Kids RPG Journal – #48 Wild Hunt Quest

When we last played the Harrowlands game so very long ago, the adventuring party had just survived the bee swarms and crashed their wagon. We will begin the next session in Yrlashof and they will need to find a way to get their wagon repaired. However, there is a problem.

It is the night of Alfablot and not only do folks need to stay off the roads, but no one will offer them hospitality and allow them to come into their home, for the dead travel on this night. The main quest for this session is going to be to survive encounters with any vengeful spirits who wanders too close.

Quest: Night of the Wild Hunt

First, they will carve faces into their turnip lanterns to scare off the spirits (the players will draw scary faces on turnips and we’ll fashion lanterns with them using mini tea lights) and roll to determine how effective their artistic skill is. With the howling wind and lack of time, it might be a challenge.

Turnips for carving to scare off the ghosts of the Wild Hunt

Then starts the procession of the wild hunt, led by the Alf King on his massive spectral boar. If all of the lanterns hold up, then it should be pretty straight-forward, but if not, then they will need to find alternative methods for dealing with any wights who will come into their camp, without fighting. There may be some trickery, parley, wrestling, or offerings to ensure that no one gets hurt. 

map of yrlashof during the Alfablot

I created a number of props for the quest, turnip papers for lamps, a “battle map” of Yrlashof to show where the wild hunt will be passing through, some overhead drawings of hunt members, and the quest image. Additionally, I set up the quest pages on the Harrowlands website for online use:

The Wild Hunt led by the Alf King

Quest: Night of the Wild Hunt

I’m thinking we may be able to play this weekend if things aren’t too crazy. Otherwise, we may have to look into a weeknight game, just to keep the ball rolling.

Kids RPG Journal – #47 Monsters Revived

I have loved monsters since I was a tiny child. Before my introduction to Dungeons & Dragons, I would get all of the books I could from the library on monsters and myths. I read Dracula way too early and I still get goosebumps when I think of some of the scenes. Later, the Monster Manuals took so much of my time and I spent many a sleepless night pouring over every detail of each creature.

Yet as I grew older, I found myself less interested in combat stats of the monsters and wanted to know their story. So I dug deep into the original folktales, ghost stories, sagas and myths from where they came. I studied the work of Marie-Louise von Franz and her explorations into the psychology of folktales.

ghoul monster sheet top- profile, instinct, role-playing notes

I picked up DMing again with the release of D&D 5E, but the one thing I was always disappointed in were the monsters. It may just be failings as a DM, but the monsters simply ended up being something to cut down with an axe. I ended up exploring a number of more story-centric RPGs like FATE, Dungeon World, Fiasco, Seven Leagues, etc. but had a hard time getting a group together to play.

ghoul monster sheet bottom - keywords, custom moves, precautions

I doubled down on my research and had ambitions of making something where the folklore and the story of the monsters shined, but could still make something fresh and exciting. I created a monster taxonomy based on psychological traits and impulses and I catalogued all the ways I could find that “heroes” defeated monsters in the tales. I wasn’t sure what format this project was going to take—RPG, field guides, comic, novel—but I have tinkered with it for the last few years.

Working on the Harrowlands game for the boys has really allowed me to clarify what I want to share about monsters and stories in general. This search for a new Monster Manual page started long before the kids RGP journal, but has finally solidified into something I am happy with.

Angry Bees

Ghoul

angry bees monster sheet top - profile, instinct, role-playing notes, keywords

These monster sheets are almost entirely focused on role-playing. It emphasizes the instincts and mannerisms on the top of the sheet, with keywords right in the center to help get focused right away. The bottom has easy to find moves and precautions which further the role-playing aspects. There are a number of ways to deal with each monster that does not have to involve combat. In fact, some of their own moves may pull them out of a fight.

angry bees monster sheet bottom - custom moves, precautions

There is a lot of work to do on the design before I would ever consider putting it out for public use, but the format will work perfectly for my use in-game. I will tinker with them here or there as I build out the content, and the more monsters I add, I’ll inevitably get the bug to make it shiny. But for now, I am really happy with what I have to work with.

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.

Career Day

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.

bobcat wizard final for career day

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.

bobcat wizard process

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.

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