Monday, December 31, 2012

Nerzh - Indie Metal Monday

instrumental french melodic black folk metal

When they take a break for a mildly sinister sounding harpsichord break that's vaguely reminiscent of the music in Wizards and Warriors... you know it's good shit.

A Progress Bar

Tantalus by Gioacchio Assereto
The process of going from bullet points, brainstorming, and good ideas to something even remotely resembling a finished product is tantalizing to the point of exhaustion. "Almost there! Oh wait... ok, now! No... ok... just gotta stretch a little bit further!" I imagine that it's similar to the problems a person runs into when spear fishing but mental refraction is probably more tricky.

Since I don't have any children to cook up for the gods to try and speed things along, I guess we'll just have to knuckle down and keep at it.

So, step 1: What in the hell is actually going to be in the Hot Springs book(s)?

  • A cover!
  • A map
  • An Intro/Overview of the Island
  • Stage setting about The Ancients
  • Stage setting about The Elves
  • A Field Guide to the Plants of Hot Springs
  • A Field Guide to the Animals/Monsters of Hot Springs
  • A Field Guide to the Intelligent Factions of Hot Springs
  • A Field Guide to the Known Points of Interest on Hot Springs
  • A section in which we address the GM directly
  • Our Hex Movement System
  • A play example of the Hex Movement system
  • The Hex Key
  • The Dark on the major NPCs of Hot Springs (for the GM)
  • The Dark on the Factions of Hot Springs (for the GM)
  • The Dungeons and Maps
  • Treasure
  • Tables
We're probably too ambitious. But we're gonna take a big old drink of that water by Zeus!

To break down these items even further into their component pieces:
  • 24 Plants
  • 67 Beasts and Monsters
  • 5 Intelligent Factions
  • 75 Points of Interest
  • 7 "major" NPCs
  • 10 Dungeons
  • 2 Village Maps
We still need to plan, as a group, exactly what is going to be included in the Tables and Treasure sections. The plan is to have... 20 small random "dugouts", 20-30 random adventurers, nested encounter tables, and possibly a treasure generator in addition to a list of magical items and pre-generated treasure. Oh, and a natural resource and random shipwreck generator to boot.

It's probably too much. It's probably way too much, but... in the Swordfish Islands, you go big, or you go to hell.

A visual chart of the current progress on Hot Springs

The numbers still aren't super exact ('cause I'm not a super exact person), but it's looking like we need a total 172 written assets and 136 art assets. 76 of the art assets are already at least sketched out, and 115 of the written assets are in at least bullet form.

The written assets number is skewed down because I only counted each hex and not each point of interest (there are three per hex), but the good news is that *ALL* the points of interest are in draft form and are currently in their "cooling off" phase before I go back and review them.

Finally, the art asset number isn't exactly accurate either as I pulled data to answer the question "Is there at least one picture of this thing/creature/plant/etc". In some cases, like the Night Axe ogres there are upwards of 10 drawings of them. This also doesn't count the bonus illustration doodads, or the super fucking badass fight and scenery scenes that Safari has been throwing our way. "Oh.. yeah... I just wanted to draw an Ogre fighting a Salamander, and 5 salamanders fighting 3 ogres, and Boltforagers eating some carrion... and and and...".

The journey is proving longer than expected, and even more narrow in scope than we'd thought, but damn it, we're gonna ship!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Damn it Fed-Ex Kinkos!

Fed-Ex Kinkos wants .89 cents a per "large format" scan. That's highway robbery. And on top of it, they want you to trust them with your stuff over night!

Nope Nope Nope!

Today the Swordfish Islands acquired a super-deluxe A3 scanner meaning Safari can now use paper even bigger than the 9"x12" stuff that got us into this mess in the first place.

Oh, and if anyone in the Austin needs their larger format stuff scanned I'm only charging .25 cents a page. ^_^

Friday, December 28, 2012

Damn Nature! - Net-Casting Spider

Check out BBCs video of a net-casting spider
I'm not sure what we'd do without the British and their amazing investment in the pursuit of capturing and understanding nature.

These net spiders hunt at night, don't have the best eyesight in the world, and instead of creating a "traditional" spider's web, they just keep a little webbing, like a net, between their forelegs. For years scientists have been aware of this behavior, but they hadn't been able to see exactly how the spider's capture process works. If you check out this BBC link you can see it in all its slow motion glory.

The process is actually quite simple. The spider picks a spot to hang out, gets its net ready, and then when something touches the web, it strikes in a fraction of a second. Since the trigger is touch, not sight, there are a number of ways this attack could go wrong (spider is too slow, prey is too large etc), but I think it makes the concept of keeping 10' poles with you in dark caverns even more important.

What's even cooler is that some of these spiders, to assist with their poor night vision, will spread their shit on the surface they hang above. When their feces dries it is typically lighter/whiter than its surroundings so when something crosses "the trap zone" it will appear as a dark spot on a light background.

nom nom nom!
A monster using this technique would be exceptional in natural limestone caverns as they are frequently full of rough roof areas or largish "upper rooms". Like in Big Trouble in Little China, when they're going through the underdark to reach Lo-Pan's hideout. Only, instead of being a triggerless jack-in-the-box monster, there are plenty of opportunities for player agency.

Earlier this year I went through the Sonora Caverns out in West Texas, and there were *plenty* of places to insert these pop out and gotcha spiders. The player agency opportunities are as follow:

1. Filaments/Wispy threads hanging from the ceiling over head. Either vertical like a jelly fish, or horizontal like the net-spider's "hand held" web.
2. Floor in the area is coated in a large light/white/bio-luminescent patch (noticable change in the coloration of the floor).
3. If you're using a limestone cavern remember that the walls will stain and stain badly. If there's a successful creature living in the ceiling and eating lots of victims the walls should show clear streaks of black and rust colored discoloration. This discoloration may encourage the monster to move from roof hole to roof hole though, so there could be numerous areas with streaks of discoloration throughout the area, but not all of them need to be "active" murder holes.

Two Journal Entries

An "early" view of Hot Springs Island
The following journal excerpts come from Matthias Mayford, official navigator, and unofficial historian for Captain Jeremy Rand.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Random "Dugouts"

Trying out imgur gallery embedding.

I'm a big believer in replayability, especially when it comes to sandboxes, but overcoming meta-game knowledge can be a bitch. As such, we've decided to make a table of small cave structures that can be rolled on to make what you "find beyond this cave entrance" a little more random, and perhaps a little more special.

"Important" structures, or perhaps, larger structures will remain constant from game to game (since  the story created by the players should supply sufficient diversity), but I'm hoping that adding elements of randomness to the "unimportant" structures will allow exploratory wonder to persist a bit longer. What was a bandit camp last game, may be small, watery cave, this game.

I'm also thinking that if we pair these maps with a solid set of tables to determine both contents and the location of those contents within the caves it would be a cinch to generate a very large number of possible cave combinations with minimal effort. Of course we may then run into the problem of "pointless randomness" or "forced randomness". Moving the location of the treasure between 6 pre-determined spots within a cave is even more asinine than having it always be found in the same location no matter what. Gotta find that balance.

The only question I've got now is... will these hand drawn maps work? Or do we need to add a grid to them? I suppose only time and play-testing will tell!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Dart Frogs of the Swordfish Islands

Bastimentos color morph of Dendrobates pumilio from Wikipedia
Poison Dart Frogs have always had a special place in my heart. Most are about the size of your thumbnail, and a spec of poison off their back the size of a grain of sand can, reportedly, kill a human. I decided early on that the Swordfish Islands needed these tiny little guys hopping about the islands but it wasn't 'till quite recently that we decided what their poisons would do.

As we learned with the Princess Bride, "to the death" is quite droll, and "to the pain" is where it's at. Poison Dart Frogs on the Swordfish Islands come in 8 different colors (the better to randomize into our encounter tables) and each color frog produces a poison unique to that of his cousins.

Red - Blood Thinner - Ingested - Blood stops coagulating and you bleed out, also become prone to bloody noses etc

Blue - Suffocation - Ingested/Inhaled - Causes your lungs to fill with fluid and you die from suffocation

Green - Fungal Rot - Contact - Spores cause rapidly growing fungus that eats your body

Yellow - Suggestion - Contact - Enter a stupor and highly susceptible to suggestion during that time

Orange - Uncontrollable Vomiting - Ingested

White - Deafness and Blindness - Ingested - You hear and see static

Violet - 3rd person mode, no clipping - Contact - Gives you an out of body experience where you see yourself in 3rd person. Numbs pain and sensitivity to a large extent too. Astrally project, but stay linked within 5-10 feet of your body. The violet frogs look like they're covered in tiny stars. Drug itself provides a shock to your system, body is high as fuck while this is occurring and functioning at a peak level.

Black - Forgetfulness - Contact - Lose a % of memory by dose - Like Amnesia

Monday, December 17, 2012

Where are the Swordfish Islands Specific Posts

When I focus on things... I focus on them. Swordfish Islands has been taking a back seat recently because I'm getting married on Friday. I figured that it'd be best to hedge my bets and tie it to the end of the world.

Yep. In a cave on the Solstice. Followed by a bonfire and fire dancers!

Then again, if the world really does it, I figure that it would be best spent having a party with family and friends!

We've done everything ourselves, from writing the ceremony to picking the location, to scheduling the fire dancers, to building seating out of pallets. So Swordfish Islands has slipped slightly.

Progress continues. So for the 20-30 of you that check out these posts, just keep watching this space. Safari is still busy making wonderful art. Wintergreen's still writing up the monsters. The Diviner's still writing up characters.

We had a trial run of some stickers of the Hot Springs Island logo, and they looked amazing.

2013 is going to be glorious.

Bitter Frost - Indie Metal Monday

Bitter Frost

I'm a symphonic power metal kind of guy. I like to fly with the angels more than run from the demons when I'm destroying my ear drums, but if I can find more albums like Bitter Frost I may end up switching sides. It may just be that I have a crush on it because I'd originally found it by searching for "black metal opera" (it was one of those nights), and it gripped me from the get go.

On the one hand this has provided some great inspiration, but on the other hand it makes me want to add snow and ice to everything which doesn't quite work for the Swordfish Islands. We'll make it north eventually.

Now, to put this album to the proper test:
1. Imagine a race of humans enslaved by demons under the frozen northern mountains
2. Choose a singular power/varriant/type for the demons (acid, sludge, ooze, fire, magma, ice, spikes, thorns, hooks, chains, etc)
3. Choose a singular bestial feature (horns, claws, beaks, hooves, powerful arms, tails, spots)
4. Listen to the track "Signs that Point to Nowhere" (#7)

By the end of the track, and with these things in mind, I believe that you'll have a killer mythos for your setting. Appendix N is awesome, and should never be forgotten, but don't forget music as an inspiration every now and then too.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Damn Nature! - Reduviidae

Approximately 7000 known species make up the family Reduviidae, commonly called assassin bugs. These critters typically have a long head, narrow neck, and a segmented tube for feeding. Predatory assassin bugs inject enzymes into the bugs they eat to liquefies their insides, vyderac style, and make a gut slurpee. Others drink mammalian blood, even human, and you can see three notably terrifying examples below the break.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Bravest Warriors

If you're not watching Bravest Warriors every Thursday... you should be.

That is all.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Graven Rite - Indie Metal "Mondays"

This post was supposed to go up on Monday, but if "tomorrow" doesn't begin until the sun comes up, or you go to sleep and get back up again we can pretend that it isn't Tuesday yet and the post still counts. Ultimately though I guess I should utilize the built in posting schedule and write these in advance and have them show up automatically, but to hell with that!

The times we're living in are fucking awesome. People have more time, resources and power to create than ever before. More importantly perhaps, we have more ways to share our creations than ever before, and so the myriad of scenes surrounding independent creative pursuits are absolutely booming. This of course leads to the problems of "too much diversity" and "too much competition" but fuck it, those are great problems to have in my opinion, but finding and then sharing obscure yet awesome stuff is one of my favorite things to do.

My plan is to share some awesome, independent (or mostly independent) metal music every Monday for at least the next six months. Most of the links will probably come from Bandcamp as it's:
  1. The future of music distribution
  2. Easy to use
  3. Global in scope
  4. Chock full of brilliant, brilliant stuff
Today, we're going to talk about Graven Rite.

They're from Austin. I'm from Austin (well... as much as anyone is actually from Austin, excepting Safari of course seeing as he was actually born here). So why not start here?!

I probably don't have the right vocabulary to accurately describe what they've got going on so thankfully you can listen for yourself! All I know is, as soon as "The Summoner's Pit" started playing, I was instantly transported back in time to summers in middle school spent rolling up AD&D characters with my best friend while Ozzy or Metallica blared in the background.

Give it a go!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Damn Nature! - Manchineel Tree

Nature... is scary.

To help add a little more structure, and keep me coming back to the blog to post on a more regular basis, I've decided to start posting a weird, terrifying, or dangerous natural thing every Friday. It may be a plant. It may be an animal. Or it may be an invertebrate critter that eats the eyes of children. Regardless, the aim is for it to be something unsettlingly real that can be tweaked slightly and added to your game. Hell, I may even go with some natural events if I find a good one.

Today's post is about the Manchineel Tree.

Fruit and Leaves of the poisonous Manchineel tree - Wikipedia

The Manchineel Tree grows up to ~50 feet tall, has shiny green leaves, grows in coastal areas along the beach (Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean), bears fruit that resembles apples, and the whole damn thing is poisonous. It secretes a milky white sap that causes human flesh to blister on contact. Even if the sap is diluted in water, it still causes blistering.

Walking down the beach with your girlfriend? Sudden storm blows in? Run under a nearby tree to get out of the rain? Blisters. Burning Flesh. Agony. Thanks nature.

Get pissed off at a Manchineel Tree? Decide to chop it down and burn it? The smoke can cause blindness.

Manchnieel Tree Fruit on a beach - Seldo Voss
"Accidentally" ingest some of it? Your guts burn out. Or... your airway becomes blocked due to edema (swelling due to an accumulation of fluids) and then your guts burn out while you can't breathe.

This tree is delightful. The Caribs would use the sap from it to poison their arrows and, according to an uncited wikipedia rumor, use the leaves to poison water supplies. The tree has been featured in books, movies and even an opera as a relentless killing machine. Need to get rid of an enemy? Tie him to the trunk and walk away. Mama nature will take care of the rest.

A poultice of Arrowroot can be used to counteract the poison of the Manchineel.

Now just look at all those plot devices. Castle under siege? Poison the water supply using nothing more than tree leaves. Poison water didn't break the siege? Make giant smokebombs. Fill them with leaves and branches of this poison tree. Launch them at the castle with your catapults. The defenders will freak out about the fire, and then be permanently blinded by the smoke!

Need your players to find a "prop NPC" in the woods that's only there to deliver information and then die suddenly? Tie them to a Manchineel Tree, and ground your weak trope use squarely in reality.

So much possibility!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Hot Springs Map - Draft 2

The second draft of Hot Springs Island. More tweaks still to come, but I've gotta say, I think we've all learned a hell of a lot of good stuff from this process!

Even though the hexes aren't labeled in this version of the map, you can check out the first draft of the hex key that will go along with the island here.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Fell Type - Open Source Font

Good fonts are hard to find. There're just so damn many out there and most are either boring, bad, or too specific. I've been hunting for a font, or set of fonts, to use for the Swordfish Islands and I believe I may have finally found *the* set. The fonts in this set seem to have it all. They have a look and feel that I really like, a rich history, and they're free and open source, so everyone else can use them in their independant gaming endevours too!

Fell Type - Double Pica - Dr. John Fell and Igino Marini

Back in the 1600s, Dr John Fell played a pretty major role in setting up the Oxford University Press, Oxford going so far as to call him the "father" of their modern Press. Apparently he curated and edited everything that went through the Press ruthlessly, and with rigirous attention to quality and detail. He commissioned a large number of custom types from craftsmen in Holland, France and Germany, stating, "the foundation of all success must be laid in doing things well, which l am sure will not be done with English letters."

John Fell - National Portrait Gallery (London)
Between 2000 and 2006, Igino Marini, an Italian civil engineer, digitized a number of these fonts and released them into the wilds of the internet under the SIL Open Font License, with a request that anyone using them for a project let him know about it.

You can check out and download the fonts here.

There are five different sets of standard letter fonts, two fonts of symbols and decorations, and one font of bold capital letters.

Let's all make some beautiful things!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Nothing New Under The Sun?

African Sunrise by Austin Thomas
Timing can be an interesting thing. After putting up my quick post on the Wydarr I decided to catch up with my blog reading and came across Noisms' post On Creating New Monsters in which he speculates that it's impossible to create monsters that are truly novel and without antecedents. There's great stuff in the comments over there, and I was going to just post my own thoughts, but they started to get so long that I figured I may as well make a blog post. Happy double post Thursday!

I really don't know how I feel about Noisms' definition of novelty. I mean, (without spiraling down a quantum rabbit hole) all the elements in the universe are made of protons, neutrons and electrons right... so by this logic, when they combine, nothing truly novel is actually created. And same thing with molecules right? It's still just protons, neutrons and electrons. Kirby Ferguson really is right in that everything is remix.

When it comes to monsters, I believe that successful monsters, particularly those of folklore, are just the exaggerated personification of human fears, and fear can only exists when the person experiencing it can relate to the implied consequences associated with the thing. For example, let's look at fire. Even though fire is exceptionally dangerous children don't fear it until it burns them. In fact, I think it's safe to say that children are drawn directly to it, like moths. Other fears are taught as well, and they can only take hold after curiosity on the particular topic has abated. Spiders aren't scary until you watch your mother and father flinch, squeal and flee.

So if a monster is truly created without antecedents, it cannot be a monster because it would inspire curiosity and not fear.

Since successful monsters are typically exaggerated personifications of a specific fear, size increases are common. Your culture has taught you to fear spiders? Bam, how about some giant spiders?! The size of your hand?! The size of your face?! The size of a car?! Additionally, a single feature or concept can be exaggerated to great effect, like big yellow eyes to see you in the dark, or giant fangs to rend your flesh. Regardless though, these things cannot be monstrous unless you are able to relate to them, and then extrapolate the possible consequences of interacting with those things. I read an article a while back that talked about vampires being an outgrowth of the fear of rape. There's no telling how accurate that idea is, but on the surface it feels pretty solid as they come into your house, at night, and kill you in an intimate way.

A number of commenters indicated that language makes this situation problematic as well, but I don't know that the problem is actually due to the weakness of language as much as it is due to its strength. Metaphors and similes are phenomenally powerful, and to me, they're the basis of most "this with a that" type monsters. Saying that a creature has a large, powerful jaw doesn't do much. It doesn't resonate. It's vague, and can be applied to many things. It's possible to relate that statement to a friendly creature like a dog, and completely undermine the intended psychological effect of this monster. Likewise, precise measurements of the jaw and quantifying the amount of force it can produce is equally, if not even more abstract. But if you say that a creature has a jaw "like a crocodile" it immediately becomes more concrete, and thus potentially more frightening for a larger audience because the likely-hood of a mental association increases.

Just because a creature is described as having a jaw like a crocodile doesn't mean the creature is a derivative of a crocodile. It's just being put into a context that resonates, thus producing mental images, and allowing the audience to extrapolate the consequences of coming into contact with those jaws.

Finally, Geiger's Alien falls very cleanly into the "this with a this" category of monster. It's an exceptionally gaunt human, with black skin and a penis for its head. I'd say the creature is frightening because so many of its features are recognizable as human. It's a *corrupted* human. And it looks like it's been bonded with machines too. Geiger's Aliens are very much a product of their time, and very much a representation of the fears of the time. What does it mean to be a highly sexualized humanoid machine?

In the end, just because something is relateable doesn't mean it's not new. Being able to see recognizable echos of reality in fantasy makes that fantasy even more powerful because once the idea becomes plausible, the brain can start extrapolating terrible terrible consequences.


The Bone-Back Wydarr by Safari512
Safari drew up this cuddly looking critter before coming on board with the Swordfish Islands. He had it buried in a pile of more traditional amazingness (mummies, werewolves etc). and as soon as Wintergreen, The Diviner and I saw it, we knew this tiny abomination needed a home on the islands. Safari said he'd just been fucking around while sketching it up and hadn't really had any plans or thoughts as to how it "worked", so we brainstormed up a few things.

We figure that the Wydarr are diggers. The bone-like hooks it has for forelimbs grow continually, much like a hamster's teeth, so as a hamster needs to chew continually, a Wydarr needs to dig. They eat anything, are roughly the size of a two drawer filing cabinet, and tend to travel in packs of either 1d4 or 1d6. There's also a Crystalback variant with metallic plates or bands in place of fur, and crystal spikes in place of bone, sketch is done, but not yet scanned!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Vaesen - Brilliant Animation

I found this animation earlier called Vaesen earlier this year. It's a bachelor film project from The Animation Workshop and it's amazingly beautiful. The story is timeless and simple, a prince seeks a McGuffin to save his dying father, but beautifully told using only sounds and animation, no words. Find a spare 6 minutes and watch this!

Adrian Dexter, Birk von Brockdorff, Arnold Bagasha, Drude Mangaard, Jody Ghani, Mikkel V. Petersen (couldn't find his blog)

Watch these guys... beautiful things are going to come from them.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Dire Boar Den - Map and Key

We've been busy mapping, keying, and populating the caves and dungeons of Hot Springs Island. The task was beginning to feel insurmountable and then I read a post over on Papers and Pencils that snapped me out of my funk and got me refocused!

My concern for creating the dungeons that appear in our hexes was that I didn't want each room to require the same amount of writing as the Points of Interest found in each hex, 'cause that could get obscene rather quickly. Once I started using the "room description fits on a single line" method detailed over on Papers and Pencils everything just kinda fell into place. If you check out the pdf you'll see that I'm being pretty fast and loose with those constraints and some things take multiple lines, but the concept helped out tremendously.

The layout is pretty bad, but as I used Word to do it, I have no one to blame but myself. :D

Many changes will be made to this doc (especially in terms of layout), but if you're in need of a one-shot adventure, involving a Dire Boar, feel free to drop this monstrosity somewhere in your campaign world!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Plants of the Swordfish Islands - Part II

Lotuses in White Rock Spring

Write-ups for plants has continued. Ideally each plant could be easily added to your own world, and  there should be "just-enough" info to whet your imagination.

Click here if you missed The Plants of the Swordfish Islands - Part I and hop below the break for 15 more plants in Part II.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Doubt and Pulpy Inspiration

Made a post over on therpgsite to see if I could wrangle up some feedback on our hex system, which I'll compile and report back on once they've run it through the wringer. Hopefully it gets a little attention and isn't met with silence! I'm beginning to wonder if I should have included a 9 rats and 2000 cp joke somewhere in there....

In the meantime, enjoy some pulpy, yet inspirational artwork.

STANLEY BORACK - I hunted heads - Stag magazine cover, July 1955

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Diviner's Creative Process

Hello folks, Diviner here with something for you to pass the time. Pandesmos will occasionally toss me a homework assignment for the following week. One such case came up two weeks ago, when I was tasked with dressing two of our dungeons. What you are about to read is a conversation I had with myself regarding the second of the two dungeons known as The Temple of Tranquility. My "conversation" starts after the break. Hope you enjoy.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Hot Springs Wallpaper

Writing continues. Never as fast as I'd like, but progress continues to be made! Our current goal is to have Hot Springs Island completely finished and play testing before December. We'll keep making updates so add us to your readers, and in the meantime, here's a quick wallpaper!

Safari's been working on some logos to help capture the feel of each of the major islands. This is Hot Springs.

Dress up that desktop and give Safari's portfolio some love!
Stay brütal my friends.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Monster Inspiration - Coral

Turning to myths and legends for monsters is awesome, but now that we have all these awesome HD cameras, timelapse and whatnot it's become so much easier to see just how truly terrifying nature is. It could just be that I've been reading Roles, Rules and Rolls' posts on Hodgson a little too closely, but the ocean is full of terrible, terrible things, like coral:

Plate Coral Feeding:

Fighting Corals:

Makes me wonder what a non-underwater garden of these things would be like.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Plants of the Swordfish Islands

Chefs the world over agree: Blindfire peppers are delicious!

We may have gone a teensy bit overboard with plants, but Flora is so often overshadowed by Fauna that we decided to change things up some. We've got about ~50 types of plants mapped out as being unique to the Swordfish Islands. Some are relatively mundane, some are quite useful, and some would like nothing more than to digest you.

Blindfire Vine 

Blindfire Vine (pictured above) is still being written up. Safari, being Safari, made it cooler than originally written, so the previously written paragraph was thrown out causing the battle between the artist and the writers to continue to escalate! Safari 1, Pandesmos 0. The quick version is: Blindfire Vine likes to eat adventurers and turn their nutrients into spicy peppers. The more adventurers a Blindfire Vine eats, the more delicious the peppers become, and the more desirable they are for adventurers to harvest. A vicious cycle ensues spurred on even more by Chef McBride's seasonal Swordfish Islands Wild Game Chili Cook-Off. There is only one other pepper savory enough to compete with Blindfire Vine chili, and that's the Cachuga Pepper.

Cachuga Pepper

Pronounced Ka-hoo-gah, and sometimes called "Magma Bites" or "Lava Bursters", Cachuga Peppers can only be found on Hot Springs Island. Vaguely pyramidal shaped woody bushes with profuse foliage bear clusters of small, fragrant yellow blooms which eventually give way to fiery peppers of a marbled red-orange. The bushes bloom continually in the tropical climes of the Swordfish Islands causing Cachuga bushes to produce peppers in profusion. The peppers themselves are 2-4 inches long and hang from the bushes by thick, green, vein-like structures. Cachuga Peppers are exceptionally spicy and flavorful, rivaling the heat and potency of even the Blindfire Vine. The skin of these peppers is leathery and can be mashed into a paste then shaped and dried into chips or a flavorful yet non-spicy paper-like wrapping, pairing nicely with raw fish. The peppers dry well, retaining their fire and flavor for exceptional periods of time, and its seeds are often ground into a fine powder that causes *severe* eye and skin irritation.


One of the most curious plants on the Swordfish Islands, the Spiderbush is a small shrub, rarely growing larger than 2' in diameter, with waxy, light green leaves and an exposed woody root system. Tiny blue and white flowers develop on the tips of its branches, blooming year-round. If a Spiderbush does not receive sunlight for a 24 hour period it will use its root system to waddle, or shuffle, across the ground in search of light. Having stubby, makeshift legs and frequently uneven jungle ground, Spiderbushes tend to lose their balance and tumble through the jungle. Due to their ambulatory nature and need for direct sunlight, Spiderbushes naturally cluster together in clearings or along the treeline near the shore of an island. Periods of extended rainfall have been known to trigger sizable migrations of hundreds, even thousands of Spiderbushes shuffling and tumbling through the jungle in search of the sun.

Redgold's Feathers

Redgold's Feathers grow as small, tight clusters of burnished coppery colored feather shaped fronds near areas of thermal activity. The plant is impervious to head, and some claim to have even seen it undergo instantaneous growth when exposed to direct flame. If the leaves of this plant are broken or crushed they give off an acerbic odor potent enough to wake a person from unconciousness (even magical) or immediately recover from being dazed or disoriented. If the feathers are crushed and combined with sulphur and the essence of a naturally fiery creature, an alchemist can create a non-toxic mixture that will glow a bright orange for 36-48 hours (even after being consumed and digested).

Wax Tree

Wax Trees have large, fuzzy, almost white leaves that grow in bunches at the ends of twisted, dark brown, woody branches that are 1-3 inches thick. While most commonly growing to a height of 2-3 feet, some Wax Trees have been known to grow as large as 8 feet tall. A shallow and spreading root system robs nearby plants of food and moisture causing these trees to be found with few neighbors, even in areas of otherwise dense vegetation. The branches, if broken, ooze a translucent purple, viscous fluid that smells vaguely of citrus. The wax burns cleanly and evenly making it a good alternative to beeswax, and alchemists often seek it out as a foundation for magical glues and thickeners. Exceptionally skilled alchemists are able to use this wax to create a putty that can *permanently* change the shape and structure of facial features. The would-be master of disguise should be cautious however as minor, even accidental, tweaks to this formula will create a putty that causes organic matter (like faces) to dissolve and melt away in a matter of seconds.

Ashvein Tree

 Standing between 6 and 8 feet high, with glossy leaves and twisting and contorted branches the Ashvein Tree (or Assassin's Cloak) is most notable for its thin papery bark. New growth on an Ashvein begins as a light blue-grey that slowly darkens into a rich charcoal, giving the trees a distinctive pattern. After the bark reaches a certain age it begins to crack and peel away from the trunk. If the dark grey bark is boiled in water for three hours, then dried and crushed, it creates a powder that completely neutralizes the flavor and odor of anything blended with the bark as it is crushed. Wood from the Ashvein is exceptionally light weight and releases large amounts of acrid smoke when burned.

Flint Moss

Writeup still in the works, but the art is grand, so check it out. Basically this ash-colored moss reproduces by being burned, so it is exceptionally flammable. It tends to grow on rubble and scree so that sparks caused by falling stones (or clumsy footed adventurers) will set it ablaze and propagating.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Travel and Exploration

Henry Morton Stanley and Kalulu
were quite adept at jungle exploration
Below the break is our first stab at a one page system for hex exploration. One of the major ideas behind it is that travel is based on TIME and not DISTANCE. In my head, and in the brief play tests I've done, it seems to work, and hopefully greater exposure will shine light on any holes in this manner of thinking.

The quick version is:

  1. When you enter a hex for the first time, you find a point of interest
  2. Every hex has 3 points of interest
  3. If you want to find the other two points in that hex you have to explore
  4. Exploration costs a single WATCH (Thanks Alexandrian). We've kept it a bit more abstract by using fixed units of time (4 hours) and basically throwing out distance.
  5. If the party decides to travel to a brand new hex, it costs a single WATCH and they have a chance to get LOST and VEER away from their intended direction.
  6. In order to reward exploration, and allow time constraints to pressurize play without becoming boring, the party can move between KNOWN points of interest without becoming lost.
I'd love to hear some feedback in the comments, but since we're still squarely in the esoterically obscure category of blogs, you'll probably start seeing this crop up here and there as we gussy this idea up and prance it around so mean old grognards can shoot it full of holes.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Hex Key Word Cloud

A quick data visualization of the words used in the hex key for Hot Springs Island. The bigger the word, the more frequently it appears. Chant is the heading we're using to denote "public/player" information, and Dark is the heading we're using to denote "game master" information.

If we did it right, I believe that the words in this cloud should prove to be an excellent teaser/overview for what you'll find on Hot Springs.

Hot Springs - Hieroglyphics Testing v1.0

The first presentable draft of an island's hex key has been completed, and we're going to start wrangling up testers here soon but here's a list of what we're still working on:

  1. Make our hex travel and exploration rules 100% system neutral fit on one page.
  2. Plant Descriptions. We reference many of the plants of the Swordfish Islands in passing as part of our hex descriptions. While "Snapping Grass", "Flint Moss" and "Spider Bushes" sounds pretty good on their own I think, but a solid "flora" reference should prove helpful for ensuring consistent mental imagery.
  3. Maps. Some people have expressed interest in "going into" the cave entrances they find in some of these hexes. I have no idea why "a rough hole, 10' wide and 10' tall, cut into the lower slopes of the volcano" isn't interesting enough all by itself.
  4. Random Encounter Tables. We made great strides in this regard last Wednesday and were able to settle on a pretty solid format for them, but we didn't quite get them all filled out. More posts will be arriving on the blog in the coming days about these as we decided to use 3d6 for our random tables instead of a 1d20 as (we think) by making encounters slightly less random they will facilitate better story-telling opportunities.
  5. A Feedback System. What kind of data do we want from the people that try out Hot Springs Island? What's going to be meaningful? How can we write those questions with the least amount of bias? And how do we want to receive and parse that data?!

Svarku the Efreet is certain you'll love it.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Hexmaps or Maps with Hexes?

I swear that once upon a time I read a pretty heated rant about hexmaps not being hexmaps if they were "just a map overlayed with hexes". I can't find it for the life of me right now, but I'd love to link it here if I could.

Here's Safari's first crack at mapping one of the islands. Hot Springs Island to be exact. Tweaks will be forthcoming, but this is absolutely the style we're shooting for. This map was drawn first and then the hexes were added, which led to some of the labeled hexes lacking land, and some of the non-labeled hexes containing it. This'll be adjusted in the near future, and more points of interest should start peeking out of the dense jungle to entice would be adventurers to explore their humid depths.

ETA for the first draft of the key that goes with Hot Springs: before the end of this week. \o/

If maps with hexes aren't you're thing, and you prefer pure hex maps, "we live to serve":

Worked out in hexographer real quick for all the purists out there!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Boars are Underrated

I believe that boars, and even Dire Boars tend to be under rated. We're working on addressing that, and we expect to have a pretty substantial update by next Thursday (10-25-12).

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

On Minor NPC Creation

Hello all, Diviner here to discuss some of the things I like to keep in mind when I come up with NPCs.

I was introduced to Dungeons and Dragons 2nd Edition my freshman year of High School and really liked all the different race and class combinations that were possible with the system, so I spent hours in math class creating characters with backstories and different abilities that I would like to play. I fully intended to play every character that I created, but as time went by I really began to enjoy the process of character creation.

When developing characters I tend to think them up in small clusters tied together by a specific person, place, thing or event. They may not all have been directly involved with the thing or event, but it serves as a common springboard for their creation. Depending on the setting, I may make the clusters friends, lovers, business associates, or enemies. Some types might include a lone wolf searching for answers to their past, or a gang looking to terrorize the local townsfolk through intimidation or violence.

My current method for creating NPCs looks something like this:
  1. Are they friends, enemies, or indifferent?
  2. What do they want?
  3. How are they going to get it?
  4. What weapons, if any, do they use?
  1. What do they look like?
  1. What is their memorable feature? (A lazy eye? A broken finger? A speech impediment? Etc)

Depending on the importance your players give to the NPC, I add additional depth by asking more questions (do they have a sibling or a childhood nickname? Habit? Expression or catch phrase? Special allies? Useful information? Combat training? Etc) but these aren't needed until the players decide they actually want to interact with this NPC on a deeper level.

I draw inspiration from movies, books, things I see on the internet, or even jokes people have told. I have always liked the characters from crime films and two directors in particular (Quentin Tarantino and Guy Ritchie). Both of these guys usually tell stories involving several characters linked by a specific incident (Pulp Fiction, Snatch). The characters have their own motivations or angles they are playing, along with their strengths to help them and weaknesses to overcome (or that hinder them). I enjoy crime films and have in the past run thief games where NPCs are essential. Nobody wants to talk to the same fat, balding bartender with an ugly wife. But, by giving the fat, balding bartender a trophy wife, things change. Yes, the stereotype has been done before (fat guy with an attractive wife: The King of Queens, Still Standing), but this is just an example on how one subtle difference can help alter the mood and immerse the players in your game.

The last thing I will recommend will be to write down ideas whenever inspiration strikes. I am never writing when I think of new characters. I am always at work, brushing my teeth, tying my shoes, or shopping at the grocery store when I have these ideas. I recommend using a small notepad and pen, but with the advances in smartphone technology, there are several apps out there (if your phone doesn't have one already) to write down a few small notes to transcribe later (or email to yourself.) For my ancient android, I have an app called Color Note (it's free) that I use for this exact purpose. Find an app you like and go from there. But always write. You never know when that gem will come along that will tie your story, campaign, or single adventure together. They will make the game memorable and your players will talk about it for years to come.

That's it for now. If you have any questions, don't hesitate to ask.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Deep Night Ramblings

Read a couple of excellent interviews over on GamesIndustry today with Tony Goodman of Ensemble Studios and Feargus Urquhart of Obsidian on how the world of game publishing is changing.

Tony talks about how Ensemble is working to cut away at Zynga's dominance of the casual game market by building their product around characters called Chums. Feargus Urquhart talks about how Kickstarter allows an independent developer to own their brand, and how this can drastically change the power dynamic of future negotiations and product expansions when it's time to get a big publisher involved in the mix.

Taken together these interviews align magnificently with Johanna Blakely's TEDx talk from 2010 on how the fashion industry is so phenomenally successful without having the same copyright and patent protections found in the entertainment industries. It's all just kind of wonderfully zeitgeisty for me right now especially when taken in the context of the creative outpouring taking place in the OSR world under the creative commons license, so I'm putting all these links and screen grabs here for easy reference.

And now for my distillation of all these loosely connected ideas, and how to thrive in the business of content creation despite constant flux and change:
  1. Find your voice (or signature style)
  2. Package that voice into a clean, instantly recognizable, brand
  3. Present your content through the context of that brand
  4. Do not allow your brand to become diluted, indentured or enslaved by outside sources
  5. Be happy if others knockoff or share your ideas
  6. Fight them to the death if they try and take, replicate, or pass their ideas off as being part of your brand
Garriott did it with Ultima. Blizzard did it with Warcraft, StarCraft and Diablo. Maxis did it with "Sim". Sid Meyer did it with Civilization. TSR did it with D&D. Wizards did it with Magic. Artists that find success during their lifetime do it to their names (Picasso, Dali, Warhol). Authors do it too, like Rice, King, and Crichton.

This is probably why JK Rowling is having such a tough time of it right now. Harry Potter is the brand, NOT JK Rowling.

Screen grabs of the interviews below the break.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

20 Quick NPCs

Roald Amundsen and his South Pole Expedition
Every expedition needs its fodder, and here on the Swordfish Islands where crabs can grow to such magnificent heights, there needs to be fodder aplenty. We're hoping to have around 100 random non-player characters that your party can bump into in town, the jungle, the ruins, the mountains, or even drowning in the ocean.

Each NPC will have a quick (and hopefully evocative) paragraph of descriptive flavor that can be used, or thrown out, as the DM sees fit. When your party hears cries for help in the jungle and discover a throwaway NPC being drained of fluids by a swarm of Vyderac, there's no reason for it to just be "throwaway adventurer #107". Instead, it could be "Walter and Wendel" a pair of good for nothing thieving drunken bastards, or it could be "Carter" the son of a lesser noble seeking to restore honor to his father's debt-ridden house through the treasures he finds on Swordfish. It's all about making choices interesting ones.

Many of the character descriptions below reference an "invitation" or "letter". The common way one reaches the Islands is by receiving (or perhaps stealing) an invitation that secures passage aboard one of the Captain Rand's trading vessels.

Twenty Quick NPCs, written by The Diviner, are below the break

Friday, September 14, 2012

Crabs and Artists

I don't think he sells patties...

With Safari on the team we're consistently running into the best problem ever: his interpretations of what we've planned or written push us beyond what we'd ever imagined.

See... When planning out some of the monsters that appear on the islands, we got kind of lazy. We didn't mean to, but we fell into unimaginative tropes and put "Giant Crab" on the list o' monsters.  Runescape did it. Skyrim did it. WoW did it. Mega Man did it. Why not us? Giant Crabs are all over the place (including your mom's pants). They fit the bill. Got a beach? Need fodder? How about crabs? Basic. Simple.

Safari, as it turns out, was having none of that. He came back with a galley crushing monstrosity of absolutely gargantuan proportions, with human teeth. The Diviner, Wintergreen and I were ashamed of ourselves. The Swordfish Islands doesn't have room for common "fodder". What had we been thinking? We knew better. And once again, Safari took something that'd we'd included as an aside, and made it badass.

So we stepped it up:

Dear nature, thanks for being scary.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

We've got a font!

Safari never ceases to amaze. He whipped up a font for the Blue Lizardmen so he could write stuff on their weapons and "have it mean something".

I'm in the process of putting it together as an *actual* font you can use on your computer, and you can grab yourself a pre-pre-pre-pre alpha version of it here.

Note: Font is CAPS only

Saturday, September 8, 2012

The Relationship Map

One of our main goals with the Swordfish Islands is replayability, and one of the main mechanisms we hope will achieve that goal is exploration.

Going into this project we focused heavily on the creation of a hex map to facilitate this exploration, and we ended up with 9 islands made of 156 hexes. Then we came up with three unique points of interest for each of those 156 hexes, giving us 468 unique Points of Interest.

Upon completing our list of 468 points of interest we started seriously discussing the town of Swordfish Bay, our "adventure hub". We knew it was founded by an ex-pirate (Captain Jeremy Rand) and his crew, we knew there was an Adventurers guild (name still TBD...), and we knew the town had a population of ~350.

Then we started asking questions like "who's in charge of what?", and "what services would a town like this need to survive?", and "would those services be interesting enough to really include?". Several weeks, many note cards and much OneNote space later, we've ended up with 48 named characters complete with back stories, motivations, and goals that fall into four categories:

Rand's Crew
Patrick's Crew (As a pirate Rand had two ships, one run by Patrick Marsh. Patrick now runs the Guild at Rand's request)

But we didn't stop there. Nope. Here on the Swordfish Islands you go big or you go home. We then decided to create a "Relationship Map" between all the characters using the following 8 categories:


We took each character and made a "directional" list of names under each category. In this instance, directional means "Who will this character seek out?". Just because the town drunk will look for anyone on the island to drink with, doesn't mean that anyone on the island will see out the town drunk as a drinking buddy. Hopefully, all the drama created by these links, a group of players could enter the Swordfish Islands, play an intrigue game, and never leave town.

Camaraderie in this case means that two individuals have a friendship that may fall outside the normal bounds of the other categories and is focused on a **specific** thing. For example, two characters love sauces, or two characters go fishing every Saturday, or two characters get together to discuss esoteric knowledge.

Thoughts regarding the "Fuckin'" category:

  • George R.R. Martin's got nothing on us ('cept the twincest and sex with children 'cause those are envelopes I have no desire to push)
  • Combining this category with all the death and mind altering substances that can be found on the islands we're even more certain that the only way to get this published is independently. \o/
  • Fuckin' further breaks down into "Has", "Ongoing" and "Wants to" so tension levels can vary
  • Finally, why'd we even add this category?
    • If we're successful, Rule 34 is going to hit us just like it does everyone else, so why not help the creators out with a rough framework to fuel the creative depravity
    • I blame HBO, Soap Operas, Heavy Metal, history and mythology
    • Depth of character
    • Oh, and the Olympics. It's the Olympic's fault too 'cause we all know what goes on in the Olympic village post medal-ceremonies. Think about it this way, you've got a bunch of fit ex-pirates (male and female) living on islands where terrible death is a constant. All that aggression, fear and adrenaline is going to go somewhere. ^_^

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Vyderac Matron - Timelapse

Just got the timelapse for this lovely lady uploaded. Watch Safari work his freehand magic here.

The Vyderac

Let's talk about The Vyderac!

The Vyderac, sometimes referred to as Crimson Fiends, are hive based, "insectoid" found on The Swordfish Islands. Vyderacs can be categorized into five specific morph- and physi- ologies:

  • Matron (or Queen)
  • Maggot
  • Seeker
  • Swarmer
  • Feeder
Vyderacs require the blood of living creatures to survive, and the five specialized types work together with terrifying efficiency to see that the needs of the hive are met. See below the jump for a super rough writeup of them all!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Stonejaw - A Writing Sample

Matthias Mayford, historian, adventurer, and ex-navigator for Jeremy Rand has devoted the past year and a half to recording every detail of the people, places, flora and fauna of The Swordfish Islands he could. With the help of his assistant Zilbee we have procured a page of his notes on Stonejaw that we will share with you below the break!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

King Creeper - Timelapse

w00t! Video #2 from last Wednesday. In this, Safari finishes up one of his sketches of a King Creeper. King Creepers are small greenish humanoids (standing 2'-3' tall) with only two purposes in life: defend their life giving King Climber plant, and collect as many teeth as possible.

Some Creepers will wear the remains of a carnivorous pitcher plant (commonly called the Pygmy Crown Flower by adventurers) as a hat, and while it is not clear if these hats denote any sort of rank amongst the tribes, Creepers will fight each other to the death over them.

King Creepers will often fashion weapons from the bones of slain creatures, and can almost always be found with bags and pouches containing teeth. The Creepers absolute obsession with teeth has led some adventures to calling them "Teeth Fiends" or "Teefers".

Subject: King Creeper
Song: L'Orange - Lost Souls (feat. Hassaan Mackey, yU & Kelsey Lu)
Fonts: Warlock by Hydro74, and Westside by Tré Bomb Nation

Friday, August 10, 2012

First Timelapse Attempt - The Blue Lizardmen

Here's Safari freehanding up a concept for the Blue Lizardmen.

Quick Brain-vomit on "The Blues"

The Blue Lizardmen live on the island known as "The Southern Lighthouse". They enjoy gardening, meditation, academic style education and discussion, and they believe the path to transcendence is found through spirituality. The blues believe strongly in living harmoniously with nature. Their society is matriarchal with Druids and Shaman holding most positions of respect and power. Fighting forces are comprised of Rangers of the lightly armored jungle runner variety. The Blues tend to favor obsidian tipped spears, and they use slings with devastating accuracy.

I like to describe the Blues as having an "open, temple society". Much of their society centers around an important central temple (ziggurat) in their capitol city. They insist upon the open sharing of knowledge, and most of their structures are megalithic pavilions with no walls. For cultural style, think Athens, with its poets, art, and street corner discussions and performances. For artistic style think Pre-Columbian. For the physical structure of their civilization, think megalithic black basalt pavilions and temples in a misty, broken, jungle covered land like Shang-ri-la/Xanadu/Shamballa.

"'cause it's all just a little bit of history repeating...."

Eve Hazelton - Lighting Techniques

Sticking this video here so I don't lose it in my piles of bookmarks. Pretty amazing what you can do with just six lights!

Monday, August 6, 2012

Stonejaw and Excuses

Stonejaw here doesn't like excuses, and for the 5-10 of you that check out this blog from time to time, I'm sure you don't like them either!

So here's an update: Due to the place where Wintergreen and I work full-time, we needed to submit the Swordfish Islands to a special group to get approval to work on it in our spare time. The world of content is exciting like that. We were expecting it to take ~2 weeks to get a yes or a no from the Brass, but we got approved to develop the project after waiting for only two days. We were quite excited.

The good news - SFI is going to fill our lives almost every minute we're not at work.

The bad news - The girlfriends tend to not like sharing free time with monsters, jungles, and chains of islands (only if they're imaginary mind you, each of them would be ready at a moments notice to head to any tropical destination on this planet, monsters be damned).

What that means - Regularly scheduled blog posts are going to be a thing of the past. Our ~5 week run of churning out fun stuff each week was great practice for what we're working on right now, but now, instead of making a random free floating guild, we need to focus on Jeremy Rand's guild and the Martel Company. Instead of creating a single random dungeon each week, we've got to work out how to best rattle off at least a hundred small dens/dugouts.

We're going to continue posting art as Safari creates it, but blog specific writing will probably remain sketchy for the next few months.

TL:DR - Things are awesome, but because they're awesome, blog content will probably be infrequent, but hopefully worth the wait. :D

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Metal... is Eternal

Dear Europe,

Thank you for continuing to produce such amazing music. Like the voices of angels, it's kept me going.


Thursday, July 26, 2012

More Art

Ettercap by Safari
Hag by Safari
Warning: Tits below the break

Sunday, July 22, 2012

420 Done - 54 To Go

As my father says, we're "within spittin' distance". This may be a bit cryptic to those of you not directly involved in the project, but I enjoy wordclouds and needed to share this.

158, two mile hexes.
Three points of interest per hex.
420 Points of Interest done, and wordclouded for analysis (i.e., are we being boring and redundant with something, or does it seem pretty flavorful?)
54 to go.

So much more to come!