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.