M. Jared Swenson Productions

This blog chronicles my projects, developments, and all things related to tabletop gaming. I will try to avoid rants and reviews. Mostly games I'm developing, and progresses from my campaigns.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Kickstarter Bubble

If you have heard much at all about Kickstarter yet, you may have heard about how many millions of dollars are getting pushed through it and many a people's dreams are getting funded.
Kickstarter is amazing. There are a lot of genuinely great projects people are pitching that I get excited about. Mobile Frame Zero funded with $82,000 at the end. And Roll20, a really attractive virtual tabletop for playing pnp rpgs over the internet, is still going with $30,000 as of the time of this post. This website has finally given power to the players. To the consumer for directly choosing what they want to see in the next game or product, as apposed to corporate investors eying a pitch and choosing for us based on 'trends' fed to them from inaccurate market research.

That all being said, Kickstarter unfortunately is in a 'bubble'. This is still a new evolution, and the world doesn't know quite how to treat it yet. People are getting millions of dollars for undeveloped, unfinished, and even mediocre ideas. Kickstarter backers are being way to generous with their money. Some of it's justified and some isn't. I'm not saying that i know better than you how you should spend your money, but consider what I'm about to say.

The big video game kickstarter craze started with Tim Shaeffer's Doublefine Adventure. A project that completed with over $3 million dollars funded. A lot of people know and remember Tim Shaeffer with his famous older work and would love to see him produce another game. He even promises to release a documentary of the project as it is happening. The fame of the name and this complete transparency to the project has caused them to gain so much money. Soon other developers started jumping on the bandwagon, such as Brian Fargo with Wasteland 2 (which finished at about $3 million), and Jordan Weisman with Shadowrun Returns (which is at $1.75 million at time of writing this).

But in order to pop this bubble, something this big needs to fail. Something as big as any of the above needs to become a total flop or failure and that would cause backers to be much much more cautious with their money, and developers to become much much more thorough with their pitches.

I will sometimes see a promo video for a project where the person says"'hi i need money. i have this idea. if you give me money i will make it happen" and all he has to show us is a brief explanation of his idea, or a bunch of buzzwords. When i see that project reach its funding i can only help but shake my head. I am afraid that people will start seeing kickstarter as being an easy way out. What people had to really really try and work for and spend their own precious money to make a pitch to get funded is now all gone out the window. Any idiot with an idea and a camera can film his face and ask for money, and the trusting backer will give it to him. Projects like Chronicles of the Void and Farewell to Fear give us absolutely nothing. As apposed to Mobile Frame Zero, and Serpent's Tongue actually give us something to chew on. Give us more reasons to fund their project.

So what should kickstarter be for? In terms of non-electronic games, Kickstarter should be for finished games. I'm not joking. If your project hasn't already been playtested a million times and the writing isn't already done, and you don't have any artists or editors or publishers lined up, and you don't have at least a sample product to show other than you talking over a shitty slideshow (as with that Farewell to Fear self righteous pretentious crap) then i wont even bother to give you a dollar. Because when this bubble pops after enough games flop or fail to deliver what backers were expecting, then it's only going to get harder and harder to convince people with that $10 to trust you.

Kickstarter money should go toward paying the editor, paying the artist, paying the marketer, and paying the publisher. Not pay for you to quit your job so you can brainstorm your idea a bit further. I want to see a game that's ready for the market as soon as it's pitched.

I fear that many project people are assuming that the kickstarter backer should not be treated with the same fear and respect as any big ticket investor, and because of that, Kickstarter may soon lead toward failure on many levels.

What i am saying, is i want projects to take Kickstarter more seriously, not as an ez-mode for starting your career.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Angry Miniatures Part 4: Combat

Placeholder cover and logo. Artwork by Jarom Swenson

Now for the bread and butter of the game: Combat.

Attacking other characters are all handled the same way. One is the attacker, and one is the defender. On each attack, both players roll dice. The attacker rolls the amount of dice in the attack value he is using, and the defender rolls the amount of dice equal to the appropriate main stat.
  • Roll Body against melee attacks
  • Roll Mind against range attacks
  • Roll Spirit against magic attacks
Once both sides roll the dice, the Hits (or Faces) on the dice are counted up and compared. If the attacker has less hits than the defender, than the attack failed. If the attacker has more hits than the defender, then the attack succeeded, and damage is dealt.

Damage is the difference in hits between the defender and attacker. This damage is then taken from the defenders Health value. (note: the box below the Health box on the character sheet is for tracking damage, usually with a tally)

Melee attacks are handled slightly different. When the attacker is using melee on the defender, then they are both considered locked in a melee. In this case if the defender has more hits than the attacker, then the defender actually can deal damage to the attacker. Still, the damage dealt to the attacker is the difference in hits.

Experimental rule: if defending in melee, and the defender is a melee character, he gets a +1 to his defense roll
Tie Rolls
In several cases a tie may occur. A tie is when both sides have an equal amount of hits in a roll. This is resolved with the superiority in the rolls.
  1. First check which side has the most Aces. If neither have Aces, or the same amount of Aces, then move to the next step.
  2. Second check which side has the most Kings. If neither have Kings, or the same amount of Kings, then move to the next step.
  3. Third check which side has the most Queens. If neither have Queens, or the same amount of Queens, then move to the next step.
  4. Fourth check which side has the most Jacks. If both have the same amount of Jacks then you have a SuperTieBreaker. If neither have Jacks, then you did something wrong. Check to make sure you are playing the game right.
A SuperTieBreaker is resolved by each side discarding all dice, and rolling 1 die. Reroll ties. Standard superiority rules apply here.

If the winner of a tie is the attacker, he deals 1 and only 1 damage. He may not exceed that amount through any Perks, Crits, or Flaws of any effect. If it was a melee attack and the defender won the tie, he may deal that 1 damage to the attacker.

Remember to check your Perks and Flaws as either a defender or attacker to make sure none of them have any effects on your rolls.

Magic attacks not only hit the target defender, but all creatures (friend or foe) adjacent to your target. This is resolved by the attacker rolling once. That one roll hits all targets in that area. Each target makes a separate defense roll, and hits and damage are resolved separately for each defender. The attacker does NOT reroll his attack for each defender in the area.

Modifiers represent positive and negative conditions that sometimes apply to combat. They are treated simply by adding or subtracting dice from attack or defense rolls. Most common modifiers are listed below:
  • +1 to defense roll for each square of hindering terrain a range or magic attack is aiming through.
  • +1 to defense roll for each occupied square a range or magic attack is aiming through. Friend or foe.
  • -1 to defense if prone.
  • +1 to attack if character moved more than 2 squares into melee range with defender and melee attacks.
  • +1 to attack if character is considered on a higher elevation than the defender for a range or magic attack.

When making any attack or defense roll, watch out for the Aces. If any roll comes up with 2 or more Aces, then that roll has Crit. A Crit can activate whether or not the roll is considered to have hit or failed. Your characters' chosen Crit will specify what it does and when it activates. Some Crits only apply in certain conditions, so be sure you don't miss it.

Sadly, sometimes you may roll 2 Ace dice, and the Crit doesn't apply to your current action. It happens. Crits are meant to rarely happen, but be very powerful.

A character may only Crit once per turn.

And that's the majority of the game of Angry Miniatures. Naturally a lot needs to be fleshed out and play tested, and a lot needs to be clarified, but that's the gist of it. Next part I will be detailing some of my future plans for this game.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Angry Miniatures Part 3: Gameplay Basics

So now you've created your team, and your opponent has created his/her team. Next you battle them out.

For simplicity the game is made to be played on a 1" square grid map. Ones like in the DnD modules or with the dry erase blank maps that DMs use for quick drawn dungeons. I am trying to design the game to be utilized with cave and dungeon maps as well as outdoor maps.
Each player agreeing on a map and which edge they start their characters at is proper etiquette. I'll define deployment and such at a later point in the games development. Players will also need to agree with what's difficult terrain, blocking terrain, hazards, water, etc.

This game uses Poker Dice. Each dice side has a purpose and use. Rolls in this game are resolved by rolling pools of Poker Dice and examining what sides come up. Like playing cards, poker dice have Faces and Numbers. The suit of the dice doesn't matter at all in this game.
  • Face: King, Queen, and Jack. These are considered 'hits' for rolls. Each die that comes up with a face side is counted toward total hits.
  • Number: 10 and 9. These are considered 'misses' for rolls. Each die that comes up with a number side is not counted up and usually discarded.
  • Ace: This is treated as a wild in a way. Ace sides don't count toward hits, but having 2 or more of them means the character has made a Crit roll, and Ace beats all other sides in superiority. More on that later.
These sides have a superiority order. This of course goes Ace > King > Queen > Jack > 10 > 9. Superiority matters for things like determining wins in ties, and initiative. More on this later.

When both players have their characters deployed, each player rolls 1 die. The die with the superior side may go first. Re-roll ties.

First player activates 1 of his characters, and marks it with a token as having acted. The next player activates 1 of his characters, and marks it with a token as having acted. This goes back and forth until all characters have acted. Then both players re-roll initiative again and do the process again.

During an activation a character may move and attack, or attack and move. He may choose to skip any of those actions as well. With moving, a character references his Speed value and can move any amount of squares up to that value. Moving through difficult terrain and water takes up 2 Speed per 1 square. Pretty standard stuff.

Next part I will be discussing Combat.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Angry Miniatures Part 2: Character Creation

The point behind Angry Miniatures is to make a game where you can have a battle between any team of miniatures from any fantasy line. One of the most fun parts of this game is creating your characters, or making the stats for your minis. Try this by reaching into your bucket of minis (if you have one) and pulling out 3 random minis. Now stat them up!

As an example, lets say I pulled this guy. A Dwarf from the DnD miniatures line. (I love Dwarves)
Step 1: Three Primary Stats
You have 9 points to distribute how you want among 3 stats. Mind, Body, and Spirit. These 3 stats directly act as your defenses. There can be no less than 1 point in any stat, and no more than 7.

So you could have a guy be jack of all with 3/3/3, or a guy uber in one and weak in the others with 7/1/1. Beware the later, because you may hit hard and be tough in one defense, but if anyone hits your other defenses you're screwed.

Each stat is referenced to tables and fill in the remaining necessaries on the character sheet.
Again this is preliminary. I will spruce things up later.

Step 2: Table Look-ups
This is the only time in playing this game that you will use tables. I swear.
 Here are the tables. This has been altered slightly a couple times.
  • Your Body score makes your Health.
  • Mind makes the Distance your range/magic attacks reach.
  • Spirit makes your Speed, which is the run speed essentially.
  • Body combined with Spirit makes the Melee attack value.
  • Body combined with Mind makes the Range attack value.
  • And Mind combined with Spirit makes the Magic attack value.
And that is all the table look-ups needed in the game. It's even less though because each character is allowed only 1 attack type. This is to keep things simple and interesting.

A little more on attack types. Again each character is only allowed 1 attack type.
  • Melee obviously can only effect enemies in adjacent squares, but hits hardest of the 3 attacks.
  • Range uses the Distance value to determine its reach. You cannot make a Range attack on an enemy in Melee.
  • Magic also uses the Distance value for reach. It's generally weaker than Range attacks, but has an aoe. Which means the target square you hit, hits all figures adjacent to it. 
Step 3: Perks, Flaws, and Crits
This is a very incomplete list. I need to come up with a lot more to make something for everything.

The idea is you pick a miniature, and choose 1 Perk that looks like it fits the description of your mini. Then choose 1 Flaw. Then choose 1 Crit.

There may be multiple perks that fit the description, but you have to choose 1. Like the one that works best for your mini.

Example Build
Now to build that Dwarf. I look at him and take a very Dwarfy approach to his build (duh).

First the 3 stats.
I go 4 body/2 mind/3 spirit. He's a burly fellow with a resistance to magic, but little agility so may not be as effective defending against arrows.

These 3 stats give him the following:
speed -5
health - 4
melee attack - 7

I didn't calculate distance because I chose for him to be a melee character, therefor no range or magic attacks.

Next in looking at the Perks, i choose 'bearded'. This makes his attack rolls have a slightly smaller chance to crit, but higher chance to hit harder.
With the Flaw I went with 'unweildy armor', making it so he can only move through clear terrain.

Finally the Crit I go with is Commanding, a DnD warlord-like ability that (when the Crit activates) allows a friendly adjacent figure to make a free attack.

And that's it. His character sheet will look something like this.
 Do this 2 other times for 2 other minis, and you have a team ready for battle.

Next part I'll go more into detail on game play.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Angry Miniatures - A quick fantasy skirmish game

Announcing my first project. Angry Miniatures. A fantasy skirmish beer-n-pretzel miniatures game. I have several projects I would love to do and possibly publish, and most of them are getting really big. I realized I have been biting off more than I can chew. So this game will start small and simple. Here is the brief writeup on what the game is and how it plays.
Save it and read it. The idea is if I can provide the core game mechanic and explanation on one page, then I have been successful in keeping it simple.

This is still alpha alpha phase. I play-tested it just today by drawing 6 random figures from my DnD minis bin, filled out their character sheets, and battled them out. Core game was very quick and easy, and I managed to not let it get bogged down with too many extra rules. That being said there is a lot of work to be done still.

Monday, April 9, 2012

The Makerbot Fund

Unless you have been living under a rock, there has been a lot of hubbub lately over 3D printing. Especially the affordable home 3D printers like the Makerbot.

I have high hopes for this technology. I know it is not nearly the level it needs to be in order to start printing your very own high quality plastic minis, but it is the perfect level for stuff like this:

While the pictures shown are not 3D prints, they CAN be, is the point I'm trying to get across. So about a year ago, I started the Makerbot fund. A fund where I pile all christmas, birthday, fathers day, etc money in one spot.

As of posting this, I am $300... of the $1750 I need. I got a long way to go.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Mobile Frame Zero

I love Lego. And I love gaming with Lego. Whether it's using decked out minifigs as stand-ins for D&D or whatever, or awesome things like Mechaton.

Mechaton was a game released by Vincent Baker (of Dogs in the Vinyard and Apocalypse World fame) back in 2005. I found out about it in 2009 and was blown away. You create these small mechs out of Lego, and it included rules for them battling it out. The system was rules light and record sheet/stat card free, which was even more approachable. The pieces and parts on your mechs acted as their health. As a mech took damage, parts were broken off in true blood Lego fashion. There were even rules for terrain being made of Lego, and shooting at a mech taking cover could lose some of that cover from a hail of bullets.
Jarom and I over a rules dispute.

Many fun times were had. However the issue was the game was very... hollow. The rulebook was shoddy and poorly written, although the core game itself was what made it great, there was no substance or support. No setting to make things interesting, no real building instructions or helpful parts lists, etc.

Fast forward to today. And this amazing thing happens:

Vincent Baker and his friend get on Kickstarter and re-release the game in a shiny new 2.0. After Vincent receives a polite but firm 'cease and desist' letter from R. Talsorian Games for Mechaton's name being too close to their flagship product: Mekton Zeta, they decide it's time to revamp it and kick it into overdrive, which they did.

Mobile Frame Zero got the support and was funded in no time. They reached their goal and more so this isn't a call out for money. But if you do want a copy of the book, a $10 backing will get you the PDF, and a $20 backing will get you a physical copy. I went $20 because I love being able to hold rulebooks, and not my kindle.
So this game is definitely 2.0. I haven't seen final product yet, but with the teasers they give us it is definitely looking much better.

  • Full color rulebook
  • Many rules fixes and clarification. Seriously, some things in the old rules really had you take shots in the dark
  • New features and rules
  • Full parts lists for some awesomely designed Frames by master Lego builder, Soren
  • And a setting. Which is ok. 2 human factions and an alien faction find reason for war.
So my creative juices are flowing again and the Lego construction begins again.
 And here is what i got so far:
The Spec Team.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

After a long hiatus...

I'm back after a very long period of nothing. I haven't forgotten about my blog, and now that I have gotten a creative spurt again, I'm going to try to do some more posts. Especially for my game projects which are nothing short of vaporware at this point. I made this blog to prevent that from happening.

So to catch up on things that have happened.
Jarom, my brother (the awesome artist in my previous posts) and partner in crime went on a 2 year mission to the magical far off land called "California". Well he's due back next month. And I cannot tell you how excited I am. Us 2 together get our creative juices flowing and determination to get shit done like nothing else. Before his mission, whenever we met, which was frequent, he would always have new drawings to show me, new ideas, and I would always give back critiques, ideas for new things to draw, and reciprocated ideas. While on his mission, that meeting has been reduced to bi-monthly letters. These letters we send each other would be chock full of papers. Months of work crammed in to manilla envelopes.

Here are a couple of awesome images he was able to scribble together while over there:
Cognitive Flux: A steampunk RPG setting we thought of. This was his first attempt at a title page for the book. It's great. Except i don't think people get 'cognitive' from the word up top. The letters are creatively hidden, but hidden too well. Something we will have to work on.

Yir'an is a fantasy setting Jarom's been brewing up in the back of his head for a long while now. I've been helping him work on it. We got some interesting ideas going. One thing is we're trying to make a fantasy that doesn't involve a lot of the overused tropes such as elves, dwarves, orcs, etc. Yet give it all the might and magic and variety that makes these things very attractive.

Wartech is a scifi space opera setting. We've been looking for an excuse to make one and brainstormed some ideas to make it unique. One thing is the form of interstellar space travel is something we believe no one else has ever tried before.

I also had a beautiful baby girl. Bree Klara Swenson. Pictured is one I posted up on 4chan's /tg/ forum for an internet baby shower. Before you say "4chan? NOOOOOOO!" I have a very mature relationship with that place. /tg/ is a diamond in the rough with a lot of great people and creativity. I'll talk more about that another day.
I just read blog posts like the one at Mik's Minis and reading about him playing with his little girl definitely gets me fired up for all the playtime that will be had with mine. She's only 2 months old now, but that doesn't stop me from reading to her children's classics such as Goodnight Dune.

Well that's a catchup. I will try to post a little more frequently now. In the meantime here is Bree telling us all to: