Waiting for Calliope

I’m about to attend the Gen Con’s author panel, a biennial pilgrimage for writing advice. At the risk of posting multiple updates in the same quarter, I’m posting before the convention to explain what I’ve been doing in the spring. I’ve been sick for a week, and not writing, giving me time for housekeeping chores like blog updates.

Being sick hasn’t been the only wrench in my gears. Amazon closed my seller account at the end of May over thousands of dollars of purchased made by someone else under my account, costing me six-weeks of despair and unproductiveness. I won’t bore you with the details, but it involved the police, a lawyer, non-existent responses from the FTC, and weeks of emails and multi-hour phone calls with banks and Amazon’s support staff. It was so disheartening that I dreaded getting out of bed. Calliope, the muse of epics, proved elusive amid the turmoil, and I got no writing done. The ordeal wasn’t writer’s block, but its distant cousin, depression.

After the storm passed, I started book 5 of The Book of Dungeons. It’s my most straightforward narrative, but strangely, my progress has been fraught with inconsistencies and adjustments. My daily rate dropped from 2,000 to 1,500 words. After editing and creating book covers, it’s been almost a year since, so perhaps the pokey pace is understandable.

Gen Con might energize me with fresh advice, perspectives, and ideas, but hopefully it won’t derail my workflow.

Back to Minis?

The Book of Dungeons board game was based on my desire to lighten RPG rule books. After a long meditation, I determined positional play (figures on a grid) to be the biggest contributor to rules. Representing physical locations for combatants slowed down gameplay and inflated the rulebook.

By shedding over-designed systems, I culled the rules for movement, speed, range, flanking, cover, and engagement. None of these systems affected basic RPG decisions, such as, Do I heal from behind or engage in the melee? Fundamental choices for positioning are obvious to most class roles, so why have rules for them?

Without a dungeon layout and minis, RPG gameplay speeds up. While The Book of Dungeons combat engine was quick and fun, it was abstract and ugly. Everyone missed minis!

Miniatures offer players something tangible to look at and move, but I didn’t want to add them to just to check off a box. They needed to be meaningful.

WoW’s team lead, Mark Kern, once called me the most tenacious person he’s ever met. My determination to have my cake and eat it too finally payed off when I figured out how to make my board game to look as cool as it plays. I did this by adding a greatly simplified layout. Instead of using dice to represent the player’s position, players will move miniatures to optimize their actions.

Adding layouts should do more than reintroduce miniatures. Another system should eliminate the rinse-and-repeat feel of my game. Players seemed satisfied with playtests, but I wanted more game in my game. Layout enhance the value of pets—another lackluster element on my game’s chopping block.

When I finish book 5, I’ll mock up a playtest to see how my new layouts work. I’ve been chewing over minis for close to three years, so I have very high hopes.