Instead of curling up with the iPad and doodling monsters and enjoying the latest season of Stranger Things, I went down the coding rabbit hole and optimized the Harrowlands website for mobile and print. This cleanup has been on my list of things to do ever since I started building the site and my initial attempts were inconsistent.
This time, I went into the CSS (cascading style sheets) and stripped out everything that was not necessary or responsive. I won’t go into the technical CSS in-depth here, because this is meant to be more about my process as a gamer, not a developer, so I’m going to focus on my goals and what I accomplished.
Since Harrowlands is primarily a resource for me to use for my games with the kids, I wanted it to be flexible as possible. I primarily access it using the laptop or the iPad Pro, which is what I originally built the site out using, but I sometimes like to check resources on my phone, and I definitely want to be able to print out things like monster and character sheets, because in the end I am a big pen and paper guy.
The aforementioned character and monster sheets are definitely the most complicated portions of the site (everything else is pretty bare-bones basic) and these are the ones I most want to be perfect in all formats.
Both have a top section and a bottom section split by the keywords. Each of these sections needed to be be flexible with the components within, expanding and contracting based on the device or format. Everything is based on viewport units, which adjust elements based on the width of the screen. At first, I thought I had to have the printed version in all static units (pixels), but other than maintaining heights or certain components, I did away with pixels completely.
For mobile, every component within each section needed to fit across the screen and be arranged in a column for scrolling.
For print, the importance was to try to fit everything on a single printed page while maintaining the essential desktop layout.
This will give me a lot more flexibility when creating new monsters because I can easily look something up when I have an idea and I can easily print out any monsters and characters I want to use in the game or want to scribble notes on their sheets for revisions and additions.
I’ve spent the last few nights cranking out more of the monster doodles to get them ready for the harrowlands site and future game-play. It seems I can get two or three done in a night when I have time to sit for a while, I’d guess each one takes me about an hour to sketch, ink, and color.
So far, I have fourteen monsters drawn out. I made my way through all of the walkers (undead), and am into the wargs (bestial and trollish monsters). I’d guess I have another 40-50 to go before I get through the current catalog of monsters. I probably won’t try to do those all at once, but space them out with other content and get a few done every week.
Hungry dead: ghoul, vampyr, barrow wight
Lonely dead: draug, mummy, wraith
Grieving dead: ankou, banshee, revenant
Cold ones: fekst, white maiden, valraven
Teeming: orco, red cap
As I complete each drawing, I am uploading a portrait and thumbnail to the site. When all of the monsters are completed, I’ll convert the existing pages to show a thumbnail of each one next to their description.
Having the illustrations completed will make it a lot easier for me to work on making the custom moves, mannerisms, and precautions for each monster. This will allow me to have a whole library of monsters ready to go for any game. Creating my own monster manual has been a fantasy of mine since I was a kid, so I have the added benefit of making 9-year-old Matt very happy.
While we were out camping, I spent a little bit of time drawing and coloring some monsters working in the new super simplified drawing style. I sketched out about twenty or so monsters from my notes in previous sketchbooks and am starting to work on them in Clip Studio.
It seems I can do a couple a night if I get a little quiet time, which is much more conducive to my goals than averaging one drawing a week. More illustrations in a quicker time, allows me to make more content and spend a little bit more time writing.
This will also help me explore more monsters on the Harrowlands website than I’ve gotten to recently, and that is always a good thing.
Contrary to the scenes playing out in my head, where we’d be able to play Harrowlands nearly every weekend, the kids’ summer break has proven to be even busier than the school year. Soccer, swimming, camping trips, theme parks have taken up everyone’s time and energy. There just hasn’t been much opportunity to play. My work schedule isn’t going to get any better, as there are some shake ups that will probably leave me working more through the rest of the year.
So what are we going to do?
First, I realized a couple things from the last gaming session.
One, I am incredibly distracted by my own kids. I’m already a little like Doug from Pixar’s Up, where I will “Squirrel!” at the slightest distraction, but with the boys, it’s much much worse because I don’t know how to get out of parent mode, and I continually lose track of what I’m making up to say.
This just makes the improv portions of the game harder for me, so I need to prep descriptions just a little bit better, so even if I’m distracted, I can get right back in with the proper prompts. I can wing it most of the time while GMing for adults, kids —especially my kids— is a different story.
Two, I need to move faster. Part of this is reducing being distracted and keeping the game rolling. But the biggest part is to reduce the slower bits of the game that I’m used to doing with adults. The boys aren’t quite ready to get into more role-playing character based stuff. I need to trim a lot of that and make sure that I hop right into some action. Something major and wild needs to happen in the first 10-15 minutes of starting the game, otherwise the boys will start squirming in their seats and blasting everyone with thunder or howling like a wolf.
Once the quest hub is established a bit, then I should be able to do more of that kind of roll into some sort of encounter or puzzle. Right now, there has been too much backstory and not enough stuff to do.
Both of these led me to the realization that I need to be quicker on my feet within the game and with my preparation. I’ve been doodling with the boys recently and we have a lot of fun with that, so I’ve decided to move away from the current art style I’ve been doing and go over to more of a cartoon doodle style. It will be sufficient for the game, will be quicker and more energetic, and I will not find myself being tempted to be a perfectionist about it.
To speed up the beginnings of game sessions, I will start drawing quick(ish) comics to get any vital information and the vibe for the story in place and the beginning of gaming sessions can be a couple of minutes reading the comic page out loud and then hopping into the action.
Not all of the scenarios need to be role-played in this case. I’m already going with a moderate railroading approach, so I have the luxury of knowing where each session is going to go for the most part and where I can speed things up.
Comics for the next session involve Momma Yrla showing the party around the farm and explaining a little bit about the Alfablot.
I’m still completely dedicated to making and running a fun game for my boys, even though the progress is much slower than I had hoped.I think simplifying the art style will open things up for me a little and allow me to put more and more content out there for when we do get the opportunities to play.
A while back we played our third session of Harrowlands, with mixed results. It was kind of a bummer for me as we set up and then couldn’t play for very long – about half a session – and the kids were already pretty much wiped and had very little attention to give to the game.
One thing I notice, is when the kids are distracted, I get really distracted and have a hard time GMing, I forget things and have trouble making the non-player characters fun. I’m definitely going to think on ways to improve my improv when my children are involved.
The session I was setting up had a little too much chat in the beginning and not much action. I probably should have jumped right into action, but since I’m setting up the location as a potential “quest hub”, I didn’t want to blow through things. The next session will hopefully go longer and be more action packed.
I’ve been putting off editing the audio for some time, and just finally muscled my way through it. We recorded for 38 minutes, but the final audio – subtracting long pauses from the GM, fits from the kids, and a couple other uncomfortable and distracting noises – only ended up being 25 minutes. The audio is a little less clear of the players as my Blue Yeti microphone got disconnected and apparently all the audio was coming in from my laptop, so I am really loud and the others pretty soft.
I’m definitely no audio guru, but I cleaned it up as well as I could.
The group finds themselves stranded at a farm and go to ask for help where they interact with three NPCs: Gurla, Momma Yrla, and Sluglump. They receive a somewhat cold welcome as they seek help getting their cart fixed on the night of the Butcher’s Moon and the Alfablot.
Hopefully, we can get a game in next weekend before the holiday and see where they go when the Alfablot truly begins.
Next on my monster list is not really a monster but instead a revered spirit of the forest that I found very cool. The otso is a bear-spirit guardian of the forests that was worshipped by ancient Finns. The imagery of the otso is of a giant bear with trees growing from its back.
I couldn’t resist making this into a monster.
Normally, the otso is a benevolent spirit, but if the heart of the forest is corrupted (one of the themes hinted at in Bursten Claw-Jaw’s origin story), then they can turn evil and become fell bears bent on destroying man and all they represent.
This corrupted creature is a jaeger, a cruel type of warg intent on punishing the weak and the isolated.
I don’t like the bear design I came up with the otso as much as the one I did for the moroi, as I was trying for a shaggy cave bear look and I’m not sure I did it justice. However, the point of doing these is to make them good enough, not perfect. Maybe someday when I have some downtime, I’ll rework this one.
The game with the boys was delayed another week. With Mother’s Day, me prepping for a business trip for the day job, and other commitments, we just couldn’t fit it in. We’re hoping to get the next session this upcoming weekend.
I was doing some monster research in the short chunks of downtime this week, because that’s what I do, and I was making notes to write out descriptions and some monsters for the game, when I came across a couple of monsters that caught my imagination earlier, but now really forced me to stop what I was doing and flesh them out.
The first was the moroi. Most descriptions of the moroi are that they are Romanian vampires or ghosts with some shared traits with werewolves. However, there is one particular description that really sticks with me: some versions of the moroi are spirits that like to possess the bodies of bears.
I still haven’t tracked down the origin of this, but I just love the thought of some demon spirit inhabiting bear corpses (I took the term “bodies” to mean dead) in order to get whatever vengeance or whatever else they were compelled to finish.
Since the main descriptions of the moroi are vampiric, I decided to have the spirits inhabit bear corpses to sate their need to taste blood.
I’ve tentatively assigned this monster to a type of ghost, the bound ones in my notes, but I may change it over to the thralls known as vessels, or even come up with a fourth ghost type if need be. I think it all depends on how characters would have to deal with the monster. If the purpose is just to destroy the bear corpse or break the link between the corpse and possessing spirit, then it should be a thrall, but if there needs to be a way to release the spirit itself, then I should stick with ghosts.
Definitely something to think about. I don’t have any immediate plans for the moroi in the game, but I do like to have them in the stable, ready to go.
The illustration I put together for the moroi, I didn’t want to go all gory and have bones and rotting flesh falling off, but more of a fresh possession. I’m fairly happy with it, though for some reason it feels like I’m trying to channel my inner Gary Larson.
When coming up with a new monster for the game, I can start from any number of places, but after that, I seem to have an actual process.
Starting with the idea
The Skogsra has not been on my radar hardly at all. Just one of the many Teutonic themed monsters in my notes patiently waiting for my imagination to get a hold of them. I have a couple of forest adventures planned ahead for the party, but none of them really involved this type of creature. I had some thoughts of impish river spirits and a mini quest with a completely made up monster, the iron-toothed grubkin.
The skogsra came to my attention only when I arbitrarily chose a more fantastic description for Snarl Wort, a dangerous herb the party will need to collect:
This thorny root is a rare plant found only where a skogsra, a dangerous forest spirit, has made her bed. It has a sweet spicy flavor and is said to protect from fae curses. Beware the uncooked thorns, however, for their prick can cause one to fall into a deep slumber.
That was it. Just a throw-away line to make the origin of the plant more interesting. But that was more than enough to plant the seed.
Research the folklore
A few days later, I gathered a number of my books to see what I could find on the skogsra. She is a forest spirit with a fox tail and a back like a hollow rotten tree. She likes to play tricks on men, getting them lost in the woods, ruining their hunting, stealing their cattle, and sending them erotic dreams. She’ll also try to seduce men and keep their souls forever.
There are themes on her having a siren-like voice and crazy herbalism knowledge. One particularly interesting method for dealing with the skogsra is to slyly ask advice on how to get rid of a problem nearly identical to the one the hero has with her, but pretend it is about their cattle or another foe, and she will tell exactly what is needed to banish her or break her charms. Additionally, there is a very similar wight called the skogsfru, who generally has the same goals but can turn into an owl and likes to drink and dance around the fire.
There are some pretty typical cures for the skogsra also: turning clothes inside out, saying a prayer, throwing steel over them. Not sure how many of those I’ll use, but want to keep them in mind.
Pick a monster type
While there are a few ideas swirling around in my head about what I want to do, I need to figure out how the skogsra will fit in with my monster taxonomy. I pretty much have the type as a wyrm. They don’t fit in with the warg type, as they’re not violent or uncontrollably lusty. They do have some imp characteristics, but the tricks don’t seem to be an end-goal. Walkers, ghosts, and thralls don’t really fit at all. The wyrm type have a corrosive relationship with the living, often driven by jealousy.
Since the skogsra is beautiful from the front, and she can sing like a siren, I decided to make her into a lurker sub-type
Start drawing and doodling
In an ideal situation, this would come last, after I gathered all the information about the monster and their moves and precautions, so I’d know what little details to add to make the illustration better, but I get so much more out of drawing at this stage. As a highly visual learner, I think more creatively when I have a visual to work with. I could try to find what other artists have done, yet I’m already kind of solidifying in my head what I want and it’s hard to nail down those specifics. So, I try to the best of my ability to get the monster down the way I’m currently feeling about it.
Add imagination stew
Now that I have read the actual legends, chosen a type and sub-type, and have a drawing of it, I let my imagination run for a day or two and think of cool, custom moves or precautions based on the general story I get from my readings. This is the fun part.
For the skogsra, I immediately wanted to remove the sexual nature from the game version. I decided to keep the flirting and some alluring powers, but got rid of sex as a goal. She wants the boys and their souls, but I decided she wants them for dancing. It’s a pretty typical folklore thing where fae make people dance forever, or at least until they die. She gets to feed off their life while dancing with them. She is jealous of the love that humans have for one another, and thinks this is the way to get it, for she cannot show her true nature where she is rotten inside and incapable of actual love.
Since wyrms are based off of unused creative potential and they despise those who actually use their creative talents, I figured that her beautiful singing voice was also a glamour. So, through galdr, she can make her voice sound beautiful and that compels her victims to dance, but if the spell is broken for any reason, the human hears only the terrible screeching of owls.
If I were to put this into custom moves, I’d say Galdr Song, Exhausting Dance, Forest Prank, Owl Form, and Spout Herbal Knowledge. Precautions would be tricking her into giving the solution, somehow breaking the illusion (like getting a glimpse of her backside), wax earplugs, offering her iron or steel, etc.
This is the stage I’m on now, and over the next couple of days, I’ll be coming up with descriptors and trying to figure out what makes the most of her story and how the party would be able to deal with her.
I haven’t had much opportunity to work on making new art for the kids game recently, but I wanted to get some monsters onto the Harrowlands site, so I decided to finally color in some of last year’s Inktober beasties. I didn’t get real far with Inktober because the day job started melting down and I was working way too many hours to participate.
Not all was bad, however, because the work burnout made me stumble upon the specifics of doing the Kids RPG Journal and slowly making the Harrowlands game for the boys. I likely wouldn’t have gone down this particular path if I had more time and was not dissatisfied back then.
I’ve taken to paying just a little more attention to how I’m coloring in my monsters and other game resources recently, as some of the previous items were coming out a bit muddy. I think it was a combination of the muted palette and the Drippy Deek brushes which are a little bit darker and less chromatic than some other brushes.
One thing I had not been doing, but started up again, was putting a background color under my artwork. Working on top of white is fine, particularly in the watercolor painter mindset, which is how I approach my work on the game, but painting over a base color gives it some much needed pop without going back to the more outlandish color palettes I was using before.
I found I had already colored in a couple of them with the previous palette and was working on a third, but I just was not feeling it. I went back and started over again and can say I’m pretty happy with the results.
For the ghoul, I started with a lighter yellow background color which tied the colors in nicely and I felt I could do a little bit more with the wash brushes.
The end result came up much better than what I was going with on the first try.
For the vampyr, I chose a muted blue green to accentuate the undead nature. It gives a nice base, particularly under the skin tones that makes the “otherness” really come through.
All in all, I’ll probably go back and color in all of the previous Inktober pieces. For now,