Kids RPG Journal – #46 Character Sheets

I finally designed character sheets and monster sheets that I am happy with. It includes seven sections to help me role-play the characters from one sheet.

  • Profile: the character’s name, overall concept, and portrait
  • Role-Playing: the character’s motivation, appearance, voice and mannerisms
  • Keywords: Just a list of keywords to keep in mind while playing the character
  • Health
  • Custom Moves: key actions the character can take
  • Gear: anything cool that they carry on their persons
  • Thoughts: Short quotes in the character’s voice about key topics

The format will allow me to quickly scan things at a glance, so I don’t miss a key characterization and focuses on creating a compelling and memorable character. Now that the design was completed, all I had to do was create a sheet for all of my NPCs (non-player characters).

The main problem with designing my various game materials with Clip Studio on the iPad is that adding and updating text is kind of a pain. The popup keyboard takes half of the screen and maintaining font styles can be inconsistent. I wanted to find a better flow for the kind of sheets I plan on putting out with lots of text and styles.

crowded view on Clip Studio Paint for iPad when editing text

To test things out, I built out a NPC sheet in Affinity Publisher to see if I could get something that would be easy to templatize and make multiple characters with minimal design work (outside of the character portrait). The template was more manageable than Clip Studio, but I still had to manually click into each field to update content and that would get tedious pretty quick.

affinity publisher character sheet template

Publisher, Affinity’s competitor to InDesign, is still in beta and does not have the full range of features that it will hopefully have later on. One bit of functionality that InDesign has that Publisher is currently lacking is the ability to import data into a template. 

Unfortunately, this was kind of a deal breaker for me. And I’m not about to go back to Adobe’s products.

I work with lots of data in my day job and I enjoy building out data systems. I knew if I could find some way store data and import it into   a template without messing with design, I would have an ideal setup.

So I went back to the drawing board and back to my comfort zone, building it in HTML. I created all of the data tables and input a good chunk of content into the database, so I could test out the template and started building the web pages. This wasn’t a small task and I’ve spent about three weeks putting everything together.

harrowlands.com character web page - plunk

And I’m finally finished with the basic template for NPCs on the upcoming Harrowlands website. The three characters I have completed are:

Plunk

Momma Yrla

Gurla

Having everything online and in a database has many benefits: I can access with any device, everything is easily indexed, and of course the more content I can put online, the better the search rankings become. And most importantly, I am getting started on building the knowledge base for the Harrowlands game.

The one place this is lacking is when I want to have a copy of the sheet in hand.

Which is why one of my next steps is to edit the print CSS styles to give me the ability to print a single page directly from the browser. It may lack a little of the nuance of a custom designed sheet in a graphics program, but I won’t need things to be super pretty for games. Besides, I’m confident I can get the stylesheets to print out something quite nice.

Kids RPG Journal – #45 Depression and Delays

Typically, I wouldn’t talk about a highly personal subject like depression, but since it is something I’ve been dealing with and has affected the work I’m doing on the game, it seemed appropriate to put into the journal. I want to include the problems along with the successes here as I make my way through the creative process.

For those who suffer from depression, the symptoms and effects can vary wildly. It took me the longest time to understand that I dealt with depression and not simply being lazy when I could not bring myself to do work, or even get out of bed. Even doing little things was overwhelming. Blaming myself would drive me into a deeper spiral that seemed impossible to get out of.

Since recognizing the symptoms as depression, I can remain somewhat functional when I am down. The last few years, I have found a number of ways to minimize the effects when depression hits and the bouts are fewer and farther between. 

Recently, I fell into a depression that I could not seem to shake off. Doing anything creative was a huge struggle and all I wanted to do was sit around and watch Netflix. Being there for the kids was never an issue, but all of my remaining energy went to surviving the day job and getting the bare minimum done, meaning that there wasn’t anything left to work on the Harrowlands game and the kids RPG journal. I did a couple of drawings, but couldn’t get anything more than that out. Illness and constant rain didn’t help much.

Two methods I typically use to “snap” out of my overwhelm – music therapy (curated playlists that make me feel things other than helplessness) and deep-dives into folklore research (inspires me and gets me excited to create again) – did little to help me this time.

I tried to find anything that would help me get some wins even though I wasn’t able to focus creatively. Everything I wanted to do involved too much work. My process for making the monster and character sheets was difficult to layout and would require modifications every single time I wanted to make something. So I switched gears and instead of trying to make content for the Harrowlands game, I focused on more technical methods I could make my processes easier.

I wanted to create a knowledge-base website for the game, but wasn’t planning on doing it until I had a sizable amount of content. For over a decade, I’ve worked in web development and system architecture. Doing the planning for this didn’t seem scary for me, so I started dabbing my toe into designing the structure.

First came the database and all the tables I’d want to make. Then I got all the server work done on Google Cloud. My momentum started to pick up and instead of mindlessly consuming media, I found myself opting to work a little more on the site.

Changing directions worked.

I built character pages online and started doing a little bit of writing to populate them. I am creating once more. I still have a ways to go before I’m back into a regular flow, but I’m getting there and the game is moving forward.

Remember to go easy on yourself and keep doing your best, even if your best at the time seems to be incredibly small.

Kids RPG Journal – #44 Exploring Publisher

For a number of reasons, I haven’t been able to work on the Harrowlands game much over the last week or so and I feel like I’m falling behind a bit. We have a game scheduled for this Saturday and I won’t have a whole lot of extra prep done. One thing I have been working on is designing the sheets for the NPCs (non-player characters). These are primarily focused on how to role-play and not on combat, but I’ll go over that in a later post.

While I would normally have made the NPC sheets using Clip Studio Paint, I wanted to make them so I could more easily swap out text and assets. Instead, I took the time to wrap my head around the Affinity Publisher beta, which I hope will take the place of InDesign for any publishing needs.

I’ve been using InDesign since the PageMaker days, and it is the last Adobe product I still use on my personal computer.

Last night, I was toying around with how to get text to wrap around an image in Publisher. I wanted to be able to place a small image next to a quote the NPC would give about it, but wanted it to wrap fairly tightly around to be mindful of page space.

First, I created a block of text with the Frame Text Tool. To have an image the size I wanted, I used the Image Frame Tool to get the size and then populated it with the Place Image Tool. It took me a little toying around to figure out how to adjust the image size and placement within the frame. The method I ended up preferring was to select the image within the frame from the Layers panel and then using the Move tool to adjust it.

Affinity Publisher: selecting the image in the Layers panel.

I had my image on top of the text, but it was falling behind the image in the frame. I tried adjusting the frame shape on the text, but that wasn’t giving me the results I wanted, so then I switched over to the image and found the Show Text Wrap Settings at the top of the screen.

Affinity Publisher: text falling behind the image

I set the Wrap Style to tight and adjusted the Distance From Text boxes until I had the look I wanted.

Affinity Publisher: text wrap settings panel

Now the text wraps nicely automatically and when I swap out the image or text for other NPCs, I won’t have to do any additional adjustments.

Affinity Publisher: text now wrapping around the images

Kids RPG Journal – #43 Yrlashof Maps

Over the weekend, I’ve been working on preparing maps for the local area to occupy the party, Yrlashof, the stead of Momma Yrla. The plan is to keep the party in this area for a couple of sessions, so I feel like doing a good map is worthy use of my time. I’ve got a few of the buildings down and I’ll be working on some more of the natural features later in the week. The mapped places are currently the main hall, Arg’s bakery, the blacksmith’s forge, a well and some haystacks.

the main hall and Arg's bakery/hut on Yrlashof

Not 100% sure how I’m going to assemble the whole as I’ll be reusing a few of these in different sizes in the next couple of sessions. The next adventure will take place on the grounds outside the main hall, so I’m thinking of putting together  a battle mat setup.

blacksmiths, wells, and haystacks, oh my

Kids RPG Journal – #42 More NPCs Yrlashof

This week I’ve spent some time researching Samhain and Alfablot for the next adventure. The party is going to arrive at the farm at a bad time, and the wind they caused is definitely going to make things worse. The people of Yrlashof are observing the Alfablot, where the rules of hospitality are reversed, and there is to be a ghostly procession, a Wild Hunt, of dokkalfar (dark elves) along the road.

I needed draw up two principal characters for this adventure. First is Momma Yrla, who I drew a while back, but her story has changed significantly since then and the picture no longer reflects the character I want. So, I kept some basics of the drawing , but adjusted her face and outfit, to reflect her position as a former sea king – a ruling pirate. Now she maintains the farm. I recolored her with my new palette to better match the character. The new drawing makes here look a little bit older than I had planned, but I can live with it.

Revised image of Momma Yrla, former pirate, and the lady of Yrlashof.

Second, I drew Momma’s former first-mate who still guards her family, Gurla, a sturdy water-witch. She is gruff and superstitious, coming from the eastern countries. This one actually looks a little younger than I had hoped to make it.

Gurla, Momma Yrla's guardian and former first mate

My next step is to draw an overhead map of the stead where the adventure will take place.

Kids RPG Journal – #41 Revising Art

The regular schedule I have for the the Harrowlands games doesn’t leave a lot of time for dawdling or perfectionism: I run the game session on the weekend. Spend a portion of the next week getting the recording prepped and some recap illustrations done. Then the following week is prepping content for the next game.

The advantages of quickly moving through art pieces is that they are out of the way and I can move on to new ones, the disadvantage is that I have longer to be dissatisfied with them and know I have better ways to make them work. A couple of the pieces I made early on have been bothering me for a while, especially as I’m working them more into the future adventures. They just don’t fit with the narrative I want to tell.

I’ve been loathe to go back and work on things so far and have just been chalking the artwork to a learning experience and moving on, but with the break in the routine due to our trip to Emerald City Comic Con, I had a little bit more breathing room, and I just had to go back and work on a couple of redesigns.

Old version of Arg, the mad baker's hut on Yrlashof. Simply too plain and neat.

In the quiet hours, often sitting on the floor of the hotel bathroom to avoid waking the family, I reworked the small hut of Arg, the mad baker, who lives off of Momma Yrla’s stead. The interior is going to be cluttered and crazy and the sparse and clean exterior I drew earlier just wasn’t going to mesh. I thought about just going back and throwing some boxes and carts in front of it, but I also wanted a large oven jutting out the side, not just a tiny chimney through the roof.

New version of Arg the mad baker's hut. This is a little more cluttered and features a large brick oven.

I still tried to work quickly and did not spend a lot of time on reference (not that it would have been easy to track down a lot of authentic pirate/Viking bakeries), but I feel like this is a stronger and much more interesting design that will fit in better with the characters and adventures.

I’m also using the revised color palettes to keep things just a little bit more consistent.

I have one more character I want to redesign (Momma Yrla) and a few other character designs in the works as I recover from ECCC and get ready for the next game in two weeks.

Kids RPG Journal – #40 Session 2 Audio

Last weekend, we ran the second session of the Harrowlands game with the kids and everyone had a blast. The party ran into swarms of frenzied bees on the road through Saksaland and had mixed results during the encounter. The audio is below.

Unfortunately, my production on the game has come to a halt, as I’ve been dealing with being sick. It’s not likely to pick up soon as I’m heading out to Seattle for Emerald City Comic Con in a few days.

Hopefully, I can find a little down time and get some work in during the convention. The coolest part is the boys will be coming up to meet me on Friday, so I get to show them around all day Saturday.

Flight from the Bumble Bees

Kids RPG Journal – #39 Episode 2 Image

Last Saturday, we ran an hour-long session and completed our first quest, “Flight from the Bumblebees”. It was lots of fun and pretty wild, with lots of flailing of arms and sound-effects. I think there were a lot of learnings I took away from this one, which is pretty cool.

After 30 years of DMing, I am still learning with practically every session.

I have a lot of work to get the audio ready for consumption, as there are a lot of instances of us saying the kids’ names that I want to trim out. I’m also tempted to splice some audio in because there were a number of points where I couldn’t remember basic words like “reigns” and “wick”, so I simply flap my arms and call them “thing”.

Anyways, the audio is coming sometime this week, but I wanted to get a session recap illustration in. This one was a lot of fun and I knew what I wanted to draw right away. Each of the characters had at least one moment where they failed miserably at their task, and these were the moments everyone at the table loved the most.

second session overview initial noodle sketches.

First, I did a couple of really scribbly sketches to see how I wanted to lay it out. I don’t really thumbnail my artwork, instead I like draw noodles all over the page until one of them starts to look like something I think I can be happy with. Here, I didn’t do enough sketches of Thule accidentally throwing the bells out into the field and had to rework it a number of times on the tablet.

second session overview sketch with rough horses

Since I don’t really know what horses look like, I just put blob-like shapes with legs and then googled some illustrated horses while I was doing the “red pencil” sketching. I use the red pencil in Clip Studio just as I use red leaded pencils in my sketchbook: where I try to transition from scribbles to cleaner lines.

second session overview inks

Next comes the inking stage. Once I’m done inking I like to lay down some white flat colors behind the foreground shapes, and use that layer like a mask for coloring the illustration.

second session overview final image.

I am enjoying the refined color palette quite a bit and I don’t feel it’s too restrictive at all. We’ll see what I choose to do when I have something like magical effects, and see if I can be creative with the colors then.

I had a great time drawing Iona, Bursten, and Thule in their finest moments from the weekend. Even an unconscious Plunk, a bag full of bees, and two horse-ish creatures were lots of fun to quickly bust out, before I have to move on to the next upcoming session.

Kids RPG Journal – #38 Session Zero Thoughts

It’s been nearly two weeks since we made our first foray into the Harrowlands game. I figured it was finally time for me to write up my thoughts. There were some things that I liked and others that I didn’t, which is to be expected. More importantly, the boys had a really good time and are still talking about it nearly two weeks later. It helps that they’ve been watching me put together the audio clips and they’ve asked to listen to them over and over again.

In this session zero, we did the following:

1) Explained the core rules and basic moves of the game, including reviewing the character sheets and the various props (10 minutes)

2) Went over the guidelines for how we would play: be respectful, work together (no PC infighting), and no death. (5 minutes)

3) Player Character backstories (20 minutes)

4) Travel montage and local lore (10 minutes)

What Worked Well

video recording of Harrowlands session zero

Player Ownership. One thing that seemed to resonate was when in each backstory I had the player choose the villain from a couple of options. Additionally, I made them roll one of their moves to see how well they fared. The backstory was completely railroaded, where the outcome was written regardless of the rolls, but the dice revealed how they got there. The kids responded well to being able to choose, and it was kind of neat for me to be able to later illustrate their choices for the audio clips. (I’ll also be repurposing the illustrations for the Adventure Journals)

Fart Jokes. This one is pretty obvious, but once I threw in that Plunk was gassy and smelly, it really upped the engagement with the boys. They’re still talking it two weeks later: “Daddy, you know why I didn’t like Plunk?” “Why?” “Because he kept farting all the time.” I guess it really helps to know your audience.

Recording and Camera Setup. I definitely wanted to have a record of the session, so I recorded with OBS. I set my laptop on the game table in front of me, a webcam on the kitchen counter to get the whole table, and my Yeti microphone. I played around with some pretty basic overlays for the video, and was pleasantly surprised by the results we got playing on a folding table in the middle of the living room. This was the first time I used the Yeti to record audio for an entire table and I feel like it picked up all of the voices without being overly loud with the items on the table (the padded dice boxes definitely helped). 

At one point, my oldest pug decided to trot around on the hardwood floors which was quite distracting. I may have to lock them up somewhere during the sessions, but they are pretty needy and would likely bark or whine.

I don’t know if I will put up the video or not, but really glad that I put in the effort to get it going. I believe it will really help me as a GM to hear and see where I tend to lose the thread and fall short, and where I have everyone involved and where I lose them.

What I Didn’t Expect

too much temptation for little hands

Playthings. I was so focused on making sure that the gameplay would be a visceral experience for the boys that I did not stop to think about how all of the stuff I was putting on the table would also serve as distractions and playthings. My wife and I quickly took away pencils, extra dice, and candy hearts so that the boys could focus and work on sitting still. 

Basic Moves. Part of the distraction problem might have been that I started with some boring rules. I’d spent a lot of time going over the custom moves and they boys were already pretty well acquainted with what each did. However, I just kind of threw together the basic moves and it really showed while I was trying to explain each one quickly. The boys eyes glazed over pretty quickly and they focused on the toys in front of them.

Some of that was the approach. I could have just skipped it entirely and worked it in later. I’m planning to have mini-quests where I explain a related basic move in game play context, so Saturday’s session will have a good amount of focus on Discern Realities, with possible use of Defy Danger and Spout Lore.

Scheduling. We started the game nearly 40 minutes later than I wanted to as we were working on other projects. This added a little tension for me to try to figure out the timing of the session. In particular, once the backstories were done, we only had about 20-30 minutes to go and I struggled with rushing through the travel montage portion or spending more time on it. I ended up doing the latter, but it felt pretty awkward as I was distracted on if I would have time to get the actual gameplay quest in.

Overall, the experience was really positive and I’m sure as I learn to roll with the game. Next session will have some actual game play and player interaction, so it should be a much different experience.

Kids RPG Journal – #37 Travel Montage

Lore cards for Hugrun's Cauldron, the Scar, Jarnfelt, and Gripa

This is the final audio clip for the first session of our Harrowlands game. We were coming up against time, so it ended up being a little bit more of a travel montage than I was expecting, but the boys had fun and that means we will start right into the action with the second session this weekend.

In the audio, the party travels with Plunk through Saksaland on their way to Kraghall Academy, braving skeletons and foul odors along the way.

Travel Montage through Saksaland