The Arboreal Squid

I recently realized that I never really described one of the fun features of the NeoNihon setting. As an ecologist by trade, I tend to love creating flora and fauna that fit the world. Shi-Tateyama is often described as a world of sweltering temperatures at sea-level, wtih frequent, harsh and corrosive tempests. Cyclones and tornados are common occurences, with commensurate effects on the native organisms.

The Plum Willows:

These are the native tree-analogues that spread across the planet. According to terran classifications, they are half-fungal with hyphea and thick, rubbery “wood,” the colour of ripe  plums. The countless drooping branches are tipped with photosynthetic “flowers” that most closely resemble pink cherry blossoms, each of which produces a single nut. When the tree is struck by strong winds, the entire organism bends rather than breaking, with flowers and seeds flung great distances.

The Squiderrels:

These are football-sized, arboreal squid that live in the Plum Willows. They fill the same ecological niche as squirrels, harvesting the Plum Willow nuts. They are remarkably adaptive critters, who may or may not have mastered basic tool use. They can change colour for no discernable reason and make an audible chittering noise when they form their highly-social colonies in stands of trees. When threatened, they have been known to swarm their attacker and excrete hydrochloric acid.  When wind strikes their tree, they choose to cling tightly to the branches, or to be safely flung into a long-distance glide.

I love worldbuilding. Just a little bit.

Metatopia 2013 Debrief

I was among my people this weekend. The Game Design festival known as #Metatopia was a stellar success, with a robust panel schedule and some of the best playtesting I have seen to date. Beyond the practical matters, it was an opportunity to spend time with the many amazing folks in the gaming industry.



Playtesting 101, with Rob Donoghue, was in the very first time slot of the convention and was to be heard by a select few. Despite the fact that we had two people recording the seminar, neither of our equipment worked out which meant that Rob’s wisdom was regretfully lost. The general take-away from this panel is that you need to test your games with diverse groups of people, be clear about what you are looking for, and minimize contact with playtesters as much as possible so you can get unbiased opinions.

Accessibility Issues for Game Designers, with Russell Collins, was probably the only panel that wasn’t an unqualified success. Unfortunately, we didn’t get anyone attending the panel, which meant we had to record the panel and hope those recordings would be appreciated after the fact.

Ebooks 101 with Joseph Bloch, went relatively smoothly. We discussed some of the advantages and potential benefits of the various formats, including what tools each of us use to publish our ebooks. Good overall.

Legalese: Copyrights, Trademarks and Patents with Justin Jacobson was certainly an example of me being over my head. Justin explained the basic of IP law with remarkable skill, and I tried in vain to contribute small tidbits that I had heard from other law seminars. Justin handled my ignorance with remarkable grace and gave the audience some really solid information.

Dangerous Mechanics: Rules That Looked Good On The Surface with Rob Donoghue, Will Hindmarch and Ken Hite might have been the highlight of the entire convention for me. I had originally suggested this topic because I noticed more focus on publishing rather than design. There was a great deal of meat to this discussion, including nominations for most Dangerous Game and Most Dangerous Designer of recent memory.

The other panels which I was merely attending were equally excellent, but there were too many to recount.

Playtesting my Games:

My first, crude game (Tell Me About Your Game) was obliterated during this hour-long focus group. Ryan Macklin, Will Hindmarch, Ken Hite and Ryan Shapiro gave me lots of accurate advice and by the end, I got a sense of the direction I should take in redesigning the game.

My second game (Posthuman Doorways) was an unbelievable success. I was incredibly lucky to get Joe McDaldno, Ryan Macklin, Joshua A.C Newman and another two gentlemen for this 3-hour game. It was, to be quite frank, the best playtest I have had in my life. During the very first playtest of this game, it produced the exact play experience I was hoping for. Character creation worked smoothly and created rapid investment, while the resolution mechanic caused the correct emotional reaction. The fine testers identified a dozen different areas where I can or must refine the game, and it will probably take me a month just to analyze all the feedback. Overall though, it gave me hope and confidence that it could be appreciated by others.

My third game (What Came Before: Rogues Gallery) was a case study in overcompensation. James Mendez Hodges and two other fine playtesters tried it out and suffered through the experience. I had managed to move out of my own comfort zone and design a straight-up traditional dungeon crawl with relatively elegant OSR-style mechanics. I had, however, entirely neglected the fact that the game should feature rogue-themed obstacles rather than generic D&D ones. Likewise, I had done nothing to establish story-telling elements or relationships between the focus character and her mentors. It’s a good thing that I have the relevant experience to be able to design solutions to those problems.

Other Playtests:

I got dragged into playtesting a card game titled “Political Capital” by Caddywampus Games and I am very glad I was! It was delightfully designed, with themes of politicking and lobbying. My biggest criticism was that it didn’t quite replicate the feeling of political parties, but rather felt like municipal councillors duking it out. This holds a great deal of promise and I hope to buy a copy next year.’

The second game I tested, along with +Darren Watts, was titled Red Letters. It was an ambitious game that hoped to merge the strong character identity created by Apocalypse World with the bizarre, swashbuckler aspects of Lady Blackbird. The gentleman who designed this showed great promise as a designer, but I fear that he wasn’t quite using the correct tools for the job. It is far too easy to fall prey to the temptation to make “anything possible” and avoid restrictions, but those restrictions often provide the very necessary focus that keeps designs together. I hope he continues his work and we didn’t discourage him too much.

The third game was Springfield, designed by Jim Pinto and presented by Caias Ward. It was a grabby premise, but it hit all of my “comedy” triggers which interfered with the designer’s intent to present a more serious social commentary. It was a fun experience though, and I appreciated the chance to play.


It will take me a week to recover and center myself after the whirlwind of excitement created by the amazing Vincent Salzillo, Avonelle Wing and Darren Watts. Thanks to everyone who made my weekend remarkable and gave me hope.

I needed that.

Jason at Metatopia 2013

I am once again making the pilgrimage to Morristown NJ, for the annual Game Design festival known as Metatopia. It’s a whirlwind of panels and playtests with no equal. I hope to see many people there, and to test my three game designs.

Here is what I know for certain about my schedule. I will likely be sitting on a large number of panels, and recording as many of them as I can for the RPG Design PanelCast.


Flying in at 3pm, then heading down to the city to meet and greet for a very happy halloween.


D002: “Playtesting 101” presented by Rob Donoghue & Jason Pitre. Playtesting is an absolute requirement for any game to be successful. This panel shows how to get the most out of your playtesting efforts no matter what kind of game you’ve designed. Friday, 9:00AM – 10:00AM;

B135: [FOCUS GROUP] “Tell Me About Your Game” by Genesis of Legend Publishing; presented by Jason Pitre. It’s a card game about role playing game designers. Your goal, if you choose to accept it, is to gain publication credits by pitching the most innovative RPGs you can. Friday, 3:00PM – 4:00PM



D036: “Accessibility Issues For Game Designers” presented by Russell Collins & Jason Pitre. Games are about imagination and creativity so the print medium shouldn’t be a barrier to entry. Understanding the needs of persons with learning differences and the options that designers have will keep you from excluding people who are eager to enjoy our hobby. This seminar will focus on blindness, low vision, and dyslexia and strategies to present your game content for those with print disabilities in digital and audio media. Saturday, 9:00AM – 10:00AM;

R223: [BETA TEST] “Posthuman Doorways” by Genesis of Legend Publishing; presented by Jason Pitre. Transhumanism. The idea that sufficiently advanced science and technology can change what it means to be human. This game invites you to explore those questions during play. You are forced to make hard choices and explore one potential future. Individuals knowledgeable about GM-less games and transhumanism are ideal. Saturday, 10:00AM – 1:00PM

D050: “Electronic Book Publishing 101” presented by Darren Watts, Jason Pitre & Joseph Bloch. What are the differences between publishing hard copy books and electronic publishing? This panel will fill you in on everything you need to know, from standards and tools to markets for reaching your audience. Saturday, 3:00PM – 4:00PM;

D052: “Legalese: Copyrights, Trademarks and Patents” presented by Justin Jacobson & Jason Pitre. It’s all about protecting yourself. Where and when do these legal concepts apply, and what do you need to do to make sure you’re covered without spending a fortune unnecessarily? Saturday, 4:00PM – 5:00PM; Serious, All Ages.

D061: “Dangerous Mechanics: Rules That Looked Good On The Surface” presented by Kenneth Hite, Will Hindmarch, Rob Donoghue & Jason Pitre. The panelists will deal with mechanics that look good on the surface but can have unforeseen negative consequences in play. Spending XP, no-effect rules, dice-generated currency – all have hidden dangers. Explore these and other light bulbs that didn’t quite work out. Saturday, 9:00PM – 10:00PM;



R357: [ALPHA TEST] What Came Before; “Rogues Gallery” by Genesis of Legend Publishing; presented by Jason Pitre. This game is meant to be played during an ongoing Pathfinder/D&D or Dungeon World campaign when you don’t have everyone show up for a session. The adventurers sit around a campfire and a rogue tells a story of her mentors’ great deeds of larceny. You play through that flashback-adventure as an all-rogue party. All players must have experience with Pathfinder/D&D or Dungeon World. Bonus points if you have read the 2nd ed Complete Book of Thieves, or if you have OSR experience. Sunday, 10:00AM – 12:00PM

Games to Make you a Better Person

One of my passions is to use games for self-improvement and understanding. In the process, and in conjunction with various folks on twitter, I put together a list of RPGs that explore the human condition and teach important lessons.  I update this list on a periodic basis to include new examples as they arrive.

The Romance Trilogy – About relationships

Monsterhearts – On queer youth

Dream Askew – On queer communties

Durance – On prison culture

Dog Eat Dog – On colonialism

Kagematsu – On gender roles

Steal Away Jordan – On strength under slavery

Mars Colony – On governance

A Flower for Mara – On death and returning to your life afterwards

Dogs in the Vineyard – On faith and overwhelming responsibility

Misspent Youth – On rebellion and revolution

Grey Ranks – On personal sacrifice

carry, a game about war – On war and it’s costs

Shock: Social Science Fiction – Critical thinking on societal issues

Microscope – On the flow of history and importance of the individual

Heads of State: Nine short games about Tyrants is pretty self-explanatory.


What games would you add to this list?


Meet me at GenCon!

I would love to meet up with as many of you fine backers as possible during the madness that is GenCon. I wanted to let you know when I was free and where you could find me.

9am-Noon: The Indie Game Developer Network booth #571 in the Marketplace
Noon-2pm: Games on Demand, running games including Spark (ICC, lvl 2, Room 237)
4pm-6pm: Games on Demand, running games including Spark (ICC, lvl 2, Room 237)

10am-1pm: The Indie Game Developer Network booth #571 in the Marketplace
2pm-4pm: Games on Demand, running games including Spark (ICC, lvl 2, Room 237)
11pm+: Launch party at the Embassy Suite, near that bar after the Ennies.

10am-Noon: The Indie Game Developer Network booth #571 in the Marketplace
2pm-4pm: Games on Demand, running games including Spark (ICC, lvl 2, Room 237)
4pm-6pm: Games on Demand, running games including Spark (ICC, lvl 2, Room 237)

10am-4pm: The Indie Game Developer Network booth #571 in the Marketplace

Hope to see you there!