A Walk in the Dark A look in to the mind of an RPG designer

1Jan/13Off

Through the Years

Starting off the new year on the right foot, this blog has been surprisingly selected as Stuffer Shack's "Favorite Site of the Month" for January! I'm not kidding about being surprised... I mean, as of late I've only been posting once or twice a month, and the posts that I have written aren't up for a Pulitzer (or whatever the RPG blog equvalent is... an ENnie, I guess?) any time soon.

But I was selected, so I thought it was time to post something.

This past year has been interesting to say the least. I didn't accomplish everything I intended to do, but it worked out overall. "The Heart of Fire" was released to what has become a dry market, so much so that I'm sure the six people that bought it really enjoy it. Other products went out here and there, but while D&D is in design limbo there has been somewhat of a market shift.

As a result, I'm looking at 2013 a little differently. Here's what's in store for you all:

  • "Revenge of the Kobolds" (D&D 4E) is being edited and reviewed by third parties. It will be released for free, without art (except for the map, anyway) on this site as soon as I feel comfortable. It might not be perfect, and it might not work very well mechanically, but it'll be released nonetheless. I predict that will be released by month's end, but don't hold me to that.
  • "A Night in Seyvoth Manor" (D&D 4E) is undergoing similar editing and review, and will probably be releadsed on or about the same time as RotK. Because of the nature of this adventure it's much easier to port to other game systems, so I'm looking to port it at least to Pathfinder and, if all goes well, other systems (AGE, 13th Age, Hackmaster, DCC, etc.). I may even use Kickstarter to fund the development for the other systems; don't know yet. The initial D&D 4th Edition version will be released for free asd well.
  • I'm imagining that my epic adventure "The Crystal Scion" will not have much public interest, so I have decided to convert what I have and finish development of it for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. It's a fairly high level adventure - I'm predicting between 12th and 15tyh level - so I'm somewht worried since I've never done anything like that before. It'll be an interesting experience to say the least. I don't know if there's a market or demand for such a thing, but I imagine the market to be better than what 4th Edition is now...
  • My mega-campsign "The Coming Dark" has been going through some serious rework in my head; looking back on what is my first creation for 4th Edition I see a lot of things I did terribly, terribly wrong. So I'm reworking 99% of it and intend to release this for D&D Next as soon as it is possible (assuming it is possible... Licensing for Next is unknown at this time).
  • I have a lot of other small projects in the works. Not sure what I'm going to do with them right now, but until D&D Next is released it might be a toss up between 4th Edition and Pathfinder.
  • I have a couple of programs in the works, such as character and monster builders for D&D Next I've started on We'll see if they ever get to see the light of day.

Beyond that, stay tuned everybody... Lot more to come from us!

12Dec/12Off

Moving Forward

For the past two months, at least from a workload standpoint, I've been living through hell. So much so that I haven't had much a chance to get my two completed products - Revenge of the Kobolds and A Night in Seyvoth Manor - the needed attention to get them ready for publication. I haven't even been able to get my playtest going for Seyvoth.

But during that time I have released one tiny product, The Absent-Minded Alchemist... and even at its low price of $0.99 I've sold no more than six copies. The 4th Edition market is effectively dry, in no small part due to Wizards of the Coast's choice to seemingly pretend it doesn't exist. Heck, there isn't a single 4th Edition product in WotC's own gift guide.

So I have a bit of a dilemma... My intention was to use Kickstarter to fund the art for at least one of these products, but I can't help but think that creating a Kickstarter for a market that no longer exists seems like a waste. I can't in good conscience create a Kickstarter listing that I personally feel will inevitably fail. It makes no business sense.

Furthermore, I can't bring myself to publish and charge for a product that I personally feel is inferior or not the best that it can be. Sure, I might like the mechanics of the two modules, but to charge players any amount of money for a module with zero art in it just doesn't sit right. Yes, I've done that before... but it's always felt somewhat awkward.

So I've made some executive decisions:

  • The D&D 4th Edition versions of Revenge of the Kobolds and A Night in Seyvoth Manor will be released FOR FREE on this site and on Drive Thru RPG once I feel comfortable about the mechanics and have given it at least one editing run through by someone other than myself.
  • I am looking to convert Seyvoth Manor in to other game systems, most notably Pathfinder and a few others (13th Age, Hackmaster, earlier editions of D&D, etc...), and if I do these will probably have a small price to them (I'm not in it for the money, as you might be able to tell). Many have told me to create a "system neutral" product... the issue with that is that my thing is mechanics and "crunch", if you will, which goes contrary to making a neutral product.
  • I will not be creating any more large scale 4th Edition products. I will probably create small side-treks like The Absent-Minded Alchemist or an occasional snippet of content here and there, but don't expect any 100+ page 4th Edition modules any time soon.
  • Until "D&D Next" is closer to release and we have a better idea of what the licensing is going to be for it, I am going to keep myself busy somehow. Odds are that I may find myself doing some more Pathfinder work than I'm use to.

Revenge of the Kobolds will probably be released first because it's the smallest. It may not be perfect and I haven't playtested it as much as I would like, but I think releasing it is better than just having it sit on the virtual shelf without any exposure. I will also see if I can get the Seyvoth playtest off the ground one of these days.

I'm hoping that, with the release of "D&D Next", we'll have another D&D Renaissance and things will be much better. One can only hope...

12Oct/12Off

Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid

Even though "Revenge of the Kobolds" is still in development (Kickstarter launch pending, and due to other financial obligations I can't officially hire my artist yet), I had the strong urge to do something special for Halloween. So I've decided to create an arguably short adventure that could theoretically be run in a single day, using some of the design concepts seen in some Fourthcore products but not necessarily with the same level of difficulty or over the top situations. I wanted something simple and fun that could be played in a single four to five hour session.

As seems to be the case in a lot of my products, I'm torn on the name. I wanted to use one of my favorite zone names from Everquest as the title - The Estate of Unrest - but I'm not so sure. The only other name I came up with so far is A Night in Seyvoth Manor, which is kinda cheezy... but that's not exactly a bad thing. With the amount of tropes I'm rolling in to this one, maybe cheezy is the way to go.

The premise... Kinda hacked together and needs a lot of work, but still:

Few people in the village of Ravenshire spoke of the manor atop the hill to the North, and even fewer dared approach it. After the horrific events that happened there so many years ago many believe the mansion and the estate grounds to be cursed, haunted by the restless dead, and some of the village residents could swear they have seen movement and lights coming from the seemingly abandoned mansion.

Throughout the years the village has had its share of disappearances; most of them had been blamed on the harsh environment of the surrounding forest and the natural dangers of the world we live in, but recent evidence leads to the doorstep of the Seyvoth estate. And when the two young daughters of a prominent noble go missing and the village sends out search parties to the surrounding area, two separate search parties that passed through the iron gate at the entrance to the estate have yet to return.

Now a local mystic warns of the danger looming in the manor, how the noble's two daughters will soon be led towards the darkness and turn against the village they once called home. Are you brave enough to step through the gates and seek out the missing search parties and the two noble daughters? Are you willing to unravel the mysteries of the Seyvoth Estate, even if it means risking your own life and sanity?

The first version of the adventure is for a party of 6th level characters, using the Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition rules. I am considering converting it to Pathfinder and other game systems (13th Age, Dragon Age, DCC, etc.) as well, but I'm not sure if I'll have the time to do that before Halloween. There aren't many encounters and the focus is primarily on exploration, so it may not be all that difficult to convert to any number of game systems. It is inspired by the Everquest 2 zone The Estate of Unrest, which has a few Zork-like puzzles ("...find object 'x' to gain access to area 'y'...") and some pretty memorable encounters.

And if you're familiar with the EQ2 zone, as much as I'd like to do it there will probably not be a "bomb in a bag"-like encounter... But there just might be a Bugaboo! 🙂

As it relates to 4th Edition, I am considering using fixed damage from all monsters and traps simply to expedite the game. 13th Age uses it, I believe, and I've considered trying it out for some time now. We'll see if it works out.

I've also gone ahead and written up sanity/insanity rules, loosely based on the rules that exist in the D20 SRD. Problem is that I'm not so sure to what extent I'll be using them... by design, those rules are made for Cthulhu-like horror, which isn't exactly the type of horror I'm going for here. My plans involve classic horror tropes - vampires, skeletons, ghosts, etc. - so it may not have the same level of mental impact that the traditional Lovecraftian horror does. I'll probably be publishing those rules on their own soon, then choose later whether I want to actually use them or not.

Whatever this adventure is called, I'm hoping to release it before Halloween.

As for Revenge of the Kobolds, we'll see when I can sort my life out in order to get that out the door. Currently waiting on my 6"x9" printed proofs to arrive and for my financials to settle so I can buy art. Stay tuned!

6Apr/12Off

In the Works

First off, I now see why D&D wasn't to keen on my "Drizzt for President" items... Today they announced Rise of the Underdark at PAX East. Amongst the items they were giving out there was a "Lolth 2012" button. My timing is impeccable, isn't it?

Anyway, whereas a few days ago I had zero ideas on what to create next, in the past few days I have three I've decided to pursue:

  • A D&D 4E Fourthcore-style delve called... er... Something of the Crystal Something. OK, so I haven't decided on the complete name yet, but "crystal" is involved; that much I know. I was considering making it an epic adventure but I have almost zero experience in doing anything epic (only epic things I've done are bits and pieces in Items of Legend) so I'm kind of afraid, so the adventure will be targeted towards a party ofg 15th level characters. Instead of doing the style of maps I usually do, I think I'm going "old school" black and white (blue and white?) for this one. This product will probably be distributed for free.
  • A drow-themed adventure tenatively called Den of the Dark Mistress. I've actually been thinking about this one for a while, and a lot of it is based on one section of The Coming Dark that was somewhat out of place in that module, so I'm recycling it. This adventure may be for both Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition and Pathfinder, if I can find the time to get around to it.
  • A war-themed adventure for Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition. I honestly don't know what the adventure will be about, but I recently was flipping through the Heroes of Battle supplement for D&D 3.5E and I was inspired. I haven't decided who will be fighting who, but the execution of it will be more than tactical encounters; I intend to provide a variety of options - from skill challenge to roleplaying situations - so that players can work on getting the victory points needed to prevent their home city's destruction. This may be a ways out.

In addition to all of the above, I still have The Heart of Fire just sitting there, waiting to get some attention and for me to decide what exactly I'm going to do with it. For now I'm not going to do a Kickstarter for it like I had planned; I don't see it as worthwhile right now.

As you can see, I have no intention of completely abandoning the 4th Edition. The above projects are significantly smaller than the 130+ page behemoths that are The Heart of Fire and The Coming Dark, Chapter One, so I should be able to knock those out quickly.

I am also working on creating my own store front so I can offer products directly through my domain instead of always using Drive Thru RPG. I got PayPal integration and PDF digital signing done, and next on the list is Google Checkout and Amazon Payments. Hopefully that will be ready soon.

Finally, I have an idea orbiting my head about a full on RPG game I'm considering developing. One could say the RPG I have in mind has been done before, but I might do it anyway. It will be somewhat future-themed, and will hopefully fill the void in my mind and heart that was once Gamma World. I have yet to decide on what game mechanic to use, but there are several inviting options that I'm pursuing. If I decode to go on with this, then a Kickstarter will defintiely follow.

Stay tuned everybody.

"Ever forward..."

7Dec/11Off

Avoiding the Rails

NOTE: The following post may contain spoilers for the first chapter of my campaign, The Coming Dark.

As I've mentioned to a few people recently, I've been somewhat disillusioned with the fist full length campaign I'd created, The Coming Dark.

For a while, I wasn't sure why... I thought it was simply "DM burnout", or spending too much time in its design, general writer's block, aversion to interacting with the WotC forums, or something else I haven't quite laid my finger on yet. But since that first module I've published two others (The Endless Winter and The Dragon's Master) and am about to publish a third (The Heart of Fire), and during that process I have learned quite a lot about campaign design. And interacting with the Twitter and blogging community has helped me immensely to see the type of game people want or don't want.

I've come to the realization the TCD was, in essense, a campaign on rails. Everything occured in a linear progression, without any opportunity for deviation. Just to give you an idea, here is the chain of events for the first chapter of TCD:

  • Part 1: The Village of Solis.
    • Playes arrive in the village of Solis.
    • Two unavoidable encounters.
    • Extended rest and plot exposition.
    • Two unavoidable encounters.
    • Boss fight. Not the best of bosses, in my opinion.
  • Part 2: Heading Out
    • Leave Solis.
    • Three to four optional encounter areas that are along the way to the destination. The path to the destination is a road, a predetermined path through which there is no other way to get around.
    • Boss fight. Probably my favorite, even though it's gone through at least four different iterations.
  • Part 3: The Tower of Light
    • There is a direct path to the final encounter, which consists of 5 different areas (not counting the final room with the boss). Three of those areas are full on encounters.
    • A lot of secondary rooms that are either completely optional or contain something that the party needs to advance. There is no obvious indication that that is the case. Several of the rooms expand on plot elements integral to the story, and if the players don't go through the effort to inspect these rooms now, they'll never get the chance again and they won't have any idea what's going on in the future.
    • Final boss fight. Once the fight is over you are effectively ejected from the tower and do not have the option to revisit areas you didn't get the chance to.

In looking at all the above, it almost sounds like a season of D&D Encounters... The encounters are not avoidable, come sequentially and there's no way around it all. Just plow through as if you were "on rails".

With The Heart of Fire, I decided to attempt doing something different. I created multiple paths to reach the final destination, some of which are either full on roleplaying or "kill anything that moves" if you are so inclined. There are over thirty distinct encounters and situations, yet you only need to experience a fourth of those to reach the boss. The rest is just filler that the party can explore at their discretion; there is no pressing need for the party to rush to meet the boss (in TCD, there is most definitely a need to reach the boss quickly before he does something "really bad", so much so that one of the groups I'm DM-ing the campaign for is at the end of Part 3 and hasn't taken an extended rest since Part 1), so the players can explore at their discretion.

Also, the main setting of HoF is an island and you know where you have to go on it but you're welcome to work your way there any way you want. There isn't a long, clearly defined road that you must travel and not deviate from. Heck, I even included a random encounter list for the wilderness if the DM and party are so inclined. The party could wander the island, exploring every nook and cranny of it, for *days* if they want to.

In retrospect, I somehow like this system more. It gives the players freedom, and makes them feel like they're not being dragged around by a DM that positively, absolutely, has to get them to the next encounter or else he simply doesn't know what to do.

And even though TCD has less encounters and smaller maps than HoF, it's a good 30 pages longer. I think I wrote too damn much.

So, once I'm done with The Heart of Fire (for which I'm actively creating both D&D 4e and Pathfinder versions!), I'm going to revisit TCD and rework a great deal of it. This includes probably throwing out most of the Tower of Light, and maybe even reworking the continent and the storyline to allow for more diversity and to remove that sense that the campaign is on rails. I don't know how I'm going to do that yet, but I think it's necessary.

Now some of you reading this are part of my current campaigns, and maybe the above will provide a little explanation as to why I haven't been pushing those campaigns along for several months now. It's that simple: in light of what I've learned I've grown to not like my initial design, so soon I intend to rework the whole thing and make it a better experience for everyone, something I can be happy about and something I trust you will enjoy. If anything, you as players have helped me see that, so I ask that you be patient... It'll be for the best in the end, and the game will go on as soon as I feel it is ready.

Until that time, development on The Heart of Fire continues. The 4e version is complete save for two sections (one of which is waiting on me being able to commission a map of the volcano island of Pyrias, which I cannot get until my financial situation improves... Thank the holidays for that), and I've started to create the monsters for the Pathfinder version (which is a heckuva lot of work!). If all goes well, the module should be completed and published by the end of the year.

Be patient and stay tuned.