I took a short break from drawing monster doodles for the Harrowlands site to put together some paper-crafts of the player characters, relevant monsters and quest materials. With the new, simplified drawing style I’m using for the project, I can spend a little more time making quick and dirty props for the game. Earlier, the thought of trying to making paper figures for play was stressful, but now it’s no big deal. I’ve already drawn the characters in the new style more than I had the previous year in the old style.
Now I’d never tried making my own paper minis before, but I have printed out some cool paper props from awesome creators, like Trash Mob Minis and RPGToons (@RPGToons and @r-n-w).
I started with a 3d stand up of the players’ tents and figured out how best to show the tent staves from all sides. By doubling the staves, it gave the whole piece some needed strength and looked so much better than my first attempt.
After that, I worked on some 2d stand-ups for the quest, including the various carved turnips which would be used against the Wild Hunt, stand ups of the player characters, and the monsters of the Wild Hunt most likely to wander by. The initial thought was to hot glue the figures to metal washers to give them some weight, but paper bases seem to be sufficient for now. If I feel that they are too easy to knock over, then I’ll glue them all down.
Drawing the backs of the characters was an interesting exercise I’ve never done before, working with the reversed silhouette of the front and just filling out the contents. I’m pretty happy with how they turned out. It’s definitely not something I’d put out for a published product, but more than good enough for our home game.
Finally, I printed out tokens for those turnips that don’t survive the night. I probably could have gone the extra step to make stand ups for them, but once again, I think what we have if going to be plenty for our needs.
After a bunch of printing, cutting, and a couple of glue sticks, I have a neat little collection of paper minis for whenever we have the next gaming session. Unfortunately, it has been pushed back again and again, but it did give me the opportunity to redesign things.
Now, I will go back to my doodle monsters and start working on future quests, of which I have about four or five in the works.
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.
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.
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 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
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.
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.
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.
And I’m finally finished with the basic template for NPCs on the upcoming Harrowlands website. The three characters I have completed are:
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.
Career day on Tuesday with 72 kindergartners was crazy and exhausting. The whole thing lasted about three hours and we cycled through the children in groups of 4 or 5. I wasn’t quite prepared to entertain the children for as long as I had them, so I had to make things up for the last five minutes or so with each group.
My poor introverted self was wrecked, but it was a good time. In preparation for the career day, I made a quick illustrated piece with the school mascot, the bobcat and turned him into a wizard. The process was fun doing something a little different from the more muted pieces in the game.
I thought the kids might be interested in seeing the process of how I made the picture, so I printed those out. What they were most interested in was how I colored it in, and a number were sure that I printed it out in black and white and then colored it with markers, no matter what I said.
Definitely will sign up to do it again next year, but will be much better prepared for entertaining small groups. As always, I have unlimited respect for our teachers.
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.
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.
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.
I set the Wrap Style to tight and adjusted the Distance From Text boxes until I had the look I wanted.
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.
In an effort to improve my workflow for the kids’ RPG project, I needed to add some fonts to my iPad so I could access them in Clip Studio Paint, instead of having to overlay text off of my desktop after exporting jpegs. Since I couldn’t remember exactly how I’d done this in the past, I decided to track my steps here in the journal.
For this, I need two programs: Dropbox (both on the desktop and laptop to sync files), and All Fonts on the iPad.
Copy font files to Dropbox
First, you will need to sync up a folder on Dropbox between your desktop and iPad. This is incredibly useful for nearly everything and is the only way to make file management halfway usable on iOS (but that is for another blog post).
I have the fonts already installed on my Mac, so I opened Font Book and right-clicked on the font I wanted and selected Show in Finder.
This shows me the folder the font is stored and makes it easy for me to copy and paste into my Dropbox sync folder.
Once the files are copied over, they are automagically synced on your devices, so I switched over to the iPad.
Transfer fonts to iPad using All Fonts
All Fonts makes the transferring of fonts super easy once they are in your Dropbox.
Open the app and click on the little cloud download icon in the upper right corner and select Browse.
Make your way to the Dropbox sync folder and find the font you want to transfer.
Click on it and it will give you a popup saying it is imported. After a minute or so, the font should show up in your Transferred Fonts view.
Install transferred fonts
Once you see it on the screen, click on the font and it will show you a font preview.
Click the Install Font button at the bottom. Follow the instructions on the dialogs. If the profile is not signed, you may need to confirm you want to install the font a few times before it shows up. Repeat the process for all fonts you want to add.
Check font is in Clip Studio Paint
If I already have Clip Studio Paint open, I find that I have to restart my iPad in order to get the new fonts to show up in the text tool.
After that, you can organize your fonts by creating custom lists and they will be available for all applications.