Devblog: Ramblings on the essence of magic

How to make magic feel alive in a game system? How to make gameplay decisions with magic interesting? What’s the great mystery in magic? What’s the essence of a myth, why do we tell these stories? Why are mythic stories so alike? Is it our “genetic memory”, Jungian archetypes, or are they actual historical stories of the past? Are they mundane explanations of what was once thought as supernatural? Or are myths deeply philosophical stories that try to to answer to the questions like “What is being human really about?”, “What’s valuable in life?”, “What’s the meaning of life?”. Or perhaps, are mythical stories like Kalevala or Gilgamesh just very old forms of entertainment?

These are some of the questions I’ve been thinking of while working on the magic system for Bliaron English edition. I believe that greatest thing about magic is really the mythical unknown aspect. The one that keeps you asking what’s hidden behind the next layer. Most games tend to handle magic as a measurable force, a gameplay tool of sorts, that allows doing things not mundanely possible. It can be balanced to the extent that it’s no more than one another way for doing damage in combat, or a peculiar way of lockpicking. Fundamental idea behind magic being based on spirits is to give magic some character. It’s a whole lot more to work on theft with telekinesis, when you are “asking a favor” from a spirit rather than pressing a button that simply does the trick. It’s also much more interesting to work on a force that reacts to environment, and perhaps sometimes, behaves unexpectedly.

In Finnish release, Bliaron – Kalthanien Perintö, we focused on bringing about a basic system that would have strong “magical theory” behind it. We encouraged people (and still do!) to use magic in creative ways, thinking more on how the magic behaves, rather than always looking for an answer in complex rules. Therefore, rules were left as light as possible, to enhance the message of “Play the game, not the rules!”. We left many explanations on the origins and inner workings of the magic open too, partly to leave that part up to the gaming groups to decide, but also because we simply didn’t have the resources and time to thoroughly analyze the different combinations and possibilities available.

In English edition though, this magical theory has been expanded, and our game design skills have got better, to the point where we can give concrete guidelines on how magical interactions should be gamemastered. The fundamental idea behind “Play the game, not the rules!” is still valid though, and magic will still remain as a living force that may still surprise at any time. On the other hand, magical meta theory will also explain some of that unexpectedness with the ability of spell and spirit merging (the ability of two or more spirits to merge into one). It turns out also that our revised system based on Effects and Modifiers also works on spell interaction. This means that all spells will affect each other, kinetic spells can toss other spirits around, destruction spirits will most of the time destroy and nullify other magic, and some spells might simply merge, and form an intelligent spirit that will not take orders so easily.

Some other gameplay-related additions are related to reaction spells, instinctive casting, noticing a spell, hiding magical activity and affecting ongoing spells directly. Compared to Finnish edition, many of these are more or less just clarified definitions, but some of them are new additions, and clear rules (although simple and light) should make them open new gameplay choices for players. For those magic-nerds who want to dig deep into essence of magic, there will also be options for more philosophical meta-level play, accessing and understanding symbolic connections in world composition as a whole, essentially diving deep into.. ahem.. DEEP questions.. but while fun to play for some, let’s face it, it’s not the main emphasis of the game. The important bit though, is to keep layers hidden and unexpected, to keep players active and facilitate creative use of magic.

Everything is possible. And.. remember to play the game (not the rules).

Devblog: the Kalthan King

In addition to our big project, Grim Noir, we’ve recently been working on several different projects based on the world of Bliaron. Upcoming Bliaron Card Game, Bliaron English edition and Bliaron Spellbuilder to mention a few. There’s however still one Bliaron project we haven’t been loud about, and it’s called Sonatan Kuningas (the King of Sonata). It’s an adventure add-on to original Bliaron – Kalthanien Perintö, focusing on the mystery of Sonata stone found in previous adventure add-on Sonatan Hehku. The history goes back to early 2010’s, the last time the writeup was touched was back in 2013, as we struggled in finding the proper development directions regarding Sonatan Kuningas. We couldn’t find satisfying decisions, so personal lives and other projects slowly took over, and Sonatan Kuningas was forgotten in the rearmost bytes of some old hard drives.

Recently though, I ended up browsing through old files and cleaning everything that had ended up on my hard drives. As I organized the files into proper folders, I stumbled upon folder called Sonata Part II – The King of Sonata. I just had to stop and read it once again. Bunch of ideas, improperly written, somewhat badly organized and hard to read. The main design goals and ideas were valid though, it only needed some fleshing out, extending the poorly detailed parts, and organizing incoherent textual structures. Somehow there was no question what needed to be done. Development goals felt obvious and easy. I stayed up late for few nights, and ended up doing something surprising.

Today I’m reading a full fresh writeup of Sonatan Kuningas, an epic story delving deep into history of great Kalthan King Artan. There’s stuff about time travel, great deal of playable information about Kalthanese ruins and Kalthan culture. So far, we are only thinking of release in Finnish, yet who knows what will happen after English edition has been properly released. The timetable and format for the release is unclear, as illustrations and doing the layout for the book will most certainly take a while. It’s however been fun to realize how inspiring and envigoring it has been breathing this old project back to life…

Bliaron spellbuilder (Alpha testing)

Ropecon 2017 is just starting in Helsinki, so it should be a good time to have a sneak peek on Bliaron 2nd ed. spellbuilder, a webapp for quickly constructing spells out of magical effects and modifiers. Features include 14 different effects from seven fundamental magical qualities, and 9 modifiers to change the flavors of each combination of effects. Spellbuilder will then calculate everything you need to know from that spell. Please note, that the app is still very much in alpha stage, and some oddities still exist, mostly concerning the spell descriptions. Feedback is greatly appreciated, either in person to NR representatives at Ropecon who are btw running playtests of Bliaron Card Game there, or by email to northernrealms(at)northernrealms.net.

Quick directions for proper use of Spellbuilder alpha

1) Click either “Spellcasting” for spells, “Alchemy” for potions or “Runes” for creation of magical items.
2) Choose one effect to start with, add up to the level of the governing attribute (increase/decrease attribute by clicking + / -)
3) Add modifiers, to a maximum of the governing skill (increase/decrease skill by clicking + / -)
4) See the results
5) Go back to 2 and 3 (add/remove effects and modifiers, experiment with the results)

To resolve success of the spell, cast the dice as described in “Dice Pool”, pick the highest number and add the governing skill (e.g. spellcasting). If the result is equal to or higher than the difficulty, the spell will be cast successfully.

https://frozen.northernrealms.net/Bliaron/spellbuilder/

Devblog: Learning javascript

Magic system of Bliaron RPG just got a quite big and fundamental overhaul, although it still isn’t ripe enough for a release. The main goal has been to develop a deep atmospheric shamanistic magic system with as little mechanical complexity as possible. The system has to be quick, easy and intuitive, but still deeply detailed, facilitating interesting, creative and complex use of magic. This system has went through several development phases without a release, but it’s now starting to look like it’s ready for some real testing.

The magic system is based on combining one or more magical effects and modifiers. All effects belong to magical categories of senses, heat, kinetic, matter, destruction, life or intelligence. Choosing an effect sets what the spell actually does, e.g. whether the spell cools objects down or is used for supernatural sensing. It’s possible to combine several effects in a single spell. The modifiers are then used to change details of a spell, like the spell size, duration, detectability or, as all magic and spells are spirits, even the intelligence level of a spell.

Counting quickly, I realized there are more than dozen trillion possible spell combinations, and although limiting combinations to something like “no more than 6-7 levels of effects and modifiers” greatly reduces this number, there is still a huge number of possible and potentially useful spells to test. Some of the balancing can be done mathematically, but obviously storytelling-like magic is quite a bit more than just damage numbers and mathematical tricks. Therefore, we needed a way to quickly test the system. We’ve thought of cards, but to actually do it quickly and test it online with developers, I felt like a computer application would be probably better. We needed a good tool for testing, and, just for the sake of it, I started to dabble with javascript – if only I could make a crude developer tool for Bliaron testing. Line after line it got better, and the code that turned variables into human-understandable spell descriptions also got more streamlined and intelligent. And why not, I added runes magic and alchemy in it too. At some point, I added some visuals to make using it more pleasing and fun. As of spellbuilder v. 010 I feel like we are soon ready for some closed alpha testing.

As for the spells, some of our current favourites are:
– Spell of invisible nothing-ball
– Spell of ultra-hidden triggered dual empowered ranged nothing-formation (Umm.. what?)
– Spell of thought-state altering magic-portal ball
– Spell of flaming heavy force wave (nothing wrong with the casual damage spells either)
– Spell of far-cast gas/liquid/material/metal/gem/body -changer ball. (human-understandable? not.. basically something like changing body parts to gas-form or diamonds)
– Spell of empowered nullify magic ball (the ultimate spellshield)
– Spell of triggered healing ball (well, basically anything triggered by an event can be quite much fun!)

Devblog: Bliaron in English

We’ve been planning for quite a while for getting Bliaron rpg released in English, but various challenges on game design have kept us thinking on how we should tackle this. We don’t want to release a game that would just disappear among thousands of generic fantasy rpg’s. We don’t want to release a game that’s hard to get into. And most certainly, we don’t want to release anything that resembles Dungeons and Dragons. On the other hand, we DO want to release a novel fantasy rpg about shamanistic magic, a game with simple and easy mechanics, and a world that greatly facilitates storytelling.

Fairly big and known issue with Finnish edition is that Bliaron gets bogged among thousands of general fantasy rpgs, OSR games and D&D clones. Art is certainly good, but just browsing through, it’s very easy to come to the conclusion that Bliaron, the Finnish edition, is still a mixture of a bit unripe homebrewed ideas. Now, I have never played Dungeons & Dragons in my life, at least not the tabletop rpg. When people refer to Bliaron as one-of-these-games, meaning the various D&D clones that people have created, I feel deeply saddened, as I’ve intentionally designed Bliaron as game that steers as far off from D&D as possible. When I look at Bliaron now, I see that it’s a big, complex and deeply designed game world, with tons of ideas, but the user manual is just too long and boring to read. The best core ideas, the greatest points, are hidden among hundreds of pages of somewhat average fluff. All of which was surely important for the design of the game, but not necessarily so interesting for an average rpg enthusiastic.

So it’s clear that we have a game that’s kind of ready for translating, but then, if done strictly without editing, we would also translate all the unimportant fluff, and from the customers point of view, we’d end up with yet another average fantasy rpg. As the development of Bliaron Card Game pushes on with full speed, it’s now a good time to start seriously getting into Bliaron rpg redevelopment. Instead of translating we ended up with making a 2nd edition as a whole. Some of the text has been translated, as well as heavily edited, and we’ve been making good progress on this. The text in 2nd edition is a lot more streamlined and clear, it aims to point out the best things of the game in simplest way possible.

Some of the important changes that will follow, are changes to spell building, and how spellcasting works in general. The biggest change is probably that all people in Bliaron can potentially become mages. That’s not to say that everybody will ever cast, but the core system will feature the magical soul, binding all magical potential to core stats like Strength and Senses. The Finnish version’s stat for Magic (Finn. magiavoima) will be removed, and therefore all core stats will instead be connected to different magical abilities. In addition, the surrounding spiritual energy will always be tracked in the 2nd ed, making the spells of certain type work better in different situations. Jungles for example will be full of energies of life, enabling powerful healing spells, and deserts will gather spirits of heat, granting power to spells of fire, and strangely, ice. As of now, we are designing and testing how mages could spend points from their core stats, temporarily lowering their abilities for creating more powerful spells. Very likely there will be a way to use Bliaron Cards for tracking these stat pools, possibly even a system to use cards to build and resolve actual spells (oh well, might not happen, depends on some design decisions). And while we do all these changes, we also streamline the system, making actual gameplay flow easily. By the way, all the fluff changes presented in 2nd edition are actually hinted in the Finnish edition too, that is to say that Finnish game and 2nd edition will be somewhat compatible, but the rules of the original release don’t really support this, and the fluff is so vague that it needs a skilled and very dedicated Bliaron GM to pull out.

Now the release then? That’s not going to be this month, or the next one. We’re still far away from a finished product. The main point is however that we are, slowly, getting there.

Traveler’s guide to Bliaron (finn. Bliaronin reittiopas!)

Traveler’s guide to Bliaron is a tool for Game Masters that can be used for drawing ideas for adventures! Adventures can be looked through map either by location or symbols that represent various themes of the game. The main bulk of ideas presented in Traveler’s guide is based on original release of Bliaron – Kalthanien Perintö rpg, but various ideas have been developed much further. Some of the material is completely new, based on yet unreleased material.

Unfortunately for English readers though, the material in this release is only available in Finnish.

Finnish translation:
Bliaronin reittiopas on erityisesti pelinjohtajille suunnattu työkalu, josta voi ammentaa ideoita seikkailuihin! Kartasta voi etsiä seikkailuja joko alueen perusteella tai tutkia symboleilla merkittyjä erilaisia teemoja. Merkittävä osa seikkailuideoista pohjautuu alkuperäiseen Bliaron – Kalthanien perintö -roolipeliin, mutta ideoita on kehitetty tätä työkalua varten huomattavasti pidemmälle. Osa materiaalista on täysin uutta, ja pohjautuu julkaisemattomaan materiaaliin.

Bliaronin reittiopas

Devblog: Traveler’s guide to Bliaron (finn. Bliaronin reittiopas)

Last week me and Julius were talking of Bliaron, NR’s fantasy RPG released in Finnish language back in 2011. We were going through some development decisions, game reviews, player experiences and ended up realising that we had created tons of material that simply isn’t used at all. More importantly, we created a world with insane amounts of unique creative content, but we didn’t really do that good of a job in making all that content accessible. We had strived for a game that’s easy and accessible, but admittedly, 200 pages of Bliaron core book can hardly be labelled “easy” or “beginner friendly”. The world had tons of story hooks that we had planned, and we had deliberately left them open for game masters to use how they wanted, but the openness had resulted in blandness and we realised that many of the story hooks were actually invisible for an average user.

Still, being there, free to download, Creative Commons -licensed, and full of creative material, we feel obligated to push this game forward. We really want to reach the status of easy, accessible and beginner friendly RPG. Question remained – how are we going to do this?

At some point, like pokemon, a simple, but clever idea appeared. How about we created an interactive Traveller’s Guide to Bliaron, a map that presents the world, but where all of the original ideas would be developed further into mature story hooks. As a media type, interactive map is really not a novel idea, but isn’t that familiarity to public more of an advantage than a flaw? So, we got quickly really exited, and in less than a week we had a developer sketch online. At the time of writing, we’ve had our own team working hard, and got some few individuals, including of course some friends and family, involved in proofreading and getting feedback from people who aren’t as familiar with Bliaron lore as we are.

Below I’ll share some developer screenshots of the map. Simple, yet seems quite effective. Note to visual-savvy readers, the icons and colours are still placeholders as we are waiting for our graphic artists to create something.. well.. better.

1st sketch screenshot
2nd sketch screenshot

Update 02/2016

Just a quick update on what’s going on at NR. Grim Noir has finally reached first playtesting phase. The game is going to be a film noir RPG based on christian mythology. We’re looking forward to do as much playtesting as possible during coming months. There will be more information available of Grim Noir later.

On the other front Bliaron went free to download some time ago. The game is set in an iron age world of Bliaron inhabited sparsely by wild people and clansmen. Players are mages who are trying to find their way in a world that is not yet ready for them. At this moment we are interested in doing some very alpha playtesting for new edition of Bliaron’s magic system, and we are looking for gaming groups that would be interested in contributing to development by playing and giving us some feedback.

Here Be Dragons – A new collaboration project

Ropecon 2014 was last weekend, and our latest collaboration project called Here Be Dragons was announced. Written by J Matias Kivikangas, Here Be Dragons is a narrative roleplaying game about mighty and powerful dragons and the choices that they make. How will your dragons presence effect its surroundings and local cultures? Will the dragon have a permanent impact on the world, or will her memory fade in the passing years?

head3

You can download the demo version of the game, the character booklet and a custom scenario (written in Finnish) here: frozen.northernrealms.net/HereBeDragons. If there’s a lot of demand for the game, we are thinking about making an extended version of the game with more art, more dragon archetypes and overall prettier layout. If you are interested in the extended edition, fill out the form here. More information about the game and its development process can be found in the blog http://herebedragonsrpg.blogspot.fi/.

Mundus RPG

We are proud to announce the release of Mundus RPG! In short, it could be described as an oriental action roleplaying game! The game is set on mystical world of Tentaika, inspired of Japanese history and mythology, including anime and manga art. The game system features a modular character build, detailed epic style combat system, and expansive channeling and magic system.

Mundus RPG has been developed by Kajaani based game-design group that is lead by Ville Huohvanainen. Developers have a background in computer game design, yet years of experience to tabletop roleplaying.

And as for side note, we also announce the opening of our webstore! Mundus RPG is now available for 15€ at Northern Realms Webstore!

http://www.mundus-rpg.com