Category Archives: Tips and Tricks

Miniature Japanese Torii – Mini Monday, Ep 1

It’s Mini Monday, where I share customizing, scratch building, kit bashing, and miniature painting projects for your roleplaying table. This week I’ll show you how to build a miniature Japanese torii gate for Steampunk Musha, Legend of the Five Rings, or similar East Asian inspired settings.

Here she is, folks. This miniature Japanese torii can easily accommodate most Large sized D&D or Pathfinder figures in the center.

Miniature Japanese Torii
The base is 2 x 4 inches: perfect for using on a grid map.

Steampunk Musha – Shangti Factory Hub

This project is the first part of my Steampunk Musha terrain project that will consist of several factory pieces set in the mega city of Shangti. Since it’s steampunk, I figure this set will work well for both my Warhammer 40k games and for fantasy gaming, so this is a “two birds with one stone” type of deal.

The torii gate we’re making today is highly customizable, but is perfect for a Japanese themed game. You could use a similar technique to make gallows or other structures featuring a prominent wooden frame.



Getting Started

You’ll need balsa wood for this, but popsicle sticks will work well too. A sharp hobby knife, wood glue, and sandpaper will do all the heavy lifting, then you can paint and varnish the gate as you see fit when it’s done. I used hardboard for the base.

Prep

Make a paper template for the top piece of the gate (the kasagi and shimaki). Cut 3 of these. Cut 1 long crossbar (nuki), and 6 poles (to make the hashira). We’ll add more bits later, so keep any extra wood aside.

Miniature Japanese Torii

Torii Frame

Place 1 top section on top of 2 pillars. There’s no need to glue it yet, but you can if you like.

Miniature Japanese Torii

Glue the crossbar onto the pillars, with a small space between it and the top piece.

Miniature Japanese Torii

Connecting Things

Score lines on 2 more pillars under the crossbar, like so:

Miniature Japanese Torii

Then cut along the scored lines.

Miniature Japanese Torii

Glue the longer sections of pillar below the crossbar. Glue the short sections of the pillar over the top section. This forms the very center of your Japanese torii gate.

Miniature Japanese Torii

Don’t worry too much if the glue is causing all the pieces to float around. When you’re done you can move everything nicely into place, and sanding will clean it all up when we’re done.

Bulking Up the Top

Score lines to match the location of the pillars onto the second top piece.

Miniature Japanese Torii

Glue the pieces of the second top piece onto the first top piece. In the end, this gives the model more strength and bulk.

Miniature Japanese Torii

Finishing Up your Miniature Japanese Torii

Now glue on the last of the pillars and top piece. If your glue is still wet at this stage you can move things around, then put a heavy book on the gate and let it dry.  Miniature Japanese Torii

Next, add a small down piece between the top and the crossbar. Then cut 2 identical pieces to form the very top section of the tori. These will look like slightly curved french fries.

When it’s dry, use your hobby knife to make everything flush along the edges, then sand the model. An emery board (used for fingernails) works very well for this.

Miniature Japanese Torii
There are 25 ninjas hidden in this image. Really!

I base coated my model white, then painted the whole thing red. I washed it with a purple wash to pick up the natural wood texture of the balsa wood, and to age the model a bit.

For the base, I used hardwood covered in two grades of sand, the finest for the path. I painted and dry brushed this before adding flock. I varnished everything when I was done, because I like harder wearing gaming pieces.

Pro Tip: Suppliers of Shinto religious goods will often have miniature Japanese torii for sale. Personally, I prefer to make my own.

Till next time, play good games!

Rodney Sloan
Rising Phoenix Games

Check out our store, subscribe to our newsletter for monthly updates, and visit us on our blog, our Facebook page and on Twitter.

The Quick Win – Leveraging Goals for the Big Win

I’m a big believer in the quick win.

Especially when it comes to hobby gaming.

The Quick Win
Photo credit: Andre Hunter.

Quick wins, as the name suggests, are small projects that don’t take much time, or effort. The miniature you paint in an hour, the terrain you bang out in 3 hours, or the monster stat block you write in 5 minutes all fall into this category.

Why the Quick Win?

Getting things done is very motivating. My recent post about painting RPG miniatures gets into that more. The reverse is also true though, that having too much on your plate can turn you off of your hobby quicker than a quickling in hyperdrive.

It’s also great having something to show for your efforts, and with a string of quick wins you can easily build up to a much larger goal. It’s a lot like how I write now. My current RPG book — teasers here, here, and here — is being written in 2-hour bursts. In each session, I aim to finish one section of the book. Sometimes I’ll get 2-3 monsters done, sometimes it’s most of a background, but every session that I finish something is another thing off the checklist.

How’s this different from how I used to write? Before, I didn’t break down my tasks much, so in 2 hours I often worked on a bunch of sections, got demotivated, and lost my concentration. That kind of thing can lead to burnout. In other words, I’m talking about the tortoise’s approach to winning the race: slow and steady, and about breaking down that race into milestones. Each milestone is a victory in and of itself.

Life also takes up much of our hobby time, so when we have time, we need to use it wisely.

Your Next Quick Win

I’ll leave you with this thought. What small hobby project would give you the most satisfaction. Is it drawing that dungeon map you’ve been planning? Making a handout? Stating up an NPC? Or do you just need to run a short session over Google Hangouts to get everyone ready for a longer session?

Plan it. Do it. Celebrate your quick win.

Black Friday with Rising Phoenix

This Black Friday we have a massive 50% Off Sale on Drive Thru RPG.  This includes books compatible with Dungeons & Dragons and the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, as well as stand-alone games, map tiles, and all of our Solo Adventures.

Looking for some unique gaming gift ideas? D20Radio.com has some excellent gamer gift ideas worth checking out.

Till next time, play good games!

Rodney Sloan
Rising Phoenix Games

Check out our store, subscribe to our newsletter for monthly updates, and visit us on our blog, our Facebook page and on Twitter.

Ocean Adventures in D&D, Part 3 – Sea Monsters

The Player’s Handbook, Dungeon Master’s Guide, and Monster Manual all provide great resources for undersea or ocean-based D&D campaigns. We’ve offered you an Undersea Guide to the Player’s Handbook and an Undersea Guide to the Dungeons Master’s Guide. Today we’ll be talking sea monsters with the Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual.

rpg blog carnival logo

This week’s post is part of the RPG Blog Carnival. This month the carnival is hosted by NukeTown.com, and the theme is “All These Worlds.” Be sure to check them out and see what others have shared on the topic.

The Monster Manual is full of useful creatures for your undersea campaign, and the easiest way to access these is to refer to appendix B in the Dungeon Master’s Guide, which lists coastal and underwater monsters. Below is a list of suggestions for expanding on those lists.

Sea monsters
Image credits: Laura College

Aquatic and Amphibious Variants

Many creatures can become sea monsters by giving them the ability to breathe underwater and a swim speed. Twig blights could become seaweed blights, while you could replace a frost giant’s greataxe with a trident and call it a sea giant. Be careful with some monster abilities though, an ocean basilisk could pose a real problem for characters who can’t breathe underwater.

Undead Creatures

Most undead creatures can survive underwater, without any modification. Adding a swim speed is usually all that’s needed to make them effective threats. Ethereal undead, such as ghosts, can use their fly speed instead of a swimming speed, making them difficult to escape.



Constructs

Similar to the undead, constructs don’t need to breathe, so giving them a swimming speed is usually enough to make them useful. A homunculus might have a swimming tail instead of wings, while golems might be formed like sharks or dolphins, giving them a swimming speed and a reduced base speed. You can also replace some golem abilities with ones from other sea monsters; like giving a flesh golem tentacle attacks to replace its slam attacks.

Common sense if your greatest ally here — a stone golem is more likely to sink than swim.

Sea monsters
Image credits: Jonas Allert

When it comes to sea monsters, a little creativity goes a long way, and the Monster Manual serves as an excellent starting point for populating your campaign world.

What’s Next?

What would you like us to cover for your undersea campaign next? Let us know in the comments below.

We recently asked about trinkets in your D&D game, and we’d love to hear your ideas, especially if you’ve got some ocean themed ones.

Till next time, play good games!

Rodney Sloan
Rising Phoenix Games

Check out our store, subscribe to our newsletter for monthly updates, and visit us on our blog, our Facebook page and on Twitter.

Undersea Adventures in D&D, Part 2

The Player’s Handbook, Dungeon Master’s Guide, and Monster Manual all provide great resources for undersea or ocean-based D&D campaigns. Last week we offered an Undersea Guide to the Player’s Handbook. Today I’ll run through the Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Master’s Guide to help you dive into your undersea adventures.

undersea adventures
Photo credit: Sagar

Undersea Fantasy

The Flavors of Fantasy section in chapter 1 includes a short coverage on swashbuckling fantasy, which offers some inspiration. An undersea campaign might just as likely contain elements of dark fantasy, sword and sorcery, or epic fantasy too.

Undersea fantasy might focus on the otherworldly aspect of the ocean, giving special attention to the wonders of this new world, or emphasizing the alienness of the sights and creatures found there. The sea has a clearly defined border, and crossing this threshold for the first time is almost always a significant event. On top of that, many things we take for granted are not readily available or don’t work in the deep, such as fire, paper, ink, drinkable water, or air. Gravity is less pronounced, and capable swimmers can move in three dimensions, much like flying creatures can do above the waves. Take these aspects into account when building your own undersea campaign.

Planes

The Plane of Water section in chapter 2 describes the elemental plane of the same name, which offers an excellent setting for your campaign as well as inspiration for one set on the Material Plane.

undersea adventures
Photo credit: Nsey Benajah

Adventure Environments

Chapter 5 contains a wealth of information that can be applied to undersea adventures with a little work. The Underwater section is particularly noteworthy and includes a table of random undersea encounters, expanded swimming rules, and rules for underwater visibility. The Sea section includes rules for navigation, weather at sea, visibility, and owning a ship, along with a table of random encounters at sea and statistics for airborne and waterborne vehicles.



Magical Items

Notable magical items include the apparatus of Kwalish, cap of water breathing, cloak of the manta ray, folding boat, gloves of swimming and climbing, mariner’s armor, necklace of adaptation, potion of water breathing, swan boat feather token, ring of swimming, ring of warmth, ring of water walking, and trident of fish command.

The sentient weapon, Wave, makes a great template for a similar trident in your campaign.

undersea adventures
Photo credits: Irina Kostenich

Monster Lists

Appendix B provides a coastal monsters list and one for underwater monsters.

Maps

Appendix C has a map of a ship including the deck and a level below.

Next week we’ll look at the Monster Manual as we continue to build our ocean campaign for undersea adventures.

 

Rodney Sloan
Rising Phoenix Games

Check out our store, subscribe to our newsletter for monthly updates, and visit us on our blog, our Facebook page and on Twitter.

Underwater Adventures in Dungeons & Dragons

The Player’s Handbook, Dungeon Master’s Guide, and Monster Manual all provide great resources for underwater or ocean-based D&D campaigns. Today I’ll run through the Dungeons & Dragons Player’s Handbook to help you dive into your underwater adventures.

underwater adventures
Photo credit: Ryan Loughlin

Classes

Many of the classes presented in the Player’s Handbook can be customized to suit an ocean campaign. Druids can choose creatures with a swimming speed for their wild shape ability from 4th level, while rangers can choose appropriate animal companions to suit to underwater adventures.

Backgrounds

The following backgrounds work well for an ocean campaign:

Acolyte. Many of the deities of the Forgotten Realms are worshiped in their ocean aspect by seafarers and fisherfolk or given offerings in hopes of a safe sea voyage. A character with the acolyte background may have served in a seaside temple or as a ship’s chaplain. Amphibious characters might tend to the needs of an underwater community or maintain sunken temples and shrines to ocean deities.

Criminal. A character with the criminal background might be a pirate or an escapee from a prison ship. Many criminals find their way into shipping ports, in the hopes of finding a ship to take them to wealthy cities. Amphibious characters are much like their land going counterparts.

Guild Artisan. A character with the guild artisan background might be a cartographer, a shipwright, or a traveling artisan from a port city or island town. Guild merchants are particularly common in port cities and aboard ships. Amphibious guild artisans might be jewelers working in pearl and shell, coral carvers, leatherworkers, skinners, or scrimshaw carvers, besides a host of other occupations.

Hermit. Hermits can be found inhabiting ocean caves, beachcombing along coastlines, and on remote islands. Some hermits are castaways who’ve come to enjoy their life away from the stresses of society.

Outlander. A character with the outlander background might be a fisherman, a pearl diver, a seafarer, or even a pirate with a love of adventure.

Sailor. Both the sailor and the pirate variant backgrounds are excellent options for an ocean campaign.

Equipment

The Mounts and Vehicles section of the Equipment chapter includes a list of waterborne vehicles. The Services section lists a ship’s passage as costing 1 sp per mile.

Abilities

Strength (Athletics) checks are used for swimming in stormy seas or raging rivers, or if you’re struggling with a creature while in the water.

Adventuring

The Special Types of Movement section covers swimming, while The Environment section covers suffocating, vision and light, and food and water. The sun’s light only penetrates so deep below the water, and ocean water is undrinkable, meaning that characters must find a source of fresh water or rely on magical means for survival.



Spells

Alter self, create or destroy water, any spells that create light (light and daylight), water breathing, and water walk are particularly useful spells for underwater adventures.

Many spells have uses that might not be obviously apparent at first, such as using forcecage to create an air bubble. Rope trick, because of the opening it creates being at the bottom of the space, creates a very functional refuge that won’t flood.

Spells that often see use in a land-based campaign might be less useful in a water-based campaign, while spells like fireball might have little effect underwater, but can be devastating if hurled at a wooden ship.

Creatures

Appendix D contains a number of fitting creatures for your sea campaign:

Consider the constrictor snake (which could double as an eel with a faster swimming speed), crocodile (saltwater crocodiles can use the same statistics), poisonous snake (with water breathing for sea snakes), and the reef shark.

Skeletons and zombies might be drowned sailors, cursed pirates, or undead merfolk (with the addition of a swim speed).

Next week we’ll look at the Dungeon Master’s Guide as we continue to build our ocean campaign for underwater adventures.

underwater adventures
Photo credit: Sagar

Rodney Sloan
Rising Phoenix Games

Check out our store, subscribe to our newsletter for monthly updates, and visit us on our blog, our Facebook page and on Twitter.

Are You Painting Enough RPG Minis?

There’s something great about playing with miniatures you’ve painted yourself. Even if you’re more a “theater of the mind” type GM, having a few miniatures on hand is useful. But are you painting enough of them?

Storytime folks (or a thinly veiled reminiscing, really).

My Life with Minis

I got into Warhammer 40K about twenty years ago. That led me to Warhammer Fantasy Role-Playing, which was when I first bought a box of beastmen and a paint set. I painted up one of the beastmen and the chaos warrior that came with the paints, but most of my roleplaying was with grey plastic.

Painting RPG Miniatures
The first miniature I ever painted is a testament to suckage.

Over the next twenty years I bought odd miniatures to supplement my game: some hobbits, an elf, the nine companions from The Lord of the Rings, and some figures I found at second-hand stores. If I did paint any of them, they remained unfinished. Most are still grey metal or plastic.

Painting RPG Miniatures
My chaos warrior, the second mini I ever painted. This week I gave him a black wash and varnish. It really improved the old paint job.

Then came pre-painted, blind-box miniatures. I bought loads of the Dungeons & Dragons miniatures, and have nearly completed the War Drums set, with 9 rares left to go. Now I didn’t need to paint, I could just throw miniatures on the table.

Then a friend and I got into the Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Boardgames, and started painting up minis from the boxes. When I moved back home from living in Japan I discovered that my paint set, now two decades old, was still good, and kept going. Suddenly, the bug had bitten, and I was hooked.

Getting into the Mind for Minis

What changed? I figure it’s a mental switch that made the difference. Now, when I paint RPG miniatures, I have a few tenants I follow:

  1. Painted, even badly painted, is better than grey plastic.
  2. Simple paint jobs are perfect for gaming.
  3. Start it and finish it, then move on.
  4. Keep it cheap.
  5. Try new things, but not all things at once.

I reckon that most of us have mountains of unpainted minis because we get discouraged at some point. We know our minis won’t be Pinterest worthy, or that it’ll take too long to finish a figure, or we’re just not excited about what we’re painting anymore.

For me, having to fork out money for two pots of grey paint kept me from finishing my gargoyles. When I figured I could mix acrylic paints I had around the house there were no excuses left — and I was done in half an hour. It was a really silly thing, but I saw a roadblock and let it derail me.

Painting RPG Miniatures
This guy just needed an undercoat, two shades of grey, and a good flocking to get him ready for the gaming table.

Point 5 touches on something that can also discourage you, especially if you’re new to painting. It’s tempting to want to try every new technique you’ve learned, or to play it safe and only use techniques you’ve mastered. Trying a new thing every now and then lets you learn and explore, while keeping the process exciting. The flock on the gargoyle above was an experiment that I very nearly scrapped, but it worked in the end.

Get Motivated

Other things motivated me to get painting RPG miniatures again too. I recently deep-dived into Warhammer Age of Sigmar, which I’ll talk about in another post, and I started watching some excellent YouTube channels.

Luke’s Affordable Paint Service (YouTube Channel) is excellent for terrain and scenery, and, like me, Luke loves finding a bargain. Luke also has a great contest on right now for his range of speed-basing materials.

Miniac (YouTube Channel) is an awesome painter, and like Luke has a great sense of humor. His level of detail is way above what I’m going for, but Scott does an awesome job of explaining the basics well. PAINT MORE MINIS!

Tabletop Minions (YouTube Channel) feels like chatting about the hobby with someone who knows the ins and outs of the hobby intimately. Atom Smasher, the channel’s presenter, has loads of great tips, presented as opinion pieces that are a joy to watch.

YouTube has plenty to offer for painting and miniature conversion besides these three, but they’re channels I keep coming back to.

The Rule of Three

Another thing that’s making my painting easier is that I work in sets of three. Three zombies, three wraiths, three whatevers. This lets my paint go further once it’s on the palette, and gives me a chance to try different things with each figure. For bigger miniatures, I’ll work on one at a time, but for short painting sessions, three figures usually get done in 30 minutes of painting, and I can let the others dry while I work on one. Three is also a good average when painting RPG miniatures for most encounters.

Painting RPG Miniatures
Two of three wights, done together. Skeletor, with the yellow face (right), came from me messing around. I’m very happy with these.

Paint More Minis!

In the words of Miniac, “Paint More Minis!” Keep it fun and free and you’ll work through that heap of plastic and metal in no time.

Painting RPG Miniatures
Some ghouls I painted for Part 3 of Doomsday Dawn. I painted six undead in my spare time, over a few weeks.

Till next time, play good games!

Rodney Sloan
Rising Phoenix Games

Check out our store, subscribe to our newsletter for monthly updates, and visit us on our blog, our Facebook page and on Twitter.

Model Tents – Modeling the Pathfinder Playtest

If your a miniatures nut like me then the Pathfinder Playtest is just another excuse to take on more miniature projects. We’ll be making model tents. If you’re a player in the playtest, come back when you’ve finished Part 2 of the Playtest, otherwise consider this a Spoiler Alert. 

Some In-Tents Model Tents
Some “In-Tents” Tents

Specifically, we’re making gnoll tents. These tents are easy to make, dirt cheap, yet generic enough that you’ll get plenty of use out of them.

You’ll Need

Assuming you’re making three model tents, you’ll need the following:

  1. 2 x 2 inch squares of plastic card (3)
  2. Thin sticks, about 2-2.5 inches long (9-12)
  3. A paper egg box
  4. String or thick thread, for “rope”
  5. Flocking flock. Yeah, flock!
  6. Baking flour, about 2 teaspoons
  7. Water
  8. The usual tools, glues, paints, and equipment for the construction of miniaturized scenery.
  9. Paint (lots of brown and tan)
  10. A bowl of Kellogs Corn Flocks, yum! (Just kidding)

All Your Base Are Belong To Us

Cut the plastic card to size and round the edges. Scale wise, these are 10-foot square bases. Sand the sticks then glue 3–4 poles to each card, to make a teepee shape.

Base and tent poles for our model tents.
Base and tent poles for our model tents.

Glue sand and flock to the bases now, since we want to see inside each tent — we’ll put the tent material on later.

Pelts and Skins

This was an experiment that worked out really well. Cut an egg box into rectangles, then shape each rectangle to make pelts, like in the image below.

Model tents need model pelts, made from egg boxes!
Pelts, made from egg boxes!

I got about 12 pelts out of one box.

Tip: Use a miniature to judge the size of these. They need to wrap around the poles of your tents, so don’t make them too small.

Flour Water For the Win

Last week I showed you how to make Captain America’s shield using a fan cover and paper mache. Paper mache isn’t particularly easy to work with at this scale, but works for this project, and we’ll see why in a bit.

Mix 1 part flour (2 teaspoons) with 3 parts water (6 teaspoons) and mix until it’s smooth. Dip the pelts in the paste and soak them well. Pull a layer off the pelt to make thinner skins. This does two things: it gives the pelt a better texture and makes it easier to wrap the pelt around the tent poles.

Stick a pelt down inside each tent, to make the floor. I worked this down with the edge of a spoon, which helped to flatten the pelt into the ground.

Wrap the corners of each pelt over the poles to make a shelter. Don’t worry about being too neat. For the tent’s entrance, fold a pelt in half before you stick it on.

Model tents, ready for undercoating.
Our model tents, ready for undercoating (front and rear views)

I painted the paste over the base of the model too, which holds the grit down better.

Detailing

Glue rope around the poles and add other bits of detail, such as weapons and shields, as you see fit.

Painting

I base-coated my model tents with matt black, then painted them with poster paint and Citadel paints.

Gnoll Tent Camp
“Well done on earning your camping merit badge, Spot!”

To get rid of any shine, use something like the Anti Shine Matt Varnish, from The Army Painter.

I hope you enjoyed this tutorial. I’d love to hear from you, please leave a comment below.

Rodney Sloan
Rising Phoenix Games

Check out our store, subscribe to our newsletter for monthly updates, and visit us on our blog, our Facebook page and on Twitter.

Rolling Dice is for Nerds!

Rolling dice is for nerds! Drop your dice down the hungry maw of a gargoyle-guarded Lego dice tower instead — that’s geek chic!Lego Dice Tower and GM Screen

My Lego dice tower and GM screen combo took an afternoon to build, which is pretty fast considering the number of tiny, grasping hands in my household.

Plop the dice into the top of the tower and it tumbles down, smacking hidden “randomizers” — commonly referred to as Lego Technic poles — before rolling down a ramp, through the double doors, and onto the “Patio of Fate”.

Lego Dice Tower and GM Screen

A “GMs-eye-view” of the tower and shelves. Nothing says “your character is mine” like a stern-faced GM peering over the top of this bad boy!

Lego Dice Tower and GM Screen

It even comes with a lightsabre and polearm, in case the players decide to mount their own Lego-based siege on your fortifications.

Lego Dice Tower and GM Screen

The walls are detachable, so you don’t need to break them down to cram them into a bag when traveling. It also makes it easier to extend the screen — all thanks to a well-placed Lego Technics pin.

Lego Dice Tower and GM Screen

Assemble the horde! Here’s what the setup might look like in-game. A medium-sized mini fits on the shelves perfectly, and dice won’t move around too much because of the Lego studs.

Build Your Own Lego Dice Tower

The core of the tower contains a number of Lego Technic bars, which are enough to make dice tumble randomly down. Making sure there is enough space between the walls and the bars so that dice don’t get caught is the only major thing to consider, otherwise building the tower is simple enough. A ramp at the bottom and a space to catch the dice are the only other structural components. I tiled the “patio” with smooth Lego tiles so that the dice would land perfectly flat, and not tip on top of Lego studs.

Future Mods

There are three things I want to add to the GM screen to make it more useful. L-bend sections would hide more from the player’s view, and dice cages would make it easier to store dice. There are some small Lego rope ladders from a pirate set I have that would work perfectly for this. For keeping notes handy, I’ll add some 2-stud flat Lego pieces with L-shaped hooks, which can then hold punched Post-it notes.

A Lego Love Affair

This was my second Lego GMing tool, and I hope it will inspire you to create your own. Please share your creations with us on Facebook, here, or through our other social media channels. I’d love to see what you come up with.

Rodney Sloan
Rising Phoenix Games

Check out our store, subscribe to our newsletter for monthly updates, and visit us on our blog, our Facebook page and on Twitter.

 

Flex Your Game Design Muscle

An excellent way to flex your game design muscle is to take on a mini design challenge, like a game jam, the One Page Dungeon Contest, the 1KM1KT 24 Hour RPG Contest (if it ever gets going again), or the 200 Word RPG Challenge (due May 28!). Even if you’re not into table-top RPGs, you can learn a lot from mini challenges like these. It’s often said that limitations encourage innovation, and that’s exactly the point of these challenges.

Claustrophobia Cover
Claustrophobia was born out of the 24 Hour RPG Challenge.

A bunch of our products built on work I did for various challenges. Claustrophobia was born out of the 24 Hour RPG Challenge and Lunatic Labyrinth built on the shifting dungeon I created for the One Page Dungeon Contest. Those mechanics also influenced David N. Ross’s design for Forests of Secrets, making the adventure infinitely replayable. You can find the Secret Forest map here.

Lunatic Labyrinth Updated
Our cover designs have come far, from this…
Forest Of Secrets
…to this!

But enough product placement. How about some real tips?

How to Hack Contests

There are some (legal) things you can do to improve your chances of winning a contest. These steps will also help you be a better designer, and are based off lessons I’ve learned through various contests and as a freelance writer for other RPG publishers.

  1. Read the Brief. Then read it again. When you’re done, read that bad boy one more time. Make sure you’re presenting something the judges want to see.
  2. Be Innovative. Create something new and interesting that makes the judges go “hey look, this is cool.” A sense of wonder can be hard to achieve, but look to explore new ground.
  3. Be Grounded. While innovation is important, don’t make something too weird or wacky that people won’t get it. Find ways to ground your design in current conventions that people can easily “read.”
  4. Make Fun. Look at your games collection. There probably isn’t anything boring there, but there are bound to be games that stand out as more fun than the rest. Deciding if a game is fun or not is subjective, but a good place to start is by asking “What’s fun for me.” Build that.

Go out, flex your game design muscle, and have fun. Good luck out there.

Rodney Sloan
Rising Phoenix Games

Subscribe to our newsletter for monthly updates and visit us on our blog, our Facebook page and on Twitter.

Write – Design – Program is a series of game design, writing, and programming articles that includes interviews, insights, and tips. If you enjoyed this post, please consider sharing it.

Children of the Fall — Design Insights

In this edition of Write – Design – Program we’re chatting to Gareth Graham of Frenzy Kitty Games about his latest Indiegogo campaign for Children of the Fall.

The cover of Children of the Fall.
The cover of Children of the Fall.

Rising Phoenix Games: Hi Gareth. First up, can you tell us a little more about Children of the Fall?

Gareth Graham: Hi Rodney. Thank you for inviting me to feature on the blog. Children of the Fall is an apocalyptic story game for 3–5 players. In the game, the players play as the sole survivors of a terrible apocalypse that has turned all the adults on the planet into evil, bloodthirsty savages. In addition to portraying their characters, the players will also need to manage their tribe and haven — fighting off the terrible atrocities that exist in this broken new world. It is a GMless game and has an improved system that is built on the mechanical skeleton of my previous big design, KARMA. Each session is framed around a mission and the world is built collaboratively by all the players through an extensive session zero. Children of the Fall also offers support for campaign play as well as one-shots. There is a huge variety of different missions and characters which are all customised every time they are used, meaning the game has a lot of replay potential.

RPG: You’ve already achieved some of your stretch goals. Where is the campaign currently sitting and what can fans expect once the next stretch goal is met?

Gareth: The campaign got off to a bit of a slow start, but we have successfully funded and unlocked our first stretch goal. Future stretch goals include new character playbooks, missions, and improved quality of the printed materials.

RPG: Frenzy Kitty Games has several apocalyptic survival horror titles, including Dusk, Downfall, Unchained, and a few of the modules in KARMA: A Roleplaying Game About Consequences. What is it about the genre that inspires you?

GG: There is something about this particular genre that excites me from a gamification perspective. What’s great is that it is rich with opportunities to create narratives that are dripping with tension, drama, and high stakes. It also allows the players to get into the action straight away, starting scenes or sessions in-media-res. In my opinion, the best stories are those of characters overcoming truly terrifying and seemingly insurmountable challenges (or seeing them die trying).

RPG: As a designer, how has Children of the Fall allowed you to dig deeper into apocalyptic survival horror? What can fans of the genre expect from the game?

GG: One of the design goals I had with COTF was to really emphasize the struggles that these characters face as children in a deadly and dangerous new world, and the scarcity of resources that are slipping through the character’s fingers as they and other tribes fight over supplies. The engine was mechanically designed from the ground up to tell these kinds of stories — stories of desperate measures in desperate times. The complication system has been weighted to make characters succeeding in difficult complications something rare and truly worth celebrating. The players also have story points which serve as a metagame currency to allow the players to possibly affect other player’s scenes — and this resource is limited and invaluable — emphasising the scarcity and helplessness that these characters must be feeling as children in a world hell-bent on wiping them out. It’s not all hopeless though — players also each get one Determination and Helix point which allow them to flip a result on its head and add great twists in the tale.

RPG: The art from Vincent Sammy really fits the theme and the mood of the game. Can you tell us a little more about their involvement with the project?

GG: I’ve known Vincent for years — we worked together on DUSK and in my opinion, nobody does dystopian art like him, so when it came time to make Children of the Fall he was my first choice. One of the things I love about Vincent is that we are both on the same wavelength — something I’m not extremely good at is writing up briefs for art commissions, so I explained the setting to him and told him to let his imagination run wild — and the images he has created for COTF are better than I could ever have hoped for. He’s also from Cape Town, so it’s great to have a product that is proudly South African.

Click here to see the image in full screen.

RPG: This isn’t your first Indiegogo campaign, following the fully funded KARMA: A Roleplaying Game About Consequences. What, if anything, did the past campaign teach you and how has it influenced the Children of the Fall campaign?

GG: The two main lessons I learned from KARMA was to set a more achievable goal and to make the campaign only 30 days (as opposed to KARMA’s 60-day campaign). Setting a lower target allows you to fund quicker and to get into that delicious stretch goal territory which is why people really decide to back crowdfunding campaigns in the first place.

RPG: You’re from the “Mother City” of Cape Town, South Africa. What’s the gaming scene like there?

GG: The gaming scene in Cape Town is great. It’s grown exponentially over the last 5 years, with gaming stores, cafes and conventions becoming more and more commonplace. One thing about Cape Town’s scene is that it is still a little more fragmented than I would like. Hopefully, as the conventions become bigger and more popular they will help to solidify connections between different gamers and game groups.

RPG: And yourself? What are you playing, what’s inspiring you as a designer, and where can folks find you and Frenzy Kitty Games?

GG: I’m diving into John Harper’s stuff a lot at the moment — Blades in the Dark and Lady Blackbird are absolute masterworks. There are lots of indie RPGs that just get me excited — I love the whole DIY mentality of indie game design. I’m also very interested in a lot of the OSR stuff that’s been coming out over the last few years — that feeling of nostalgia with modern design sensibilities is hard to beat.

Thanks Gareth and good luck with the campaign.

If you’ve got questions for Gareth then put them in the comments below. Be sure to check out Children of the Fall on Indiegogo and Frenzy Kitty Games on Drive Thru RPG.