Kickstarter projects for 2020

FaerieGodfather

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Monkey Paw Games' UNCONQUERED: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/monkeyspawgames/unconquered?ref=user_menu

UNCONQUERED is a beginner-friendly, rules-light, bronzepunk swords & sorcery & sandals & sci-fi fantasy tabletop RPG, inspired by classic pulp serials such as Savage Sword of Conan, Flash Gordon, and John Carter of Mars, the Dying Earth genre, the Dark Souls video game series, and webcomics such as Kill Six Billion Demons and Necropolis. Players generate character through a simple yet diverse lifepath-style character creation system, at each stage learning more about the infinite Loom they inhabit. Before long, they'll be undertaking mythic and perilous journeys through a decaying, waning universe of fading Gods, strange realities, and the dizzying remains of strange and wondrous civilizations.
Obviously had me at the premise, but what hints I could divine about the execution from the Q&A seem like they're up my alley as well.
 

dbm

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@archon_ascendant I would be very interested to hear about the ‘rules for responding to emergencies’ as I find this shockingly absent from most Supers games.
 

TristramEvans

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Hmm, one generation per session?
A generational game involving advancement of a society in a game the size of a zine?

It would have to be so ridiculously structured and abstracted as to hardly be a RPG by any but the loosest definition.
Possibly, depending on how rules light / ivory tower it is, how the " one generation per game" thing is enforced, etc.

I'm willing to throw away the cost of a sandwich to gamble there might be some ideas to mine for other games though
 
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I agree that the reaction may be a tad overboard, but I'm curious if you would eventually offer PDF versions of the GM screen, maps, introductory comic book, and artbook, should those stretch goals be reached? If so, perhaps add a new PDF-only tier with those add-ons?
I have added "Vigilante + Sidekick" as a pledge level to afford backers with a complete set of all PDF content.

@archon_ascendant congrats on the funding. I went in at the PDF. This is the first Kickstarter I’ve ever supported. It must prove that I love supers games that say they are inspired by DC Heroes and Marvel.
Thank you for the support!

@archon_ascendant I would be very interested to hear about the ‘rules for responding to emergencies’ as I find this shockingly absent from most Supers games.
DBM, here is an excerpt from that chapter then. These are the rules for fighting pandemics.

The rules cover: asteroid strikes, avalanches, bomb threats, disease outbreaks, earthquakes, fires, hostage negotations, nuclear disasters, tornados, tsunami, and volcanoes.
 

Edgewise

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I have to admit, this Ascendant game sounds pretty nice. As far as RPGs go, I think the mechanics are most crucial in the supers genre. Most systems are either too crunchy or too abstract. Also, rules for handling disasters is a great idea that could be a lot of fun.

Also, credit where credit is due: updating your pledge levels based on this dialog is very responsive.
 

Endless Flight

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I have to admit, this Ascendant game sounds pretty nice. As far as RPGs go, I think the mechanics are most crucial in the supers genre. Most systems are either too crunchy or too abstract. Also, rules for handling disasters is a great idea that could be a lot of fun.

Also, credit where credit is due: updating your pledge levels based on this dialog is very responsive.
I’m excited. To get me to do any kickstarters is a miracle and I went in on this one.
 

Apparition

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I have added "Vigilante + Sidekick" as a pledge level to afford backers with a complete set of all PDF content.
Awesome. Thank you! As I said earlier, I pledged at the hardcover level, but myself and many tabletop gamers I know either completely or primarily play online these days. So the more digital aids, the better. :smile:
 

TristramEvans

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The rules cover: asteroid strikes, avalanches, bomb threats, disease outbreaks, earthquakes, fires, hostage negotations, nuclear disasters, tornados, tsunami, and volcanoes.

I'm looking forward to punching the crap out of some Coronovirus

Supers games need more love. Especially ones that use old school games as inspiration for their mechanics.
There's something so comforting about seeing that multi-coloured chart
 

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I found this one late, but I like that its set somewhere I know little about, so it intrigues me. Had to support it.
I love rpgs set in non-European cultures, and bestiaries based on creatures from those places, so I backed it, too.
 

Edgewise

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Questions about Ascendant:

I've read the preview and looked through the pandemic rules. The preview mentions that some situations entail color thresholds above green, and the pandemic rules have some examples, but I'm wondering why you don't just increase the DV for harder situations? It's confusing to figure out which dial to turn.

Also, it would be instructive to see exactly how weapon damage is derived, but I can get a hint of how things scale from the stats of Aurora. She's quite the glass cannon.

Oh, one other thing: I didn't see any rules for initiative. That's usually a pretty important set of mechanics in most superhero RPGs, and where a lot of them get interesting. Did I just miss these or is that TBD?
 
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Questions about Ascendant: I've read the preview and looked through the pandemic rules. The preview mentions that some situations entail color thresholds above green, and the pandemic rules have some examples, but I'm wondering why you don't just increase the DV for harder situations? It's confusing to figure out which dial to turn.
The complexity was either going to show up in color result or in DV calculation. By using color result, I was able to have a standard formula for deriving Difficulty Value based on the disease cost. On a related note, players who think more visually than mathematically seem to enjoy color threshold as a feature - "oh damn I need an orange, that's hard".

Also, it would be instructive to see exactly how weapon damage is derived, but I can get a hint of how things scale from the stats of Aurora. She's quite the glass cannon.
Weapon Damage is based on SP of Damaging Attribute. 1 SP = 3 Base Damage. Damage increases by a factor of 1.41 per SP, such that each increase of 2 SP doubles it. So 3 SP = 6 Damage; 5 SP = 12 Damage; up to 15 SP = 380 Damage, and so on.

Now, this may lead you to wonder why the weightlifting ability from Might increases by a factor of 2 per SP while the damage dealt by Might increases by a factor of 1.41 per SP. It seems an incongruity. The answer is that Might is scaled to energy (e.g. the transformation of kinetic energy into potential energy), while Damage in Ascendant is scaled to the square root of energy. The square root of a factor of 2 is 1.41, which is to say, the same rate of increase seen in the CHART.

Speaking of which, here's the physics:

The SP score for a round with a known armor penetration (in millimeters) can be calculated by using the formula Damage = log2 (Armor Penetration x 5) +2. Armor penetration for a round with a known kinetic energy (in joules) can be calculated using the real-world Krupp Formula, which is Projectile’s Kinetic Energy)0.5 / [(Projectile’s Diameter)0.5 x 2.4]. Kinetic energy for a round of known mass and muzzle velocity can be calculated as ½ Mass x Velocity2.

Explosions are Concussive Thermal Damage Type in most cases; atomic and thermonuclear weapons may add the Ionizing Damage Types. Explosion Damage is calculated in kilograms of TNT using the formula Damage = log2 [680 x (kilograms of TNT)0.5]. Damage is calculated in joules using the formula Damage = log2 [(joules)0.5/3].

Oh, one other thing: I didn't see any rules for initiative. That's usually a pretty important set of mechanics in most superhero RPGs, and where a lot of them get interesting. Did I just miss these or is that TBD?
Initiative rules are written but they weren't in the sneak preview. I've pasted them below.
Initiative
At the beginning of every Page of Combat, each of the participating characters rolls 1d6 and adds the result to his Initiative Attribute to determine his Initiative Total for that Page. The character with the highest Initiative Total gets to take the first Panel during that Page, the character with the second highest total gets to take the second Panel, and so on.

If two or more character’s Initiative Totals are tied, the character with the highest Initiative Attribute is considered to have the greater total, then the second highest, and so on. If one or more characters are still tied, the tied characters should roll a 1d6 as a tiebreaker, with the character getting the higher d6 result considered to have the greater Initiative Total. If necessary, re-roll the tiebreaker until the ties are broken.

A character can voluntarily delay taking his Panel until a lower Initiative Total if desired. If a character who delays taking his Panel wishes to act on the same Initiative Total as another character, whichever had the greater Initiative Total can choose to take his Panel before or after the other. Characters never interrupt each other during their Panel except when taking a Reserve Action. If two characters both want to delay until after the other, the character with the greater Initiative Total can choose who goes first.

Actions
All Actions in Combat are Instant Actions. When it is a character’s Panel in the Page, he can perform up to three Actions. However, only one of the three Actions can be a Challenge Action (the other two must be Automatic Actions) and only one of three can be a Movement Action (the other two must be Stationary Actions). If a character takes a Challenge Movement Action, his other two Actions would both have to be Stationary Automatic Actions. A character does not have to take all three Actions if the Player would prefer not to. A character can perform his three Actions in any order. Characters who are Dazed, Staggered, and Slammed lose some or all of their Actions (see p. XX).

On his Panel, Stronghold might jump off a balcony (a Movement Action), pick up a manhole cover (an Automatic Action), and attempt to slam American Eagle in the face with the manhole cover (a Challenge Action). But Stronghold could not jump off the balcony, punch American Eagle, and then jump back up on the balcony, because that would be two Movement Actions. Likewise, Stronghold could not jump of the balcony and punch American Eagle twice, because that would be two Challenge Actions. But Stronghold could change the order of his Automatic Action, Movement Action, and Challenge Action. He could grab the deck furniture on the balcony (an Automatic Action), throw the furniture at American Eagle (a Challenge Action), and then jump up to the roof (a Movement Action), because Actions can be taken in any order.

Reserving an Action
Rather than undertake all three Actions on his Panel, a character may decide to Reserve one Action. The Reserved Action can be of any type. A When the character Reserves an Action, he must specify what the Action will be and the Trigger that, if it occurred, will result in him taking it. If the Trigger occurs before the character’s next Panel, the Reserve Action takes place. If the Trigger does not occur before his next Panel, the Reserve Action is lost. A character can delay taking his Panel in order to keep a Reserve Action.

A Reserve Action can interrupt another character’s Movement Action but not another character’s Challenge Action. Therefore it must be clear whether its Trigger occurs just before or just after the other character’s Challenge Action. If a Reserve Action Triggers just before another character’s Challenge Action, and causes new circumstances to arise that make the other character’s Challenge Action impossible, then that character can choose a different Action instead – he doesn’t “lose” his opportunity to take some sort of Action.

Let’s return to Stronghold’s encounter with American Eagle. Imagine that American Eagle’s Panel had taken place earlier in the Page, and that American Eagle had Reserved a Melee Attack to punch Stronghold with the Trigger “If Stronghold gets near enough for me to punch”. As soon as Stronghold jumps down off the balcony next to American Eagle (Stronghold’s Movement Action), American Eagle’s Reserve Action Triggers, and he makes his Attack. After American Eagle’s Reserve Action is resolved, Stronghold continues with the last two Actions of his Panel.

Since Reserve Actions and Initiative are crucial to comic-book action, let’s consider some other alternatives.

  • What if Stronghold had stayed on the balcony, grabbed the deck furniture, and thrown it at American Eagle? In that case, American Eagle’s Reserve Action would never have Triggered.
  • What if American Eagle had Reserved a Movement Action to fly away with the Trigger “if Stronghold starts to attack me”? Let’s assume that Stronghold jumps down from the balcony next to American Eagle. No Trigger. He picks up the manhole cover. No Trigger. He starts to slam it into American Eagle – Trigger! American Eagle now takes his Reserve Action and flies away. Stronghold cannot slam the manhole cover into American Eagle (a Melee Attack) because he’s not next to him anymore. But he doesn’t lose the Action, he just can’t use it to do what he initially wanted. Instead Stronghold might decide to throw the manhole cover instead (a Ranged Attack), or attack another nearby character, etc.
Reserving an Action to Attack While Moving
When a character expends a Movement Action, he can reserve a Challenge Action to take place at a pre-defined point of the Movement Action, essentially interrupting his own Movement Action on his own Panel. After the Challenge Action, the character completes his declared Movement Action. A character cannot change his Movement Action based on the result of his Challenge Action or change his Challenge Action if his Movement Action triggers an opponent’s reserve action or other change in circumstances. See Reserving Actions (p. XX) in the Combat chapter.

Airborne’s girlfriend, Devon, is clinging on to the railing at the top of the Empire State Building Observation Deck. The villainous Maximum Leader leers at her from the safety of the balcony. Airborne expends a Movement Action to zoom past the Empire State Building, reserving a Challenge Action to grab Devon on the way past. Unfortunately Maximum Leader has reserved a Challenge Action to grab Devon if Airborne approaches within 3 SPs. When Airborne reaches a Distance of 3 SPs from his girlfriend, Maximum Leader makes an easily successful Wrestling Attack, grabbing her off the railing and into his clutches. The GM rules that Airborne can still attempt to grab Devon, but it now counts as a Disarm of Maximum Leader. Sadly, Airborne fails the Challenge Check. He now completes his planned Movement Action and flies past the building.
 

Edgewise

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The complexity was either going to show up in color result or in DV calculation. By using color result, I was able to have a standard formula for deriving Difficulty Value based on the disease cost.
I get that the complexity has to show up somewhere and, in this particular case, it works out rather nicely because all cures use the same DV for a pathogen but differentiate on color. But one trouble that shows up for me, as GM, is deciding when to adjust DV or use a color threshold to modify difficulty in the situations that come up at the table. Maybe it would be more clear in practice, but some guidelines could help, here.
On a related note, players who think more visually than mathematically seem to enjoy color threshold as a feature - "oh damn I need an orange, that's hard".
I can definitely see the appeal for players. But for me as a GM, this is actually a little frustrating, because I do think in terms of mathematics and probability. The relationship between color and probability is less clear to me, so if I thought a condition makes something roughly 20% more difficult, working backwards to a proper DV/color threshold is not straight-forward.

In fact, looking at the chart, it's a bit tricky. For non-combative tasks...if I have an RV of 0, then my chance of success (green or higher) is 50%. That's a good baseline. In the RV is -1, the chance of success is only 25%. Again, that is easy to understand. But at RV 1, success occurs 98% of the time. Whoa! And the width of the color bands really changes throughout the chart.

The logic of this chart seems to suggest that with an RV greater than 0, most of the uncertainty is about exactly how well you do if you succeed. With an RV less than 0, your chance of success quickly becomes minuscule. But the relationship of color to RV is a lot less clear to me.

I don't mean to nit pick. Maybe there's a way of looking at it that makes it more clear. Perhaps by hearing my confusion that can sharpen your explanation a bit for people like me. I can tell you put an enormous amount of thought into the mathematics behind this, so I suspect it's mostly matter of transmitting an understanding of the inner logic.

Something that might help me would be an actual graph representation of the CHART where each color band it represented proportionally. I'm the sort of guy who thinks in terms of the shapes of curves - give me an old fashioned normalized bell curve, or whatever the equivalent is on your tables. Visualizing the probabilities can be very helpful for semi-mathematical guys like me.
 
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No worries, it's not a nit pick. The game is built on math and these are good questions to ask. To the extent I thought it would be palatable, I explained as much as I could of the math in various designer's notes and sections of the complete rules. If anything I have erred on sharing too much information, I suspect, as the vast majority of playtesters have loved the game without ever worrying about it. :-\

Understanding RV and Color Results
Mathematically, color results of Green, Yellow, Orange, and Red are the equivalent to 0, 1, 2, and 3 SPs respectively, or non-logarithmic values of 1, 2, 4, and 8. That is why Damage is multiplied by x1, x2, x4, and x8 for Green, Yellow, Orange, and Red success on Attack Checks.

This equivalence allows the GM to know the expected color result for any given RV. For Attacks, the expected color results are Green at +0 RV, Yellow at +2 RV, Orange at +4 RV, and Red at +6 RV. For all other Challenges, the expected color results are Green at +0 RV, Yellow at +1 RV, Orange at +2 RV, and Red at +3 RV.

These rules guide the relationship between Automatic Actions and Challenge Actions. Sometimes an Action’s color result determines the SPs of Time that the Action can be maintained. In such cases, the formula for the Automatic Action and the formula for calculating the RV of the Challenge Action will be algebraic equivalents when the RV is 0. A Green result will sustain the Action for 0 SPs of Time, Yellow for 1 SP, Orange for 2 SPs, and Red for 3 SPs.

In other cases, the Action’s color result determines how successful the Action is, with a Green result indicating marginal success and a Red result indicating complete success. In such cases, the formula for calculating the RV of the Challenge Action will show a -3 modifier applied to the DV. Requiring a Red result makes an Action 3 SP harder, so to balance that out with the Automatic Action equivalent, we have to reduce the DV.

Half-Point RV Shift
Sometimes, due to environmental conditions, unforeseen circumstances, or stress a Challenge might be somewhat harder or easier than the resulting RV suggests, but not quite so difficult as to justify raising or lowering the RV by a full point. At his discretion, the GM can shift the RV of an ordinary Challenge (not an Attack) up or down by a half-point. The CHART indicates half-point RVs in parentheses in the Other column. A half-point RV shift increases or decreases the odds of success by approximately 1.4x (square root of 2).

Example of Defining a Challenge Action
Jack Hammer is a member of the local bowling league. His player wants to know how hard it will be for Jack Hammer to bowl a perfect 300. The GM knows that there are 10 frames in a bowling game, with 2 fills in the last frame for 12 throws total. A professional bowler has about a 50% chance of a strike and a 98% chance of a spare in each frame. Assuming a professional bowler has 7 SPs of Bowling, the GM decides that the DV for bowling is 5, with gutter balls on a White result, a few pins on a Green result, a spare on a Yellow result, and a strike on an Orange or Red result. To get a perfect 300, Jack Hammer will have to roll twelve consecutive Orange or Red results.

====
To address your point from above, on non-combat tasks it is absolutely the case at RV+1 and above that success is virtually assured and that the open question is how well you succeed. A pro bowler doesn't fail to hit some pins. Stephen King doesn't fail to write a novel. In fact, anytime your RV is 0 is higher on a non combat tasks, the game allows you to treat a Challenge Action as an Automatic Action and take a an automatic color result if you want. This becomes incredibly important in keeping the gameplay fast and allows smooth transition between "this is hard and I have to roll" and "no worries, I'm superman".
 

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Ptolus Kickstarter now up. If you want PDF you can get both flavours for $40...

It looks to me like a re-tooling if the 3e version, as opposed to a re-write, at least until they get into stretch goals...
The $60 version had a lot of stuff included and seemed like too good of something to pass up, even if my new location appears to lack any sort of gaming community. Who knows -- maybe someday I will convince the locals that winter is intended for indoor activities
 
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Edgewise

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Weapon Damage is based on SP of Damaging Attribute. 1 SP = 3 Base Damage. Damage increases by a factor of 1.41 per SP, such that each increase of 2 SP doubles it. So 3 SP = 6 Damage; 5 SP = 12 Damage; up to 15 SP = 380 Damage, and so on.
I see...this is basically on the same scale as Health points but shifted down about 3.8 or so. In other words, they are both approximately scaled 1.4 per SP, i.e. the root of two. So you should be able to take about four Green hits from someone with a damage SP equivalent to the health SP, which means one red or orange hit should take someone out where the health and damage are equivalent SPs.
When it is a character’s Panel in the Page, he can perform up to three Actions.
These rules are nice; they give you a lot of versatility and they are pretty simple. One thing I'm wondering about, though, is how you'll simulate super-speed characters who might conceivably attack many targets per round. Is that some kind of special feat?
Mathematically, color results of Green, Yellow, Orange, and Red are the equivalent to 0, 1, 2, and 3 SPs respectively, or non-logarithmic values of 1, 2, 4, and 8.
Looking over the CHART in more detail, I see what you're doing with that. If I'm using this system, it's simpler to factor the baseline difficulty into the DV and use the colors to represent superlative success. But I suppose some GMs will like to have the option, sort of how you can use DC or advantage for 5e checks.
To address your point from above, on non-combat tasks it is absolutely the case at RV+1 and above that success is virtually assured and that the open question is how well you succeed.
I've struggled to represent this kind of thing in game mechanics that I've designed. There are some bodies of knowledge where you either know it or you don't...or you're right on the cusp. That seems to be what you're going for here. The struggle is how to unify this concept with conflicts that aren't entirely one-sided, and you've done that simply by making combat challenges halve the effect of differences. That's a pretty straight-foward approach that definitely works for the genre.

These rules are a bit mathier than I generally prefer, but you have to make allowances for the genre, and your mechanics are fairly "elegant" i.e. consistent, seemingly robust and not over-complicated. So yeah, looks pretty promising.
 

dbm

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The $60 version had a lot of stuff included and seemed like too good of something to pass up
I’ve buddied up with a couple of the other guys in our group and so far we’ve backed at the $150 level and added in the smaller of the two big maps.
 

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I’ve buddied up with a couple of the other guys in our group and so far we’ve backed at the $150 level and added in the smaller of the two big maps.
The map is very tempting as the idea of having it on the wall during the game seems like it might improve play considerably.
 
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Bunch

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It is a pretty map. Get the smaller one if do it. The big one is unwieldy.
The map is very tempting as the idea of having it on the wall during the game seems like it might improve play considerably.
 

dbm

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That was pretty much my thinking. I want something usable, rather than as a wall feature
 

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Both the supers game and the bronzepunk game in this thread sound fun. I definitely don't need another game in either of those genres, but I'm still tempted:grin:!
 

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Patrick Stuart has a KS up for his seminal OSR adventure Deep Carbon Observatory Remastered, with new maps, formatting and new material added. Love this adventure so I’m thinking of pulling the trigger for the proper hardcopy release if the UK shipping won’t push it into the absurd in terms of price. Thankfully he is keeping the controversial Scrap Princess art, just bigger with better presentation, which I personally really dig.
 
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Edgewise

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I mean... I don’t like it, but I don’t really see how anyone could be upset by it?
She's done a lot of work on the artier end of OSR, specifically collaborating with Stuart on a lot of his projects (including the first edition of DCO). Her style is very "scribbly," as you can see from @Voros' post. I personally wouldn't call her controversial but I think there is a certain contingent that considers her stuff to lie a little too close to "my kid could do that." I totally disagree with this assessment, but I've run into it.

I think her worst stuff can come across as lazy, but her best work is highly expressive. She can capture a surprising amount of nuance with a few (extremely messy) lines. There's a gritty, violent quality to her style that goes very well with OSR, and has its own very distinctive mood. I believe that her contribution to DCO went a long way towards establishing the unique tone of that work.
 

TristramEvans

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Only time I remewmber ever being ...angered...by art in an RPG was Blood of Heroes.

The above example doesn't elicit any response from me.

It's better than the art in OD&D....
 

TristramEvans

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Damning with faint praise, here.
well,...

I googled her stuff, some of it I rather like, just for the energy...





...it reminds me of the illustrations from some Raold Dahl books.

But then there's stuff like this...



..and I'm like "ok, that's not really art, that's just shitting on the page". I know, I do plenty of it myself.

My point in regards to OD&D is that it was obviously a case of "oh, I know this guy who can kinda draw", but no one in the OSR sits around complaining about it. It is what it is.

This seems like someone with some talent, at least, even if they obviously are not always trying very hard.
 
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Edgewise

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Another question for @archon_ascendant:

One thing that struck me today thinking about your CHART is that it's not symmetrical with regard to the RV. Does this system typically assume an "active" and a "passive" roll in opposed tests? How does one simulate, say, an arm wrestling match between two PCs of unequal Strength? Does one roll at RV +1 or does the other roll at RV -1?
 

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I don’t mind her art at all, but I do tend to mind the graphic design elements of the layout of the books her works typically feature in. It’s like the desktop publisher got inspired by her frantic messiness and decided to make the layout match it. Which frequently makes it a literal headache for me to read and use.

like that one monster manual where there are zero margins or text formatting other than deliberately amateurish typewriter scraps loosely glued or taped onto her more abstract works.It actually makes me feel ill.

Vornheim causes the same nauseous effect to me.

I blame learning InDesign and some basics of desktop publish for my distaste and frustration. But also my education on Accessibility and how some text presentation and art can literally cause anxiety to some folks.

But I understand that art can be made deliberately to cause unpleasant cognitive reactions. So success!
 

Nobby-W

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I don’t mind her art at all, but I do tend to mind the graphic design elements of the layout of the books her works typically feature in. It’s like the desktop publisher got inspired by her frantic messiness and decided to make the layout match it. Which frequently makes it a literal headache for me to read and use.
[ . . . ]
This. ^ ^ ^

I actually worked as a typesetter for a while and while I am a pretty terrible graphic designer, I did at least learn how to make a readable and usable layout for a book. Since then I've written many, many large technical documents - mainly specifications and IT governance related things like PIDs - and learned a thing or two about how to make a complex document that's designed to be used.

While role playing games do have a creative element, they are not fine art that you buy and install in a lobby somewhere. RPGs are a product that is also meant to be used, so clarity and discoverability are a big deal in the design of a RPG rulebook or supplement. I'd rather have something with a straightforward layout and decent editorial work than an attempt to make the book look atmospheric by overdoing the illustration and layout.

The other day I got a couple of the Mothership books and was somewhat underwhelmed by their interior layout, which came across as something out of a death metal 'zine. At the other end of the spectrum, for all their lack of interior artwork the Traveller LBBs did a much better job of explaining the rules clearly and packed a rich body of content into three tiny splat books. Yes it's a bit bland, but it does actually work at its primary job of explaining the rules and providing an easy-to-use reference.

TL;DR: Don't try to be arty for its own sake (or at least be circumspect with it), and especially don't sacrifice readability for it. I've seen plenty of rulebooks that could establish a tone with just a handful of illustrations. I think there is a reasonable argument for less is more.
 
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