Sunday, March 22, 2015

You can now find me at!

My blog has moved to its own domain and you can find all of the archives of my blog there!


Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Musings on Horror Games

I'm playing Alien: Isolation on PC right now. I'm not very far in, but I've found some stuff I wanted to talk about (which I recorded the audio of while playing but the file corrupted or something).

I want to make a horror tabletop RPG at some point. This is something I have been interested in for a while but have not had the capacity to do as I don't have a ton of experience with horror games. I've played some tabletop horror RPGs - Don't Rest Your Head, Black Stars Rise, and a fantastic game by +Nick Wedig that should be published if it isn't already (I'm a little behind on Nick's work.) (ETA: I've also played Dread, very late at night at a party, and it was pretty great). These games are good, but they require two things: good, experienced players, and a great GM. The systems do some of the work, but I feel like they wouldn't work as well without the support of the players and GM. I want to make a game approachable to new players, which is challenging for me in the first place, but I also want something compelling.

There are a few things I want to avoid that I have found to be way to common in various horror media (games, television, movies, etc.): boredom and sexually predatory themes. The former is just wasting time, but the latter actually kind of pisses me off. I feel like I should be able to avoid that kind of trigger in horror instead of being constantly confronted with it, so I've tasked myself with aiming for the kind of horror - maybe dread? - that avoids that specific trope.

Things I want to include: suspense, vivid descriptions, and the ability to run and play the game without tons of tabletop experience. Much harder than it sounds.

Part of me wants to interrogate the people I know who are good about horror, but at the same time, I feel like I need to focus on what makes me scared in order to satisfy what I want.

One of the feelings I want to incorporate is that feeling of "I know what's going to happen, I can't stop it, and it's terrible," that dread. One of the movies I was unable to finish because of how distressing and dreadful was Buckets of Blood (1959). Part of this is because I for serious cannot handle harming animals in film (we shut it off before the first icky part, admittedly), but part of it is that kind of dread just shakes me up. I would love to capture that in a game, but how do you do that? I feel like there needs to be a script, so I'm wondering how you include three things:

  • The illusion of free will
  • Freedom of description 
  • Compelling story

I mean, part of it is that I'm just not a super experienced writer or designer. Part of it is I need to consume more horror media, but I don't want to consume too much and lose my focus, you know? I think video games are a really good place to focus because I am learning a lot about games and interaction from them (I'll eventually write another post about some of the games I'm playing now).

 Avoiding boredom is suuuuper hard. This is my biggest problem with horror movies and games. If the suspense isn't done right, or things are too repetitive, I totally lose focus and interest. Sometimes this is useful because there can be jump scares, but jump scares are not only hard in RPGs but can be kind of silly. I don't want players to be uninvolved enough that they want to start checking their phones or having side convos.

That's where I am right now. I'd appreciate your thoughts!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Discovery Playtest Video

Check it out!

Discovery is a project I've been working on since last year. Part of my requirements for it was that I could describe the game in less than 10 minutes, on a video, have no book, and use only a single character sheet. I think I succeeded!

Hi, I’m Brie Sheldon, and this is Discovery.

To play Discovery you need one six-sided die per player, six different-colored markers, up to six players, and a guide.

Discovery starts with an accident. It might be small, it might be big, but most of all, it’s important. This is the moment when lives are changed.

Players define the accident through discussion. It must affect all characters, and they need to give reason enough to the guide that this accident might have the desired effect: to give them all super powers.

Once the accident is defined, character creation begins.

The players will write the name of their character in the center of their sheet. They will conceive a character and physically describe their characters to other players.

The players define the six emotions available as a group. This helps set the tone for the game. Players will discuss which color marker or which pattern will represent each emotion for their character and mark it on their sheet. They will choose a six-sided die to be their own.

To begin play, the guide describes a situation where the characters can encounter challenges or have interesting interactions. Players interact by asking questions, taking actions, or experiencing emotion.

When players encounter a question they cannot answer or challenge that seems difficult without effort, they will choose an appropriate skill. There is no skill list because the skills are created as they are discovered. Skills can include simple things like talking, or complicated things like telekinesis. When the skill is named, the player will write it onto their sheet in one of the hexes with either a plus one, minus one, or zero.

Before proceeding, the guide will ask the player how their character feels. The player will respond with a description of their emotional state, and then draw a line from the center hex to the skill hex with the appropriately colored marker. When rolling with this skill hex, if this emotion is active in the character, a plus one is added to the roll.

The player will roll a six-sided die and add the number in their skill hex to the die roll. If the result is zero, the guide will describe a result that makes things worse. If it is one or two, the guide describes how they fail. If it is three to five, the action succeeds at a cost, defined by the guide. If it is a six, the guide describes how the character succeeds. If it is a seven or above, the action succeeds with dramatic results, as defined by the guide.

The story continues as led by the guide until at least one character has filled their grid with skills. Play may continue past this point. However, at that point, the characters have been discovered.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Brie Creates Religion

Hi all!

I wanted to talk a little bit about some work I did in the past on a game setting called A Deadly Affair. It was a game run by my husband +John Sheldon, originally in a modified D&D 3.5 system, then later a modified Pathfinder system. One of the biggest elements of the game was that players were able to build parts of the setting - species, religions, cultures, historical events. It was really cool! I got to be really involved in setting creation and John allowed me to build one of the religions for the game.

The religion was called the Nord. You can read some about it on the Deadly Affair wiki page on Obsidian Portal. In the religion, there are five gods. "Norric the cruel god of ice and cold, Eitne the chaotic god of the winds and herald of change, Shima the benevolent lord of the earth representing growth and life, Raer the demanding deity of fire and warmth, and the Unnamed – a treacherous god of magic, spirits, and deceit."

I spent a long time while I was growing up reading myths and legends about Norse and Greek polytheistic religions. I was a huge fan of them. This is part of why I wanted to create a religion specifically for A Deadly Affair.

One of the first things I did was determine whether I wanted to do a polytheistic religion, or stick with a single god, or something different. I was most familiar with the myths of polytheistic religions, so I picked that. I then wanted to pull from something recognizable to begin the definitions of the gods, and I picked a compass. Norric was the North, Raer the South, Shima the West, the Unnamed the East, and Eitne as the center, ever changing.

Once I had that down, I spent a lot of time on my own just thinking about it. I wish I'd taken the time to write down everything I thought of. Hindsight, you know? If I had written it down, though, there would have been a lot about the behaviors of the gods, the rituals of the priests, and the habits of the followers. There would have been descriptions of the avatars of the gods, and of the symbols carried by the followers.

I guess, I regret not writing them down. And I'm hoping to play the game again, so maybe I can get my stuff together and write down some new information to put in the Wiki, or on here. I hope that people enjoy whatever I choose to share when the time comes.


Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Five or So Questions with Ryan Schoon on Edara: A Steampunk Renaissance

Here is a link to the Kickstarter!

Tell me a little about your upcoming Kickstarter. What's exciting about it?

It is a follow up to the successful launch of Edara: A Steampunk Renaissance. This campaign companion delves even deeper into the world we created, offering more maps, adversaries, background and historic information, NPCs, and plot hooks so that GMs can bring their parties deeper into the world.

What did you do to develop this new material - what kind of preparation did it take?
Well it took a lot of work to develop, honestly.

We had to really study the cultures we wanted to base our world on. We worked with an Economist to figure out how money would work passing between nations in a world like ours. I teamed up with a latin and classical cultures major to fully flesh out the details of the culture, down to the histories, traditions, politics, and day to day lifestyle.

But mostly I studied the Renaissance. One of the biggest criticisms of the Core book is that it didn't dive fully into the Renaissance themes that are present in the world. I wanted to closely resemble the movement in Edara to that of Italy during the Renaissance so it required a lot of intense study and reading, and I learned more about Renaissance italy than I ever would have :)

Tell me a little about the plot hooks. What were you looking for in the plot hooks?
So this ties in a lot to the plot hooks. The biggest themes of our game are the conflict between science vs religion, renaissance vs steampunk, and the inherent racism that comes with a mult-racial fantasy world. In the corebook, we basically said here are the themes, you can build your games around these. But the plot hooks dig deeper into that. We focus on each realm individually (and some of the bigger realms are divided into regions, or even down to cities) in order to provide these hooks. They aren't fully fleshed out ideas or adventures, just hooks to help the GM build a campaign. The types of adventures that one might go on. For example, in the human kingdom of Kuria, which is broiled down in political disputes, the plot hooks have to do with one house playing the party against the others. There is also a racist movement inside the kingdom that might attempt to use the party to act out against the other races, which puts the party in a tough position as they have to decide what is more important to them: appeasing their employers or breaking the cycle of racism that has built up in the kingdom after years of war. Meanwhile, in the Dwarven kingdom, the plot hooks are more adventurous; exploring new tunnels and ruins to find lost dwarven treasures, or escorting merchants while they sell their wares above ground.

Tell me more about the cultures you based the world on. What kind of characters and cultures will we see?
Well we have several cultures spread across the world. The humans are actually based on medieval culture with Italian Renaissance flavors. Then we have the orc mountains which is based more on nomadic Mongolian aspects with a high focus on honor. The elves are rooted more in Tolkienesque fantasy and an almost pure socialist society. So there is a lot of variety!

Is this the last we'll see of Edara, or is there more to come? If there is more - what should we be excited for?
And no this is not the last! We plan on offering future books in this line focusing on parts of Edara that we haven't seen yet. There will be this same amount of focus and death on the areas beyond the mountains and forests, which we will talk about more as time goes on! This book will lead right into the future timelines of Edara.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Five or So Questions with Fraser Ronald on Nerfertiti Overdrive

The Nefertiti Overdrive Kickstarter hits today! Keep an eye out.

Tell me a little about Nefertiti Overdrive. What excites you about it?
While I can sometimes be more interested than is good for me in the specific details of a historical setting, I can also really appreciate a story that purposefully disregards the facts and focuses on the fun. I am unapologetic in my love for the movie the 13th Warrior and happily sit through the Scorpion King. These movies take historical settings but then don't sweat too much in favour of presenting a fun and exciting story.

That's what I've done with Nefertiti Overdrive (first clue: it's not even set during the time of Nefertiti, I just though the title sounded cool). Then I added physics-defying action with mechanics that reward exciting and detailed narratives of character actions. In Nefertiti Overdrive, you can still say "I punch him in the face," but you won't get rewarded for that and could easily fail. If you say "I leap up, flipping over my opponent and landing behind him. I then swing back with my elbow, cracking him in the side of the head." That will not only make it easier to succeed – because it's pretty cool – but you can also earn Luck – a kind of Hero Point/Plot Coupon/Benny – from other players if you do something they really enjoy.

This all excites me because it amps up the energy at the table, players trying to outdo other players with their descriptions. It rewards creativity and creates a really strong, cooperative table dynamic that has always led to a really fun game in my experience. This is the kind of game I love to run or play.

What sort of mechanics do you use in the game?

Any time the dice hit the table in Nefertiti Overdrive, it's called a Test. PCs have four attributes that provide dice. Each Attribute has two Qualities – a descriptive word or short phrase like 'Protector' or "Loyal to the House of Kashta.' Each Attribute also has two die-types associated with it, the lower being the base die and the higher being the max die. If you can apply one of its Qualities to the scene, the Attribute provides its base die. If you apply the Quality in a narratively exciting or interesting manner, you can use the max die.

Dice are compared for Initiative (which character is active and which is passive), Target (does the active character overcome the passive character for a Triumph), and Effect (can one of the character's impose a penalty – known as a Condition – on the other). Each Challenge has a number of Triumphs required to overcome it.

Tell me more about Luck. What can you do with it?

With Luck, you can add an extra Quality – meaning you can roll five or more dice in a Test and use them all – re-roll a die, or remove some or all of a Condition – a penalty that can be imposed during a Test. Luck is provided by players to other players, and there is a limited supply. When a player uses Luck, it goes to the GM, who can use it to buy a natural 1 rolled by a player and add that die-type (though not the die itself) to a Threat Pool. The GM can add any die from the Threat Pool to any Test, but it can be rolled only once and is then removed from the Pool. When the GM spends Luck, it returns to the pot, available to be distributed by the players to other players.

When a player or GM has extra dice, she can apply those in whatever fashion she feels is best, to increase Initiative, Target, or Effect. This generally means an amazing result, which might lead to more Luck from players. It's the circle of life!

How are you preparing for the Kickstarter, and what kind of cool stretch goals will we see (if any)?

The Nefertiti Overdrive Quickstart rules are already available ( and were released in the hopes of creating some interest in the Kickstarter.

I have an agreement with Magpie Games to facilitate shipping, which takes a huge load off my mind. Magpie Games fulfilled my last successful Kickstarter, Centurion: Legionaries of Rome, and it makes a huge difference in regards to the period between having the book printed and getting it into the hands of our backers.

The text for the game is 75% finished, and we have about half of the artwork in hand.

The first stretch goal is going to be maps for the included adventure. I'm trying to present a very realistic goal for the Kickstarter, but that means I won't be able to afford maps. The plan is similar to what was done in the Quickstart – suggestions for image searches and a link to an existing map or illustration available on the internet at the time of publishing. I would really like to provide maps for the included adventure, but I believe $3,000 Canadian is more realistic than $4,500, but if I can get the latter, the adventure will get maps.

The next stretch goal is a port of Nefertiti Overdrive to Fate Accelerated written by none other than Jason Pitre of Genesis of Legend Publishing, the man behind Spark and Posthuman Pathways (and a pretty awesome guy - but let's keep that between us, it might go to his head). I am a fan of Fate Accelerated but did not feel comfortable hacking Nefertiti Overdrive. Thankfully, Jason is more than ready to oblige. This would happen at $6,000

After that, at $7,500, we'll include another setting I'm calling Daredevils of the Water Wastes. Part of Nefertiti Overdrive is a scenario creation system that can either be done as a kind of game or just as a framework for brainstorming. It allows the players to create the kind of campaign and setting in which they want to adventure. Daredevils of the Water Wastes is a product of that system, and uses the same mechanics as Nefertiti Overdrive, but with slightly altered Attributes for the player characters.

We have other stretch goals planned, and will reveal those as we knock these one's down.

Yes, I am exactly that insanely optimistic. It could happen!