Friday, October 18, 2013


I should probably just post this picture and leave it at that as it does such a good job of conveying what I'm feeling right now in regards to the Swordfish Islands. There's a lot of doubt. A feeling that I should have just made a 10-12 page adventure and shipped it. And then done another. And another. And another. But I didn't, so now, I'm drowning in my own creation, and doubt.

Current Doubts:
I'm making too much. It's going to be completely overwhelming, too dense, and too esoteric. No one is going to ever see it, play it, or give a fuck about it. If it does happen to beat all the odds and become successful, nothing made after it will measure up to this because there's just so fucking much. (///_.) Thanks for taking my confessional. ^_^

Current Project Status:
Map - Done
Field Guide to Hot Springs Island - Done (first draft, first layout, first edit pass)
The Dark of Hot Springs Island - First draft at just over 60% done

But what does any of this mean? I feel like I've done a terrible job of presenting what this whole project and everything is about so I'm going to ramble about and try to fix that.

The Swordfish Islands is a system neutral hex crawl you can drop into any tropical ocean in your campaign world. There are nine islands, two hidden semi-islands, a base town and a number of factions, dungeons and ruins to interact with and explore. Or well, that's what it was supposed to be. The plan was to do it up like an old AD&D setting. Like a Planescape box. Write a few columns of text that give an overview of each of the nine islands, and a few columns of text that talk about notable locations and people and drop adventure hooks all over the place. Easy-peasy right?

No. Not easy-peasy. I decided to get hyper-detailed and focused on "density". One thing to see/find/interact with in each 6 mile hex is just so sparse. I want three things in every hex, so that you can wander for days in a tight little area. It's more "realistic". And so many of those other hex maps put set encounters as the single item in their hex. You find a halfling sitting on a stump on the side of the road, playing the pipes who asks you a riddle. That's it? That's it for 6 miles? What happens when I come back through this way? The DM just handwaves the hex 'cause there's nothing there? No. Unacceptable. The Swordfish Islands won't do that. The three things in each hex will be physical locations with something interesting. Something "unchangeable". Three locations that would be awesome places to have a memorable fight. Natural, Constructed, Magical, whatever. They should be a set. A stage where things can happen.So we did that. We came up with three physical, relatively unchangeable locations for every hex of land in the islands.

Then we sprinkled on factions. The factions grew out of the locations. We brainstormed using (what began as) unconnected "truths". There used to be a civilization of elves. There's a tall tower over here that emits light. There's a volcano with an efreet living in it. These parts of the island are "new", meaning they were formed after the cataclysm and were untouched by the elves. And as we brainstormed, factions grew. Groups of intelligent creatures that want stuff, and the stuff they want often comes into conflict with the stuff other groups want and the subsequent conflicts take place amongst all these set pieces we've been plopping on the map. What does that mean? How does that change things? What's broken? Or guarded or flooded or burned? What's underground? Where are the dungeons? Where are the towns? See... it's all world building porn and I'm a big faker trying to hang with all these OSR types. But fuck it! We're doing it.

So it got big. Probably too big, but it all felt so manageable at the time. Just a couple columns of text probably. Then one day I said, no. We have to stop. We're just playing at worldbuilding and having a good time. We're not actually working. And because of the way our employer is with intellectual property and the hoops we have to jump through to make our own, we need to finish something. Just one island. We need to get it into publishable shape. Whatever the fuck that means.

And so the focus shrank to Hot Springs Island. Now, at least 300 pages and 10 months later we're still not done, but I love it. I love everything we've made. I love every fumble fuck we've fallen into. I have learned so much. About myself. About my friends. About my wife and her magnanimity towards this possible fools errand. It's so cool. But still... what's is it? What's Hot Springs Island?

The Map - A visual reference to put on the table and be explored. Either by the wilderness exploration rules of your home system, or the one we include.

The Field Guide - Everyone sells players rules. New "skills" for their characters. I'm not a fan of that. I believe that in order for a sandbox game to be successful, the players (and the GM) have to be invested. They have to bring their own motivations to the table. So I believe the way to do this is with information. The Field Guide aims to be a book of hooks and motivations. It's the monster manual, but written from the perspective of people that have survived encounters with the monsters. It's an introduction to the factions of the island written by survivors. It's a catalogue of useful plants and trade items. And it's got short stories, that recap the experiences that other adventurers have had on the island and lived to tell about. Everything in it fits within the structure of the game, but its goal is to be an enjoyable read and make players say "woah, I want to see X, find Y and do Z!". Will it work? I don't know.

The Dark of Hot Springs Island - This is for the game master. It contains the hex key and our hex movement/exploration system. It's got ~20 tables, 12 dungeons, a handful of "boss monsters" and information on 5 factions and their NPCs. There are no quests. There is no story line. It outlines motivations and potential consequences. There is a lot of information in the Dark, but I truly believe it's only the amount that needs to be there and nothing extraneous.

You see, I want things to be (conceptually) like the first season of Sailor Moon. That show starts off about a girl in middle school and her bullshit middle school problems, but there's a darkness around the edges. As that darkness grows, the things that were a huge deal fade away. Focus shifts, and Usagi's choices have far reaching consequences. It should be really easy to hit Hot Springs, tromp around the jungle, kill some shit, and have a very light, passing, kind of experience. But... it should also be possible to cause more and more problems for one or all of the factions, and cause the darkness to grow.

The word replayability gets thrown around a lot these days. But I believe that because the focus of the Dark is on set piece locations and what factions and NPCs WANT, I think we'll be able to pull it off. Our play tests so far have been very positive in this regard, but I suppose we'll see.

If you made it this far, thanks. There's more to come.


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