Kids RPG Journal – #55 Changing Directions

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.

Introductory comic for session 4, part 1
Introductory comic for session 4, part 2

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.

Kids RPG Journal – #54 Session 3 Audio

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.

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 – #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 – #25 Places

Over the weekend, I completed a couple more location drawings and wanted to put them up here.

House of Arg, the mad baker next to the Pumpkin Snarl on Momma Yrla's stead

First, is the house of Arg, the mad baker, who lives within Momma Yrla’s stead. I’ll go a little bit more into him when I do the character illustration. His house/bakery is right next to a massive Pumpkin Snarl.

Viking-style beehives made from hollowed tree stumps.

Second, is some Viking-style beehives set in old, hollowed tree stumps. Bees are going to play an important part in the opening scene for the adventure.