Sunday, March 9, 2014

Sculpting Miniatures

Seeing what some of these guys are doing on KickStarter as far a miniatures go is pretty amazing.  An example of this is the guys at Mercs Miniatures in there successfully funded Myth game, for the $100 level you get around 150 minis, which the prototypes of look incredible.  Plus, in addition to the 150 minis you get a lot more components that allow you to actually play the game.

What gets me is I look at the most basic of playing pieces, which is the Meeple, which the Game Crafter's sell for $0.40 each.  Now I realize that Merc is a miniature design company, but other games do essentially the same thing.  Zombiecide KickStarters also included a huge number of minis for the cost of the game.

What I'd like to know is how these companies design and manufacture minis of such high quality and add them to their games with other high quality components and do all this at half the price that I can do the same thing with crappy components and the most basic of game pieces.

I realize that I just need to spend some time chatting with game designers to figure out this magic formula, but I know that it essentially comes down to it being their full time job, and for me it's just a one person part time hobby.  To get the costs down as much as they do, they must be doing runs of tens of thousands of the common figures, and these runs are done in China where they end up costing pennies per final product figure.  Where for my stuff it'd be a run of like 10 or 100, from someplace in america where everything cost much more.

So, my solution for at least my prototypes has been to learn how to sculpt.  I agree that is sounds silly, especially since I have enough (actually more than enough) hobbies as it is, but when you look at the cost of even dopey looking custom meeples, they are around $1 to $4 per figure.  So, i figure an 8 oz. block of Sculpty Putty is about $5 from the local craft store, and a set of tools was another $10...So for an investment of around $50, I've got enough supplies to make an army of mini-figs and even if they are dopey looking, they beat the crap out of resorting to a standard wooden cube for $0.10.

My first project was a 4X game I'm calling Eternal Wars, where each player controls an Arch-devil and manages resources to be the one to a mass the most victory points while building a palace for themselves and increasing their personal power.  This is essentially a typical resource management game with each player requiring 8 Devil Meeples, a custom Meeple for representing each of the three resources and and another 3 place holder figures, so basically I was originally thinking a standard meeple for most of these, which came to about round $7 per player plus another $7 for the demon hordes...So $35 in meeples alone.

So, I basically nearly made back my $50 in sculpting supplies in my first project.  I made simple devil meeples out of the putty, which consist of a ball for the head on top of tapered cylinder body, with horns, eyes and a goatee.  Yeah, they are some what dopey, but also sort of cute, and actually look much better than the meeple alternatives.  Then I made the resource trackers: a crown for power, a tormented soul and a demonic slave, and crafted the demonic hordes similar to the slaves.

So now I have a set of 50 or so custom meeples and still have hardly dented my putty supplies, which also includes allowing the kids to craft a whole bunch of creatures and items of their own design.  The sculpting is something that I can do late into the night while I catch up on a Netflix series, which otherwise would be, lets face it, wasted time.

In addition to the dopey looking demons and devils, I've also started making custom 25mm figures of heroes that could be used as characters or NPCs in a fantasy campaign.  Now I'm not sure what my original motivation was here, seeing that I have nearly 2500 minis as it is, I think it was more to see if I could.

I admit that my first two were less than desirable, but looking at some of the WizKids minis, even my crappy ones are on par with some of these crappy minis.  My third attempt is already looking like an actual usable mini, even in the middle stages of creation.  It really surprised me how fun and easy it was to get to this point.

Now, the 25mm figures took considerable more time than the ball and cylinder devils and demons, but to rough out a mini takes about twice as much time as the very simplistic meeples.  The good thing about the 25mm heroes is that the wire frame takes up a fair amount of the overall model volume so that they take hardly any putty to create, in contrast to the devil and demons with no internal structure so their entire volume is putty.  The other good thing about the hero figures is that since they will eventually be primed and painted, so they can be sculpted out of any material that is left I typically just mix all my scraps together for use in mini creation.

I'm only on my forth hero mini (the archer), but already I'm feeling like its something that is an enjoyable hobby, and can't wait to display my own custom creations at the gaming table once I have them painted.

I still have some work to do on the minis before I consider priming them for painting, and am liking going to be switching to "Green Stuff" on any future additions to the characters, to avoid having to bake them over and over (plus I just want to see the difference in the material).  I like the idea of being able to add layers to the minis and only having to wait for the green stuff to dry.

Friday, March 7, 2014

The Next RPG

I've just got finished getting my initial version of "D&D Thoughts" down on paper (or rather down online), and I wanted to switch gears and get down what I think the Next RPG should be, which just so happens to be the system I've been working on, but I want to go a little more into what exactly are the problems that I've attempted to fix.

First off I think the conflict resolution is critical to any game, and that the resolution should default to the dice ultimately defining success or failure.  I think the best combat mechanic should be something similar to what skirmish system use.  I my opinion most RP systems fail to produce what I think combat should be, which is a scary deadly event that should be avoided except when the odds are greatly in your favor.

Most RPG both tabletop and computer/console revolve around the players killing essentially legions of enemies, or even if they lean toward fewer battles the also tend to lessen the impact of any given round, by making the damage sustained in a given round a small fraction of a creatures overall health.

On the opposite end of this spectrum are the war-games where they are dealing with possibly 100 vs 100 opponents, where they need much faster resolution, but these games are not concerned with the contributions of individual combatants, they are all about squad vs squad rolls...there are simply too many units on the field to place too much focus on individuals, but they do demonstrate how deadly combat can be.

The systems that seem to have the correct focus are the tactical skirmish systems.  In these their is enough troops on the field that they can't be over concerned about allowing individual heroics to play too great a roll, they minimize the offensive and defensive rolling to get to the resolution as fast as possible, they seem to have the correct amount to deadliness in them to get to the final resolution of the battle as quickly as possible, and yet the stronger side does typically prevail against the weaker opponent.

This is what I think should be pulled into more RP system mechanics.  Too often the attack rolls miss or are blocked completely round after round, with in my mind seem like unnecessary dice rolling, the purpose of combat is to come to a resolution and move on.  When the hit points or resistances of the defenders are such that it's going to take 20 rounds of rolling to determine who will win, than something is wrong.

I believe a good RP system should adopt a skirmish battle mechanic, what this does is combine the best of both worlds as far as individual contributions and getting to overall resolution.  Combat needs to be deadly for it to have any meaning, so there's nothing wrong with a weaker opponent beating a stronger one...there's a lot of things that can be considered in a battle.  The dice attempt to make a guess at the probability, but once the dice are determined then the outcome needs to be determined by their result.

Heroes will have special abilities that allow them to cut through some of the randomness of battle, the odds have to be in a hero's favor or they would never engage, after all how many times can one realistically beat a 50/50 scenario.

This takes me to my second point, which is "Damage hurts".  Knowing that combat is deadly, but heroes have their ways of bending the odds in their favor, however lasting damage needs to be another equalizer in the grand scheme of things.  When five minutes after a battle everyone is back up to full strength it takes away another whole aspect of the game.

Having damage linger around for hours can represent fatigue, for days can represent significant wounds, and for weeks can represent broken limbs or possibly some extraordinarily vile effect.  When damage always recovery quickly it removes the ability to represent in game terms wounds or broken limbs.

Also if damage comes back too quickly, it completely negates the point of weaker opponents to be encountered.  If a creature has almost zero chance of killing the heroes, but their damage lingers, now the opponent has a purpose...the party may have to rotate around who is going to be defending if they want everyone to make it to the end.  It becomes more of an endurance contest, without lingering damage it completely removes these types of adventure scenarios from play.

Lastly, rolls must be made with a pool of dice, its the only way to account for both extremely difficult and extremely easy tasks.  It's tough to account for odds in less than a 5% chance accurately without using a pool of dice, even d% most often are really only a d10 (if you have a 45% chance of success and if the ten's place is anything except a 4 you don't need the second dice, or if the 00 = 100 then you always need to roll the second die if the first comes up a 0).

When a task is easy the more dice that are rolled puts the odds of rolling average at a higher percentage, for example typical attributes are randomly generated using 3d6, which means only 1 in 216 will have and 18 or a 3, but your chance of having at least a 10 are about 50/50.

The addition of exploding dice (when a dice rolls the maximum number it gets to be rolled again, with continual rolling allowed so long as it rolls maximum) allows for those extremely difficult rolls to be made even when the chances of success are very small.

When a dice pool is rolled you can use the results to help craft an explanation of the results, especially true if certain dice were added for certain random effects.  For example some dice might represent you skill in battle, other my represent you weapon, other the opponents armor and other good or bad might have been added for environmental effects.  In which case the results for each type of die can be summarized, for example you might be able to say, "Even though I hit them in the dead center of their breastplate where their armor was thickest, my skill with the blade was able to drive the weapon right through."

Dice pools also aid in contests where the warrior may be rolling 6 dice vs a wizard that may only be rolling 1 or 2 dice, but even with that there is a chance (especially with exploding dice) that the wizard might be able to beat the warrior in a test of strength.  In which case you could likely chalk up the wizards victory to a well timed distraction that gave him the victory.

These are all things that all versions of D&D and Pathfinder fail at, which is ultimately the reason why I've felt the need to craft my own game mechanics to take these and more into account.  Ultimately, I felt the need for dice pool based skirmish mechanics that allowed for fast and deadly combat resolution with possible lingering effects from encounter to encounter.

D&D Thoughts

I know it's been a while since I wrote, but I recently saw a post from a fellow game designer in a forum asking if any of us kept a design journal, I thought about the post and realized that's essentially what I do when I write entries for my blog.

It does help to get the thought down by writing them on the blog, even if no one I know ever sees them written, I know that somewhere someone is going to stumble across the topic and may be stirred up enough to ask me a question, which in turn will re-invigorate me.

Lately I've been DMing a D&D Next campaign, The Ghosts of Dragonspear Castle (GoDs for short).  To make things easy and to see if they've addressed the high level game mechanics I have been allowing the party to level after each and every session.  Which next time will be our 9th session, so the campaign is right around 50 hours long at this point, my estimation is that we'll wrap up about the 10th session.

I have really enjoyed the module, it is way more deadly than any 4E adventure that I've seen, not that I never saw a TPK in 4E, but this adventure has a number for situations that if a player makes the wrong decision, they will likely die, and most likely take the party with them.  It's this feeling that gives me a nostalgic feeling while playing it.

I did like 4E, but always felt that it was flawed at its core...but it didn't stop me from playing it, I just realized that I have over 400 hours or recorded 4E sessions, 100 hours was a single campaign which took the party from 1st level to 9th level, before the met there end in a dragons lair.  Another 80 hours was Revenge of the Giants, where we started at level 13 and played through level 18, we ended up rushing through the end of that adventure, most other campaign were 30 to 50 hours combined with probably 80 hours of Gameday/One-Off  adventures.

I've heard many people bitch about how bad 4E was, but when it comes down to it, I find out that most of them have never even played it, they are just going off of "what they heard".  This really annoys me, I really wanted to like it, and in the end I think I had it figured out...if you read my Hardcore 4E guidelines where I discuss changes to "fix" it, and I think if one would adopt my incremental leveling as well, it does make for a near ideal RP system.

The flaws that remain can only be fixed by going away from the d20 mechanic to more of a dice pool, and to limit the class choices...some of the non-PHB1 classes were simply too over powered.  Though even the classes that are over powered in traditional 4E might be balanced by adopting the other rules that I outline.

With D&D Next I feel the sweet spot is still in the levels 3rd to 6th, as it was with both 1st ed and 2nd ed for the game.  Even at this, I felt like the resistances and vulnerabilities for many creatures needed on the fly adjustment by me to "make logical sense", and in many cases the heroes were over powered.  By this I mean that they seems to give the strikers (I know the traditional definition is not there for these classes in D&D Next, but the classes still serve the same role in D&D Next as they did in 4E) a bonus d6 or 2d6 for nearly every attack, and monsters seldom received similar adjustments.

I don't mind the bonus damage that the heroes gained in Next, but I think the HP of the creatures should be increased (especially larger creatures), and most should get a similar damage modifier when attacking the party...And as with nearly every edition, damage is simply too short lived...Am I the only one the feels if the whole party is near death, it should take longer than a single day to recovery from this?

My favorite things about Next is the fact that To-Hit bonuses have been reduced, as well as AC are much lower, and the best part is that AC no longer increases as a creature levels.  I also like the new Attune rules for magic items, and that leveling is typically a very quick ordeal.

Game Components and Design

The Game Crafters ( have been coming out with a few new products, and even thought I wish they would increase the quality of their items, by providing plastic or die-cast parts or even chip board or thicker mats, I do love the one-stop shop, and easy to upload and arrange products.

Their interface makes uploading and arranging images onto mats and cards a breeze, and I've never had a mix up with the design, so far as what I told them I wanted and the items that I actually received.

I know I could do my design on blank cards with no art and rough it out more before I go to print, but they honestly make things so easy that I typically go directly from text to a mock-up of what I want to print, then during play testing I mark up my printed versions with notes that I later transcribe to the final draft.

Despite their large selection of components, I really wish that other component creators would table them to get their items into the Game Crafters store, but this goes a little back to my quality beef.  The components offered are definitely above the basic requirements, but not something that is going to impress gamers that that played with Fantasy Flight ( or other high end game developer's components.

I'm building up a pretty decent collection of proto-type games that if I had more time these would be awesome game design idea generating items, but as it is, I typically go back to Photoshop and re-do entire decks over a coloring issue, rather than using what I have to iron out the game-play mechanics.

As an example of this, I've recently re-did all the graphics for the Dun-Jion game, using The Game Crafters new 5" hex mat, the tiles are now what I'd wanted at the start, and I switched from Shards to the 1.25" tokens with stickers on them for most the other game components, including Room Tokens, Door Tokens, and Monster Pogs.

I typically struggle with what to keep in and what to pull out as far as components that might be required, and what might be better placed in an expansion or simply removed.  This is another reason why my stock pile of components continually grows, as I tend to over create thinking that play-testing will weed them out, and since I've never gone to mass market with any of my designs it doesn't matter if a game costs $15 or $50, when it's a one time purchase of something that I've created, and many of the components could have other uses in future ideas as well.

Below is a list of other component manufactures that have components of high value than Game Crafters, but you'll not only pay more for the components, you'll likely have to shop around as well:

Hopefully you find these handy.

Thursday, March 6, 2014


Early February I decided I needed a nice JavaScript project, so I decided to rewrite an old c# application that I had made that was based off of the TableSmith application.  This allows very intricate random tables to be created that can reference sub-tables, which can further reference other tables.

A simple example of this would be a wilderness encounter table where a d8+d12 would be rolled to determine what type of random encounter has occurred.  There might a 10% chance of an encounter that is rolled three times per day, so that may as well be all linked together in the following script:


1-9,No Encounter


Where CommonEncounter, UncommonEncounter, RareEncounter, VeryRareEncounter tables would all still need to be defined.  In the above example each roll on the Start table will cause three rolls to occur on the PossibleEncounter table, which in turn only has a 1 in 10 chance of generating an encounter.  In case of an encounter we are overriding the default behavior by passing in the dice that the table should be using, if the {d8+d12} was left off the behavior would simply be to roll 1d20 and use that result.  By overriding this we get a more bell shaped distribution with the common encounters at the center, and the more rare ones on either end.  Notice that even though a 1 is never allowed in our case, we still need to pad the table with it since it always assumes tables begin with 1.

My goal was to recreate this in Javascript, and due to the forgiving nature of the Javascript language I completed the project in about 8 hours, with less than 1/10 of the code I had in C#.  This made me question my C# design with was a bit clunky and somewhat slow considering what it should be doing most of the time.

I realized that my Javascript implementation was less than idea, as every table would have to be retrieved dynamically from the server, which was possible with some Ajax calls, but not only was this slow, it required more plumbing than I wanted the client to have to deal with.  I envisioned an exposed API where a client would call a table and the API would return a fully resolved random answer.

So, I threw away my previous version and used my Javascript version as the template for my new Server-Side version, which took about 3 times the code of the javascript version, but only took another 16 hours to get working.  Then another 16 hours to implement every common TableSmith function and to debug a performance issue.

My TableScript seems to now have all the capabilities of the original TableSmith application and is wired up to a database which stores a library of tables that allow a script to leverage any table within the database.  The tables all have a fully qualified name, which must be used if a table has generic name, but it will attempt to look up a table by its friendly name with a few strategies, which in most cases will find the correct table.

After all this I realized the reason I stopped using TableSmith was not wanting to haul a laptop to the gaming table, but I thought that what I had here would be usable by a simple webpage that a smart phone could access easily from the gaming table, though I still prefer to do my "prepping" in advance, some things such as loot or NPC names or the shop inventory could easily be randomly generated at the table.

I figured the creator of TableSmith might have done something similar to what I'd whipped up in about a week and found these:

Mythosa - TableSmith

Where the KickStarter from last year failed to reach it's funding goal, but seemed to have a decent following, as I know the original TableSmith application did as well.  I also found a few other sites that implemented common TableSmith tables, but essentially re-wrote them in Javascript to generate the results.

The goal is to expose my global tables via an API that is usable by everyone, and those with more ambition can create an account an setup their own tables, written in TableScript that will also be expose via another API.  At this time, I'm debating on keeping these user defined tables private, but only through obfuscation, if a user wants to share a link to some useful tables that they created, then it would be accessible to all with the link.

Also, I've started a dialog with the guy behind the KickStarter, who is open to finishing the frontend demoed on the KickStarter, that would be wired to my backend.  I just need to get my API site hosted someplace, currently looking at Azure as it seems very least in the short term, as I have $150 a month in free MSDN Azure hosting.