By - April 22, 2014 - Leave a comment

Behind the Gear-spun Curtain: A Purely Steampunk Look at Game Design »

Pure Steam logoThere’s a collective sigh of relief and that figurative, though often literal, fist-pump when you’ve hit a milestone creating something you love. That’s how we at ICOSA Entertainment felt when we finally shipped our initial RPG offering, the Pure Steam™ Campaign Setting. But the holiday pounds were already melting away as our feverish brains began plotting our next venture.

By the end of January, we already had a solid plan for the year: a 128-page western expansion supplement complete with everything from “gunslinging paladin cowboys” and “radical old world magocracies” populating the desert, to “hobgoblin cattle rustlers” and “competing nations’ rail-sped races” to crisscross the continent. It’s a lot to digest, and our problem was clear: how to streamline our development process even more without stifling creative impulses. And as for content generation—what to use and why—we developed a few approaches that we found helpful.

Modeling and organizing information into nested categories is a must. We started by identifying how we wanted to move forward with the four “wards”: Downward, Seaward, Skyward, and Westward—titles for each projected work load. Rather than assign each to a single member, we tackled them as a team; avoiding what I like to call the pride and gluttony of cool ideas. Sometimes, we’re so taken with an idea we stop developing new ones to compare it against. That, or we have so many cool ideas we try developing them all at once without great effect.

Next, we installed two categories for each work load by which to model our ideas before completion: “Brainstorming,” and “In Development.” Brainstorming is where we shotgunned our ideas onto the page, and In Development is where we took those scattered thoughts and found them homes in prefab layouts we designed using Google Drive (a vast improvement in time and effort as we had struggled with file sharing compatibility across systems). We tempered the shotgun spread of ideas with weekly summaries which identified priorities and general progress. Abiding this structure, we were free to alternately bounce between items and focus intently on them without succumbing to the pride and gluttony of cool ideas.

Earlier still, we had each other answer key questionnaires about the origins, relationships, economies, and outlooks of the people and places we were going to detail. We each came at this from a different angle, even irrespective of precedent or game rules. This gave us the creative freedom to develop a region, race, or technical or magical tradition along its own lines first, only later would it naturally or necessarily intersect with the rest. Ultimately, we found this gave our material a more organic feel, with cultures and technology from disparate parts of the world that felt truly unique rather than reverse engineered to fit the previous.

Assigning thematic overtures helps you stay on point when world-building. What are thematic overtures? They’re basically simple phrasing, like mission statements or slogans, that act as guiding principles. Example: “the pious human nation of Rausch opposes the libertine nation of Mazan.” We always planned to introduce the holy nation of Rausch, and already knew that Mazan was the fertile crescent of humanity, but had yet to reconcile the two. The above theme put it all into perspective. Now we could suppose that Rausch had broken away from Mazan in the past over moral disagreement about Mazan’s practices. Also, this provided a convenient means to divide the nations on fundamentals like class (clerical vs. druidic), and practice (Rausch reluctant to use nature/magic to alter the body vs. Mazan thoroughly embracing it).

> And finally: Let your thematic decisions dictate how to apply your genre. Our genre is steampunk, with its reliance on science over magic. By sticking to the above theme, Rausch, and its focus on bodily purity, became a pioneer in advanced medicine. And how might it have carved out and protected its holy realm without developing sanctified firearms for its paladin marshals to wield? Mazan’s focus became augmenting the body through alchemy and animal body grafts; partnering with nature rather than defending against it. Thus, our genre shines through in original ways, saving us from applying a vanilla steampunk veneer to everything.

I’m reminded of what we said last year: “Limit yourself.” It’s easy to overwrite a thing, be it an RPG or an article about one :-P. The limited approach is the balanced approach, and that’s the point here. A game product will always be better off the more balanced it is, in the game mechanics or in the lore behind it.


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By - April 18, 2014 - 5 Comments

Pen & Pixels Intro »


My name is Marc Radle. I’m a professional graphic artist / designer by trade. I also do a fair amount of freelance writing, game design, graphic design and illustration for a number of RPG companies. In addition, I’m the Art Director for Kobold Press.

I started playing D&D as a kid in the mid to late 70’s – good ol’ First Edition AD&D! We also played many other RPGs back then … Marvel Superheroes, Champions, Elfquest, FASA’s Star Trek, Star Frontiers, the list goes on … but it always came back to AD&D for us! I kind of faded out of gaming around the time 2nd Edition came out – mainly because most of my gaming friends turned into grown ups when I wasn’t looking and moved away but also because 2nd Edition just didn’t quite do it for me (although I did play it a little and there were aspects that I did like).

Third edition really pulled me back in though and the Pathfinder RPG has made things even better!

Back in the mid-nineties, I worked with Last Unicorn Games as an illustrator, graphic designer and ‘online guy’. LUG created and published games such as the ARIA: Canticle of the Monomyth RPG, HERESY: Kingdom Come CCG and, later, the Star Trek RPG and Dune RPG

More recently, I’ve written RPG material for companies like Kobold Press (New Paths Compendium, Advanced Races: Lamia); Super Genius Games (the Vanguard class, Exalted Domains, Cavaliers’ Orders, Krazy Kragnar’s Magic Staff Emporium); Raging Swan Press (The Sunken Pyramid, Lizardfolk of the Dragon Fang) and Purple Duck Games (Legendary Shields and Legendary Armor) just to name a few.

I’ve done the layout and graphic design for products like Deep Magic, New Paths Compendium, Midgard Tales and The Midgard Bestiary (Kobold Press)

I’ve also provided countless illustrations for companies like Kobold Press and Kobold Quarterly Magazine, Frog God Games, Raging Swan Press, Super Genius Games, 4 Winds Fantasy, Purple Duck Games, Black Blade Publishing and Last Unicorn Games.

Each week I’ll be taking a look at a piece from my portfolio, explaining both the brainstorming and the backstory.  Then I’ll be sending the original art piece to a new home: the DungeonMastering reader (maybe you) who posts the Coolest Comment about it.  The judge will be Yours Truly, and the Coolest Comment may be something serious or funny or insightful.  The winner will be announced at the end of the next article in the planned 20+ Pen & Pixels series, which we plan on coming out the following week.  Each week’s winner will then have the art safely mailed out to them, and if you like, I can also sign it to you or to someone else if it’s a gift.

So that’s the big news- post here if you have any questions or thoughts.  And we’ll see you next week with the inaugural column!

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By - April 14, 2014 - Leave a comment

Combat Description Cards are coming! »

Combat Description Cards for Storytellers and GMs

Combat Description Cards: replacing numbers with excitement!

I’m a long-time gamer. Over the years, I’ve sat at a lot of gaming tables, as both a player and gamemaster. And if there’s one thing I’ve come to realize it’s that combat is a lot better when it’s vivid and descriptive, rather than being just, “You hit for 17 points of damage.”

But all too often, rote statements of numbers is what we get.

I’d been wanting to tackle that issue for some time, and I’d been kicking around the idea of having some kind of list ready-to-hand that people could consult whenever they needed something interesting and fresh to say during a combat.

There was one major issue, though. How do you get the words to people in a quick and simple manner that doesn’t involve consulting books and lists? How do you get those words to them in a way that doesn’t break the flow of ideas?

Then I had an epiphany – cards. Quick, simple, ready-to-hand, and with just a touch of randomness to keep things always fresh and new. And thus Combat Description Cards was born.

Combat Description Cards are born

However, “cards”, that’s just a concept. The concept still had to be made to work. And to that end, I called up Rafal Dorsz and AJ Kenning, the artist and the writer who both did such great work for me on Conflict PvP: Tactics and Tournaments.

Together we started hammering out the shape and format the cards were going to have. There were a few key elements that were always at the forefront of our discussions.

1) The cards had to be system neutral, ready to be used for use in any game or story that people wanted to use them for

2) People had to be able to grab just the sort of word they wanted as quickly as possible, so as not to disrupt the flow of their thoughts

3) The words and phrases we used would have to be adaptable to any creature or battleground that might occur, from a historical medieval battlefield to a battle in the sky between two giant oozes

There were a lot of great ideas produced in those sessions, and I hope to be able to make use of all of them. Eventually, we settled on the format for the Combat Description Cards, and then it was time to actually make the cards. However, I wanted to do a truly professional print run.

And that is what brought us to Kickstarter.

We have been blessed by the initial response to the project, and we are really thankful for the support people have shown for our ideas so far. We smashed through stretch goal after stretch goal, such as increasing not only the number of the cards (to 120), the size of the cards (they’ll now be as large as Tarot cards), and have been able to get thicker cardstock with a protective coating. In fact, we unlocked so many that we had to add Tier 1 and Tier 2 Stretch Goals.  Oh- there’s also going to be a Web App + API with an offline App possibly coming.  More on that later. 

 So every backer benefits from our stretch goal as the increased content will be added to the PDF and writer’s grid/screen, all across the board.

Cards of Ill Intent:

STRETCH 2 ($17,000) Cards of Ill Intent- UNLOCKED!

In the base CDC deck, there are a large number of vivid action words to describe combat. However, we left words out because they conveyed nefariousness. For example, we didn’t want to a character filled with goodness to be described by the Storyteller as murderous. Instead, we ended up with a separate list of these strong words.

But sometimes a Storyteller needs to describe the attacks of the bad folk, or even of player characters who aren’t so good themselves. And that is where the ‘Cards of Ill Intent’ comes in – a booster pack that are much like the set of regular Combat Description Cards, but that have action words to describe all of the cold-hearted and murderous bastards out there.

In addition to this booster, we also Unlocked packs for:

  • ‘Character Expressions’
  • ‘Environments: Smells & Sounds’
  • ‘Pain!’
  • ‘Environments: The Labyrinth’
  • ‘Character Distinctions’

All of these booster cards will be included on the PDF, the Web App, and, if raise a little more, included in a native App so it all can be accessed offline.  How cool is that?

Combat Description Cards for Storytellers and GMs

For more information on all this please check us out on Kickstarter. 
For more on Conflict Games, visit

But hurry- the drive ends Wed, Apr 16 2014 12:10 AM EDT.


Mark M. Scott

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By - April 9, 2014 - 2 Comments

A Quick Guide to Convention One-Shots »

After a millennia or two (in game time, of course) I’m back with a few tips and tricks to share with you guys. For this article I’ve chosen to start with a topic that has recently become particularly important to me: Constructing a one-shot. As “resident DM” of my local game group, I’ve been running a number of one-shots lately, and this past February I found myself signed up to run three games at my local Gaming Convention. Planning and preparing for a single game for either a con or just your friends can be a bit stressful, and difficult to begin. There are two major questions I’ll be answering in this article: “How long should the one-shot be?”  and “can I do anything other than combat?” So, without further ado, let’s jump in!


What’s the Time?

Sad as it might be, you generally can’t expect players to want to sit down for more than three hours for a one-shot. Now, obviously this isn’t always true. For groups of dedicated players or friends a game running four to five hours, or even more, can run smoothly without more than the average number of distractions. However, most conventions only schedule you for 3 hour slots, and it’s always best to aim low — that way you can always go over, if you need to. So, for this guide we’re going to assume that you’re planning your game to be three hours long. It’s a solid amount of time that can give you space for more than enough gameplay without dragging things out too far.


Two hours down, four kobolds dead.

Dungeons and Dragons is not famous for its fast and light combat system. Because of this, I tend to try to avoid too much combat in any session of a game — this is especially important for a one-shot. If you’re running a hack-n-slash or a dungeon crawl, that’s one thing, but the element that’s going to get players to walk away wanting more and more is the immersion that you can provide as a DM. Why are your characters doing what they’re doing? What resolution can you offer them? These are the first questions you should be answering when you write out a game. When creating any one-shot I usually like to break it up like this:

  • 1 and a half hours: Introductions, Getting acquainted with the characters, settling down, and interlude. Here you provide them with the setting, the quest, and maybe a little roleplaying and puzzle-solving. One or two minor combats in this section wouldn’t be a terrible idea.

  • 1 hour: Boss Fight. You should set out a solid hour for the big fight at the end of the session. The system takes a fair amount of time to get through tougher fights, and if your boss is satisfying it should definitely not go by in a flash.

  • Half an Hour: The Resolution. Here the players revel in their triumph, they take their treasures, and they return home. If they were sent on a mission, this is also the time to have them return to their employers, and to be given a solid conclusion.


Hopefully this helps when you’re sitting down, getting ready for your next convention. Stay tuned: Next Week we’re talk treasure!


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By - April 2, 2014 - Leave a comment has a new owner that we admit you’ll think is ‘Evil’ »


It is admittedly with a heavy heart that we must report to our loyal readers that this site has been taken over by a bloated foreign entity.  Although this outsider is personally familiar with Dungeons & Dragons, he was NOT happy with the way DMing’s readers made fun of him in an article from 2008, & after being demonized, planned his revenge.  This Supra genius plot was to seize command of this site so he can now lord over us like the rest of his unfeeling followers.  Being actual royalty provided enough resources (P, S, T & U) to do this.  They wand to introduce themselves personally to you guys but the commute for them is literally abyssmal so we’re just goating to use their Facebook profile.

Happy Belated April Fools Everyone.  Now that you’ve read the punchline, see how many jokes/puns are layered in the press release.  (Hint: it’s not 666)

And here’s a link to the comments of the article where a lot of people ruthlessly mocked ‘our new owner.’

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By - March 27, 2014 - Leave a comment

Behind the Gear-spun Curtain: A Purely Steampunk Look at Game Design »

Pure Steam logoHey all! B’omarr Punk (Adam), creator of Pure Steam here. This article was intended to be a wrap to our series from last year: “I am become designer, creator of worlds!” Instead, it serves as the new start of a series we like to call, “Behind the Gear-spun Curtain: A Purely Steampunk Look at Game Design.”

I agree that there is a dark feeling that hits us when we think of mixing art and business. We’d like our games, movies, and music to be pure, unadulterated acts of creativity. But let’s be honest. You may say you just want to design games for the love of it, but ultimately you want to make money doing it. As a GM, you’re already designing worlds, house rules, characters, plot hooks, and the like. If you could make a living churning out these gems and quit your day job, it’d be the life, right? As my favorite clown once said, “If you’re good at something, never do it for free.”

With that out of the way, here are the three main things I tell people when they ask me how to approach the business side of game design.

1) Assess yourself, fill the gaps

Pure Steam was originally my brain child, but it took a few other minds to turn it into a reality. Assess your strengths and weaknesses. Find people to fill your skill gaps. When we started development of Pure Steam, I was nearing the end of my MBA studies, and had nearly a decade of business experience, so I knew I could handle the nuts and bolts of the business. But I knew I needed help, because I was working and studying full time and I had my family.

LanJemWezz expressed interest in providing some core concepts, and I needed his writing skills (skills which are apparent on this site). My lead developer, SellSword2587 (Brennan), and I met through mutual friends, and he had game design schooling; I knew I needed him to crunch the numbers and make the game “work.” GrimGrin (Davin) had already self-published tons of steampunk rules for tabletop RPGs online, and I wanted to call on his extensive knowledge of all things steam. (He has turned into a veritable content factory.) SoftServo (Ben) was enlisted to compose our soundtrack and was a great resource for copyediting and style management. For artwork, we used freelancers, such as the wonderfully talented Mates Laurentiu.

2) Learn the market, find a niche

I started with an idea for a campaign, and every time I shared it with people, they pushed me to publish it so they could play it, too. I was reaching the part of my MBA which required me to produce business and marketing plans, so I thought I’d do the hypothetical “what-if” on my dream game company. My research led to the realization that there was a cycle to all major genres (zombies, ninjas, etc.) and steampunk was about to explode. If I were going to actually publish Pure Steam, it would need to be soon. We put a hold on the other product we were looking to develop, with plans to develop our steampunk game while it made market sense.

There were already several indie steampunk RPGs, and most of the feedback I gleaned on them was that the major turn off for gamers was learning a new game system to enter the genre. We figured creating a campaign setting for Pathfinder® using Paizo’s compatibility license was a more marketable solution, and it turns out to have been a good call. Pathfinder is one of the widest-played tabletop RPGs in production, and lots of those gamers want to add some steam to their game. So, if you have a great game idea, do some homework on the market as far as when and how to market it best.

3) Pick a business structure, fund your dream

We had the game idea and we had the team, but we needed a way to make it a reality. Printing books and paying artists isn’t cheap. I’ve been in business enough to know that without a written document, even the best laid agreements can go bad. So, we developed an LLC and each team member had a percentage of ownership instead of up-front payment for developing. We used an easy online legal service to codify our agreement. There are other ways to set up your business, depending on how you want to file your taxes and whether you’re going it alone or with partners, but one thing is for certain: put everything in writing.

The next step was to pay for the darn thing. I’ll share a little tidbit from every entrepreneurship class I was forced to take in school: the least attractive method to funding your startup is a loan. The most attractive is to get someone else to pay for it. But, we couldn’t exactly go on Shark Tank with an idea for a tabletop RPG campaign setting; they wouldn’t bite. Kickstarter was suggested by countless people, and it worked for us. We presented our idea to the world and in exchange for helping fund our dream, we rewarded our backers with rewards such as copies of the game and being written in as an NPC. Crowd-funding seems the best way to go right now for an indie game designer.

So, to recap, that’s assess yourself and fill the gaps, learn the market and find a niche, and pick a business structure to fund your dream. The gaming world’s out there with all sorts of needs that are waiting to be satisfied. Go find yourself an itch to scratch!

(And while you’re looking, don’t forget to check us out at or on Facebook and Twitter @PureSteamRPG. You can also find our products at these fine web locations:,,

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By - March 17, 2014 - Leave a comment

D&D Blog Hop: Day 28 »

What is the single most important lesson you’ve learned from playing Dungeons & Dragons?

Teamwork. Teamwork. Teamwork.

As both a player and as a DM I’ve come to realize that Dungeons & Dragons is a wonderful social experience that requires teamwork. Sure, characters need to work together and most parties are made up of various characters that have complementary skills and abilities. But it’s the players’ collaboration that makes D&D so enjoyable. When a player or two are out of sync with the rest of the group it can become an uncomfortable and tedious experience. When everybody shares similar expectations and knowledge of each other person’s roleplaying strengths and weaknesses the table can really come together as a cohesive unit that leads to a more enjoyable experience for everyone to game within.

As a DM I’ve changed my perspective in terms of the DM – Player relationship. It’s not “me vs. them”, it’s “us working together”. The goal is to create an entertaining and epic story together, not for my NPC’s and BBEG’s to thrash the PC’s. That adversarial mindset leads to frustration and bitterness on both sides of the screen. Soon I’m frustrated that the encounter did not go exactly as I had planned and I blame them, the players. Or if the encounter leads to a PC’s death the player might blame me, the DM. I want a player to celebrate a character’s death like she would a victory over the BBEG. Around our gaming table most of us agree that the only way to really “win” Dungeons & Dragons is to do something completely epic. And an epic death is at the top of that list of ways to do something epic.

Besides, in the midst of work, family, and everything else it’s comforting to know that there is a group of people that enjoy the same thing and (hopefully) come to grow in relationship enough to become good caring friends. Roleplaying is a wonderful hobby and D&D has been a great game for these last 40 years, but at the end of the session, when the dice are stored in their bags and the character sheets are put in folders… am I a better person? I believe that the teamwork that D&D inspires and encourages makes me a better husband, father, friend, and person. That is why I wish to share this game with my sons. They may not play into adulthood, but for all the positives that I find in playing D&D – being a good person open to helping and working collaboratively with others is on the top of my hopes for them

Good gaming, and thanks for reading along on this 40th anniversary blog hop.

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By - March 11, 2014 - 1 Comment

D&D Blog Hop: Day 27 »

dnd40hopbadgeDay 27: If you had to do it all over again, would you do anything different when you first started gaming?

As I’m pretty happy with my roleplaying and am still enjoying the hobby my immediate response is no. I was so young when I started I’m not really sure how I could have really done anything differently so nothing in particular really stands out that I regret.

There are a few things on my personal gamer bucket list though. We wrote about the “RPG Bucket List” a while back if you haven’t read it, check it out and add your two coppers.

  • Worked harder and earlier on getting published. In my last post I wrote about an experience I had trying to get one of my adventures published. I liked the challenge and I would still like to be published with my name on the byline of an adventure or sourcebook. But if I had tried earlier and more often I’d have even more experience under my belt.
  •  Attended more conventions, especially the big ones. My local (and little) convention experiences have been fun. But the sheer scale of GenCon Indy or Origens would have allowed me even more experience with new games and game designers.
  •  Met more gaming celebrities. My one gaming celebrity experience that I’ve had was being invited to a private one-shot adventure DM’ed by Keith Baker, the creator of the Eberron campaign setting, and kind of a big deal in the modern gaming world. It was a great experience and it fundamentally changed how I view myself as a DM and my relationship with the players at my table. (It was at UBCon at the University of Buffalo so this connects to me wishing I went to more conventions.) But Mythic Party met Gary Gygax. Yep. Gary F***ING Gygax. As we celebrate the 40th year of the game he helped create I would have loved to say thank you. Since he’s been dead almost 5 years (March 4, 2008) that’s never going to happen. The same goes for Dave Arneson. I really would have liked to shake these two gentlemen’s hands and said, “Thanks.”

This whole Blog Hop experience has been pretty nostalgic and if you’ve been reading along you’ve read my reflections and seen how I’ve come to understand my growth as a roleplaying gamer. On further reflection, the one thing I wish I could have done differently is to have more self confidence in my choice to play Dungeons & Dragons. I wish that I wasn’t embarrassed or uncomfortable with how other people viewed me as a D&D geek. I’m fine with it now, of course. But I wish that maturity had come earlier.

How about you? Any regrets?

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