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4th Edition Is More Than I Expected

Producing prior editions of The Artifact has always been a slow process. I’m one person and frequently get distracted by other projects. I just released a new novel, and released my new non-fiction book before that. I say that to emphasize my getting distracted. At the same time, I am still working on 4th Edition.

The reason I get distracted is because the new edition is a strange jump in philosophy. It feels revolutionary to me but I know that if I put it out onto the internet as it is, it would be a struggle to describe why it is so. The real revolution is that it’s doing so much that I personally want out of a game with far fewer actual core components. The core components make it easy to build in game effects with a description and a few figures.

I am in the minority among game designers when it comes to what is called crunch. I enjoy crunch, but as I get older, with less working memory to devote to, well anything, I realize that simplicity is also something that a lot of people crave.

With that in mind, I’m cutting out parts of the game that are infrequently used and collapsing some features like skills into hierarchies that mean starting players can ignore some complexity.

My position has always been that crunch creates its own kind of simplicity. It’s a conceptual simplicity. It’s a limited but rich palette that allows the players to make interesting, maybe even surprising connections.

It’s taking time for me to align the thousands of moving parts in the game and apply them evenly and effectively.

On Friday, I had a conversation with a young lady who is probably one of the most intuitive role players I’ve seen. I was surprised to find that her go to system was her favorite because she craved a less ambiguous rule set. Her favorite is a rules heavy juggernaut of a game because it provides clarity to her choices. If you want to try something, there’s a rule for it that doesn’t rely on a GM dictating how it will be handled.

This has always been my design goal for The Artifact. In other games I’ve gone with light rulesets, but the big moving gears of a fully articulated game system has always fit this game the best. I’ve tried to apply other rule sets to the world and found it didn’t sound the same. I tried at one point to port the game over to something like Savage Worlds but it never felt right.

With that, this is the lightest game I can make the game at the moment and have it still feel like it rhymes with earlier editions.

Something I’ve run into with some popular games by me and others are tools that are so modular that they seem to lose any meaning. These systems fall victim to being enticed by their philosophy into all encompassing structures. The structures are so broad that the player needs to really internalize the concepts or how they work in the story always seems hollow when applied. I might be skimming the belly of this kind of thinking with this new edition, but hopefully I’m on the side of that thin line of clarity.

This is all saying that what I’m trying to do with the new edition is to carry on the immense complexity of prior editions, build on them and use a limited palette of tools repeatedly to get a similar effect as before. It’s a complicated process. I might have something to show for it soon. I thought I was almost done before but I realized skills needed a larger overhaul than I expected. Let’s see how it goes.

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I went missing

February was my last post. What have I been doing all that time? Finishing 4e? Nah, I wrote a non-fiction book and did a lot of remodeling to an old house we moved into. I didn’t completely blow off 4e, there has been some progress.

So where are we?

There’s an introduction that captures some new ideas for how to focus the game into doing what it does well.

Character creation is structurally very similar to 3e except the numbers are smaller so that’s done.

The rules are done, the “Tools” (rules you sometimes use) are mostly done but they need some more attention to clean them up.

Vehicles and infantry rules are converted over, both are very much improved from 3e.

The Facilitator’s Guide is a hot mess of ideas. It needs work. Right now I’m working on guidance for game creation, the ideas are good but they need to be clear and simple.

I’ve converted a lot of equipment stats, I doubt I’ll substantially change the text in that section.

I really don’t think I’m going to change Maps. Maybe I’ll put more written description in them.

I haven’t touched skills yet.

What do I want for 4e? What would be great is if I could figure out how to cut down on the “this is your stuff write it all down” part of character creation. I want the Facilitator’s guide to give some really strong guidance for starting GMs. I’d like to renew/replace art. We’ll see how it goes.

What’s interesting is, this book might end up half the size of 3e without losing anything. I’m not sure yet but everything written so far is “only” 85 pages. It might be possible to finish the book in 150.

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Slowly Making Progress

Sometimes I feel like fourth edition is never going to happen. Is it taking it’s sweet old time? Yes. Is progress being made? Surprisingly also yes.

The guts of 4e is there. A lot of the bulk text and stat blocks are also there. We can actually play 4e with me running it. It’s just getting it to a state where other people can run it. So what still needs to happen?


This is something I didn’t think I’d be redoing. I’ve been looking for a program that could actually draw the maps. The old program I used will no longer run on any computers I have. I’ve tried, really. I was certain I’d need a vector graphics program. At one point I tried looking into CAD but that was either too expensive or didn’t offer the control I needed.

I finally tried Affinity Designer and I think we have a winner. It’s not quite as accurate as I’d prefer, but with the current maps in 3e a lot of the detail didn’t show up on the printed page anyway. What Affinity Designer can do more of is adding color, something that was limited in the last program I used. I don’t know if it’s surprising or just a testament to the quality of Affinity’s software but it’s also the company that makes the page layout software I’m using.

Which brings us to…


I despaired for a while at the challenge of rebuilding the tables in 3e for 4e. The table creation tools on Affinity Publisher are not the greatest. Then they introduced the ability to import tables from Apple’s suite of office apps. The tables will need to be tweaked but they can mostly be imported now.

That’s the brute work of figuring out layout though. I have some issues that are a little higher on the scale of page layout. Ones that I don’t really have any answers to.

What fonts should I use? I’ve traditionally stuck with Georgia for The Artifact. Should I change it? I’m not sure. I think a change in the heading font could help with the other problem I have with layout. That being…

The Artifact has been called a “text wall” and I can’t disagree. I would like to fix that problem but I get weirded out with too much white space on the page. I’ve seen layouts that use whitespace well but I’m never satisfied with my attempts at it. I have a weird quirk that I feel like the more text on the page the more “value” the page has. It’s wrong, I know, it’s just hard to get past it.

In general, I have no idea what I want to do with layout.

Actually writing too

So what I have written is a lot of fragmented sections. Although the main ideas are there, I’ll probably write it all over again. I’m having a crisis of confidence that I can express the game well. I think I’m doing better than I ever have, only it’s in ways I’ve never tried before, so none of it is tested.

There are a lot of new rules that are much different than what came before. Actually that’s the problem. They’re mostly a jump from the old rules, doubling down and amplifying the things I really liked in 3e. But they’re different enough that it would look alien to most people that have played 3e. It would be bad writing to explain how you played 3e and then describe why the system of 4e is an extension of those ideas. New players don’t care and I doubt it would really help experienced players.

I also have a lot of writing to do for the GM’s section. One of the big changes is going from GM to Facilitator but that’s just a change in the vocabulary. The real work is that I want to better describe how to run a good game on The Artifact.

I’ve found out that there are specific themes that work, pacing that builds on those themes and a mindset that goes with them. Straying from that formula doesn’t seem to work well. Describing the formula is a new trick that I’ve taken a few stabs at.


I don’t have an idea of what I’d like to do with art. I could draw some more pictures but I’m not sure I’m up for a whole art re-work like I did for 3e unless I come into an unexpected inheritance and can afford to pay people.

So, that’s basically it. A bunch of things that are huge and need resolving. Once figured out a lot of these might become obvious. Until then, I’m muddling along, hoping for an epiphany or two.

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The Artifact RPG is big. It’s really really big. That scares a lot of people that might like the setting or the theme. In the old days, a lot of games had a basic version of the game to get players started. It might be useful to use that strategy to help players get on board with The Artifact.

That’s why I’m putting out this draft Mini version of The Artifact. It’s not finished by any stretch of the imagination. It’ll definitely need more tuning. It does most of what you can do in the 4th edition rules that are being worked on with a lot of the details chopped out. It all fits on 7 pages including a character sheet.

I think that in the end, the basic game will include more standard equipment and character occupations but this is a decent conceptual start.

The one thing this doesn’t do is explain the setting very much. If a GM wanted to use the maps in the main book or any of the other setting elements, they shouldn’t run into much trouble.

Here’s the rough draft.

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4th Edition Writing Underway

I’ve started a Google Docs document for writing the next version of The Artifact. I’m trying for now to only occasionally reference 3rd edition. My writing is more casual now and I hope that makes it better to read. I don’t want the old text to change my current expression of ideas.

A lot has fallen into place but I still have unresolved questions in some basic procedures. In 3rd, Advantages and Impairments got rid of some roll modifiers. In 4th theres very little addition and subtraction going on because Boosts and Drains are taking center stage.

The question I have is, if a character has a Boost and a Drain, how do they interact? My intention at the moment is one Drain cancels out a Boost. Only if you have more Drains than Boosts do you roll for Drains.

For some people that’s going to seem a little unfair. You could have a Skill of 9 (the highest possible) and a Drain of 1 (the lowest possible) and they’d cancel each other out.

This kind of thing is going to take some new thinking on the players part because a character can create Boost with an action. Because you can have multiple Boosts in each roll, creating a low level Boost will negate that low level Drain and you get your skill back.

Something I’m having the hardest time conveying is the idea that the players choose how to apply these negations and the rolls of their dice to match their Boosts. I don’t know if this is a natural concept or a difficult one. I also don’t know if some people would pick up on it and others wouldn’t.

When I started brainstorming this version, I had a lot of ideas for special conditions and their mechanical effects but I recently realized that they could be Boosts. Since I had the idea for players creating Boosts then these effects might as well fall under that concept. The challenge now is to lay out those conditions as created Boosts without making it seem like those are the only options. The tool is multipurpose but it’s also vauge so I want the examples to spur creativity but not limit it.

I’m going to the Queen City Conquest this weekend and running a game of The Artifact. The hard part for me is going to be playing 3rd Edition and not slipping into new tools that we’ve been testing.

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Stick With the Familiar?

As I approach putting together a new version of The Artifact, I’m continually asking what needs to change. One of those things that probably should change is the software being used to lay out the book.

In the past I’ve used Apples Pages 4.0 to put together the books. If you were unaware, the current version of Pages is 7. The reason I use an old version is because Apple significantly nerfed the product at version 5 and you just don’t have the level of control there was in 4.

I’ve worried that an update in the OS would make Pages 4 stop working someday. That hasn’t happened yet thankfully.

The last game I put together was with the free beta for Affinity Publisher. It seems very capable, although The Artifact is by far bigger than that project.

Something that gives me pause using Affinity Publisher is that it’s not easy to import tables and The Artifact has a lot of tables. That would end up a hard slog. It would give me a chance to catch errors but would also introduce the chance of me introducing errors.

What AP (Affinity Publisher) does afford is better control over layout and the opportunity to go to introduce a new style for 4th edition. I don’t know what that style should be, though.

I could try bringing the book into a 6×9 format. That would ballon the page count and would require a lot more art assuming 1 piece of art per 4 pages as I tried to get for 3e. There are a number of people that strongly prefer 6×9 but I’m not sure it would suit The Artifact. For one, the maps would have to be reduced in size and that would make details less noticeable.

I could bring in a new set of fonts but I hate picking fonts. Georgia, while nothing exciting is a solid and respectable font.

The other big concern is that AP is an unproven solution. Sure it works and is stable, but will it last as a platform? I think the answer is yes. The Affinity suite is taking on Adobe’s unattainable prices and I think that’s going to win them a lot of small publishers. Still, the original versions of The Artifact were layed out on a program called MacPublisher that went belly up. While that gives me pause, I know my current solution is also going away.

Looking at the big picture, moving to AP is going to be a slog and it raises a lot of questions but I know I should probably do it.


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When playing The Artifact, there is a overriding need to find a place to live. This is the perpetual question that natives like the Scimrahn face. Although that is really important to the game, maybe for the 4th edition, players should think about home a little differently.

In the past I’ve thought about adding background details to characters, like what conditions they lived in and what kind of family they have back on Earth. For the most part I resisted that because it was largely irrelevant to the play of the game. There were hints in some of the optional tables, but they didn’t consistently or completely fill in a character’s backstory.

The process of making a campaign is becoming more formalized and it’s centering on the concept of finding a place for the characters to live in. But is the place they find home.

I’m thinking of that a little differently now. Instead of wondering what the physical place should be, maybe the better question is what home means to the character.

For one character, home might mean children playing. For another it could be the solitude of a book. Another could think of home as a safe place where there’s warmth. Esoteric things might include the sound of your grandmother’s voice or a place where you’re in charge. I’m aiming for simple concepts that could inform a player as to what their character ultimately wants.

This might change what a character ends up doing and probably why they act.

The Artifact is a game about leaving a home that’s falling apart to find a place that will last. Ultimately where the characters find it could be in very different places.

Very simply, this is going to be a random table just like the personality tables. This might be a good way to introduce principals and priorities in character generation. Those formal rules might not get used often, but they would easily inform role play.

With that addition, I think mentioning a character’s previous life experience would help new players to imagine where the characters are coming from but would also play off their concept of home. Are they leaving what they though of as home to recreate something or did they never have what they wanted and are looking to find it?

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Rojec Alpha

The Rojec Alpha for Imbalance of Power part 1


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Rojec Beta

The Rojec Beta for Imbalance of Power

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3.1 Player’s Handbook Ashcan

Updating the main book to 3.1 was relatively easy. I knew that it would be a lot harder to move over the Player’s Handbook because of all the equipment crafting rules. Most of the big changes are done but the consequences in the crafting systems are probably too intense. We’ll be testing and update the file when we get a feel for where things should be.

Player’s Handbook 3_1 ash

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