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 – #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 – #26 Installing Fonts

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.

select Show in Finder within Font Book


This shows me the folder the font is stored and makes it easy for me to copy and paste into my Dropbox sync folder.

folder location of fonts for copying to Dropbox


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 application for iPad


All Fonts makes the transferring of fonts super easy once they are in your Dropbox.

All Fonts transfer fonts view


Open the app and click on the little cloud download icon in the upper right corner and select Browse.

All Fonts transfer view - select browse


Make your way to the Dropbox sync folder and find the font you want to transfer.

go to Dropbox sync folder to locate fonts


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.

All Fonts: 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.

All Fonts: 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.

Clip Studio Paint on iPad - text tool property to locate your new fonts


After that, you can organize your fonts by creating custom lists and they will be available for all applications.

Kids RPG Journal – #23 Map Making

Today, I explore the process for making maps for the kids lands in the game. 

First, I started through a bunch of my resources on Scandinavian history and legends, including a bunch of books by old historians and story scholars, like A Description of the Northern Peoples by Olaus Magnus, Danish Histories by Saxo Grammaticus, Germania by Tacitus, and Teutonic Mythology by Jacob Grimm. I copied names and brief notes about major land features and countries.

I want to keep some real-world locales in the setting, but don’t want to be a slave to actual physical geography. I more want to honor the stories and legends of places, versus historical accuracy.

Midgard post-it notes

Step two, I wrote out some of the names on post-it notes to get a general placement for all of the countries and land masses. Then I took a picture and drew a map over the image. 

Midgard Map first paint

Here is a first pass at a Midgard map. I’ve already chosen to add/change/remove some place names since making this, but it got enough of the world in my head that I figured I could move on to where the adventures will begin, Saksaland.

In the first adventures, the players will be traveling North in Saksaland to get to their future school, the Kraghall Academy. Think of it like any of the various ways Harry Potter had to take to get to Hogwarts. I already had some local flavor in place for the adventure and now needed a map.

Saksaland map sketch

I did a number of sketches on paper until I liked the layout and had everything I wanted to include. Once I had a final sketch, I took a photo and set it as a background in Clip Studio Paint.

Beech tree process shot in Clip Studio Paint

I started with the trees first, as I knew they’d be the most time consuming. Saksaland has three major forest types: spruce, beech, and birch. I made 3 or 4 individual trees of each the beech and birch and then copy and pasted them in varied clusters to give them a random appearance.

Saksaland map detail: trees

After lots of copying, I had the forests in place.

The spruce trees were all drawn individually, but I may go back and make some spruce tree materials for future use.

The rest of the map was done in the same ink and dirty wash as the rest of the art for the game.

I am adhering to one of the major tenants of Dungeon World: draw maps, leave blanks. It’ll be fun to see if we can go back to any of these things later on in the campaign.

Kids RPG Journal – #18 First NPC

NPCs (Non-Player Characters) are the lifeblood of role-playing games. They make up all the people and monsters not controlled by the players, which means the DM (Dungeon Master – i.e. me) has to give all of them interesting personalities and motivations. If find they are even more vital to the game experience than any cool plot ideas and wild locations you can come up with for the players. If the people in the world are boring, the game will be boring.

I find it easier for me to get into a character if I do a quick sketch of them, so I try to have a large number of NPCs ready to go with illustrations and notes how to play them, any voices and mannerisms, motivations, and a couple of quick thoughts on how they view others around them and if there are any good clues they can give out.

Today’s NPC illustration is the húskona (woman landowner), “Momma” Yrla, who the players will meet in their first adventure.

Momma Yrla, landowner and farmer.

I added a process shot of the color palette I use for all of my digital artwork in Clip Studio, which is based off of the various watercolors I keep in my little travel kit. Each color is blended with all of the others so I can blend pretty easily. The Drippy Deek brush has a pretty low chroma, which allows me to layer on the color until I have the intensity I like.

Momma Yrla process shot with color palette in Clip Studio Paint

In a later post, I’ll flesh out some of Momma Yrla’s personality and history and put it in context for the game. I think I should also do a post on my traditional watercolors and how I have them aligned with my digital ones.

Kids RPG Journal – #17 Character Portrait Colors

I spent the weekend with the boys and had to switch gears from the Lore and Notes cards to work on something that they could watch me work on, so instead of spoilery adventure bits, I decided to color their character portraits: Thule Bonecrusher and Bursten Claw-jaw

Once again, I used Clip Studio Paint for my artwork. I wanted a pretty loose watercolor style, so I did not do any sort of color flats, but instead filled things in by hand, not worrying too much about the getting the color consistently up against the line art.

Bursten Claw-jaw color detail in Clip Studio Paint

I used the Drippy Deek brush from the Frenden brush pack, which has a great watery texture and a cool edge to the stroke that has extra pigment, or whatever the digital equivalent is. I typical do 2 to 3 passes to get the effect I want. I work on multiple layers so I can be overlap the linework and then go back with the transparency brush with a sharper Frenden brush to erase any errant edges.

Clip Studio Paint transparancy brush

And here are the boys’ characters:

Thule Bonecrusher, the Thunder Priest class raised by barbarians in the frozen Northlands.

Thule Bonecrusher character portrait colors

Bursten Claw-jaw, the Wolf Feral who discovered a mystical wolf pelt in the Dark Woods and has been imbued with the spirit of a wolf ever since.

Bursten Claw-jaw character portrait colors

Kids RPG Journal – #14 Software

Today, I am going to take brief detour from the active kids RPG project to go over the digital tools I am using to create everything. I wanted to do this now, as I’m starting in on Affinity Publisher for the first time to make the character sheet, and there’s a slight learning curve I’m going through to develop a process.

The following programs are all great, and I enthusiastically endorse them. Each has significantly improved my workflow and creative processes, or will in the near future.

scrivener, clip studio, affinity designer, photo, and publisher

Writing – Scrivener

I switched over to Scrivener as my default writing and note-taking application a couple of years back and it is phenomenal. It allows you the ultimate flexibility in organizing your documents and document snippets all in a single project. I have a general Daily Writing project for each year, but I’ve also used it for technical specs, comic scripting, website content, adventure design, monster/folklore notes, and book scripts.

https://www.literatureandlatte.com/scrivener/overview

Illustration – Clip Studio Paint

For digital illustration, I use Clip Studio Paint almost exclusively. I started out doing digital art with Illustrator and then later with Photoshop and used those exclusively for many years, but I have slowly been moving away from the Adobe products where I can. Clip Studio is a dream to draw in and feels the most intuitive out of all the software programs that I have tried, particularly using the Frenden brushes available for it (http://store.frenden.com/). It is the program that closest resembles my traditional workflow. I love having the ability to seamlessly go from red pencil sketches, to inking, to coloring all together, and then on top of it having robust vector, comic panels, text and word balloons. It really is a complete package.

The only thing I find lacking are the export options. If it had the ability to export vector layers to SVG, it would cover practically all of my digital art needs.

Yet what truly makes Clip Studio mind-blowing is that the iPad version of the application is identical to the desktop, so I can do 99% of my work anywhere and sync with Dropbox to have the fully compatible file on my desktop. Well worth the price of the subscription. The only issues I have with the app for iPad are all based on iOS issues and the hoops one has to go through to access files and assets with various applications.

https://www.clipstudio.net/en

Digital Art Assets – Affinity Designer & Affinity Photo

While I don’t draw with the affinity applications, I do appreciate them for their completeness and flexibility. I have completely dropped Illustrator and Photoshop in favor of Affinity as I can do everything I ever did on those programs without maxing out my CPU, paying subscriptions, random crashes, and all the other headaches that came with Adobe.

Any vector work I need to do is in Designer. I’ve gotten quite comfortable with creating with the pen tool and that tends to be the majority of my work there, unless I have some typography I need to create outlines with. For Photo, I use it mainly to crop images and create digital assets.

I don’t use most of the features available in Affinity on a regular basis, but they are great to have around when I do and the price for the level of polish and quality is unbeatable.

While I do have both applications for the iPad, I tend to do all my work in them on the desktop, so I can’t really speak to those versions.

https://affinity.serif.com/en-us/

Document Layout – Affinity Publisher

This is the program I’ve been waiting for for two plus years, but the beta for Affinity Publisher is finally out! InDesign was the last holdout of the Adobe products, and after a couple of hours with Publisher, I can say that I will be 100% done with Adobe for my personal projects (I still use the programs for the day-job). As much as I love with InDesign, so far Publisher has either matched or exceeded it in every aspect of laying out my character sheets. The text is very quick and intuitive to fine-tune, I haven’t had any trouble placing and altering images, and my test exports seem to work very well.

I’m excited to see what I can accomplish with the beta and when the real release comes out. I’m sure I’ll be putting a bunch of things here as I start building the adventure and various handouts, monster sheets, etc. I’ll document the process as I learn.

https://affinity.serif.com/en-us/publisher/

At a later date, I’ll talk about the hardware I use for various related projects and how those affect my workflow. Today I’m going to continue to lay out the character sheets for the boys and see how far I get with them.