How to Get Started in a Game Jam

I have only peripheral experience with this, but for the “Big Bad Game Jam 2019” someone on the Discord suggested they were intimidated and tips or resources to start.  I didn’t have time immediately to respond, but I knew people would say, “Just do it,” and I was irritated that “just do it,” isn’t advice.

The jam’s make-up is intended to be the preserves of folk tales and fables.  This was the advice I originally crafted in response:

  1. Have an idea. In this case, it sounds like maybe you should have a favourite tale that’s always seemed gameable to you. For example, the Italian tale (I’ve been told), “The Colony of Cats,” is about a young girl who is a servant to a household of cats. Because they are so hard to please, they go through servants quickly, and they have the option to reward or punish her. That sounds like total game material to me!
  2. Find a mentor, or someone to bounce ideas off of, who might be able to help you focus the game, ask questions that need to be asked, or just tell you, “that sounds awesome,” or “ehhh, I’m not feeling it.”
  3. Create your anchor statement. This is the thing you want to do with the game, and it means whenever you’re stuck, you’re going to ask, “how does this attach to my anchor?” In “The Colony of Cats” it could be, “I want players to be a young girl in a cat’s world, for a period of one year, doing chores for cats.” So my 12 page essay on runic magic 1 probably doesn’t fit in here.
  4.  Figure out how they drop the anchor. So, while it can be fun to brainstorm some ideas for cat chores, besides cleaning litter boxes, fixing mouse mousse, and bottle-feeding kittens, is that where the fun for the player is? Probably not. So what makes interesting play here? Something like, “How does she interact with the cats for reward/punishment?” Maybe the game is a series of interactions with cats, and there’s a resolution method to decide how the girl does it. What if it isn’t a girl? What if it’s a boy in drag because his sister got rewarded in gold one year? 2 What qualities do I want the girl to have and measure against the cats? Do I use dice? Card draws? Maybe each mini-scenario has a set of key words the girl has to utter in her interview with them?
  5. Have fun … if it stops being fun, it isn’t the right game.

Because this is my space and I can, I do want to add a couple more words to the theories here.  First off, Jason Pitre on Twitter introduced the same day the, “RPG Design Worksheets” that seem to follow a similar structure.  I would probably just send people to that because it’s a great concept (of course – it significantly matches mine! [grin]) and while not everything may be applicable, it’s still a good starter/structure.

I didn’t make a lot of fuss about item #2, finding a mentor, which was actually the first thought I had.  I included it after much thought about the onus that placed on both parties, the one having to find someone, and the one of being the mentor to someone… but I have, personally, learned that designing in a vacuum is its own issue. Sometimes you need someone else to point out the trees in the forest, because darn it, you’re so used to stepping around them they no longer register.  (And that one? Over there? It needs to be trimmed before that entire branch falls on your sister. 3)


On item #5, this is another thing I learned the hard way. I have run too many games that became chores — sometimes because a situation went sour with the players, or I wasn’t really prepared, or something went wonky and I didn’t recover well, or I was tired, or whatever the excuse was, I need to remember that if I’m not having fun, why would I expect the players to be enjoying themselves? I don’t know how common this is, but really, “having fun” even if the subject matter is serious is what you’re generally going for in gaming.  I don’t get involved because I want to suffer or having a miserable time.

Even if I am an Amber DRPG player. [snicker]

How to Give Feedback

The secret to getting helpful feedback is to give people clear, helpful, non-leading prompts. 

The secret to getting helpful feedback is to give people clear, helpful, non-leading prompts.  This goes for pretty much every kind of feedback you need, from employers, that dinner you just had, that hot fanfic you just wrote, or, because I’m writing it here, RPGs.

Here are some of the things I want to hear when I’m requesting feedback:

  • The BEST thing about the character creation was __
  • The most challenging thing about understanding the rules was __
  • One thing that [your game here] could do differently—especially when it comes to [this part]—is __
  • If [your rules here] could figure out how to ___, it would be tremendously helpful and would make the game more awesome.
  • In the future, I see myself playing your game in [this situation] __ (like a convention, or a long-term campaign)
  • I’m impressed by the way [your game here] handles problems/themes like __
  • To prepare to run the game, a few things I’d recommend that the GM learn / practice / get more experience with would be: __, __, and __
  • If somebody asked me to describe your game’s personality in three words, I’d say: __, __, and __
  • If somebody asked me, “What does [your game here] bring to the genre,” I’d say: __
  • This part of [your game here] didn’t make any sense to me: __

This is a lot better than just saying, “What feedback do you have?”  It gives you a place to start, and if someone just asks you that question, think about answering these questions anyway.


Illegal Gods version .086 Follow-Up

So, I can at least say I had a good time, and my players seemed to, so while I might have left them confused, at least I left them smiling.

Character Sheets for 086b Version  (BigBadCon 2016)

I always enjoy giving out the designs for the character sheets, especially when I throw new neat things into them. I think it probably reflects a lot on my methodology in how many games I just create new powers for without worrying about a system to back them up… or it just says a lot about my Amber DRPG upbringing.

In this case, the “system” worked in that you rolled some dice and the success or failure was noted, although it was weighted towards success. Having played “Earthdawn: Age of Legend” previous to and J. Aegard’s “Monster Draft” after it, I saw a very familiar methodology in it… but it leads to two options, and I’ve got my dislike of each for different reasons:

  1. The GM determines what happens based on the “failure” or “success” with or without additional benefits, delayed or not.
  2. The Player has to control the narrative long enough to come up with what they think “failure” or “success” indicates.

I’m trying to shake it off, but I think those two options are the impetus for a number of schisms I’ve seen (and don’t care to name.) It comes right against this block in my mind that insinuates elegance only in expectation, like having an option for every response. If I have an option for every roll, I don’t actually need to administrate – a computer could GM. At the same time, we get that whole wargamer vibe – I end up building more of a step-by-step than an adventure or game.

And what’s really wrong with it? I would have said the game was basically a success. Not as a playtest (I didn’t do any kind of post-discussion, or really rules questions) but the play of it worked because once having decided success or failure, we collaboratively agreed on the events that followed (with a little kept in my head.)  I did hear a few concerns about assumptions (including the comment that it was “Assumptions: The Game”) but that comes down to my issues with running – again, I’m more evocative than prescriptive.

It’s the “Cuba rule” with me.  “Sure, it sounds like the story is in the haunted house1, but if you say, ‘No way,’ I’ve got story in the bend of the river as much as the obvious plant.”  If you think Cuba’s beautiful this time of year, sure, let’s go to Cuba.  It’s not sandbox, it’s more illusion of choice – the story is about the PCs, so of course it’s going to follow them, right?  And yes, I have the whole core of the game in my head, but everything they needed to know was on those sheets… and in the game description.

And my other problem with running games – I’m an intuitive. Seriously – Myers-Brigg being ridiculous, I still score almost pure intuition as my method of examining the world. (This revelation has caused no end of amusement to my family – “She doesn’t actually listen to you, she just presumes she knows what you’re saying,” has some truth to it.) So I build games where characters have the ability to perceive knowledge passively, not always relevant but if you’re a fox spirit who can see spirits, you’re going to see the spirit taking over the child.

One of the things I introduced in the text was the idea of divine presence as “Grace,” a term I assume I borrowed from “Supernatural” (realized belatedly) but makes sense in the context here, too.  It implies a measure of power. (Literally a measure, a measuring tool.) The Monk in-game (although not noted in character sheet) had his portion of His Most Ardent and Glorious Self’s power break the usual rules (open doors no one else could open as there was no power to them) and such. (“It made sense at the time” is one of the problems with the way I run – I don’t feel like I’m inconsistent, but again, it’s intuition-based running, and if you aren’t making the same leaps I am and riding aboard the same trains of thought it might look random.)

Add this to my way of thinking and having to translate to words, and I should just retire from gaming2. Oh well, I do it for my three fans.  Oh, and someday I really ought to run a horror game.


The game itself went where it would, and everyone except the poor Ambassador reached their goals. The person playing Luscious Lucille ( is who I think it was … not 100% sure – maybe I shouldn’t have accidentally thrown away my notes when packing) I think stole the game. It was hard, I loved everyone’s portrayal of their randomly-chosen characters. The recognition that when the Huli Jing smiled something bad was happening, and yet when it was serious something really bad was happening… the Monk scooping up a young girl with a demon prince residing in combination with her soul and just carrying her through the hallways of horrors.  The Ambassador claiming the observatory deck as property of Sleeper IV (with its very rough scraping away of a Darkover serial number) and of course, the way it ends as a comic book, with the slowly eroding sphere of god-vacuum floating on the deck…

So, I can at least say I had a good time, and my players seemed to, so while I might have left them confused, at least I left them smiling.


Illegal Gods version .086

A little Illegal Gods action, current version.

So, it’s been a while since I posted anything about Illegal Gods, and a lot of that has been because Hellsing House has had a lot of my attention on those rare instances I’ve had energy for design. I’m a bit stalled on the House for a few reasons (one of which I just fixed while thinking about it) but it’s partially in order to treat the underlying ideas with respect.

But, in a fit of pique, I decided to run an Illegal Gods game at BigBadCon 2016. The system is really the kicker, and I figured I could talk a little bit (spoiler-free) about how this playtest is being designed.

The scenario is actually one from our original game, and I really should give a lot of props to the LintKing as I’m cribbing from some of his notes as well. I’m not so much worried about planning what happens (I know, shocking isn’t it?) as I am working on the characters.

So, I’m pretty sure “Powered by the Apocalypse” is going to have a resurgence with the release of the new version. I’m a little tepid about it, honestly. The reason I mention it is because I see some similarities in the basic strategies of what I’m doing now with Illegal Gods. I have ideas on how to handle rolls of everything from -2 to 16 with a roll being two different stats.

Three things all characters should be able to do:
1) Petition the Gods
2) Choose “fight or flee,” in whatever ambulatory method they have available
3) Get more information on an object.

So, the statistics are awful. I cannot tell you how awful they are. Okay, I can tell you what they are called and you can groan with me:





You’ve kind of seen the word “ligeance” before in “allegiance” Ligeance refers to “the connection between sovereign and subject by which they were mutually bound” or in this case, for Illegal Gods it can refer to the connection between a character and their god, political group, homeworld, or family. That “mutually bound” is part of the number. You may be devoted to His Most Ardent and Glorious Self, but I’ll be honest – He doesn’t even know you exist.  I do like this particular statistic, and might just keep it. 

Content” is hard by itself because it sounds like something that’s included, and I actually mean it more like how mentally at ease you are. It’s hard to move someone who is content, hard to bribe them, but on the other hand, if you’re comfortable you are not actively seeking out new things, you are not hungry for adventure.  I’m less happy with this one.  I want it to include how hard it is for you to be bothered by things, too, from “Unflappable” to “conspiracy-driven.”

Sooth” is the ability to discern things. It could be for lore, or truth, or sensitivity to magic maybe.  The only reason not to put the other side of the coin and make it include how convincing you sound is to provide Cassandra-like characters.  I’ll have to play around with this one.

Finally, “Pioneer” is how able to explore the world(s), develop new opportunities.  Said like that it’s a little bit close to “Content” but this reflects some level of preparedness, such as resources (and the ability to do without.)  Again, we’re workshopping these.

Each character will have a scale from -2 to +2 for the statistics to add to their dice rolls.

What I am doing first is making the characters, writing their background, and writing in the connections between them.  Then I am coming up with thematic abilities.  For example, if I had a sentient pineapple, I might name one, “Piña colada” and have it be something that makes a delicious combination from another person’s abilities.  I want them to have ten to pick from, and I’m thinking they should be able to have six.

I write the adventure second-to-last.

Finally, after the adventure has been written out, I do the pieces. The clues. Partial maps, symbols, puzzles.  Those are the optional pieces that time may mean I have to abandon, but would be nice to have.  For example, the Ambassador to the Dominion Council ought to have some kind of fancy diplomatic paperwork, maybe a passport.  The Pleasure-Bot ought to have a “use and abuse” contract. These are also the bits I design when I have spare time.


Howl in the Half-Light – 2 New Scenarios

INCLUDES: Two “urban-based” scenarios, one GM guide, and a scenario sheet so you can Write Your Own!

I had a few people request “urban” scenarios for “Howl in the Half-Light” and included with these is the final “GM Notes” (aka “Things I wanted to put in the notes for the ‘Terror from the North” Campaign but couldn’t because they were more generic…”) bit I’ve done.

HitHL Expanded is the full package, all ten pages!

HitHL – Urban Scenario + GM Notes is just the update pack.

HitHL Scenario Template is if you want to create a scenario of your own on my template – let me know, I’d like to see it!

Howl in the Half-Light and Indie Mix-Tape 2

It is now being updated for those who have already purchased the Indie Mix-Tape 2 collection, but I offer it as a freebie from the collection for you to enjoy.

Indie Mixtape: Volume 2 is the second mixtape-inspired anthology of short games by a mixture of veteran and up-and-coming indie designers — each inspired by a song that the authors might put on a mixtape to send to a friend going through hard times.

All proceeds from this anthology will be donated to members of the indie games community facing medical problems or other challenges that have put a strain on their resources…

HitHL – Terror from the North campaign

Mr. J. Walton advertised a (truly) open call for designers for the Indie Mixtape series… the third is coming up, and I encourage people to design for it.  I am not feeling any inspiration for the subject, alas, but I offered a game in the first 1, and I am absolutely in love with the game I produced for the second.

That game is called “Howl in the Half-Light” and is inspired by Cathy Davey’s song “Reuben” which is one of those pieces of music that found its way into my collection from unknown provenance.  This is the only song I have from the artist, and, well, like all pieces of art, we have to interpret it ourselves, given the way we feel when we experience it.  I’m just saying that in case someone’s like, “Yeah, it’s all about a sandwich that gave her indigestion,” when for me, it’s about a smooth operating werewolf living la vida lupe2 and never calling the girl back despite that being his tagline when he leaves.

Anyway, when the second MixTape call came out, I knew what I wanted to do.  No, it wasn’t the game about demons and hard decisions that still floats somewhere to be lasso’d and written some day, but it was a game about werewolves.  While I had some issues with little punctuation and formatting details, after writing the first adventure I got to playtest it a few times and suddenly inspiration hit me like the proverbial bus (which, by the way, I think might be the Night Bus, but that’s just a theory) and I suddenly had a whole campaign.

My personal editor (okay, the LintKing) checked it for small errors and it is now being updated for those who have already purchased the Indie Mix-Tape 2 collection, but I talked to Mr. Walton and he suggested I could also offer it as a freebie from the collection for you to enjoy.

Please play it, ask me questions, and enjoy it.  If you catch me at a convention with about 35-45 open minutes and a d6, I will be happy to run it for you.

Riding Piggyback

I’ve been musing about Illegal Gods system design lately. Yes, in part because I’m supposed to be putting my word count in back at the Portal Doctor, but also because there’s a couple of upcoming opportunities to work with people who know how to design games, and I kind of want to take advantage of that.

I’ve (of course) thought about simply designing it as a piggyback on someone else’s system. There are, for example, a lot of different space-happy Fate1 designs. In my head, Illegal Gods is a space opera. The reason it’s got a space setting is because of the Spiders, and the dream that sparked it, and the entheogens’ science-fiction aspect. The problem is, I also want to have border runs on frontier planets with Uixtochihuatl helping you mine the salt mines, and fighting ice pirates 2(okay, maybe not those) along with political and psychic battles.

Wow, that sounds like fun, right? Sure, I could presumably do most of that with something like the Serenity RPG. But then we have the aspects of the gods to consider. It’s not enough to be a soul-jockey taking over a huli jing, but having to share headspace with Ares who is trying to craft a war between the psionic ambassador of Cottman Four and the colony of Acheron on LV-426.


Yes, we used BESM for the original story pieces. It was convenient and allowed us to stat up a lot of the various neat things we wanted to do, but it wasn’t quite enough. That’s kind of the problem; I can get almost as far as I want with a lot of different systems, but I can’t go all the way. 3The thing with Fate is that if I do it that way, the “Trouble” aspect could simply be the Deity aspect. It fits the scenario well, and even if the “Trouble” is you’re an atheist, that can be used for and against you.  On the other hand, if I’m working with Hellsing House as a Fate game, am I really using the system right to do both types of games?

Stages in Design: Trading Pawns (I)

So, “Trading Pawns” is the Amber LARP our family group is offering to run for ACNW, and it’s based off several ideas of an event in the Merlin series, of all places. I figured I’d write a little about the design here.

While I’m the major planner behind the LARP (I haven’t done a big one in far too long) I’m working with Chuck, the LintKing, and Chuck’s boyfriend (who I need to pin a moniker on, other than “Burly, Dark, and Handsome,” which is how I referred to him last night.) They can’t get into my mind, so I need to write a lot down. That means I have to create a whole GM book so they’re starting with the same knowledge.

What goes into a GM book? Well, I am going to point you to that very post on my regular gaming blog when it’s finished, but for this, let’s talk about the set-up.

First there’s the hard numbers – the statistics. In this case, because it’s Amber, I have ranks and I have actual numbers. The first page is the ranks, and I have colour-coded them for quick reference as well. I have the actual numbers in the back reference pages because they’re only really for me to check out how I spaced them as I set everyone up for the same number of points. There are some definite “clumps” of points depending on which attribute is a character’s focus, but the ranks are what the other GMs will be looking for if they need to compare things in a hurry.

Next, in conjunction with that is the list of items. These should be represented with physical objects – if we can’t get actual replicas to play with, they will at least be brightly coloured cards. In the book there will be the quick list (where they start in play, what they can do) and then a second set of pages organized with the large description and their fine points.

Then spells and powers are set up the same way. A spell in one of my LARPs will always be a one-shot item. You will cast them by giving them to a GM who will destroy the card (I’ve always wanted them on flash paper, but…) and explain the results. Some sorceror characters will be able to design spells “on the fly” and we’ll have extra cards available for that, but “on the fly” and sorcery in Amber are not really synonymous – although lynchpins can count as items.

Then a basic character and player list.

The next tab talks about timing and instructions. There are instructions for the GMs to give to players, and there is timing that everyone knows about – it’s replicated in the player books in brief. Then there’s GM events. GM events for this game are oriented first around the GMs’ particular NPC. Each GM has a particular NPC to play (that is developed in whole in case we get extra players who need a character as well – we can adapt on the fly) and then there’s a list in the book about other NPC characters (and hints on playing them as well as their secrets) who can show up in the game. There’s also a page of “complications” broken down to each GM to add to the story if necessary, such as rumours, or minor events that GM can handle exclusively.

The next tab is the reference tab and it has my “Tolerance List” which describes initial tolerances of one character to the next. It also has what the initial house allegiances are, and some of the obvious initial plot items are and how they’ll resolve if the players don’t interrupt.

The final tab is the character list in depth – it has all the details that each player gets privately, in alphabetical order for easy reference.

Each player gets their stats, their backstory, some roleplaying hints, their immediate connections with other players, their goals, the game timing, and a card with their name on the front and some details on the back. If they have spells/items, those will also be in their packets.

The Skin of Naranpelo 6

There is magic, and it is feared.

There is magic, and it is feared.

Alchemy is well-known, and expected within any civilized city. Light, when not mined from the Teimoto or Sole sources (the vanity of the rich) is more often from alchemical processes than the unpredictability of flame. Globes of glass surrounding chemicals that produce symbiotic energies that produce light line the roads from Erza Placa‘s capital of Camarao south to Espera in Matanouse and north to Koel in Teimoto.

Alchemists are required by Empire law to display their Guild affiliation, but Guilds pretty much police their own. Gang… I mean Guild Wars get pretty nasty. A famous play (“The Scarlet Talisman,”) was written about the stealing of a formulae from one guild and how it nearly brought down a King’s court. You usually can’t find thieves so foolish to try.

Alchemists in the Naranpelo game will have a number of formula they know and can produce depending on the reagents and other components they have at hand. They can always try combinations outside the “recipes” they know, and with appropriate skill they may manage to not poison themselves.

The counterpart to alchemy is generally found with the artificers of the city of Aurn. The Golden City in Sole is said to show such meticulous attention to detail that even the stool left behind the flying clockwork birds is fashioned by its artificers.

Artificers are a non-player class. It just takes too long, but if someone wants to spend some of their Aspect options on artificer training I’ll build more into it.

And then there’s magic.

The sorcerors of Teimoto know there are many worlds to open, and they have little compunction about doing so, stepping from place to time to place in time with no concern but the cost to their selves.

[There are two types of inborn talents with sorcerors that change this: “Nodes,” who can draw power from places, magical items, and people, and “Sources,” who can be used by any sorceror as an additional battery. These would be chosen as Aspects.]

Any deviation, any break in concentration can send a spell awry. Obviously, laboratory conditions are hard to come by in combat. Mishaps are dangerous and unpredictable. People are right to fear magic.

Sorcerors in-game will belong to one of two opposing schools, and various countries at various times have banned one then the other then rescinded the laws. Right now they are in the “legal but suspect” phase, primarily. Each opposing school has a different form of advancement and governing within the schools.

Chelonia alone allows them in government.

There are no “levels” to the spells one might know – the “apprentice” will just have less access to power, and attempting some forces might kill them. All mages can create some form of “mage globe” to contain the forces they have to bear. All mages can activate portals, although the ability to create them is becoming more rare. All mages can detect if something is enchanted, but one school is better at enchanting than the other. All mages can set wards.

Sorcerors in the game will be able to choose their focus, ranking, and reliable abilities pre-game, and then develop further within the game.

There are no demons, no extraplanar deal-makers to anyone’s knowledge… well, except maybe the gods.