Saturday, December 27, 2014

My Year in Reading

40 books fell prone to my reading sword this year, and the most valiant beast, the best book I read in 2014, goes to Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. There wasn’t even a dispute, the race was clear-cut. RP1 was amazing. 

It’s the story of a massive treasure hunt that captivates the entire world and causes a resurgence of the pop culture and video games found in the 1980s. People wear bell-bottoms again, coin-operated arcade games are all the craze, and the main character Parzival has mastered them all. He’s watched every movie and TV show the 80s ever produced. He knows the lyrics to every song. He studies and studies again everything 80s. All of this just to have a chance at finding the first clue in the treasure hunt where the winner will inherit a vast fortune and gain ownership to the Oasis, a massively multiplayer online second life computer game that the world now lives within.
Ready Player One appealed to all of my gamer loves and ticks and even though I didn’t grow up in the 80s, reading about the culture and interests spawned respect for everything the author cared about and what he obviously wanted his readers to reminisce upon and re-live. In some ways I think I liked it more because everything was new, but I would love to read it for the first time again only as myself 10 years older and a boy that grew up in the 80s just to see and feel the nostalgia first hand. It was an excellent, fast, fun read – hands down the best book I read this year.
2014 also marks the momentous event of a series of books rising to the top to be crowned my Favorite Series of All Time. This title was previously held by The Sword of Truth books by Terry Goodkind. Since high school I’ve read them three times. I even have a tattoo of the sword on my calf, but there’s a new champ – The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher.
With 15 books competed and another 8 planned, this series is enormous, and I can’t wait to read every one of them. Harry Dresden is the only wizard in the yellow pages. He’s a consultant for the Chicago Police Department and a real practitioner of magic. These books are a rip roaring detective adventure through the seedy underbelly of Chicago and the magical realms found in all myth and fantasy. There are vampires, werewolves, faeries, thugs with guns, demons, angels, zombies, ghosts, Santa… everything fantasy you can ever think of wrapped up neatly in truly believable novels. They flow from one to the other. The characters and side characters grow and evolve as the story progresses. They gain new powers and trinkets and lose them three books later, but grow out of the whole experience. This series is so good that with all the books on my current need to read list, and my voracious want to consume all literature, I just picked up book one again to start them anew.
It’s been a great year and I’m excited to compile next year’s list.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

The Mind of a Wizard - An Elemental Explanation

          There are five elements in The Mind of a Wizard – Water, Fire, Earth, Air and Void. Each element has two other elements that it gets bonuses to combat rolls when fighting.

          The way these elements interact is detailed here:

          The Elemental Star is based off of Chinese Five Element Theory and Rock Paper Scissors Lizard Spock.

          Starting at Water, the arrows leading out point first to Fire (around the outside to the right) and second to Earth (through the middle). Fire then leads around to Earth and through to Air; Earth to Air and Void; Air to Void and Water; and Void to Water and Fire, completing the circle. Each arrow denotes which two elements the original has bonuses against.

          The explanation for why each element has the two bonuses is as follows: Water extinguishes Fire and erodes the Earth; Fire scorches the Earth and consumes Air; Earth stands strong in the Air and fills the Void; Air purifies the Void and manipulates Water (hurricanes); and Void corrupts Water and smothers Fire.

          The way this affects the game is during combat. Floor Tiles explored in the dungeon may have Monsters in them. Each monster had its own elemental type. The Hydra in the previous post is a Water Type. (There’s also Harpies that are Air Type or Fire Dragons etc…) Each element is represented equally in the Floor Tile Deck but you never know what tile is going to be drawn next.
Depending on the Monster Type drawn, Players will want to react by playing Spellbooks to buff their Spells and gain bonuses against the Monsters they are facing. Adding a Water Spellbook will give you bonuses against Fire and Earth Type Monsters or a Void Spellbook will gain bonuses against Water and Fire Types.

          The most common bonus is a “+2” to combat rolls using a d20 (A player rolls a dice and adds 2 to the outcome). It is very important to stack bonuses as the game progresses. The higher level a Monster is, the more Health Points it will have and the more bonuses you will need in order to kill it. With the ultimate goal being to kill a Boss Monster, basic knowledge of the elemental system in The Mind of a Wizard is essential to gameplay.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

The Mind of a Wizard - A Board Game

Who will be the strongest spell when you play inside The Mind of a Wizard?

3-5 Players
30-90 Minutes
Ages 12+
A Card Driven, Modular Dungeon Crawl with Dice Combat and a focus on Character Upgrades.

Game Overview:
Players compete against each other as magical spells inside of a Wizard’s Mind to see who can become the strongest spell. Spells grow stronger by defeating Monsters, collecting Treasure Chests and Augmenting themselves with magical Spellbooks that increase their power. The first player to defeat a Boss Monster wins the game and is chosen to be added to the Wizard’s Spellbook as his new amazing spell!

The Idea:
You literally play as a Spell while the Wizard (the game) creates a dungeon inside of his mind for his Spells to compete within. Gameplay centers on dungeon exploration and character upgrades.

The Character Upgrade portion of the game is my favorite part: You start off as a Spell (one of the base elements in The Mind of a Wizard - Fire, Water, Earth, Air or Void) and the goal is to upgrade yourself with Spellbooks that both increase your power and augment your name.

Example: I start off as "Fire", I play a Level 1 Spellbook "Storm" down on to the table next to my Spell effectively increasing its power in game, visually on the table and audibly when I cast it. My Fire Spell becomes a "Fire Storm" Spell.

As the game progresses you can tack on up to 6 Augmentations to create a spell like "The Moon's Floating Royal Void Ray of the Living Volcano". Each Augmentation has a different bonus in game and is essential to growing strong enough to defeat a Boss Monster and win the game.

This is the way that Spellbooks are played down in front of you.

Level 1s are addon words (Fire Blast / Earth Spike / Air Stream).
Level 2s are Dice Effects.
Level 3s are adjectives that can be placed on either side of the Spell Name.
Level 4s are nouns that can also be placed on both sides.

This gives the game a vast amount of Spell Names that can switch out and be played to gain the bonuses needed to defeat Monsters.

Card Design

Treasure Chest Cards
Floor Tile Cards

Early Playtest
Current Progress:
Today I printed full color cards on cardstock for more solid playtests.

I'm preparing to print a nice version on actual playing cards soon, but I want to playtest it a bit more.

My local game store has a game night that they invited me to test at and this new color version is more suited to their tastes.

The Rulebook is just missing an appendix of terms but all the basics are down and almost ready for blind playtests.

Overall, I'm very excited. It's been a fun adventure so far.

Jason Brown

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Downtown Mechanics

Part 1
Six Steps to Freedom

          Faryn wiped the back of her hand across her face. She managed to stop the sweat from dripping in her eyes but inadvertently caked more grease onto her forehead and cheeks. But she didn’t care. She was dirty; she was always dirty. Splotches of grime covered her from head to toe and her overalls were a well-worn black with a broken denim strap that was tied in a knot over her left shoulder.

          She dropped her arm to her side exhausted and let go of the giant wrench she was holding. It didn’t clatter on the ground, but vanished into thin air moments after she let it fall. She wiped her hands on her pants.

          “Marcus!” Faryn yelled, her voice echoing off the high shop walls. “I’m finished. I’m heading out.”

          From the other side of the workshop a gruff voice answered back. “You don’t wanna start it up?”

          “Nah, it should work. It was only a loose flywheel.” She kicked the large tire she had just replaced and a puff of dust lifted off of it. The tire was bigger than she was and looked strained under the weight of the massive machine it supported. “The new tire’s low on air too but our compression tanks are empty; can’t refill ‘em ‘til morning.”

          Faryn looked up through the grit-covered iron workings of the Clanker’s wheel well and saw Marcus’ dirt-stricken face pop out of the engine bay. He pulled himself out of a small hole and climbed to his feet, balancing on some piping with practiced ease. “Alright Fare, see you tomorrow.” He said giving her a thumbs-up.

          She reached out with her own hand and made a thumbs-up sign at him as well. Synchronously, they swung their arms inward and hit their thumbs-ups against their chest twice, reached back, and launched an air-high-five across the shop. When it figuratively met between them, they shouted in unison, “Chum-chum-heeey-yoh!” before ending the exchange with a celebratory fist-pump at their sides.

          “Yeah!” Faryn said as she turned to leave. “See ya, Em!”

          Faryn stopped at a stack of lockers on the way out. She slammed her hand against the chipped blue paint and hers opened up. Inside was an over-sized black trench coat that was so finely tailored with gold stitching and embroidery it might has well of been a suit jacket. It was finely pressed and Faryn wiped her hands on her overalls again for safe measure before taking the coat out and putting it on. It tied around her slender waist and fit perfectly. She removed a stained white bandana from her hair and tossed it into the locker. Her curly, blonde hair fell in a sweaty mess to her shoulders. 

          Oh god, she thought as she forcibly pulled her hair back into a pony tail. This’ll never pass.

          The nighttime air was hot and smelled of rotted garbage. The scent didn’t dissipate until she was six blocks away from the Downtown factories where the workshop was located. 

          As she crossed the metal bridge over the Trenton River the air cooled and a breeze tugged at the hem of her coat. Faryn lifted her head to the wind and closed her eyes, breathing in the relaxing touch it offered. She hated the East Side but she had to admit the air was definitely better than Downtown’s.

          At the end of the bridge she hopped over the railing and dropped a few feet to the sandy river bed. The water was clean here and she dipped her hands in washing away the grease. She couldn’t get it all, especially under her fingernails, but this was better than using the faucets at the shop where the water ran brown to start and never really faded to clear. After trying to wash her face as well, she turned and climbed up the slope of bushes back onto the road.

          Her house was the color of egg yolks, orange-yellow and shiny in the light of the streetlamps that shone off the slick, straight walls. It was boxy and curvy at the same time, sleek and uniform. There were no windows or embellishments and no door at the end of the grass-lined walkway that led up to her porch. But once she stood in front of the entrance, the glimmer of a door passed across her vision, an imprint that wasn’t really there even though she knew it was.

          Faryn brushed at her trench coat – flattening it out, making sure everything looked normal. She straightened her collar and pulled at her hair, which had dried on the walk home but still felt grimy to the touch.

          Finally, she took a deep breath and flicked her right hand out in front of her as if she was rolling dice. When her fingers fully extended, a flash of magical energy, invisible to the naked eye appeared in her hand and coalesced into an old-fashioned skeleton key. The key shimmered in magical light, a construct borne of her focused concentration.

          She held it up to the wall and a keyhole formed in the smooth metal. The door opened.

          Inside the house Faryn was greeted by a still darkness. She crossed the threshold cautiously. It appeared her parents had gone to bed already but she didn’t want to take any chances. If she was caught staying out so late again, she was going to get in trouble – let alone if her parents saw how she looked and discerned what she had been doing, playing with the Downtown Mechanics.

          The war was eminent. The D.T. Mechs had been steadily spreading since the Iron Revolution caused an onslaught of inventions that were both quick to build and cheap to run, industrializing Trenton’s infrastructure. Their boundaries now slashed the city from north to south, separating the East and West Magiques with a mechanical wasteland. It had taken years, but confrontations between both classes were at a high and the city was in turmoil.

          Faryn liked her magiques – the constructs she could create with her mind – but the mech was new, it was fun, exciting. She liked being dirty. She liked being free. The prim way the East and West lived caused her teeth to grind. They were too proper, too full of themselves. Ultimately, she wanted both.

          But the politics fled her mind once she reached the stairs without hearing a sound. The house was quiet. Each step across the marble foyer was taken lightly, carefully, and when she reached the red carpet that spiraled up the stairs, she relaxed, certain she’d be able to make it to her room without consequence.

          Six steps to freedom, her foot squished into the carpet. There was a shlop as she lifted up to the next stair. The carpet was saturated in liquid.

          What the hell? She thought as she stopped walking and crouched down to touch the carpet. Her fingers came away slick like oil.

          Faryn sat still for a quick moment listening to the house. It remained silent. Her breathing sped up. Something was wrong. She could feel it.

          She stood and continued up the stairs but at the landing her foot snagged and she tripped forward and stumbled over the top of a lifeless form.

          “Oh god!” she said as her hand grazed the blood-wet clothing.

          A shuffling of feet from down the hallway came running at her. She was trying to stand when a man careened into her knocking her backwards.

          “No! Please!” she screamed.

          He backed away from her and turned to run. The man’s hand brushed past a light switch as he jumped over the body and sprinted down the stairs. The room brightened immediately in a clean white light.

          The first thing Faryn saw were the dead eyes of her mother staring back at her from across the ground. Her breath caught and she crawled over to her franticly. The bloody carpet clawed at her hands and knees.

          With tears streaming in her eyes, she glanced down the staircase to see the back of a large man exiting through the magical door. He carried a rusty pipe in one hand and wore the dirty, overalls-uniform of the Clanker shop where she worked.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Experiment in Writing

          Bandits waited in the woods with their curved swords drawn. They peered through the foliage down the dirt road that led back into town. A wagon crested the distant hilltop driven by a young man wearing a feathered hat. It was rolling towards the trap.
* * *
          Jax wiped the sweat from his brow with the back of his hand.
          “Lee’anna, come out here, feel the sun.”
          “We just left town, Jax” a female voice responded from inside the wagon. “We were outside at the market all day.”
          “Yeah but, it’s so nice out!” He opened his eyes wide and tried to blink away the sweat. She didn’t respond but Bensen the donkey huffed. “That’a’boy Ben. See honey, he likes the sun. Come on out.”
          After a moment of shuffling, the roof-grate opened up behind Jax and Lee’anna climbed out. She stood atop the wooden wagon, riding out the bumps in the road with casual ease. She reached down and brushed off her purple-dyed pants and shirt.
          “That’a’girl! See Ben, I told you she’d come out.”
          “Oh hush, it’s hot as dicks out here.”
          “Language, babe. Come now, not in front of Ben.”
          “Sorry Ben.” Lee’anna said meekly. She jumped down and took a seat next to Jax where he held the reins loosely in his right hand, his left arm slung back over the bench lazily. Lee’anna raised one hand up to her eyebrows to block the sun and squinted down the road. “Well at least there’s some shade up ahead.”

* * *
          Menak pointed his sword across the road. With his left hand he made a series of hand gestures and his men silently climbed down from the trees and retreated a few steps back into the trees, fanning out. From the direction he was aiming his sword, a faint buzzing flitted through the air, wafting through the treetops, slowly getting louder.

* * *
          “I don’t like this.” Lee’anna said holding her hands up to cover both ears.
          Jax was sitting with a straight back and eyes that scanned the trees. “Ho, Bensen.” He said pulling on the reins and slowing the wagon. “I don’t either, but we’ve been through here a thousand times.”
          “Yeah, but it’s never been this loud.”
          “I know.”
          “What is it? I heard the ladies at Stitches and Needles talking about the wizard…”
          “I know, Lee’anna. Please be quiet.” Jax was silent for a minute, the creaks of the wagon somehow managing to pierce the incessant buzzing. “I say we just go for it.” he said looking over at her sitting beside him. She nodded, her mouth set firm but her eyes betraying fear. “Hold on. Let’s go, Bensen! Go! Go!” The donkey chugged forward.

* * *
          Menak sprang forward leading the charge out of the trees. His men screamed their battle cries as they surrounded the wagon.
          Out of the treetops above them all, a black cloud of dust particles cast a shifting shadow over the road. Its form was continuously changing and the buzzing seemed to crescendo with rage as it spotted the men on the ground.
          Menak jumped up on to the wagon’s helm and pulled at the couple sitting there with shocked expressions on their faces. He managed to get them down and to cover behind the wagon before the chaos began.
          In the sky, the black cloud descended towards the road. Its particles clumped together as they fell, writhing and twisting and breaking into giant, mismatched letters of the alphabet. The letters swirled around themselves and coalesced into words that attacked the men with swords, spelling out their onomatopoetic intent.


G L A N 
        C I N G
                B L O W !

          Menak’s men fought back, slicing through the words, valiantly trying to protect the wagon. A
              H managed to break through their defenses and shatter a wooden wheel to splinters.
          “Back men, back!” Menak shouted as he dragged the couple off the road and into the trees. “I’ve got them!” The men scrambled away, still swinging their swords through the air.
          From the shade of the trees, they watched the wagon get ripped apart.
          “Bensen! No!” Lee’anna shouted but the harness holding him was 
                                            D and the donkey ran in fear.
          “What is that thing?” Jax asked trembling.
          “It’s, it’s the experiment… in writing.”