Sunday, November 2, 2014

RPPR's Game Designer's Workshop: Playtester's Progress

Believe it or not, I am still alive and working on games. Things have been uber-crazy the past year and seem to only be accelerating. You can hear more in-depth updates about my life and game design in the latest episode of RPPR's GDW: Playtester's Progress.

For those of you not of the podcast bent, here's the "too long; don't listen" update on Hebanon Games.

Personal News

Hebanon Games is no longer in immediate danger of going under because it's CEO and entire workforce (i.e. me) starved to death. After an insanely long and arduous job search, I've finally found another teaching position at a school I'm very happy with. The kids need my help, the staff shares my goals, and I'm rewarded for my efforts. It's all-in-all a vast improvement over my previous full-time job, and it pays much better than the hodge-podge mixture of part-time/night-shift/freelance work I'd been surviving off of for the past year.

That said, the commute to my new job is over an hour (one-way), and I'm working under a bigger course-load than I've ever experienced before. The crippling poverty and depression are alleviated, but they've been replaced with a hectic schedule geared away from game design. It's a good thing overall, but production has slowed and will continue to crawl at a snail's pace until the summer.

Time to write full-time again will come though, and I wouldn't have made it long enough to get there were it not for people continuing to support my work by buying into the No Soul Left Behind Kickstarter, purchasing The Devotees, and promoting No Security in print. While that money isn't enough to buy healthcare or anything, it was literally the difference between having a home and being turned out into the street on multiple occasions. I can't thank all of you enough. I never intended this stuff to be a full-time gig, but the fact that it supported my family for the most difficult year of our lives is something for which I will be eternally grateful.

Red Markets

I've been working on my baby this entire time. While progress is slow and piecemeal, I'm light-years closer to completion that I was at the start of this little project. The rules have gone through five rounds of playtesting. At this point, the game runs a mean one-shot, and I've played several successful randomly-generated and designed scenarios with a variety of groups. The rules aren't perfect, but they are definitely at the "tweaking" phase rather than the "throw out and despair" phase.

I have fun running Red Markets, and my friends have fun playing it. That's closer than I could have ever imagined being even six months ago.

Right now, the rules are in "Caleb-ese" (chick-scratch notes that constitute the bare minimum I need to remind myself of things I already know). I'm in the middle of drafting them into legible chapters that other people can use to teach themselves the game. From there, I'll be playtesting the macro rules (campaign play, roleplaying incentives, character advancement, etc) with the RPPR group and distributing a closed Beta playtest to some fans on the forums.

From there, it's just a matter of drafting the macro rules and all the setting material. Then we are ready to start the commercial and art direction stuff required for the Kickstarter.

How long will that take? Well, see the employment stuff above: next year at the absolute earliest, and that's dependent upon scoring a lighter course-load for next year and a productive summer. What I can say is that the project will get done; I've progressed far enough and seen enough potential in Red Markets that failure is no longer an option.


The only real sad part of getting this new job is having to cut back on the work I take from other companies. I love working with people like Arc Dream and Posthuman Studios, and I was originally planning to use GenCon to increase the stable of clients in my freelancer files. I'm having trouble enough finding times to meet current commitments though. I'll be taking jobs as they come from my current collaborators, but I'm going to hold off on working in any more systems until I get Red Markets done.

Everything Else

I hit up GenCon this year and it was the best ever...just like every other year. I also got some great testing done at Springfield GAME this year. In general, I'm looking to increase my convention presence this summer and into next year, perhaps producing an ashcan draft of Red Markets to sell at the IGDN booth and/or running the design gauntlet that is Metatopia.

I'm getting really into board and card games, making pie-in-the-sky plans to throw my hat in that arena after Red Markets.

I'm still on the twitterz at HebanonGCal. I mainly talk about game design stuff, so give me a follow without fear of hearing about what I ate that day.

RPPR is great as always. I don't get to play nearly as much as I used to, but I'm trying to get in on a game with the guys at least once a week still. GDW with Ross is stimulating as always, and I often ponder doing another, two-folks-talking podcast in the traditional format, but I can't decide on a topic.

Anyway, that's anything and everything. Thank you for continuing to follow Hebanon Games. We'll keep you posted as we can, and I hope y'all are still around when we have something to show for all your time and devotion.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Kickstarter: No Soul Left Behind

If Hebanon Games has been quiet for awhile, it's because I've been on an employment rollercoaster for the last six months. I've got a new teaching contract for this upcoming year, so after some initial adjustment time, things should be returning to the same production schedule that got No Security out the door. Maybe next up will be Red Markets, or maybe I'll pick another freelancing job at GenCon, but I should be financially stable enough to begin creating with some regularity soon.

I'm eternally grateful to the RPG companies that shoved some work my way during these rough times. Posthuman, as always, is great to work with. The main brunt of my writing force has gone behind a project for Arc Dream called No Soul Left Behind.

NSLB is the first campaign and sourcebook for Greg Stolze's Better Angels. The system setting is a world where supervillains get their power from being possessed by demons. In order to appease the little bastards, players have to perpetrate acts of evil. Go TOO evil, and your soul gets dragged to hell. But if you do acts of meaningless, hollow villainy -- like carving your name in the moon or ransoming a monument -- you keep the demon in check and get to enjoy your superpowers a bit longer by wallowing in the moral grey area.

No Soul Left Behind takes this premise and moves it into an inner-city charter high school. Not only do the players have to figure out the mystery of their powers, they have to appease their hellspawn while trying to keep their struggling community alive. It's my 200+ page magnum opus on educational policy reform, moral conundrums, and absurd social satire.

You can listen to AP's of the whole campaign over at my ever-loyal partner RPPR. The book is crowd-funding on Kickstarter currently, and I'd really appreciate any support the fans of Hebanon could provide. In addition to, you know, helping the thing actually exist and enabling me to get paid, I think the book is easily the best thing I've ever written. It's a campaign quite unlike any other and works with a great game system everyone should try. I'd really love to see it get out into the world and find an audience, so any help y'all could provide would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks for your time. Expect my report from GenCon soon!

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Game Chef 2014

Ross Payton and I decided to participate in Game Chef 2014. You can find the theme and ingredients at the link. We've got one week to make this a game! Here's what we came up with.

We camp up with an idea using Absorb + Sickle + Wild. Right now we are just titling the game after the theme: “There is no book.”

The basic idea is that a supernatural creature has entered your home. It can take any form, but it likes to disguise itself as common objects. In most homes, that means the best camouflage is books, DVDs, or something similar (There is no book). It absorbs the traits around it and hides until it is time to strike. The goal is to find and destroy the specific object the creature is masquerading as before it can absorb the traits of the players, kill them, and run amok in the world. But every question and false guess the players make gives the creature more ammo to imitate them and escape.

Mechanically, it’s ISpy and twenty questions with a supernatural horror twist. The goal is that it will be good for pick-up-and-play in almost any home.

In the first round, the GM defines the play area and puts  glyphs (symbols representing ingredients of the contest) on random items in the play area. For instance, if using a bookshelf and 3 players, the GM would slap 3 post-it notes on 3 random books.

Then the players get to “code” the magic spell to look for certain traits. So the player with the corresponding sickle glyph might put his on a book with the same color cover and say, “One of the defining traits is color”. The person with the star glyph might put theirs on a book by the same author as the one with a star already on it and say, “one of the defining traits is author.”

Once that’s done, the GM asks the players to close their eyes or turn away. He decides which of the items is actually the creature. Then everyone gets 3 tokens and can begin the game.

Players can spend tokens to do one of two things. The first option is to eliminate options based on a trait. So the player established genre as a trait, she might say, “So me a book that isn’t the right genre.” The GM then turns a horror novel the wrong way on the shelf. If someone else asks the same thing later, the GM can’t pick another horror novel, but they can eliminate a romance novel or something else the creature isn’t hiding as.

The other thing a token buys is that it can let the player ask a yes/ no question based on the established traits. “Is the book part of a series?” wouldn’t work unless the trait had been established with the glyphs, but “Does the book have a black cover?” would be fine considering previous examples.

Players can ask clarifying questions for free. Things like “would you call this a horror novel” or “what color would you call this book’s cover.”

The horror aspect comes in because the book can spend tokens back. The book can turn over a choice that’s been eliminated by giving a token back to the person that asked. The book can make any notes a character takes go missing, forcing the player to rely on memory. Lastly, we’re going to write a list of questions the creature can ask back to the players as the hunt goes on: does it bleed? Can it feel pain? Is it afraid? Etc. The GM roleplays this and keeps the pressure up as the game goes on. It also provides the ability to work the game into other RPGs by making it a sort of mini-LARP where the spell’s side-effect means characters have to answer yes/no questions truthfully, just as the creature is forced to do.

Finally, when all the tokens have been spent, each member of the group has one guess each. They put their elder sign glyph on the object they think is the creature. If someone gets it right, they win. If nobody guesses it, they lose.

We’re also thinking about adding a time limit to each section and maybe a third stage of the game akin to werewolf/mafia where the object has already pulled a “Thing” on one of the PCs and it becomes a matter of stopping it before the creature picks off the rest of the group.

What do you guys think?

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Eclipse Phase: The Devotees

Hebanon Games isn't dead, despite what this blog might otherwise indicate. I've been very busy doing some freelancing work, trying to find a new day job, and picking away at Red Markets over the past few months. One of the results of all that quite time on the blog is The Devotees, the latest scenario from Eclipse Phase. The guys over at Posthuman Studios were nice enough to let me write for them based on the strength of the Know Evil campaign over at RPPR, and they were nicer still when they allowed me to turn in a draft nearly two times longer than what they wanted :-P. It went out to KS backers a few weeks ago, but the print and PDF bundle is now available. That's 27 glossy color pages and a mini-campaign's worth of gaming for $10!

The Devotees deals with the shadier side of Firewall as agents are tasked with investigating an X-threat on Legba, the heart of the ego trafficking syndicate Nine Lives. It makes for two-to-three nights of gaming full of transhuman espionage, voodoo, and existential horror. Give it a read and let me know what you think in the comments. Better yet, write a review for DTRPG!

Hopefully, I'll have more to post soon about the fruits of my long blogging absence. Thanks for following us here at Hebanon and stay tuned.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

RPPR's Game Designer's Workshop: Mechanics

Episode 3 is up at RPPR

The nuts and bolts of any game are, well, the nuts and bolts. Creating and balancing game mechanics is a tricky business, especially with a brand new system. Ross and I discuss our thoughts on designing new game mechanics in connection with my game-in-progress, Red Markets. Enjoy!

P.S: It's been some time since we recorded this. I'm a couple pages away from having a rough alpha of Red Markets ready to playtest. Now we just need to find some people to playtest it :o


Sunday, January 12, 2014

Learning to POD

So blogging, huh? That's a thing I used to do :-)

Anyway, as I hope everyone knows by now, No Security is finally out. Go buy a copy...or fifty.

Since our company's PR philosophy is increasingly turning out to be "run through the minefield first and let everyone else watch," I thought I'd talk for a bit about adapting the No Security PDFs for print. I'm sure we'll eventually do a RPPR Game Designer's Workshop episode over this subject as well, but since our release schedule for that podcast is tied to the production of Red Markets, we are WAY off from talking about that.

Lesson #1: Don't ADAPT things for print when you can MAKE them for print

Not even counting correspondence with Ean via email, I must have spent 60 hours over the past few months over at Ross Payton's house trying to figure out how to make the PDFs into a book. My buddy was kind enough to work for food (mmmm...Freddy's), but without his years of experience in InDesign I'd have been completely screwed. Issues with the borders, the gutters, the bleeds, and the pagination came up in adapting the PDFs -- issues that would have never occurred if we'd designed for print in the first place. Many of the issues Ross hadn't even seen before, so a lot of our process was "What if we click this button this time? ...Nope. That causes the file to explode. Revert to backup and try again."

I don't regret starting with ransomed PDF's. Hell, we never reached the print stretch goal and just decided to do it anyway. But I have learned the hard way that it is infinitely easier to design for print from the start and make an electronic release later rather than the other way around.

Lesson #2: I am NOT a graphic designer

There's a reason graphic designers are paid money for what they do. I thought it was because they could perform the tasks of layout faster and with more style than a layman. I was wrong. They can do that, but they can also do it AT ALL, which is a bigger hurdle than I expected.

InDesign is the most baffling piece of software I've ever had the displeasure to work with (this is coming from a guy with training in AUTOCAD, a professional drafting software for mechanical engineers). No matter how simplistic, common, and necessary a command may be, InDesign seems determined to hide it in the least intuitive submenu-of-a-submenu possible.

I'm sure a lot of the struggle came from my lack of formal training and inexperience. I hope that one day I can get to the level of Ean and Ross: "Oh, you just need to quintingle the whatz-it! Just go to the flibberterfur menu, simultaneously hold down FQ and ^, then say "The swallow is separated from the flock" three times, and it's fixed!" But I'm definitely not there yet, and I shudder to think how much more time it will take to get there.

Which is why, whenever the next KS is ready to launch, I'm factoring a pro graphic designer into the budget. If I don't make enough money, I'll have no choice but to hack through the process myself, but I could write another book in the amount of time it takes me to figure out the simplest task in InDesign. I spent 7 HOURS one day trying to get the border to stop overlapping the page number on a single page. Take that inefficiency and spread it over the course of an entire book; there are few prices that wouldn't be worth avoiding that pain in the ass.

Lesson #3: Hire an editor

I knew this already. Your writing is never as good when it's produced in a vacuum. Certain errors are invisible to the author that made them. But between being an English teacher and the generous reviews performed by friends, I thought I had a pretty good handle on things. I did not.

I'd had enough time between completing the last scenario and putting the book together to see a LOT of errors I'd made in the PDFs (I'm embarrassed and sorry just thinking about it). I still attest that the quality was better than many others in the RPG industry in terms of clean prose, but I was nowhere near the professional quality I'd fooled myself into thinking I'd reached.

Again, I think I'll be trying to get the Red Markets KS to fund hiring a professional copy editor with a good turnover time. If we don't clear that much, I can do it myself and feel more comfortable than if I have to do layout on my own. But I realize now that it's going to seriously slow down production; I need to take more time to agonize over every word next time...especially since I don't plan on "soft releasing" as much as the material online next time around.

Lesson #4: You will not see the problems coming

Here's some pictures of the first proof copies I ordered:

Alright! The B+W and the color versions are looking comparable despite coming from different print houses. Things are looking good so far.

Okay: here's some of those editing issues I missed in the PDF's. The page number isn't bolded where it needs to be, and the spacing is inconsistent with the rest of the book. I can fix that.


No, seriously. Stop. This isn't funny anymore.

The mysterious let's-just-black-out-entire-pages-of-text problem took the better part of a week to figure out. And in fixing it, I caused a whole slew of issues involving the gutters and borders that took another week to figure out. Keep in mind that this was just an issue with the color version, not the B+W. That version had it's own set of problems.

Writing and art can be hard. Sometimes inspiration doesn't come like it should and slogging your way past it doesn't work like you hope. Day job concerns start intruding and production starts falling behind. But those instances are rarer than this kind of finicky technical crap. It's my feeling that messing around with this annoying nonsense is what makes so many books in the RPG industry late. It certainly held me back more than anything else.

Lesson #5: Using multiple POD services sucks, but it might be worth it

I have two versions of No Security. The color version is through DTRPG and their printer: Lightning Source. The B+W version is through CreateSpace. Color runs for $20 and B+W runs for $15.99. 

Both companies have different requirements for printing. That means I was essentially building two different book files, each meeting different technical specs for the interior and cover image. This was an enormous pain, and a lot of people have been asking me why I did it this way.

Well, my first concern was experimentation. I'd seen good sales with DTRPG but never used their print option before. Meanwhile, CreateSpace blows away their price per book (sometimes by as much as 60% cheaper, depending on the publication's specs). Furthermore, Ross was very familiar with CreateSpace and knew nothing about how Lightning Source operated. Since he was my only real mentor through the process, I had to play to his strengths. I thought by using two houses I could basically shop around and find out which one I wanted to use exclusively for Red Markets. 

But I may end up splitting between two houses again in the future. My CreateSpace version isn't doing very well in sales, and it's association with Amazon means that I lose a bigger cut than I do from DTRPG. However, that Amazon money means international shipping goes down by about $25 for anybody buying the book in Europe. International shipping is the biggest bane facing KS products today, and since CreateSpace's massive infrastructure means they can print across the pond rather than shipping there, I think it's a good way to offer international rewards in a KS when so many other projects are having to charge a $30 "you're foreign" tax or leave out international backers altogether.

If it can get more international backers on board for the KS, I'll probably adapt book files to multiple POD houses in the future. It's a huge pain, but if it clears me enough extra start up cash to hire a full-time layout person, then it's their problem. I can keep productivity up on my end with the writing/promotion side of things, and we'll just end up making more sales in the long run.

So how is it doing?

Not bad. Not great. As of the moment I write this, I've sold 15 copies on DTRPG and 2 on CreateSpace in about a week. That's 17 towards the magic 70 we need to break even on costs. As I said in this post, we need twice that to fund the initial art for the next KS. With the PWYW scenarios still pulling in some money, the 4 copies I sold to a local gamestore, and some convention appearances (hopefully), I'm confident the book will still prove to be worthwhile financially as well as in terms of experience. But I don't think it's going to fund the upfront costs of a Red Markets campaign. It looks like I'm going to need to find a better day job before then.

Hooray... I get to write out my address again because
you disabled copy + paste on your "e-application." Oh joy.

In Conclusion...

So that's the state of Hebanon Games in this post-book-release world. 

In other news, I'm about halfway done with the alpha playtest rules for Red Markets. Once I finish this temp gig I'm currently working until the end of January, I'll be nose to the grindstone until I finish the first campaign book for Arc Dream's Better Angels (it's about half-way done already). Then, assuming status quo is maintained, we should be ass-deep in playtesting and writing Red Markets, recording RPPR Game Designer's Workshop episodes, and designing a KS campaign. Finally, God and finances willing, I'll be headed to GenCon with the RPPR and IGDN crews, building another year's worth of things to do.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Print Version Available!

The day has finally come! No Security is available for POD!

A full color version just chock-full of Ean's beautiful artwork is available at DTRPG for $20.00

For those that like to keep it simple, a B+W version is available from CreateSpace $15.99. Since they piggyback off the Amazon system, shipping should be better for international customers than the color version.

The Amazon version of the B+W book should be searchable on their website in 5-7 days, so use those gift cards from Christmas, if you got them.

Regardless of the method, you get a copy of all five of the core scenarios in your hand. And I get to knock an accomplishment off my bucket list to boot!

Thank you for supporting Hebanon Games this far. We really hope you enjoy the book.

Happy horror gaming!