Expanding Definitions part 2

Numbers define a lot in roleplaying games. They give you a foundation for determining success and failure. They give you quantities to manipulate. They give you a feeling for how you should play your character. If I have 17 strength, but only 2 intelligence, then I probably won’t be doing a lot of puzzle solving. I might do a lot of smashing things though…

In SteamCharged, the numbers that define your character are called attributes. The attributes are designed to encourage certain kinds of actions. Sure, there are attributes for running, jumping, and hitting things, but there are also attributes for inventing machines, manipulating markets, guiding governments, and making speeches.   


When you want to take an action in SteamCharged, the narrator will ask you for an attribute check. You will then roll a six-sider and add the number that represents the appropriate attribute. There are 12 different attributes that describe your character, 6 active attributes used to take actions in the world, and 6 passive attributes used to react to actions taken against you. The active attributes, or just actives in our terminology, are Brawn, Reputation, Jive, Capital, Genius, and Coordination. The passive attributes, or passives, are Moxie, Composure, Authority, Cunning, Perception, and Adrenaline.


Brawn is your physical strength. Moxie is your determination. Reputation is how well you are known. Composure is your emotional control. Jive is your ability to talk. Authority is your power to enforce obedience. Capital is your wealth. Cunning is your ability to think on your feet. Genius is the depth of your intellect. Perception is how well you use your senses. Coordination is how you move your body. Adrenaline is how fast you can move at a moments notice.


When an action is taken against you, you have to react, and you do that with your passives. Notice the arrows on the image above that point from the actives to the passives? That is because each passive is the sum of the adjacent actives. You never “put points” into a passive, you just have it.

To react, you choose one of your passives that is adjacent to the active that is being effected. For example, if someone is attacking your Brawn, you may react with your Adrenaline or Moxie. Roll a six-sidder and add it to that passive attribute score. If you beat their attack, you either evade it (using your adrenaline) or shrug it off (using your Moxie). If the assailant beat your reaction, then you will have to resist.


When somebody tries to confuse you, you’ll naturally attempt to resist with your own profound Genius. If somebody attempts to poison you, you’re going to resist using your great Brawn. Your resists are equal to the active attribute being affected multiplied by your grit multiplier. So as your grit decreases, so does your ability to resist effects like confusion and poison. Every time you resist something, your grit multiplier decreases by 1. Your grit multiplier cannot be reduced below 0. Before you do that though, check to see if you get some stress.

If their action exceeds your resist, then you take stress to that attribute and make a surrender roll. Roll a six-sider and subtract 1 for each stress that you have. As long as you roll greater than a 0, you stay in the action. On anything less, you are taken out of the action in some way appropriate to the scene and the method of the action being taken against you.

When you have stress on a particular active attribute, you no longer get the bonus that that attribute provides to actions and reactions. You can only take 1 stress per active attribute, and any additional actions that exceed your resist will just make you make another surrender roll.


In SteamCharged, you can be forced into a situation where you have to be creative. If you thought that you were going to get through this encounter by simply punching people in the face, think again. That nasty looking thug over there can handle himself pretty well, as it turns out, and he just broke your arm when you tried to attack him. Oops. Now fighting with your Brawn is just not possible. Maybe you can bribe him, out-think him, or convince him that all of this was just a misunderstanding.

Flexibility is key. You have to be able to change up your tactics as the situation dictates. Or you could just save up enough intensity that your wounds don’t matter. But that is for next time...

Expanding Definitions part 1

Click to go buy this beautiful piece. 

Click to go buy this beautiful piece. 

My first experience of role playing was through my cousin Mark. He was a few years older than me, and infinitely more knowledgeable about things like video games and awesomeness. He introduced me to Magic: The Gathering (around the time of Ice Age), Final Fantasy (around the time of IV), and Megaman (around the time of 2). This of course led me to trust anything that he said about anything.

On one of my visits to his house, he decided that it was time that he teach me the ways of D&D. He sat me down in front of a hand drawn map on a sheet of notebook paper and started to tell me a story. The story involved an evil necromancer that I was to slay, and quest that would lead me to a tower that I was to climb. At the top of that tower was a tome full of untold knowledge.

When I aquired the tome, my lowly level 1 character could cast all of the spells. All of them. The necromancer proved little trouble for me and I ended the session triumphant and wanting more. That is when Mark showed me the rule book.

This giant book of rules seemed so far removed from the adventure that I had just gone on that I couldn’t even comprehend at 10 years old how the two even related. All these rules for and numbers just baffled my little brain. It was enough to scare me off of role playing until well into my adulthood.

Beat ‘em Up

Until just a few years ago, I just assumed role playing games were all about combat. There are a million rules for weapons, armor, magic spells, attacking, evading, hit points, and all that jazz. When I roll an 18 to hit, there are very specific rules that govern that interaction.

That all makes sense when you consider the roots of our shared hobby. It comes from the natural expansion of war gaming concepts. When you are planning an elaborate war simulation, it is important to know what will happen in all of those little circumstances that you might find yourself. All of those little bits and bobs matter a great deal to your success, and the fun comes from figuring out interesting solutions to complex tactical problems.

This was actually something I understood well. Video games have always been my thing, to the extent that I still receive videogame themed undergarments as gifts from relatives to this day. Tactics, strategy, and general mathiness were not scary to me. It has just never been the thing that has hooked me into a game. It can help me to stick with a game, sure, but all by itself it is not enough.

I grew up on the Final Fantasys, Chrono Triggers, and Metal Gear Solids of the world. I read just about every fantasy and science fiction book that I could get my hands on. Rules just weren’t enough. They had to be in service of something greater. They had to be in service of the story and the characters that acted in it.

Shakespearean plays, Renaissance festivals, and other anachronistic displays have been a favorite pastime of the passionate for decades, and they share a huge overlap with those that would want to immerse themselves in another place and time. There is also a huge overlap with theatrical people of all types, people that want to be a different person than they are in real life for whatever reasons that they might have.

The theatricality of roleplaying also brings people together. You can’t perform without an audience, and you can’t roleplay without other people. Roleplaying gives people that would normally hide themselves away an excuse to gather together. It gives you an excuse to act in ways that you would never get to in real life and a group of people to explore that possibility with.

Players Seeking Group

When I moved to Austin, I knew absolutely no one. My girlfriend at the time and I moved to Austin for work. This resulted in us being almost completely alone. She was an avid roleplayer though, so she had a plan: find other roleplayers. I hadn’t played D&D since the ill-fated book drop, but I was willing to give it a try. We desperately needed a social group and this seemed like a great solution.

It started poorly enough. We approached a guy that lived in our apartment complex. He had a fuzzy d20 hanging from his rearview mirror, so we thought that it would be a safe bet that he roleplayed. He did, but he wanted us to pass a series of increasingly awkward social tests and trials before he or his GM would even consider us for their game. We failed.

He did have us meet him at a local game store called Dragon’s Lair for one of these trials though. Dragon’s Lair is a combination comic/rpg/board game store that has plenty of room to play and lots of cool interesting people that hang out there. So we started hanging out there. One monday night as we were demoing a game that I had been working on, a strange group of people started to gather around us. That happened to be the Cracked Monocle group playing Tephra. We fought a building-sized automaton with our barefists. It was fun. We kept coming.

A Different Beast

That is really what makes roleplaying different from any other type of game. It exists along so many different axes that it appeals to a really wide variety of people. There are those that play it for the math and the game. There are those that play it for the drama and the story. There are those that play it for the social interaction.

So how do you appeal to all of these people? How do you make it fun for everyone involved? How do you make it easy to facilitate that fun within the confines of a real social game? What is the magic mixture that allows everyone to have a good time?

For the mathy, the systems in SteamCharged are ubiquitous, crunchy, tactical, and satisfying. For the dramatic, intensity ratchets things up to epic proportions and allow for great moments. For the social, your crew is central to the game and working together is the only way that you will succeed.

These are some of the core things that I want out of any roleplaying experience, and SteamCharged delivers them with every action that is taken. In the coming articles, I’m going to go more in depth on how I think SteamCharged solves all of these problems. I have built systems that encourage and reward all sorts of different play patterns. I think that there is a something in SteamCharged for all sorts of players. Soon, we are all going to start playing it together.

Building a world

Drawing 202.png

So I have a question for you. It has to do with what SteamCharged is, and what it will become. But before I ask it, I want to give you a little bit of info about the world of SteamCharged. 

The year is 1933... but not the 1933 that we know...

During the 1840's an amazing new product made its debut: SteamCharges. SteamCharges were small translucent sphere that could fit in the palm of your hand. When dropped in water, they caused the liquid to instantly boil, producing massive amounts of steam and heat. Manufactured exclusively by the Utopia Corporation, these modern marvels put almost infinite energy into your pocket. A single SteamCharge can power a fully loaded locomotive from coast to coast of the (then) United States, not just once or even twice, but ten times. SteamCharges, as you can imagine, changed the world.

It is now 15 years after The Great War, almost 100 years after our histories diverged. Empires have risen and crumbled. New powers rise to take their place. Old sleeping dragons are still to be feared. All of Europe and most of Asia is devastation. Africa is united. The Americas are fractured. The Middle and Far East support an uneasy truce made behind the safety of The Great Wall. Australia and Antarctica are the new frontiers. The United Kingdom still looms large on the world stage.

The real power though resides with the twin titans, Science and Industry. Giant multi-national entities led by The Utopia Corporation produce marvelous products with catastrophic costs. During The Great War anatomic monstrosities and evolutionary horrors clashed with colossal automatons run by intelligent adas and analytical engines. All of these were made possible by progress.

The twins didn't just birth destruction though. Life everlasting can be had for those that can pay for it. Failed limbs and organs can now be replaces, improved. Electric devices, advanced textiles, and miraculous medicines are all available to even the poorest people. As long as their governments allows Utopia the freedoms they desire that is…

This alliance seems dangerous to some, unnatural to others. There are those that want to stop the ever growing progress. For them, the costs have been too high and the benefits not great enough. Some choose to resist progress through organization, working within governments and society. They want progress, of course, but at a more measured pace. They want to see it more evenly distribute, these marvels of the new age. They want equilibrium and balance and to retain our humanity while still pushing forward. They are the Stewards of Man and there is no government on earth where they are not represented.

Others choose to resist progress through more active means. Ragged bands of individuals on the fringes of society have started to unite. They see the dreams of Utopia and those like them as a threat. A threat to remake the world into a single culture, with only the twins working in tandem to guide it. In that world, there is no room for the strange, for the unique, or for the different. There would be no room for them. So they fight back. Dystopia has taken shape, and it will reshape everything that it touches...

The world of SteamCharged is one of high adventure and dire stakes, where ideologies are just as likely to clash as swords. The world was remade a long time ago, and now people are living with the consequences. 

Playing SteamCharged allows you to play whatever kind of steampunk that you want. Victorian, Wild West, Sky Pirates, Post-Apocalyptic, Vernean, Gothic, Gas-Lamp, whatever you like. At least that is the goal.

AND NOW... Let's have that question:

What kinds of things do you expect to see in a steampunk setting? Really, anything that you can come up with is great. I just want to see what YOU expect, not just what I expect. Because in the end, SteamCharged will be about the adventures that you have in the world that we have created for you. I want to make sure that the system allows you to do that. You can answer here, on Facebook, or on Twitter. 


Soooooo... not a single person did anything for hat parade except for me. 

George Plimpton for no good reason, just a personal hero, and someone I think about when I need a boost.

George Plimpton for no good reason, just a personal hero, and someone I think about when I need a boost.

If you want to do something well, you have to be completely unafraid of failure. The only way to get better at something is to fail. Through failure you grow. Always succeeding is boring. It might make you feel good, it might help to keep you going, but ultimately it provides very little for you. Only in failure can  we see what needs to change. Only in failure can we narrow the path.

I want to fail. I want to fail a lot. Which means that I just need to keep doing stuff. So let's do something. This one is pretty easy. I'm going to put up a picture of a friend. You give me a name for it in the comments. Super easy.


Here we go. 

Let's play

Let's play a game together. But first, a little back ground for those unfamiliar...

CRC (or the Crossroads Challenge) was supposed to be an exploration for me. I wanted to explore what was possible for me as a designer. I wanted to explore spaces of play that I had never touched. I wanted to explore a way of distributing my work to others. I wanted to do a lot with it.

A lonely astronaut. Never go into space alone...

A lonely astronaut. Never go into space alone...

It worked for a little while. I made some really cool games early on. I think that Yggdrasil is still maybe some of my best work. Arboressence was  so simple but so strong, and it helped me to define a direction that I want to take with future work. Crate & Peril and Cybertaur both helped me to re-find my voice as a designer. It was a really interesting journey.

But somewhere along the way I got lost. I started to have trouble keeping a schedule. I couldn't come up with challenges that were, well, challenging. All of the drive and energy that I had just evaporated. The work that I was putting out was no good. Sometimes the game itself just plain didn't work. The worst part was that I just didn't care anymore. I didn't see a way out. I didn't see a way forward.  I was lost and alone and I couldn't do anything about it.

So I asked for help. I asked for help by partnering with other people. And it has worked splendidly.

Creativity needs constant and varied fuel to burn brightest. I wasn't able to feed that from my own internal reserves anymore. I needed a new resource. Other people, and the ideas and energy that they bring with them, turned out to be the best resource I could find. Very soon you will start to see the fruits of some of those projects and you are going to love it.

But this is not about any of that. This is about something new. I figure, if working with just a few people was so good, what would happen if I worked with more? A lot more. Like as many people as I can. 

Which brings me to the point of all this nonsense. I want to play a game with you. All of you. The rules of the game don't exist yet. But they will. Let's make them together. I'm not even sure what that means yet. But the idea of making a game together is pretty exciting. I don't know what will happen. Yikes.

So lets get down to it. What I need from you today is super simple. It is a game called "I think I like you". First person in the comments needs to post what their favorite color is. They also need to post the favorite thing that the next person has to reveal. It can be any kind of favorite thing. Games, movies, books, activities, experiences, foods, animal, toilet paper brand, thing to carry in your front left pocket, smell, fact about zippers, thing to put peanut butter on, whatever. Next person does the same. I'll get the ball rolling. Let's play.


For those of you who don't know, this is pretty much what I look like. It's real weird.

For those of you who don't know, this is pretty much what I look like. It's real weird.

Hey all. Sorry I went all ghosty for so long. Things happened. Life things. But now things need to happen here. Game things.

As you can see, the site has been redesigned. It will probably change again pretty radically soon. Think of this current thing as more of a temporary thing. Transitional.

Pretty soon there is going to be a lot more stuff up here. I'm working on some pretty big projects with several people that are going to be awesome. Awesome sauce. Awesome sauce and radical seasoning. Great big awesome things. Things way bigger than any box. You will see. It is pretty amazing. 

In the mean time...

I'm going to post here more frequently. I used to write a bunch for this site, but when I transitioned over to actually making games that took a back seat. Now it will get to drive for a little bit. Just until I can start talking about the other stuff.

Also, Big Bad is going to go away for a little while. Sales have dropped dramatically in recent months and hardly anyone downloads the pdf. It is also just not up to the quality that I think all you nice people deserve. So I'm going to take some time over the next few weeks to put together a second run. It won't be Big Bad 2.0 (more like Big Bad 1.5) but it will reflect a lot of the things that I learned through the CRC and the other projects that I have done in the past year.

So let's move forward! TO THE FUTURE.

CRC troubles

The CRC is going on indefinite hiatus. This is a decision that I have had a really hard time making. There are a lot of things that went into this that I will talk about at a later time. I just wanted to get this out there.

The short version is that the CRC just isn't doing what I created it to do. I made it to stretch myself. Instead, it has become a constant weight on my mind. I feel like I have been less creative in recent months. I don't really know what to do about that.

At the very least the CRC needs to be completely restructured. It might even need to be scrapped entirely. I have some thoughts on it, but I'm not really ready to talk about that just yet. Soon though. Very soon.

Astronauts in trouble: CRC series 2, game 3


You might be asking yourself, "Self, it is January 18th and I haven't seen a CRC game yet. WHERE IS THE MID JANUARY CRC GAME?"

Firstly, calm down. There is no need to get so upset. Secondly, it is coming. Be patient.

This project has ballooned a little bit. You see, I am making this game not only for you fine people, but also for the Austin Nature and Science Center. It is going to incorporated it into an afterschool program that  I do there. This has presented a whole mess of problems.

The idea is to make a board game that simulates the kinds of resource management that a group of astronauts would have to go through to travel to another object in space and set up a self sustaining colony there. The problem is that it needs to scale down to kindergartners and up to, well, up to ya'll. 

I have pretty much had to make 2 separate games. The first game is a simplified game for K-2 and the second game is a highly scalable game for 3rd graders and above. They are similar, but the first game is so much simpler that it isn't even the really same game. It is even flavored a bit differently, as you are just trying to get to a planet/moon instead of set up a colony.

SO, at the end of this month there will be 2 astronaut related games here. They will both be VERY visual, since I can't rely on words as much with kids, especially younger kids. The second game will be scalable enough that it will be fun for anyone and it is shaping up to be quite awesome. It will be here soon! Thanks for your patients!

Sheeple! CRC series 2, game 2

update 2: It is fixed now. Had to do a really weird work around since Google Drive broke it pdf conversion resolution. Print to pdf fixes it.

update 1: It has been drawn to my attention that some pdf readers are rendering the cards unreadable. I super appologize! I will look and see what I can do to fix it ASAP, but I am in the process of moving so this issue might not get resolved until Thursday. Again, I am super sorry.

Happy New Year! Here is the new game! EXCLAMATION POINTS!!

This game was actually part of a present that I gave to my girlfriend, Molly McCracken. She does a great little daily comic right here. It is about sheep! So the game is about sheep! SHEEP!

Sheeple is a hidden role card game where you will collect sheep and have them frolic about. You will also murder them and put them on boats. It makes sense. I promise. 




CRC Series 2!


It is time to start the second series of the CRC! 

Here is how it will work: on the 15th and 30th of every month, I will have a new, free, print-and-play game for you! Since every game will take 2 weeks, I will be able to make bigger, more awesome projects! That is exciting! I'm EXCITED! ARE YOU EXCITED?

Now that you are excited, calm down. Seriously, that was ridiculous. 

For my first game, I want to do an environmentally themed game. It has been brewing in my head for awhile now, and I want to let it out. Should be fun!

All of the Projects, ALL OF THEM!

I've been working on several projects for awhile now, and I think it is about time to take the lid off of some of them. I'm going to hit on each of them very briefly today, and expand on that in the next few days. First up, Junkyard Bot Brawl. 

This is a super exciting project for me because it represents a huge first for me. Someone is publishing my game! That someone happens to be Cracked Monocle. I have mentioned them several times before, but it is awesome to get to work with them on a project.

The name is not final, but much of the game is. It is essentially design complete and is deep in play-testing/developing. It even has an artist! Danielle Braden is an awesome artist who has done work for Cracked Monocle and Game Salad, among others. She is also a personal friend and just a great person all around. The lovely little chap above is something that she made for me to take to Showdown at Unobtainium this past weekend.

In this game, you are an unemployed mad scientist who has taken up residence in the city junkyard. Unfortunately, so has your old rival. You are going to kick them out the only way you know how: by building bots and sending them out to do your bidding. The game combines deck building with tactical play in a board game for 2 players.

So far it has gotten really positive feedback from everyone who has played it. It will be available to play in open testing every Monday night at Dragon's Lair in Austin during Tephra Mondays.


Next up, Yggdrasil: The Reality Tree.


Wahrk a.k.a. Tim Bedard and I are hard at work on making Yggdrasil into a fully fleshed out project. Several of the systems are getting completely overhauled, multiple example plays will be added, and even a smattering of art will be thrown in. It is turning into something really special. It should be available early next year.


Now for a little Big Bad news.


There is actually quite a bit going on on the Big Bad front. The original print-and-play Big Bad is going to get a refresh in the coming weeks, mostly making corrections and fixing errors. There might be a few more surprises in there too, but I'll detail that at a later time.  

There are also 2 different expansions that will be available for the print-on-demand version in the coming months: Party Up and Treasure Time. They will both add completely different mechanics and card types: Additional Hero Classes and Treasure cards respectively. These expansions will not be available for the print-and-play version at this time.

There is ALSO a Big Bad sequel coming! I love the humor and setting of Big Bad, but ever since I released it, there have been several things that I am just not very happy with. For me, that means sequel time.

I just wanted to mention that here as I will dedicate much more space to it in the coming weeks. It is not just going to be more or even different cards, it is going to be a very different game. There isn't even going to be a card component as it exists now. There will however be resource management and monster breeding. Like I said, a very different game.


And finally, CRC news.


As you can see, I have a lot of things going on. The CRC is really important to me though so I want to continue it in some way. Right now, I'm planning on still doing a new game regularly. Every week is just too much. I'm going to transition it to every 2 weeks. That will give each game a little more time to stew, and with any luck, that also means that I will do more board games. I hope that it is a positive change, but I am going to reassess the CRC in another month and see how things are going. 

I know that was a ton of stuff, but I just wanted to get it all out there. In the coming weeks I will be talking about all of this stuff a lot more, but I think that that is enough info-dump for one day, don't you?

Monster Mash: CRC Game 17, update 3

HAPPY HALLOWEEN! Sort of... I suppose it is technically the 1st of November, but whatever. It is still Halloween Night! And here is the game as promised! 

Monster Mash

I relabeled the games in the CRC to more accurately how many games there are, since the whole week thing was getting a little confusing. Hope you don't mind...

Also, I'm reconsidering certain things about the CRC. I'm about to roll into full production on another non-CRC related game, which I will talk about here very soon, and I'm not sure if I can juggle a game every week, plus full production, plus work, plus SECRET PROJECTS, plus more content. Something has to give, and I haven't fully decided what yet. We shall see. I'll be back some time next week with more details (maybe Sunday).

MONSTERS!!!:CRC week 19, update 1

Since it is so close to Halloween, I thought MONSTERS would be a good theme this week. I have no idea what kind of game it will be, but it will include MONSTERS! So GRRRR!!!

Also, the planned "enhanced" content will not be joining us quite yet. I have a really big event at work called Halloween Howl and so I won't have extra time this week to devote to such a thing. In fact, if you are in the Austin area, why don't you come and join me? Halloween Howl takes place at the Austin Nature and Science Center this Saturday, October 27th from 5:30pm-8:30pm. It is $5 to get in, but it is totally worth it. There will be moonlit hikes, the planetarium will be set up, you will be able to touch a hissing cockroach, and there will be a bunch of other stuff! It will be super.

That "enhanced" content is coming soon though and it will include, among other things, a weekly video! Right now we are planning on giving a brief demo of the game of the week, but I am open to suggestions for other things too. Just let me know what kinds of things you might like to see. 

Space truckers: CRC week 18 wrap-up

Here it is! You control a fleet of space trucks trying to supply their homeworlds with precious resources! There are not enough resources for everyone so you have to plan carefully and make sure that you get everything that you need to survive!


Space Truckers


So, there will not be a new game this coming week. I have a special friend in town and I simply will not have the time. Sorry about that! But the week after I will definitely have something. YAY!


No excuses: CRC "week 18"

I'm done making excuses for myself so here is the real skinny. I've been in a bad way design-wise for a little while now. I just have not been able to perform to a level that satisfies me. I have made a lot of excuses to myself and to other people, but the truth is that I just wasn't doing the job that I had set for myself. That is over.

I will be back to weekly updates, starting this week. I also still plan on putting some non-CRC related content on here really soon, but no promises on a time frame or anything. I don't want to promise something and let it slip through the cracks again. That would make me feel terrible and make you not like me very much. So no more promising things like that. They will come when they come, and it will be a neat little surprise for everyone when they do!

I tried really, really hard to finish last week's game, but in the end, I came up with nothing. It happens sometimes, and in this instance I just couldn't power through it. I may return to particular challenge at some point, but I don't really know when. 

This week, I'm going to make a Looney Pyramids game. These things are really awesome. There is a great community of people that play and make games for these little things too. So I'm going to make one. YAY!