I (Almost) Did a Thing

Gaming Means a Lot to Me, Part 4: Trying to Make My Own Games

I know, it seems like an obvious statement coming from someone who is typing an article for a gaming blog and also making videos about my miniature hobby efforts. This goes well beyond occupying my free time, and consuming as much of my disposable income as possible, like a good hobby is meant to. Through gaming, I found the opportunity to express myself,  found out who I am once I opened up and along the process, I found some lasting friends. 

In this article we are going to talk about many of the attempts to make my own game over the years.  

So, I have a problem. Well, let’s be honest, I have a minor yet broad collection of them, but for the sake of brevity for this article I will attempt to avoid most of them. The problem I want to discuss today is the nagging, gnawing sensation that exists in the back of my head when I am not creating. It’s like a low-grade but incessant migraine, or maybe like an alien parasite that is boring its way through my skull but is temporarily maulified by creative brainwaves… anyway…

The earliest instance of making what I would consider a game was in the later half of grade school, after witnessing Alien 3. That was a fateful movie; I would later realize it was the least amazing of the original three movies, and instantly fell in love with Aliens for multiple reasons (there is a whole article planned on the alien franchise and how I have obsessed with it over the years). Aliens introduced me to the Colonial Marines. That brought a whole new excitement level to my Lego building and I designed xenomorphs, outfit my own minifigs as marines, built my own APC for them to travel in and most importantly created multi-colored corridors for them to fight through. 

But that wasn’t enough, dammit. It was time to take the next step in my obsessive need to play out my own Colonial Marine fantasies: I would design industrial complex maps on graph paper. Even then I had an eye for game design without knowing it. I vaguely remember the rules I made myself. The marines moved 3 squares, and I would erase their old position and pencil in their new space with a triangle pointing in the direction they were looking and a letter in it to indicate which direction they were facing, for firing arcs. There was even a little diagram made to show what direction alien blood sprayed when they died. I can’t remember how I determined the rest of the game but I do recall having a whole pad of graph paper full of pen outlined corridors and pencil scribbles. Years later I would play Space Hulk and would see in it the play adventures I had with pencil xenomorphs.

After venturing into the early days of Magic: the Gathering in Junior High, I set about creating my own card game, non-collectible of course. On pieces of card stock I drew the outlines of the art boxes, put my own rules on them and promptly began ruining them by shuffling. Again, it was so long ago that I recall little, but I do remember that I disliked the lack of representation for the spellcaster you played as in Magic, other than the die or gems used for your hit points. So, my game had a rudimentary equipment system like my long running Diablo obsession. I know for a fact that I never finished the art on the cards, before I started a second card game that I also didn’t finish. That would become the story for all my endeavors, a legacy of almost making a thing. And then not doing so.  Sigh. 

For a while, running games of Dungeons and Dragons and Shadowrun in high school scratched the itch. I remember spreading books across my parents bed while watching their TV and making elaborate plans that my players managed to circumvent every time. Every. Fucking. Time. 

It took many years to master and I wouldn’t be good at it until well into college but I began focusing on the world, the setting, where my adventures would take place, instead of the exact story I wanted to tell; in a collaborative experience, you can guide, steer and maybe cajole your players to the point you want, but you couldn’t stop them from executing the character you needed them to talk to just because the chaotic character hadn’t been chaotic for a few minutes. Sigh again.

Freshman year I was located on the notorious dormitory floor; we had two FBI raids for drugs and one Secret Service incident about distributing pirated DVD movies online (I can neither confirm nor deny that I helped make some of those .avi files that a floor mate got in trouble for). That doesn’t even include local police action. Lucky for me, amongst all the carnage and excitement I met Ezra. He was also from Maine, listened to similar music and was hilarious to the extreme. The two of us hit it off pretty quickly and found we had other interests in common, gaming amongst them. 

Along with Ezra I would begin work on what would be my ideal (at the time) Dungeons and Dragons setting. Wizards of the Coast had recently begun publishing D&D, and I loved 3rd edition. Best of all, they introduced the Open Gaming License, which stipulated that you could create and publish material for use with Dungeons and Dragons as long as you did not override the need for the Dungeon Masters Guide and Players Handbook.

What started as a few creatures and abilities I created to put my friends through the adventures I in my head, swiftly took on a life of its own and then I titled the setting Autonoma. We would play in that world frequently and next thing I know I have a three-ring binder (yes, I am old) full. There were creatures, equipment, feats and spells that made the setting playable, and if we needed something we would create it and I would add it to the binder. More importantly, the binder started filling up with people, places and organizations that really brought the world to life.

A steam powered mech, because of course there is…
Also, steam powered horses, because those regular horses are boring…

Set in a steampunk world, Autonoma was the story of a world trying to modernize and forget its fantastic past by purging it through science and firepower. Magic was outlawed in the burgeoning cities, and simple firearms and steam powered war machines were being used to cleanse the free lands of the monsters and misunderstood races. We told stories of overcoming racism and hate groups. Adventures in Victorian era espionage and arcane archeology were super enjoyable.

Ezra and I got tired of one campaign,and decided that his character had been a double agent for the nasty dictatorship that was the target of the spycraft. This turned into one of my favorite nights of gaming. He got his character “killed” and then turned up to fight the rest of the group with an elite hit squad. The other players had a great time, and we used the tragedy of the situation as the basis to starting the next campaign. 

While working on Autonoma I also started writing micro-fiction to add a bit of flavor to the setting. I had learned this from my experience with Games Workshop books, as the boxes of fluff text in their rule books were used to make the setting compelling. At this time in my life I was working toward a bachelor’s in Graphic Design. It seemed only natural at the time for me to arrange the text, design a logo and print a book out. I wrote the little boxed out fiction bits to flesh out the setting when a little idea popped into my head. 

Over a decade later, I would meet up with a friend that I had lost contact with. Over that meal, he asked if I was still writing and was visibly disappointed to hear that I had not. That would spur me on again much later. But, graduation happened, we never got Autonoma to the post  that we wanted to, to try and publish it and eventually the open gaming license was rescinded. That became another game left unfinished. 

I went to school for Graphic Design; I had logos for all of my games… What?… Stop looking at me like that…

Kera and I moved to Boston after I was done with school, so that she could go to a liberal arts college. I recall driving her to class on the same day of each week, for her single one-hour class that day; the school was a twenty minute drive from our apartment so instead of the futile drive there and back, I would frequent a fast-food restaurant for a cheap breakfast and write in a notebook (again, old, I know). After a month or so, the spiral bound notebook was full of ideas and many of them were forming together.

A science fantasy setting burst into being within my mind, which went through a few name changes before I settled on Of gods and Mortals. That setting consumed my idle brain power for years. Several of my friends got involved in helping me craft galactic societies, alien species and an expansive and complicated cosmology. I even went so far as to create long-extinct galaxy-spanning societies just so I could name planetary ruins and ships lost in the void of space. 

I still have these printed playtest models. They haven’t held up as well as I had hoped.

Not too keen on adjusting my space fantasy setting to work with other existing rule-sets, I created my own. It was based on the idea that everyone should be kept busy, so that they could stay focused on the game, and so most every roll a player would make would be opposed by either another player or the person running the game. It was fun and engaging. I would also use it as a basis for a table-top wargame system, and even eventually simplified for complicated adventure board games. These were all planned as printable games, to be sold exclusively online. Print models, spend some arts-and-crafts time getting them together and there you have it, cheap models for an affordable game.

One year, I was a little more broke than usual and decided that since I hadn’t done anything with the URL I had spent money on for years for little to no reason, that I could let it go for a couple months. I’m sure you can see where this is going. As if reality hates me and wanted to prove it, that domain is now owned by someone who put vampire fan-fiction up or some shit. sigh.

As was mentioned before in my RPG article, Raidethe came about after crafting in my head an idea for a once off micro-campaign for a visiting friend. With only a few minor additions to the rules, we played this campaign with the 3.5 edition of Dungeons and Dragons and had a blast. So much so that I kept all the notes that I had put together and got to typing. One thing led to another and I found myself again with a setting taking on a life of its own.

Will Orr original: https://www.willorrart.com/

I had a cosmology complete with constellations named after ancient heroes, influencing the denizens of Raidethe, the broken world. The planet was fractured when one of its moons was annihilated by magic and fell towards it, breaking the surface and exposing the inner workings of the machine at the heart of the world. The broken layers of crust kept on revolving around the core of the world and came to be populated by the other intelligent races of the solar system, traveling between worlds through magic gates, instead of somehow evolving next to other intelligent species without getting wiped out.

Many years later Nate and I would be sitting bored at work and discussing who knows what. Somehow we got onto writing and we combined the ideas I had for Raidethe with the ideas he had come up with when he wrote. The addition of time related craziness made it even better than before and although my part of it was created well before I invented my own ruleset, I was able to port it over from D&D easily. And there it sits to this day, as a text document lost to time… But I am getting ahead of myself. Nate arrives in my life much later than this.

These are single spaced, double sided, laser printed books of stuff I invented for these games.

Just like several of these articles, in this case I stopped trying to make games (instead of playing games), more or less gave up really, and drowned myself in video games, and frequently with booze. I did whatever I needed to muffle that nagging need to create. Life was stressful, there were health issues, some adventures in unemployment. But, that need never went away. 

I made the attempt to resurrect Of Gods and Mortals a couple of times as a smaller scale project. Fooling myself for years, where I had thought that the need to create had laid dormant, it had, in fact, only worked in secret. More came spilling out of my skull. Metaphorically. Kera doesn’t usually hit me hard enough to produce blood. I digress. I enlisted help from Ryan; we were playing Warhammer Fantasy Battle at that point. It went through several renames as well, eventually settling on Otherverse (weird, huh?) but ultimately didn’t progress past a few brainstop sessions while fidgeting with the paper models I had built years before.

Playtest models for Cronin, his disembodied soul known as Spectre, and the other characters of the Revenant board game.

Revenant started as a comic idea, but I realized I can’t draw anymore and turned it into a D&D style board game so that I could tell the story I wanted to. That story being the adventures of a vampire hunter cursed with immortality and accompanied by his disembodied soul, which acted as the support character along with a half-vampire rogue and a big warrior that acted as the tank. The story took place over many years, and the immortal and half-vampire never aged, but the team tank was actually the descendants of the original, passing down his armor over the years, waiting for the moment when the Revenant screwed up and they would finally have permission to execute him. How pleasant.

The second act of the Second mission of the Playtest version of Revenant board game with placeholder art and models; it was super fun to play…

Nate, Ryan and I play tested this quite a bit, using placeholder art on paper models and board pieces. It was fun, complex enough to be interesting but simple enough to move along quickly and based on the rule-set I had crafted for Of Gods and Mortals, but toned down for ease of play. To make the game harder, after the story was played through, players would be able to move onto the Legend version of the game: effectively hard-mode. The order of mission, the side quests and random encounters between, and even the monsters within the missions would have a random element to them, making the told-by-the-fireside version of the Revenant’s story play out a little differently each time, with more opportunity to fail around every corner.

Over the years, I have gone back to these projects a few times. I try to go back  through the material, add and adjust, to see if I can get myself inspired once again. Most recently, I wrote a short story, having come to the conclusion that I would likely never get a chance to make a game out of the Of Gods and Mortals/Otherverse setting. And I enjoyed the amateur project, and kept going. Not a lot more was written, but I turned that short story into the intro for the story I was going to tell in the Soul Wars wargame set in the Of Gods and Mortals universe (and the end of the war would create the drama to set the RPG within). That story sits just as unfinished as everything else I have described above. 

The sad part is that this is just the games I got to the point where friends and I were able to play. I put a lot of thought into a post-cyberpunk setting where the government went bankrupt trying to pay back the corporations that supplied tech and material for WW3 and were given sovereignty over their own nation states, and cyber wizards used nano-technology to turn invisible, pass through walls and heal themselves. There was a game where angels and demons fought to consume the mortal citizens of our earth during the actual apocalypse, and leveled up mid game for consuming souls. Oh, and the setting where you played immortal Nephilim, otherwise known as fallen angels, through time in a sort of Highlander style battle to collect all of the memories and powers from before the Great Flood… 

Honestly, I could go on…

Will I ever finish any of these, or any other project for that matter? Maybe. Maybe not. The act of creation is the aspect that was and is fun. Also stress relieving, fulfilling, and that didn’t require a product as the end result. But, who knows; when I started this out, a “printable” game meant heavy weight paper through an inkjet printer now I have a resin 3D printer sitting dormant on my desk as I type this, so, really, the possibilities are endless and waiting for my friends and I to have some free time. 

Who wants to come over and play?

[This post was originally published at Otherverse Games & Hobbies]


Obsessive and neurotic collector of little plastic men, novels about the same little plastic men and paints to make the little plastic men pretty. Married to Kera, who puts up with him and pretends that she doesn’t hear him speaking to the little plastic men in between making pew pew noises in the hobby room. Requires adult supervision. A menace to himself but rarely to others. More beard than man

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