The Splintered Realm

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Dr. Mike Desing
Updated: 19 hours 51 min ago

Doc Stalwart 259

Sun, 10/31/2021 - 16:35

Well, that's some serendipity.

I finally finished worked on Doc Stalwart #259, and it is posted to the comics archive on the Doc Stalwart blog.

This ended being a Halloween-themed issue of sorts, so it's appropriate that it is released on Halloween. However, it is also one of the earliest Doc stories I wrote; I had about half of this done for the past two years, but never could figure out how to work it in to the larger narrative I was working on, or how to work all of the various pieces in that I wanted. I think this one has had more drafts and revisions than any Doc story I've written; I spent the last several days changing just a few words at a time until I got it right where I wanted it. 

SPOILER ALERT: Read it first before continuing below. Unless you don't really care, then keep reading, I guess :)

This issue is the culmination of several stories; Jynx and Zirah were never going to be permanent residents in the comic, and I always expected them to fade into the background at some point. This issue ends one part of the larger narrative I've been working on, and the next issue is (in my head) more of an epilogue to the larger story here. I see 261 as starting a 'new' storyline, where Doc will go in search of his daughter and he and Mikah will be traversing the Null Zone. I don't know what is going to happen there yet, like I only have the broadest of strokes done, but I have a few beats I need to hit. Next issue (260) I hope will be a payoff of a few other threads I have lingering, and I hope that it feels like a complete arc when it's done. I don't know that it will be long enough to release as a 'graphic novel without all the pictures' (or whatever I'm thinking of it as), but I do want to find some way to gather the whole thing together in some meaningful way.  

Doc Stalwart Issue 258

Mon, 10/18/2021 - 00:55

 I had a little trouble getting this one right; it's a transitional issue, and I didn't want it to fall flat. I'm happy with how it turned out, even though it is far more character development and setting things up than it is straight-up adventure. I figure there's a lot of straight-up adventure I'm setting up...

Doc Stalwart 258

Stalwart Age Character Database Update - Just Keep Swimming!

Sat, 09/25/2021 - 12:42

While I'm all about Shakespeare Deathmatch right now, and I'm still in transition back to school mode (first time teaching English 8 and brand new to middle school, so whew), I did find a little time to update the Stalwart Age Character Database, adding two undersea characters, Prince Aquari and his arch nemesis Lord Lamprey. There are a lot of titles being passed around in the deep, obviously.

Final Cards Have Arrived

Sat, 09/18/2021 - 17:25

It took about two weeks, but the third draft of the deck of Shakespeare Deathmatch came in - and the cards are perfect! I'm so happy with the printing, and I finally banished all of the little layout gremlins that were messing with the cards. I'm going to go through to dot I's and cross T's on the DriveThru site, and the cards should be up for sale in a few hours. I can't wait for people to start playing this game. 

By the way, I recommend the hard plastic box for an extra dollar - totally worth it.

Shakespeare Deathmatch Game Overview: Part 2

Tue, 08/31/2021 - 00:52

I knew that beyond the four basic attack cards, I wanted something that would change play; I wanted there to be unexpected events, twists, and turns that could snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. I didn't want this to be random, but I wanted there to be a bit of strategy and luck combined. I ended up with two things: trickster cards and when revealed effects.
Trickster cards are kind of like wild cards, but they allow you to do something else on your attack, in addition to attacking. These allow you to do things like improve your hand, get a card you really need, or even to completely flip damage with another player. Sometimes, you know that a particularly good trickster card is out there, and the pressure is on to take a player out before they get a chance to use it. It puts a clock on the game, increasing intensity as you try to out-maneuver your foes.
"When Revealed" are strategic effects you choose to activate. You can play the entire game without ever revealing your character - but you get a perk when you do. It allows you to evade imminent doom, or to strategically move damage to another player (depending on the effect your character has). I have found that these also are a big matter of play style; my wife routinely waits as long as possible to reveal her character (and sometimes never does), while I look for opportunities to reveal, and jump on the first chance I get that makes sense. Neither option seems to be particularly more effective than another, but both are strategic, and both cause other players to adjust their strategies in response. 

Shakespeare Deathmatch: Game Overview Part 1

Wed, 08/25/2021 - 10:26

The game ended up in a sweet spot for me of 'medium' complexity. I've played a few card games that were quite complex (if you didn't know how every card you had worked together, and you didn't know how every card your foe had worked together, you were at a significant disadvantage). I've also played a lot of games that were quite simple (UNO). I wanted to end somewhere in the middle. I wanted it to be complex enough that it was interesting and it challenged you to apply some strategy, but not so complex that you had to enroll in community college to keep up. I will record a demo video at some point, but I thought in the short term I'd talk through a few rules... the basics are this:
1. You play a character from a Shakespearean play, trying to kill other characters from a Shakespearean play. Spoiler alert: a lot of characters die in Shakespeare's plays. Don't get too attached to anyone; they are likely to be taken out.2. You try to avoid taking damage of the types your character is susceptible to. For example, Ophelia is susceptible to letters (representing emotional damage - reputation and mean notes - the original cyber bullying) and to coins (she has a family of some wealth and status). She wants to avoid having others place those cards in her damage pool. She is the polar opposite of sticks and stones - sticks and stones won't break her bones, but names are gonna hurt her.3. You try to deal damage to other characters that will hurt them. While at first you are just trying to throw any damage you can, eventually you can force characters to reveal who they are, allowing you to target your damage to what will do the most harm to them.4. Once you have a total number of points in your damage pool equal to the totals on your character card, your character is slain. When Ophelia suffers 8+ letters AND 4+ coins, she is done. Last character standing wins.

Shakespeare Theory and Game Design

Sun, 08/22/2021 - 02:15

The genesis of the game design for Shakespeare Deathmatch comes out of a theory I have that unifies his plays; he often plays with the four elements, and ties these thematically to a set of motifs that recur across his plays. When you see what he's up to with the four elements, you can quickly get some insights into what's happening in scenes, between characters, or within characters. For example, I think I've been able to solve two questions of "Hamlet" (why does it take so long? Why the pirates??) by layering this theory over the play. 
In brief, the four elements tie to four mental/emotional processes. On one axis (I put this on the horizontal) we have water and fire, and these represent emotions of love and hate. The prototypes of these are Ophelia (love - talks about water constantly) and Laertes (her brother - hate - talks about fire ad nauseum). The other axis (I place this one vertical) is intellect. At the top you have air, which is foolishness and deception. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are up there with all of their talk of clouds and wind and playing recorders. At the bottom you have stone, which is logic and kingly behavior - and you have Horatio, the most stable character in all of literature. Like, the dude is a rock. He's also a timekeeper, and he grounds the entire play. When Hamlet is interacting with Ophelia, he's an emotional wreck and dealing with love; he talks foolishness and is in full-out trickster mode when interacting with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. He has grounded conversations with Horatio (the key one is in a graveyard for criminy's sake). 
Then I was thinking about how characters die in Shakespeare's plays, and realized that these also link to those ideas. There are blades for hate (or course), but poor Ophelia has all of those letters that break her little heart. Poison is a go-to for those deceiving others, while money is the way that kings get things done. Why kill someone when you can pay someone else to do it? These then became the ways that you deal damage to characters. My original draft had Hamlet as the quintessence (since that's his whole thing in the play - it takes so long because he has to integrate each of those four forces into his persona, and that's some heavy lifting), but he kind of breaks the game. I'm thinking that at some point there will be a special "Hamlet quintessence" card that shows him at full Hamlet or something, but for now I'm happy enough with how he turned out. I kept going back and forth between wanting to mirror the plays and the characters, and needing to balance a game for fluid play. I am happy with the sweet spot I found on it. For example, Lady Macbeth is rich and thinks she can social order her way to power, but she also is willing to pick up a dagger and stick a dude when necessary. This is the type of damage she's hurt by. However, she isn't very worried about little things like love (so letters roll off her back) and her blood is poison, so for her that's like drinking tea. That's the kind of thinking that went into each of the character cards.

Another Shakespeare Deathmatch Actual Play Experience

Sat, 08/21/2021 - 15:49

Grace and I just played two games, and here are some discoveries:

A few simple rule changes (on reveals, you discard any cards in your damage pool that do not count as damage to your character) is a BIG motivation to reveal. It frees up cards and increases tension. It's a nice touch.

The whole idea of damage pools becomes a key part of the strategy. You are dropping points in the damage pools of others just to get them out of play so they cannot be used against you. Sure, my 3 Letters card will not harm Macbeth (it must be of woman born, I guess), but if it's in his damage pool, he cannot use it to inflict further injury upon poor Ophelia. She's been through enough already.

The trickster cards can make big shifts suddenly. Grace ended the second game by having Macbeth (appropriately enough) play a card that killed both of our characters; she was about to be defeated, so she figured she may as well take me with her :)

There's an attrition of resources; as better cards get locked up in the damage pools of others, the one and two point cards becoming increasingly valuable as the game grinds on. I like that a card that is perceived of as a throwaway card early on can become quite valuable down the home stretch. When you have a bunch of one-point cards in your hand, but so does someone else, and you only need to drop a point on someone to win, that becomes a very valuable little card.

Shakespeare Deathmatch Rolls Forward

Sat, 08/21/2021 - 14:49

I received my demo deck yesterday, and cracked that bad boy open! I learned a few things right quick...

The layout was a little 'off'. Each card was slightly skewed to the left, for whatever reason. The live area was much smaller than I had anticipated, meaning that the cards were pretty scrunched, and had no borders to speak of.

The backs look uneven, and it is next to impossible to get that black border to appear 'just right'. I thought it was spot on, and it wasn't even close.

I spent a few hours re-formatting some cards, adding some settings and tricksters, and re-building the entire deck. The work in progress is above.

But, we also got to play the dang thing. FINALLY. Here are my takeaways:

Holy crap this is a great game! We played three games, and each time new little strategic choices appeared. Do I play this card now, or do I hold it another round to see if I can get more value from it? Should I reveal this scene, or wait until next scene? Should I play a card, risking losing it having it be used against me? How can I manage my resources the best? How can I force someone else to reveal their character? It FEELS exactly like I want it to feel. Thematically it is spot on for where I wanted to go. You know the whole time that you are playing a Shakespearean game, with Shakespearean characters, in a Shakespearean environment.

My wife and daughter both like the designs of the cards. They like the art, the layout, the formatting, and the presentation. All win! They both actually enjoyed playing. I think my daughter will be requesting this in regular game rotation with our other regular family games. That's huge.

There just aren't enough cards. I didn't think about how many cards would end up being bogged down in peoples' damage pools. However, I have added a number of base cards to the deck, and also added a rule that clears out your damage pool (unused cards) when you reveal your character, so that will help a lot with just having enough cards on hand to play. The base deck has gone from 52 cards to 84.

The game takes longer than I had anticipated. I expected a play to last maybe 15 minutes; we were averaging over a half hour with three players, a little less with two. We were going slow and talking rules and gameplay as we went, so it might end up being a lot faster once people know the cards. That said, there are still a lot of moving parts and subtleties, sudden changes and unexpected events, and sudden turns about you didn't see coming. I really, really love it. I'm sending in for a second proof deck in the next day or two, and expect to have the game on sale by middle September. 

Stalwart Age Resource Update 8/15/21

Sun, 08/15/2021 - 19:45

The Stalwart Age blog has been updated with a new story in the comics tab (Issue 257), and three new characters in the characters tab (Carrot the Stalwart Bunny, and the villains Brutakus and Gorillo). You might want to read issue 257 before delving those character blocks too closely... consider your spoiler alerted.