I took the month off writing.
And I feel pretty good about that. Why?
Pull up a seat and have a listen…
Some of my earliest memories involved rolls of paper my dad would bring home from work at the pulp and paper mill. See, sometimes something would go wrong with a roll, or there’d be a bit left over at the end, and once in a while he’d bring one home and I loved that.
You know how sometimes you question why you buy your kids toys, when they take so much joy in garbage, like cardboard boxes? Well, this was exactly that. I loved unrolling the paper and scribbling. Those scribbles often took the form of simple little games. I remember one where I drew some lines on the paper, and then drew little balls of colour that “hopped” along the page, moving further and further right. This wasn’t a game to play with others… just a little something to pass the time and get those creative juices flowing.
But as I got older, the games became more advanced. I made a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game out of a big sheet of paper that I made a grid on. I think I’d just played Dragon Warrior on the NES recently, and so the game had a similar style. You played as a turtle, and had to run around. There were random encounters, and bosses on bridges to new areas. It wasn’t much. I don’t even remember if my sister liked it. Probably not. There was a LOT of open space in that game.
When I was a little older I played something called Dungeons and Dragons (2nd edition) with some friends from school. I think I made up a dwarf named Khar, if memory serves (this was 25 years ago, please be patient). They’d already been playing the campaign for a while, so I joined in as a high level fighter. One player was a powerful wizard, I believe another was a rogue, maybe. And another. Anyway, we faced off against the fiercest foe D&D could throw at an adventuring party – a Tarrasque. My dwarf lost an arm and a leg in the battle, but the party managed to bring the foul beast down. Back then you had to do something remarkably difficult to really kill the Tarrasque… wish spells or something? Anyway, we killed it completely, boiled it or whatever to get a ton of gems, and went off to create our own cities. Khar got some magical metal limbs to replace his lost ones, and named his city – none-too-creatively – Bay of Thunder (or something like that… close enough to Thunder Bay, where we grew up, that I wasn’t too proud of it. Worse, the Dungeon Master (DM) later forgot that it was my city, and made an offhand comment years later about how one of the other players had been stupid when they named that city).
Anyway, I didn’t have any books, but I really enjoyed the game. So I went home and tried to create a reasonable facsimile from memory, and not fully understanding what all the rules even were. I mixed what I knew of the game with Lego pieces and my love of the Dragonlance book series to create a poor man’s version of D&D. My sister, cousin, and I played it quite a bit, and I remember thinking how great it was, despite obvious pitfalls (I had NO idea what “Constitution” meant, and thought it was how closely you followed the law, thinking of the American Constitution).
I took over another D&D campaign from another DM set in my favourite world at the time: Krynn. In hindsight, I think the DM must have been sick of running it because the characters were “Chaotic Stupid” and he’d made the mistake of giving them Crystal Revolvers that never jammed. They ran around killing whoever got in their way, whether they were monsters or innocent townsfolk. What a mess.
But I continued to play D&D for a long time. The group of players changed over the years, but I almost always had fun role playing (we eventually tried some other systems, like the Star Wars RPG, Shadowrun, Vampire Masquerade, and Mage). But nothing held my love like D&D did.
Around the time I was finishing high school or starting university, I don’t remember which, I started playing Neverwinter Nights on the computer. This marvelous game had not only a fun campaign, but allowed users to delve into the toolbox to build their own fantastic creations. I’d been running campaigns for a few years (must’ve been university, then) which will eventually be written as the Strongblade Siblings series (books 4-7), and I decided to take a crack at creating my world digitally.
I have no idea how many hours of my life disappeared into that game. In the end, there were 600 maps, and the story still wasn’t complete up to the end of what will be book 5. Creating that game taught me a lot about story, balance, cheating, and what keeps people’s attention. I was really hands-on with the players, allowing them to exchange extra gold for unique things like building their own houses (which I would make for them, according to their desires).
Neverwinter Nights 2 was announced, and the developers said the toolset would be backwards compatible, so we could keep all the hundreds and thousands of hours of work the community put into their games. But that did not come to pass. The tool set was deemed to be too different, and there was nothing they could do. I was heartbroken at the realization that I’d spent so much time working on my game, only to have it die.
I tried to start over with a new story idea and setting with NWN2, but the toolbox was really glitchy. You needed to find workarounds to make basic ideas work, like allowing characters to walk onto a trigger and go to another map. It was so, so, so disappointing. The new toolbox showed a lot of promise, with a ton of customization available, but it was a mess and I gave up.
To get my creative fix, I continued playing D&D with my friends, but we were getting to the age where people were going their separate ways. Thunder Bay … well, there just isn’t a lot there. The city is really isolated, decent jobs are few, and one of our friends headed out of town for work. Down to three people, we kicked around with a bit of role playing. I created a campaign where I told them to make peasants. We’d start off REALLY slow, with a few adventures where they’d get points at the end to invest in their base stats and skills. Thomas was a reckless maniac, getting into a fatal fight at work in the first session. He threw his axe at someone and scored a critical hit. Sarentha turned out to be more roguish, which helped a bit when they were given a job by a mysterious nobleman to enter a tomb.
After those first few sessions, my friend’s wife had been watching us play and said she wanted to give it a go, so she made Eliza, a spirited noblewoman (rogue) with a crossbow. Together the three of them adventured far and wide, discovering part way through the story that they were playing a historical campaign as the ancestors of their previous characters who will be in the Strongblade Siblings series. It was a lot of fun, and I won’t spoil the end of the campaign for you, since the ending of A Hero’s Birth (book 3) is pretty close to how the game ended!
Then I moved to Guelph to be with the woman who is now my wife, and the mother of our two darling children. It’s been a few years since I role played last around a table, but discovered a huge 5th edition campaign going on at a local game cafe called The Round Table. It’s huge with 20+ players split into several groups, each with their own DM, but the DM’s are in constant contact with each other, and what one group does can change what happens to another group. I’ve never seen anything like it. Absolutely wild, and so much fun! It’s kind of weird not being the DM sometimes, but not in a bad way. The DM’s for the event are amazing, and it’s fun to explore this new world.
Standing room only, as at least 12 players battle the enemy commander who refuses to give up until the bitter end.
And all of that is back story for what I’m doing now!
You see, the people at The Round Table also have a game design company called Lynnvander. This D&D campaign we’re playing is their world, with their own unique races and classes. They also do board games, and recently started up a “Game Design Night” event, which happens every couple weeks.
I’ve always had it in my mind that I want to do more than just books. I want to build an empire. Books, board games, computer games, comic books – with the grandest dream being an enormous themed hotel/convention centre. At that point I’ll have “made it.” So when I heard about the chance to pick the brains behind Lynnvander about making games, I took the leap with a little outside encouragement.
That first night we played a game that Lynnvander is developing, but Thomas, the owner, stated that he didn’t want the game development nights to be “the Lynnvander show.” He wanted other people to bring in prototypes and play test their own ideas, too. I had a rough idea of what I wanted my own game to look like, so I took the challenge and created a proof of concept to see what people thought of it.
First night of cutting – this is going to take a while!
And of course I had some help!
“Short help’s better than no help at all.” – Han Solo. Was he ever right!
Proof of concept revealed.
People said it looked interesting, and it reminded them a bit of Warcraft.
I talked with Nat for a long time that night, and at the end he said, “I’m giving you a deadline! Bring in a prototype next time (in two weeks)!” I said I didn’t think that would be possible, but I could probably get it done in a month, so he said that was fine. I just needed a deadline to keep me working on it.
First I needed some supplies. I’d thought about using cardboard, but the foam board looked nicer, so I grabbed a 2-pack of that in black. Also, Nat suggested using a spray adhesive in a well-ventilated room because it would be fast.
It doesn’t get better ventilated than an open garage!
So much cutting.
And I got the prototype done in 2 weeks. Yes, I suffered a horribly cramped index finger from cutting so many pieces of foam board with a utility knife, but I did it.
And Nat and Jon played it (I forgot to take pictures), enjoyed it, and gave me some great feedback. I incorporated a lot of their suggestions, and have made some tweaks of my own as well. The game will look completely different when I bring it in on Tuesday. I’m hoping the new system will help reduce the number of pieces that need to be cut out in the future, and will help stabilize the board to reduce the problems of pieces shifting around the table and needing to be readjusted.
The big reveal…
Reduce, reuse, and recycle!
This is my plan! I figured I already have the ENORMOUS map that Harvey made me for my books… why not use it as the backdrop for game mats for all the players? This isn’t the map I want to use… I’m going to see if Harvey can give me a copy with no text, so I can doctor it a bit to add Stowenguard, Lanton’s Hope, Templus Refuge, and Thrak’s Fortress. But for now, as a place holder, it’ll do.
So by using that, and some public domain art, I created new boards for each player that look great.
They’re pretty large, and my wife said, “They’ll need a big table to play!” but I pointed out that the boards could be close together, and the game is still playable. They don’t HAVE to be spread across a big surface. The printing on foam core was expensive, ringing up at $150 for two boards, but not only were they put on sturdy stock, Staples laminates them, so they’ll last me a long, long time.
I have one more night of cutting ahead of me, and it’ll be the most difficult. Those tiny wound tokens with the red stars are going to be difficult to cut. I’ve found with the smaller tokens, the thumb on my non-cutting hand gets sore from trying to hold the pieces still. IF I need to make another prototype at some point, like a final version for a publisher or something, I’ll make sure to go through a laser cutting service to make it all nice and easy. But for one copy of the game, it’s not so bad.
The next play test is in two days, and I’m looking forward to trying out a larger game, or having a couple games going at once! I’ll try to remember to snap a photo or two this time around. 🙂