Not really as inactive as I appear.

So, one of the reasons I haven’t been writing much is that I’ve been spending a lot of time learning some new skills.  As we haven’t finished unpacking and getting some new furniture for our larger place, I don’t have a desk so I can finish doing cartography work on the maps for Castle Builder Reforged and have that project finally out the door.  I have limitations on what I can do without a desk as part of an occupational hazard, but rest assured that project hasn’t been abandoned.

To that end, I’ve also been working on a lot of research for a few other projects, which is why if you’ve been dropping by from time to time, you may have noticed the incremental changes to my progress bars for a few things.  There are stacks of index cards I could take photos of as proof that I really am working, but I’m not sure anyone other than writers would be interested in what processes I use to develop my final drafts.

Since I’ve gotten better with creating puzzles, I’m going to start putting a few up occasionally for you to try your hand at them.  Be forewarned though, some of these puzzles are extremely complex and were designed to be as challenging as possible from not only the obscurity of the words, but also the types the clues I’ve used.  If you look at my body of work and some of the things I’ve share through social media and the like, you’ll see how much I enjoy puns.

The puzzle below was my first successful attempt at making a themed crossword.  Some of the answers won’t make sense if you aren’t from the local area I made the puzzle for and I relied on the stock clue bank to help generate some of the answers.  Despite this, I’m presenting it just to see how much you might enjoy/lothe my skills.  Several of my patrons have thanked me for making them despite the difficulty, so I am hoping you find my puzzles as entertaining.


This one is called “Around Antioch” and was designed for my patrons in mind.


Castle Builder Reforged, Chapter 6 Update

Tooling around with the map while I get things in order (like finding out where all my graphics went on my machine) and put together the story for the example stronghold.  Here’s the opening paragraph to tide you over a bit more:

Redoubt of the Faith Militant

Hidden deep within the Kharlakhan Mountains is one of the last bastions of the faithful dedicated to the old ways.  Their faith all but heresy in many lands, the Redoubt of the Faith Militant remembers the old gods.  The motte-and-bailey hill fortress resides in a sheltered, isolated valley between two nations who nominally contest control of these inhospitable lands.  It occupies a shelf flanked by impassable mountainous terrain that shelters the plateau from the worst of the summer sun.  The valley below has been denuded of soil to provide arable land tucked safely behind the palisade wall.  Barring crop failure, siege is all but impossible.



A brief word about my design style…

Okay, so as you probably aren’t aware, I’m a huge numbers nerd and I love having a plethora of options.  It’s not because I plan to use every damn combination possible in a game system.  It comes down to one simple truth that bothered me to no end when I was younger:  forced limitations.

Now, while I know in an RPG this isn’t as big of a deal, in many games, the options available in open-world design are prohibitively limited.  I understand that a lot of this has to do with how space/memory constraints affect what can be included in a box or a computer program.  In my younger days, I chafed at this like nobody’s business.

Okay, so I still do, just not as much.  Happy now?

To avoid feeling constrained, I tend towards games that let me experiment with different combinations, which provides hours of fun with failure and head scratching.  So, when I write sourcebooks that have a universal theme or can be applied to practically anything someone needs to develop, I really go hard on the tables.

The  multiplier effect is what makes this such a huge deal for me.  With even a modest number of choices, you can take a system of 3 tables with two options each and create six to eight options–assuming no selection in two tables is an option.

The tables in Malmart work like this.  So do the tables I wrote for Cosmos Builder and Castle Builder Reforged.  I did this with a single goal in mind: I shouldn’t be the one dictating what choices you have.  Roleplaying games are story-driven and the rules are dictated as much by the setting as the engine, if not more.  To that end, I work to build tables that give numerous options.

Case in point: the modular housing system I created for Malmart generates 900 rooms, but the configuration possible explodes that number into some extremely large numbers when you can put those 900 rooms in six adjacent positions for the first room and then each other space has five or four remaining spots open to fill.  And, given that the typical self-contained home needs at least three spaces, (living area, kitchen, and bathroom), You’ve just escalated the combinations to more that 6,000.

This brings me to the drones section I’m currently laying out.  There are six tables used to define the drones: primary programming module (currently ten options), hardware platform (eight options), size (seven options), drone quality (six options), drone upgrades (currently forty-seven), and drone downgrades (currently ten).  Four tables require a choice, the upgrades/downgrades are optional.  Some options can be selected more than once, but ignoring that for now, you can make over 1.6 million drones (adjusted to account for conflicting combinations).

Imagine the numbers when you add weaponry and additional programs the drones can access.  This means your options approaches closer to the trillions range.

If that’s not enough choice for you to tailor the gear to the game, I have no idea what else to include for you, but there’s plenty of examples for designing new options for your game.

Creating Castle Builder Reforged, Chapter 6

Castle Builder Reforged, Chapter 6 is mostly written.  It has been for years.  For some of you who might be wondering why it never came out, that’s because the map needed for a hill fort or motte-and-bailey structure has been well beyond my mapping skills for a while.  I spent the last couple of years (while not actively working or seeking employment to pay bills) learning how to be a better cartographer and picking up a writing job or two.  Now, the general concept is easy, the problem is getting the map to look like it has depth to actively illustrate the concept and look decent enough.Motte and bailey

To that end, I started with the basic shapes for an isolated hill fort in a remote mountain range.  Here’s the blocking.  As you can see, it looks pretty boring and doesn’t make a good impression for several reasons.  The biggest being that the lowest level looks exactly the same as the level the fortress is supposed to sit on.  Plus, the layering for elevation is missing.  The colors of the various terrain features mean nothing here.

Okay, so, working from that, there’s a bit of a problem in here that might not make any sense to you just from that one photo, but it’s thiMotte and bailey 2s:  the elevation rises too quickly for what I was trying to go for as the shapes are on different layers and it isn’t clear which one is which.  Okay, so that led to the next fix, which helped further define the area depicted in the map.  This map looks a little better as it makes the area where the switchback road leading up to the palisade look more believable as residing on the same general elevation plane.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t solve other problems.  The next thing I did was work on fixing the mountains to give a stepped appearance.  It looks a little better than the previMotte and bailey 3ous one, but there’s still not much difference here and one of the reasons is because I didn’t turn on any of the effects that would let the shadows suggest the “height” of the terrain around the area.  If you look at the upper right side of the map, you can see that some of the elevation starting to show up, but it’s still not really popping off the page.

So, I turned on the effects and added a few features I thought would work out, like a 10′ square grid.  Yeah… can take a look at the results and see for Motte and bailey 4yourself that this not only didn’t work, but it really makes the map quality suffer horribly at this scale.  Part of that is the glow effect that softens the appearance of the grid so it isn’t so dark as to obscure everything.  I know because I was appalled by how terrible it looked.  Even at the scale here, it almost takes on a plaid look, which detracts from the information your eye should be looking at.

A bit later on, I got the “floor” in place so it doesn’t look the same as the bailey and then I added the lighting effects while ditching the grid.  It’s still rough, but you can see tMotte and bailey 5he map really start to pop and get a feel for what’s on top of what and even a bit of how it should look when some of the other features are added in the future.  Okay, maybe it’s not as easy for you to see them as it is for me, but there’s a clear progression to this and it works on some level even if it isn’t one that makes a whole lot of sense to someone on the outside.

Next I added the road and a few more mountainous features to add more detail and make the map look less like a paper collage art project.  Problem was the map edges looked too perfect.  They weren’t jagged enoughMotte and bailey 6, and—in some cases—were way too smooth.  The map isn’t finished, but as you can see in this latest image, the majority of the details have been made fuzzier where they matter the most.  There will be further changes as I go, but for now, you can see how the map is progressing and it’ll be finished as time permits.  I know I could have skimped on a lot of details here, but I don’t feel comfortable offering a clearly inferior map than what I could and should do.

But, at the moment, Malmart awaits and I’ve got a bit of outlining and research to do so I can make that project read as good as the audience deserves.

General progress updates.

Wrote nearly 1,000 words today.  I know that’s not much, but given the holidays and a few others things, that’s a significant number considering some of the circumstances.  But, it wasn’t just writing words that made today awesome.  I finished a few things:

  • turned in some additional material for the upcoming Republic of Texas book
  • Finished the layout for Castle Builder Reforged, Chapter 4
  • Started working on a new blog post (no, not this one)

So, while it’s not a lot of detail or anything, it’s a good start for the latter half of the month that I’ve managed to increase my writing production to close to 1,000 words a day.  I’m hoping to sustain that everyday going forward.

Adventures in scanning and cartography.

Okay,  so there’s a few things I should probably tell you right up front: I suck at mapping.  I have terrible drawing skills in large part because of a learning disability.  But, with graph paper and a ruler, I old school 1can fake it in small doses, so I went with an old school style as much for the homage as it was easy to do.  I thought I’d done a great job and the color looked right, enough that I took a photo.

Yeah, that’s what it looks like.  Nowhere near as cool as it looked when I was staring at it.  It’s too dark, for one.  Two, the colors look washed out a bit and get lost in each other.  Bad move on my part.  Given that, I figured I’d scan the picture and things would be okay, right?  Oh, no.  Nothing doing.  Here’s an “F” for effort.

So, scOld School Mapanning should fix it and everything’s going to be okay, won’t it?  Well….  Have a look for yourself.  Yeah, it’s hard to see that.  Hell, I wish I could unsee it and I scanned it.  I figured it wouldn’t be too horrible and I could just fire up GIMP and fix the colors and make things look awesome.  I mean, it’s basically Photoshopping and if it works for people it should work for a stupid drawing.

Nope, nope, nope.


Oh, holy hell, what’s that monstrosity?  The ugly, it burns!  Everything is wrong in too many ways to count.  Someone scratch my eyeballs out for me!  This is a nightmare.  Not only are the colors terrible, but they’re severely damagedOld School Map 2 as well.

This is a picture I wouldn’t give my best gaming frenemy.  Sorry, it’s too cruel even for me, and if you’ve seen some of the things I’ve written for my own Planescape campaign, you’ll get that.

The ink pen I used was not only the wrong choice, it’s flaws make this look like a hideously mimeographed piece your teacher would give you for homework you could barely read and made you want to curl up and cry yourself into a coma.  You all remember that?  No?  Damn, must be a late 80s/early 90s thing.

Gel pens suck for this sOld School styleort of thing.  That’s the lesson I learned here.  The color would have been okay….maybe, but the missing portions of lines that look like there were hollow walls, that’s all the ball mechanism.

Good thing I own a ton of pens in more than 100 colors.  I whittled it down to my fine point light blue UniBall Vision.  It not only worked, it looks true to the old school line style.

The takeaway from all of this: colors don’t work the way you think and just because it looks awesome with the naked eye, scanners will reveal how much your work sucks if you don’t use the right tools.