms / anesthetics

Hot – burnt (fire, electricity, steam, acid, magic), recently used machine (gun, engine, phone), living or recently dead human/animal, burned rubber, hot drinks (coffee, tea, cider), from hot place (indoors, oven, shower, teleport)

Unearthly – The substance of something at the scene seems unearthly, like it was made for unknown materials. Whenever you touch the surface with your bare skin, you get a strange feeling or impulse. Roll on the Sixth Sense chart for the sensation (if it doesn’t fit, reroll).

WILL SAVE THE REST FOR ANOTHER DAY… IF ANYTHING SEEMS A LITTLE UNCLEAR, OR YOU HAVE ANY SUGGESTIONS, ADD THEM IN THE COMMENTS SUGGESTION!

2014 – Back in the Highlights

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Despite my expectations, it would appear that the readership on this blog has increased since I started, (from “Holy cow, I have a reader!” to a staggering, “Holy Cow, I have readers [ plural]!”)  I am surprised as the next person to find this out, and welcome any man, woman, or spambot that has wandered on to this site by mistake.

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One of my more glamorous shots.

 

To round off the year, I thought I’d give a quick play-by-play of the posts this year, in case you missed any that might appeal to you.

JULY

  • So Much Time, So Little to Do – A breakdown of all of the Tangent Artist games we’re working. Since then, I’ve talked about… um… maybe a third of them. Yeah. Will have to tease you more about those next year.
  • Monster Gallery – Gloom Cart – A preview monster for Skeleton Crew (although he fits in with Dresden Files too.) Haven’t done too many solo monsters since… let me know if you want more.
  • Costume Clash – Behind the Scenes – I’m very pleased with this WIP game, and while it won’t be launched in 2015, we’ve definitely made a lot of progress with it this year. This article is also a fun glimpse at the creative process for all you creative types.
  • Skeleton Crew 101 – The first teaser (of many) about the Skeleton Crew game.

AUGUST

  • Dungeon Tours Ltd – 101 – Sneak peak at our WIP rpg setting, Dungeon Tours Ltd. We’re currently thinking about releasing this one digitally, potentially through Drivethrurpg.
  • Gen-Con or Bust – Won’t even bother linking this, as it only covers where we were at Gen Con.
  • Feedback to Back – Pt 1 – A breakdown of the many games we ran at Gen Con, the feedback, and the fun experiences… too much to fit in one blog entry!

SEPTEMBER

OCTOBER

  • Vampire Bloodlines- A fluffy-breakdown of the many different vampires around the Skeleton Crew World.
  • Open the Gates! – An experiment with open-ended games, and a great set-up for a Skeleton Crew adventure. (I guess this was the prototype for the GMprov posts to follow.)
  • Inktober Two-fer – A super-early peak at the art for two character in the upcoming Skeleton Crew rulebook (it’s so secret, it wasn’t even in the Beta version!) Art by the amazing Monica Marier.
  • Inktober Day 19 – Another sneak peak character. This week: the ghostly Chucky Crumb.
  • Inktober Day 20 – A third sneak peak character. This time: Padre Vinnie Sargento
  • Gmprov Part 1 – My first official post devoted to merging Improv and Games-Mastery. This week focuses on Conversations and Eavesdropping.
  • Gmprov Part 2– More on merging Improv and Games-Mastery. This week: Bargains & Interrogations.NOVEMBER
  • Lost-in-Translation- Muddling Messages – A post about mangling and mistranslating messages for your players.
  • GMprov 3 – More improv for Games Masters. This week focuses on “Yes, And,” and building a collaborative environment.
  • Skeleton Crew Beta – A post announcing that the opening of the Skeleton Crew RPG Beta, and the many things you’d find in the rulebook. We’re still accepting testers, if you’re interested!
  • GM Brainstorm – LARP – An attempt to move Fate into LARPing, and the introduction to the Gladiatron rpg game.DECEMBER
  • Advent Calender – Sharing a project from our writer/artist, Monica Marier, as she presents the Christmas Carol in 25 illustrations in 25 days.
  • Gladiatron – The rules to the Gladiatron RPG setting.
  • TOY-BOX-REVIEW – A review of a toy set I bought off Amazon, a free Fate Core / Skeleton Crew monster, and a psychological dissertation on cheap plastic figures.
  • GMprov -It’s a Set-Up! – More improv for Games Masters. This week focuses on setting up scenes in a jiffy.
  • GMprov – Ask Me No Questions – More improv for Games Masters. Focuses on the ways asking Questions of your players can add or detract from the gameplay.

All-in-all, I think it’s been a pretty good year! What do you want to see more of in 2015? Have any guest articles you want to submit? Let us know!