Sunday, December 18, 2016


It's the evening before services for my dad. Tomorrow we have the funeral. I am not feeling sorry for the loss; he lived a good, long life...had six kids, raised seven, always provided for the family, took especially good care of me.

Some game nights he'd bring me books I'd forgotten, never questioned it. Never said no.

I find myself at a loss for words though. And feeling anxiety about...gaming. Like I'm drawn to games as a way of coping maybe, of dealing with the loss perhaps, of escaping briefly.

But listening to gaming podcasts, reading game books, watching actual plays...all of these things are giving me anxiety. Just thinking about games is making me anxious. Like I'm no longer capable of playing, or running a game.

It's a weird feeling, and I can't explain or fathom the correlation to losing my father.

Grief is strange in that way.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Comic Book in Process

So I don't think I've mentioned this before, but +David Lewis Johnson and +Ariana Ramos are working on a comic book for Ari and my new business, In Search of Games.

I've been purposefully pretty hush-hush about the comic for a LOT of reasons, even though it's all (well mostly) paid for and currently in production.

I've been trying to keep myself focsued on the game design aspect of the business.

But the truth is, the comic aspect is more interesting to me, at least for right now. I have several deals in the works for other comics as well, including an awesome "old school dungeon crawl" comic by +Thomas Novosel and a cute "Stan the Aboleth Employee" comic by +Khairul Hisham, all planned to be featured on our business website,

So in that vein, here's a preview of the comic illustrated by D.L. Johnson and written by Ari:

Space Whale burger. Yum.

I'll get back to talking about games soon.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

New Projects

I've launched two new projects that might interest you if you read this blog:

This is a hub for all of the ideas for projects I have or have had or will have. Check back frequently as I'm slowly updating each of the concepts.

2) I'm on Patreon!


That's right, together with my friend (and future business partner) Ariana Ramos, I'm launching a Patreon, hopefully so we can raise a little bit of a cashflow before we dive head on into releasing our first fully realized project, Across the Stars.

3) We're killing Santa!

Okay, maybe not directly...but there's a whole group of artists and writers working like frantic little elves to whip up a holiday themed adventure and get it out to you by Christmas! The adventure, written by Evey Lockhart with artwork by Claudia Cangini, Juan Ochoa, Eric Quigley, and others, will be available for free (although donations are being accepted for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, my favorite charity).

More news to follow!

Monday, October 24, 2016

Interview with Mike Evans

An Interview with Mike Evans of DIY RPG Productions

I had the opportunity to speak with Mike Evans, whose company, DIY RPG Productions, is about to release "Hubris", a setting book for Dungeon Crawl Classics that Mike successfully kickstarted last year. I'm a huge fan of Mike's work, especially with what I've seen of Hubris so far.

SDM:  So....Hubris. What's the deal? What's it about? What made you decide to publish it, other than obviously making millions on the RPG cash cow and buying yourself a private island?

ME:  Hubris is a Weird Fantasy RPG with elements of horror infused in for good measure. It really doesn’t have an overarching story or is loaded with tons of fluff. It’s just a terrible world with crazy people, messed up deities, and screwed up nobility that all plot and scheme against one another.
The development of Hubris really started when I stopped to look at creating a homebrew world again and what I wanted in it. Over the years of either home-brewing or running an established setting, I looked at what influenced me and I realized I had never played in a setting that fully captivated all my interests (and how could one, they aren’t written for me) or had the things that I wanted in a setting book.

Two other things happened while I first began working on Hubris. The first was I was reading the Freeport campaign setting, and it damn near killed me. I’m not knocking it- I’m sure people like it, think it’s a great book, etc. However, it’s such a “unique snowflake world” that is obviously the author’s own campaign that they penned to create this book. It is dense with history, NPC’s locations, districts, religions, cults- the works…but it’s not useful at the game table. It’s dense, requires note taking, constantly remembering location, names, metaplots, and all that. Something that does not interest me at all. By the time I was done reading it, I was fatigued and did not want to run a game in that setting.

Second- Zak Smith’s Vornheim was released and it blew me away. It’s roughly 75 pages and not a single wasted space. Every page is useful or has some cool unique thing that aids the GM during play.  
Vornheim nailed it exactly on the head for me on what I wanted a campaign setting book to be.

SDM: How did Hubris start?

I started posting thoughts on Hubris and started running a campaign with my own OSR frankenhack system and was fleshing it out.  I figured I’d release it for free like I did Wrath of Zombie or my Vornheim hack for Firefly, but Jez Gordon strongly suggested not to; to instead dial the awesome up to 11 and release it as an official product.

After that I needed to figure out how I wanted to do it and what system to use. I wanted to release a book I would use, and not just driven by the desire to make money. Releasing a book to just make some cash robs it of its emotion and slaps a “oh man- I hope the people like this product! I hope it sells well!” vibe to it. Not to say hoping a book sells well and makes some dough is wrong. I’m just not a fan of that being the main driving factor.

SDM:  Why DCC? Will someone need DCC to play, or is it easily adaptable to any old-school style system?

ME:  I started looking at what I would need to bring my frankenhack up to snuff to operate as a system worth playing and not full of holes.  DCC had really just started making waves and I read through it and realized the very strong similarities between my frakenhack and it.  I fell in love with the system right away and knew that its zany manner would be perfect for Hubris. 

Will you need DCC to play it?  Yes- Hubris is not a complete ruleset.  Goodman Games owns the rights to DCC and Joseph Goodman has been very gracious and supportive with Hubris, but yeah- you’ll need DCC for the rules.  That being said, the actual meat of the book is largely system neutral.  I did that on purpose.  I know that DCC isn’t everyone’s cup of tea and I didn’t want to force them to feel obligated to play it if they didn’t want to. You can easily hack the classes and the monsters to other systems.  The territories don’t have very many mechanics.
Hubris Art by David Lewis Johnson
The final part was the what…I had a rough idea of the world and the classes I wanted, but I needed to figure out how I wanted to convey it.  I wanted the book to be useful at the table.  I also wanted to avoid the standard problem of most settings: being treated as gospel.  I created ten territories, each with a d100 Lay of the Land generator and d100 Encounters table.  Each territory has a few interesting locations, all with their own rumors and hooks.  If I couldn’t sum up the location into a paragraph, it didn’t go into the book.  Each GM will roll on these charts as their group wanders across Hubris, making it unique to their own group.

SDM:  You ran a very successful Kickstarter for Hubris, which isn't always easy, especially for someone's first Kickstarter. Why do you think you were successful where others who are starting out aren't?

ME:  I’m thankful for the support I received and the excitement that was generated for Hubris.  I think the biggest reason that Hubris succeeded is that many people said they hadn’t really seen a setting quite like it, be it the way I handle the toolkit approach or the meat grinder philosophy behind it.  Also my way of generating the setting as you play is unique(ish).  The other is communication; I was writing Hubris for three years before the KS went live.  I shared most of the classes, many of the monsters, all the Patrons and Deities, and half the territories all on my blog.  People could see exactly the ride they were in for.  That goes a long way.  We all like to guard our secrets because we’re afraid someone will steal them, beat us to the punch, or worse -- claim them as their own, but I think playing EVERYTHING so close to the chest and then saying, “Hey!  Here’s a cool setting inspired by X, Y, and Z!!!  Come give me money!” is not necessarily the best way to have a successful KS.  If you have a strong audience that trusts you, then fuck all you can do what you want.  But as a basically unknown name, especially at the time of the KS, it would have been suicide for my project.
Hubris Art by Angie Groves

SDM:  Is there anything about Hubris you regret? Something that you wish you could change or add or remove that got missed?

ME:  I regret nothing.  I’m not a person to live with regrets.  Regrets only hold you back and you can’t change what’s past, so I don’t dwell.  I know more now about how to do a KS, publish a book, project manage my time and the project better, etc. than I ever would have before.  I got an opportunity to share a book that I am proud of and love.  People have been supportive and excited and there isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t get an email or a G+ message from someone explaining that they missed the KS and when can they get on the Hubris train.

Were there delays and frustration and anxiety throughout the project? Absolutely, but now I’ve learned and I’ll be able to tackle things differently next time.

SDM:  When does Hubris come out?

ME:  I’m hoping Hubris will be out for general release in the first few weeks of November.

SDM:  After it releases, what's next for Hubris?

ME:  I’m pondering doing a Hubris comic book and I have several modules in note form.  I’m also considering the possibility of hiring those who would be interested in writing Hubris modules under the DIY RPG Productions banner in the near future.

Finally, I have an idea for a Hubris supplement down the road.

SDM:  Is there anyone, in gaming's past or present, indie or professional, whose work you worship/admire?
Hubris Art by Alex Mayo

ME:  I don’t worship anyone- except my wife, because I’m smart and know who’s the boss.  People are people and putting them on a pedestal only invites disappointment and failure.  However, I do greatly respect the work of Zak Smith, Trey Causey, Harley Stroh, Jez Gordon, Matthew Adams, James Raggi, David Lewis Johnson, Jeremy Duncan, Alex Mayo, Scrap Princess, Joseph Goodman, Erik Jensen, Jason Sholtis, David McGrogran, and so many others that I’m forgetting to mention right now.

SDM:  How about artists? Even outside of gaming, is there are a particular artist whose style you absolutely love?

ME:  Aside from several artists I dig that I mentioned above, I’d say Tony DiTerlizzi, Gerlad Brom, and Erol Otus are favorites of mine.  Outside of the RPG arena I really dig Cordello Cordaro, Don Kenn, Jamie Hewlett, Ivan Bilibin, Frank Frazetta, Mike Mignola, and many others I’m totally blanking on right now.

SDM:  What, in general, inspires you?

ME:  The Weird is a big inspiration on me…I dig the unusual in a setting or in art or music. I also think that’s why I’m drawn to things like Heavy Metal Magazine, Hellboy, fairy tales, Death Trash (really excited for that video game to come out), The Thing, Junkhead (animated short movie), Vornheim, etc.

Music plays a huge inspiration for me too.  By and large when I’m writing I listen to stuff that is, at least to me, in the same vein/feeling of what I’m writing. Horror and mystery also tends to influence me.  John Carpenter’s The Thing had a profound impact on me and always seems to fuel my fire. Stodgy British Murder Mysteries also gets my mind going…my wife jokes that I’m really an old man in a young man’s body.  I’m a curmudgeon who likes his BBC and beer.

SDM:  How did you get started in gaming?

ME:  I started in high school as a player in a really terrible GM’s D&D game.  It was so bad it was nearly my first and LAST time gaming.  A few days after the session, my friend who was also a player in that game, showed up and apologized for the terrible session and offered to run a game for a friend and I who were hanging out.  We agreed, and I’ve been hooked ever since. I started playing Shadowrun a week later, and was in a year and a half campaign for that, and was running my own D&D and Shadowrun games about 2 weeks after that.
Hubris Art by Angie Groves
SDM:  Why "DIY Productions"? If you could sum it up as a mission statement, what would you say is the "core value" of what DIY stands for, and the type of content people can expect you to produce?

ME:  DIY RPG Productions came about because I’m very much inspired by the DIY RPG community and the DIY mentality in everyday life.  I also love punk rock and there is something about the 'fuck all, damn the man' attitude I find endearing.

With DIY RPG Productions, I wanted to create a company for my books and products and have it be under my control.  I want to guide them where they need to go, not someone to oversee them.  If they fail, it’s on me and my decisions, not because the owner of the company decided to take my product in a different direction.

Secondly I will never create a long-winded product full of piles of fluff.  The two products I’ve released thus far, the Starrunner Kit: A White Star (and other OSR systems) Space Toolkit, and Black Hack: Cyber-hacked, and everything I will be releasing in the near future have a toolkit element to them, which is the driving force.  I want to provide just enough fluff to give a sense of the world/setting/module, whatever, but by and large I don’t want to project my own “this is what the game should be” mantra upon a group.  I want the game to be theirs.  Take what you want from my products, say fuck all to the rest if you’re not interested, if that’s what you want.  I’m more than happy with that.

SDM:  Does DIY have a "team", or is it just you? Do you have any plans for growth?

ME:  DIY RPG Productions is just me right now (and my wife who helps me along) and then whoever I commission for projects.  Right now, I have no real plans for growth.  I think I’ll need to see how things go before I decide to grow.  In the end, I’m probably more comfortable and happy with a model like James Raggi.  All on you, and contract out what you need.

SDM:  Who would you love to work with that you haven't had the chance to yet?

ME:  I’d really love to collaborate with Jez Gordon, James Raggi, Trey Causey, Zak Smith, and Jason Sholtis, among others.  I’m going to be commissioning Matthew Adams in the very near future, so I am really excited to work with him.  Also always happy to work with David Lewis Johnson, Alex Mayo, and Jeremy Duncan!  These guys are amazing and have been instrumental in the awesomesauce that is Hubris.

SDM:  Are there any games (settings or systems) you haven't played yet that you wanna try?

ME:  I want to try David Lewis Johnson’s Gathox Vertical Slum, Jez Gordon’s Dead West, Zak’s A Red and Pleasant Land, and the new Death Frost Doom by James Raggi and Zak Smith.

SDM:  What was your last gaming purchase?
SDM:  What's the next product you're most excited to see someone release?

ME:  David Lewis Johnson’s Gathox, Jason Sholtis’ Operation Unfathomable [currently on Kickstarter], Trey Causey’s OSR-ified Strange Stars [preview] are the three off the top of my head that I’m jazzed about.

SDM:  What else is in the pipeline for DIY productions?

ME:  Aside from Death is the New Pink, Barbarians of the Ruined Earth, and High Noon, I’m currently working on Helldust, Land of the Spirits, a seven-part zine, Ruins of Malanthory (a level zero funnel for Hubris), and about 10 other things are in various stages of development.

SDM:  What can you tell us about DitNP, BotRE, or HN?

ME: Death is the New Pink is a zany post-apocalyptic setting inspired by Tank Girl, Jude Dredd, Borderlands, Fallout, etc. It uses the Into the Odd rules. Players take on the roles of Meat Bags, reside in a megacity called Scratchtown, and travel the wastes killing raiders, mutants, beasties, and blowing shit up in the hopes of finding powerful Doodads, guns, and booze.

Barbarians of the Ruined Earth is a game I wrote for Black Hack inspired by Thundarr the Barbarian. I also threw in a healthy dose of He-Man, Wizards, Heavy Metal Magazine inspirations to make sure that I wasn’t JUST ripping Thundarr off.

Finally, I have High Noon- it uses Swords and Wizardry White Box to deliver old-school gritty western action.  I’m also in the works of creating a Weird West setting called Helldust for this.

SDM:  Will there be kickstarters?

ME:  There is a chance that I may do Barbarians of the Ruined Earth as a kickstarter. We’ll see… It’ll greatly depend on layout and how much art I want to pack into the book!

SDM:  When do you expect them to release?

ME:  No firm dates yet.  Everything is kinda in limbo until Hubris launches.  Then I can breathe easy and move those books from the back burner to the front.  I’m hoping Death is the New Pink will be released in Nov or Dec.  And Barbarians of the Ruined Earth by late winter or early spring.  High Noon will be sometime in spring or early summer

SDM:  What's after those?

ME:  After those are out it’s back to full-scale writing, mainly focusing on Land of the Sprits, Helldust, the zine, and some Hubris modules.


I again want to thank Mike Evans for his time, and I'm definitely looking forward to Hubris and future releases by DIY productions...everything sounds awesome, and directly in line with my own interests. Also a very special thank you to my assistant, Noel Martin, who helped me put this interview together to post to the blog.

Saturday, October 15, 2016



Looking for suggestions...need monsters, playtesting, general thoughts, etc. Thank you!!

Work in progress. Art by Thomas Novosel. Words by Evey Lockhart. Attitude by Anxy P. 

I pretty much did nothing for this. Except plussed some posts. It's basically a fantasy-themed version of Zak Sabbath's gigacrawler.

If I remember his gigacrawler sessions correctly.

The gist:

You're trapped in a dungeon that's trying to kill you. Not directly, it's just rooms and hallways and everything is murder. Kill things and be rewarded. Kill one another and receive more rewards. But careful of the monsters, sometimes you have to work together. Find the exit. Or fuck the exit and just go on a killing spree.  Character generation is drop table fashion. When you die you spawn a new character to continue murdering.

Roll. Write. Circle. Murder.

(Hopefully you can access the doc.)

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Groping from the Stars

The gods play games with the creatures of the world. It starts as a matter of concern; they act because they must protect their creation. But eventually it devolves into competitive sport, to free the gods from the boredom of trying to watch their creations crawl across aeons doing nothing.

Because creatures are slow and short lived and rarely learn lessons. They build structures with their faces on them but these are really piles of tightly packed dust waiting to erode down to nothingness.

The gods on the other hand are eternal: They are wise and infinite: twinkling brilliance gazing down through a veil of cosmic fabric. They are impatient too, and they drink themselves into orgies, their revelry spilling over the world and birthing weird beasts and monsters whose minds are chaos.

And the slow creatures panic; confused by the horrors sent to punish them. Priests point to the motion of the stars, reading invisible answers and declaring lines that have been crossed, writing laws to appease the gods.

And eventually the gods notice. And this is how a game is made.

In Vornheim, +Zak Sabbath wrote about "God's Chess", which adds a kind of "domain level play" as a mini-game to any D&D campaign. The DM and a player play through a game of chess, and when its over, wherever the pieces remain corresponds to an 8 by 8 grid laid over a city or a continent or a world map. Whosever pieces are left gain a benefit for their faction in that region of the map, such as having a contact who can provide aid or resources.

I want to build off of this concept, using minis instead of chess pieces. You can use any kinds of minis; you need to draw up different stats and abilities for them, and then play out a battle, the results of which will impact the player characters inside the game world. I'll try to come up with ideas for a future post, but for right now I want to get this idea down before I use it at my next game.

What You'll Need to Play "Tournament of the Gods"

An Arena
Deities and/or Demigods and/or Aspects of Supernatural Power
The arena is the play area; it could be as simple as a chessboard, or it could be a complex dungeon built from dungeon tiles.

The minis are the chess-like pieces that will be moved around, metaphorically representing the player characters or allies of theirs, and their enemies or other hazards and obstacles they might encounter. Some have special abilities that can be triggered during this "Tournament of the Gods", and each one has an effect on the D&D adventure or campaign, either triggered when they die or triggered when they are victorious in the tournament.

Finally, each participant chooses a representative...a deity, or some powerful force instead. Each of these have their own powers and abilities they can wield during the tournament.


Decide what the minis are and what some of their abilities are. For example:

Warrior Mini:

Health: 5

Attack: roll 4 or higher on d6

Can attack twice in a round: once for 2 points of damage, once for 1 point of damage on a different target

Special: At the end of battle, any surviving warriors grant PC's a +1 bonus to AC during their next encounter.

Ghoul Mini:

Health: 3

Attack: Roll 5 or higher on d6

On a successful hit, opponent is paralyzed for one round and suffers 1 point of damage.

Special: At the end of battle, any surviving Ghouls inflict a -2 CON penalty on the PCs during their next battle. Anyone reduced to 0 CON must spend a few days recovering due to unexpected illness.

Aspect: Ural, the God of Battle and Armorers:

Alignment: Neutral Good

Ural is a mighty warrior god, known for his keen prowess in combat, but also for his toughness and durability. He is worshipped by armrorers who seek his blessing when they craft their wares, and by soldiers looking for extra protection.

Special: If you win, the players gain one of the following advantages:

  • +2 Armor for the next 24 hours to all members of your party 
  • Find a sanctuary in the next town you visit that will offer you a fortified domain to stay in and rest 
  • Find a blacksmith in the next town you visit who offers you a deal on a special suit of armor (DM's discretion) 

Aspect: Xao Xeen, The Many Suffering Maws:

Alignment: Chaotic Neutral
Chaos incarnate, Xao Xeen appears as a roving band of feral beasts and monstrous warriors, moving as f caught in the midst of a terrible storm.

They are the noise that billows from the pits of the plains of Hastur, the echoing cacophony that drives the plains nomadic tribes to insanity. These are the worshippers of Xao Xeen, their human bodies marred and marked by deep gouges and drilled with bone jewelry to appease their patron.

Special: If Xao Xeen wins, chaos envelops the players or the next city they visit:

  • A random player randomly switches around the stats on their character for 24 hours. They suffer a fever of madness and risk hallucinations.
  • The next city the players find has been consumed by the madness that spews from Xao Xeen's many maws. Cultists and reversed humans (skin ripped by hooks from their bodies) dwell here now; there is nothing left of any use, as buildings are destroyed as reshape as giant wood and iron teeth hanging hungry on the streets.
  • An encounter with a maw-mouthed bear-worm, a massive jaw hanging open from the head and through the chest of a vivisected bear, its hind quarters long and slithering and covered in scales. It's made a nest for d3 eggs in the nearby wilderness, and its haze of corruption hangs over the woods, turning trees to sickly, twisted, curved shapes like teeth shooting out of the ground, yellow bubbling moss festering around their roots. The moss is sticky and burns, causing d6 damage then d4 for the next two rounds after contact.

Playing the Game

This is a simplified version of tactical play, so whatever rules you use with your minis (if you use minis) should apply here. Basically pieces take turns moving, then when they get close enough to each other, Melee begins. All dice rolls are based on d6.

Set up the "arena".

Next, present the pieces available for play.

Each player and the DM take on a different role of a deity or "power", representing some supernatural force that has influence over the affairs of the world.

Players choose their pieces, place them in "starting areas" (on opposite sides of he arena) and play ensues.

Remember what happens here is symbolic; the players in the dungeon aren't. Exessarily goijg to encounter ghouls, although whatever they do encounter will be tainted by the subtle influence of Xao Xeen.


Ural is battling Xao Xeen for influence on the events of the party exploring a dungeon. Xao Xeen chose an arena with difficult terrain; a river crossing. Note this is an interpretative space and not actually a part of the real world the players find themselves in.

The rules were agreed upon before play began: for this game, Ural must defeat Xao Xeen's ghouls in 10 turns, or else Xao wins. Other tournaments can have different rules.

It is now turn 10, and Ural is down to a single warrior, and Xao Xeen has two ghouls left. The tournament is ended. Everyone agrees that the party will gain the benefit of the last surviving warrior (+2 armor for next in-game battle) but that Xao Xeen has won, meaning not only do the players suffer -4 to constitution for their next encounter, but Xao Xeen triggers an ability. The DM decides (in secret) the next city the players visit will be consumed by chaos.

Here's another example:

Using a city map (this example is using Vornheim), the players have determined that after 5 rounds, whatever units are left standing provide an effect on the city itself, in whatever sections there are units left standing.

The warriors represent the force of good, while the ghouls represent a plague sweeping through the city. If the players can destroy all the ghouls, the plague is defeated. If not, the areas where ghouls remain become dangerous to travel in without being exposed to the disease.

Meanwhile, any tile where a warrior is left standing represents a sanctuary where the players can find safety from the spreading illness, or possibly some other benefit. A library perhaps or a sage is available with information to help counter the effects of the illness.

If there are ghouls left by the end of the five rounds, the players will face a risk of getting very ill. They could help fight off the illness by conducting research and going on an expedition to find some special herbs, or they might choose to leave in order to avoid the risk of getting sick, but left unchecked the sickness will spread and ravage the city.

Again, these are examples, and I still have to playtest the idea. I'm hoping to write up more units and such ISoG different types of minis and special abilities and effects for them.

If you have any suggestions, please share them! Thanks!

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Evil Hat Interview

Awhile ago I wrote a post that expressed my personal disappointment with Evil Hat, following an announcement (of sorts) by Evil Hat's founder, Fred Hicks.

Fred was quick to respond to my post on Twitter:

But Twitter is a horrible place to have an in depth conversation about diversity. So I asked Fred if he wouldn't mind if I interviewed him for a follow up article, giving him an opportunity to go more in depth about Evil Hat's challenges...and successes...with diversity.

Fred agreed, and was joined by Carrie Harris, Evil Hat's Director of Marketing.

SDM: First off let me say thank you for taking the time to discuss this very important issue with me.

FH: Like I said, the critique's legit: we need to do better. Better is going to take time.

SDM: When you say something like "better is going to take time", what does that look like to you? What sort of timeline is in place?

CH: I’d like to put up my personal experience as an example. I was brought on during the Fate Core Kickstarter in January 2013 to write the first Sally Slick novel. That led to a marketing consultant position, then to some more writing credits, my full time Marketing Director position, and now I’m beginning to creative direct some projects, which I’m super excited to do! It’s taken three-and-a-half years to get here -- we’re the slow and deliberate types -- but it’s been worth every minute. That’s the kind of thing we’re aiming to do more of.

FH: Representation in art is a big deal for us and was the first big push. I think a tour of the art we've produced in the past 4 years speaks to that well enough. While I do think we can always do better in this part, it's where we're doing the best, both because it's the first thing we pushed for and also because it's the easiest to address, no doubt. But to achieve a longer-term diversity goal you first have to present a landscape that looks like there's room at the table for everyone. For us, art's a visceral way to communicate that, and it's the thing that [Mark Diaz Truman] skipped right past in his review of our performance. We DEFINITELY have big gaps yet to fill, but I think our roster of artists is pretty widespread on this spectrum, whether we're talking the duo team for all the interior art of Monster of the Week (Kurt Komoda and Juan Ochoa; Kurt also did all the art for our flagship, Fate Core, and Juan's great and I hope to use him again), Crystal Frasier's work on Secrets of Cats, Kelly McClellan's recent work on Good Neighbors, Arthur Asa's artwork as directed by Claudia Cangini on Eagle Eyes, etc.

SDM: What about writers? Game designers?

FH: Authors and game designers is where we've had a rougher ride. We pushed hard for getting some diversity into the writer pool for Fate Worlds starting around mid-2014, just a few months after we launched the associated Patreon. Any World takes a good 9 months minimum to make happen, sometimes longer, so when you start a push to address a problem (our push was in response to an open call for authors, getting 95% white male respondants and not being happy about that), it takes some time for the very first fruits to be available to pluck from the tree — assuming they ripen enough. In some cases the ripening doesn't quite happen, leading to canceled projects for perfectly good reasons, but it exacerbates the appearance of the problem because the output doesn't show up. The only way to overcome that is to keep trying, incrementally, over time.

Doselle Young's Nitrate City recently saw release, probably our first real success for the Worlds line here with a person of color. The project took a while longer — he's not a game designer, he's an author, so we paired him with a system mentor to help guide that side of development while he rocked it on the setting side. We haven't done a lot of work where the setting-designer wasn't also the system-designer, so we had to work out some new processes there, and work out the kinks. Every time you deviate from an established template it adds time, and this was no different. But the result can't be argued with; Nitrate City's one of our strongest releases in the line.

SDM: That brings up a really good point...about helping to elevate minorities in the industry. Have you considered starting an official mentorship program?

CH: We’re still trying to make [our mentorship program] do what we want it to. I’ve mentored novelists before, but we’re still trying to figure out how to best apply those skills to creating successful games. We’ve started four mentorship projects and brought two over the line that Fred has already mentioned, and we’re super proud of them! Now we’re looking at what worked and what didn’t and trying to figure out how best to proceed.

As Fred said, this process takes time, not just to develop the process but to create the games. I find that tough to deal with myself, because I’m not the most patient person in the world, but I keep reminding myself that we absolutely cannot shortchange this. I don’t know exactly what it will look like in the end, so an official mentorship program could be in the cards, but mentorship takes up a lot of time, so we have to be careful to balance that load. We can’t take on more mentees than we can adequately support, because that would do more harm than good in the end. So that’s a part of our thinking too. It’s a delicate balance, and one that we’re still trying to find.

SDM: What other examples of embracing diversity stand out for Evil Hat?

FH: So, diversity. There are a lot of vectors at play there, and we certainly have had our troubles in hitting our ideal. It's doubly difficult when you're also trying to construct a sustainable business with regular output, so that enough cash is generated in order to be able to afford to pursue our social and ethical goals. Reality happens at the intersection of compromises that all of those vectors represent.

Shoshana Kessock's Blood on the Trail has already been released, and Tara Zuber's Loose Threads follows immediately after as our October release (look for it mid-month), and we have more Worlds in the works by other non-white-male voices as well.

SDM: In your opinion, what do you feel are the biggest challenges to hiring people from a diverse background?

FH: As I mentioned, we saw a real problem when our open call for authors was primarily inundated with white men. There are a lot of reasons that go into that, some of which we can control (to bring in diversity, you must specifically invite individuals, not post open calls, for one — but we hadn't figured that out at the time) and some of which we can't. And as I've noted, there's also the business priority of being able to produce enough content, regularly, that the cash flows don't dry up.

To abstract this a bit, this can produce a bit of a catch-22 scenario, when people of equal talent get to work, but the neurotypical able bodied straight white guy with societally enforced privileges accorded to all of those is able to produce, say, 3X work units while someone who doesn't enjoy all those privileges can only produce X work units in the same span of time. The business needs the output to be steady and regular, so our straight white dude's work, turned in quickly/on time, gets published because that's cash flow and it doesn't make sense to sell nothing while you're waiting for the other party to get their own work to the finish line. It's a difficult pattern to defeat, but it's a pattern that definitely plays into why we've had a heavily white male front-loaded time with the authors of our Worlds.

If you step away from the work-units part of that abstraction, and instead make that "encounters 3X opportunities vs X opportunities" then there's even more of the problem. Opportunities translate to experience, and experience is key to getting regular and repeat work in the creative sphere. We can and do mentor folks who don't have the same opportunities, to try to support building that body of experience outside of the white male population, but as we've said that takes time and leads to longer time frames. We're investing in that talent and those time frames, but that doesn't mean we have as much to show for it yet as I'd like.

And this sort of problem has existed for decades in the game industry, which means that the talent-building feedback loop has heavily favored building experienced hires among white men and less among others. That makes it extra tricky when your target is not writers, per se, but technical writers who've messed about with game mechanics enough to derive from them and build new ones with confidence and quality.

This is all explanation, not excuse. We do have to do better, but short of consistently finding at least 5 talented and trainable and deadline-delivery-capable non-white-men for every 1 white man hired in the writing and game design space, it's going to be difficult to counterbalance the weight of history for a while yet. The only cure is consistent effort over a long time frame, which is going to have little public manifestation for many of its early phases.

[I'd say] we're starting to find our feet there. In the last few months we've put one of our editors on the job of combing through our incoming submissions pile (see specifically with an eye for finding diverse voices interested in working with us as well, so we can continue to improve.

SDM: Carrie, anything you'd like to add to that?

CH: Right now...we’re at our limit when it comes to full and part time positions. Frankly, we’re straining that limit a little, because all growth comes with a little risk. We’re all putting in extra effort to make sure that risk pans out in the end. So while we’re unable to bring anyone else on currently, we’re already working like mad to make our next pivot point. We’re working to increase our release schedule and develop the infrastructure we need to bring in more talented folks of all types to help us make great games. Of course we’d love to bring on some more fabulous female talent like the folks you’ve listed.

That’s where we want to be, but we’re of the firm belief that anything worth doing is worth doing right, and that may be why it appears that things sometimes move at a glacial pace here at the Hat, whether you’re talking about diversity initiatives or our progress on that game you’ve really been coveting. Any time we try something new, we do so very deliberately. We test the process or product every which way we can think of to make sure it works, and that often requires multiple go-rounds to make it meet our standards. So while it may seem like we’re swimming along peacefully, we’re paddling away like hyperactive, caffeinated ducks underneath the waters.

The first step needs to be to grow the company to a point where we can support more permanent or semi-permanent roles—unless one of our salaried employees needs to leave their position for some reason! That’s a step that will take some time. To date, our pivot points have taken us a few years to reach, and while we don’t have a crystal ball to see the future, I think that’s a pretty reasonable estimate of how long it will be before we even begin to consider creating more salaried positions. But there’s a lot we can do in the meantime. In our early years, we tended to work with the same people over and over again. They are hugely talented; they know Fate, and we work well together. But an increase in production and infrastructure to support it will give us more leeway to add new collaborators and creators of all types moving forward. We’re looking to build relationships with a new, diverse group of people over the next couple of years. Those relationships will grow and change as we move forward.

SDM: What venues does Evil Hat use to recruit talent? What methods are in place to advertise that positions are available or that freelancers are needed?

CH: On our contact page of our website, we have links for artists and other creators to submit their work for consideration. If we’re specifically looking for creators, we’ll talk about it on our social media—FB, twitter, and Google+, but those links stay open all the time.

The members of the Head are also out at conventions, and we’re actively listening to what people are working on. While we don’t have the time to demo every game, we keep track of games in progress, and we’ve dropped people lines in the past to say, “Hey, remember that game you mentioned at GenCon? How’s that going?” to see if it’s something we might be able to work together on.

SDM: In his blog post, Fred mentioned that his "pivot" is very much about changing the type of company Evil Hat is, hinting at being more than just known as a "roleplaying game company". What directions is Evil Hat looking to move in, and what opportunities are there for diverse people to find employment?

CH: Of course we’re looking to build on the success of the Dresden Files Cooperative Card Game Kickstarter and do more in the board game space, but I think this pivot is less about growing beyond RPGs and more about how we approach our business. I keep referring to this as “leveling up.” I think that’s more about realizing it’s time for us to invest in the company as much as we are in our individual products. That will put us in a place to do more of what we hold important—creating good games by good people of all types in an inclusive, welcoming space. Building the infrastructure to support that is a long process, and sometimes the progress toward that goal is difficult to see from the outside, but it’s one that we’ll continue to work toward.

SDM: Anything else you'd like to say?

FH: Yeah: We've got plenty of room for improvement. I don't think we're not getting 'called out about this shit', for what it's worth. We got called out over some unfortunate choices I made in the art direction on Spirit of the Century as early as 2006, and it's something I've been keeping an eye on ever since. If we're not getting called out a lot and loudly though [at this point in time], I suspect that may have something to do with the fact that we're making efforts, even if we don't yet have the fullness of results that people demand.

SDM: Thank you again to both of you for taking the time out of your busy schedules to have this discussion with me. I'm glad I was able to get a better understanding of Evil Hat's efforts with diversity. I look forward to seeing the needle shift throughout our industry, when people from minority groups are regularly holding full time and part time positions for gaming companies like Evil Hat.

FH: Thanks Chris.

CH: Thank you!!!

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

More Drained City

I did a cover mock up for Oursinoir:

Not officially supported or endorsed for Into the Odd

And drew a creature, one of the Purple Columns:

To summarize briefly:

The supplement I'm writing is called Oursinoir: Strange Oceans, and it's about a city of wayward street urchins who work in service to vampiric mega-sized sea urchins (Seriously it started as a gimmick but I really like what came out of it now, so I'm sticking to it). They are divided up into gangs and they fight one another, arming themselves with whatever they can find throughout their city of Gavroche, as well as artifacts they pull out of the deep piles of fossilized fish bones that Gavroche is built on top of.

The city is also perched precariously over a toxic ocean, and seems ready to collapse into the sick green water at any moment. Far beneath the jagged edge of black stone debris crashes into the rocky shore line...broken buildings, foreign ships, bits of other worlds and dimensions formed into corridors inside pieces of living crystal.

So, I was going to write today about constellations and such, but +Michael Gentile asked the question (or really suggested I answer the question) "What's in it for me?", because the first post didn't offer much up in the way of player engagement. I'm really glad Michael asked about this. I had written the original post at about 3am (this one also, it's the witching hour), and while I thought the post mentioned enough adventure bits, it clearly didn't address them clear enough.

So here's a very rough map I started making:

It's a side view to give a bit of a look at how the city is situated over the water, how the piles of fossilized fish bones go deep down into the earth (and they're everywhere) and it even shows some angry crab creatures waiting out of sight in the watery depths.

But I'd rather have something professional, so I commissioned +Thomas Novosel to make a map instead. I'm very thankful that Thomas is taking some time away from his own Runaway Hirelings: Ultimate Peasant Edition game product to work on this for me; his artwork is top notch and his maps are, too.

But seriously, what's in it for adventurers?

I see Oursinoir as three kinds of games: Survival, Exploration, and Street Fighting. I still have to playtest the hell out of this setting, I only just started writing it yesterday, but I think that, for a successful "adventure", all three elements should come into play.

The player characters are poor, parentless children who survive in a city where they aren't in charge a la Lord of the Flies, but they are still oppressed and suffering. The vampiric mega-urchins they serve act as guardians to a degree, promising them safety, but they send the boys and girls on "errands", out beyond the city limits to dig through soft soil and climb deep down into chasms carved out of fish bones, searching dark passages of calcified bone for weird artifacts to make them more powerful.

And everyone hates each other so they're always fighting. And the fighting is fueled by fear because there's never a break from the grueling life, for anyone. There are no adults because adults all work in the faraway factories that fill the wilderness of smokestacks far to the east, across the dug up stretches of the fish bone lands. And the children are afraid of growing up. And they are afraid of the vampire mega-urchins. And the purple columns that float like sentries through the city streets, making monsters out of children. And they fear monsters. And they fear each other.

Children sleep in dark cold places, there's never any sun here, just the warmth of one, and nights are long and terrible.

So what's the point?

Well if you do good on a run, if you find something useful, your patron sea urchin will reward you. More food maybe. Or a warm bed. Or make you a gang leader. Give you a piece of territory to defend.

Sometimes the patron is just hungry. It's hard work capturing other kids, but it's gotta be done. The megaurchins aren't picky; the more sensitive children find other things to feed them; rats and worms and snakes, if they can grab them. The problem is a lot of the creatures that live here used to be kids, before they got caught and converted by a purple column. Besides, most kids no longer care. Especially the desperate ones.

And in the city of Gavroche, everyone's desperate.

But there is rank and status.

Your rank is your level.

Your status is your place in the gang, basically name level. These things affect how gangs will interact. I'm still writing up this part.

You go out on errands for your patron, or sometimes you go it alone. Going on an errand means doing whatever the patron asks for, regardless of how dangerous. Going it alone is something you do on downtime, with or without the patron's blessing. It's more risky, but if you pull of a stunt (some kind of dangerous action), you'll gain renown, which is basically XP with bonuses to status.

So doing either way you gain levels, and if your patron picks you for an errand you have to do what they ask or face consequences, but you can also choose to go it alone and gain extra XP for whatever stunt you pull.

As I write this out, the details will fall into place and make a lot more sense. I also have to do a lot of playtesting to make sure all the bits function properly.

Here are my thoughts on character creation:

Characters are rolled up basically the same way as in Into the Odd (Don't own it yet? Buy it! It's absolutely worth it!), with the following changes: 

Stats: Roll 2d8-1.

Hitpoints: Roll 1d4.

Starting Equpment: You start with nothing; your patron (the DM) will give you starting equipment depending on the errand it needs you to perform. Expect anything like the following (you may roll 1d12 and pick one to start with regardless of the patron's supplies, if the DM allows it):

Brass Knuckles

Is there magic?

In "Into the Odd", your characters go on expeditions and find "arcanum", which are powerful (and weird) artifacts. Oursinoir functions similarly; there is no "magic" per se, but artifacts can bestow magic-like psionic abilities. Some artifacts are onetime use, some are consumed, and some are activated. The rarest artifacts function constantly...they are both powerful and greatly feared.

Okay, I'll write more soon. I'm enjoying working on this, and other people seem to be responding to it as well. I also have to update When the Seas Hunger and expand Black Stone Starship, and of course there's Across the Stars and Waste; work proceeds on both of those as well.

And I have to get back to Bag of Astronauts, but that I had to put on hold briefly.

There's also the pending company launch, which I'm almost ready to start talking about incessently.

Okay, more to follow.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

The Drained City


Oursinour: Strange Oceans is a city supplement/setting I've started writing for use with Chris McDowall's excellent Into the Odd ruleset. I love ItO's own city of Bastion, but my mind started to play with the idea of children, of urchins, and what if street urchins served sea urchins. So I made the above picture using various google images and apps (among them Prisma), and once I had that, my city of Gavroche was ready to be written.

So here is Gavroche. Let me know what you think of it so far.

Gavroche, the drained city. An old, and broken place of weathered cobblestone, crumbling bricks, and junked machines, built atop a pile of fish bones, the discarded refuse of an ancient mega beast that once trawled here, when all of this area was deep under water.

When alien queens held court in the vast, deep, black, perpetually at war in an unseen world.

But that beast is long dead and the waters of the ocean receded a long time ago. Now there is Gavroche, sitting perched like a dying bird, hanging on a precipice of jagged black rocks over an ocean of churning waters, green as bile that crest in yellow foam against sharp rock embankments,occasionally spewing up small bits of industry,depositing on beach fronts old temples dedicated to forgotten gods of a once industrious ancient empire, or bringing weird abandoned husks of ships from far off kindoms of the western world, where the mountains slither like worms, or bits of worlds and other dimensions, bound up in strange structures of living crystal that hunger for inhabitants to stumble through their interiors.

Gavroche, the city of lost children...of urchins divided into gangs fighting for scraps to live off of. They fear only the Columns, purple obelisks that float silently along the streets and whose gaze from their single crimson 'eye' turns boys and girls into monsters: lizards and winged horrors and other mindless, hungry beasts.

So the urchins fight. They evade. And they dig. They dig through layers of old fish bones that go on forever under their city, in search of food and supplies and powerful artifacts they wield to help turn the street wars in their favor.

And there are no adults, or there are but they are all far away and imprisoned in the factories that dot the bleak landscape that falls away from the edge of the world, east of where Gavroche rests overlooking a sickly ocean; the dire wilderness from which massive machines rise up as towers, spewing fire and ash into the sky, obscuring the sun, if such a thing still even exists. The street urchins aren't so sure. If it does it moves north to south directly over Gavroche, and it explains the strange warmth that flows in and out of the city, marking midday.

The children have no time to worry about where the sun is in the sky or what it looks like; all they know is that at night the grey haze that fills the sky becomes thinner, and a few scattered stars glisten through the veil of ash-tinted clouds.

The boys and girls instead listen to their patrons, one for every gang, the mighty and undying vampiric once-sea gigaurchins, who long ago abandoned their ocean home and came to Gavroche in search of food. What they found were scared and lost children, so they took them under their spindles.

And they made war of them.

These gigaurchins hide in old buildings, filling basements and bedrooms with chattering noise from their massive maws, circular mouths that still sing astrological murmurings, as they did for the wizards that summoned them, before they all died, when the columns arrived and ate all the magic.

The kids work hard to protect their patrons and keep them fed, lest they stop chattering. But their chattering keeps worse things then columns from invading the city. Deep things, lingering out of sight in the awful ocean, waiting to stalk the surface.  Occasionally there are crablike creatures visible on rocks that get exposed off the coast in seasons of low tide; golden shelled and full of hatred for the surface they witness.

They will come one day, chatter the gigaurchin patrons, when Mercury falls from retrograde and the triangle constellation reforms, three points of light shining from the center of the sky, their stark glow piercing the haze of smog and ash and fire that fills the sky in the daytime.

Still some stars can be seen in the distance west of Gavroche, across the ocean of bile, where black mountainous shapes slither and shift along the horizon. Here at night stars twinkle and a few constellations can be seen, their exposure helping the gigaurchins to read the entirety of the sky they can no longer see.

That's all for now. Next:

  1. The Constellations
  2. What children find on a dig
  3. Stats for creatures
  4. Additional setting details

Let me know if there is anything in particular you want me to discuss or address.