Game Design Mastery

Every art contains a related craft.

Music is underpinned by an understanding of notation and structure as well as traditions, styles, and the ability to make the noises you desire come out of the instrument you choose.

Cooking is more than throwing random ingredients in a pan. Done well, it rests on an understanding of interrelations of flavour and texture, the chemical changes brought on by heat and cold, the interplay of differing ingredients, the signatures of regional flavours, changes in seasonality, and an encyclopaedic knowledge of root vegetables.

Visual arts of any sort, whether they be painting or film making, are all founded on an understanding of light and form, of composition and negative space, of hue and value, as well as the ability to make the mark you want with the tool you choose.

And so it is that there is a craft to learn for Game Design too.


Master and Apprentice

Forget talent. Everyone starts with a lack of skill, and by dint of effort, attains some. More effort is always helpful, but this is not the smart way to learn. Merely bulling your way through is the long way round. A smarter way is by targeted and focussed learning.

When you study any art, what you are really studying is the craft that relates to it. This is absolutely necessary. The craft is what you learn.

Whether it is possible to teach someone how to be a Master, or whether this is in some way innate, is open to debate. It is, however, entirely possible to teach someone the only measurable prerequisite for being a Master: mastery of the craft.


Attaining Mastery vs Being a Master

Not all those who achieve mastery of a craft become a Master of their Art. However, every Master of an Art has also achieved mastery of their craft.

If you want to join the ranks of the Masters, then attaining mastery of your craft is the only sensible place to start.

Regardless of what your art made be, you need to practice the elements of your craft and polish your understanding until it is automatic and instinctual. As long as you want to stay at that level, you will need to continue that practice, because craft skills are perishable.

There are many ways to learn your chosen craft, and mastery of it will not look identical to each practitioner. Mastery does not mean that you know every possible permutation – there is always more to learn. However, there is a key distinction:

The novice needs to focus on the craft to achieve the effect they seek. Their effort is in bending their tools to their purpose as much as the purpose itself.

The Master understands the craft to the point that they no longer need to think about it. They intuit answers to puzzles, and they see each challenge as resolvable, generally in myriad ways. They are, therefore, able to rise above the struggles of how can I do this, and instead devote their time to the why and the what. What is worth doing? Why would I choose to do this rather than that?

The few people who are considered Masters of an Art have invariably mastered their craft. However, not all who perfect their craft can be called Masters. That extra step is far more elusive and not susceptible to a simple A, B, C approach. Based on researching the lives of acknowledged Masters in other arts, my belief is that it is dedication to a specific field, and the continuation of study that leads to true Mastery. That is a distant goal for most of us, though the journey itself can be very rewarding. There is much to learn for a practitioner of any level.


The Game Design Mastery Project (GDM)

This project aims to help game designers of all experience levels get the most out of their craft, and, with diligence and practice, to master it. It includes a series of books, a Patreon page, and my consulting work.

My hope is that GDM will enable me to help a lot more people than I can with just the consultancy work I do at the moment. I’m also looking forward to being able to focus more time on listening to what people need to know, and where they struggle. I’ve been doing this for a long time, and some stuff is second nature to me that is opaque to the novice. It’s not always easy to tell what that might be, and I’m sure I can be more effective by hearing what you have to say. Mentoring people is often illuminating for me as well, and seeing the light bulb come on makes me smile every time.

So what about each of these three elements within GDM?



To take the least widely interesting first, it is possible that the books and Patreon will kill my consultancy work. We’ll have to see. However, if there are people who still want one-on-one attention, I’ll make time to do some between the books and Patreon. I’ll set up a new contact page for that in due course. This site is overdue it’s reworking…


Game Design Mastery books

These are the heart of the project in many ways. Research shows that people learn better in small, focussed lessons, so rather than one monstrous volume hundreds of pages long, I’m producing a series of much smaller books, each of which will tackle a single piece of the puzzle. They will be inexpensive, and pocket sized for convenience (if you get the print version). The aim is to publish one a month. The books are split into two main threads: Theory & Practice, and Nuts & Bolts.

The Theory & Practice books cover the why and the conceptual end of the process. Nuts & Bolts is a series that looks at individual mechanics and dismantles them so you can understand where they come from and how they can best be used.

All of the books include background on the topic and discussion, as well as practical advice on how to apply the volume’s topic to your work. As humans generally retain learning more by doing than reading alone, each volume will also include at least 2 practical challenges for you to try your hand at.

The model for this is more the 1-Minute Manager series, if you know them, than a multi-part magazine. You do not have to collect them all; they aren’t numbered. Instead, you should just pick the ones that suit your style of work and interests. Each stands alone.



For those who are not familiar with Patreon, it is a site where people who want to support creative individuals can sign up to pledge a certain amount of money each month to do so. In return, they get some rewards.

It’s a very flexible system that aims to replace the single rich patron that renaissance Masters like Leonardo or Michaelangelo had, with a larger number of normal folk each donating smaller amounts. It’s analogous to the difference between venture capitalists and crowd funding.

The aim of Patreon is to provide partial or complete funding to enable creative folk to write, play music, paint, sing, or whatever they do instead of panic about paying the bills every month. It is a way to enrich the world with beauty in all its forms. Yes, even that one you can’t stand.

Each creator chooses one or more levels at which a “patron” can offer support, and defines what the cost and rewards for each will be. These levels are called tiers. I’m starting with 3.

In essence, the cost of each tier reflects how much of my time I think it will take for me to deal with its rewards each month. Each tier includes everything in all tiers below.


Tier 1: Curious about Game Design (£2)

Firstly, you have my sincere thanks for your support. It looks trite on paper, but it’s heartfelt. Without you guys, the GDM project doesn’t work. The books may spread the project’s tentacles wide, but patrons are the project’s heart.

This tier also gains you access to a library of GDM articles. I’ve put a couple in to start with. A new one will be added each month. On top of this baseline, another article will be added each time we hit a new milestone (when the total number of patrons goes up another 25).

In addition, there is a Patron-only Discord.

Oh, and a short, weekly, informal, behind the scenes video to see what’s on my desk and what I’m up to. This is somewhat scary.


Tier 2: Intrigued by Game Design (£5)

On top of the Tier 1 rewards, you get another 3 things:

A second Discord channel so you can talk about…

WIP versions of the background and discussion sections of the next volume in the GDM book series. This may be one iteration of each volume; it may be more. How many depends on what works when it goes live and we start to kick them about. Either way, you get to read the rough cut before anyone else, and have input into what works, what’s missing, and what could be clearer. I look forward to the conversation.

Patrons at this tier also get to nominate topics for the monthly articles and vote on which they would like me to do. I’m happy to write on anything about GDM, so let’s make it whatever is most useful to you. I’m intrigued to see what you’ll come up with.


Tier 3: Absorbed by Game Design (£12)

Patrons at this level have one more Discord server to discuss the final piece of the puzzle:

WIP versions of the challenges from the next volume of the GDM book series. Every volume will have at least 2. This, more than any other element of GDM, is here to make you think. On the face of it, some of these challenges look pretty easy, but this is deceptive, and all reward a deeper pondering. They are puzzles that you can return to time and again, and which can be answered in a number of ways. They are more like zen koans than crossword puzzles because they do not have a single answer. Only by not trying can you be wrong.


Exciting Times

For me, GDM is a really exciting project. As those who have met me in person will attest, I love nothing more than discussing games, and I’m very hopeful that you and I will be able to build a group of like-minded individuals around the GDM concept. And yes, you’re a vital part of this. Me talking to myself just won’t be the same.

So here’s my expectation and hope: GDM will take time to build, it will be a lot of hard work, and it will be an absolute pleasure to be part of.

It starts tomorrow.

Posted in Game Design Mastery | Tagged , | 8 Comments

A Two-Pronged Assault

Given the number of changes that outside influences have forced on everyone’s plans over the last 6 months, I have tried to come up with a new plan that will, hopefully, be more robust. While there are still many outside events and actors who could change things, these modifications should be more akin to dinosaurs evolving gradually than a dirty great rock falling out of the sky and killing them all one sunny Friday afternoon.

At the highest level, I’ve split my work into two main areas. There are a few odds and ends, admin, and whatnot which sit outside, but the bulk of my work now belongs to one or other of these two blocks:

  • Game Design Mastery.
  • My own IPs.


Game Design Mastery

This project aims to help game designers of all experience levels get the most out of their craft, and, with diligence and practice, to master it. It includes a series of books, the Patreon I mentioned, and a continuation of my consulting work.

Note that “mastery” does not mean that you will be a master, nor that I am one. I consider gaining a mastery of the art of game design to be a prerequisite for being considered a master, but not a guarantee. But that’s a whole other article.

I’ll be posting a more detailed exploration of this project and what to expect this Sunday.


My Own Intellectual Properties (IPs)

I’ve worked on many fictional worlds for other companies over the years. These are ones that I’ve been working on for myself, without the need to satisfy clients or management; in fact, without the need to seek approval outside my own head. I could argue that this makes them better, but all it really does is makes them more personal. Now that may mean that I’m more invested and so produce my best work, but you’ll have to decide for yourself.

There are several of these, and all are intentionally without a deadline. The foundations of a new fictional world are worth taking time over as getting them wrong can cause all manner of troubles down the line. Getting them right and making them solid will reward you later. So that’s what I’m doing. I’ve already written some short stories and games, and made some sketches, but nothing I’m going to share till its ready.

I mention these here not to tease you for an imminent release. That’s not where they’re at in my head. I just wanted to let you know that interesting stuff is going on outside the scope of the Game Design Mastery work, and that it will turn up in due course. When it’s ready.


Other Stuff

I’ve also been experimenting with planning more downtime into my schedule. I’m used to working 7 days a week, so taking days off is weird. I tried doing nothing at all and just flumping about wasting the day on YouTube videos and suchlike, and all I felt was guilty for wasting a day. It wasn’t relaxing at all. So, I’m being constructive in other ways, including learning how to use some new software, which is a lot of fun.

One last thought is about this blog. In the light of this latest revision of what’s possible, it’s going to have a slight change of direction. For the time being, I’ll not try to define it. Seems best to focus on the other things that are quite constrained and leave the blog to be what fits between those spaces. That would make it more a mixed bag of whatever happened to be on my mind or desk at the time. In a way, this is more like what I think FaceBook is intended to be, but in a longer form as you know me – I like to write. That, plus I really do not get on with FB.

So, lots of stuff happening.

See you on Sunday for more on the Game Design Mastery project

Posted in Random Thoughts | 2 Comments

Setting a Date

My Patreon will go live on the 1st of June. There’s lots still to sort, and I’ve been researching best practice and advice to make sure it goes as smoothly as possible. Their website is an odd mix of lots of helpful advice, and yet a strange dearth of answers to almost all the specific questions I actually have. I can’t decide whether it’s them being rubbish at answering questions, or me being weird and asking odd ones. I suspect the latter. Anyway, their customer services folk are very helpful, so I’m never puzzled for long.

I was distracted yesterday by one of the dreaded Good Ideas that won’t shut up till it’s written down. That took a surprising amount of time as it just kept unravelling and revealing more of itself. Like a tick that’s burrowed in deep, you have to get all of it out or it causes problems later, so I kept following till I got to the end. Interesting stuff though. One of those moments when it feels like you’ve hit on something that hasn’t quite been done before, but which really should be. Of course, it’s too early to have tried it on the table yet, and that sort of thing has a habit of feeling very different in reality. So, we shall see. For the moment it’s going to have to wait in line as the Patreon project and its related writing is my main focus right now.

It’s always nice to have these ideas though. I don’t think that it makes me especially clever as they are, like pretty much every idea, simply a different mix of existing ingredients, and that can be done by anyone. In fact, it almost certainly either has been (and I just don’t know it yet) or will soon be done by someone I’ve never met. I’ve had this happen a few times before. It’s not that anyone has been stealing ideas; it’s just that we are in a shared global culture and are all swimming around in the same soup of ideas and influences. There are only so many ways these things can go together and work, so it’s inevitable that more than one person will eventually hit on each magical combo. If something you watched or read or heard sparked you to think that A and B might work really nicely together if sprinkled with C, then why should it not spark the same thought in someone else? Most of the experiences that influence our thinking are shared with myriad others.

I’ve also seen this in my consultancy work when I’ve been talking to novice designers. If anyone thinks that the big game companies will steal their idea, it’s novice designers. In truth, it’s hugely unlikely (I know of zero confirmed real-world examples of this happening). Far more likely that they’ve simply come up with essentially the same combination of A, B, and C. Ideas are not in any shortage. Far from it. Why would they steal yours?

What does happen a lot is that someone will show me their amazing idea and be completely unaware that it has already been done, often more than once. Their lack of knowledge of the wider history of games is what shows here, not that they’ve stolen the idea from elsewhere as they may have no idea where to look. It’s the mirrored cultural references again, and the fact that these mechanics only go together in so many ways. Dice only land on so many different sides.

Posted in Random Thoughts | 2 Comments

Moving On

You haven’t been forgotten; I’ve been quiet while I worked on a new plan. Basically, it’s going to include a lot of what I was aiming to do before, but in a completely different order. Some stuff has had to move years down the line. I’m still working on gesamtkunstwerk, but you won’t see those first. It’s a shame in some ways, but it’s what needs to happen. In general, the whole plan is not what I’d choose if I had me druthers, but it’s what needs to happen so I can pay my bills. Same as everyone else.

The first new thing you’ll see from me is a Patreon channel. Several people have suggested I use my decades of experience to do this, and having done some research, I think I can provide something worthwhile. In fact, the more I’ve dug into it, the more exciting it feels like it could be. To nobody’s surprise, this will focus on game design theory and practice, with notable sidelines into Kickstarter and best practice for that. I’ll have more on the details in a few days, and it’ll go live soon after that.

Planning isn’t all I’ve been up to though. On the game design front, I’ve put down all the multi-player stuff for pragmatic reasons and focussed on solo projects that I can playtest. I’ve also been writing a novella, which has been fun, and that has spawned an idea for a comic too. I was working on some art for that last night to test the style I had in my head. Intriguing notion, though I’ve never worked on a comic before. Not one that’s been published anyway. It’s unlikely to turn up soon, but I might carry on tinkering to see what images I can come up with. It’s a funny one – sprang into my mind’s eye fully formed. Not often that happens, so I’m inclined to lean into it a bit to see where it goes. That’s only a short window in each day though, so it won’t happen fast. I’ve mostly scheduled practical and immediate work: playing with comics or anything else is only for a defined playtime slot. Need to keep the brain agile and entertained, but can’t let it splurge everywhere and eat up the whole day.

Playing about on things that don’t have to be part of any income-generating projects is part of my plan. You might want to consider putting an hour or two aside each day for that yourself. Plan some free time to play when you can create without boundaries of deadline or requirement. There are many benefits. Your brain needs that freedom, at least some of the time, and it’ll make you smarter and more imaginative in your “real” work too. Not to mention that it’s both energising and relaxing at the same time. For me, that hour passes faster than every other, which is a good sign.

Do you have a structured play time in your day?

Posted in Random Thoughts | 2 Comments

Kickstarter’s Latest Tweaks

Looks like Kickstarter is starting to roll out some of its recent experiments to a wider audience.

Yesterday I got a feature I’d seen mentioned on forums as being in test. That’s the pledge levels being a separately scrollable panel. Sort of useful.

Along with this has come an update of the creator box on the main page from:

Creator info old.png


Creator info new.png

Not a big change, but a change nonetheless.

The most obvious difference is the addition of the thumbnail for their last campaign. That’s colourful, if nothing else. Not convinced that’s especially useful. If I want to know their backstory, I usually want to know the whole thing.

The number of campaigns that they’ve backed has disappeared from this summary though it is present if you click on it and get the expanded details. Those, by the way, look unchanged apart from the buggy rendering which currently shows some of the first page’s elements superimposed over the top of the second. I’ve tried reporting it, but unfortunately KS bug reporting also has a bug in it… sort of.

The other bit I’d not seen before is the smiley and “backer favourite” tag directly under the name. Currently everyone seems to have it, which makes it meaningless. Perhaps we’ll see an explanation from KS at some stage.


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Having had several plans picked apart by events, and the subsequent unavailability of people and services, I’ve been looking at other options. What’s been most helpful in this regard has been the idea of building a plan that is less structured, or perhaps just more simply structured.

I needed to come up with a plan that would be less likely to need changing yet again. The need for repeated revisions has been very disruptive and has really got in the way of thinking clearly and creatively (though I did design most of a new game yesterday, so it’s not stopped me entirely). Simple and flexible has been the aim for this new plan. I’ve also been testing it with example use cases. Inventing further apocalypses to throw at it has been an entertainment.

In between iterations, I got side-tracked reading about creativity and productivity, which has been a worthwhile distraction. Then I delved into the numbers and research around coronavirus to try and understand what’s likely to happen going forward. To sum that up: we ain’t out of the woods yet, boys and girls. Not by a long chalk. And when we get back to “normal”, that may not be quite the normal we’re used to

Anyway, suffice to say that a little more research to check some specifics and I’m expecting to be back online shortly.

Wherever you are, stay safe, and I’ll see you soon.


Posted in Random Thoughts | 2 Comments

Strange Days

Well this is an unusual turn of events.

As both of you who read this may have noticed, I’ve been absent for a while, distracted by the collateral damage of the pandemic. Sorry about that.

Freelancing is not easy at the best of times and starting again is even less so. The various (suboptimal) measures that were (eventually) put in place to deal with the pandemic have basically screwed my previous plan entirely. Among other important things, too many people and companies I need to make it work are MIA for the foreseeable. So, I’ve been looking at what I can do in the shorter term to make a little money, because I still have bills and as someone who’s just gone back to freelancing, the government is providing sweet FA in terms of realistic support. This from “the party of business”. Still, they’re politicians, so you knew they were lying, right?

Anyway, I’ve been working on plan B, or C, or Z or wherever I’m up to now. Several cunning schemes have had to be abandoned as things continued to change and resources and options dwindled. In the end, I think I must expect to do everything myself and assume that few if any of the people and companies I would normally deal with behind the scenes are going to be available this year. Maybe ever. If they are, then that’s a bonus.

Exactly how this is going to pan out, I’m not sure. All of this is being done in unseemly haste and it is absolutely not the ideal situation to do creative work in. Still, let’s see what I can come up with.

For the moment, I’ll be posting in a less structured format, though I’ll aim to post something every week to keep you in the loop.

Wish me luck!

Posted in Random Thoughts | 6 Comments

Game Design: The Dreaded Roll and Move… Sort of

Some mechanics are considered weak, redundant, or just plain bad by most gamers, and leading the march of this sorry band is roll and move.

Roll and move does what it says on the tin. It’s simple, unsophisticated, and when I was a toddler it was great. Snakes and Ladders was fab when I spent most of my time trying to eat the pieces and couldn’t devote much effort to more sophisticated notions. But things have mostly moved on. Today I only rarely ingest gaming pieces, and I’m with the horde when it comes to militating against such agency-denying rules as roll-and-move. At least, as a general thing. But are they inherently bad? I’d say not.


A 19th century Indian Snakes and Ladders board from Wikimedia. I especially like the 7-headed horse at the top right. Sadly extinct now. 

Blast ’Em actually uses a sort of roll and move, and if I explain my thinking, perhaps you’ll see that even such outdated nonsense can sometimes be put to interesting use.

Blast ’Em has three kinds of movement. The first is called a step, and this is a freeform move of up to 2”. It is included in all other actions (including the movement ones) as a free extra, so you can always do a little positioning to hug that cover tighter, or just step around the corner, out of sight. It’s very easy to remember as you can always do it alongside any other action. No exceptions. Two inches doesn’t sound like much, but on a battlefield strewn with cover and line of sight blocking terrain, it can be critical. Indoors it gets even better. Also note that the Step can be taken either before the main action or after it, lending it even more flexibility.

The second type is a Sneaky Move. The third is a Fast Move, or Run. Both use the character’s Speed stat to determine a type of dice to roll. Sneaky Moves use 1 of those dice to generate a distance in inches; Fast rolls 3. I’ll ignore the other (important) differences between these movement types for now.

Using the character’s stat to give a range of variance means that overall, speedier characters go slightly further. Makes sense. Rolling more dice for a bigger average distance when you run rather than sneak also makes sense. But why roll dice at all? Can’t we safely assume that a given character could cover the ground between A and B in pretty much the same time every time they tried?

The randomness of the movement dice isn’t so much about the rate of movement of the character as about their sense of timing. In reality, the average variance in Speed is unlikely to be much. What the roll really reflects is part of the complex and rapidly changing environment of the skirmish and, especially, how alert the enemy are at that moment. Have they spotted the moving character quickly enough to react to them?

This could have been done as some form of alertness test for the enemy characters, but they’ve already been allocated chits and that covers some of the same ground. Also, by making it a roll by the active player, it raises the tension of the action and feels like they’re taking more than the dice into their hands when they decide to go for broke across that gap. The player has much of the same information as the character would: they know where the enemy are, and whether they’re distracted with other things or hunkered down waiting for them to make the dash. They can guess the distance to safety and calculate the risk of their move. Then they can choose whether to take it or not.

Obviously, the player and character are not in the same circumstance in most respects, but by giving them similar things to weigh up, the game can bring up a sliver of the same tension and excitement.

And that’s a good thing!

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World-Building: A Vast Zooniverse

As Douglas Adams tells us in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy:

“Space is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist, but that’s just peanuts to space.”

Science Fiction backgrounds often involve a fair chunk of this space stuff, but quite how much varies a lot. Some stories take place entirely on one planet or spaceship; others roam between the stars in great treks across the galaxy. There is no better or worse approach, just what suits the tale you need to tell.

Technology is the great limiter here. Technology and time. Technology because you aren’t going to travel between stars in a single lifespan unless you can either move very quickly or avoid dying for unnatural ages. Time here is a modifier, and lots of it will excuse poorer technology by letting you colonise the universe with generation ships and the like. Note that we never need to bother with the details or even the plausibility of our chosen tech if we don’t want to. Hard SF generally wants to know how things work and keep things credible, sure, but even there it’s guesswork. If hard SF authors really knew how to build warp engines, they’d be collecting Nobel prizes instead of writing stories.

For folk who want to write grand Space Operas, small-scale character pieces, or make games of any sort, the details of how the technology works can be skipped lightly over in the most cursory of fashions. Often, it’s enough just to say that the spaceships have warp engines (or whatever). The characters can move among the stars as they choose. Nuff said. Get on with the story/game/whatever.

It’s usually best to decide early on what works for your world (and I use “world” here to mean the whole universe, not a single planet). That saves you having to build great chunks late on or wasting your time with unnecessary work at the start.

For Blast ’Em!, we’re not talking about a lot of space as a percentage of what’s in the observable universe. However, from the viewpoint of you or me it’s still vast. How to deal with it all? The answer is partly discussed in Mind The Gap and What Not To Tell. However, there are other ways to help with the problem.

My intention is to fit all manner of aliens and planets into the game, which means that I need a lot of room. Blast ’Em! is not hard SF, it’s much more Space Opera-ish, in the manner of the games I mentioned before: countless planets and a star-spanning empire controlling them. But this is just a starting point and the very broadest of brushes. Unlike many, this Empire is neither evil nor entirely benign: it’s just the government of the day and they sit in the background doing the usual stupid stuff that governments do. For most people, on a daily scale, they’re not the main driver of events. Doubtless, tomsonn will tell me how dull that is, and if that were all there was to it then I might be inclined to agree. The interesting stuff is all smaller scale. However, that’s not what I wanted to talk about today or how you solve the problem of creating so much. I want to mention random tables.

The canvas for Blast ’Em! is so broad that I’ve no ability, intent, or expectation of ever filling it up in detail. I can go on forever describing new aliens and planets and never reach the end. Also, the universe is not a static thing and won’t wait for me to catch up. This is a good thing.

In order to deal with this scope, I’m planning to do what you have to. This is detail a small number of places and races to set stories in and act as characters within them and fudge the rest. However, this fudging will also come with a DIY section, and this is where the random tables come in. This is the clever bit: you don’t create the detail, you give the audience the tools to do it themselves. These tables will let you create your own worlds and creatures if you don’t want to wait for me to do it all.

Random tables and D100 silliness was always one of the most entertaining parts of (some of) the old games, and something I think would be sorely missed if it was left out. I feel that this encouragement of the audience’s creativity was very much more common and important in the old school games, and I rather miss it in most modern offerings where everything is done for you. Of course, I’m secretly glad stuff is done for me as I’m as lazy as the next triffid, but I still fondly remember many a happy hour rolling up characters, planets, and aliens so I’m determined to pass that fun along.

And finally, in the spirit of keeping the vibe and tweaking the odd detail, expect to see a bit of that sort of D100 playfulness during play too. Back in the day, these random tables tended to be used before games or after them rather than during, but it felt like too much of an opportunity to pass up.

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Illustration: Chicken Scratches

Over the last few weeks I’ve been getting back into drawing. Unsurprisingly, this plan, like all others, has needed modifying when it confronted reality. In this case, it’s the digital aspect. I thought that I’d be able to focus mostly on that, and there are good theoretical reasons to do so. However, two things have modified my approach.

The first thing is that I’ve swapped in the Old Skool Skirmish project, and it just doesn’t feel appropriate to do those illustrations digitally. Not to start with, anyway.

Secondly, I simply don’t enjoy making digital art as much as using traditional media. It’s just less fun. There are also some marks I can make and visual results I can get traditionally that I can’t find a way to do digitally. The opposite is also true, and working digitally has some really big upsides. There is definitely merit in being able to do both, and I think that I’ll eventually settle on a process which flits between them as needed for each project. For the moment, as I’m mostly working on the retro vibes of Blast ’Em!, I’ll be working traditionally.

As I haven’t done this for ages and have no idea where half my old kit is, it’s also been a nice excuse to buy some shiny new art stuff. Mostly this has been pens, as you can see.

Black and white

A variety of pens for drawing in black, white, and grey. 

I did get myself some water-based coloured pens too. Back in the day, I rather took to the American idea of “water media” rather than thinking of watercolours, inks, gouache, watercolour pencils, acrylics, etc as separate ways of working (how they’re usually taught). Thinking of them all as water media and combining them in the same pictures gives you all sorts of intriguing options. These pens looked like being another entry to that stable of water-based tools. I never got on half so well with oil-based paints or alcohol-based inks. Not sure why. Either way, I’m going with my strengths, so it’s back into the water for me J


All the colours of the rainbow and a few extra to boot. 

The chicken scratches of the title are me practicing making marks with the new pens. This is basic stuff, but absolutely vital if you’re going to make the marks you need when you need them. My rustiness betrays me here, so I’m keeping them to myself. It’s all simple enough to fix though. I just need to put in the hours to get my familiarity with them back. In the past I used to draw with technical pens. The new fineliners are a smooth replacement, and the brush pens are a joy to use. Looking forward to being able to do them justice.

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