Punching Harder, Harder to Punch

gp_rpg_logoWhenever a new book comes out for the Savage Worlds RPG, some of the first things I look for are the new Edges and Hindrances. These are the things that can make characters more interesting (“You can dodge chickens!” “You’re afraid of insurance salesmen!”) but also tie them more closely to the the genre or setting. (Just don’t ask me what genre dodges chickens and fears salesmen.)

So of course, as I continue to flesh out the details of the Ghost Punchers RPG, part of that process is coming up with a batch of fun Edges and Hindrances. While you could use them in any setting, I think they feel like they fit best with ghost-punching heroes. Here are a couple of each I’ve got so far:


Occult Bookshelf
While some ghost punchers dream of wood-paneled rooms filled with books of forbidden lore, those books are expensive and hard to find. Most such dreamers must content themselves with a much smaller selection of tomes. For every four hours they spend studying with their bookshelf, those with this Edge may add +2 to their Knowledge (Occult) or ghost-related Investigation rolls, to a maximum of +4.

Font of Trivial Knowledge
Some folks are the kings and queens of trivia night, and the undisputed champions of shouting correct answers at contestants on TV quiz shows. Heroes with this Edge add +2 to their Common Knowledge rolls.


Nightmares (Minor or Major)
Those who punch ghosts have seen some crazy, disturbing stuff—the sort of stuff that comes back to torment them when they’re trying to sleep. A hero who suffers freaky dreams as a minor Hindrance must make a Spirit roll each night when she sleeps. If she fails, she starts the next day with a Fatigue level that can only be removed by getting four hours of sleep. As a major Hindrance, the hero makes the Spirit roll at -2, and must make Vigor rolls during slow, tedious moments throughout the day to keep from falling asleep. (Fatigue levels from nightmares aren’t cumulative; no matter how many nights the hero fails the roll, she still only starts the day with a single Fatigue level.)

Queasy (Minor)
Some people don’t have the stomach for dealing with blood and gore. When a hero with this Hindrance makes a Fear check, he does so at a -2 penalty if the subject of the check is particularly gruesome. He’s also subject to violent nausea at the sight of such things, and must make a Vigor roll to keep his lunch down upon encountering them (even if it doesn’t require a Fear check).

Yes, there will be more where these came from. And yes, I’d love to hear your suggestions. Please add them in the comments (the sad little comment box that no one ever uses) or drop me a line on the Book of Faces or the twittery thing.

More One-Sheet Rules

hc_sampleAs you may recall, last week I offered up a collection of one-sheet rules for card games to serve as examples of “what has been done” for game designers and graphic designers looking to do their versions of such rules. This week, I’m updating that collection with an additional set of rules, provided by game designer and RV aficionado Seth Johnson.

Seth’s one-sheet rules are for HeroClix, rather than a trading card game, but since HC is a collectible miniatures game, its rules hit many of the same notes as it cad-based cousins. I’ve played my share of HeroClix, and I’m impressed they were able to fit the key rules onto a single page and still have that page look good. Thanks for the rules, Seth!

If you have or know about other, similar one-sheet rules files, please let me in the comments or on Twitter (where I skulk about as @HardyTales) and I’ll gladly add them to the list!

The Creator’s Dilemma

Yesterday I tweeted about what I termed “the creator’s dilemma,” which is this: We need to consume in order to create, but consuming doesn’t pay the bills.

To put a finer, more personal point on it: If I don’t take the time to play new games, read new books, and watch new (quality) movies and TV, the games and stories that I create will begin to suffer. If I don’t want my work to stagnate, I need to invest the time in refueling my creative reserves.

But time spent consuming is time not spent creating. Creating is how I get paid. I could take two hours and watch that movie, or I could draft a short story, which I can sell. I could take 200+ hours to play that that new video game, or I could work towards finishing this game design for which the client will pay me upon completion.

Yes, as one of my Twitter friends pointed out, every hour of consuming is an investment in higher-quality creating… but it’s hard to convince myself of that when the mortgage is due, the kids need braces, and the car’s back in the shop for brake repair. Sure, learning to master that hot new Euro game will make me a better game designer in the long run, but I need brake pads right now. Consuming might be an investment, but it feels like a guilt-inducing distraction.

But it’s not all whining and angst. As sometimes happens when we shout into the Twitter void, the void shouts back words of encouragement and helpful tips.

  • Daniel Solis tweeted that he has had success dividing his time between creating (during official work hours) and consuming. Jeff Tidball and Rachel Kahn seconded that idea, implying that by declaring evenings “after hours” they’re more able to watch, read, and play things without so much “should be working” anxiety.

  • Will Hindmarch offered a tip that I think will help trick my brain into letting me watch more on-screen entertainment: go ahead and watch that movie or TV show, but keep a notebook nearby to capture any “work-related” ideas inspired by what you’re watching, (or as is often my experience, jogged loose by zoning out while watching).

  • As a game designer for both digital and tabletop games, I’m constantly wracked with guilt over my lack of time spent playing games. Seth Johnson, a fellow game designer, has found a solution to this problem in game stores and cafes where you can sample a lot of games quickly. Podcasts and video reviews, as Daniel pointed out, are also great for getting you up to speed on the the new hotness without needing to coordinate the schedules of multiple players.

It was encouraging to hear from these creative professionals that I wasn’t the only one torn between the need to create and the need to consume. And it was even more encouraging to hear their strategies for balancing the two sides of the creative life. If you find yourself wrestling with the creator’s dilemma, I hope you’ll find this encouraging as well — and that if you’ve got your own strategies, you’ll pass them along so I can add them to the list.

Sample One-Sheet Card Rules

tcg_onesheetsAs I’ve mentioned before, I’m not a graphic designer. I can create InDesign styles and lay out a rulebook with the best of them, but when it comes to combining images and text in anything more attractive than a series of rectangles, I’m out of my depth. So when I started pondering how to lay out “quick-start” rules for a card game on a single sheet, I turned to the Internet to find samples of what other, real graphic designers had done.

My Google-fu isn’t as strong as some, but I found one-sheets for

  • Kaijudo
  • Cardfight Vanguard
  • Weiß Schwarz
  • Chaos, and
  • Wixoss. (No, I’d never heard of it either. I’m assuming it’s Japanese.)

Because I thought these might be useful to others looking for similar samples, I’ve taken the liberty of collecting them here, in a convenient 8 Mb zip file, for other real and would-be graphic designers to reference. Just my way of giving back to the games-making community.

(If you have other samples of such things, please drop the link in the comments below, and I’ll add them to the list!)

Prototyping Tip: Laying Out Cards

please stand by for new gameI’m not a graphic designer, but in the process of putting together game prototypes, I like to play with the tools of graphic designers and pretend I have more talent than I actually do. In the spirit of giving back, I’d like to share a couple tricks I’ve come across that might be useful to you, the game designer in the same position.

Turning Spreadsheets into Cards

When I discovered the “data merge” function in InDesign, it turned my card-prototyping upside down. With the power of this digital wizardry, you can dump the card data from a spreadsheet into an InDesign template, and the program will create all your cards for you.

I had to figure it out on my own, using help files and outdated tutorials, in a snow storm, while walking uphill, but you — You can learn these arcane secrets with a handy video tutorial from Daniel Solis (who actually IS a talented graphic designer, and a super-nice guy to boot).

Turning Pages into Sheets

If you use the technique described above, you CAN end up with nine cards per letter-sized page, in three rows of three cards, perfect for cutting out and sleeving for all your prototyping needs. However, depending on the project, you may have only one card per page, and each page the size of a card. This is great for sending to an actual printer… but how do you get them nine-up for your own printing and cutting?

First export the cards to PDF. (It’s under the File menu on InDesign.) Then open that PDF in Adobe Acrobat (not Reader).

If you want to print those cards nine-up right now, print the document, but under “Page Sizes and Handling” select “Multiple” and tell it to print 3 pages by 3 pages per sheet.

If you want to save the cards in this nine-up format, do the same thing, but select “Adobe PDF” as your printer. This creates a new PDF you can give to someone else to print. (Yes, you’re using Acrobat to “print to” PDF. Add your own Inception sound effects to taste.)

Like I said, I’m not a graphic designer. But if you find these tips helpful, please pass them along to the game prototyper in your life. If you have your own prototyping tips, please share them here, and we’ll all be a bit wiser.

Another Puncher Joins the Fight

gp_rpg_logoSince I’m counting down the days to my Thanksgaming session of the Ghost Punchers RPG this week, I’ve decided to share some of the player characters who will be dishing out spectral violence on Saturday. We’ve already met Monica Harper. Today, let’s meet some of her team.

Eva Valdez

Private investigator Eva Valdez thought she’d seen it all. Murder, corruption, a thousand different types of abuse—she’d seen so much evil while serving on the police force that it drove her to private practice. Investigating cheating spouses and insurance fraud offered lower stakes, but left fewer scars on her soul.

Two years ago, Eva realized she hadn’t seen everything the world had to offer. She was hired by a woman whose ex-husband was stalking her. He would sneak into the woman’s house while she was out, trash the place, and scrawl threatening messages on the walls. When Eva dug into the case, however, she discovered that the ex-husband had been dead for months. Nevertheless, she staked out her client’s house and watched as invisible hands tore up photo albums and smashed the good china. Eva confronted the ghost. She threatened him with an exorcist, and convinced him to leave his ex-wife in peace.

Exhilarated (and well-paid) by her victory, Eva studied ghosts and how to fight them. She expanded her services to include “weird” cases such as hauntings. Such cases are often more dangerous than normal, so she charges double. Her clients don’t seem to mind.

Business has been slow this season, so when Monica Harper—some trust fund brat dabbling in ghost-hunting—offered her a contract, Eva accepted. She’s not much of a team player, but for the right price and a just cause, she’ll wear the jersey. At least, until business picks up again.

Tyler and Tamika Sloane

Tyler and Tamika Sloane are twins. They grew up deep in the mountains, cut off from virtually everyone but their mother Eunice. Their whole lives, their mother has told them about the spirits that plague humanity, how to see them, and how to fight them. By the time they were 10, and forced by the government woman in the gray suit to go to public school, the two had seen their share of ghosts, and even fought one or two.

School was hard. The two worked to fit in, and even made friends. But when they told those friends about their experiences with the supernatural, the friends told their parents, and within six weeks the twins were in foster care and their mother was in jail for child endangerment. A year later, she was committed to a psychiatric facility. Tyler and Tamika became wards of the state.

Today, the twins are 22 and trying to find their place in the world. Their mother is out of the facility and under their care, but she’s not the woman she used to be. She was damaged in the psyche ward. She’s weak and forgetful and needs her children to look after her.

Tamika has learned to use her ghost-hunting abilities, along with some con artistry, to make a profit from both those who are haunted and those who are merely gullible. She uses the money to support her mother… and her brother.

Tyler took to drinking before dropping out of high school. He still drinks, but has his mother to take care of, so he keeps it under control while he helps his sister fight her clients’ ghosts for money. Tamika says he has a lot of anger and guilt issues. Tyler says she’s lucky she’s his sister or he’d smack her.

Normally, the twins wouldn’t have anything to do with a rich bimbo like Monica Harper. But when she talked about ghosts, she knew what she was talking about. And when she handed them an envelope of cash, she showed that she meant business. Mama still wouldn’t approve of her, but maybe Monica wasn’t such a bimbo after all.

Portraits in Punching: Monica Harper, Ghost Puncher

gp_rpg_logoThis week I’m writing up the player characters for the Ghost Punchers RPG I’ll be running at Thanksgaming on Saturday. Since the files are hot on my desktop, I thought I’d take this opportunity to share some of the characters who will be punching ghosts this weekend.

First up: Monica Harper!

Monica was born into money, and lots of it. She was a fourth generation trust fund rich kid, with no real responsibilities beyond picking out a killer outfit for next weekend’s party and making sure that her drug-fueled escapades didn’t embarrass her family too much.

All that changed when the pale, faceless man started appearing in her room at night. He never touched her. But he spoke to her. He told her she was a disgrace to her family, useless, nothing more than a cheap shiny trinket destined for the trash. Everyone knew it, he said, and was eagerly waiting for the day she’d just overdose and get it over with.

Exhausted by the ghost’s constant attacks, Monica spoke her family about it. “Oh yes, that’s your great-grandfather Horace,” they told her. “He’s horrible. He’s been haunting the family for decades.”

Monica set out to defeat Horace. She spent months studying the supernatural in general, and ghosts in particular. She stopped partying. She lost friends. Her family started to worry. But she was obsessed. Eventually, she discovered the secrets of seeing ghosts and fighting them on their own terms. The next time the pale man appeared, she was ready—and destroyed him.

Now Monica has dedicated herself and her money to helping others defeat their own ghosts. To this end, she’s tracked down others with her ghost-punching abilities and put together a team she calls the “Boo Busters.” No one else calls it that.

Come for the Punching, Stay for the Powerz

gp_rpg_logoWhile I’ve written about the power that ghost punchers can have in the Ghost Punchers RPG, I haven’t actually updated that list (if you can call something with two entries a “list”) since the latest round of playtesting. Since I’m putting all this stuff together for Thanksgaming next month anyway, I figure I might as well share some of the new and updated powers here for your entertainment and edification.

(I should point out that the skill associated with these power is Spirit Medium. Because that comes up.)


Enchanted Fist
Power Points: 3
Range: Self
Duration: 1 hour (1/hour)
On a success, the hero can harm spiritual entities (like, say, ghosts) with her bare hands as if the entity were not spiritual. On a raise, the hero does +1d6 damage to any spiritual targets she hits during the duration of the power.


Power Points: 3
Range: Touch
Duration: Instant
By using this power, the medium devours a ghost’s Essence and charges up her own powers. To use this power, the user makes an opposed Spirit Medium roll against the target ghost’s Spirit. On a success, the medium gain 1d6+1 Power Points. On a raise (or if the ghost has an Essence token), the medium gains 1d8+2 instead, the ghost takes a wound, and the ghost loses its Essence token if it has one. The draining rolls can’t ace, but if the ghost has an Essence Pool, the values of these rolls are subtracted from the ghost’s pool.


Ghost Shell
Power Points: 1
Range: Self
Duration: 2 (1/round)
This power creates a mystic aura that surrounds the medium, protecting her from ghostly attacks. Success gives the medium +2 Armor against attacks from spiritual entities; a raise gives her +4 Armor instead. (Note that this Armor does not help against attacks made in the physical world.)


Power Points: 2
Range: Special
Duration: 1 (1/round)
This power allows the medium to sense ghosts around him, even if they are outside his line of sight. On a successful roll, the medium knows the direction and proximity of all ghosts in range. The range is determined by the medium’s roll.
Roll   Range
4        Smarts x2
6        Smarts x3
8+     Smarts x4

Faster, Ghost Puncher! Punch! Punch!

gp_rpg_logoThe Savage Worlds RPG bills itself as “Fast, Furious, Fun” and mostly fulfills this promise. But when you (okay, when I) start tinkering with new systems for the game, it’s easy to get caught up in clever mechanical ideas that work but aren’t sufficiently fast, furious, or fun in actual play.

I ran into this when I ran my Ghost Punchers RPG at Tacticon earlier this year. Specifically, the idea that ghosts’ powers are fueled by Essence, which they gain by draining life force from humans, failed the “3F” test. It was just too much bookkeeping. At one point, I had a dozen ghosts on the table; there was no way I was going to track Essence for each of them. So I ended up ignoring Essence altogether.

RPG design pro-tip: No matter how elegant a rule looks on paper, if you end up ignoring it in actual play, that sucker needs work.

Now, I still really like how Essence works in the storyworld of Ghost Punchers. But as an aspect of the RPG, it needs to be simpler and more abstract. The main way I’m doing that is by getting rid of ghosts’ Essence pool.

Ghosts in the game now either have an Essence or they don’t. This is easy to track at the table via tokens, the same way as we track whether or not a character is Shaken. If a ghost has an Essence, it has a token. When it spends the Essence, it loses the token.

This changes ghost abilities a little bit:

  • Spiritual: As creatures of spirit, ghosts can pass through solid objects and can’t be harmed by physical attacks. However, this means they can’t affect physical objects (or people) unless they make a Spirit roll or spend 1 Essence to do so. When a ghost spends an Essence to cross over to the physical world, it remains physical until it chooses to cross back on its turn. Ghost are also invisible unless they allow themselves to be seen.
  • Essence Burn: When making a trait roll, a ghost may spend a point of Essence to roll an additional 1d6. (This is similar to, but not the same as, a Wild Die.)*
  • Essence Drain: By winning an opposed Spirit roll against a human in melee range, a ghost gains a point of Essence and the victim takes a point of Fatigue. A ghost that has a point of Essence can’t gain another point, but can still use this ability to inflict points of Fatigue.

(* No, this hasn’t actually changed. But restricting ghosts to one Essence makes it play differently than it did before.)

Of course, if I want a big boss ghost to have a pool of Essence, I still can. I just give it the ability “Essence Pool” which says it starts play with X amount of Essence and can drain up to its pool.

It’s a small change, but should make the game play faster. We’ll see just how much faster when I run it next month at the Thanksgaming charity event.

Manifest Destiny… of Blood!

gp_rpg_logoAs I start preparing for my upcoming charity Ghost Punchers RPG session, it occurs to me that while I’ve discussed game systems that model much of the traditional haunted house experience, we’re still missing the mood-setting bits of horror that don’t actually attack you, but still scared the 2d10 out of you.

I’m talking about stuff like bleeding walls, the sounds of rattling chains, laughing stuffed moose heads, fortune cookies sprouting spider legs and skittering away off your plate. Creepy, startling stuff that might require a fear check… but isn’t a ghost itself.

These things are manifestations. They are, essentially, temporary illusions. The blood on the wall won’t stain your shirt, for example, and the fortune cookies lose their legs the moment you look away. Some of the illusions can actually hurt you (the fortune-spiders bite if you touch them), so it’s never safe to ignore them. Such wounds are usually also temporary, however. (In Savage Worlds game terms, they inflict Fatigue rather than Wounds.)

Manifestations are created by ghosts, either consciously or unconsciously, usually to help scare people. Creating and maintaining them costs the ghost Essence… though during an adventure, I wouldn’t worry about the economy of the thing unless it’s a plot point.

As a Game Master populating your haunted house, manifestations are your ticket to create whatever creepy wackiness you want to include. (For example, in my Tacticon game, I had a room in a mansion that was overlaid by an illusion of a forest at midnight, with a crashed car in the midst of the trees. When the characters got too close, the car came to life and chased them around the house.)

I’ve mentioned before that a Ghost Punchers adventure is a dungeon crawl in a haunted house. If the haunted house is a dungeon, and the ghosts are monsters to fight, then you can think of manifestations as traps: challenges that require courage and quick thinking, and can’t be overcome with pure violence.