Monster Showcase – The Guardian Bell

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This week on Tangent Artists Tabletop, we showcase a new monster for your Fate Game: The Guardian of the Bell!

The Guardian is intended to be a boss or mini-boss for the party to face solo. The players will face it in a conflict, but it’s special rules will force the players to act in ways they wouldn’t normally.

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GUARDIAN OF THE BELL

Thousands of years ago, a forgotten tribe of mountain dwelling people built a temple. Their names and the name of the god has been forgotten, but it is clear that they consecrated the ground with a blood sacrifice of some beast.

 

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Art courtesy of Gennifer Bone. For a full-sized version, become a patron of her Patreon.    (Warning: some images NSFW).

A great time later, a group of monks tore down the paleolithic temple, and founded a temple, dedicated to a more peaceful religion. They blessed the shrine, and wrapped the perimeter with sacred writings meant to ward off attackers.

 

On the hundred year anniversary of the shrine’s founding, the shrine was attacked by robbers.
To the monks astonishment, the sacred temple bell arose and began attacking the bandits, driving them away; but soon the strange guardian started hunting down the monks as well. The sacrificial beast of old and the prayers of the new had, instead of counteracting each other, merged into something entirely other.

The Temple of Osha-Rin still stands on the clifftop, abandoned. No doubt the overbearing guardian is still haunting it, slaughtering any pillager or pilgrim that comes near. 

RULES

 

High Concept: Reanimated Spirit Beast

Aspects: Beastlike mind; Holy terror; Territorial; Here and Gone Again.

Core Skills*

+5: Fight
+4: Provoke/Intimidate**, Will
+3: Physique, Notice,
+2: Athletics, Stealth

FAE Approaches

+4: Forceful
+3: Quick, Flashy
+2: Clever, Sneaky

*Core Skill Level – The Skill levels are based on a game with a Great (+4) cap. If playing with a higher or low starting cap, the guardian’s level should be +1 above the PCs.

**Intimidate: Tangent Artist’s upcoming “Skeleton Crew RPG” will feature the skill “Intimidate.”

 

Special Rules

Stunt / Extra – Indestructible: The Temple Guardian does not have a stress track. For all intents and purposes, it is indestructible, and players cannot use the attack action. (Note: Fight and Shoot can still be used to attempt overcome rolls and create advantages.)

Ring the Bell: The temple guardian will only disappear if the PCs can get the bell to ring five times. This can be done by making the spirit over exert itself (see below), or by besting the beast in an overcome roll (See “Shall Not Ring!” below).

Stunt – Shall Not Ring! The Guardian Beast gains a +3 to any skill/approach when defending against any overcome rolls to ring the bell. (Ex. If attempting to use Fight to ring the bell, the beast defends with a +8 before rolling; if using Athletics, it defends with +5.)

Stunt/Extra – Exerting: The beast thinks like a wild animal, and will spend its turn attacking if possible. If it cannot attack (ex. it is pinned to the floor by an obstacle,) it takes any appropriate action it needs to free itself, and then will exert itself. Whenever it exerts itself, it may take an additional action, but this causes the bell to ring. The beast will continue exerting itself until the bell has been rung a total of 5 times, or until it made an attack against a character (it doesn’t have to succeed). GM’s: As an exception, the beast will not exert itself to death in the first round.


GM Tips

Handling Indestructible – There are a few ways to let the players know that the players cannot use the indestructible action.

  1. Warn Them – Let the players know at the beginning of the combat that the attack action won’t work. This prevents them from wasting their time. (Of course, you can offer a compel to any players for PCs that would be a little too slow to realize this).
  2. Surprise Them – You can wait until someone attempts an attack, and tell them it doesn’t work; treat this as a compel, with the player getting a free fate point. This is less friendly, but matches the normal flow of the fight. The downside is, this will often make players upset. As a consolation, considering giving two fate points instead of one, or let the player take an extra action next turn / at the end of this turn. Also, if the player spend any fate points or special one-use stunts during the attack, make sure they get them back at the end of the turn / conflict.

 

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Speaking of creepy stuff, Tangent Artist’s comic “Skeleton Crew” is now on Web Toon! The first issue is up, with more to follow. Read it online or on the Web Toon app!

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M:tG – A Designer Essay

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A little while ago, I participated in Wizards of the Coasts’ third Great Designer Search.

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Unfortunately, I didn’t do well enough on the multiple-choice test to make it to the third trial, but I thought I’d share my essay, as well as some of my thoughts on Magic. And who knows? Maybe I’ll get another chance to apply for a job there someday.

 


  1. Introduce yourself and explain why you are a good fit for this internship.

You only get one first impression. On the whole, I’m a positive person. Acquaintances know that I try to see the good in everything, but this is only half of the story. Those who know me recognize that my mantra is always, “This is good, but how can we make it better?”

From a young age, I’ve always been tweaking board games. I was inventing house rules before I knew what house rules were. In middle and high school, you never saw me without a pocket notepad, ready to write down a new idea for a game, a fanfic or an original Magic card.

This carried over into college too, when I earned my BFA in Music Theatre. I loved working in the established shows and, but I still felt to the urge to write my own plays, perpetually asking myself “How can I make this better?”

This is one of the reasons I was drawn to working on roleplaying games, which are inherently malleable. In 2015, I had the pleasure of working with the professional company Evil Hat to create an RPG setting for the Fate system.

 

Given carte blanche to create whatever I wanted, I drew inspiration from the cartoons of my youth, and created the planetary romance “Masters of Umdaar.” Later, I approached the company with an idea for a second setting; I had been inspired by a small series of filler art from one of their rulebooks. I fleshed out those five pictures into an RPG about a culinary game show in space, “Uranium Chef.” In addition, I have just sold a carnival themed board game to another company.

In my quest to perfect my craft, I have not always been alone. I have extensive experience collaborating with creative teams. For the past ten years, I have worked with the group Tangent Artists, coauthoring three comics: the supernatural adventure “Skeleton Crew,” the comedic fantasy “CRIT!”, and the gag-a-day strip “Donuts for Looking.” Over time, I have learned when to take the lead on a project and when to follow. I know that sometimes you must campaign for your ideas. I also know that you sometimes have to step back, take a deep breath, and set your ideas aside for the good of the project.

In the past, I have worked as a professional actor and a drama teacher. I currently work as a team coach at a call center.

 

 

  1. An evergreen mechanic is a keyword mechanic that shows up in (almost) every set. If you had to make an existing keyword mechanic evergreen, which one would you choose and why?

 

Given the chance, I would remake the mechanic known as flanking into an evergreen keyword for black and blue. If so, I would remove the “blockers with (keyword) are unaffected” clause. I would also change the name to a term, perhaps to “corrupt” or “dominate.” Here is why I think flanking would be a good fit:

  1. Missing Hole – Blue and black is currently lacking a unique keyword ability.
  2. Color Pie Theory – Divorced from the name “flanking,” the flanking mechanic is about making opposing creatures weaker. Thematically, this fits perfectly with black (which is about punishing the weak and sapping the strength of your enemies), and very well with blue (which is happy to transmogrify an opponent into a weaker form).
  3. Enemy Color Pie: Green is the color of brute force. Green creatures overcome obstacles by increasing their own strength (ex. rampage and “new rampage.”) It is appropriate that the blue/black ability have the opposite effect. Similarly, Naya (green, white, and red) are the colors that focus most heavily on small creature tokens, (ex. green elves, white soldiers, and red goblins). Black and blue need a keyword that overcomes tokens without necessarily evading them.
  4. Balance – Flanking can be placed on low-mana creatures without fear of speeding up the format, as the ability only increases the relative power of the creature without dealing additional damage to the defending player.
  5. Record Keeping – Unlike wither and infect, two keywords that also weaken an opposing creature, flanking’s negative modifier only lasts until end of turn; this makes record keeping easier, without Wizards having to make -1/-1 counters evergreen in every set.
  6. Design Space – Like most evergreen keywords, design space for flanking is limited. However, because multiple instances of flanking stack, it is possible to create rarer cards that use flanking in complex ways. For example, imagine a rare demon with an activated ability: “2B: Target creature gains flanking.” Similar, flanking interacts very well with black’s new keyword menace, increasing flanking’s effect across multiple blockers.

 

  1. If you had to remove evergreen status from a keyword mechanic that is currently evergreen, which one would you remove and why?

 

If I were to remove evergreen status from a keyword mechanic, I would choose hexproof. Here are my reasons:

  1. With most keywords, a large creature can be dealt with by removal or with creatures. Only two keywords are immune to one of those options: hexproof and indestructible. If you are a player on the receiving end of an immensely powerful creature with either ability, you will likely be frustrated and will be hard-pressed to comeback. Cards with indestructible are rare and have expensive costs, while hexproof is cheaper and more common.
  2. Hexproof is based on the older “shroud,” which affected all players equally. Hexproof is entirely one-sided, which makes the fun one-sided as well.
  3. Whenever hexproof is placed on a card with evasion, such as a creature that is unblockable, it effectively makes the creature irremovable without some time of board wipe or edict effect.

Given the chance, I would replace hexproof with the following: An ability or keyword that reads, “Spells your opponents cast that target [cardname] cost 2 more,” as demonstrated on the cards Elderwood Scion and Icefall Regent. This ability discourages removal without eliminating it completely.

Alternatively, if hexproof were to continue, I’d recommend limiting it in several ways:

  1. Situational hexproof, such as Dragonord Ojutai, which has “has hexproof when untapped,” or Tromokratis with “has hexproof when not attacking or blocking.”
  2. Keep it temporary, such as spells that grant “hexproof until end of turn.”
  3. Make hexproof only apply to permanents of another kind. For example, an equipment that says “equipped creature has hexproof,” or a creature with “non-creature enchantments you control have hexproof.” However, a non-legendary card that grants others hexproof but effects its own creature type, for example an elf that grants other elves hexproof, is too easily abused, as your deck will likely have more than one in the deck.

 

  1. You’re going to teach Magic to a stranger. What’s your strategy to have the best possible outcome?

The first thing I focus on when teaching a new player is to find a familiar frame of reference. Ideally, I start with a familiar mechanic that the player would recognize. For example, if the player is familiar with Pokemon or Final Fantasy video games, they will understand damage and health. A player that is familiar with the deck builder game Dominion will more readily understand building decks and card costs. I would even draw connections to games that are not board games, such as how the objective of Magic correlates with the dodgeball variant bombardment.

If none of the mechanics seem familiar, I would draw up the flavor to help craft a story. Magic has a strong fantasy theme, which resonates well with any fans of the genre. Most importantly, stories also weave a sequence of cause and effect, and can help cement turn sequence in a way that a grocery list of rules cannot. I would craft a story about how each player is a wizard, pulling upon the raw magic of the wilderness; they use this raw mana to summon loyal minions (which stick around), and fickle sorceries (which are potent but fleeting).

Once the foundation is laid out, I would play several rounds with the opponent with our hands revealed. I would explain what steps I’m taking and why, and make sure that the player is aware of what options are available. I would mostly lead by example, making smart choices; however, to facilitate the learning experience, I will sometimes “accidentally” make a strategically poor move and immediately point out my own mistake, so the player will learn from my errors.

As you can tell, I’m not afraid to let the opponent have a chance of winning. In my experience, if a player’s first exposure to a game is crushing defeat, they are less inclined to try it again.

 

  1. What is Magic’s greatest strength and why?

I think Magic’s greatest strength is how it lets a player express themself. Because players have a pool of over 15,000 cards to draw upon, it is possible for a player to create a deck that is utterly unique to them.

Personally, I relate most with the expressive Johnny/Jenny psychographic. I build fun and quirky decks that combine unusual creatures and forgotten cards in a way that my opponents don’t expect (and once in a blue moon, I actually win with them). This is the message I choose to express, and the face I want to show the world when I play.

There are other psychographics, such as Timmy/Tammy and Spike, but I theorize that they also want to express themselves. When a Timmy/Tammy plays a Darksteel Colossus, they are expressing “I am a force to be reckoned with”; that is a message they want to share with their friends. When a Spike creates a tournament deck, they are expressing, “I am a winner.” Even a competitive, no-nonsense Spikes express themselves in which competitive deck format they prefer; a pro-player that builds an aggro deck expresses “I am a daredevil,” while a control player expresses, “I am in control.”

I believe this is also the reason why, in the casual format, Commander has been such a strong hit. Players aren’t just picking a high-value creature to base a deck around; they are picking a named character with a strong identity. When a card is successfully built with the color pie in mind, it carries with it a philosophy that the player can adapt. Do I want to build a Phelddagrif group hug deck and be everyone’s friend, or do I want to play Saskia the Unyielding and openly declare war on a single player? It’s almost akin to roleplaying in that the accomplishments of this commander reflect on the player itself, and in turn the player will build future decks using commanders that they will relate with.

 

  1. What is Magic’s greatest weakness and why?

I believe that Magic’s greatest weakness is that the required amount of knowledge a new player needs to understand before they can play is staggeringly high. As an experience player, it is easy to forget how much information is not clearly displayed on a card, and how many rules are buried in the rulebook.

For example, take the type line. At Magic’s debut, this line used the phrase “Summon [creature].” While this correctly communicates that this is a spell, I know of confused beginners that assumed they had to pay the casting cost to keep the creature in play, or assumed they could use a counterspell to destroy a summoned creature that has been on the battlefield for several turns. When Wizards changed the type line to “Creature – [type]” with Sixth Edition, it made the permanence a little easier to remember; however, I know of beginners who had trouble realizing that “Creature” was a spell that could be countered.

If the type line for Llanowar Elves accurately reflect everything a new player needs to know, it would have to say, “Spell Permanent Creature – Elf Druid.” As it stands, there are no indicators in cards to define which are permanents and which are spells. Similarly, there are no indicators on sorceries or instants that once they resolve, they do not stay in play- the player must simply memorize that fact, which increases the comprehension complexity.

I personally feel that adding the words “Spell” and “Permanent” to every artifact, enchantment and creature would be a bit unnecessary. However, I can imagine implementing it in other ways, such as a collapsible bar on the type line for beginning Magic Online players. Similarly, I can imagine adding a permanent and a non-permanent symbol to the side of cards; such icons proved very useful in Portal, and similar type icons were used in Future Sight.

  1. What Magic mechanic most deserves a second chance (aka which had the worst first introduction compared to its potential)?

As a fan of both Ravnica and Orzhov, I feel like Haunt has the potential to be a better mechanic. By my analysis, I see the following flaws:

  1. Asymmetrical – Haunt is confusing in that it has two separate triggers: first when the creature or spell enters the battlefield, and again when the creature it haunts dies. A potential solution would be to make both effects triggered at the same time (i.e. when the creature dies).
  2. Flavor – When Haunt is only a creature, the flavor of it dying and haunting another creature is clear. However, haunt also appeared on several sorceries, which is unusual flavor – how can a sorcery haunt you?
  3. Exile – White and black are two colors that deal well with resurrecting creatures from the graveyard, making exiling cards a disadvantage.
  4. Too Symmetrical – By insisting that haunt effects be identical when it triggers both times, you are limiting the place space; the effect must be weak enough as to not be broken, yet strong enough that a player would want it twice. I would recommend that the initial effect and and haunting effect have correlation, but are not slavishly identical.

Solution – Double Faced Cards – The flaws mentioned above can all be solved with double-faced cards; the front side of the card is a creature, which transforms upon death, coming back as an aura. A perfect example of an existing card that does this well is Accursed Witch.

For example, if I were to rewrite Cry of Contrition as a creature, it might be:
Front:
Shriekfang Bat – 2B –Bat – 1/1 – When Shriekfang Bat enters the battlefield, target player discards a card. Haunt – When Shriekfang Bat dies, you may return it to the battlefield transformed attached to target creature.
Back:
Shrieking Agony – Enchantment –Aura – Enchant Creature. When enchanted creature dies, target player discards a card.

Better still, the flipped auras can be extended past “when creature dies” effects. For example, I can easily see a white/black creature with flying and lifelink transform into an aura that grants an enchanted creature flying and lifelink.

 

  1. Of all the Magic expansions that you’ve played with, pick your favorite and then explain the biggest problem with it.

 

My favorite expansion I’ve played with is the Ravnica block. It successfully established ten unique factions, each with their own motivations, flavor, tribe, and societal niche. It also marked one of the first times when ally color pairings and enemy color pairings were treated as equals, which added new depths to color pie philosophy.

jace amnesia2The biggest problem with Ravnica was the inconsistency of mechanics across the block. Many of the mechanics, like Convoke, Bloodthirst and Dredge, fit both the theme of the guild and the colors it represented beautifully. However, other mechanics were forgettable or poorly matched. Azorious’s mechanic, Forecast, had little connection to their flavor as lawmakers, and was mechanically awkward – it was the only mechanic that required the player use it use during their upkeep; as a player who has instinctively reached for my library after untapping, I’ve missed my window many times. Boros’s keyword Radiance makes slightly more sense thematically, in that it represents how courage can ripple through a militaristic force; however this theme starts breaking down when the mechanic is used on cards that smite your enemies or, because they share a color with your enemy, accidentally punish your own troops. Radiance always focuses on colors, which can be very swingy. The keyword Transmute ties in well with the colors of blue and black, but the mechanic does not tie into the theme of spies and assassins; even the name suggests alchemy, which is associated with the Izzet guild.

As a minor note, many of the above problems were rectified in the Return to Ravnica block. Dimir, Orzhov, Azorious, and Boros, all gained new keyword mechanics that functioned within their color pie and within their theme. However, I always felt it a shame that the new mechanics for Gruul and Rakdos weren’t switched. If Gruul had the ability Unleash, it would have combined well with Bloodthirst, as they both utilize +1/+1 counters. Similarly, Bloodrush synergizes well with Hellbent; an attacking player can use a bloodrush card at instant speed, emptying their hand and making them Hellbent.

 

  1. Of all the Magic expansions that you’ve played with, pick your least favorite and then explain the best part about it.

Of all the blocks that I’ve played, Mirrodin is my least favorite. With the addition of powerful artifacts, equipment, affinity, and indestructible, the power level of the game skyrocketed. At the time, as a casual player who didn’t use sideboards, I was forced to add extra Disenchants and Shatters into all my decks.

However, the block does include the wonderfully crafted mechanic Sunburst. When I was younger, I purchased a Sunburst deck and was entertained by it, but didn’t realize how brilliant it was until years later. Creating strong yet balanced colorless creatures can be difficult, but Sunburst solves this by giving the players a more difficult, multicolored hoop to jump through. However, the mechanic also gives the player strategic flexibility; if they are in a bind, they can still cast the sunburst card at less than optimal value. Case in point, should I cast my Etched Oracle now for three colors to give myself a 3/3 blocker, or hold out until I have my fourth color to get it’s full worth? This is an example of an elegant mechanic design that is easy to comprehend, but carries great strategic depth.

Sunburst requires players to build balanced multicolored decks with balanced land bases, but doesn’t dictate what colors they must use, making the Sunburst cards a happy addition to most any deck. In my Commander Cube, cards with Sunburst and Converge are a perfect fit, encouraging players to play multicolor decks without dictating their color choices.

I also enjoy the fact that the art team added five suns to each of the cards. This is both a flavorful nod to the storyline, and a subtle reminder to new players on how best to utilize the mechanic.

  1. You have the ability to change any one thing about Magic. What do you change and why?

If could pick one thing I would change about Magic, I would remove all references to a player’s gender from the cards; for example, I would replace all uses of “he or she” or “his or her” with more inclusive phrasing. I have friends of mine who identify as genderless or as non-binary genders, and I feel that it is important that they feel included in the hobby as well. Of course, that is not to say that we should remove all gender from characters; it is perfectly fine for the creative team to create new legendary creatures and planeswalkers that identify as male, female, agender, genderfluid or anything else that feel reflects the story and the community.

As for correcting rules text, there are several alternatives:

  1. Their – Use the term “their,” as in, “each opponent discards a card from their hand.” A decade ago, using the word “their” in the singular would have been confusing to many people, but in the past few years, the singular “their” has gained more usage in the common vernacular. For example, in 2016 the singular “they” was made Word of the Year and added to the AP Stylebook.

    B. Their own – If “their” by itself is not clear enough, adding the determiner “own,” as in, “each opponent discards a card from their own hand,” might clarify ownership further still.

  2. No Pronouns – In some cases, the pronoun can be removed entirely, such as, “Target player chooses a creature that player controls.”

I know this issue is more about word choice than about design mechanics, but one of R&D’s principals is, “We are inclusive and respectful.” In order to fully promote an inclusive community, I recommend Wizards phase out any language that dilutes their message.

It is also in keeping with the philosophy of Magic’s original design; Richard Garfield and the other progenitors could have saved space by referring to players solely as “he,” but they went the extra mile to use the phrase “he or she.” It is only fitting that we continue the trend further.

Dungeons – The Logistical Nightmare!

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The kickstarter for the Dungeon Tours Limited is soon approaching. In the meantime, we’ll explore some of the origins behind the game.

But first, what is Dungeon Tours Limited?


miles_parchment-title-2Dungeon Tours Limited is an upcoming tabletop RPG from Tangent Artists. In it, players take on the roles of semi-retired adventurers in a fantasy world. Your days of delving into dungeons are almost over. However, there’s been a recent trend of young nobles going “dungeoning”; and you have a client lined up who is willing to pay crazy money to join your party on your next adventure.

But there’s a problem: the noble twit won’t last three seconds in a real dungeon. So, you’re going to have to fake it. You have three days to find a cave, fill it with foam spikes and papier-mache dragons, and guide the client through. Can you reach the end without the twit uncovering the truth?


Like many RPGs settings, we owe some inspiration to Dungeons & Dragons. One night, our group was going over some of the ridiculous pre-made adventures of 1st edition. You probably know the type: adventures with ancient tombs, teeming with living, breathing monsters, buried miles below the earth . Immediately, we some logistical flaws:

  • How did the 100 foot dragon get into a dungeon with only 10 foot wide corridors?
  • If there’s a live manticore down there, who’s feeding it? Who’s cleaning its cage?
  • If a tiny chamber has an ogre trapped in, unable to get out, waiting hundreds of years between skirmishes, how does he keep himself entertained? Sudoku?

This got me thinking; wouldn’t it be fun to flip the script? Instead of having the GM create the dungeon for the players, what if the players were the dungeon makers? This lead to:

Dungeon Tours 0.0

In this version, the players play monstrous humanoids (orcs, goblins, drow, etc.) working hard on a real dungeon. They’re been hired by a warlord to keep the lair safe from adventurers.

This was purely a thought experiment, with no actual rules were created. I was even unsure whether this would be better was an RPG or a boardgame.

However, I quickly stumbled upon a two-prong problem:

  • If the players wanted the adventurers to die, there must be some easier way to do it than through dumb monsters and convoluted traps.
  • If the players succeed in killing the PCs the first 3rd of the game, the remaining 2/3rds of the dungeon is wasted.

The solution: to develop a game that had to walk a tight-rope. Rather than trying an extreme goal that can be reached through extreme means (ex. kill all invaders), it had to be a balancing act. It must be have a certain amount of X, but not TOO much X.

Dungeon Tours 0.1 – Today

This is where the idea of a fake tour first took place. It’s had certain mechanics that I’ve tried and set aside (ex. the idea of a Scare-o-meter that must be hit just right –  not to much, not too little). However, the fundamental idea of creating fake threats has been in there since the beginning.

Fun Fact: It was the “build a project” backbone of DTL that would later provide the framework for Evil Hat’s Uranium Chef. It’s funny that they’re released in opposite order.

That’s all we have time for this week. Expect more previews as we get closer to the DTL launch date.

What are the best / worst features to show up in your dungeons?

URANIUM CHEF HACK – FEAR FACTORY

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205720I am pleased to announce that this week, my setting, “Uranium Chef,” has been released through Evil Hat’s Worlds of Adventure Patreon. You can buy it here (pay-what-you-want) at Drive-Thru RPG The game is about a reality cooking show in space, but as I’ll show in this blog post, you can hack it for all sorts of constructive competitions.

But first, a word from our sponsors:


If you didn’t know it, I’ve been working with Tangent Artists to create a brand new Fate Adventure, Dungeon Tours Ltd. Can you take a rich noble on a safari through a fake dungeon without them guessing the truth? It’s “Dungeon Keeper” meets “Leverage,” with a dash of “Trading Spaces.” 

Right now, DTL is in Open Beta; but the last day to sign up is March 5th. Make sure you sign up here!


HACKING URANIUM CHEF

The game “Uranium Chef” is not limited to reality cooking shows in space; even the book mentions how you can port it to any other cooking contests in other settings (ex. fantasy; anime high school).

In this article, I want to push the boundaries even further, and demonstrate that you can use the same mechanics with any creation game show. Let me present to you:


FEAR FACTORY

For the last few centuries, technology has stagnated in all fields but one: simulacrums. These puppet-like lifeforms, made with a mix of cybernetics and bioengineering, have been implemented in everything from combat to domestic work force. Most simulacrum factories focused on churning out realistic and pleasing simulacrums by the millions.

As far as we know, the malchemist Hag-Queen Zaggria was the first to pervert the technology to another purpose: making monsters. She created her own laboratory, called the Fear Factory, and used it to create a slow but steady stream of nightmarish horrors. Most of them were commissioned by conquerors, who magnified them in size and used them as weapons of war. Some of them were used in fiction- they were the starring villains in movies and neutrowave shows. It is rumored that the Hag-Queen Zaggria once spent a year on a monster for the sole purpose of scaring her brattish nephew into behaving. To Zaggria, all that matters is that the client pays up front, and that they’re satisfied with the result.

Now, Hag-Queen Zaggria has opened the doors to her laboratory, and will be training her replacement. With the support of Mongongo Studios, she is hosting her own reality TV show competition. Many applicants will apply, but only the season winner will be chosen (and receive the 4 billion space-buck prize). Can you win her favor by creating the most inspired monsters in the galaxy?

Who are the Player Characters?

The PCs are creative monster-makers from every corner of the galaxy. These include:

  • Black-sorcery-wielding malchemists
  • Mad scientists, teknolocks, and xeno-engineers.
  • Disgraced doctors and unlicensed surgeons
  • Disgruntled toymakers
  • Haunted artists and puppeteers
  • Special Effects and make-up experts (who now get to make the real thing!)

 

Luckily, the creators have plenty of android helpers to help with the science and dark magic; thus, even a shaman from a backwater planet with no experience with technology can create an impressive cyborg monster. The hardest part is supplying the vision!

 

Builder Approaches

Instead of six culinary approaches, there are six builder approaches. There are: Beautiful, Creepy, Cute, Ferocious, Gross, and Weird.

  • Beautiful – The approach for creating monsters that are beautiful to behold; this can be for animal that are elegant, or for humanoids that are alluring. Examples of beautiful creatures include: cats; unicorns; dragons; swans; vampires; sirens; incubi / succubae.
  • Creepy – The approach for creating monsters that are scary in an unconventional sense. Creepy monsters tend to mimic something normal, but are somehow out of place. Examples of creepy creatures include: the Slenderman; clowns; Children of the Corn; manikins; tooth fairies; dolls; Michael Myers.
  • Cute – The approach for creating monsters that are cute and lovable. Sometimes these are for friendly monsters, or for monsters that lull the victim into a false sense of security. Examples of cute creatures include: Pokémon; Chucky; Gremlins (fuzzy or evil); Ewoks; the Muppets; the Bumble; Gollum; Sigmund the sea monster.
  • Ferocious – The approach for creating monsters that are mean, threatening, and dangerous. Examples of ferocious creatures include: tyrannosauruses; tigers; demons; gorillas; Jason; Godzilla; the Wolfman.
  • Gross – The approach for creating monsters that look (and especially SMELL) gooey, disgusting, and dirty; alternatively, this can also be for morbid monsters that have their internal organs showing, or are leaking bile, blood, and other bodily fluids. Examples of gross monsters include: slugs; blobs; zombies; corpses; Freddy Krueger; Leatherface.
  • Weird – The approach for creating monsters that are strange and alien; this can include featuring inhuman qualities (such as insectoid, plant or robotic), or sometimes it’s merely the absence of humanoid features (ex. neither eyes nor mouths). Examples of weird creatures include: bees; praying mantises; grey aliens; jelly fish; sea stars; Venus fly traps; Mecha-Godzilla.

Side Note – Destroy All Monsters

In the set adventures, the monsters don’t really do any actions. However, if you plan to have your animated monsters take actions, assign them a lead reality approach based on their lead builder approach:

  • Beautiful – Flashy
  • Creepy – Sneaky
  • Cute – Quick
  • Ferocious – Aggressive
  • Gross – Careful
  • Weird – Clever

 


 

Creating a Monster

Creating a monster is very much like a creating a dish. There are a few small differences:

Instead of using the term, Dish Aspect, this show uses the term “Feature Aspect.” Similarly, features are grouped into Main Feature aspects and Side Feature aspects.

Instead of a “Plating” aspect, the monster has a “synthesis” aspect – up to this point, to monster, has been nothing but a lifeless hunk of muscle and metal. It is the synthesis stage that binds the parts together and brings it to life (this normally involves a lot of lightening and maniacal laughing).

Adapting Courses

In “Uranium Chef,” some challenges require a chef to create multiple courses. In the “Fear Factory,” show we instead use the term Categories. These can be split up several ways:

  • Multiple monsters – The creators might be required to create multiple monsters, each with their own category. (This is common in challenges when there are 2-3 creators on a team).
  • Adaptations – In addition to making a monster, the monster must also have a specific number of special features; these are called adaptations. For an example, see the sample episode, “Sieging is Believing.”
  • Body parts – Most Robeasts are built small, and then enlarged; however, if a team has to build a giant monster in actual size, you might want to separate the monster in different limbs and major body parts (ex. arms; tors0; and I’ll Form the Head).

 EPISODE ONE – SIEGING IS BELIEVING

This week, you have been grouped into teams of two.

Your challenge: The client this week, and one of the judges, is the warlord Empress Graxahna. She has commissioned you to build her a Robeast (i.e. a biological war machine) that will be used when besieging an entrenched city.

Each team will pick an inspiration, and an obstacle that their monster will overcome.

Inspiration: Your team will use one of the following life-forms as inspiration:

  • Mammals
  • Reptiles / Amphibians
  • Arthropods
  • Marine Life
  • Birds / Dinosaurs
  • Plants / Fungi

Warning: The judges hate it when you are too literal. If your inspiration is Birds, and all you do is make a really big eagle, they’re going to be disappointed.

 

Obstacle – Your robeast will be designed to circumvent a specific type of city defense.

  • THICK, TALL WALLS – We can make our robeasts tall, but they keep building the walls bigger! Can you bypass it?
  • PLASMA MOATS – Some cities are protected by a magnetic dome, filled with white-hot plasma. Can your monster swim through it and survive the heat?
  • EXTREMELY STRONG DEFENDER ROBOTS – The defenders often have a giant defender robot, strong enough to punch through anything! Can your monster survive it?
  • TOWER DEFENSES – The cities are defended by watchtowers, armed with rocket launchers and laser cannons. How can your monster get past them?
  • RATIONS / SUPPLIES – Laying siege makes food and supplies. Can your robeast be self-sustaining; or, better still, can it supply the troops with food and/or ammo?
  • MORALE – The defenders are often far too optimistic. Can your monster weaken their morale?

 

The GM picks a team, who will pick both their inspiration and their obstacle at the same time.

BUILDING THE MONSTER

Each teams will create a monster in two stages: the monster itself (course 1) and the adaptation (course 2).

The contestants will be building a human-sized robeast, but can choose to have it magnified up to 100 meters tall after completion.

 Example: The group decides to make a giant Kangaroo Rat robeast that can leap over walls. The monster itself has a main feature aspect (Wiry Rat Body – Ferocious: Value 3), a side feature aspect (Large Black Eyes – Creepy: Value 2) and a final synthesis aspect (Cyborg neural net – Weird: Value 1). They create the adaptation in two steps: a main feature aspect (Robotic Legs – Weird: Value 3) and synthesis aspect (Fuzzy Hair Overlay – Cute: Value 2).

JUDGES – The three judges this week are:

Hag-Queen Zaggria (loves Creepy), warlord Empress Graxahna (loves Ferocious), and Science-Prince Lotan (loves Beautiful).

 


 

Lastly, I did include several thanks in the Uranium Chef book, but I wanted to thank a few other people:

  • I can’t take credit for the Uranium Chef concept; that goes to Fred Hicks and Tazio Bettin, who first included images of the fictional cooking show in the Fate Toolkit. I couldn’t help but look at those crazy images and think about how much fun it would be to play. Thank you Fred, and everyone else at Evil Hat, for letting me take a crack at it!
  • Likewise, I want to thank Brian Engard for the Conditions rules (also in the Fate Toolkit) which I used in Uranium Chef.
  • I’d also like to thank Cheyenne Rae Grimes and Nicole Winchester for their fantastic article in the Fate Codex “Adding Reality to your Fantasy”; also to Mark Diaz Truman for making the content free to use. The original draft for Uranium Chef included a number of their reality TV show rules; most of them didn’t make it to the final edition (due to word limit), but it was a huge inspiration to me none the less. I highly recommend it to any GM who wants to add even more drama and executive meddling into your Uranium Chef game (see Fate Codex – Volume 1, Issue 7).

Fate Mini-Hack: Gonna Pop Some Tags

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It’s been a few months since we went to GenCon2016, so I thought it was well overdue that we share one of the things we tested: The Skeleton Crew RPG!

As anyone who’s been following this blog the past few years, we’ve been fine tuning one of our magnum opuses (opera?), the Skeleton Crew RPG. This supernatural adventure game has seen a few changes of the years, here’s one of our newest innovation, meant to cement the setting and streamline character creation: tags!


TAGS

A tag are a special type of aspect or sub-aspect that defines how the character of aspect interacts with the world (or worlds). They are also different from normal aspects in that they have a narrow range possibilities.

In the Skeleton Crew game, they come in several categories: Mortality tags, Knowledge tags, and Reality tags.


HOW DOES A TAG WORK?

A tag can be used in the same three ways an aspect can:

A. To aid you.

Example: If a cop with the reality tag “Natural” is following the trail of a mercenary with the tag “Natural,” she might be invoke the tag to give her a +2 to her investigation; she’ll think to look for the cigarette butts, crumbs, and other normal stuff that an immortal might forget about.

B. To grant a +2 invoke against you.

Example: A normal cop with the reality tag “natural” is analyzing an ancient clay doll; is it has secret writing on it, but the symbols have the tag “ethereal”- the GM decides that this mean they next to invisible to the human eye. If the cop player wants to investigate it further, the GM may spend a fate point to raise the difficulty of the search by +2, or to have the cop automatically fail.

C. To compel a character act in a particular way.

Example: A cop (tag: “mortal”) is escorting a djinn (tag: “immortal”) through a haunted tomb. The cop may say, “stay here, I’ll go in first.” However, the GM might compel the cop’s fear of death; this causes her to hesitate slightly. In the meantime, the GM might compel the djinn to go into the dangerous tomb alone; it has no concept of fear, even as it walks into certain doom! Now the cop is racing to catch up!

Reminder to GMs: Remember the rule that dice rolls should always result in something interesting. If a character is compelled to fail a roll, due to attempting something outside their specialty, it might result in a negative repercussion. This is particularly true if you suspect a player is intentionally attempting a task they know they’d fail at (i.e. fishing for compel points). Make sure it blows up in their face!

Ex. If a mad scientist with the knowledge tag “Science!” attempts to study a priceless haunted crown (with the tag “magic”), he might be compelled to fail; but instead of resulting in nothing, he might do something foolish, like dissecting it into bits, or handling it such a way that their adversary learns something about the scientist!


WHY ADD TAGS TO YOUR GAME?

We came up with the tags idea after several trial and error attempts:

Version 1.0 – We originally tried the Skeleton Crew game with the default Fate Core skill list, but it made certain skills cover too far of a narrative range; it seemed strange that a robot-building scientist would know so very much about prehistoric magic. It needed more specialization.

Version 2.0 – We next attempted dividing the skill list into smaller parts; notice, lore, and crafts, and others were all split into magical and non-magical equivalents. While this worked with some skills, it made others so niche that you might go an entire adventure without using them. Also, the skill list ballooned in size. We needed something in between.

Version 3.0 – The tags system lays the groundwork for a simpler skill list, but to still allow some specialization amongst teammates. It allows players with similar skill to join forces and be versatile at times, while the GM can still veto an action to provide more of a challenge, or to reign if a character steps too far from their expertise.


THE SKELETON CREW TAG TYPES – IN DEPTH

MORTALITY

bonejack-sneakA mortality tag defines what you are. It comes in three types, mortal, undead, and immortal.

Mortal – you are a creature that was born, grew, and will likely die (but haven’t yet). Your life span will either be short (half a century), or, if you’re special, a century or two. This is the tag for humans, mutants, and some demi-gods.

Undead –you are a revenant; a creature that was born, grew, died, and came back; this is most likely due to dark magic or a curse. This is the tag for vampires, ghosts, werewolves, Frankensteinian constructs, mummies and other reanimated mortals.

Immortal – you are were made, not begotten; either by a god, a creator, or by the raw forces of natural. You can be destroyed, but left to your own, you will never age and never die. You have refined yourself over the years, but you didn’t learn as a child learns; your abilities are natural to you. This is the tag for elementals, angels, demons, robots, djinns, and similar beings.

Sidebar – Which tag applies to Faeries? No two players will see faeries the same way; we encourage each group to decide how faeries work in your campaign, to best fit the view points of the those playing. We recommend you give faeries their own tag; mortals see faeries as immortals, and immortals treat faeries as mortals.

Mortality Tag Interacts with: your high concept. It helps define what you are, and how you act. Certain tags like “undead” also interact with certain types of magics and wards (ex. a holy talisman against revenants).


KNOWLEDGE

The knowledge tag defines your background knowledge and how you explain the world around you. It comes in two types: Science! and Occult.

Science! – to you, the world is a matter of rules and equations. You know that history is fixed, and that a cause always precedes an effect. This is the tag of cops, scientists, teachers, doctors, and most modern mortals.

Occult – to you, reality is an illusion that manipulated or broken. You know that history is but a dream, that sometimes you getting the desired effect is more important than understanding the cause. This is the tag of warlocks, ghosts, mediums, priests, and philosophers.

Example: Both a psychic and a medium can perceive ghosts andlibrary hubris.png emotional residue; a medium will see these phenomenon in a traditional, philosophical way, while the psychic will see the situation from a modern, analytical point of view.

Knowledge Tag Interacts with: certain skills, such as Crafts, Lore, and Operate*.

Crafts: Science! allows you to build and deconstruct mechanical devices; Occult allows you to build and deconstruct artifacts and enchantments.

Lore: Science! gives you knowledge of modern science, medicine, current events, and Earth geography; Occult gives you knowledge of ancient history, magic, and other worlds.

Operate*: Science! lets you control modern vehicles, robots, and machinery; operate lets you use artifacts, magical transports, and low-level animated servants (ex. skeletal puppets).

*Operate – in the Skeleton Crew RPG, the skill “Drive” is replaced with “operate,” which is broadened to cover any device that cannot reasonably be covered by “lore.”


REALITY

A reality tag defines what plane or planes of reality you find yourself tethered to. Are you a flesh-and-blood human, a ghost from beyond the veil, or something in between? There are two types, Natural and Ethereal, and the dual tag, Supernatural (for more on dual tags, see below).

Natural – A natural object is something based in the mortal plane. For persons and objects that are natural, the laws of physics are consistent; if you are a person, you likely have mass and find it easy to other things with mass. When investigating a clue that is natural, it is best to observe it through the normal senses: sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell. Natural objects generally have a low innate amount of magical energy, and tend to obey the laws of physics. Natural characters include mortals, robots, and revenants resurrected through science (ex. Frankensteinian constructs).

Ethereal – Smummy-ba-flyomething that is ethereal is based on the world beyond; there are many names for this, be it the afterlife, beyond the veil, limbo, the psychic realm, the etheric plane, etc. These beings are made up of magic and raw emotion, which are often indistinguishable on this level. To them, pain and joy are palpable enough to touch, while matter and gravity are sometimes hard to perceive. It is possible to have a natural object have a clue or aspect that is ethereal in nature, such as invisible writing drawn in magic on a brick wall. Ethereal beings, like most things of magic, have little regard for the laws of physics. Ethereal characters include ghosts, as well as some demons, fairies, angels, gods, and elementals.

Supernatural – Dual Tag An object that is supernatural is something that has real mass, but also carries with it strange psychic or magical properties. In this way, it can be seen and manipulated by both natural and ethereal characters, however their exact nature is sometimes hard to tell; a ghost can tell that a person has a high “supernatural quality,” but would be unable to discern if they’re a vampire, a psychic, a priest, or someone who’s just born lucky. Likewise, a supernatural character can see things that are natural and ethereal, but can only focus on one at a time. Supernatural objects generally tend to bend the laws of physics without breaking down. Supernatural characters include dhampirs, revenants resurrected with magic (such as zombies, werebeasts, vampires), spellcasters, priests, demigods, mediums and psychics.

Side Note – Holy Mass – Most daemons and angels are, in reality, ethereal beings; however, they borrow mass when they visit the material plane. Their true ethereal forms are nearly impossible to kill, but their physical bodies can be destroyed, or have be cleft from their spirits in a banishing ritual; if either is done, their souls are pushed so far into the etheric realm that they can’t interact with mortals. While in physical form, treat them as if they’re supernatural.

Reality Tag Interacts with: certain skills, particularly Notice and Investigate. Ethereal can also be invoked with other skills as well.

Notice: A Natural character will have a much easier time reacting to natural threats, or seeing hidden natural clues. Similar, an ethereal character will be more alert to ethereal threats.

Investigate: A natural character can more thoroughly investigate natural clues and clues that leave a physical trace; likewise, an ethereal character will be able to spy details that have no physical form, just as magical trails, feelings, and psychic echoes.

Ethereal Skills: The ethereal tag can also be invoked and compelled with any skill that involves the physical plane. They have less connection to matter, and thus they can invoke the tag to help them avoid physical objects (ex. for burglary when sneaking through a wall; for stealth when avoiding view, for athletics when getting past a guard; for fight when avoiding a punch). However, if they trying to interact with a physical object, it can also be invoked or compelled against them (ex. against burglary to make a stolen item slip through their fingers; with physique or fighting when pushing or punching an opponent). It can also used to help with Empathy to sense emotions; but for every invoke used to help spot feelings, make sure it is compelled to make it harder to Notice physical details.


Dual Tags

There are some instances of tags that fall under two categories; the most common of these is the Supernatural tag (see page XX).

For the most part, treat this is if the two opposing tags cancel each other out; the character is immune to unfriendly invokes and compels, but cannot compel their supernatural tag to aid in their roles.

Ex. a “natural” cop, an “ethereal” ghost, and a “supernatural” vampire are investigating a crime scene. When inspecting a gruesome “natural” blood stain, the cop could invoke her “natural” tag to get +2; meanwhile, the “ethereal” ghost investigating the same “natural” blood stain may receive an unfriendly invoke, or be compelled to notice nothing. The opposite would happen if the natural cop and the “ethereal” ghost were trying to investigate an “ethereal” psychic vibe in the air.

The “supernatural” vampire, however would be able to investigate the “natural” bloodstain or the “ethereal” psychic vibe; he’d be immune negative invokes, but could not invoke the “supernatural” tag to help his search.

Can I invoke the Dual Tag for anything?

Tags define a very specific thing about your character (generally how you perceive the world and how others perceive them); while a dual tag cannot be invoked to help with exact field related to it, it can be invoked or compelled for completely unrelated matters.

Ex. A supernatural vampire does not get a boost when searching for normal or for ethereal clues; however, she would be able to help her in a social situation, such as convincing another supernatural psychic that she ought to help them out.

Are there Dual Tags for Mortality? –

We recommend you don’t have any dual tags for mortality, unless a player wants to create an original character that straddles the line, like someone who is half-alive and half-dead. Similarly, you could treat Faeries as a dual tag for “mortal” and “immortal” (see above).

Are there Dual Tags for Knowledge?

If there were to be a dual tag for Knowledge that straddles both “Science!” and “Occult,” it would be “Alchemy.” However, we advise that GMs only allow it small groups. If there is only one “know-it-all” character in the group, it’s fine if they know Alchemy. However, you don’t want a “Science!” inventor and an “Occult” librarian to feel redundant next to an alchemist character that knows everything.


 

Tags in Action – Sample PC Type

ANGEL / EUDEMON

You are a loyal messenger to a god. If you are an angel, you serve the Great Light, and are made from light, air, and/or fire. If you are a eudemon, you serve a lesser god (like Zeus, Mardok, or Isis) and reflect the element of your master.

Eudemons are the middlemen between mortals and the gods, and thus do not take pleasure in hurting humans; however, they have no qualms against smiting the wicked. Similarly, they can grant humans what they need, which is not always what they want (ex. an angel of death ending a mortal’s suffering).
A Note to GMs: Angels and Devils are typically portrayed as having immense power. If a player wants to playing one, have your group come up with an explanation on why their powers are limited: maybe they’re a daemon-in-training, have had their powers sealed, or have had their “membership card” revoked.

High Concept: Angelic Servant to ________

Suggested Tags:

  • Mortality: Immortal
  • Reality: Supernatural or Ethereal
  • Knowledge: Occult

Suggested Skills: Will, Fight, Empathy, Evoke*
Suggested Stunts: Pillar of Strength

Pillar of Strength – Will –  When defending against Intimidation attacks, any of your teammates who have a lower Will than you may reroll their defense roll once per turn. This stunt may only be used if you’re in the same room as the teammate, or only if you are still in the conflict (i.e. not taken out).


What Other Tags Could Exist?

The above tags work with the world of magic and mad science of Skeleton Crew, but your game might find your own.

An additional tag we considered but eventually scrapped was a tag for Provoke and Rapport- you could easily merge the two into a single, emotion-influencing skill, and add a tag dividing it into “positive” emotions and “negative” emotions.

However, adding a tag for a single skill seems to waste, but what if you also added it to Empathy? In your world, maybe characters are more attuned to emotions of a certain nature.

I don’t see the “emotion” tag being useful in Skeleton Crew, but what about a Star Wars hack? I could easily see a “light side” / “dark side” tag affecting provoke, empathy, and maybe a slew of other skills. Try it yourself, and tell us what you think!

Until next time, GAME ON!

Up to the Test – 5 Tricks to Tweaking Your Playtest

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Next month, Tangent Artists will be going back to GenCon. Two years ago, we had a great time showcase our WIP at the First Exposure Playtest hall, and we were so pleased by the experience that we had to sign up with them again.  We’ll be getting four slots to show off our two new games, Penny-A-Pitch and Eco-Schism.

When we first went, we had thought of it as a way to showcase and network.  If there’s only thing that disappointed us about last First Exposure, it’s that we didn’t really get much exposure; we’re used to conventions, when you spend 8 hours giving 30 second pitches to hundreds of people. Rather, it’s an intense 2-hour session with the exact number of people you need to make the game work. In our hubris, we went to a playtest hall expecting to get very little feedback, only publicity. O, how wrong we were.

As we prepare for our next session, I thought I’d share with you what few nuggets I’ve learned about running playtests (mostly from mistakes).

1. Know Your Pitch

When you sign up with the First Exposure Playtest Hall, they ask you to submit a short pitch and a long pitch. The long pitch is a short paragraph, tiny enough to fit in a tweet. The short pitch is a sentence. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from being the “booth babe” at a convention for ten years, it’s streamline your pitch and have it memorized. Most strangers tune you out after less than a minute, so you have only one or two sentences to get them interested; this is called the elevator pitch.

 

As for our two new games, here’s the two versions:

Penny-a-Pitch – Short: A game of Midway Moguls.
Long: A light worker placement game of Midway Moguls. Mama Maxie is retiring, and whoever buys her Ferris Wheel will literally run the show. Can you sucker enough rubes to make the cash, while still keeping Maxie happy?

Eco-schism – A game of weak links in the Food Chain.
Long Adds: The Alien Mothership is asking your genetics department to rebuild the extinct ecosystem of planet Earth; but you’re not satisfied being just another cog in the machine. Prove that your “improved” fauna can dominate the food chain!

You’ll notice that the short version of Penny-a-Pitch leaves out the “light worker placement” addendum. Why? Because in a one-sentence pitch, any discussion of games and mechanics is irrelevant. You might be able to stick “card” or “board”, but focus on the flavor, not the gears.

2. What’s the Point?

This one was taken from Mark Rosewater’s podcast series, “Ten Things Every Game Needs.” If someone is going to play your game, the most important thing to convey is “how do you win?” Despite the fact that it’s the last thing that occurs in a game, there’s a reason they always stick it near the beginning of a rulebook (for the other reason, see #3.)

Why is this important? Because the playtesters need to be focused on what they are supposed to achieve. It gives them a mission, an objective, and something to be excited about. If the testers are confused about how to win, they’ll fail to see the point in anything else.

Also, if you’re playing with the group, and you’re the only one who knows how to win, you likely will. (See #4).

3. Don’t Frontload the Rules

When playing games on their own, most players don’t read all of the rules until after they’ve started. Similarly, you should not explain 100% of the rules when the game starts; just get them the win condition and enough to get through turn one or two.

4a. Do Play Yourself

Lead by example. Add yourself to the test; you can lead by example, show the rules in action

You can, of course, hover around and try to orchestrate from beyond, but this can come off as bossy. Sure, this frees you up to go around and explain cards that people have in their hands, but if the cards aren’t clear without your explanation, it’s probably not clear enough.

4b. Don’t Play to Win

I remember joining in one designer’s game test, during which the designer blew the other tester and myself out of the water. “Don’t feel bad,” they said with a chuckle after an easy win, “I’ve played it a lot.” I can’t tell you how much of a turn-off it was. I didn’t want to play again or buy it, I just felt frustrated.

If the game is composed of several rounds (like poker), it’s definitely fine to win a hand or two to show the other players how it’s done. However, your role as the play test leader is this: to explore the frontiers.

When a new option is made available, if other people aren’t exploring it, do it yourself. If everybody is choosing option A, try option B; even if B is a bad choice, they’ll learn from your mistake what the pros and cons are. They’ll see, “it’s bad for a player to do X now, but it might be useful to do X when Y is in play.”

Don’t stick with one strategy, take the “sampler” approach; be the jack of all, master of none. That way, if a player spreads around like you, they might tie. If they narrow their energies towards a specific strategy, they have a decent chance of pulling ahead of you; that way, even if they lose the overall game, they’ll feel accomplished that “at least they had more X than you.”

5. Make it Clean!

Try to make the game look as pretty as you can. Start your first few tests one index cards, but then upgrade to something more streamlined.

Cards: this trick I learned from the DC Metro group, “Break My Game” (click the link for their Meet-up page). Type up your cards, print them on simple paper, and add them to card sleeves. To give the cards thickness, add a playing card behind them (you can buy one or two card decks from the dollar store for 99 cents). Voila! Now you have something slick, stiff, and shuffleable! If you can afford card sleeves of different colors, you can easily sort your cards into different deck types without having to print on both sides of the paper.

One thing I’ve learned on my own: buy colored paper. It’s a lot cheaper to print black text on colored paper than to print color on white paper.

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Also, if you have the time, include art. It doesn’t have to be fancy, either; simple and iconic is easier to print, and easier to keep consistent. I recommend the site game-icons.net, which has thousands of images you can use for your prototypes. All of them are free to use, and come in a default, clean black and white (although you can play with the slider to add color and/or a border).


Hope that’s inspired you a bit for your tests. If you’re going to GenCon, I hope to see you there! Until next time, Game On!

Starting Your First Kickstarters

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A friend asked for some handy tips for their first starter. This has inspired me to share a few things that we at Tangent Artists have learned from our experience:

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If I could give you one tip, this would be it:

  • Keep in mind that your production cost (the amount you need to make a minimum order with the printer) and the “funded goal” are not the same thing. Digital products are the easiest to factor, in that they are almost pure profit; a $10 digital backer means you’re $10 closer to your fund goal and, after expenses (taxes, KS’s cut), have $9 towards the production cost. If you’re dealing with physical products, don’t forget that they give you a false “boost” towards your KS funded goal. For example, a $40 backer with a $15 product and a $15 S&H (don’t forgot to include shipping from the printer to you and back out to backer) means you’re $40 closer to the funded goal, but only $21 closer to your production goal. In this sense, it’s better to have two-hundred $5 digital backers than fifty $20 physical backers (although, reaching two-hundred people might be harder). I’ve read plenty of horror stories about people who reached $20,000 goal for a $20,000 printing cost, only to end up going several thousand dollars in the red; they reached 20k, but after S&H, KS’s cut, and taxes, it ends up costing 25K or more.

Other Tips:

  • You can build and share the KS page before you launch it. This lets you get feedback from peers, but also lets you start promoting it in advance. Sadly, you won’t have the final link itself until the launch date, so it’s good to have a private promo page (ex. your website or blog) that you can promote. This way, you can update push people to go to your promo page for both the “preview” link, and then change the link later to an active “KS” link after you launch.
  • KS must approve all pages before you can launch it.. Once you’ve had feedback and are happy with the page, submit it for approval. This can take a few days, so do it at least 7 days before you need it. Once approved, it will give you the option of waiting before you launch, so you can let it sit on it for a while.
  • Backers will shun KS accounts that have never backed KS projects before; they believe you have to give to the community before you can take. Go find a dozen projects you like and support them, even if it’s for a tiny amount. If you’re a company, have a company account and have all of the members back their personal KS through the company, and you’ll build it up faster.
  • Have one “manager” setting up the page, levels and handling the KS updates. You can’t just let it sit for 30 days alone.
  • People like graphics. Have a video. Make sure it has a GREAT opening slide- this the first thing they see when the load the page, and when you share it on social media. Make sure you’re updating your progress with visual aid trackers.
  • If the person managing the page is a different person than the person doing the graphics, prepare all of the graphics for all of the different levels ahead of time. It might seem strange, but we needed our “funded” and three of our “stretch goal” graphics on day two.
  • Set your initial goal as low as you can go afford (assuming it’s not putting you in the negative). People are more likely to back something that is funded than something that is not.
  • Always have a cheap ($1 – $5) level. Even if it has no tangible rewards (thanks, glory, good karma), it allows people to tag you and follow your updates easier, and lets family and friends who have no interest in the product show their support.
  • Have different levels, but don’t overdo it. 3-6 is fine. More than 10 is a mouthful, unless there’s a specific reason why. More levels is also tricky in case you need to send messages out- KS lets you message all backers, or all backers in a specific group (ex. group A); however, if you’re messaging groups A-C but not D, you have to send it to groups A, B, and C individually; thus, if you have 20 levels and you’re sending it to 19 of them, you might be copy-pasting the message 19 times.
  • Have a slightly higher level with recognition; sometimes people will pay $24-50 just to have recognition on the finished product.
  • Have at least one large shoot the moon level. Don’t expect it to be taken, but you never know.
  • KS has strict rules about selling in bulk to merchants; I’ve seen some projects do it, but I would research the rules carefully first to make sure you’re not violating anything.
  • If you’re dealing with a digital product, calculate the longest estimated amount of time you need to deliver it. Then put the delivery date as DOUBLE that date. If it’s a physical product, QUADRUPLE it. That may seem like a stretch, but those dates come on you fast.
  • With stretch goals, digital rewards are your friend! If going with physical products, don’t be afraid to add it as an optional thing they can BUY by pledging extra. Again, a lot of people go crazy adding free physical rewards, which raises their production cost and shrinks the profit.
  • If you are adding an optional stretch bonus product, this can be handled by having the backers over pay and then respond to the survey which add-on product they want. However, MAKE SURE the survey has the optional bubble, “we didn’t pledge anything else, no add-ons,”; alternatively, allow for write-ins. We learned that the hard way, and you can only send out one survey.
  • Limit it to 30 days; you don’t want it to linger.
  • This is a rough estimate, but about 75% of your backers will be pledge on days 1-10, and the last 2 days. In between, don’t be scared by the lull. Be sure to still send updates every few days, and keep promoting outside. If it’s a game, I recommend G+ (there’s LOTS of gamers on G+).
  • Plan a lot more stretch goals than you need. A LOT. The levels these are best planned around price breaks for the printer (ex. cheaper to print at 5k, 10k and 50k). If there are no price breaks, you can set at anything you like. If I could turn back time, I would have spaced them further apart. We had ours set at a fixed increment (about .5K or 1K apart). Although it doesn’t look as clean, I would have spaced it at rising increments. Maybe use the Fibonacci thing (.5k, 1k, 1.5k, 2.5k or 4K), so it’s less than double. The hard part is judging the right amount. Too far and you lose momentum, too small and you flood the backers with too many goals- if you’re forced to do more than you had planned for, you risk creating subpar stretch goals, or hastily adding new physical products that might cost more than you originally estimated.
  • If you have multiple projects in mind, and your KS is starting to go into stretch goals, resist the pressure to merge the two together. There’s no shame in doing a smaller KS first and doing a second one later. If you have a successful KS under your belt, they’re more likely to back you later. Better still, when you do a KS in the future, you have all of the backer info, so it’s easy to promote.

Here are some other tips passed on from Evil Hat’s Kickstarter Guru, Fred Hicks:

  • Launch it on a Mon. night / Tuesday morning. Most office workers do all of their web surfing on Tuesday morning (after they finished Mon’s work).
  • If you’re KSing a physical product, don’t plan to make money from the KS itself; instead, set the selling “price” of the basic ks level (for a backer buying one unit) to be 2x the cost of the unit (including other costs), and then order double the number of product from your printer. Thus, if your KS sells 500 units, you order and ship out 500 units to backers, and have 500 units sitting in your garage that are already paid for; anytime you sell one of those extra units, it’s 100% profit.

That’s all for now. Hope it helps!