Wednesday, 31 July 2013

More Big Announcements

Apparently today is a day for Big Announcements. I didn't plan it this way, but it just sort of happened.

SoulJAR Games is proud to announce the continued involvement of Jeff Laubenstein with Cairn, and his future involvement with SoulJAR Games projects.

Jeff has been involved from the very beginning. He was excited to create a world of his own making, to establish the visual style. This is something he did at FASA, and he's responsible for why Earthdawn looks the way it does. He never really gets the chance to do that as a freelancer (since they must draw what they're told to draw), and it's why he got involved with Castle Nystul. He and Mike worked together at FASA, and he was hoping for a position where he could just create.

He drew those initial art pieces, and then everything went pear-shaped. Quite frankly, I could publish the game just with those 30-some pieces of art. That would mean the end of Jeff's involvement, technically. He'd drawn what we needed.

But that didn't sit well with me. Jeff really wants to continue creating the World of Cairn. I plan on continuing to publish Cairn-related stuff. So we came to an agreement. An understanding. He's signed off on it, and he continues to be involved in this, and future, projects. He's going to continue to produce Cairn art.

What I'm trying to do here is the traditional bootstrapping operation. Pull yourself up by your own boot straps. Right now, we're putting together a team of committed designers and creatives who are willing to help build something. We all work together, for no money, until we have product. Create the product first, then the rest will come. We're building a team of committed people who want to create great stuff, who donate their time and energy, who believe in what we're trying to do. Hopefully, people will like it and throw money at us (*hint*hint*). 

It all feels a bit cult-like. But if you look at companies like Apple, you'll see that the idea came in a garage first, then the company sort of grew up around it. It's an organic construct. It grows. Develops. Evolves. Each time you invest in a SoulJAR project, you're giving us the means to build something lasting. I don't intend to put the cart before the horse, and I want to do this carefully. Luckily, we're building a great team over here. A team of people who believe in something.

Jeff Laubenstein is an important part of the puzzle. I'm glad he wants to continue to be involved, and is willing to donate time and energy to this endeavor. If I do this right, he (and others) will have a place where they can continue to create the kinds of things he wants to create. Which is what makes this such a big announcement for us. Jeff has joined the team. Join me in welcoming him.


I know many of you have been promised a lot of things, and you don't really know me. I haven't done this before, but then again I have. I've published a lot of RPGs over the years, but never before for myself. So really, I'm an unknown quantity. I've seen some speculation that maybe I'll never produce. That's certainly a fair assessment, if you don't really know me.

I have a lot of contacts in this business, I'm proud to say. I've had offers of help from some big names in the business, which is also kind of humbling. I'm fortunate to call them friends. One of these people is the award-winning Jim Pinto. Pinto and I got to know each other from my time at AEG, and we've kept in touch ever since. Pinto offered to do the layout for Cairn, and he started on the template last night. I'm quite pleased with it, and I thought I'd share it with you. It's just a test, and very rough. But:

A) I have files ready for layout. Because you don't want to do this twice.

B) Layout work has started.

The template is important because anything I send to Jim gets flowed into this. My word files become his layout files. Once that template is finalized, all Jim has to do is import the files. We're still tweaking the headings and stuff, but I like where this is going.

This doesn't mean the game is coming out tomorrow. We still have a lot of work to do. But as soon as I am finished, it goes to Jim and layout happens. It's an important step. It's progress.

I am slated to finish principle writing on this by August 7th. Quite frankly, I'm a week behind. One of the things I'm concerned about is time -- you've been waiting a long time for a game that was supposed to come out 5 months ago. The conventional wisdom is to get you the game as fast as possible. That may now be a week later than expected.

Next up on my schedule after writing is concluded is a 2-week review and comment period, during which any and all problems that crop up are addressed/fixed.

But this is progress. Stuff is happening. We're on a schedule, and we're generally sticking to it. This is going to happen, folks. I'm pretty darned excited.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Review: Fold for iPhone and iPad

Fold by Ricardo Moura is a well executed and original puzzle game, with a colorful presentation and smooth animations.
The playing area contains stripes of colored blocks. When you tap the last block of a stripe, the stripe starts shortening until it becomes only one block long.
Some blocks of different colors are connected together. When you fold one of these blocks, they pull the others with them. In the example below, tapping the yellow block will bring the three red blocks over to the left, joining the other red blocks.
The goal of each level is to end with only single blocks. To get a gold medal, there must be exactly one block of each color.

Other elements include blocks which expand instead of folding:
Grey blocks which become the color of the neighboring blocks when they are all of the same color:
And the dreaded black blocks which make all the blocks inside their area of influence become black.
The game contains 30 puzzles playable for free, and 30 more unlockable with a single in-app purchase. Most of the puzzles are easy and overall they are repetitive, not offering much of a challenge.

The only a-ha moment I had was with this puzzle:
There are two grey blocks here, that have to be turned into a single color. For example you can tap the left red block, which will make the red stripe fold to the right, turning the left grey block into green. But then what about the right grey block? Red has become a single block after the fold, so you can't move it anymore. You can tap the blue blocks above and below the gray block: this will turn it into a red block and you can finish the level, but you won't get a gold medal because you'll end with two blue blocks.

So how to get a gold medal? The solution is cunningly disguised inside the game mechanics. I won't ruin the enjoyment of discovering it yourself.

Fold is one of the most original puzzle games I've seen in some time. I just wish the puzzles were a bit more creative and required more thought. As they are, they feel a bit flat and buying the additional puzzles just offers more of the same stuff. Do try the free puzzles, however.

Update Aug 11th 2013: also see my Second Look to learn about a secret world with extra, harder, puzzles.


Logical Reasoning★★☆☆☆
User Interface★★★☆☆
Loading Time★★★★☆
Saves Partial Progress
Status Bar

©2013 Nicola Salmoria. Unauthorized use and/or duplication without express and written permission is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nicola Salmoria and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Status Report

Oh my goodness! It's been almost a week without an update. I'm sorry about that. I kind of lost track of the time. I've had my head buried in Cairn, working out some stuff. Got a lot done, but there always seems to be more that needs doing. It's kind of like pulling a thread on a sweater... next thing you know you've got a ball of yarn in your lap. Which is to say I do something in chapter 3 and discover that changes something in chapter 7, or means I have to write something new for chapter 9....

So, what have I been doing? Let me give you a status update:

I fixed the enchanter. The problem with this class has always been that they exist to create magic items. That means magic item creation rules. This can be hard in a game that's supposed to be simple and fun. As originally written, enchanters only really got to enchant things when they got to a high level. In the meantime, they could wander around writing runes on things for short-term effects. Which is okay, but just didn't seem right. And, to my mind, chasing after 10th level just so you can finally make magic items didn't work. So, now you can enchant things at lower levels. This meant, however, also moving things around for the enchanter.

That led to actually designing magic item creation rules. Originally, the rules were super loose, because that's actually the kind of game Mike Nystul likes to play. He's old school, so in his games, if you can't roleplay it, you can't do it. He doesn't do the "sense motive" or "diplomacy" check; you have to act it out. So the rules were "you tell your GM what you want, he tells you if you can have it." Great. I want a wand of nuclear fireballs.... I'm not saying this approach is wrong, but I think for a class whose main function is crafting magic items you need a bit more hand-holding. So, now we have magic item creation rules.

Which led to potion creation rules, since the alchemist is lurking in the wings. We were all happy with the way that class worked, but there were never any rules for making potions. So, now that's done, too.

So, then I tackled the shifter. I've mentioned this one before. I took the "form of" approach. Previously, the shifter shifted into his chosen animal, which meant waiting until you were higher level and filling the class with other nature-related stuff. Also, when it was written, we had no real idea what an un-Awakened animal was. Who wants to turn into a trout? So I broke it down into bits. Sort of like how Sean Connery "borrows" the speed of the elk in Highlander. The shifter can move like the animal, then use the defense of the animal, then the special abilities of the animal, then (finally) can shift completely into the animal itself. So rather than come up with a list of animals and benefits you can get, I linked it to the bestiary. Find an animal you like in there, start using its stats. Which means as we add un-Awakened animals to the game, the shifter gets more options. Oh, and to explain why the shifter exists as a class at all (another bone of contention), I describe them as paladins for the Primal Powers who've been touched by the Gods. James Silverstein (the guy who wrote the classes in the first place) really liked that idea.

Which meant I finally had to tackle the bestiary. This was a chapter that was written late in the process, right around the time things went pear-shaped. So I haven't looked at it since March. I made a list of the creatures I wanted to see in the game, using Mike's original chapter, then started writing. This has taken a lot of time, because it meant doing a bit of design work. Designing is different from just writing. You have to think how you want something to work, then write it, then see if what you wrote actually works, then fiddle with things.

Right now, I'm working on the magic items themselves. Again, this is a lot of design work, which means a lot of staring off into space and thinking, then furiously pounding the keyboard. My "to do" list is getting shorter. That's a good sign.

Friday, 19 July 2013

Here Be Monsters

There's been some significant progress here on my end in the past few days. First, the magic item and potion creation rules have been hashed out. Which allowed me to finalize the enchanter and alchemist. I've gone through and tweaked the Harmony rules a bit, too, adding some new elements that cause Disharmony and ways to gain Harmony. I was talking with a backer the other day who is an amateur game designer (aren't we all?), and he wasn't sure how the professionals do it. This is how. It's like a giant intellectual puzzle. You work on something over here, and that gives you a piece of the puzzle over there... Trouble is when the pieces don't all fit together (which happens quite a lot, since we're dealing with a million variables). 

So, I moved on to the shifter last night. I think we've got a really great idea here. One of the things this process has forced me to do is question assumptions. Like magic, for example. Why is magic in the game? Well, because you guys expect magic in a fantasy RPG... That's about as far as many of us get. Why is it in there? Well, it's supposed to be. However, trying to justify the whys and wherefores of magic led to a better understand of the magic using classes, and why you lose Harmony for using magic. So I asked myself last night "why shifters?" 

I think we came up with some pretty great stuff. Shifters are to druids what paladins are to priests -- they're the warrior-priests of the Primal Powers. But rather than casting magic, they embody magic. Of course, that would mean they generate Disharmony every time they use a power, and I didn't want to do that. So, they don't. They've been chosen by the Primal Powers to guard the forest by becoming one with the other animals of the forest. They can have eyes of the wolf, ears of the bat, and claws of the bear... 

Which lead me to the bestiary. This is a pretty important chapter for the shifter, since this is where he gets his powers from. So it was time to look at it. 

The impetus for creating Cairn came from Mike Nystul's daughter, Lauren. She's 19 years old, and from what I understand a sensitive soul. She really didn't like roleplaying games, what with their emphasis on killing monsters and taking their stuff. So Mike set out to create something gentler. I gather he used Pathfinder and just made certain decisions about how the setting should work for Lauren. Then, he started running it for others. They liked it, and he figured he'd make it into a game for others. This is the central feature of Cairn for me -- gentler roleplaying. I'd like to honor that drive. Make it something whimsical. Make it more fairy tale. 

That's certainly been hard. I'm not sure I'm really hitting the mark. I've been focusing on mechanics and justifications for stuff, and it's all become a bit heavy. I'm aiming for Labyrinth, and I'm getting Elric. Or at least, it seems that way to me, what with all the rules-heavy stuff. So the Bestiary chapter is something I'm looking forward to. It's a great way to detail more of the world by telling you about its inhabitants. 

I see this as a fairy tale world. Ruggles the hedgehog grabs his walking stick, puts on his Comfortable Cloak, sits his sparrow familiar on his shoulder, and off he goes to fight the goblins. During the course of his adventure, he has to be careful not to be too violent or use magic too much -- he has to choose between the quick-and-easy path and the harmonious path. After all, there's darkness in fairy tales, and I think it's a key element of whimsey. But... what are the goblins? 

So, I'm going through the bestiary. Mike sent over a bunch of monsters, and I'm going through them. I really like what he's done with it. However, I'd like to make it more "fairy tale" and less "RPG." Some of the monsters in there should stay; some of them should go. So, I'm making a list. What kinds of monsters were you envisioning in Cairn?

Strategy Guide: Stickets

Lately I've been not only playing Stickets a lot, but also thinking about it as an example of a very well designed game.
Just a few days ago, Raf Peeters was kind enough to share with me some insight about how puzzles which are enjoyable in physical form don't necessarily work as well when ported to a touch screen device. For example, a put-together puzzle like Roadblock becomes harder to play on iPhone because rotating the pieces, which is a natural motion when playing the physical version, becomes cumbersome and requires multiple taps.

Stickets doesn't have the above problem, because it was born as a digital game. It avoids the difficulty of rotating the pieces, simply by not allowing to rotate them. Everything becomes more natural that way.

The Press Kit on the developer's website lists some points about the philosophy of the game, which I quote:
  • Less is more.
  • Reason like a child.
  • Stickets is about rhythms and patterns.
While I haven't yet figured out the "Reason like a child" part, after playing the game for some time the reference about rhythms and patterns becomes obvious. Stickets is a game that, by its very nature, rhythmically alternates moments of low tension (the board is almost empty) with moments of high tension (the board is filling up). Instinctively, one would like the board to remain empty most of the time, but this just isn't possible: you can't make matches in an empty board. To be able to remove pieces from the board, you have to let it fill up. Conversely, the board cannot remain full most of the time because, quite simply, you'd run out of options and lose.

Another important thing about the design of this game is that just 8 moves are enough to fill the board. This, coupled with the random serving of new pieces, means every few moves the board layout necessarily changes almost completely, offering different challenges every time.

But that's enough abstract talk; you're here for the strategy guide, aren't you?
Getting a good score in Stickets isn't too hard if you follow some simple rules. Here's what I came up with during my games.
  1. Follow these rules religiously. A single hurried move can be fatal.
  2. Never put yourself in a situation where you need a specific piece to progress. You will probably lose before getting that piece.
  3. You may do a move that doesn't strictly follow these rules only if the pieces that you already have at the bottom of the screen will allow you to undo the damage done.
  4. Your goal is not to complete 3-tile matches. Your goal is to avoid getting stuck. 3-tile matches are only the mean to that goal, and will come naturally as the board fills up. Never make a move only because it allows you to complete a 3-tile match.
  5. Each piece you put on the board has three tiles. They are all equally important. Always make sure that all three of them end in an appropriate position. If they don't, do a different move.
  6. On average, you must remove a 3-tile match every time you place a piece on the board. This means that on average, every time you put down a piece you should match the color of two neighboring tiles. That's an average and won't always be possible, so aim to match at least three neighboring tiles every time you can.
  7. Avoid checkerboard patterns like the plague. It takes too long to remove them.
  8. Avoid enclosing small areas that can't be filled by a piece. This includes the hole that's left after removing an I-shaped match, so prefer L-shaped matches.
  9. When you make a match, don't remove it immediately. It could be extended with the following moves. This doesn't give you more points, but it allows you to remove more tiles from the board with much less effort.
  10. You can drag a piece around the board and put it back at the bottom of the screen without making a move. Use this to double check the effects of a move before committing it.

I think that's about it. These rules do work, as the score of 900 in the picture above demonstrates. Now it's up to you to efficiently apply them in the game.

©2013 Nicola Salmoria. Unauthorized use and/or duplication without express and written permission is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nicola Salmoria and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

July 18th, 2013 Update

So what is new you say?

Deus ex Historica (M&M 3e)
I've disabled all the sales of the individuals issues in favor of the subscription only. After several months of trying doing single issues I learned that:

  1. The sales of individual issues did not warrant the time spent on them.
  2. The nature of the individual issues resulted in layout that was not attractive and ultimately was not work I was proud of as the primary layout person for Purple Duck Games.
So changes have been made. The layout has been tightened a lot and each of the pages has a much more consistent feel. Here are a couple of two page spreads to give you a sense of the new look.

Under this model, most heroes or villains get three pages (two for background and one for statistics). On some of the hero or villain teams each member may only get two pages instead.

This file is being uploaded to the subscription every Friday (check your downloads) and it is a work-in-progress, meaning that Perry, Don, and I still need to do error checking on it and add some more [Art]. So if you spot errors, I want to know about them. Send me an email

As of this second the Adobe Document is on page 197, the Word doc says I have 156 pages left. So we will break 300 pages easily.

The Plan
My plan is to be through that 156 pages by the end of July. Then we take two weeks to spot errors and I order a print copy. If it comes back clean, I should be shipping product to backers in Sept/Oct.

Exploding Aces
Exploding Aces has had a first editing pass. I've had zero feedback from backers, but Perry had a number of questions and so the document got sent back to Robert for some additional text and clarifications. So right now things are in process but I can give a specific plan for this yet.

Monster Knowledge Cards II (PFRPG)
300 Monster Knowledge Cards for Bestiary II
This is what 300 monster knowledge cards looks like. The set pictured here is Perry's "putting up with my crap" copy. The cards are now on sale at Rpgnow in both a digital and physical format. I believe Endzeitgeist is going to be doing a review and it will even include comments on the cards as I got a full set shipped to him in Germany.

Like the previous set of Monster Knowledge Cards by 4 Winds Fantasy Gaming. This product contains four pieces of knowledge that can be gained by players on a successful skill check. Robert's team originally used 10, 15, 20, 25 as the DCs of that knowledge check which is contrary to the current Pathfinder Roleplaying Game rules but with 100+ downloads at Rpgnow and no complaints of that format we decided to stick with it.

The cards look like this. Each monster and major monster subtype (like Daemons) gets a card with their name, four pieces of knowledge to learn and the appropriate Knowledge skill for discovering that lore.

Now if you are using the traditional monster knowledge rules, and if you are have an inquisitor in your game, you probably are then just used each of these as a DC bonus to the monster's CR. So the first piece would be CR +10, the second CR +15 and so on for average monsters. For common monsters I would drop 5 off that CR and rare monsters I would add an additional 5. The cards are very useful regardless of which system you use.

Paths of Power II: Paths of Blood (PFRPG)
Sean and I have been working back and forth on a number of classes and I've had some art on order that I am waiting. That said, there should be a new release for Paths of Power II next week. It is either going to be the final race entry in the series Player's Options: Half-Elves by Ryan Costello or another class Player's Options: The Sheriff by Sean O'Connor.

Once the Half-Elf is out, I'm going to start the compilation file as well. Feedback is very important in this stage because if there is something horribly broken or horribly boring we want it fixed or removed before we get to a final product.

CE 3 - The Folk of Osmon (DCC) 
A mighty civilization once thrived where now only lonely Osmon Mire stretches across the land. The crumbled and vine-laden ruins of ages-old buildings arise here and there from the reedy mud and water. The remains of statues and derelict temples adorn low hills rising from the muck. Fell beasts roam the mire at night and man-like shapes haunt the swamp. After dark none willingly passes the low hill, with its blood-encrusted altar stone, where the Folk of Osmon are said to sacrifice their victims.
The Campaign Elements series is designed to help judges create persistent campaign worlds, as well as deal with patron quests, divine requests, and the sudden need to “Quest For It”. Whether it is because you are short on players one evening, or the wizard needs to locate a new spell, the Campaign Elements series has you covered.
Each of these areas is short enough to be played through by most groups in only a single session. That doesn't mean that the value of the area is limited to a single session – each adventure includes notes on “squeezing it dry”…effectively getting the maximum re-use from your investment.
An adventure for Dungeon Crawl Classics characters across multiple levels.
This Campaign Element is perfectly suitable to drop into Perils of the Sunken City by Purple Sorcerer Games as a side trek or adventure seed. (Did I mention that Jon Marr of Purple Sorcerer Games is awesome).
This is the third release in Daniel's new Campaign Element line for the Dungeon Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game.

Purple Mountain V: The Descent
Hot of the heals of two five star reviews by Endzeitgeist for the 3rd and 4th part of the Purple Mountain megadungeon, we venture onward with...

Purple Mountain V: The Descent
Bradigant, Jadus, Salfir, Alora, Faro. Noble heroes all, lauded in song and story.
Rescuers of villages and slayers of trolls. Happily ever after, right? Wrong. This time the heroes plundered the wrong troll pit, and they paid the price... Can your intrepid adventurers find the secret of-The Descent? The next fascinating level in the Purple Mountain megadungeon, The Descent will challenge 5th level characters in new ways, with unexpected twists and opportunities for nerve-wracking roleplaying, problem solving, and good old hack-and-slashing!

The Mountain just keeps getting deeper, the monsters more sinister, and the treasure more precious... get your download today, from the Cabal of the Caverns at Purple Duck Games!

On sale now: Paizo and other vendors.

Earlier this week I went back and completely redid the layout on Legendary II: Legendary Blades so that is conforms to the current Purple Duck Games layout standard. In August, I'm going to likewise redo the layout on Legendary III: Legendary Items.

In Print Pre-Order
It has been a long time coming for Purple Duck Games, but soon we will have our first product on store shelves. In fact, right now you can pre-order it from Paizo. I suspect they will make a print/PDF bundle available as well. If they don't drop me an email with proof of purchase and I'll send you the full colour PDF.

Going Forward
My my list of my forefront concerns and includes all of the following which I have some or all of the text for:
  • Monsters of Porphyra
  • Lands of Porphyra (more info and questions coming in the next post)
  • Deus ex Historica
  • Paths of Power II
  • Legendary VIII: Legendary Evil
  • Legendary IX: Legends of Antiquity
  • Heroes of the Siwathi Desert
  • Purple Mountain VI
  • Fehr's Ethnology Complete
  • Exploding Aces

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

It's Hot

Ah, NYC in July. It's hot. When I was a wee lad, sitting on my grandfather's knee, he would tell me of the days before air conditioning, when people would sleep out on their tenement roofs to escape the stifling heat.... I never really believed him. And now that I'm older, and it's close to 100 degrees (Fahrenheit) at midnight, I totally believe him. Which is a long way of saying the Souljar Games offices don't have AC, and I'm melting. It's actually affecting my laptop....

Anyway, a few thoughts to let you know I haven't forgotten you.

First, I've been working on the enchanters and magic item creation rules. They're done. The problem was that the person writing the enchanter had no idea what those rules would be. Because they weren't written yet. Then, when I tried to write magic item creation rules, I tried to preserve as much of the original enchanter class as possible. This turned out to be a bit of a mistake.... So, three days of writing myself down the wrong path and into dead ends. But we end up with a stronger enchanter class and decent (by which I mean simple) magic item creation rules. So that hole has been plugged. Well, mostly plugged. I still need to figure out the numbers for Harmony. Which means I need to fix Harmony.

The trouble with Harmony has been that it was never described in full. Mike Nystul and I work very differently. Which isn't to say one way is right or wrong. But Mike is a very intuitive writer. He has it all in his head and he writes with those assumptions firmly in place. I, however, am more structured and organized. I make outlines. I make lists. I explain everything in a production bible before the first writer starts writing. So, after all the conversations here, I looked at the rules and realized they needed to be explained better. The whys had to be put in. Why is magic bad? Why is metal bad? What does "bad" mean? Plus, while reorganizing, I discovered a significant hole -- if fighters have to worry about Harmony every time they fight, how come wizards don't worry about Harmony every time they cast spells? That just seemed unfair. So that's been changed.

Talking to Mike has been helpful, and I have a pretty good sense of what he was after. Pretty good. There are still things I'm unsure of. Once I had a firm idea of what he was going for, I was able to go through the entire chapter and harmonize things. So the chapter is better organized and better explained. The book gets stronger. However, the problem is that half the writers thought Harmony worked like hit points, and half thought it worked like Sanity.... So now I have to go through the entire book and make all the rules that depend on Harmony work the same way. Trouble is, I'm not sure if Harmony should work like hit points or like Sanity. Both have benefits. Not sure what to do. And the clock is ticking....

Some housekeeping:

Still missing backer contributions. You have until Sunday, or stuff gets cut if I need to make room. More on that tomorrow.

I'm getting emails from people about the Kickstarter and backer levels and the stuff promised. Some people are asking me about hardcovers. Some are asking about the artwork from Jeff. Some want to know about the Companion. Just to reiterate: I am providing a softcover book. That's all I can provide. I don't promise things I can't deliver. I can't tell you that you'll get your artwork from Jeff because I am not Jeff. I'm not going to promise you Companions if this game disappears down a great black hole and I make no profit and thus can't pay to make a Companion. Then, those would become broken promises. And I don't do those. So, if I can make it happen, I will. If. We'll cross that bridge when we get to it, and we're not there yet.

Lastly, just a personal question. What the heck is up with all of you from Australia?! Almost half the backers who paid to put stuff in Cairn come from Australia. What's up with that? I love Australia, don't get me wrong. When I studied in China, you all were nice enough to throw a party at your consulate every other Thursday and let the Americans drink your beer and swim in your pool. Which was great for Shanghai in the summer.... You are all crazy partying machines, and I love you for it. And, a significant portion of Chaosium's material comes from people in your country (like Mark Morrison and Shannon Appel -- both great people). But still, what's up with Cairn that got all you Aussies excited?

Lastly, I added that subscribe by email widget, so you can get my updates via email.

That's all folks. I'm going to go sit in a tub full of ice and try to figure out how to make the numbers work on Harmony.

Saturday, 13 July 2013

Update #???

I just checked the stats for the page, and I see that there's a steady decrease in page views for each successive update. I find that a tad distressing, because it means there may be a bit of information overload going on. The reason why I try to post every day is because for so long you guys heard nothing about the progress of this game. I pride myself on being open and available about the process. If you guys think this is now too much information, maybe I should post only once a week....

That said, I haven't posted in a few days because stuff and things are going on over here. Mostly, writing. Lots and lots of writing. I worry that I'm giving the impression that the game needed a lot of work or that it was largely undone. This is actually far from the truth. Mostly, what's going on is tightening up the language as certain key concepts get hammered into place. For example, the discussion on magic items led to an idea that ended up better explaining why magic leads to Harmony loss. That, in turn, led to a review of all the spell-casting professions to see what they did and tweak them a bit.... The game is getting stronger in concept and application every day.

Lastly, you backers out there who paid to include something in the game have got one week left to get me your information -- the names you wanted to add, the places you had in mind. Otherwise, at the end of next week, I'm closing the book on this part. If you don't get me your information, it's not going to go into the book. In particular, I have a few elements that I know are from backers, but I want to hear from you. Someone added a pika villain, for example, but I don't know who. Someone else added a village, but I don't know who.

If you talk to the backers who have already contributed, I've been working with each of them to make sure their contribution is included and also fits the setting. If a name doesn't quite fit, I want to find a solution so that they name is in there, the backer is happy with it, and it fits the tone of the book. I also let each person know what the final form looks like, so they know what to look for when the game comes out. So far, it's been a great process, and I hope you backers who have already participated have enjoyed it and been happy with the end result.

So. If you paid to add something to Cairn, get it in to me. Just so I can make sure it's in there (it most likely is, but I want to be sure). It's also great to know where the information came from. Email me at with BACKER CONTRIBUTION in the subject line.

And can someone post this to the Cairn Kickstarter page?! I can't do it, and maybe that'll boost the signal.

Today, I've got work to do on magic and Harmony (separately. Not combined). Those of you who have been participating in the discussion have been super helpful. I wanted to thank you for your interest in Cairn and your feedback and suggestions.

Friday, 12 July 2013


Hidden in Plain Sight is going through a bit of a renaissance, which is kind of exciting.  First of all, the Ouya has officially launched, and HIPS is selling dozens of units per day.  And even though the minimum required price is $0.99, the average price people are paying is over $2, so that’s kind of cool.

Furthermore, a very popular YouTube channel has done a series of three videos, which cumulatively have over half a million views.  That’s led to a big spike in sales on the Xbox… 4000 copies sold in the first 11 days of this month.  If it’s anything like the Great SourceFed Spike of ’12, I expect there to be quite a long tail of sales as word of mouth spreads.


I got this email yesterday.  It looked like spam on the surface, but here’s what it said:

Hi I am 14 and i have played this game called "Hidden in Plain Sight ". i think you might know it. this game is really fun and i have played it with my sister and my friend and it is better than any 60 $ game i have ever bought.   me and my sister are not really close and we fight alot. this game made us laugh together and we had a good time together. its been a while since that happened. Thank you.

I was very emotionally touched by this.  It’s one thing to make a silly little game that people like playing, but to think that I’ve perhaps had some hand in helping create or restore a bond of friendship between friends or family… that’s a big deal.  So that was really cool.

I want to make a new game.  I’ve been fooling around in Unity, and getting lots of inspiration from all kinds of sources, but just am lacking the time and energy to actually sit down and work.  Maybe soon.  My daughter and I have been playing Fariune on the iPad, and she’s really enjoying it.  So my latest thoughts are a adventure’ish game kind of like Ultima IV.  Big world, lots of little puzzles and items to find and unlock areas of the world.  We’ll see.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Review: Bézier for iPhone and iPad

Bézier by Spiderling Studios is a physics puzzle game that looks like a physics textbook.
It was originally only for iPad, but a recent update added iPhone compatibility.
The basic idea isn't new: a ball moves on the screen, following the laws of physics. Without support, the ball would fall through the bottom of the screen, so the player must set up a path which the ball can roll on. The goal is to make the ball touch a few waypoints scattered across the screen.

I had seen similar games where you had to draw the path with your finger; in this case, however, the path is created by adjusting the control points of a Bézier curve, hence the title of the game. The Bézier curve ensures that that the lines are always smoothly curved.
The presentation is very clean and polished; the font and the drawing style look like those you could find in a physics textbook. The buttons have LEDs on their sides as if they were control switches of some laboratory apparatus.
For precise control, you can also zoom in using the pinch gesture.

The Bézier curve is not the only thing you can control: in many puzzles you'll be given other props, which play a fundamental part in the solution.

The first prop you meet is the Velocity Boost, which accelerates the ball in the direction of your choice.
Then there are bumpers, like the ones found in pinball machines.
Often times, the props you are given have a padlock next to them, meaning that they can't be moved. In some cases, even some of the curve's control points can be locked, which gives an interesting twist to the puzzles.

There's a total of 80 puzzles, split across 4 groups of 20 puzzles each.

The second group introduces portals, which open up a lot of possibilities. Don't try the infinite fall trick which you could do in the Portal video game by Valve, though: sadly, the portals disappear after you pass through them.
The puzzles containing portals tend to also contain impenetrable walls, so you need to use the portal as the only mean to get on the other side.
The third group of puzzles introduces yet another game-changing feature: switches that invert the direction of gravity when touched by the ball.
The puzzles are well designed and often require some lateral thinking to find a solution. The different props, the possibility of them to be locked in place, and the presence of walls, ensure that there is a lot of variety and different challenges to overcome.

If you get stuck, you can use the light bulb button to get a hint. Hints are very well done and, instead of giving a detailed solution, draw a sketch of the basic elements needed. They seem to be more explicit in the first few puzzles and more suggestive in the later ones.
The game also keeps track of the best time it took to solve each puzzle. That's not the time it took you to find a solution, but the time it took the ball to go through all waypoints after pressing the start button. If you are so inclined, you can try to improve your times, though at the time of writing there is no support for Game Center leaderboards.

The puzzle selection screen (on iPhone at least) isn't great: it is paged and you can see 8 puzzles at a time, but each group contains 20 puzzles, so you get only 4 puzzles in the third page. This feels odd, surely two pages with 10 puzzles each would seem to make more sense.
The other nitpick I have is that there are long fades between the screens, which make it tedious to go back from the game screen to the level selection screen.

If you like physics puzzles, Bézier is a worthy addition, with good mechanics and an impeccable presentation. A free version is also available to try it before buying the full version.


Logical Reasoning★★★★☆
User Interface★★★☆☆
Loading Time★★★☆☆
Saves Partial Progress
Status Bar

©2013 Nicola Salmoria. Unauthorized use and/or duplication without express and written permission is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nicola Salmoria and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Magic Items

I've already begun to get information from backers for their contributions to the game. I've been adding it to the text, and sending the involved a copy of what I've done (so they can see it and approve it). So, I urge you to get me your information as soon as possible, so I can close out this chapter... For example, I've got a pika villain and I don't know where it came from, and I want to make some changes to him... And there are bunch of unnamed NPCs that would really like their names... So, send me your contributions if you paid for them and you're entitled to add stuff., with BACKER CONTRIBUTION in the subject line.

Today, I think I'm going to tackle something I've been avoiding like the plague. Magic item creation rules. The game includes enchanters, which, to be honest, I'm not thrilled with. It suggests that every town has a magic user who makes magic items, and it seems to be there to address a common trope in fantasy RPGs. I remember several D&D campaigns where we didn't have a magic user (remember when they were called that?) and we needed to identify a magic item, so we took it to the "magic store." Then that eventually morphed into a place where you could buy and sell magic items, which cheapened the whole "go into the dungeon to find magic items" experience. Magic items became less special and more a commodity.

I'm not thrilled with the common tropes of fantasy RPGs. But that's the subject for a different blog post.

Mostly, I believe that once you introduce an element to a game, it had darned well better be in there. For example, once you have to write down your "bend bars/lift gates" stat, there had better be a lot of bending of bars and lifting of gates. Otherwise, it's just a nonsense number that has no real use. Which means once you put enchanters in the game, you've got to have magic item creation rules.... Those are always ripe for abuse. You're going to get someone who wants a Rod of Nuclear Explosions who figures out how to do it with the rules....

Originally, the rules were super loose. Come up with magic item. Tell GM. GM tells you if you get it. Done. That's a little too loose for my tastes, and depends way more on trust than I like. It's not that there's necessarily an adversarial relationship between the GM and players, but I've been screwed over by GMs too many times... You figure out an ingenious way around a trap they invented, and nothing you do to get around it works because the GM is in love with his trap.... This is largely why games over the years have taken some aspects out of the GM's hands and made them rules -- abusive GMs*. But I digress.

In the end, you can't make game rules "dummy proof." They're not computer programs with lines of code that you can comb through. And the more you try to make your rules "infallible," the more rules you need. So you end up with 400-page RPGs. That's kind of the opposite of what we're going for here. And there's no way I can stop you from using that tired old trope of the "magic item shop" if that's what you want to do. Enchanters are in the game, and they're going to stay. I just have to figure out a way to make them work.

So, magic item creation rules. Something simple, that allows you to create your own wonders but doesn't give away the store. That's my goal for the day.

* I used to get emails from fans of the Star Trek: The Next Generation RPG begging me to send a letter to their GM to tell him the "right" way to apply a rule. So it really does happen.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013


Hidden in Plain Sight FAQ 1.0

My game has apparently reached some sort of critical mass, and I’m beginning to get a lot of the same questions over and over again, so I’ll address them here.

1)  Online multiplayer?

No.  I’m not going to update this game to support online multiplayer.  The answer is a little complicated.

When I started making this game, I was targeting the Xbox Live Indie Games platform, and just making a somewhat experimental, hobbyist game.  I had no idea that it would be as successful as it would eventually become.  I figured I’d be lucky to sell a few hundred copies.  So I didn’t anticipate a big player base, which is kind of necessary for an online game, if people want to just jump online at a random time to play.

But making an online game is HARD.  Really hard.  Anyone who tells you otherwise has never done it before.  It really would have made the coding 100x more complicated, and perhaps is even beyond my technical ability.  Because of those reasons, I led with a local-multiplayer-only approach.

In that decision, I made some specific design decisions that centered around the game being on a shared screen.  Obviously, there is no indicator about which player is controlling which character.  This was necessary (for obvious reasons), but also has turned into a core gameplay feature.  People who are better at recognizing and finding their character early have an advantage in the game. 

But the nail in the coffin, and what I haven’t been convinced of otherwise, is that the vast bulk of the FUN of the game is specifically BECAUSE it’s played in a shared space with friends and family.  It simply wouldn’t be as good of a game if it was played by individual players in their own little rooms.  Maybe if all the players had headsets, it might work, but I simply think there is some magic in the room when the game is played that wouldn’t translate into an online space.

This doesn’t preclude me from attempting to make a similar online game in the future, or even taking individual game modes and trying to make them online.  But I have no plans to update this specific game to include online multiplayer, for reasons technical, design, and philosophical.

2)  Bring this game to (PSN/Wii/etc)!

That’s really more of a demand than a question, but whatever.  Here’s the thing.  I’m a hobbyist game developer.  This means that I have a real-life job, and not a whole lot of time on my hands.  It also means that I’m doing game stuff for fun, rather than profit (though I like profit!)

I will bring the game to any console that makes it easy for me to do so.  For example, Microsoft allows us to pay them $99, and all of a sudden we’re game developers.  You can make a game and put it on their marketplace (as long as you follow a few simple rules).  Recently, the Ouya console came out, and they were even easier, allowing me to publish on their marketplace for free.  PC, obviously, has many free outlets for distributing amateur games.

So the game exists on those markets:  XBLIG, Ouya, and Windows (via

I looked at the signup page for PlayStation to become a registered Sony Indie dev, and they wanted me to submit a 6-12 month business plan.  That was enough to scare me away.

Xbox One doesn’t appear to have a XBLIG analog, so I’m not sure if the game will be available for that system or not.  We’ll just have to see how they decide to treat hobbyist devs.

3)  Why is the game not available in my country?

I’m not sure I understand the reasoning behind it, but Xbox Live Indie Games are only available in certain countries, and blocked from other countries.  I think part of the reason is that the games are unrated, and some governments don’t allow that.  But it’s not up to me.

You can always try the Windows version, but it’s still local multiplayer only, and requires Xbox-compatible controllers.

4)  This game is like Spy Party!

I address that here.  Read the comments, too.

5)  This game is awesome!  I want to pay you more for it:

You can use this donate button, if you think the game is fun and you’ve played it for a long time.

Hope this helps.  Feel free to contact me if you have more questions, or just want to say hi.  I love to hear from people who have played the game!


An Update

Hi all! Just a quick update for all of you.

I've already started to get backer contribution information. It's terrific to see people so engaged in Cairn. I've already learned that some bits already made it into the text, in which case it's nice to see who it came from. And some bits that didn't, so I have to figure out how to get it in there. Again, if you're a backer who paid to have something added to the game, please email me at with BACKER CONTRIBUTION in the subject line. Even if you contacted Mike long ago, I want to make sure your information made it in by cross-checking it with the text. I don't want anything to fall through the cracks. Or, at least minimize it as much as possible.

Next, I want to tell you all that I appreciate all the support and encouragement I'm receiving from you all. Many of you are just happy to see some progress and are sending me encouragement. "I can't wait to see the game" or "thank you for taking this on" and other messages along those lines.... I read all my email (though I can't respond to it all), so I wanted you to know that I'm thankful.

Speaking of which, I'm also really glad some of you are engaged enough in the game and process to help me talk things through. That dialog about un-Awakened animals and being a carnivore really helped focus my thinking, and I crafted a bit of text a) explaining the reasoning behind that aspect of the game, and b) giving you several options on how you can use them. So the Harmony rules make certain assumptions for the setting, but if you want a "darker" or more realistic tone there's some ideas on how to do that. You guys helped focus my thinking and sharpened my ideas. I didn't want you to think I was operating in a vacuum, or that this was all some kind of PR exercise. Thank you thank you thank you.

(And there will be more opportunities to discuss things, too.)

July Update 1

July has been a very, very month so far which is just awesome. July/August are the only two months of the year at which I can be "full-time" with Purple Duck Games so I'm really pleased at the amount of work that we have gotten done so far. For new releases we have:

Campaign Elements Series (DCC; Daniel J. Bishop)
Daniel J. Bishop has kicked off our second series for the Dungeon Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game called Campaign Elements (CE). Daniel describes them as follows:

The Campaign Elements series is designed to help judges create persistent campaign worlds, as well as deal with patron quests, divine requests, and the sudden need to "Quest For It". Whether it is because you are short on players one evening, or the wizard needs to locate a new spell, the Campaign Elements series has you covered.
Each of these areas is short enough to be played through by most groups in only a single session. That doesn't mean that the value of the area is limited to a single session – each adventure includes notes on "squeezing it dry"…effectively getting the maximum re-use from your investment.
There are currently two releases in this line:

The Falcate Idol
CE 1 - The Falcate Idol
The Cult of the Harrower is ancient, and each of the eight eyes of its spider-idol is rumored to be a moonstone gem the size of a pigeon's egg. Moreover, somewhere within the cult's sanctuary, a pool flows from the Egg of Creation. Will your Thief seek to make a legendary score? Will your Wizard pursue the shards of the Egg? Will your Cleric join the cult? Or will your Warrior fight his way through the web-covered passages to rescue them if they fail? Any or all of these scenarios are possible!

An adventure for 2-8 level 2 Dungeon Crawl Classics characters. This adventure is also suitable for 1-2 level 3 characters, or a solo level 4 thief who relies primarily upon stealth and caution.

Buy Now! at any of our vendors.

CE 2 - The Black Goat
Not all mountain passes are lonely.
Come meet the Mahmat Troth and the One they adore. Only in the high pass will you discover what the Black Goat truly is.
A Dungeon Crawl Classics campaign element for use with characters of all levels.
Buy Now! at any of our vendors.

The are in both of these was done by Luigi Castellani who may be my good to artist for DCC now.

Deus ex Historica (M&M3e; Don Walsh & James Stubbs)
With Deus ex Historica, you take a look into the files of future archaeologist Danni Cipher, and explore the Ages of the Super-Hero: from their Golden Age beginning, straight through to the Modern Age. Follow the way these comic book eras focused on different styles, struggles, attitudes and even powers, for hero and villain alike.
You can step into the role of any one of four dozen ready-made heroes, to take up their struggles against dozens of their most diabolical foes! Golden, Silver, Bronze, Iron, Modern; each age presents its own team of heroes and the criminals and maniacs that they opposed, good to go straight from the book.
We are about half-way through the initial layout of this massive ton and have been releasing characters serially for it. Kickstarter backers should all have a subscription to this but if you do not and have seen "nothing" then you need to send me an email. The newest releases in this series are only available at Rpgnow because we have sold no copies of any release or the subscription at or (all of our other products sell well at those venues, just not our M&M releases).
Mother Bear II
Newest releases are all silver age villains:
We are about 1/2 done doing the initial layout on the book as a whole. The cheapest way to collect Deus ex Historica (if you didn't get in on the kickstarter) is through subscription with Rpgnow,, or Though no one has bought any Deus ex Historica through or doesn't mean they couldn't and if we has a few sales there it would help make those vendors more viable for M&M3e support.

Runecaster by Gary Dupuis.
Legendary Classes: Rune Magic (PFRPG; Porphyra; Josh McCrowell)
There is a place on the world of Porphyra called the Theater of Arrival, though no plays are found there. What is found there is a ring of twenty-seven stones, all an odd maroon color. The stones lie pm a field of glass, as if some great heat, light or pressure had been brought to bear on it. Though no play is performed here, there is art, of a sort. Each of the stones bears several images, three, in fact, two of which are the same on every stone, and one different. The similar images bookend the different on each stone, and appear as the engraving of a tall, thin humanoid with pointed ears, and a muscular humanoid with tusk-like fangs and fierce demeanor. It is said that if you look at the images long enough, in that wind-swept place, they start to look more and more like each other. The central image of each stone is unique. It is here that the elven runecasters and orcish runereapers triggered The Calling and irrevocably changed the face of Porphyra.
This third release in the Legendary Classes lines presents two alternate classes for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game:
  • Runecaster (alternate alchemist)
  • Runereaper (alternate barbarian)
The runecaster is a voiceless spellcaster who is able to shape the fundamental aspects of magical power, leave behind invisible explosive runes, and unlock the powers of legendary treasures quicker than others.
The runereaper is an arcane-fuelled warrior that is first into battle. Using the runes carved into his flesh he is able to activate many additional combat powers multiple times per day. The more he defeats enemies in combat, the more he can access his runes.
Additionally, favored class bonuses are listed for all the Porphyran playable races just like we showcased in Legendary Classes: Covenant Magic.
Note: The runecaster class uses the Word of Powermechanic from Ultimate Magic by Paizo Publishing, you will need access to that book or one of the many Pathfinder SRD sites to access the additional material needed.
If you like this release please check out other work by Josh like Heroes of the Fenian TriarchyLegendary Races: HarpiesLegendary VII: More Legendary Items, or Player's Options: Half-Orcs.
Buy Now! at any of our vendors.

Monster Knowledge Cards II (PFRPG; Perry Fehr)
Physical Cards have been order but
have not arrived yet.

Soon to be available as a
physical 300 card set.
GM's Aid IX: Monster Knowledge Cards II, your job as GM just got easier! This latest version of the Monster Knowledge Cards product has been designed for compatibility with the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game from Paizo Publishing, LLC.
There is a card for all of the Bestiary II monsters from Achaierai to Juju Zombie, and each includes a number of facts about that particular creature, and any variant types of that creature. Each fact is tied to an increasingly higher Knowledge check DC. When the players characters are faced with a creature, whip out the appropriate card, have the players make rolls, and tell them what they know.
This set of cards is currently only available as download. They are formatted for use in a digital manner and the card production process, they are not formatted for printing at home. 
Buy Now! at any of our vendors.
Player's Options: Half-Orcs (PFRPG; Josh McCrowell)
He will smash you in the face repeatedly if you
call his a dworc again by Ryan Rhodes
Half-orcs have been dealt a rough hand, both in-character and out. Though present in the first edition of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, they have flickered in and out of playability for the past thirty-odd years. Still, a half-orc is damnably hard to kill.
If you are holding this book, you are probably one of the half-orc’s stalwart fans. There is a charm in the monster, a charm in the brute, a charm in the outsider that no other core character race can emulate. Half-orcs are made to be extreme characters. A half-orc is either a noble savage or a murderous monster; they accept no middle ground and tolerate no compromise. They are ideal for games of great heroes and terrible villains.
Presented here are several options for your half-orc characters, including new racial variants,
feats, flaws, and equipment. Enjoy! 
Also, be sure to check out Player's Options: Humans, Player's Options: Halflings, Player's Options: Dwarves, Player's Options: Elves, and Player's Options: Gnomes!
This product is part of the Paths of Power II: Paths of Blood subscription.
Buy Now! at any of our vendors.

David loves Long Titles
Random Encounters Remastered: World's Edge and Beyond (PFRPG; David Nicholas Ross)
Random Encounters Remastered is intended to provide GMs a detailed, comprehensive source for randomly generating unique encounters with a variety of interesting terrain features, NPCs and site-specific monsters. More than simply a bunch of tables, Random Encounters Remastered also presents rules, guidelines and advice for quickly creating interesting roleplaying and combat situations.
Each volume of Random Encounters Remastered describes a number of adventure areas. These encompass common sites such as grand marketplaces, eerie woods, and windswept plains to more unusual locales such as planar strongholds, underworld battlefields and endless caverns. The areas can be further customized by adding new terrain features and hazards described in each book. The random monster generator for each setting is setup to automatically provide a CR-appropriate challenge for a party no matter their level so a GM doesn’t have to worry about encounters that are too easy or too hard. Wherever a party finds itself, the tables and rules in this book can help a GM construct a quick, memorable encounter.
Adventure areas included: Abyssal Rifts, Beshadowed Backwoods, Elemental Oasis, Historic Battlefields, Misty Morass, and Summer Otherworld.
This product makes use of opponents from Bestiary 1, 2, 3, the Gamemastery Guide, and the NPC Codex.
Buy Now! at any of our vendors.
In the Background
There is a ton of stuff going on in the background not limited to:
  • layout on Purple Mountain V
  • editing of Racial Alternate Classes
  • editing/development of Exploding Aces 
  • layout on more Deus ex Historica
  • development on Paths of Power II
  • development of Monsters of Porphyra
  • layout on two new Legendary Treasures books
  • development on Lovecraft Fantasy (there I said it)
  • Heroes of the Fenian Triarchy enters distribution in August.
  • Legendary Classes: Covenant Magic to enter distribution in October.
  • The Patchwork World of Porphyra is being mapped.
  • More Campaign Element (DCC) and Adventure Locale (AL) products are in the works

I'm sure I've forgotten a ton of things.