Dev Log 1: Stars Fall Up (redesign 1.0)

So, I’m writing about working on my game while I should be working on my game. Great.

For those who haven’t seen it on our Current Projects page, Stars Fall Up is a TRPG I’m working on—or, more descriptively, a mini-RPG for Us Damn Millennials.

A design factor that’s been on my mind a lot with this project is simplicity. That’s the word my brain goes to, but the full concept has more facets than the word “simplicity” can portray. I’m talking about simplicity in the way of “stripped of non-essential fluff and mechanics”. It’s the minimalism of game design. To be honest, this kind of simplicity is my modus operandi for creating games; I want to make games that other people who have little to no knowledge of TRPGs can pick up and be encouraged, not daunted, to try them out. I want mechanics that don’t feel like they have to be comprehended like the rules of a board game before any kind of fun can begin.

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Dungeon Days: The Haunted Manor

Prince of the Apocalypse, one of the official campaigns for 5th Edition D&D,  has a side trek wherein your party travels to an abandoned house to negotiate with a black dragon. Cool, right? Well, in theory. When your adventuring party has eight people in it, “talking to a black dragon”, no matter how big it is, translates to “killing a black dragon and taking its stuff”. There was no amount of spooky foreboding that was going to divert this party’s urge for big-game hunting.

So, I had to redesign the encounter. In fact, I redesigned it on the spot. It helped that I had finished reading through Kiel Chenner’s The Hell House Beckons a few days before. Today, I went back to my notebook, transcribed what I’d written, cleaned it up a bit, added some stuff, and redrew the maps. Here’s the result.

Rundreth Manor was once a grand estate—a little remote, but when you’re wealthy, a little remote goes a long way. Something horrible happened here, though, and the manor fell into disrepair. Here’s how it stands now. All doors are made of wood and unlocked unless otherwise noted. Areas 6 and 12 through 16 are pitch-dark unless characters have fallen into them. Other rooms are lit by daylight.

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Jamicom #2: Kirby 25 Anniversary

Celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, Kirby is one of my favorite long-running game series. It may not carry the gravitas of some of Nintendo’s A-listers, but its core platformers are consistently fluffy fun, and the weird spin-offs are often great and always interesting. The Kirby series has also produced tons of wonderful music over the years, and not just the energetic sugar-pop you’d expect. So, in honor of the pink puff’s big birthday, here’s a few of my favorite tunes from throughout the main series.

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It All Links To The Past

30 Years of Games Manage to Justify the Amnesiac Hero Trope

Y’know, I would be astounded to find out that I was the only person who is quite over amnesia-based plots in shows and video games. For those who need a refresher (cuz you forgot? Cuz amnesia? Do you get it) here’s the TV Tropes page for the Amnesiac Hero. As you might know, the latest Legend of Zelda game, Breath of the Wild, has the non-titular hero Link awakening to find he’s lost all of his memories– he has no idea why he woke up in a tank full of glowing goo wearing nothing but some stylin’ boxer-briefs. And only recently, after about 50 hours of gameplay, I feel like I’m actually able to appreciate the Amnesiac Hero trope, maybe for one last time.

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Books in the Wizard’s Library, Volume 1

Books in the Wizard’s Library (some translated into Common by the Society for a Vernacular Zenith)

1: Trans-Substantiality in Theory and Practice, by Sylas McCobun (important early book on astral projection)

2: A Treatise on Exospatial Psionics, Book I, by Hoexithrask Ith, trans. SVZ (rare text on inborn mental ability and its metaphysical source)

3: Second-Wave Necromancy: A Retrospective, by Parko “Bloodskull” Malgura (noted half-orc warlord-turned-sage)

4: Lost Gods, Ancient Pacts: The Vestigial Condition, by Aluzech the Weathered (burned at the stake by a lawful church)

5: Guards and Wards: A Beginner’s Guide, by Zaiger Jarnak, 2nd ed. (a well-loved book, worn from many readings)

6: An Angle Perpendicular to Everything: The Architecture of Fasil-Umbar, by His Harmoniousness Pelshai Quvanek

7: Secrets of The Philosopher Race, by The Comte S. Werthen (an unfinished work, prefaced by Faelis the Unborn)

8: A Millenium, by Yurogulvashenzugastriatanezareth, trans. Eluasha Tristavi (a bronze dragon’s memoirs, in Elvish)

9: Concerning the Curious Apotheosis of Taen of Melgranad, by Bodillo Vortivesk (avant-garde historical fiction)

10: Evocation for Fun and Profit, by Buskin Underhill (full of bad puns, someone has defaced every page in red ink)

11: A War on Two Fronts, by Lagazi Simreesh (tiefling ranger details battles with his heritage and with titan slaver)

12: My Will Be Done: The Art of the Well-Worded Wish, by Orestia Traenor (old, heavy clasp, describes efreeti & djinn)

13: The Manifold Self: The Psychological Effects of Spell-Induced Shapeshifting, by Piero Salazini, with Brek Fulaskis

14: The Red Scrolls of Ahm, by Ahm Alrashid, translated and compiled by Simon (exhaustive codex of demonic lore)

15: Mishaps in Resurrection: A Pathology, by Faelis the Unborn (itself an astral entity “resurrected” onto the Material)

16: Familial Religious Affiliation and Its Impact on Spontaneous and Learned Arcane Practice, by Sunali Moyangoko

17: Magical Vehicles Ancient and Contemporary, by Shoshana Wintergard (from personal flying machines to juggernauts)

18: A Practical Guide to Gem-Cutting for Maximal Effect in Ensorcelled Brandishables, by Olbrecht Dorvastengrad

19: Effects of Verbal and Somatic Variations on Common Pyrokinetics, by Kyroth Vyzaltar (founder of the Silver Legion)

20: The Book of Black Earth, by the Wardens of Sallowseed Grove (one-of-a-kind source text in original Druidic)

 

Look for more installments of Books in the Wizard’s Library in the future.  -ð

Big Eyes, Pink Hair and Rural Economic Stagnation

Sakura Quest is Unexpectedly Pragmatic for a Slice of Life Anime

A few weeks ago there were signs around my neighborhood that spring had finally sprung. Warmer weather and flowers and probably some other stuff, I wasn’t looking because more importantly, spring means new anime. During spoiler season, P.A. Works’ Sakura Quest made it to my “I’ll give it a couple episodes” list. The slice-of-life concept intrigued me, but it also had the flags of a squishy moeblob anime (a cast of hyper-saccharine girls doing cute things for the sake of being cute; for some people that’s their jam, but I had a near-fatal overdose of it circa 2008 with K-ON! and Lucky☆Star).

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The Last Adventure of Red the Firbolg

I just played through my favorite character exit I’ve ever seen in person, and I’d love to tell you about it. It might brighten your day.

A local friend kicked off a 5th Edition D&D game a while ago, set in a Dark Souls-style dark fantasy setting. The other players were playing an orc hardboiled detective, a tiefling warlock whose familiar was a best-selling author, a kor cliff-acrobat, and, for some reason, a shifter monk who was basically the robot gorilla from the cover of the FATE Core Rulebook. I decided to play counter to the tone of the setting a little bit and made a firbolg druid, exiled from his forest home for political reasons. Firbolgs (which in 5e are blue-skinned forest-dwelling demi-giants, like how an elf might picture a giant) don’t have names, but the party ended up calling him Red, after his red hair. Red loved nature. Like, really loved it, with giddy enthusiasm. Think Leslie Knope from Parks and Rec with none of the organizational skill. He was the party’s two-hundred-fifty-pound medic and chef (he took the Gourmand feat), who could talk to animals and plants and be understood, but couldn’t receive a response without further magical aid. His spellcasting focus was a live squirrel. I decided to roll for my ability scores instead of doing point-buy, and ended up with pretty fantastic stats in everything but Intelligence. Red knew how to use every plant he’d ever seen, but had no idea what any of their names were. Firbolgs don’t have names, y’know?

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April ’17 DEATHWRITE conclusion

So, BLP hosted its first DEATHWRITE yesterday (4/23/17) with a fully-functioning site and social media channels.

As for me, I ended up not even breaking 3k. But that’s alright, because I still got three articles written, that y’all will be seeing here in the coming weeks. My goal this time was not to produce a quantity of content in an aim for 10k; I wanted to take the content I had already produced from past DEATHWRITEs and polish it up into something I felt good about publishing.

I can’t speak for our other Contributors directly, but it seems all who participated had satisfying results, though no one got near the 10k mark this time. A friend of ours came over and made good headway on penciling for a new comic.

I wanted to write this to show that even though DEATHWRITE calls upon participants to “produce without excuse”, the spirit of the event lies in pushing yourself to make something that you might not have otherwise. To turn those “I should”s into “I did”s. We want anyone who’s interested in DEATHWRITE to feel encouraged to participate, rather than be daunted by the scale of the challenge. If you have something you want to make, come write it. Draw it. Record it. Plan it. We’ll be here.

— Nagi

How (Not) to Write NPCs

Let’s kick this off with something uncontroversial: the ability to create and portray NPCs is one of the game master’s greatest tools, and NPCs can easily become the most memorable part of a tabletop roleplaying campaign (heck, BloodLetterPress is named after an NPC from a game that Nagi ran a few years ago). Here’s the problem: NPCs need to be written under a different set of principles from every other part of an adventure.  Let’s look at how even the big names stumble,  and how we can dodge or alleviate those problems and create some useful and memorable NPCs.

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Jamicom #1: Sinking Old Sanctuary

Welcome to Jamicom! In this (hopefully somewhat regular) feature, I’ll be talking about music from all eras of video games. While many pieces of VGM are iconic and beloved, my hope with Jamicom is to shine a spotlight on tracks, games, and composers that deserve wider recognition as well as the occasional Greatest Hit. I’ll be talking about the tracks in both a compositional sense and in the context or their original games. Fair warning though that my technical musical knowledge is extremely pedestrian! Anyway, enjoy the tunes!

 

With the Castlevania series, an absolute goldmine of amazing music, recently celebrating its 30th anniversary (and publisher Konami doing practically nothing to recognize it), I thought a Castlevania track would be the perfect way to kick off my Jamicom column. Now, the core Castlevania tracks are some of the first things you’ll find if you go looking for the generally agreed-upon Best Video Game Music ever. Just search for “bloody tears remix” on Youtube, the pages and pages of results prove how beloved the music of this series is. Today though, I’m going to focus on a track originating from Castlevania: Bloodlines for the Sega Genesis: Sinking Old Sanctuary.

 

While previous Castlevania games expanded beyond the walls of Dracula’s castle into the Transylvanian countryside, Bloodlines tracks a map across Europe. Later stages in the game include the Leaning Tower of Pisa and a German munitions factory, but today’s theme comes from Stage 2: the Atlantis Shrine. While the theme of the first stage, Dracula’s abandoned castle, goes for a fairly traditional driving Castlevania tune, Sinking Old Sanctuary feel immediately different. You can tell from the opening notes that composer Michiru Yamane (a top class composer who would work on the majority of Castlevania soundtracks from Symphony of the Night onward) was trying to evoke as much of an echoey, mysterious vibe as the grungy Genesis could muster. The track has no drums, opting instead for a consistent piano-y twinkling effect and a contemplative bassline. Much of the stage has you jumping between the outcroppings of sunken pillars and statues, or manoeuvring around the changing water levels. All of it lends to a sense of ruined majesty, of a grand society washed away by the waves. Aside from the incredibly moody Super Castlevania IV(a soundtrack I will definitely gush about on here eventually), Castlevania wouldn’t get many opportunities to deviate from the power-rock action game tone until Symphony of the Night shifted gears for the series. This makes Sinking Old Sanctuary a bit of an oddity, and one that I really dig. The track wouldn’t see nearly as many reprises in later games as the likes of Beginnings or Simon’s Theme, but it did show up a couple more times. Oddly, both instances are in games that Yamane didn’t work on.

 

First comes the theme of the Art Tower from Castlevania: Legacy of Darkness, arranged by composer Masahiko Kimura. I haven’t played much of this game myself, but I feel like this arrangement is probably very fitting for an area called the Art Tower. This version of the song is much more slow and stately than original, the better to fit the pacing of a more exploratory game from awkward early 3D days rather than a snappy, arcadey Genesis game. The deep, slow, doleful drums help lend the track a mournful, almost dirge-like quality, and the ambiguous Genesis twinkling instrument has been upgraded to a wistful piano that comes and goes throughout the track. The bridge now being a delicate flute performance, as well as a number of other orchestral embellishments make for a much more dramatic track overall.

 

The final occurrence of Sinking Old Sanctuary comes from Castlevania: Circle of the Moon, arranged by composers Sotaro Tojima, Hiroshi Mitsuoka, and Taro Kudou. This version is faster than the others, and probably the most action-y out of all of them. Besides the boosted tempo and the bass being much more prominent, the composition is probably about as accurate to the Genesis version as the poor GBA sound chip could handle. It is a much longer and fuller version of the track, switching up the instrumentation a bit on the second loop of the main melody and adding a couple new sections. It’s hard to put my finger on it, but all of this together give the track a slightly different feel, one that somehow suits moonlit castle corridors more than sunken ruins. While I think the original is my favorite version of Sinking Old Sanctuary, I enjoy the embellishments in this one and think it suits the pace of the game well. This track is tied to a good chunk of the map in CotM, and so you’ll be hearing it a lot as you explore the castle. In that light, a longer loop that does a little more to drive you forward feels like a good fit.
And that’s about it for Sinking Old Sanctuary. Again it isn’t one of the Castlevania series’ heavy hitters, but it does have its fans and I’m glad it got to show up at least a couple more times before the series went dormant. As an extra bonus, here’s a video of the track being performed live by a full orchestra in 2010 for Castlevania: The Concert:

 

Header image taken from my own playthrough of Castlevania: Bloodlines