Tag Archives: Personal

Living, Eating and Breathing Game Design (Part 2)…

So my academic work from the previous post is all geared towards graduating in December, but a man (and his family) gotta eat, and that means making stuff to sell. In my case, that means more games.

I have three games that fall into this category, but only one of them is actually going to get any attention before next year, considering my rather hefty workload.


I’ve always loved wargames. Moving massed armies around a board and trying to go all Sun Tzu on your opponents backside is a hobby that has consumed a good 3 decades of my life. And up until about 6 years ago, I enjoyed the other aspects of the wargaming hobby that I now have absolutely no time for: building and painting the models and scenery that made such battles possible.

More recently though, it is nigh impossible for me to really enjoy that hobby anymore and, like many guys my age, I’m always looking for options to ply a good table-top wargame (particularly my favorites, Warmaster Ancients and De Bellis Antiquitatis, for which these base sizes are perfect) without having to invest the time and money in hundreds of models. that’s when it struck me to come up with that option.


A selection of unit labels for Greek Battle Blocks (all images © 2013 Jabberwocky Media)

Enter Battle Blocks. Basically I found that if you take a 40mmx20mmx6mm wooden block and plop a sticker down on it to give you a general idea of what sort of unit it represents, you not only can cheaply create a number of armies for testing out strategies or mixing up forces (which is particularly good for Historical Wargaming where the armies tend to be grouped rather tightly by era) but the look and feel of the blocks moving along a

map recreates the mood of ancient generals controlling their forces from a tent on the back of the line. Very thematic. And they work for any ancients type game because unit composition is fairly standard. This for instance:


Hoplites (© 2013 Jabberwocky Media)

A standard greek hoplite armed with spear, sword, shield and light armor. The shield shows a unit insignia so that you can group blocks appropriately (in Warmaster Ancients, for instance, a unit will be comprised of three such blocks) or so you can

show army affiliation in the case of grand strategic games like DBA (the above would represent a Spartan Hoplite and, no, I’m not yelling that out).

I’ve got a full batch of Greeks done up and I’m working on the Persians off and on (trying to draw cool looking Persian headgear that reads well at this size is a bit of a challenge) and I’ll likely try and get these out as a PDF sometime in January or February (after the Super Bowl). No Kickstarter, just a PDF that folks can buy and print out on sticker paper with instructions for constructing the blocks, and possible an easy set of quick-play wargames rules to go with them.


I do play games at least once a week. I have no business being a game designer if I’m not willing to make the time to do that. And I’m not talking about my own stuff, but other people’s games. It’s good for clearing the ol’ mental palette.

One of the games I’ve been playing is Dungeon Crawl Classics, which is a fantasy game with a strong 1970’s vibe. You heard me jive turkey! I’m gaming like it’s 1974 and I’m lovin’ it!

Well, since I can pretty much write an RPG in my sleep, and DCC is so popular at the moment, I figured I’d create a sci-fi version of it and, after discussions with Joseph Goodman and signing a licensing agreement, I’m going to start work on Void Hunters, the DCC game of Seventies Science Fiction in November, while my For Glory! Kickstarter is rolling, with a Kickstarter to follow in the Spring of 14.

The default setting is focused on the horrors of space exploration, including isolation, alien terrors, and weird quirks of science and nature that defy man’s understanding of the universe. The rules will follow closely in the gritty mold of DCC and reinforce the notion that space is a cold, lonely, uncaring thing that will kill the unprepared, and, when faced with an infinite variety of things that can kill you, it’s practically impossible to be totally prepared.

Adventures would largely be based around sandbox style exploration of the universe, discovering the remains of other civilizations that died out long before man took his first steps into the universe, fighting against alien super-predators that are bred in the darkest and harshest environments, and salvaging the remains of lost expeditions that fell prey to unknown forces or the predations of their fellow men. Basically, DCC In Spaaace! But there will information for setting up Feudal Dark Sci-Fi settings (like Dune or 40k) and War Amongst the Stars settings (like Ender’s Game or Starship Troopers). Here is a list of the game’s major influences…


All the Stars a Stage (James Blish, 1971) – The imminent destruction of the sun forces humanity (now a matriarchal society in which men are considered largely useless) to flee for the stars in untested starships. Over 50 years of dangerous exploration to find a suitable homeworld ensue.

Dune (Frank Herbert, 1965) – The prime example of the Feudal Sci-Fi setting, the universal order has regressed into a series of interstellar Dukedoms ruled over by an Emperor; space travel and psionic disciplines along with human computer/assassins are controlled by guilds; and Machiavellian schemes, political assassination and interstellar war are the primary past-times of the noble houses.

Ender’s Game (Orson Scott Card, 1985) – Although the full novel came out in 1985, the basis for it appeared as a novella in Analog magazine in 1977. Mankind, still recovering after a narrowly won war against an implacably alien insect race known as ‘the buggers,’ starts training the next generation of children to become generals and launch a pre-emptive strike against the aliens before they can regroup and return to finish humanity off.

Gateway (Fredrick Pohl, 1977) – The core premise of this story, an ancient and long dead alien race leave behind a stargate and several hundred ships for humanity to discover and experiment with, would make an excellent setup for a Void Hunter’s campaign. The fact that the poor humans have little control over where they are going (Habitable world? Dead world? Edge of a black hole?) and when they might get there (Do we have enough supplies to last the trip or will we starve in space?) just makes it all the more fun. Throw in a 1849 era gold-rush mentality as people risk it all for a chance to get rich off the unknown, and a greedy corporation looking to exploit them when/if they return, and you’ve got the perfect recipe for adventure.

Rendezvous with Rama (Arthur C. Clarke, 1972) – The subject of this novel is another space born artifact from a long lost alien civilization, which would qualify as an extremely unusual hulk: part space craft, part world. The ‘biots’ also make for highly interesting alien fauna.

Ringworld (Larry Niven, 1970) – Louis Wu and company crash land on the mother of ancient archeological artifacts, a Ringworld, and are forced to explore it’s massive, bizarre structure in order to find a way to escape. While not all that dark, and featuring a number of different alien races, Ringworld does provide a perfect example of exploring the remains of a lost alien civilization while interacting with the retro-grade descendents and strange creatures that make up the flora a fauna around it. It is a massive, campaign worthy, sci-fi sandbox.

Starship Troopers (Robert Heinlein, 1959) – For more military based campaigns, there isn’t a great deal of combat in the book, but there is a great deal on the no holds barred, anything to survive mentality humanity may adopt in order to cope with the extreme circumstances surrounding interstellar war. Brutal training for a brutal people to fight a brutal enemy in a variety of brutal environments..

Solaris (Stanisław Lem, 1970) – The perfect example of what happens when man inadvertently discovers that life doesn’t neatly fit in the pigeonhole that he places it in, and the consequences that emerge from that arrogant assumption. I won’t give away the core story element that makes this novel unique, but suffice to say, sometimes the observer doesn’t realize that they’re the one under the microscope.

Warhammer 40k Rogue Trader (Rick Preistley, 1987) – Although a game book, not strictly straight fiction, the first edition of the world-popular WH40k game set forth a dark interstellar empire in its decline, its teaming subjects living a feudal existence underneath a brutal regime venerating a corpse Emperor and beset by external enemies and internal corruption. The original is still the best and presents humanity and space as terrifyingly uncaring and full of black humor. It also provides a ton of story seeds revolving around the exploration of new worlds, the rediscovery of lost worlds and salvaging of massive ‘space hulks,’ essentially mega-dungeons in space.


spacejockey13Alien (1979) – A crew of space miners, ordered by the Company to investigate a signal coming from a mysterious moon, end up exploring a dangerous world, encountering the crashed hulk of an alien spaceship and bring aboard a parasitic alien life form that stalks the crew in the ‘dungeon’ of their own spacecraft. This is the quintessential Void Hunter adventure in the Dark Sci-Fi paradigm.

The Black Hole (1979) – No aliens, space demons or lost civilizations, just a mad scientist in a massive ‘lost’ space ship (the sci-fi equivalent of an evil wizard’s dungeon complete with the robot equivalent of orcs and an ogre) perched on the edge of the most destructive force in the universe with all the danger that entails.

Dark Star (1974) –Somewhat less serious than some might expect from the title, the comedy is still black as the void of space, the end result of the film is fairly fatalistic and the clear insanity of the crew after a long space voyage (not to mention the dark nature of their ongoing mission) is likely to remind players and GMs of the black humor and absurdity that even the most well meaning and serious RPG adventure devolves into after a long night’s play. It’s like somebody took an actual sci-fi RPG session, wrote it into a screenplay and then filmed the results.

Event Horizon (1997) –This movie came out well after the seventiesevent_horizon_gravity_drive, but it encapsulates the horrors of space exploration and turns them up to 11. A search and rescue team finds a spacecraft with a prototype interstellar drive that went missing 7 years earlier. As they explore the ‘hulk’ they find that, on its maiden voyage, the Event Horizon uncovered horrors beyond human comprehension. It’s ‘The Shining’ in space with a little bit of ‘Hellraiser’ thrown in for good measure.

Outland (1981) – Again, shortly outside of the seventies, but still deep in the ethos of many of the stories from that time. No aliens, just man’s inhumanity to man in the pursuit of interstellar resources and profit. Often described as ‘High Noon in Space,’ nothing better captures the frontier nature of space, where help is not around the corner and running away is not always an option when you’re surrounded by an environment that is totally antithetical to human life.

Silent Running (1972) – While this film is set within the solar system, it has many elements that define seventies sci-fi. Man’s inhumanity and self-destructive nature, the delicate nature of life and maintaining it in the cold dark of space, and a perfect example of how some last remnant of a lost civilization could end up floating in space (becoming a Hulk, in VH vernacular).


A lot of the science fiction I read that really defined the themes of seventies science fiction came from a selection of magazines that were popular during that decade and into the eighties as well. I can’t necessarily remember the specific stories or the particular authors, but the influence of these periodicals, whose stories reflected the time they were written in, will impress the feel of the era on you like nothing else can.

Omni – A magizine of technology, science and science fiction, it boasted articles featuring some of the most influential writers, scientists and artists of the time, including Carl Sagan, Isaac Asimov, and H.R.Giger. The stories were a bit on the weird side. One story that sticks in my brain to this day involved an alien shape changer that absorbed people to feed itself and then took on their form and memories. It haOmni Magazined escaped from a government black site and became the lover of a woman who took it in after she found out it had eaten and taken the form of her ex-husband. She basically kept it as a lover until she started to think it might leave her, at which point she turned it over to the government, stoned out of its mind on oregano, which acted as a powerful and addictive drug for it. Yeah, that’s the kind of weird stuff the seventies was known for…

Analog – The premier science fiction magazine of the time, it collected the works of authors known and unknown and many of its stories really reflected the zeitgeist of the time, one of uncertainty and fear of the unknown. Find yourself a dozen or so back copies form this period and you’ll probably have enough material for an equal number of adventures.


There are a ton of other ideas fighting for space in my head, but one of the things I’ve sussed out in grad school is my working limitations. I can handle about three things at any one time (although I have reams of ideas noted down for future development). At the moment, For Glory!, Quarterback Blitz and Void Hunters are what I’m splitting my time between, with all of them in various stages of completion, slowly rolling off the assembly line of my mind one after the other. Once I graduate, I’m going to have to assign one of those three slots to non-gaming work (most likely teaching) so my production will slow down a bit, but I can comfortably conceive of releasing two or three things a year (especially if I get summers off). Hopefully, those initial three will establish Jabberwocky Media as a top-notch game company and firmly establish my vocation as professional Game Designer…


Spider-Man_368PyxurzSince I started grad school and my list of capabilities have grown, that line from Spiderman becomes more and more of a truism every semester. I have lots of projects and a lot of ideas, but I do not have lots of time, mutant superspeed abilities or (despite my most fervent wishes) a TARDIS.

So, at this point, I would like to give a shout out to some of the folks without whom I’d be incapable of doing more than completing a single project every few years.or so:

Tim Shriver

My main man programmer. He’s bringing BoHM to life and helps me out when the strange, alien language of programming starts to drive me insane. Seriously, coding is some sort of Cthonic Sorcery-Science and only one as talented as Tim can truly understand it without their sanity becoming forfeit.

Jeff Laubenstein

Not only is he doing something that I have very little skill in in, but he is doing it in a way that brings the images in my head to life like nobody else can. A giant amongst artists in my book, his unique take on game worlds, including his recent sketch for BoHM, has me excited for the work he’ll be producing for us in the future…

Ricky Meisner

Dude. You literally rock! Ricky loves music and without him, there is no way I could put together a soundtrack for the game. I mean, I’m a passable sound designer, but my instrumental and arrangement skills are pretty minimal. Ricky is like Jeff, only acoustically instead of visually, realizing the sounds in my head with the barest of descriptions.

Kara Phillips

Kara did some of the initial visual design for BoHM, I based a lot of my iconography on some of her concept sketches, and it is her Metalhead and Titan shown in the video on the Kickstarter. She is one of the absolute nicest and most upbeat people I have ever met and a great friend who never fails to keep me from getting too serious about life. Seriously, she’s a wonder.

Michael Andreen

Mike is one of the best sound designers and voice-over artists I’ve ever worked with. You can hear his mellifluous tones on my radio play, The Improbable Adventures of Dylan Darby (he plays the title character). He also worked with me on adapting the Conan story The Phoenix on the Sword and, had we the time and resources, he would have been a brilliant Conan.

Jim Weaver

Michael once told me that I was the hardest working man he knew in the department, but Jim makes me look like a brain-dead slacker. Jim is not only motivated beyond what should be normal for mortal men, but he also boasts one of the widest and deepest knowledge bases I’ve ever seen on game production, 3D modelling, animation and a host of other skills. The man’s a friggin’ genius and without him, my Raaargh!!! project wouldn’t have gotten half as far as it did. Jim, YOU DA MAN!

Anngelica Renae

Another Raaargh!!! team member the project could not do without, she has the greatest eye for visual design a speed at accurately producing environmental models with the right look and feel for a specific thematic design that staggers the mind. Like Kara, she relentlessly cheerful and as uplifting a person as anyone you could ever be around. She’s dedicated to her craft and her friends, which is pretty much the main thing I look for in a fellow artist.

David Chiu

This young man, another one of my Raaargh!!! team members, is one to watch out for. The Karkarias and Ftaghn models were ultimately his builds, and he is currently working on creating models for BoHM miniatures, should we reach that goal. He is quick and talented and his work on our monsters was fantastic.

Tom Mays

Tom is my best and oldest friend in the world. My brutha from anutha mutha. He is also a spectacular writer and we have collaborated on a number of projects, including the Dylan Darby series. Almost everything I do I run past Tom for his opinion, and it is his knowledge of physics that I tapped to come up with the underlying structure of the BoHM universe so that it has a ring of verisimilitude (or as much verisimilitude as a game about rock & roll warrior wizards in the 31st century can have).

My Professors

All of the folks above are or were so essential to completing some of my projects, that I owe them a debt of gratitude, especially as I am privileged to work with what have to be some of the best of the best in their fields. But even when it comes to the things I do myself, it is the instruction of the following professors over the last three years that has taken my basic skills and developed them into something more worthy of consumer attention as well as giving me even more fuel for my creative fire.

Frank Dufour

My sound mentor, whose ability with all things auditory I will never be able to scratch (due to my rather diversified skill set), but who has opened my mind up to new areas of sound design and ecological psychoacoustics that I would never have even considered without his patient instruction.

Tim Christopher

Tim has pretty much been my main game design professor for almost an entire year. He oversaw the development of For Glory! as an independent study project and is currently overseeing my thesis and another independent study in which I building a mobile app for hybridizing a very complex table-top game. The man loves games of all types and we are kindred spirits because of this. We actually spend as much time jawing on games  and game design for fun as we do for class. One of the best at UTD and I highly recommend him if you enter the ATEC program there.

Adam Brackin

‘Doc’ (as we call him) is, like Tim, a gamer at heart and loves everything to do with the entire gamut of games and game design. His class on trans-media development (which I took with Mike Andreen) was one of my favorite because you actually make stuff in it. He has also encouraged some of my more academic interests, which have always taken a backseat to my more design oriented focus, and that has helped shape many of my current designs a great deal. Plus he’s fun to play games with, a true geeks’ geek when it comes to popular culture, and very giving of his time.

And Most Important of All…

Angelo Lombardi, my business partner and gaming buddy for a great many years now. Without him, I would not have a business. Period. He is the firm rock on which the company stands and his business acumen allows me to get on with designing cool stuff for the lot of you without having to deal with a plethora of very uncreative things fighting for my limited attention. Plus, he designs a pretty mean set of game mechanics as well. Angelo is the greatness. Nuff said.

Without all of the above folks (and many more I’m probably forgetting), I would be incapable of realizing some of my more exciting projects. I am but one man, and in this day and age, it takes a village to make great entertainment. These folks are my village…