“War does not determine who is right — only who is left.”
I usually don't make any New Year's resolutions. This year I made two: make more digital art and explore making some quick-but-quality RPGs.
Crossing Worlds is still a huge focus of my time and energy. However, after years of working on it, it is easy to become burned out. I've tried some other game projects on the side, but inevitably, they've always become complicated, long, requiring 100+ page rulebooks. I can't really refine them without taking too much time or energy away from my main design project.
A few months ago I started reading short games by other people. Games that could be explained in 1-4 pages. I had no idea how to make a meaningful short game, but the challenge appealed to me.
In January I made I'm With You, a narrative game about relationships and community after a disaster.
For February, I made an entry for the Emotional Mecha game jam: Breach. Designed for 2-players, it is a quickplay game that explores the way war forces us to make impossible choices.
Each time I make one of these focused games, it gives me new energy to keep working on Crossing Worlds. Maybe while you wait for the next big update to that game, you'll consider checking them out.
Record Collection is a game jam where we challenge you to make a game that is based on, inspired by, or an interpretation of a music album! Simply pick an album, listen to it, and then make a game that evokes it.
Our Jam Guide Lines are as folllows:
I have been playing around with mechanics for a narrative card game since about August but never got anything to click. I came across this game jam while listening to Avril Lavigne's song I'm With You and something clicked.
This game was a blast to design and I'm unusually happy with how it turned out. It includes straightforward rules, doesn't require a GM or prep time, and includes 154 cards I designed, wrote, and illustrated myself.
Right now you can buy the print-and-play version; within the week I will be updating with a digital version to be used in Roll20 or Tabletop Simulator.
We were just a small town. Ordinary. Boring even.
Then the Incident changed everything . . .
I’m With You is a roleplaying game for 2-5 players lasting for 1.5 to 3 hours. Play focuses on relationships in a small town and how one pivotal event changed everything.
You do not need a GM or prep time; the game's unique card system will generate story prompts as you go.
Together you create a story of interconnected lives and drama similar to ensemble-cast movies like Crash or Love Actually. At the end of the game, your characters must face each other and decide if they deal with the Incident's fall out alone, of if I’m With You.
Either choice will change your character's life forever.
A quick update (since I'm too wired to sleep immediately) to say we played v5.0 on twitch.tv/actualplay. You can find a VOD here if you want to watch. We ended up doing a session 0 since everyone got into world creation. I'm excited for what everyone designed. There is also a lot of me explaining rules since creation is designed to intro many of the mechanics.
We'll be continuing play at a time in the future. Still working out schedules, but in the meantime I'll be streaming the GM side of session 0—campaign prep—on Twitch at twitch.tv/casskay. Day and time for that is also TBD, but will probably be a Sunday in the next few weeks.
You can watch me run a one-shot of the game on twitch.tv/actualplay January 4th at 6:30pm PST.
First big news: I will be running a one-shot based on v5.0 with Evil Hat's Sean Nittner, designer and wilderness survival teacher Jeeyon Shim, my friend and longtime playtester Brian, and friend and former Shadowrun GM Craig.
Second big news: Karma in the Dark v5.0 is about 80% complete. It represents some major changes.
For those who want a sneak peak at the new setting, a brief look is included below.
In the far future humanity has perfected artificial fabrication technology.
We are able to terraform planets, repopulate worlds with Earth wildlife, and produce any necessity with a fabricator.
Our planet was one terraform project of many...until our rush to gain wealth from our new world accidentally created a disease that killed more than a quarter of our population.
Our planet was placed under quarantine; our fabrication and astrotech travel tech was disabled with a kill-switch; and the Overseers placed comprehensive regulations on every aspect of our lives. They installed the Feed to supervise our compliance, an unblinking surveillance system that watches and catalogs every moment of every life.
For generations the Planetborn have negotiated for an end to the quarantine. For generations we were told to follow instructions and regulations written in “plain language”, and then faced reinterpretation whenever we filed proof of our compliance.
As for us? We are the seventh generation since the quarantine began. We know that following the regulations will never change anything. So now we need to find a new way to freedom. We need to resist.
Time for a brief update/review of everything going on behind the scenes.
November I officially took off from creative work. The first week I didn't do anything creative, the other weeks I let myself play around with some ideas in short bursts, but stopped short of any focused effort. I was feeling burned out, both from the final push on Karma and the 2-year long development cycle on that game.
My current plan is to spend December-January working on non-Forged in the Dark games. I have two I am playing around with, and I hope to finish the smaller project by end of January. At that point, depending on my burn out level, I'll move back to some bigger design projects, including my Forged in the Dark works.
Project summaries below:
Karma in the Dark:
It was released about 5 weeks ago in its v4.1 form. The response and number of downloads amazed me, especially with little to no advertisement effort. In terms of the core rules, the game is pretty much done. I'm now exploring some publication options (along with getting an actual copy-editor for typos). It will probably be a few more months before I have any final decisions on that front.
In the meantime, I've started working on the first official supplement, a detailed pre-designed setting for the game. You can see the last update post for more details. I will probably have periodic updates on this project, but the release will probably be held until I've finalized my publication plan for the game. The only new update is that I've decided on one of the new optional mechanics for the supplement, which is replacing the archetype character creation with a lifepaths like system (somewhere between Stars Without Number and Burning Wheel in terms of complexity.) Part of living in a small town is having a reputation and a family legacy, so this seemed like a fun way to tie that dynamic into a rural setting, without messing with any core mechanics in the game.
I am also continuing to look at playtesting and collecting feedback for the core game. I have a few pages of notes on small tweaks or updates, but those probably won't be incorporated until I start work on the final version.
Tides of Gold:
I need to re-layout the game in InDesign since there's been no way to get around the Scribus problems that make the document frequently crash. I also need to make some initial updates/fixes based on initial feedback and playtesting. I have plans to add a trade mini-game to replace the default faction mechanics in Blades, but that will require dedicated design focus. Right now, work on Tides is slated for the end of January or early February. I need a break before I work on another Forged in the Dark game, but once I do, it's at the top of the priority list.
I have the basic concepts in place, but I need to make playbooks. I'm currently burned out on making abilities after designing 144 abilities for Karma. So this project is currently at the back of the queue. It will definitely come afters Tides of Gold's next update.
This is a narrative, exploration game I talked about on my blog a few years ago. It is a slice-of-life type of exploration, where you learn about the hidden secrets of small communities while also exploring your own character's memories/legacy. The game is not quite GMless (at this stage), but is designed to share narrative storytelling/world-building between all players. Once I start play-testing the game on a larger scale, I may explore making it a GMless game. I'm creating a new game system for it rather than hacking an existing one, since nothing quite fits. I spent most of November testing out quick prototypes of the core mechanics. I'm going to continue to work on it over the next few months, but until I nail down the core mechanics there won't be anything to show.
In November I also returned to an old idea of a cross between Dungeon World and Masks, but this time building mechanics from the ground up. You still play as heroes-in-training, trying to build up a heroic reputation while also struggling with your own identity. The game is designed for a West Marches style of play, where the group of players changes every single week. The GM/players quickly build the scenario based on a few quick choices (or rolls), character creation happens almost entirely within the action of the game, and there is a "rumors" mechanic which helps carry stories between play sessions even as the players change.
It is designed to be quick to understand, quick to play, and offer an overall light, high-fantasy feel. (The antithesis of Karma, you might say). Like Rootless, it requires some novel design mechanics, but it also requires some world-building tools like Karma did. The ability system is very different from Karma, so creating those abilities haven't been quite as draining. I hope to have a playable test version by the end of January, when I switch focus to Tides.
With all of the design projects in the works, especially with the novel mechanics ones, I've considered streaming some of the development on Twitch. I've held back because the idea of streaming myself doing math, making rolls, and theory-crafting game loops doesn't sound interesting. But then I rewatched Hack Attack episodes and it reminded me it can helpful to see someone design in real time. So I'm still thinking about it.
A side effect of taking a creative-break in November was that I started reading more and that led to wanting to write novels again. Long before I tried TTRPG design, I used to write anywhere from 1-4 novels a year. I stopped once I started doing trauma work in my job, because the job emotionally exhausted me. But now that's I've been doing that work for years it doesn't take the same toll. The only impact here is I might go back to writing blog posts on creative writing and storytelling again, but those will go on the personal blog. Just like my return to making digital art is ongoing, but really only shows up if you follow my new Instagram account.
Overall, I have a lot of projects in that pipeline, and that's when I do my best work. It's a relief to finally have a chance to turn to projects other than Karma for a while, though the setting supplements will give me a way to continue building on that system in a contained way. I am excited to explore rural cyberpunk followed by a dark ages spin on science fiction. Overall, 2019 is looking like a good, fun year.
Now that the core rules of Karma in the Dark are more or less complete, I am turning my attention to optional supplements for the game. Up first, a setting supplement. These supplements are intended to give players a ready-to-play world, explore some specific genre dynamics, and provide a small number of optional rules to really bring the setting to life.
You can look at Tides of Gold as a model for this content: a defined world with brief timeline and unique lore; detailed locations and cultures; plethora of factions with goals; and small rule adjustments like the Odyssey travel system. These Karma settings will not always come with new playbooks as the base game already provides extensive options, but if a setting demands a new team or PC playbook, I will include it.
I currently have plans for three setting supplements. Based on the Twitter poll, the first one will be a rural cyberpunk-fantasy setting. I’ve included an initial description below. The setting is in active development so any or all of this may change.
Today I released the full version of Karma in the Dark, v4.1. You can go to the Karma section of the website or use these links to check it out:
Quick Rule Ref
What does that mean?
For the first time since I started working on the game, all of the content is done. I've had to-do lists sitting in a doc for two years now. As of now?
Neither of those are core components of the game itself. So...the game is done.
Does this mean it's completely finalized? Nah. Playtesting will continue to refine certain mechanics. Questions help me clarify and edit the rulebook. But for now, I'm in a state of collecting feedback and tweaking, not doing full-scale design.
On another level, this version has been put in a pdf with formal layout, art, linked table of contents, linked index, and overall I like the organization of the book. It's still not perfect, but it's miles ahead of the last pdf release. I've also been able to brush up on Indesign and graphic editing skills that were dormant for a decade, so I feel better about my ability to keep improving the document but faster.
I'll have more in depth post(s) about some design things that came up on my blog...probably in a few days.
As always: thank you. To everyone who tested the game, asked questions, shared about it, everyone I interacted with made it better. If I left your name off the credits it was an oversight, and feel free to email me.
I wrote a stream of consciousness post on my design blog. I can't wait to read it after sleep and my sanity returns.
Karma v4.0 has been completed and is ready for layout. Also, I'm pretty happy with it.
The next update here will probably be the release of the pdf. Then I might go quiet for a few weeks since we have a huge inspection coming up at work.
But when I return . . . I'm probably not going to talk about Karma. Because I really feel like working on kids game about being household pets. And then I want someone else to GM it, so I can just play a rambunctious snapping turtle. Or a guinea pig.
When I opened up access to the v.40 documents a few weeks ago I termed it a "rough release." I still need to finish certain systems (e.g. antiheroes), write up more details in certain sections, and make a few copy editing passes.
The first two weeks I felt like I was constantly adding to my "to do" list. This list included everything I needed to do before I would make an official release of v4.0 with a pdf, linked table of contents, and index.
Then somehow over the past 1.5 weeks, that list has steadily shrunk as I finished items.
I am down to three items:
For the first time in weeks, finishing up v4.0 feels doable. I'm looking forward to creating the final pdf with official formatting and links within the document.
This is also the first version where I feel generally satisfied with the state of the campaign. I am sure there will be rule tweaks, need for clarification, etc., but overall I am actually happy with the game.
What Happens After Version 4?
Once version 4.0 is officially out in its formal pdf, I will step back from changing Karma for several months. I need to see how systems play out across multiple settings and groups. There are enough mechanics at this point, it will take a while to gather meaningful data.
During that time I will probably look into how I want to release Karma in a formal final version. (Not that a game is ever truly finalized.) I know that will include getting a group to do some actual plays on camera, looking into final art options, and deciding on my publishing venue/approach.
If I make any Karma content during that time, it will be in the form of example worlds, campaign guides, more GM tools, etc. Stuff that supports the fiction and GMs but doesn't touch the mechanics.
I also have several other games I'm juggling. Tides of Gold deserves an update based on editing and initial feedback. I really, really want to get a condensed playtest version of Pet Bridgade out...mostly because I want to roleplay as animals for a while. I have a half-finished boardgame design I would like to return to at some point and a computer game that needs some graphics work before it can really be played.
I also have a backload of video games I want to play, so I'll take some much needed downtime.
Overall, I am excited to get the next version of Karma out, and excited to mess around with other projects and hobbies as I collect playtesting data.
As someone who has played and enjoyed a significant amount of Shadowrun, the set playbook style of Powered by the Apocalypse and Forged in the Dark games has always felt a little...confining.
In the original version of Karma, character creation was almost completely free-flowing. The game came with sample archetypes, but you could ignore them almost completely. This turned out to be a little too chaotic once people started mixing and maxing abilities however they wanted. It also create some paralysis/indecision during the character creation process.
In v2.0 when I switched to a more faithful adoption of core Forged in the Dark mechanics, I also moved back towards set playbooks.
The release of v3.0 was my attempt at a middle ground: set playbooks to start, but you could choose your second discipline from any three playbooks (i.e. all disciplines within your soul).
As I've been talking to a number of players and GMing more Forged in the Dark games (Karma and others) I found myself telling people repeatedly, "Nah, you can make your own Xp trigger...pick any starting action dots...basically, just pick a soul and playbook with the equipment and first discipline you want."
I've led players through creating their own xp triggers often enough (and shrugged off the need to have 3 action dots set by the playbook), that I figured it's time to make it official.
By the end of the week, I will be releasing a revision of v4.0 character creation.
In this new system you will pick your soul, pick your starting discipline, and gain the associated playbook equipment. Each playbook gives you a list of xp triggers to mix and match as you want (or roll randomly). It will also come with 6 build templates with suggested actions dots and special abilities, but you will have complete freedom to pick your actions dots.
This version feels the closest to a happy medium between complete control and structure.
Examples for the Shadow and Drifter are below.