Master Mines

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Moving ahead with Kingdom

I got pinged the other day because I haven’t posted here in like a million years. Mainly the reason for that is that I haven’t worked on the game in a while. I had a couple of other deadlines looming for other games I’m writing and art commissions so KoN had to take a back seat.

I was waffling for a while about whether or not the game would be ready for Gencon, but I think it will be. I feel like the game’s done. The rules have gone through a lot of incarnations, but I feel they’re solid at this point. That’s not to say the game is perfect, but I’m not looking for perfection from my first game, or really any game I’ll ever write. I could spend years perfecting it, or I could put it out and move on. It does what I want it to do really well, and I’m happy with it, so I’m moving into the publishing phase.

There’s a bit of editing and maybe even a few small tweaks here and there, but the most important thing I need to get started on is the art. At Gencon this year my main concern is getting illustration work (I’ve got an artists booth for the first time this year). I’m a bit concerned this may be the last one, so I really want to take advantage of the networking opportunities.

Anyway, that’s where I’m at for now.


April 8, 2008 Posted by | Kingdom of Nothing | 2 Comments

A successful playtest

Last night I rounded up a few people who weren’t interested in the Superbowl and ran what I thought was the most successful playtest so far. I took all the feedback I got from Dreamation and various forums and tried to work it in, and it actually started working together. First off I changed the system over to coins. It needs some mathematical tweaking, but for the most part it really simplified things a lot. Also, I made it so that when a player wrote down a secret, they had to write what trait on the character sheet was based on. For instance, one of the characters had the burden of “Weak/Skinny.” A player wrote down the secret: “Your mother pushed you to become a beauty queen and would starve you in order to keep your weight down (weak/skinny)” I built in a kicker…a “what supernatural thing just happened to you,” and for those of you who took place in the earlier playtests, the longing is replaced with a “Light at the End of the Tunnel,” some driving motivation for why you don’t want to be homeless anymore.The first scene is called a survival scene. It’s a short scene that uses one of the locations and conflicts the characters came up with in the beginning and introduces them into the game world. It also introduces Plot Coins. Players get plot coins for the following:

  • Having their burden add a complication to the scene
  • Introducing a new element into the game world, like a new NPC or Location. There has to be some kind of conflict that goes along with it.
  • Having a character’s echo act
  • Giving another player a Realization

Realizations were the most successful thing I introduced last night. Essentially they’re hints that players can give each other. Anything from “You realize that you’ve held a gun before…only last time it was a hunting rifle,” or something that spurs them to act, like “you feel the need to get back to your truck.”The player with the most plot points at the end of the survival scene is the subject of a Revelation scene. Revelation scenes are designed to build up to a conflict that deals directly with one aspect of the character’s sheet, and ends with the revelation of the secret that stems from that aspect. There are two conflicts, one that builds the tension of the scene and one that pushes the character to a revelation. The subject of the revelation scene is the only one rolling the dice. Even if there are other, bigger things going on in the conflict, the scene is focused on the main characters role in it.Going back to the weak/skinny secret, the scene took place in a factory. The characters were looking around, when all of a sudden on of the characters’ sleeves got caught on a conveyor belt, and the thing started up. The weak/skinny girl was the only one close enough to the lever to pull it, but it was massive and rusted. Before the conflict, the girl has a flashback to her playing outside as a child and her mother angrily pulling her in, telling her that she doesn’t want her to become some butch tomboy. She has to stay inside and work on feminine things, like music. She flashes forward a bit, and her mother is punishing her for overeating. We go back to the scene at hand, and she rolls for the conflict. If she succeeds, she gets a hope. If she fails, she takes a burden. Either way, she now has the knowledge of what happened to her. All the while, players were chiming in with Realizations, which were increasing their odds of having their scene next and helping the main character get to their secret. Everyone was pretty pumped by the end of the session.

February 4, 2008 Posted by | Kingdom of Nothing | 6 Comments

Revealing Secrets

Last one for the day, I promise!

*cross-posted from Story-games*

The most fun aspect about the game right now is character creation. Players take on the roles of people living on the street who’ve lost their identities and memories and gain them back through the course of the game. In the first phase of character creation, players invent who they are now; what they look like, what they do to survive, where they stay, what they have, any sicknesses, injuries, etc. They also each have a “Light at the End of the Tunnel,” a driving motivation for wanting to get out of the situation they’re in. Nothing is explained at this point, as that will come later. Here’s an example from a playtest:

Lady Grey

During the second phase, the character sheet is passed around along with a “Secrets Sheet.” Each player gets the secrets sheet and writes a sentence or two about that character’s past that explains something on the character sheet. Each time someone gets ahold of the sheet, they can either build upon what’s already written or start a new thread and work on that one. Again, here’s an example:

Lady Grey’s Secrets Sheet

As you can see, her mother was always pushing her into living a life of luxury, which explains her Light at the End of the Tunnel and how she dresses. All the other secrets explain what the player came up with in a similar way. One important thing to note is that the player of Lady Grey doesn’t see the secrets sheet. They get revealed in play.

I’m not looking for help with this part, because pretty much every time I’ve run the game everyone’s loved it. Not only does everyone want to play to find out what happened to their characters, but they have a lot of buy-in with everyone else’s characters. They want the other players to find out all the cool/f***ed up stuff they wrote in their backstory.

This brings me to my problem; how do the secrets get revealed? I’ve tried a couple of different methods, but I haven’t hit anything out of the park yet.

In the first incarnation of the rules, the GM was responsible for revealing the secrets when it became dramatically appropriate. Though this was the way that led to the most coherent storyline, it was frustrating for the players to have to wait for the GM to find out their own backstories. Also the GM is responsible for sitting on a ton of secrets (if there’s 5 players, there’s 25 secrets), which is a ton of stuff to keep track of.

In order to give the players more authority to get their own backstories, I let players buy revelations with XP. It sort of works to give the players more power to learn their backstories, but it completely screws up the coherence of the plot. Sometimes it makes sense for a secret to be revealed in the story but the player doesn’t have enough XP, and sometimes the player has the XP but buys it in a completely inappropriate time, making the revelation a lot less impactful than it could be.

I’m playing around with a couple incarnations of giving the other players at the table control of each other’s secrets…like someone has Lady Grey’s Secret Sheet and she has someone else’s, and the players are responsible for that player’s revelations, but I’m not convinced that’s the way to go. I want the players to get into exploring their own stories, and in my experience they can’t do that as much if they’re also worried about running someone else’s story.

My thought is that my answer lies somewhere in aggressive scene framing, focusing on one character at a time but still working the other characters in with a supporting role. Scene framing is a fairly new concept for me however, and I wanted to get some opinions from you guys so I can point myself in the right direction before I drop too much time into developing it.

Thanks guys!

January 28, 2008 Posted by | Kingdom of Nothing | 2 Comments

KoN googlegroup

Three posts in a row…I love days off 🙂

Anyway, I got a lot of people who said they’d be interested in playtesting the game. To facilitate this I created a googlegroup I’m going to post it up to the NYC larp troupe, story-games and nerd nyc.

the group is going to be at

January 28, 2008 Posted by | Kingdom of Nothing | Leave a comment

An Odds Question

So I’m diving into a coins driven resolution mechanic. The maximum number of pennies UnderWorld uses is five and I’d like to go higher than that and maybe also use nickels and dimes (possibly quarters), but they did have a nifty little table breaking down the odds of throwing coins:


I can’t figure out what formula they’re using. I’ll more than likely need more than five coins so I need to know what the odds are. Then I need to figure out how nickels and dimes factor in. Let me know if you’ve got some spare time to help a brotha out

January 28, 2008 Posted by | Kingdom of Nothing | 5 Comments

Back from Dreamation with a whole bunch of broken game mechanics

Great seeing everyone this past weekend! Here’s a quick list of edits that will be going into the next draft of KoN while they’re still fresh in my head. For the most part I know what changes need to be made, but the stuff in red I still need to figure out how to do:

~SECRET REVELATION: This one is the most important thing to fix. If this sucks play sucks (and right now that’s the case). As it stands, lets say there’s five players (the optimal number in my experience)…the GM is responsible for pushing along 25 secrets. That’s a lot to keep track of. In my third playtest at dreamation, I tried doling out one secret to each player. It was their responsibility to bring it across to the player it belonged to. It fell apart because we were still figuring out how to make it work, but my plan is to push that idea a little further. I’m simply going to hand out secrets sheets to other players at the table and tell them that they’re responsible for one character. My reservation about this is that it’s not going to be fun because people my have a hard time playing their character to the extent they want to while essentially running a personal plot for another character. I’m pretty stumped with this one, but I’m going to push ahead and try a few things instead of standing still and scratching my head.

I also think this game would strongly benefit from some aggressive scene framing around secrets

~CONFLICT MECHANICS: I’m getting rid of dice. It hurts my heart that I’m simply throwing out a system that I dropped so much damn time into, but I’m moving to a randomizer that fits the idea behind the game better: coins. From what I understand UnderWorld (not related to the movie of the same title) has a similar mechanic. I’ve known about it for a while, but I’ve been a little wary of using a coin based system because I’m already fairly similar in genre to the game. I’m different enough though that I’m comfortable with exploring the idea. The concept is that a player shakes some coins in a cup and only counts the heads-up ones. I’m still keeping the cooperative aspect in here and I have a few ideas about how to work it in. Obviously I’ll post more as I figure it out.

~THE LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL: Characters need motivation to get themselves out of their situation. A Light at the end of the tunnel is replacing Longings as the driving motivations for the character…it’s why the characters work so hard to pull themselves out of the nothing.

~RELATIONSHIP MAPS: Two relationship maps are created in phase three of character creation: one by the players and one by the GM (need a new name for the judge). The players invent how they know each other and their relationships currently. They have to have a strong connection with at least one other person at the table. The GM figures out how they were connected in their past life.

~WRITING SECRETS: I’m going to need to focus on writing effective secrets. I’m going to type up a lot of sample secrets, and include a section where I make some bad secrets and tell players how to improve them.

~LINER BACKSTORIES: Throwing out the web, making all the backstories have some kind of chronological order or at least build on each other

Thanks for all the feedback I got from you guys at the con!

January 27, 2008 Posted by | Kingdom of Nothing | 5 Comments

KoN: Dreamation 2008 edition

The illustration needs a bit more work, but here’s a mock up of the cover for the Dreamation Ashcan. I’m not selling it, but this may or may not end up going to color for the final cover…I haven’t decided yet.

EDIT: WordPress wasn’t cooperating with me, but I fixed it:


January 18, 2008 Posted by | Kingdom of Nothing | 4 Comments

Grungy layout stuff

So I’ve been playing around with layout ideas. I want the book to feel really entropic, like rusted metal or a crumbling brick wall. The challenge with doing grunge layout is keeping all the dirty stuff from being too distracting from the text. I’d like to hear your thoughts on whether this looks okay or if I should take some stuff away…


January 9, 2008 Posted by | Kingdom of Nothing | 5 Comments

balancing social commentary with urban fantasy

So I haven’t posted in a while because I’ve been on a pretty hot writing streak and up until now I haven’t had many issues with anything I’ve been writing. Tonight I was stuck with a philosophical issue and I thought I’d put it to the group to get some opinions. I think I know where I stand, but I’d like to get some other perspectives on it.

As the title of the post implies, Kingdom of Nothing has always been a balancing act between social commentary and urban fantasy. I’ve been much more aware of this fact after Mike pointed out that what I was writing could conceivably be interpreted as exoticizing the plight of the homeless by adding monsters and magic (this is a paraphrase…read the post for his exact words). I still stand by my feeling that fantasy is often used to deal with relevant social issues in metaphor, but I’m walking a fine line here. One wrong step and the game gets across a very different message than I’m intending. For some people it already does come across as belittleing to the people who have to live on the street, but I’m okay with that as long as I feel I’ve handled the issue the way I wanted to.

I’ve written two chapters to this effect. The first, Slipped Through the Cracks, deals with surviving on the street. It goes into what shelters are like, the effects that sleep deprivation have on the body and mind and health issues that arise from sleeping on the street. It also goes into street drugs in some detail; things like how crack is formed, how it’s taken, some of the ingredients used in meth, the effects of long-term drug use (I go into some pretty intense detail on this one. It’s scary stuff), etc. There’s a pretty long section of the chapter devoted to drug use, but I think it’s really important. Drugs are responsible for quite a few people being on the streets. Even if the characters themselves aren’t using, more than likely they’ll end up dealing with a few addicts living on the streets. It’s also not something a lot of gamers are going to know many details about (I’m guessing), and it’s necessary at least for the judge to know about that world in order to portray it (as I’m writing this I’m realizing I should write up some information on mental illnesses, as they’re just as prevalent if not more so than drugs)This chapter is all based in reality.

The second chapter is called Strange Loathesome Monsters, a title which I really like but will probobly have to change because it started out being about cobwebs and dimmerstiffs, but I’ve also written about Gatherings. Some of the Gatherings are pretty strange and loathesome, but I’m a bit uncomfortable with calling them monsters.This is the chapter inspired by DRYH’s really awesome NPC’s, and the more I wrote it the more I realized how necessary it was to bring the game together, at least for me. Each character is designed as a plot hook. There’s the Eater of Sins, who acts as a kind of Minotaur for the Gatherings of the city. When someone is found guilty of some crime, they’re tossed into the sewers where it lives and they have to survive and try to escape. Maybe a character is wrongly accused, gets thrown into the labyrinth and has to escape, or a character’s Gathering has to go around collecting evidence to exonerate them during the trial. All of the NPC’s have something like that going on…I won’t write them unless I can think of a game or two surrounding them that’s not just “Kill the monster, get the treasure.” This is all sub-plot stuff for the most part, but it could feed into the metaplot as well. I have a minor issue in that the Dimmer-stiffs are too similar to the Named Ones (big nasty cobwebs). That won’t be too hard to fix…I have to focus on making them shells of real people instead of straight-up monsters like the Named Ones.

My real issue is the the Gatherings I invented. I really like them, but if anything exoticizes homelessness in this game, it’s these guys. I’ve got a kind of Bacchean cult, a group of wandering storytellers and crazy religious zealots.

Having sample gatherings is necessary for a bunch of reasons but one main one: I want to have Lost antagonists. Creating homeless bad guys (especially ones that are so fantastical) gets into some dicey waters for me and my vision of where the game is going, but I’m hoping I’ve laid enough realism in there with the rest of the book to counterbalance it. The zealots are the ones bothering me the most I think…partly because they play into the apocalyptic street preacher stereotype.

Anyway if you’ve got some time, I’d love for you guys to take a look at the chapters and hit me with some criticism, positive or negative. Here they are as of now. I have to clean up the writing and stuff, but the idea’s there: two chapters

January 7, 2008 Posted by | Kingdom of Nothing | 2 Comments

locations, tiered plot and going overboard

In the ‘coming back to the kingdom’ post, I mentioned a location creation system that I worked into the Chargen. Basically, a sheet of paper is passed around along with the secrets sheets and players each create a location. I’ve refined this system a bit in order to make the locations matter to the narrative as much as the secrets do.Basically, players answer three questions about the location:

-What/where is the the location?
-Why is it/will it be important to the gathering?
-What is the conflict surrounding the location?

So as an example, an abandoned subway station (#1) that harbors a powerful Ragpenny (ragpennys are magical artifacts) the players will need to defeat a cobweb (#2) but is inhabited by a Gathering of mad religious zealots (#3)

So here’s the issue:

I’m getting concerned that I’m overdefining the creation process, but on the other hand, given the playtests I’ve run and listened to, people seem confused as how to get the game rolling. My hope is that by creating places that the characters will want/need to get to, but have some conflict surrounding them, it encourages exploration of the game world and gives them something to focus on as they work towards their goal of self discovery.

As it stands now there are three tiers to the plot:

The first tier is the subplot. This is the immediate threats and resolutions that would make up the substance of the individual games. Subplots are created by the locations, minor cobwebs, etc. In general, they’re introduced and resolved within a session or two, but they feed into the larger (more important) tiers, metaplot andpersonal plot.

Metaplot I talked about a few months ago, but just to quickly recap, it’s the larger story that lasts through the entirety of the game. It’s an amagamation of the conflicts and antagonists the characters faced in their previous lives, only with a different face. The purpose of the metaplot is to give everyone a reason to stick together and keep moving.
The final tier, and by far the most important, is the personal plot, the journeys of the individual characters to find out who they were. This is the point of the game, and at no point should the subplot or metaplot interfere with the personal plot. Which brings me to my worry.

I’ve had this sinking feeling I’m overdefining too much. Everything I’ve come up with in recent weeks I think makes the game work better, but it’s also kind of tough to get perspective on it as a whole. I may need to do an overhaul and see if there’s anything I can simplify or make cleaner.

December 13, 2007 Posted by | Kingdom of Nothing | 3 Comments