The Kickstarter is now live!


The Kickstarter for the Swordfish Islands: Hot Springs Island is now live! Finally!

Hot Springs Island is a high fantasy sandbox adventure setting that can be used with any table top role playing game. It's comprised of two books: One for players and one for the game master.

A Field Guide to Hot Springs
Island is a fully illustrated, 240 page book for players. It is written "in-character" and can be used by characters in the game world to help identify plants and monsters, translate ancient languages, and as a resource of advice and rumors.

The Dark of Hot Springs Island is the game master's book. It is a fully illustrated 192 page book. Hot Springs Island is a hexcrawl, and the Dark contains all the details needed to run a sandbox game there. There are 75 locations on the island, and 26 maps ranging from ogre villages to a ruined elven city to the volcanic lair of a vain efreet. Seven factions, 87 interconnected non-player characters and 300 problematic treasures are sure to generate plenty of lingering repercussions each time your players make a decision. Finally, 448 random events and encounter motivations help ensure that every play-through of Hot Springs Island can explode into wildly different outcomes from the same basic parameters.

Check it out! Tell your friends! Let's make some beautiful books!

Kickstarter Link


The Swordfish Islands: Hot Springs Island - An RPG Hexcrawl -- Kicktraq Mini

The Swordfish Islands


What's the deal with "The Swordfish Islands" and "Hot Springs Island"? How do they relate? What's going on here? Well... have a story!

Once upon a time there were four guys who decided to build a hexcrawl. It was going to be quick and easy. Instead of focusing on a huge and gigantic world, the focus was going to be on a small chain of islands. This way the resultant setting, instead of being broad and kinda empty, could be dense and highly interconnected.

One of the big ideas to accomplish this density was to put three discoverable locations inside of each hex. Each location should be somewhere that would be "cool to have a fight", and the way we judged this was to ask: "Now that we've talked about this place, would it still be awesome if it were made into a 2D background for a fighting video game like Street Fighter?"

Eventually we came up with a rough outline for 468 locations. Surprisingly, this wasn't as easy as we'd expected it to be. So we approached it from the perspective of "Well, who is living in this area now? What are they like? What do they need to be like that? Who was living here? How could they have shaped the area in a lasting way?


And we found ourselves saying things like "Oh man, and the tiny little mold guys use teeth as currency. So after you're infected and they burst of your corpse they start immediately harvesting 'money'." Or something like "Yes! And after the ancients built those blades into the mountain to decapitate the god, all the plants touched by the god's blood turned to bone." Or something like "No you guys, the queen specially wraps the bodies and floats them in this pool so they will rot just right and achieve a specific 'flavor'. We can call it 'The Marinade'."

And so one day we turned around had locations, and factions, and territories, and interesting remnants of the past, and major NPCs and minor NPCs, and all sorts of problems and consequences, but it was all just outlines. True, they were nicely detailed outlines, but outlines none the less. And then I said, "Ok guys... we need to finish one island. Just one. One that's big enough and complete enough and interesting enough to stand on its own, and then we can figure out what we actually need to do for all the rest of them."

And we chose Hot Springs Island. This island started off simply as "A volcanic island. Primal. Elementals fighting. Water vs Fire. Steam. Aquifers. Lava tubes. An efreet living in a volcano. Crystals?"

And now, over 100,000 words, 2 books, and 200ish illustrations later, we're ready to call Hot Springs Island DONE.



It was supposed to be so easy....


The Swordfish Islands: Hot Springs Island - An RPG Hexcrawl -- Kicktraq Mini

The Black Powder Manifesto


Black powder is comprised of three basic parts: charcoal, saltpeter and sulfur. Apply a bit of fire and not only do you get an explosion, you get a big puff of smoke and an aftermath of highly corrosive residue. This "explosion of consequences" can be found at the heart of most memorable and frequently retold stories. The death of Caesar. The choice of Paris. The storming of the Bastille. In each case, a powder keg of decisions, relationships, beliefs, debts and random chance ignited and we retell the stories of the explosion's flash, smoke and caustic consequences to this day.

This book, The Dark of Hot Springs Island, contains the materials to make powder for your table top game. 270 detailed rooms and locations provide plenty of flammable surface area. 7 factions, 87 detailed NPCs and 300 problematic treasures quickly lower the flash point of the status quo. A web of interconnected back story and NPC relationships ensures the burn is a messy affair with lingering repercussions. Your players of course are the spark, and with 448 random events and encounter motivations, every play through on the island can explode into wildly different outcomes from the same basic parameters.

But, like a tub of colorful plastic building blocks, the total number of bricks isn't as important as their modularity, so ignore pieces. Add new ones. Throw things out, or change them up completely. Combining the ingredients in different ratios should still lead to plenty of explosions. All that is really needed to run this hexcrawl is characters, the map, and the hex key [PAGE]. Everything else exists solely to provide consequences for the decisions your group makes as they explore. Every monster, NPC, treasure, dungeon room and overland point of interest is webbed together, but unlike Ariadne's thread, following these leads deeper into the labyrinth.

This setting is system neutral, so there are no stats for monsters or prepackaged treasure parcels. No levels are assumed, and there is no path of expected advancement through this tropical wilderness. The monsters will likely be tough, and the intelligent factions even tougher, but the motivations for (and thus potential leverage against) everything with a modicum of intelligence has been detailed. Combat is expected to be approached like war, and not a perfectly balanced arena skirmish. Crack the mountains. Flood the dungeons, and set everything on fire to survive.


On Hexes

Hot Springs Island is made up of 25, 2 mile hexes. Each hex contains three points of interest for players to discover and explore. These points are all physical locations that can be revisited and are not one time events or encounters.

There are three locations per hex in an effort to make the wilderness feel dense, but these do not have fixed coordinates within the hex to keep things abstract. Each location is numbered (1, 2, 3) and when a party arrives in a hex they will generally encounter the first point. This first point is normally an obvious natural feature or settlement, while the second and third points are typically less obvious, but noteworthy locales. These additional locations are best discovered by parties that have become lost in the jungle, spend time exploring, or are revealed by an NPC guide or object.

Players should have access to a map of Hot Springs Island as they play the game, and the enclosed map has blanks to fill in as points of interest are discovered. This way, in addition to the points becoming destinations, they can act as a sort of collection mini-game showing players that more is out there, waiting to be found.


On Time

The game master is strongly encouraged to use time as an enemy. As the players ignite the island's status quo time crunches, paired with distance, help make choices meaningful and help the island feel alive. Both the Fuegonauts and the Night Axe hold important events on nights with a new moon, and their bases are 8 hours away from one another on foot, so a plan that requires being at both events becomes much trickier to pull off.

In an effort to simplify tracking time for overland travel, we use a unit of time we call a watch. A watch is 4 hours long, meaning a day is made up of 6 watches. Traveling from a point of interest in one hex to a point in a neighboring hex takes one watch. Exploring a hex to find one of its other points of interest takes another.

Assuming 2 mile hexes of overgrown, often mountainous, jungle with no roads or trails to speak of, spending 4 hours to get from point A to point B and deal with an encounter felt like the right amount of abstraction. It also makes a day easily divisible. With this system if an NPC demands something "in three days time" it becomes very simple to set up three stacks of six poker chips and show your players their deadline. Removing those chips, one at a time, as they make decisions and come across new encounters has proven to be an amazing motivator.


On Tables

For the wilderness (i.e., the hexcrawl), motivation and encounter tables answer the age old question of "What did you just find and what is it doing?" These tables use 3d6 and they are stacked, or nested. For example, if the adventurers are in an area of Heavy Jungle you will roll 3d6 on this table:

Odds
3d6
Heavy Jungle
8
3
Elemental
7
4
Elemental
6
5
Intelligent
5
6
Intelligent
4
7
Intelligent
3
8
Beast
2
9
Beast
1
10
Beast
1
11
Beast
2
12
Beast
3
13
Intelligent
4
14
Intelligent
5
15
Intelligent
6
16
Elemental
7
17
Elemental
8
18
Elemental

All of these results (elemental, intelligent, beast) tell you which table to roll on next. If you get a result of beast you would roll 3d6 on the Heavy Jungle Beast table, and then another 3d6 on the beast motivation table. A roll of intelligent on this table requires a couple more rolls to determine faction and party size and then a roll on the intelligent motivation table.

This is, absolutely, a lot of rolling to determine a single encounter. Because of this, there is an interactive digital map so you can touch the hex your party is in and have your computer, phone or tablet roll for you if you like. But why do it this way and require multiple tables and multiple dice for each roll? Because of probability, territory and to establish a sense of "normal" that the game master does not have to keep track of. By nesting the tables and breaking them out by terrain areas can be differentiated by encounter. For example, coppermane prowlers live and nest in the mountains while broadbacks live in light jungle where they have room to move around. Additionally, the party will likely encounter Night Axe ogres around the north side of the island, and Fuegonauts around the central volcano.

Pseudo-naturalism sometimes gets a bad rap in table top games, but here on Hot Springs Island its purpose is to  establish that this world doesn't need the players. It has its own rhythm and system, and the players are the intruders. By defining normality it becomes easier to show what is strange, and it enables the game master to show the player's impact on the island by tweaking a few results on a sub table. For example, should the players decide to side with Svarku and his Fuegonauts and begin killing every Night Axe ogre in sight, as time goes by, Night Axe results on the intelligent tables can be replaced by Fuegonaut. If the players decide to establish a town and bring in their friends, "Adventurer" and "Intelligent" results can be increased and "Elemental" and "Beast" results can fade before the onslaught of civilization. Additionally, by pegging certain results to certain terrain types, misplaced monsters become a call to adventure. "What has driven the coppermane prowlers down from the mountains?" Likewise, A Field Guide to Hot Springs Island details out all the monster body parts that have value to the various factions. So now, a party that wishes to get into the good graces of a faction can take the knowledge they have gained of the land and go hunting.

In dungeons, villages, ruins and other "roomed" sublocations on the island the tables are slightly different. For these areas there are only three 3d6 tables, with no nesting. The first table, called "What's happening?" defines a zone wide event, or context for the area. Then there is an encounter and motivation table. The probability afforded by using 3d6 tables, when paired with motivations, helps establish the vibe of the sublocation. In dangerous, war torn areas there are much higher chances to get motivation results like fighting, fleeing or dying. Whereas in areas that are more stable, the local inhabitants have a higher likelihood of being found eating/drinking, repairing/maintaining, or social/creative. This effect can also be used to create places of transition where most of the creatures encountered are just passing through. As with the overland hexmap, establishing normal enables abnormal results to stand out as hooks to adventure.

NTRPG Con and a Zine



This past weekend I had a vendor table at NTRPG Con 2016. I was mostly stuck to my booth, but I met quite a few awesome people hustled a few copies of A Field Guide to Hot Springs Island. On Saturday Evan and Donnie made it up (and promptly took this awesome picture of me not looking at them after they handed me awesome magnets to look at) and ran an impromptu game of Hot Springs Island using D&D 5e.


By all accounts it went well!

As it stands now, we're short a few maps and illustrations for the Hot Springs Island project, and we're (hopefully) looking at an end of summer completion date.

Since artists like to get paid, I whipped up a quick zine called Toxic Elven Smut to sell at NTRPG Con. I have a few copies left (9 at the moment I write this post). It's 28 pages long and contains: a brief illustrated history of the elves, a map of the elven ruins of Hot Springs City, and 5 monsters found therein. All funds raised from this zine will be going directly to those artists. Shipping is only set up for the US right now, but if you're located elsewhere and would like to snag a copy, PM me and I'm sure we can figure something out.

If you'd like to snag a copy head over to http://shop.swordfishislands.com/

Chupacabra Con - Recap



Swordfish Islands at Chupacabra Con 2016 - A Recap

The Good Things:
People said some very nice things about Hot Springs Island, the highlights being: About The Dark of Hot Springs Island (The GM book) "I've never been so excited about a book I can't have". About the Field Guide (paraphrased) "[The Game Master at my table] said your book was the best $20 he's spent at this convention and that I needed to buy a copy too, so tell me about your game."

If people would give me 10 seconds, they'd almost always end up giving me several minutes of their time, and probably money or at least an email address. They also appeared to be legitimately enthused when they walked away, or at least more animated.


The Bad Things:
Chupacabra Con has an innate hierarchy. Attendees -> Vendors -> Guests -> VIPs (and it may actually be that Guests are the top of the food chain). Ostensibly these distinctions are not inherently bad, but here's an example of how it plays out. On Friday night, around dinner time a staff member of the convention began walking from vendor table to vendor table, or so it seemed. I couldn't tell what they were doing 'till they got to the table immediately to my left. Then I could clearly hear them ask the vendor how things were going, if they needed anything, and then offer them water and snacks. The staffer then walked directly past my table, without even looking at me, to the next table, where they repeated the pleasantries. Feels bad man. On Saturday, the same thing happened, only the staffer passed me from right to left, and was going around to have people sign a shirt for the silent auction. At this point I realized that they were only going between Guests. These were literally the only interactions (non-interactions?) I had with staffers aside from signing in at the convention, and one "hey how's it going?" in passing. Is it a big deal? No. Did it feel like I'd paid for the privilege of being pseudo-shunned? Yes.

Possible solutions: There were only about 20 vendor tables, and you can buy packs of water and snacks in 24 packs. Why not just offer it to everyone? If that's too much to ask, why not arrange the vendor tables in such a way that guest vendors and paid vendors on opposite sides of the hall, instead of interspersed?


The Terrible, Horrible Thing I'm Ashamed Of.
While at the convention, I saw a young artist approach the creator of a million dollar kickstarter and _I think_ (but am not 100% sure) to check out the portfolio of work she was holding. I wasn't paying attention to the conversation until I heard Mr. Kickstarter saying (paraphrased) that if he looked at an artist's resume and saw that they did small amounts of work for lots of different people that he would assume they were a bad and/or difficult to work with artist. A good artist should be called on repeatedly by the same clients. There's nothing inherently wrong with this but it made my ears perk up because of the finality(?) of the statements. Over in the DIY pits, I see freelancers doing work for many different people, constantly, because no one has the budget to pay for an artist repeatedly. So someone good, in a year, could do work for many different people _because that's where the money is_, and not because they're a bad artist, or difficult to work with.

Mr. Kickstarter then asked the artist if she knew who Alphonse Mucha was. She didn't , and he said "Alphonse Mucha _invented_ art noveau, but he didn't do art. He did advertisements." And then I started feeling ill as all of Mucha's beautiful work was dismissed as just "coke ads", to build up to the whole point of the conversation being: "As an artist you give the people what they want because they're paying you for it."

And I did nothing. I sat there, a lame ass eavesdropper, and felt sick, and pulled up the wikipedia article on Mucha because I was pretty sure he wasn't just an "ad man", but wasn't fully confident, and didn't want to interject on a million dollar earning authority without all my ducks in a row. So I was a coward, and I still feel awful.

I should have stood up and said "Hold on guys. The stuff about Mucha is bullshit, and there is another way. The artist does _NOT_ have to be subservient to the writer/creator. It can be a collaboration. In fact, a collaboration between an artist and creator from the beginning is where you can get your strongest stuff. Form a feedback loop. Be equal partners. A writer can allow themselves to be pushed into strange and wonderful new directions by the art they receive, instead of saying "this is beautiful, but not what I wanted so here's your $10 kill fee." And I could have fought a fight that needs fighting.

But I doubted myself, and the thing I was making, and the system I believe in, and said nothing. And they went to lunch. And all I did was publicly overshare on the internet.