Grand Guignol 2017 Malifaux Campaign – Battle Report (Story)

Week 1 – Game 1

Resurrectionists (me) vs. Gremlins – 35ss

Arcane Ritual – Gremlins Defended

My schemes – Claim Jump, Hunting Party

Result – Resurrectionists 10-0, Gremlins – strategic withdrawal

Barter – Grotesque Trophy (salt! I flipped a 12, which was great, but I had the red joker in my cheat hand… this would be the time I get it when the campaign won’t let you use it, rofl)

No Injuries

Vincent St. Clair knelt, hidden behind decaying trees, as he surveyed the landscape before him. Dilapidated buildings dotted the carved-out piece of land, Malifaux eager to reclaim what had once been hers. Bones littered the ground, along with the remains of metal work implements. Broken walls and crates dotted were intermixed with the skeletal hands of the land; twisted and gnarled trees that clawed towards the overcast sky. In the center of the broken settlement stood an obelisk. A geometric spire carved out of blood-stained obsidian, it towered over the buildings, squat as they were.

Vincent couldn’t help but wonder how it was excavated and brought to the surface.  He studied it for a moment, it’s faint glow growing in the darkening light of twilight.

His sources had informed him this was an old strip mining operation, one that had dug a bit too deep and greedily. It had been abandoned years ago when the monument had been discovered. Several horrible and increasingly disturbing accidents led many to believe it was cursed and the few remaining soulstone miners that left told wild tales of terrible visions and nightmares.

Shuffling from behind him drew his attention away and he looked at his assigned company. It still made him uneasy to work so closely with the dead. Especially as disturbing as his companions were. Lacey was one of Reva’s newest followers. She had been a lady of pleasures until a run-in with a certain horror of the night. Reva told him she had defected from the insane necromancer, desperate to have a modicum of her own control.

Clarice was a nurse, who worked under Dr. McMourning at the guild. Insane, but quite adept at administering her various chemical cocktails, Reva believed her chaotic ramblings about wanting “to make a difference.”

The most disturbing of course was Newt, a fallen child of one of the inner cities, raised to unlife by the dark magics of Malifaux. She clung to her teddy-bear, a mask covering her decaying features. She clung to the shadows, silent as the mist that seemed to follow her every move.

Vincent once more shook his head at the abominations that surrounded and obeyed him, then turned back to the task at hand. Reva wanted this monument examined, and that meant dislodging the presence of the chaotic Gremlins that had stumbled across the thing.

Wielding their cobbled and stolen firearms, he’d only had seen three so far, but they were the chaff. Cannon fodder. And where there was fodder there was a leader.

He looked to Newt and motioned with his head to the camp. The lost child nodded and vanished into shadow. She returned a few minutes later and held up seven fingers. Then pointed at him with a gun and then again to one of the grassy knolls on the other side. Vincent frowned. That probably meant the LaCroix family.

“Perfect,” he muttered under his breath. He knelt and drew his finger through the dirt, creating a lay out of the camp. “Where?” he asked the crooligan.

She made markings indicating positions. Looked like they were camped around the knoll with the two bayou gremlins patrolling the east and west. Vincent looked for any solid cover beyond the monument itself… not a lot that would stop a bullet from a high-powered rifle. He looked back to Newt.

“I want you on the eastern flank. Try to draw the attention of the gremlin there and lead him into the woods. Be careful.”

Newt nodded and vanished. Vincent turned to the other two. “You’re with me. Where there’s gremlins there’s those god-forsaken giant roosters. Clarice, as soon as you see it, make sure it’s too doped up to flank us.”

Clarice giggled and lovingly stroked her various vials and syringes. Vincent shrugged off the ice that went down his spine. He reached into his jacket and pulled out the two runes that Reva had given him. Using such unnatural magicks always made him hesitant, but he needed to deal with that sniper.

“Alfred, your presence is requested,” Vincent said, his voice a powerful command. The rune cracked in half as a spectral hand ripped through the dirt, a graveyard spirit pulling itself out of the ground, clutching its beloved tombstone. The other rune, Vincent tossed to the sky.


A flash of hellish green light erupted from the rune as it shattered, the flapping of wings and the screech of a raven echoing in the air. The Emissary ripped into reality, it’s bipedal and avian form cloaked in robes of rich purple as it descended to stand before him.

Cries of alarm came from the Gremlin camp and Vincent motioned the disturbing creature forward. “We need cover.”

The Emissary nodded and cawed, quickly moving up and summoning crystalline shards near the monolith. A gunshot rang out and plinked off the erected barrier.

“Let’s get this done,” Vincent growled and stalked forward, fearless of the horrible aim of the gremlins, now that the sniper was blocked off.

The graveyard spirit kept up with the Carrion Emissary, granting it unnatural durability. A loud crowing sound drew his attention right before a Gremlin, yipping and hollering, burst through the brush atop a giant rooster bearing down on the Emissary. Clarice promptly dosed out some heavy medications, and the Rooster went crazy, scratching and clawing at the air in front of it, fighting some invisible foe only it could see whilst the Rider held on for dear life.

Vincent smirked and continued looking for his quarry. Gremlins were spineless without their leader. Seeing an elderly Gremlin cursing and sputtering, he quickly put a crossbow bolt into it, dropping it to the dirt. The less peons to interfere, the better.

“Come on, where are you?” Vincent muttered under his breath as he looked around.

Answering his query, a gremlin leapt out from behind the cover of a tree, brandishing a wicked looking sword. A lit cigarette hung out of its mouth as it barred the way, guns adorning the diminutive creature’s body and a wide brimmed hat that looked like he stole it from the Ortega Family; definitely a LaCroix.

Vincent looked at the sword and then at the Gremlin. Muttering an arcane curse under his breath, he leapt back, his bolts imbued with dark energy that would tear through mundane and arcane protections alike. His crossbow fired rapidly, the autoloading clip allowing him to place three bolts into the creature before it had even said a word; dropping it into the dirt. A few half-hearted shots were fired as its companions saw him drop, but all desire to stick around and get murdered fled quickly, and they beat a hasty retreat.

“If only all battles were so easily won,” Vincent said to no one in particular.

Newt warped into the shadows next to him, clutching her teddy bear tightly, a butcher knife in her hand.

“Newt, Make sure none lurk about, and set up warnings around the perimeter to ward off any that might come looking. Lacey… Clarice, prepare the arcane ritual as Reva instructed.”

They obeyed immediately.

Vincent was about to dismiss the Emissary and spirit when he heard a call in his mind. He whirled around, crossbow at the ready, scanning about. He felt a pull, like some ancient call of power, guiding him… Whispering to him. Slowly he walked towards it. At first he thought it was the monolith, but as the pull led him past it, he became even more suspicious. Promises of power untold and glimpses into the secrets of Malifaux whispered into his mind as he came upon a shattered crate. Lifting the lid he beheld a beautiful and ornate looking weapon. Reaching down, he picked it up, only to realize it was fake, unmarred from time simply due to being in the box and made of nothing that would rust. Rolling his eyes in frustration and questioning his own sanity he discarded the wasted trinket and turned to leave.

He stopped as his eyes caught sight of a bag, and the whispers of power renewed. Reaching down, he pulled the velvet sack out, and carefully emptied its contents into his hand. A macabre sculpt of mutilated forms and ripped apart bodies fell into his palm, warm to the touch. He looked at it and felt the aura of fear and terror that it could inspire in his enemies.

Not quite the secrets of Malifaux, but perhaps useful nonetheless, he thought to himself. Placing the trophy back into its pouch, he pocketed it and turned back to finish the job.

Meanwhile, two very lucky and not quite dead gremlins scurried off. Vowing to never let himself get caught so unawares again, Francois swore vengeance before running off to notify Perdita about the encroaching rezzers.

Some More Talk on Concept and Setting

What up interwebs, Chaos here.

So I’d thought I’d do another section on concept and then talk about my favorite design element: setting.


Something I didn’t really talk about in the last post, as I was addressing core ideologies was something that I think is quite pivotal in game design: Multiple concept design.

Multiple concept design is just that, it’s designing with multiple concepts in mind. It doesn’t stray at all from what I was talking about in my last blog, Theme vs. Concept, but it expands upon it. As noted in that blog, the concept of your game is a huge part of the equation that equals direction. If you don’t really have a concept, you’re just coming up with creative ideas. They may apply, they may not.

But when you start getting into complexity, you start having multiple concepts floating around. These concepts are like a roadmap for your design. Let’s talk about my game Runestorm for a minute in regards to this, just because I’ve already mentioned the other two in posts regarding concept.

Runestorm has several important concepts to it. The first and foremost is that it’s a tabletop RPG. That’s a biggun. The Runestorm in and of itself is a concept. Another of its core concepts is that I want it to separate combat class from non-combat class. I personally don’t like linking your skill sets to your combat type as there’s a plethora of examples of highly skilled and trained people who are also combat gods. Being multi-talented shouldn’t be exclusive, it should be the norm. Especially for a game type where the whole premise is that you are better than the average joe. That’s what level one (or starting character for games like White Wolf) is for basically every RPG out there… the distinction that you are no longer a standard dude or dudette in a town. You are something special. Bye bye, average joe; hello, hero of the ages. There has to be a check and balance to this, because no matter what your player may say, being good at EVERYTHING takes away from the experience. But more on that in another blog.

Another really big concept of the game for me is having multiple forms of magic. I never liked magic all coming from one place, so I adored DnD’s approach of divine vs arcane. But I wanted to take it a step further, so I have (yet another blog).

So you can see, there’s four concepts right there. The Romance of the Three Kingdoms game Irish and I are working on has the lowest amount of concepts yet, but that’s because we took three concepts and made it into our end goal concept from the get go. Normally I’d separate and tier multiple concepts just to keep myself in some sense of order but we went a different route with that one.

Which brings me to end goal concepts.

Whenever you are designing a game that has a lot of moving parts you have to have that direction of your end goal clearly defined. There’s a ton and a half of things that can be done in a boardgame, card game, etc that are cross purpose. The mechanics and implementations are interchangeable. Something simple like health is a good example. Arkham Horror uses a health mechanic on both its monsters and the investigators you play in the game. Magic the Gathering uses it as a win condition and for creature health. Dungeons and Dragons uses health for its players and its monsters. And of course every video game in existence where you fight or take part in battles of some kind use health.

And you can keep going with that. Primary components in Arkham and MtG are cards and tokens; randomness is pivotal in all of the aforementioned games… the lists are quite extensive. With so many concepts, ideas, mechanics and themes shared across mediums, its extremely important to have the end goal concept already detailed. Again this goes back to the whole thought process of aiding in cutting. You have to know when and where to cut stuff from your game to streamline and overall increase its fun factor. And having that end goal concept is super important to this. Not to mention to setting your mentality on the right path. If you know you’re making a card game, you will automatically screen stuff from your creative process that would be used in a tabletop game. Like dice rolling for instance.

Now, I’m not saying this is always a good thing. One of my favorite card games EVER used dice rolling: Battletech. Nothing says you CAN’T design outside the box. On the contrary, I feel you have to, to some degree. But being able to look back and go, “Yeah, that’s more a boardgame style mechanic,” can be immensely helpful. Again, it’s all about direction, and making sure you don’t tangent off down some sideroad TOO far.

Queue the segue!

One of the major concepts I think a game can have is its setting. But I never lump setting with concept. Huh? Yeah, I know, I’m being a little contradictory there.

But think about it… concepts are directional core ideas that establish the general flow of and goal of what your design is. Setting definitely does this. Only it’s way larger than a core idea. Or it should be, in my opinion. Yeah you can say, “My game is a high fantasy setting,” and that can be one of its concepts. But why would you? There is so much MORE. So I like to separate the two and have my core concepts, my themes and my setting.


There’s not a lot that can be said on what setting is, but there’s quite a bit that can be said on what it does. Obviously setting is just that; it’s the setting for what ever your creative design is. Everything has a setting in game design, from high fantasy to modern supernatural (the latest craze). Zombie apocalypse and Post apocalyptic are both common settings as is the more generic sci-fi, mystery and historical. All of these are general descriptors that tell you in a nutshell what the setting is.

But why stop there. Setting is your chance to really put pen to paper; to come up with fantastic ideas and flex that creative muscle. Mechanics and rules are hard to create where you’re not borrowing from somewhere else. There are just so many core things that HAVE to be present or it turns people off. Not because it was a bad idea, but because we’ve been groomed by the current monsters of our culture to expect certain things out of our games. And when they aren’t there, we nerdrage. Setting is the one place where you have carte blanche to just go WILD. Want mecha-zombies? Sure! Want chainsaws attached to rifles? Go for it! Want a thoroughly detailed world of magic incorporated into modern times? Yes!

The key here is to run wild but keep enough of a semblance of what you are designing so that you aren’t creating some crazed behemoth of a setting you have to reign in to get anything done with. Good setting design incorporates seamlessly with the game design. And vice versa, what separates good game design from great game design (for me at least) is the integration of setting into concept and theme. It’s a snake eating its own tail, but it’s perfectly possible and not as hard to do as it may sound.

Let’s take two brief examples: Skyrim and Arkham Horror.

There’s not a lot to say about Skyrim that hasn’t been said since its release. But for me, what stands apart from all the praise is that Skyrim’s setting, mechanics and implementations all fit. They created a language for the dragons, they gave it a history, they made it playable… yes, yes, YES. That’s great design. You get pulled into the world. All the abilities, mechanics and presentation of the game tie directly into the setting. Skyrim’s setting is almost more important than anything else. They designed the game around the setting and designed the setting around the game. And it’s a gorgeous example of what happens when that process is at the peak of its ability.

The same is true of Arkham Horror, a board game set in H.P. Lovecraft’s elder gods universe. Arkham Horror again sets all its abilities mechanics and presentation to tie directly into the setting. From going insane (a hallmark of Lovecraft’s works) to almost unbeatable battles (yet another nod to his style) they captured in board game form the feel of that setting. Now in this case the setting was well and thoroughly designed long before the game, but the game incorporates that setting so seamlessly that it feels like they were made for each other. I’ve spent many an hour playing this game, and anyone else who has played can tell you: you need some hours for it!

As I briefly stated above, what is happening with both of those games is very simple: their settings are fully fleshed out. Cthonic mythos, as its usually referred to around here, has been around for, like, ninety years. And Skyrim’s design team used university professors to help with some of their design (if I’m remembering the article I read on it correctly). They had every detail worked out.

Now that’s all well and good, but if you’re an independent, solo designer like I am you don’t have ninety years or a team of professionals helping you along. Regardless, care and attention must be taken to your setting. You don’t have to do what I’ve done with say, Runestorm, where I’ve fleshed out a world with like ten thousand years of history, but you should do a brainstorm or two (or three).

Sit down one day and go ok, what exactly IS in my setting? If you’re fantasy, are you high or low fantasy? What major characters might be around? Unique monsters or locales? Just ask some base questions, flesh out some current events. You don’t have to spend months on it, but if you spend a couple of hours a week for say maybe a month, you might be pleasantly surprised by the design choices and creative ideas that get spawned simply because of some setting concept you thought of.

I’ll end this blog with an example of creating mechanic from setting:

When I was designing the world for Runestorm, I decided I wanted Elementals. But after looking at my bestiary, I realized I didn’t like it just being plain old been around since AD&D Elementals. I wanted some more options. So I decided on creating tiers of Elementals. That’s when the idea of the Primals came around. Primals are the purest embodiment of an elemental force. Whether it’s the typical air and water types or the less typical blood and lightning. I wanted them to be powerful. But I realized that as I was designing these Primals, that I couldn’t use them too frequently. They needed to manifest only when the purity of their element allowed them to gain the power to breach the veil, a mystical barrier between the real world and theirs.

This led me to thinking that their should be almost godlike beings that exist in the most pure form of the elements themselves: air, earth, water and fire. These would eventually become known (tentatively) as Grand Primals. The lesser beings would become Primals and finally there would be the lowest tier, Elementals. But this took away from Elementals entirely because while on paper an Elemental and a Primal were identical, it felt like I’d changed the identity. So I gave Elementals something special over Primals: sentience.

The Grand Primals possess this as well, but the incarnations of the elements, Primals, are just that… primal. They don’t think or feel, they just exist in the form of their element. A Blood Primal will seek destruction, a lightning one will spawn lightning storms, an ice one might bring a cold snap… they are slaves to their primal instincts. So even though they are more powerful, they are uncontrollable. They just are. Like a force of nature.

By doing this I now had three distinct tiers and flavors of my elementals. The culmination of which lead me to the creation of one of my class concepts: Oathbound.

Because I had given sentience to my Elementals, it made me think of what they might want to do. I decided on the thing that really keeps them apart is that unlike Primals they don’t have the power to manifest in the real by themselves. They must be summoned or piggy back on a Primal’s manifestation. So taking a nod from other settings, I decided that they could not only be summoned, but could form pacts with those who summon them in exchange for power. These people are known as Oathbound.

The Elementals’ goal is simple: experience the real. And by granting their power to a “host” they can experience the real through that host. It’s usually benign, other than the characteristics of the elemental tend to blend into that of the hosts. Fire elementals, for example, tend to make their pact bearers more aggressive and hot-tempered for instance. There are also tell-tale signs based on how long the pact has been around: tinting of the skin, changing of eye color, etc. The problem that can arise for the Oathbound is a matter of will: if you make a pact with an elemental whose will is far greater than yours, over time it can subsume your identity. This isn’t an intentional thing, the elemental isn’t trying to eat your soul or anything; its just a side-effect. Regardless, if the elemental succeeds, you cease to be and your body basically becomes a walking vessel for the elemental. Which is why Oathbound aren’t everywhere. You have to have the strength of will to not be consumed by the very thing you are trying to work with.

I really liked the feel of one of the magic types running around was people who had formed pacts with elementals. And so I made two classes to incorporate that feel. One invokes the elemental directly, like a companion, and uses the magical power of the elemental as powerful spells and effects. I called these Summoners. The other invokes the elemental indirectly, instead channeling the power through powerful imbuements to themselves and their equipment. These were dubbed Channellers.

Names not withstanding (they are all tentative at the moment), I adore the feel and implementation of these classes. It ties in wonderfully with my world and makes for great flavor for the class backstories. It also set forth the tone for my class design: a singular power backstory with two classes each. I currently have five power backstories for a total of ten classes.

But more importantly, I stumbled upon the entire concept by working on my setting.

See you next blog, where I address the last of my intro blogs to design and discuss the two A’s: Accessible and Addictive.


Theme vs Concept

*Note: Yay I’m back and with a working computer!

Honeymoon was awesome. Lazy, but awesome. Of course though right before we left (like literally, 6 hours before we left, right before bedtime) my laptop crashed and was essentially unusable. So that kind of sucked. But I’m home now, honeymoon is over, computers are working and its back to writing blogs! So without further ado, here we go!

One of the first things I did wrong when I started designing was confusing the ideologies of Theme and Concept. For a little while they were interchangeable for me and I kind of lumped them together into one big mass of thoughts.

It took me a number of years before I finally got serious enough about game design to really look at what these two words meant and how the impacted my decisions when it came to design. As usual when I’m defining terms, I’ll start with the basics and google the definitions. But first let’s address the proper terminology.

When I say “theme” in regards to design, I’m short-handing it (verbally and otherwise) from “design theme”. This is an actual term and it differs GREATLY from plain old theme. And when I use the term “concept”, I’m referring to… well concept. There is a concept design and a design concept but I don’t use those terms (more on that later). Depending on who you ask they’re interchangeable as it’s obviously just the reversal of word order, but in my amateur opinion, they envelop two completely different things.

However, the base definitions are great starting points, so first let’s define theme and concept and then address their design based breathren.

Let’s jump in now, shall we?


 : the main subject that is being discussed or described in a piece of writing, a movie, etc.
 : a particular subject or issue that is discussed often or repeatedly
 : the particular subject or idea on which the style of something (such as a party or room) is based

Courtesy of

So if we look at the three different definitions of theme, we find a general underlying idea that the theme is the main focus of a work. Creative or otherwise. Some quick examples would be a book having the theme of redemption or a movie having the theme of good triumphing over evil. They are generic ideas that are reinforced throughout the work and give something akin to a spine to that work.

Every creative work has a theme. I suppose you COULD argue that, but for the sake of not delving into devil’s advocate territory, let’s just stick with that blanket statement. This is where the idea of design theme comes into play.

If we shift gears to we have the actual term design theme:

Design Theme
: Recurrent, underlying objective that ensures the overall consistency in the design of a family of products, their packaging, and/or the advertising campaign.

I’m sure the more areas you look, the more you’re going to find, but as I use these definitions just as quick jumping off points, let’s stop there. I’m too lazy to look past the first page of results in google anyways 😉

The important thing to note here is that the definitions are basically the same, though the design theme definition is a bit more specific. The design theme is the subject that ENSURES consistency, whereas theme in general is just the main subject.

This distinction matters a lot in game design and it’s why I initially was confusing concept with theme. I was always under the impression that the concept of something was its overall idea or subject matter; basically what it dealt with. I thought a theme was the same thing.

Theme and Concept are the one-two punch combination that gets you started in the right direction for game design. When you decide on a theme, what you are doing is coming up with the core idea that you want the entirety of the design to sync up with. Let’s take my Dragon CCG as an example:

The game is a two player dueling collectible card game set in a high fantasy setting where you take the role of a hero who is trying to defend his kingdom from the onslaught of a terrible dragon.

So what’s the theme? Its heroes defending their home against a powerful enemy. Notice that I didn’t say high fantasy or dragon in that statement; because that’s not the theme. That’s the design and the setting, but the theme is much more simplistic. It’s heroes vs enemy. It’s important for me to keep that in mind when I design the game because that theme has to carry the games mechanics and rules so that it doesn’t lose that feel. If I create a Dragon CCG that feels like a monster brawl, then I’ve strayed from my theme.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If you read my intro to the Dragon CCG, it was formerly a Godzilla CCG. And the theme of that was initially a giant monster stomping through cities on his way to fight another giant monster. Dumbed down it was a monster brawl game. You might also note that I used the word theme quite liberally to refer to a couple of different things. I take no responsibility for my amateur use of the word showing!
But ANYWAYS… That theme didn’t fit with the mechanics and rules I’d designed. Nor did it fit with the setting (which I sometimes stupidly use theme to refer to, old habits and all). I could have scrapped the game entirely and started over and try to stick to my theme better, but it made more sense in this case to shift the theme to something that fit what I had design, then tweak that design to the new theme.


: an idea of what something is or how it works

Courtesy of

Concept is an annoying word for me. It’s annoying because I want to use it ALL the time to refer to stuff it may or may not ACTUALLY refer too.


If we look at the book definition though, it’s pretty clear cut: it’s a specific idea. Think of it like a thesis statement for those damn persuasive essays you had to write in school. If someone says, “Hey, cool game, what is it?” Your short answer is the concept. Or at least my short answer is. I’d answer that question by saying, “Oh it’s a collectible card game based on dragons.”

Bingo. That’s the concept. More specifically it’s a collectible card game. Or trading card game, if you prefer.

See how DRASTICALLY that differs from what my theme is? The concept is the base description of what it is you’re doing. In web design, a concept is just that: a base idea of what you want that website to look like. Now when you do a quick layout of what you want the website to look like… boom, it’s now a design concept. Mockups are often put in this category. Concept art also uses this model. You do some roughs of an idea, develop the roughs, pick one, redo it so it looks cool, etc. There’s a generic process but ultimately those first few steps are the design concept. When you see a storyboard for a film, you’re looking at a design concept.

So what’s the design concept of a card game? Hell for that matter, what’s the concept design of a card game? Is there one? Speaking of which, remember when I said I view those as two different things? Here’s why:

A design concept for me is a specific term that basically means mockup. If I was to work for an auto manufacturer and they asked me for a design concept of the next great car, they’d get a mockup of that car. Just like the comments on website design earlier. For my own peace of mind, I tend to just use the terms layout and mockup. My CCG design concepts are the card layout and the game layout. So I just call them that. Feel free to correct me if I’m doing some egregious sin here.

So what’s concept design? I read somewhere a long time ago that it’s basically the job that creates concepts. If you are the one making the concepts to solve problems in business and such, you’re involved in concept design. It’s like a job title. Let’s take the car example again. If the same company said “hey, we have a problem with our fuel efficiency and we need a solution,” I would then be involved with concept design; trying to come up with a concept that fixes the problem.

Anyways, as you probably have figured out by now, theme vs concept is a pretty substantial and simple difference. All the more reason I felt like a moron for confusing the two for so long. Fortunately I don’t’ tend to talk to people with design degrees so no one’s called me out on my mistakes yet.


Theme and concept for me are a chicken or the egg conundrum. I don’t think you really have to start with one or the other. Hell, I’ve started with mechanics before and built a theme and concept around that! But as I’ve designed more and more, I do really feel like the “proper” way is to sit down and develop a theme and concept first. It just helps with direction and coherency. And ultimately I think that’s what they do for your design. Your theme is the coherency and your concept is the direction. This was a very important step in my design with my buddy Irish in regards to the Romance of the Three Kingdoms board game.

The first thing we did was establish our concept: we wanted a resource management based, strategic, war board game. The theme was a bit more interesting a situation because we already had a setting and a concept. The theme had to come from both of those. What ended up happening was something interesting:

Our theme was our concept.

Wait, what? Yup, that’s right. They were one and the same. But think about it, that kind of makes sense. Sometimes that’s going to happen. Hell oftentimes it probably happens. Our overall theme in this game is resource management based, strategic war. There’s not really anything else we can put there. We can dumb it down to risk-style board game, but we REALLY wanted resource management to be a MAJOR cohesive theme.

So I guess you could say resource management is our theme, and strategic war board game is our concept, but now you start to see why I blur the lines a lot.

Either way, deciding on the concept and the theme allowed us to start making mechanics that made sense. Because let’s face it, creating is capital F fun. And you can get carried away, making tons of mechanics and rules and all kinds of crazy stuff that you just come up with on a whim or a creative binge. And it’s all amazing. All of it. Yes, ALL. No, don’t you argue. All of it, Kevin. All of it.

But you can’t put everything you come up with into your game. It would make less sense then an acid tripping monkey performing sign language. I don’t know where that came from, ignore that.
Anyways, you can’t do it. You have to cut. A lot. Keep those ideas! You never know when they will fit elsewhere, but you HAVE. TO. CUT.

And that’s where having a pre-established theme and concept help a lot. Setting too. All of these things are guidelines as to what you can/should keep or not.

Let’s see, this is a war game, so we aren’t going to be concerned with the murder mystery mechanic. Gone.

Resource management… ok we aren’t concerned about collecting card sets. We are managing resources, not collecting cards. Gone.

Three kingdoms era setting… ok, ok no bazooka units… goddammit.

See how this works? Now I’ll get into setting in a different blog post, but you get the idea. Anything that helps you maintain coherency and direction is your friend. Anything that gives you a jumping off point is your friend. Put the two together and you get theme and concept, your best buddies when starting game design.

Just don’t do what I did and use them interchangeably!


(b)Romance of the Three Kingdoms Intro

So my buddy the Irish S.O.B. (who happens to live with me) is one of my best friends ever. Wait… this is the internet. Best. Bro. EVAR!

Cough, cough.

Anyways, Irish and I have been in the gaming scene together for the entirety of our friendship. We met at a White Wolf LARP out in Mel-boring (Melbourne), Florida. And we quickly discovered that we tend to fuel each other’s creativity. It would take years and years of growing up, fights, refusing to speak to each other, etc. before we could get to the point of being able to create something together. We got there though, and the baby that’s always been in our minds has been to do a strategy based board game.

We started one maybe 10 years ago when he was fresh out of high school and I was like a year into college. It was fun but WAY WAY WAY complicated and it never really left the R&D stage. When he moved in with me several months ago, we decided to revitalize the concept. Only this time with a theme: Romance of the Three Kingdoms.

Irish LOVES the Three Kingdoms era of Chinese history. I don’t blame him, it’s pretty fantastic. And yes, we’re both Dynasty Warriors fans but we’re not THAT kind of Rot3K fans. He’s actually read the book and I’ve always been partial to the strategy series of Rot3K. So while my knowledge is fairly limited as I’ve not read the book, only googled various pieces of information, I know quite a bit of the general over-arching timeline. Irish just knows it all, hehe.

As typical Generation X-ers we decided on a plan for design, then never followed it. As a matter of fact, we had only the basest of ideas up until earlier this week. We knew we wanted a strategy war game… tons of progress, eh?

You may have noticed, if you follow my blog at least, that I don’t have any picture for this intro. That’s because we are so early in the design stages that I haven’t begun conceptualization yet. Which is good. It will definitely be the slowest designing project I currently am working on, but it is also the one I can rely on for real-time blogging from start to finish. The other games I’m designing already have a firm foundation, theme, concept and design. They just need to be tweaked, tested and polished. Rot3K is a brand new thing, so in lieu of the big intro to the game, here’s what we worked on in our first design meeting.


So the biggest thing about making a game, is to determine the concepts you want used in that game. What I mean by that is what do you want the game to revolve around. Let’s take a popular example of a game: Magic the Gathering.

MtG is quite possibly the most successful card game ever. I won’t quote that, but it was kind of the first giant.  A giant that remains, I might add. So many games have come and gone, yet MtG flourishes. The World Championships are huge, with big payouts. It’s a true gamer’s sport. And it’s what many card games have based themselves on, at least mechanically, and have aspired to be. But it had to start somewhere, and that foundation was concepts.

So, let’s take a quick look at the concepts involved (no particular order, they are equally important):

My Magic the Gathering Core Six Concepts

1) Card Game – This is the initial concept, of which everything else derives.

2) Customizable/Trading – Trading cards was a big thing at that time, and the concept of a trading card GAME was relatively new. I think their may have been one or two TCGs before Magic, but I don’t honestly remember. But either way, it was something fresh and new. It allowed players to make their own decks and trade for cards they needed or wanted to get there.

3) PvP – they wanted it to be a dueling game, competitive. You versus the other guy in a grudge match. Again, I don’t remember if multiplayer was part of the initial design, but it was quickly added regardless.

4) Flavorful (High Fantasy) – one might argue that this is a theme (my next blog will go in-depth as to my views on theme vs concept) but in actuality, this was a concept of the game. It’s evolved into a variety of other “genres” but at its core its high fantasy. Would magic have worked as well if it was science set to a sci-fi setting? Who knows, but this design choice was one of the biggest and most important decisions.

5) Strategic – this wasn’t going to be a simple game with a simple strategy. It wasn’t like War or solitaire. It wasn’t even like spades or hearts. It took the concept of strategy to the chess level in card format. This was probably the biggest concept, even if Richard Garfield wasn’t necessarily identifying it as such at the time it’s the hallmark of MtG.

6) The two A’s: Addictive and Accessible.  I grouped them together because for me, they are intrinsically linked in design. It’ll take me a paragraph or twenty to address this last point. I’ll do that in my next blog post.

So with those six base concepts in mind, they built an empire. Literally. Magic is the card game empire. Not that there aren’t some great competitors out there. But I don’t know of any other card game with the Pro Player aspect that Magic has.

Now let’s take a quick gander at the concepts Irish and I have decided on for our game. You’ll notice they don’t vary much from MtG’s concepts and where they do I’ll explain.

My Romance of the Three Kingdoms Core Six Concepts

1) Board Game – Again, this is the initial concept.

2) Resource Management – The basic flaw of a board game is that there isn’t really a good way to make it “customizable”. It’s true. Yeah you CAN make it have expansion packs that have randomized components, but you’re just going to annoy your player base. Board games aren’t about random booster packs and rare components. They’re about the experience of the game. The immersion. TCG’s are BASED around trading, collecting and rarity. Board games aren’t. Maybe one day I’ll look at a design for a TBG (trading board game, just coined that; it’s mine now) but for now let’s keep to the traditional expectations of the player base. All inclusive. So what makes it interesting? Beyond what I’ve already described? Resource Management, that’s what. And I don’t mean like monopoly style. I mean real, in-depth, resource management. The kind that makes or breaks your armies because its as much a part of the strategy as how you wage war. And I think we’ve got a great way to do it without bogging the game down or making it tedious… more on that later.

3) PvP – again this is intrinsically tied to what kind of game we are making. So why even list it as a concept, you ask? Because if we were making a Co-operative game that used an autonomous engine as the “enemy” (such as Arkham Horror does) then PvP wouldn’t be a concept! Co-op would be. We toyed around with the idea of including a single player mode where you had to deal with historical events and survive battles, or even a co-op mode. But ultimately this game screams to be PvP so PvP it is.

4) Identity – This one kind of rides alongside being flavorful. But with a different focus. We aren’t designing the world or the setting, it already exists. So being flavorful in our setting is kind of a given. So we wanted something more evolved than just flavor. So we have chosen identity. Most games, you don’t have an identity. You are random dude or dudette doing random stuff that applies to your game. There’s been an increasing number of games that give identity to the players in the form of characters they can play. Characters with living, breathing backstories. That’s what we wanted. So when you sit down to play our war game, you’re not playing a faction or a country or a clan. You’re playing motherfucking Cao Cao of Wei. No go stomp on some Wu and Shu soldiers.

5) Strategic  – much like any real war game, we want strategy to be our highlight. After all, the premise is that you are waging war in the Three Kingdoms era. It’s all about the unification of China under one banner. That means war and war means strategy!

6) The two A’s – This is a gimme. If you’re game isn’t accessible it damn well BETTER be addictive and unique. But a safer bet is that its just addictive and accessible. Period.

So why did we follow MtG’s concepts so closely? Well,  we didn’t. At least not intentionally. I didn’t even notice how close they were until I was planning this blog. I thought it was kind of interesting that they lined up like that. My disclaimer is that I’m probably over-simplifying these things and am an amateur designer; I’ve read no real literature on it and have no training. But I can grin and pretend I know what I’m doing when such a side by side exists!

So fun side-by-sides aside (too many sides!), this is for me the first thing you need to do when designing a game. Next up on the agenda for design of Rot3K: theme and mechanics!

Alright, I’ll stop yacking and look for my next post to address the concept of the two A’s.


Ariel: A short story set in Runestorm

In the wake of talking about Runestorm’s setting and a bit about the backdrop, I wanted to write a short story about one of the consequences of the Runestorm on Eire. It’s a little dark, but it will probably be one of the short stories that I use in the core rulebook to separate chapters. Leave comments on what you think, and whether you want more of these stories in my blog!


“Noooo!” Daria screamed, fighting desperately in the iron grip of one of the war priests. “Please! She’s just a baby! You can’t!”

It was barely dawn. They hadn’t seen it coming. They couldn’t have. It happened all so fast. A shrill cry of fear from Ariel’s room had woken Daria and Christof from slumber. They had run out in nothing but nightclothes and were immediately intercepted and restrained by the Order of the Cleansing Light.

For holy men, they were terrifying. They wore nothing but cowled robes and gleaming armor. You couldn’t see their faces, only the gauntleted hands that held finely crafted and enchanted weaponry. The sigils markined them as the devoted of Citadel emblazoned upon brooch, buckle, shield and tabard. Daria and Christof screamed as they were pulled outside and forced to their knees in front of their modest farmhouse. Two of the powerful men held their precious Ariel as she cried and screamed for her parents.

“I am Jeric Lightbringer and I represent His Holiness, Lord Arturis,”said the leader. “You know the law, and it is absolute, ma’am. I am truly sorry for your loss.” His voice was compassionate yet cold, almost sterile.

“Please, we will do anything, anything!” Daria begged. The man ignored her pleas.

“Daria, we knew this would happen and we must relent ourselves to the will of the Gods,” Christof said, turning to her. “There is nothing we can do but pray for her soul.”
Daria stared at her husband in shock at his betrayal.

“How dare you!” she hissed at him. “That’s your daughter! OUR daughter!”

Daria broke down, sobbing uncontrollably as Christof simply looked away. It broke his heart, but he knew that they could do nothing. He cursed the fates that had let this happen to his happy family. Tears slid hotly down his cheek at the sound of his wife’s broken cries. He gazed up at his lovely Ariel. The leader began the rite.

“In the budding light of Citadel’s grace and the order he has bestowed upon us, we bring judgment to those who threaten that order. We bring judgment to the chaos, to the tainted,” Jeric intoned. “We forgive you for that which is beyond your control, child. Go willingly into the light, cleansed of your corruption and embrace your God’s peace.”

Christof knelt in disbelief. How could this be happening to them? It seemed like a terrible dream. He had been right, they knew this was coming. That dark knowledge that they lived on borrowed time plagued his dreams, his nightmares. He knew they plagued his wife as well. He saw the signs in her beautiful face. It was etched with lines from crying herself to sleep and theonce vibrant gaze of her eyes dulled weary from what little sleep she was able to obtain. Even her clothes had been more rumpled and disheveled as she went about her duties with only half a mind on her task. Christof didn’t blame her. He had done the same. They both knew what neither could say. It was only a matter of time.

“Mommy! Daddy! What’s going on?” Ariel cried, desperately struggling against the two men holding her. “I want my Mommy and Daddy!”

“Be at peace, child. Be at peace,” one of the men holding her said.

Barely of ten winters, Ariel had been struck by a bolt of azure lightning many months ago. The air had been hot, the sky clear. It was in the middle of the longest drought in the history of the Eastlands, and it laid low the harvest. Long hours were spent in the fields, tilling and using what meek water reserves were given in a vain attempt to save their crops. There had been no sign of storm nor sign of rain or wind. There was nothing but hot sun and dry air. Yet, still a bolt had come down from the heavens, seemingly from the Gods themselves. It had struck their only child and beloved daughter, Ariel. When they ran to her side, she was unconscious, a garish wound of charred flesh straight through her chest, opposite her heart. She was still alive, but would not wake.

The doctors of three different villages came, offering their services for free. But they could not heal the wounds. The priest had prayed for her, but even his clerical magic could not heal the wounds. Daria and Christof had resigned themselves to a grim and tragic fate.

At least until the morning they woke up and saw their angel standing in the middle of the fields, looking back at them. Ariel had breathed out slowly, her cherubic face turned up in a wide grin. Blue energy coiled and licked at her darkly tanned skin. With a cry of joy, Ariel danced across the vast field of her parents’ farm, singing and skipping, tracing her fingers through the air in an intricate pattern. As if acting on pure instinct, Ariel channeled the power, barely contained, and as she wove her way through the farm. She conjured cool, clean water from her small fingertips, dousing every plant that needed it. She bubbled and bounced all over, constantly tracing those lines of power in the air and causing rain to fall wherever she went. Ariel had come running back to them all smiles and child-like joy.

Christof and Daria stood, stunned, looking on from their porch at the pure excitement and glee of their daughter. It brought tears to Daria’s eyes that she wiped away as she laughed in amazement at her daughter’s miraculous ability and recovery. But Christof’s gaze was a look of concern, almost fear.

Christof wanted to be happy, he truly did. But fear tempered that happiness. Fear for the life of their daughter. Fear for Ariel’s immortal soul.

“You have been tainted, dear child. I am sorry, but you bear the mark,” Jeric said, almost softly. Christof gritted his teeth at the mention of that cursed mark.

They had found it in place of the violently charred flesh where the bolt had hit her– a faintly glowing blue rune. A rune that held dire consequence. They knew what it meant. They had been warned, as all had, in the Kingdom of Jorcasta. Beware the Runestorm… beware the tainted… beware those who bear the azure runes.

It was bitterly ironic how often he had chanted and vowed to seek out the Church of Citadel should they find such demonspawn. Yet Christof and Daria had tried everything they could to conceal the new nature of their daughter. How could they not? Their innocent Ariel could not be the foul creature they had been warned of all these years. But they were running out of excuses. Running out of reasons why their crops had begun to thrive again while others’ wilted.

Christof had seen the jealously and anger in the eyes of his former friends. In a harsh time as this, there were no allies to be had of those that prospered while others starved,no matter how generous he tried to be with their bounty. Someone had found out that their precious Ariel was tainted. Someone had found out and told the order.

“Cleanse her,” Jeric ordered. One of the men stepped forward, raising his sword. Ariel looked up in sheer terror.

“No! Let me go! I want my Mommy and Daddy!”

The cry of his daughter snapped him from his complacency. Christof found new strength and he put it to use. Surging to his feet, he ripped out of the guard’s hands that held him, screaming in pure rage at the injustice before his eyes. Christof charged and slammed into the man threatening to kill his daughter. They tumbled to the ground from the force of his unexpected assault. He picked up the man’s fallen sword, slamming the pommel between the priest’s eyes and knocking him unconscious. He stood and turned on the two holding Ariel.

“Let her go, you bastards!” he roared at them. The rage of a father protecting his child fueled his command and even the seasoned soldiers took a cautious step back. “Let her go!” he cried again, raising the sword.

Jeric stepped up behind him, slamming the pommel of his mace into the back of Christof’s neck. Christof grunted in pain and fell forward, unconscious.

“Christof!” Daria cried out, thrashing violently to get away and go to his side. Gasps from the men pulled her attention and she looked at Ariel, her eyes going wide and mouth dropping open in shock. The men had let her go and were backing away as blue fire limned her skin. Ariel panted as power began gathering around her tiny body.

“Don’t… you… hurt… my DADDY!!!!!” she screamed, her arms going out wide as power erupted from her.

Jeric’s eyes widened at the devastating force and he quickly dropped to his knees, offering up his holy symbol and chanting, a sigil of protection emblazoning the ground around his feet. The shield barely completed itself as the azure fire washed over him from Ariel’s assault. He gasped as the air around him was momentarily stricken and even his powerful shield, one granted by Citadel himself, was nearly consumed by the flames.

In a blink of an eye, it was over. Jeric stood, gazing around him in shock. Nearly all of his men had been incinerated where they stood, as had the home and a good 100 feet in every direction. A few survivors of the flames lay weeping in pain from the burns, and those fortunate enough to have been beyond the blast simply stared in awe. Jeric’s eyes fell back to Ariel. She was kneeling over the charred cloth and scattered remains of her parents. Jeric wasn’t certain how he knew it was her parents, but he did.

“Mommy… Daddy…” the child cried, “I’m sorry… I’m so sorry!” The cry of anguish that keened from the poor girl’s lungs brought tears to Jeric’s eyes. He walked slowly towards her and knelt by her side. She looked up at him and sobbed, flinging herself into his arms. He knelt there and held her, stroking her hair gently as she cried and screamed.

Many minutes later, her tears stopped. Many minutes more, her voice cracked as she spoke to him.

“I didn’t mean to hurt anyone,” Ariel whispered, her voice hoarse from abused lungs.

“I know you didn’t child. This isn’t about you. Do you understand now? You can’t control the power that seeks to sow chaos. It just controls you.”

“But I don’t want it! I didn’t want to hurt Mommy and Daddy! I didn’t!” she cried at him, looking up. “I loved them!”

“Yet, you killed them,” Jeric said softly. “The power you wield killed them.”

Ariel looked at him and Jeric saw her spirit break. As the weight of what happened truly sank in, he watched her eyes go dull as life left her.. Citadel help him, it broke his heart to watch it.

“I want to be with them,” Ariel whispered.

“I will help you.”

Chanting, Jeric pulled a knife from its sheath on his hip.

“Go willingly into the light, cleansed of your corruption and embrace your God’s peace.”

“Thank you.”

* * * *

The report slammed down on Arturis Godhand’s desk. He frowned, closing the tome he was reading. He slowly and gently removed his glasses and closed the book, looking up first at the report then at the man who delivered it.

Jeric Lightbringer stood, helmet in his hand, respectfully at attention. His blue eyes and sharp features were harsh and tight. Arturis sighed. Jeric was such a devoted member of his Order, but perhaps it was time to take him from the field. He was beginning to question a little TOO much.

“I take it the Cleansing did not go well?” Arturis said, his voice soft and doting, like that of a parent concerned for his child.

“I lost thirty men, your Holiness. Thirty,” he almost spit the word, emphasizing each syllable. “To kill a girl barely ten winters old that did nothing more than water her parents’ plants!”

Arturis sighed again and opened the report, glancing through it. He had to hide the smile as he got to the end of the report.

“Yes, a child who killed thirty,” Arturis emphasized the word just as Jeric had, “of your men and her own parents.”

“Out of fear! We were threatening her life! WE caused that destruction, not her!”

“ENOUGH, LIGHTBRINGER!” Arturis roared, surging to his feet. Jeric quickly dropped to one knee, bowing his head.

“Forgive my insolence.”

“There is more than your insolence to forgive!” Arturis snapped. “You question me far too much, my child. Am I not the will-made-manifest of our divine patron, Citadel?”

“You are.”

“Am I not the one who stands as the protector to the order of our world?”

“You are.”

“Then why do you continue to question me, Jeric? WHY?”

“It feels wrong, your Holiness.”

Arturis rolled his eyes.

Feels wrong? FEELS? Jeric, we are long past the concept of personal feelings here. We are obeying our God’s will! Do you forget that?”

“I never forget that, but the other Gods are not,”

“THE OTHER GODS DON’T CARE!” Arturis screamed.

Jeric winced and dropped to both knees, abasing himself before the rage of his lord.

“Citadel cares! Has always cared! He is the one God who has NOT abandoned us in this time of darkness and chaos!” Arturis lectured harshly, walking around his desk to Jeric. “Get on your feet and face me!” he commanded.

Jeric rose and turned to him. He saw the madness that played at the edges of Arturis’s eyes, but wisely said nothing.

“If you cannot follow orders, then you are of no use to me,” Arturis said softly.

“I can follow orders, my lord.”

“Then follow them. And for your own sake you best not question me again.”

“Or Citadel, my lord?” Jeric dared utter, noting the slip.

Arturis’s eyes narrowed and he practically snarled, “Or Citadel, Lightbringer. Now be gone.”

Jeric bowed and turned, leaving promptly.

Arturis scowled at his subordinate’s departure. Clasping his hands behind his back, he strode over to the window, overlooking the massive city that he lorded over.

“I will not have our beautiful order destroyed by chaos,” Arturis declared to the empty expanse. “Not from without, and not from within. If they are tainted, they will be eradicated.”
He turned back to his room, striding to his desk. He took the report, then hurled it into his fireplace, watching intently as the flames devoured it.

“No matter the cost.”

An intro to Runestorm (and some rambling on design)

*I am continuing to learn how to properly format and style my blogs, so we’ll see how each one improves. Once I find a style I’m happy with, I’ll retcon all my other blog posts to the same format!*

Runestorm Card

How the game came about

That little card image above here is a mock-up of one of my many shelved ideas: Runestorm the card game. Though thankfully, its sister design, the tabletop roleplaying system is quite alive and well.

Runestorm is a happily married set of ideas that my girlfriend-turned fiancé-turned wife and I developed. Speaking of happily married, I’m now a happily married man! It’s amazing how awesome it is to be able to turn to her and say “wife”. It’s the little things, really it is.

Anyways, back on topic, my wife (grins widely) and I have lived together for a few years and dated a few prior to that. And thankfully, we happen to have a passion for the same thing: stories. She loves to hear/read them and I love to tell them. Works well, eh? It’s actually what initially what drew us together: I had written a book (completed but in its final revisions, I’ll plug it here eventually) and she read a copy of the manuscript a mutual friend of ours had. When we finally started talking, she gave me some great feedback on it. From there we found out we were both avid RP’ers. That’s RolePlayers for those who don’t do old-school tabletop. We started dating soon afterwards.

It didn’t take much time for us to a) start roleplaying and b) start talking about creating our own worlds and such. The one that received the most love was Runestorm.

Runestorm is a high fantasy setting that I’m right smack in the middle of designing. It’s been shelved off and on over the years, as most of my projects, and its not the first world or tabletop mechanic I’ve ever developed. But it IS the most entertaining in my opinion. The world is almost entirely fleshed out, as is an extensive history, pantheon and some planar concepts. The system is in the hard stages of development.

Runestorm actually was an idea I had from many years ago that got thrown away. At least until, as usual, creative inspiration hit me. The initial concept of Runestorm was a magical setting that used rune combinations for magic. So the magic system had you learning various invocations of runes, and when you learned certain combinations (say like water and air) you would get access to other more advanced combinations (using the previous example, you’d get access to ice). It felt alright, but was kinda clunky. And the storm part of the runes wasn’t really used at all. It was just a cool name.

Eventually inspiration hit to turn the concept of Runestorm into an actual storm and that opened the floodgates. So I sat down with my wife (girlfriend at that point) and we began designing the world Eire. A world that was currently in turmoil after being affected by the Runestorm. I initially wanted to make a tandem card game with it, but I scrapped it after the first set was designed in order to focus more on the actual RP system. I’ll probably start working on the card game portion once that’s completed.

Top-Down vs Bottom-Up Design

My personal design philosophy is heavily Top-Down centric. If you’ve ever designed something, undoubtedly you’ve come up a with a cool idea or name and tried to build from it. I do this a lot. I love to start with a broad concept, theme or ideal and come up with a bunch of stuff to make it work and feel cohesive. The Godzilla CCG is another example. I used Godzilla card game as my top, and started working my way down. This method of design is known as Top-Down design.

Runestorm is also Top-Down. The central theme is the Runestorm: what it is, what it does, how it affects things… The world Eire was built to be a playground for the answers to those questions. All the cultures, history and backstory of the world was fleshed out with regards to the Runestorm and its affects. And the game system itself was designed with that concept in mind. I won’t get too heavily into this topic yet. As usual, that’s for another blog, but here’s a quick synopsis on Top-Down vs Bottom-Up design.

Top-Down Design is when (like previously mentioned) you start at the “top” with a concept, theme, idea, etc. and work your way down. All the design is based on that initial concept. Take the pyramids as an example. Asking the question, “Hey, we want a giant tomb to bury our god-kings in, so how do we do that?” is a Top-Down design question. The concept is a tomb to bury your god-king. Ok, so now what do we do to make it suitable for that concept?

Bottom-Up Design, as I’m sure you’ve guessed, is the opposite. You are taking a variety of pieces and building them together up towards a cohesive concept. Think of Bottom-Up design like chemistry. You have all these base compounds, elements, catalysts, etc. What can you do with them? Where will you end up when you combine A, B and C? CAN you combine A, B and C? What happens if you combine A and C, then mix it with a combination of R and J? What is R and J anyways? It’s taking all those components and asking those questions. You adjust the components, or scrap them, as needed until you’ve formed a solid foundation, then build your way up to a concept that encompasses all those components.

See how I used two totally non-related things to talk about two related things? That’s called me being an amateur and an Agent of Chaos. Cute, huh? Yeah… not really. Sighs, oh well! Hopefully you got the point though.

A Brief History of the World

Eire, for those world history buffs, is old English for Ireland. I happen to be part Irish and am quite happy of that fact. I love Irish mythology (well Celtic mythology in general, really) and when I was searching for a name for my world, Eire popped right into my head. I stole some aspects of the Irish pantheon as well, just as a nod back to the name’s origins, but I tried to keep it a fairly original concept, not a re-imagining.

Eire is a planet in that existed a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away (yay clichés!). It’s a world of high magic, where the Gods take great interest in the goings on of the their mortal worshippers and divine and demonic entities wage war while the mortals of the world simply try to live their lives. There are titans (basically fallen gods), elemental incarnations known as Primals, swords and sorcery, dragons… well you get the idea. It’s a bloody fantasy setting! I’ve developed a history that goes back some 26,000 years or so, but I’ll spare you the details and simply say that currently, the world is just leaving the Age of Solace.

To address the Age of Solace and its ending, I have to first give a brief overview of the elementals and their lords: the Primals. The way elementals work in this game is something sort of akin to spirits, or minor deities. They exist in a complimentary plane of existence, bound and tied to an elemental force. Some typical, like fire and water, and some a bit more… developed. Such as blood or storms. These creatures thrive on sensation and living true to their nature. But they cannot do so when trapped in their home plane. They must manifest in the real world of Eire, in order to experience such bounties. This can be accomplished by a myriad of things, whether by pact with a mage or because of a concentration of their element in one area that burns with their nature.

A wild tempest, for instance, could have many elementals dancing in its fury: wind, water, storm, lightning, thunder… And for the period of that storm they can bound about and do what they wish. But once the storm dissipates, if they have found no way to bind their corporeal form to the Real, they simply dissipate and return to the Echoscape (the common term for their plane, at least for the moment).

So knowing this, what caused the Age of Solace was a great war. Two empires, were in the bloodiest conflict that had been seen on Eire, and the final battle of their armies on the Plains or Argos caused a Blood Primal to appear. Previously, blood elementals could be found on battlefields, either in the midst or in its wake. These lesser beings could be controlled by pact mages, sorcerers and the like or simply left to wreak havoc. Sometimes a larger blood elemental would manifest and the opposing forces would have to join together to bring it under control. But due to their never being a conflict of such scale before, neither empire was prepared to face a Primal: the supreme embodiment of that element. The armies were decimated in the wake of its power and lust for battle, and the two empires were left in ruins as the massive entity basically had its way, destroying several cities and crippling the warring nations profoundly. The conflict was named the Blood War, and the Plains of Argos renamed to Soldier’s Fall. Several months after the war, the Blood Primal finally returned to the Echoscape and the Treaty of Tears was signed, signaling an unanimously agreed upon end to conflicts of that nature in the future. This began the Age of Solace and fear of ever invoking the Blood Primal again helped keep that Age a time of peace and prosperity for centuries.

The setting that players would be running around in occurs after the Age of Solace, a period known as The Darkening. This is a time when the Runestorm began to cover parts of Eire and send the world spiraling into an age of fear and chaos, as the powerful magic of the Runestorm threw the world into disarray

The Runestorm

The Runestorm is one of several “catalysts” in this setting that causes plot to occur at an accelerated rate. Storytelling relies on conflict to move forward. While a peaceful tale of a simple summer harvest may have appeal, its the struggles of the farmer that can enrapture the audience into what may have been a bland and or boring tale. These struggles and conflicts normally come in the form of a catalyst of some kind: an evil villain, war, political intrigue, forbidden lust, the evil boy down the street who always steals things… whatever is appropriate to the setting, really. In my case, the Runestorm is the primary catalyst.

Eire is a planet in a galaxy that, like ours, is constantly moving. Though this is not a sci-fi setting, the structure of the universe, galaxy and solar system in which Eire resides was important to the concept of the Runestorm. After many iterations, the one I enjoyed the most was it being a fixed tear in the Real. A giant “storm” of magical energy that is self-sustaining, limitless and directly tied to the chaos of the universe. It is a conduit for pure energy. But due to the setting being fantasy, the idea was refined to a massive storm of wild magic. It actually ties into another plane of existence, but the people of Eire are unaware of that.

On a simple level, the Runestorm is chaos unleashed. The magic does whatever it wants, to whatever it wants. It has slowly extended over millennia from the initial breach, and spans a HUGE amount of space. Because of the way the galaxy and solar system rotate, every few thousand years or so, the Eire travels through this massive chaos nexus and ends up being stuck in its outer rim for several decades to centuries. There is recorded history of the planet falling victim to the Runestorm before, but its been so long, that history was left to the faint memories of myth and legend. In addition, while the Runestorm begins ravaging the planet with wild magic, the power surge is awakening and corrupting things in the world that are becoming more catalysts.

This is the The Darkening. This is what the player characters are getting thrown into. This is Runestorm: Tears of Eire.

Good times!

Check out my final intro blog for my board game sometime in the next couple of days, and then I’ll begin really getting into the meat of design and the systems I’ve built.

Until then, keep thinking and keep creating!


The CCG formerly known as Godzilla: Path of Destruction

*Notice: This blog post is a backstory, and one of three which will just be giving a brief overview of my current projects and how they came about. This is partly to cut down on blog length with a topic and also because I’m getting married this weekend, so I don’t have as much time 😀*

godzillaAh, Godzilla.

I have to admit, I’m a Godzilla nut… Kaiju in general, actually (Japanese term for giant monster flicks, by the way). I blame my Mom, seriously. When she was going to college, she would study at home to Godzilla movies. So my sister and I would sit in the living room with her, doing our homework while she did hers, watching Godzilla. It transcended being a monster movie and became a trigger for memories of a peaceful, loving time.

I got lucky. My parent’s are awesome. I have memories like that; deep rooted memories of everything from playing Frisbee to watching bad monster flicks. It formed a strong bond between us that maintains itself today. I adore my Mom and Dad. They aren’t just parents, they are two of my best friends. It’s a blessing (and occasionally a curse, hehe) that I wish more people could experience, whether with a single parent or not. Just having that connection does wonders for everything from self-confidence to ethics.

But I’m quickly descending into mushy land, so let’s nuke that with a ICBTM – an intercontinental ballistic tangent missile. KA-BOOM!

In my defense though, there is a point to me bringing up how I got into Godzilla though. Two, actually:

1) It laid the groundwork for PASSION. Something I’ll get into in GREAT depth… in a different blog post.


2) It’s the gateway that led to me designing CCGs.

Yup, strange as it is, the whole reason I started designing CCGs was Godzilla. But not because he inspired me with his Tokyo-stomping, Kaiju-kicking, fire-breathing bad-assery (more hyphens I need MOAR!). It was because of my Mother.

You see, Mom was the one who got me into card games. Way back in the pre-millenium days, she stopped by a gaming store for some reason (to this day I don’t know why), saw magic the gathering in all its infantile glory and bought a couple of decks. Thus began my first steps to total card addiction. It’s one of my fondest memories with her. We played for years, marking cards with our own special symbols so we wouldn’t mix them up… and thus destroying the value of some super hi-priced rares unknowingly. In reverence to any collectors, I’ll not list what we accidently destroyed. It would break your heart.

ANYWHO, so playing cards with my Mom (and sister and cousin) was a great escape for me. We were coming off back to back life-changing situations and the timing was right for escapism. I became addicted to all card games, played dozens of them, wasted thousands of dollars on them… I just lost myself to them completely. Take this down the road of a decade and it makes sense that eventually I’d try my hand in at least modifying a game, if not trying to make my own. Right?

Nope. Not at all. Game design didn’t cross my mind. I was stuck in rules lands. No you don’t play that way you play THIS way! I played two bajillion different card games, and not once did I ever think to do anything outside the box. The idea was just foreign to me and if I couldn’t get inventive with the cards I had there was no way I was going to invent actual cards. I blame this on being a rules judge for Magic for a spell. I was always the rules monkey for my group too, so that didn’t help either.

That all changed when one year, as a tribute to both of the addictions my mother granted me, I decided to make a Godzilla card game for her for Christmas. It’s actually kind of cute (or so say my friends). I finally started CCG design to make a present for my Mom. 🙂

The card at the top of this post, was the first one I ever designed. And I’m fairly pleased with it, even after all these years. I used a combination of inkscape and gimp, though eventually I would move the entire frame and its various components into MSE2. I’ll discuss that program hardcore later.

The basis was simple: two monsters enter, one monster leaves. I really wanted to capture the whole feel of the kaiju experience in card format. So I gave it a cheesy name, and called it Godzilla: Path of Destruction. Path of Destruction referred to one of the main concepts, mechanics and themes of the game: you had a series of locations that the monsters would trash on their way to meeting in glorious battle. Because let’s face it, that’s what ALWAYS happens in kaiju flicks. Monsters tromp through some poor city or several, and then duke it out in said cityscape. So the initial setup of the game involved playing your “path.” And then you’d destroy it. See? Clever, right? Right?

No, not really! But I thought it was. It was my first design! I was floored by my own creativity. I was coming up with tactics and abilities and characters and all this COOL SHIT! Locations, battlegrounds, allied monsters, human characters, earth defense forces, special abilities… the list goes on and on. Some were good, some were bad (again I’ll go into more detail later, god I love parentheses :P).

It was like every card game I had every played was lending itself in someway to my design. And to be fair, it’s not horrible. It’s just not the burning hunk of awesome I thought it was at its inception. Of course you don’t find that out until you start playtesting. That’s where your really big issues are going to come through. It was in playtesting that I realized that the costs were wrong, some powers were stupid broken, the resource generation was clunky as hell, the theme of the game was being lost to its mechanics and the concept of the earth defense forces felt… pathetic.

Really, the game was terribad. But I printed out two fully constructed decks. With rules. I made a full set of like 300 cards (just in case!) and armed with all my awesomeness delivered the present to my mother.

She adored it. As a matter of fact, they are sleeved and pinned to her wall with the rest of her Godzilla paraphernalia. Mission accomplished!

But I’d been bitten by the bug, so I couldn’t settle there. My dad encouraged me to contact people, go find someone who might think it was as awesome as we all thought it was (my parents and I). The truth is though, I knew it wasn’t good. I knew it failed at what it set out to do: be a fun card game.

It needed to be fixed, and I wouldn’t know how to fix it for another 7-8 years.

In my first blog-post (clicky, clicky!), I talked about artist’s block. This was my first true encounter with it, at least in major form. I’d experienced it off and on, but never to this degree. It plagued me for years, and every time I’d think I’d landed a breakthrough I was wrong. It was maddening.

Small wonder that after a couple of years, I shelved it to work on other projects. And then I’d shelve those as I ran into the same block. Over and over and over again. What a horrible curse! Only it wasn’t a curse, it was just par for the course. But you don’t know these things as an amateur trying to create. I was never trained in design, much less game design, so I was fly-by-night-ing it. I think that’s good though, because I learned a lot along the way. And all that will be the source of many blogs to come!

My major “breakthrough” came when, while looking at dragon pictures with my fiancé (yay for getting married this weekend!) while RP’ing online, I had the epiphany. Lightning struck me brain. And it hurt.

The mechanics and concepts I was using from a gameplay stance were good, but the THEME was off. I just didn’t want to admit it to myself (another blog for another time). Godzilla didn’t fit for the rules I’d created. He KINDA did. But it was like trying to get a square peg into a round hole. Hammer it enough or take a saw to it and you can force it in, but it won’t be pretty. But my framework was PERFECT for another giant monster of destruction: dragons.

So now what was a Godzilla CCG is now a Dragon CCG, and its as if the planets have aligned. All the mechanics work, all the concepts are appropriate, but more importantly all the themes feel RIGHT. They make sense. Translation: time to dust off the old 300 card set and start over, with a different beasty in the lead.

I’ll address rules and structure in a future blog post (and do comparisons to their thematic components between Godzilla and dragons as lead role), but I think I’ve been chatty enough today.

Thanks for reading, and see you in cyberspace soon!