Headspace – GenCon was awesome!

Hello Everyone,

So first off, GenCon was amazing. This year was my 2nd, but my first as game designer. Beyond meeting loads of awesome people, I ran the hell out of Headspace!


Headspace at Games On Demand!

I ran 2 x four hour games at Games on Demand, 1x four pickup game in the Embassy Lobby and a further 2 x two hour games at the IGDN room. My good friend Jason Pitre (Genesis of Legend Publishing) also ran a 2 hour game on my behalf. In all over 25 people got to play, and as best as I can tell everyone had a lot of fun. All of the games use the same rough scenario of rescuing a technician and her family from a Corporate compound (all with varying degrees of success).

I’m pleased to note that all the major components ie Moves of the game worked very smoothly and the addition of the Regrets/Drives/Flashback scenes was very well received. I’d just like to take a moment to thank everyone who came out and took a chance on something new, by someone new (I’ve linked to sites of folks I know):

John Adamus, Kristyn Bitner, Sam Carter, Daniel Crawford, Alan Duffy-Guy, Shawn Fiedler, Lowell Francis, Nick Guidotti, Andrew Van Hise, Nicolas Hornyak, Andrew Landford, Aaron Lehmann, Brian A. Liberge, Lisa Matincik, David Morford, Dylan Van Pelt, Ryan Perrin, Tasha Robinson, Ruth M. Scheller, Dustin Simeone, Ericka Skirpan, Todd Willey, Colin Woodward, Amanda Valentine, Clark Valentine.

If I miss-spelt your name please let me know!

I’d also like to extend a special thank you to Dustin Simeone who ran my Dreamation rules for his friends and who all came out to try at GenCon!


So besides paying careful attention to what some of the mechanics did in play, I spent a lot of time examining the flow of the “Stress Track”. The game does cinematic action against “mooks” very well, but I need to see how it works in long play, slower play and against equal caliber corporate agents. I went through a round of Roses and Thorns with every play group and I’ve been pondering over changes and ideas all week since GenCon. My preferred method of sorting out ideas is to classify them as either : Implement Now or Ask a Question.

Implement Now

  1. Reduce Player Health Tracks to 4 (Characters can take a lot of punishment and since “Taken Out” is only death if the Player wants it to be, this seems to be more fair).
  2. Make the difference between Stun and Normal Damage clear.
  3. Professional Moves: New 12+ Success and Reduce Stress By 1 (Represent high rolls as allowing the Player to simmer the Headspace down).
  4. Headspace Moves: Remove the -1 Stress from 7-9 Rolls (It was causing the Stress Track to bleed out more than intended).
  5. Note that Armour Doesn’t Stack.
  6. Provide additional Character Customization options – Upgrades need to be more interesting/powerful.
  7. The Handler: Investigation and Observation are too much alike.
  8. Reset Regrets at end of Session (Everyone loved them and wanted them more, some tweaking to do this).

Ask a Question

The purpose of this is to reinterpret feedback and ideas into questions of “Should I do this?” to let me ponder and think about what the potential answers might be.

  1. Should all character Upgrades just be on a one big list?
  2. Can the group “upgrade” the Headspace, and how would that work?
  3. How should Hacking a Headspace work?
  4. How should character advancement work/should it? Group experience pools? Money?
  5. How should the internet, virtual reality be dealt with in play?
  6. Should there be a “blank” Hard Choice that the GM uses with appropriate scene elements?
  7. Should Psychology rolls lower stress?
  8. Should Stress Levels have any mechanical effects or just be about role playing until feedback happens?
  9. The fiction of Stress needs to be explicitly clarified (may just be me explaining the game better in some cases)?
  10. How do I note when one scene ends and another begins?
  11. How do I reset Regrets over long play?
  12. Can a characters emotional baggage for a skill evolve and change over time? (I think so, but how?)
  13. Can players burn teamwork to burn existing stress? (I don’t see why not).

Well that was GenCon for Headspace! I’ve have some additional announcements in the coming weeks. I’m hoping to put together a few G+ Hangouts of game play and I plan on attending Metatopia 2014!

Headspace Developments, GenCon 2014

Headspace Logo, Effects (RGB)

So I’m excited to reveal the GenCon rules for Headspace and the Playtest Characters:

GenCon 2014 Rules

GenCon 2014 Sample Characters

The game has fleshed out substantially since Origins with writing contributions from Lillian Cohen-Moore who wrote large portions of the fiction for Chapter 1 and Chapter 5. Jason Pitre has contributed to the GM chapter and has taken a much more streamlined look at GM Moves in a World game. This game has also gone through two developmental edits from the Awesome John Adamus. Brianna Reed has contributed in the form of the mind boggling awesome new logo for the game.

I’ll be running Headspace at GenCon Games on Demand:





IGDN Social 6-9 PM
Loughmiller’s Pub and Eatery (301 W. Washington Street)

Diana Jones Awards 9PM+


CARTOGRAPHY OF FICTIONAL WORLDS (Thursday, 10am-11am, Crowne Plaza : Pennsylvania Stn C)
Learn from a panel of veteran cartographers and game designers the techniques they use to make maps of fictional worlds.


INTRODUCTION TO INDIE RPG’S (Thursday, 8pm-9pm, Crowne Plaza : Pennsylvania Stn C)
Myself and Jason Pitre will provide a survey of the indie game market, including personal recommendations on games to watch!



(Friday, 3pm-4pm, Crowne Plaza : Grand Central C)
I’m getting together with John Adamus to talk about our experiences working on our very first game design!
Learn from a panel of first time game makers and industry professionals the perils, frustrations and strategies it takes to put together your first game from start to finish.

(Friday, 4pm-5pm, Crowne Plaza : Pennsylvania Stn C)
Ready to jump in to your first design? Join Jason Pitre and other industry vets to talk about getting your first design off the ground!



(Saturday, 8-10pm, Marriott : Marriott Blrm 7)


(Sunday, 10am-Noon, Marriott : Marriott Blrm 7)


Headspace Developments, Origins

So I’m excited to announce a lot of developments in the creation of my first RPG Headspace. I have brought together a team of very talented writers, editors and artists to help push this project forward and I’d like to introduce those folks and speak about how they are contributing.

Development Editing:
John Adamus, The Writer Next Door.

John Adamus is a very talented and award winning editor within the RPG community. He has already completed a first pass on the document which has helped a lot in terms of identifying what is working, what isn’t and what still needs some re-tooling. I’m looking forward to developing my document further before he makes a second pass over the text.

Writing – Introduction and Character fiction elements:
Lillian Cohen-Moore.

Lillian Cohen-Moore is an extremely talented writer and award winning editor and I have just recently brought her on to contribute to the fictional and descriptive components of the game. She will primarily be contributing to the Introductory (Shared consciousness) and Operator/Skill descriptions text. She has a lot of experience within the cyberpunk genre and I look forward to her creativity influencing my game.

Writing – Game Mastering Chapter:
Jason Pitre, Genesis of Legend Publishing.

Jason Pitre is a good friend and the creator of the Spark RPG. He has been my mentor through this process and without him this game would not be a reality. Given his wealth of experience running and hacking World games he has been brought on to merge the traditional World engine with my specific designs for Headspace.

Logo Design:
Brianna Reed, Nerdette Designs.

Brianna Reed is the creator of the awesome logo for my Company Green Hat Designs, so I thought she would be the perfect artist to develop a logo for my first game. I want something that will help make my product stand out on the shelf and I think her abilities are perfectly suited for this role.

Headspace at Origins

Jason Pitre has generously agreed to run play tests of my game Headspace at this years Origins June 11 to 15 at the Games on Demand. I’ve prepared materials to help him run up to 4 scenarios so if your at Origins feel free to get him to run or talk you through the current development of the game. Speaking of which I have worked together a new public release of Headspace for Origins:





I look forward to bringing the work of these many talented designers together and presenting a very polished game for beta-testing at this years GenCon! I’m running Headspace at 2 pre-planned events as well as at Games on Demand, hope you see you there!

Mark Richardson

My GenCon 2014 Schedule

Hi All,

It’s that festive time of the year where we all start picking events for GenCon. This year I’m formerly running games via the Indie Game Developer Network (which is hosting over 100 events in there own room).

For my part I’ll be in town a lot longer than last year and fly in the Tuesday August 12th and don’t leave until Monday the 18th! So hunt me down and we can play games or at least talk about them!

Within the Gen-Con Schedule I’ll be here:


(Thursday, 6-8pm, Marriott : Marriott Blrm 7)
I’m not running this but my good friend Jason Pitre has agreed to run my playtest for me, which should provide some great information to me!
You are bad ass cyberpunk operatives. You are joined by a single Headspace, allowing you to share skills with each other. Problem is that you also share your emotional baggage in the process.

INTRODUCTION TO INDIE RPG’S (Thursday, 8pm-9pm, Crowne Plaza : Pennsylvania Stn C)
Myself and Jason Pitre will provide a survey of the indie game market, including personal recommendations on games to watch!


(Friday, 3pm-4pm, Crowne Plaza : Grand Central C)
I’m getting together with John Adamus, Brianna Sheldon and Eloy Lasanta to talk about our experiences working on our very first game design!
Learn from a panel of first time game makers and industry professionals the perils, frustrations and strategies it takes to put together your first game from start to finish.


(Saturday, 8-10pm, Marriott : Marriott Blrm 7)
You are bad ass cyberpunk operatives. You are joined by a single Headspace, allowing you to share skills with each other. Problem is that you also share your emotional baggage in the process.


(Sunday, 10am-Noon, Marriott : Marriott Blrm 7)
You are bad ass cyberpunk operatives. You are joined by a single Headspace, allowing you to share skills with each other. Problem is that you also share your emotional baggage in the process.

Map Scale and Character Experience

So you want to create a map of a fictional world, it’s a daunting process as the scope is huge, a whole world? What about cities and countries? The important thing is to set some initial constraints, and to pick constraints that will help shape your map into something that serves the audience the most.

I always start by looking at the maps scale. It is the first and most important constraint to identify, for it is the scale at which the characters (be they role played or narrated in a book) will regularly interact with the world.

Scale by the dictionary is a ratio which compares a measurement on a map to the actual distance between locations identified on the map, but in the context of fictional worlds it means so much more.

The characters of a story interact with the world at a scale of 1:1. We can all make some absurd jokes about the only accurate maps being at 1:1, but this is the scale that a character will live and interact with the fiction (role-playing and/or storytelling).

As we move away from a scale of 1:1, the world becomes less and less about characters direct experiences. Characters can manipulate objects in an assembly diagram at 1:10, piecing together the components of a pole arm to fight the evil dragon. At 1:100 or 1:200 the characters might move and interact within a building. At this scale there still isn’t a lot of abstract interpretation, characters are looking through the windows they can immediately perceive, understanding a room’s layout or trying to avoid the pit trap in some dark dungeon.

The largest scale topographic map is probably at 1:2,500, at this point characters would be looking at the homes and inns and how close they are to each other. Is the alley wide enough to hide the truck? What is the shape of the hill and will those trees give the SEAL team the best approach to a house under cover.

City of Chicago at a map scale of 1:2,500

As we move our mapping lens farther away, less and less of what the characters see is directly related to their moment-to-moment experience and actions. At 1:10,00 we can see entire city blocks and the layout of a city. Maybe the characters are plotting an escape or tracking a shipment across the town.


Somewhere between 1:100,000 and 1:250,000 the characters direct experience disappears completely and we arrive at what are known as small scale maps.


Understanding the purpose of a small scale map – of countries, regions or of an entire planet will entirely depend on a characters prior understanding of geographic concepts like nations and travel routes.


Characters can only understand small scale maps as they serve to provide the connection between various areas where they have had direct experiences or that the fiction has been explained to them in case of the audience/players. If the Human characters are from Rohan and the Hobbits are from the Shire, we can look at a map of all Middle Earth and begin to understand how far apart these cultures are from each other and possibly some of the geo-political relations they may have. However we no longer get a sense of how the characters directly experience their lives. The sum of the characters personal experiences and memories are reduced to a single labeled point or feature offering few hints besides basic geography to their true aspects.

It’s important to understand these concepts of map scale when we look at making a map of a fictional world. The audience or players have very little initial fiction to relate to these places. We may if we are lucky have  some artwork on the map, showing fanciful cities or exotic flora and fauna to help anchor the otherwise abstract geography. A map of middle earth makes a surprising large amount of sense to most people who are reading this, but only because we’ve been exposed to so many stories and depictions of this specific fictional world. When we first cracked the spine on the Hobbit, Middle Earth just looked “neat”.

I’m not trying to say that World maps have no place in fiction or RPGs, what I am trying to do is remind map makers that without a solid base of supporting fiction a world map of a fictional place is only going to be a pretty picture. So if we are trying to make a functional map that will serve the reader/player we have to do our best to directly tie elements of the fiction into the map and ensure that the scale we choose will help to maximize the experience.

Picking a Scale

For purposes of expanding this discussion to my current work, we are going to examine the fictional setting of Will Hindmarch’s Project Dark. The short pitch of this RPG is to play fantastic thieves in a fantastical city in this new stealth-adventure tabletop roleplaying game.

The first question to ask is what map scale would be the most meaningful for the target audience? In Project Dark our central characters will thrive on the personal experience of hiding in dark alleys and various acts of thievery. The characters need a map that will show the world in a scale they can appreciate, plot and move about on. If Project Dark was more about rival countries going to war and the geo-politics of Game of Thrones I would likely want a smaller scale world map and my process forward would be quite different. I’ll talk about small scale mapping of entire worlds in another blog post.

So if this is going to be a city map it needs to have a just enough detail to have all the major streets, their names and major features. We also want to rough out how big the city is going to be, no point in having a 1:10,000 map when we can only see ¼ of the city on a 6×9 page.

Examining our options a scale of around 1:10,000 offers a solid player experience if the map is a poster (bigger than 17” by 11”) and something more like 1:25,000 if the map has to be fit into 2 pages of a book.

History has a lot of maps

I’ve never mapped a city from scratch so I wanted to see what other historical efforts had been made to map cities on the scale I was thinking about. Will Hindmarch’s art notes indicate he wanted a city of a London meets Venice/Constantinople feel. So I began to look at maps of London produced in the mid to late 1800’s and early 1900’s. I began to notice a trend that most British Survey maps of cities such as London used a scale of 1:10,560 or 6 inches to 1 mile and after some testing I settled upon this scale for the poster of Project Dark.

So how big will this city be?

A map scale of 6” to 1 mile will mean that if I make a Poster 24” by 18” the city would be around 4 by 3 miles and have an area of 12 square miles (31.07km squared), for a fantasy era city this is actually pretty big. The modern day borough of Westminster, London is 8.29 square miles and the ancient city of London is only 1.29 square miles. So that makes the City on the Saturnine about on par for the same area as an early 1800’s era London.

The plan will be to “compress” the map to a 12” by 9” layout (two 6”by 9”) pages, at half the size the book map will have to be 3 Inches to 1 mile or 1: 21,120.

For perspective this PDF is modern day Chicago at the same scale and poster size, this perspective is going to help as I try to take my early sketch provided by Will and map it into the real world. Next post will be more about my functional process, my tools and cartographic representation.


Mark Richardson

Project: Dark — Building the City on the Saturnine

Maps can represent a lot of different things. To me, the goal of a good map is to tell a good story, one worth telling. I’ve always liked to say to my clients that  “Pictures may tell a thousand words, but good a map will tell a million”, (who said it other than me I have no idea). Why so many words? Because a map is giving information to its audience at every square inch of its creation. And yes, I’m passionate about maps.

Up until now in my life I have mostly spent my years toiling away using cartography to tell stories about human activities on the landscape. To break down our complex spatial activities into a single snap shot that explains everything as clearly as possible. Sometimes this is easy “Where is a x in relation to y”, sometimes this is very difficult “what are the human anthropogenic effects in the northern arctic”. But every map has a story and you will make a better one if you can figure out what it is. Once you know your story, you can lean all the elements to focus the audiences attention on that specific story. Ensure the story isn’t being distracted by other map elements, place the colour/symbol emphasis on the lead characters etc..

So when Will Hindmarch asked me to create a map of a fictional city for his game “Project: Dark” I knew I needed that story first. I have made the odd simple map for my own games in the past, but I had never done fictional cartography on the scale that Will was asking. But in the end, a fictional map is still just a map, and every map has a story to tell, what story does the City on the Saturnine need to tell?

So I asked some questions to find out what this map was supposed to do, what story did Will want to tell? The questions varied from technical to artistic. In our discussions we always kept coming back to the theme of the game, a dark city of thieves and how so much of play is based on the spaces between, the alleys, the streets, the spaces between light and dark. The map needed the streets to tell stories of how the city was shaped over time, of how the old walls were built over as the city expanded time and time again. Ultimately the City on the Saturnine would grow into a true urban jungle.

These discussions led Will to draw me a sketch and provide me with some words on what each area of the city should represent in the game. What story should each section of the city tell to the audience.

City on the Saturnine Draft1We all have to start somewhere, and a simple sketch is the start of every great piece of art. The sketch and the discussions that blossomed from it began to tell a story of how the city began in area G “the old city” where the Queen dwells in a keep and a series of bustling, over crowded streets move out in radial patterns towards the edges of the Labyrinthine River (Middle) and Saturnine River (East) where huge stone towers and old massive walls were once built to contain and protect the city. Over time these walls gave way as the city expanded out into the Highlands of H, and the Riverbank of F. There the city simmered with its new walls, until once again it burst out and occupied the Island of D, constructed a huge port at E and eventually bled into the “New City” of C and the Labyrinthine Canals of A. The city was always expanding until it met the mountains to the north, east and south and then the sea to the west.

My notes led to this sketch on top of Wills and yes I know it’s awful. The key reason I’m sharing it is because I’m using it to go back to the story Will wants to tell. The green arrows and numbers are at the heart of this cities story, in the order of the numbers 2 to 5 the city expands but changes its nature each time.


These discussions, notes and sketches are the first step in the next few months as I journey to create THE CITY ON THE SATURNINE… and you are all welcome to follow along. Next time we will look at questions of scale, how big is too big and how the city of Chicago is going to help me with that conundrum.


Roses and Thorns, Playtesting Headspace

Play testing a game is likely the hardest part of game design. You take all your ideas, work and creativity and put it all out to lie on a cold hard slab in front of people you don’t know. As a designer we all  fear our play test will turn into some bizarre scene out of CSI:GenCon where we get ritually cut apart by our critical players and then someone makes an ironic joke about how bad the game was before the theme music rolls and some idiot puts on a pair of shades.

In reality this is generally pretty far from the truth. Most of the time, especially at welcoming environments like Dreamation players are there to see the raw idea, to play around in the sandbox of our dreams and hopefully enjoy their time. These early sandboxes don’t have as many rules as a final product, which means they almost always offer more creative solutions and sometimes those lead to better ideas that ultimately end up shaping the design.

The problem is how to pull the experiences the players liked out from the game. Post game most people are emotionally exhausted and while this can be a hard time to pry intellectual mechanical discussion about the game, it’s not a horrible time to ask people how they feel. Roses and Thorns is about prompting the exhausted players for an emotional response, “What made you feel good?” and “What made you feel bad?”.

I like to think Roses & Thorns isn’t about “What mechanic didn’t you like?” or “Why do you hate my dice stacking/stepping thing so much?”. Roses and Thorns is about striking at the raw emotional nerve of the player experience and demanding a response.

The process is pretty simple, go around your table and ask each player to describe a part of the game that made them feel happy. This could be a scene, a player interaction or a specific event. The Play Tester’s job here is to take good notes and to tie the emotional response to the underlying structure of the game. As a Tester I don’t write “Bob enjoyed the Teamwork in the shootout where everyone communicated” I write “Bob enjoyed the Teamwork that came from mechanic x/y or fiction x/y”. As a tester you are essentially tagging player emotional response to specific components of your game.

Then come the Thorns, hey we all hate this but it is arguably the most important part. Go around the table and ask each player to describe a part of the game that made them feel sad/bad? At this point I usually make the ironic joke and put on sunglasses so they can’t see my tears.

At this stage, we as Testers are tagging negative emotional response and correlating it to the game. If everyone felt frustrated in a certain scene take note of it. As a Tester, what was going on in that scene? Was this when you used that specific negotiation move? Maybe this is what needs some work.

The point of Roses and Thorns or at least my take on this method is to not ask people to “fix my game” but to ask “how it made them feel”.

– Mark

Dreamation 2014

Hello Everyone,

This is basically my first blog post on this site and also a quick re-cap of my tremendous experience at Dreamation in Morristown, NJ. I ran my first public play test of my new RPG Headspace to an overwhelming positive response. I’m in a general state of shock at how well everyone took to the ideas and thrilled the game is generating some early buzz.

I really want to thank my play testers, you were a joy to GM and made the entire experience wonderful!

The Good:

The mechanics reinforced the teamwork in the party. Everyone was working together in a dystopic future, one player even called the game “Shadowrun meets Leverage” and I’m certainly OK with this comparison. The core “Professional” and “Headspace” moves worked accordingly, in fact my design has clearly moved all the GM’s “soft” moves into the players hands.

The Players basically succeed and created their own complications and in the end the GM just has to ask questions, nudge the agenda and provide a the “hard” moves when required. I’m beginning to think there will be a lot less GM moves in Headspace.

The Middle:

The stress track feed-backing on a value of 7 was way too high. So high that we only hit it in the morning because everyone just wanted to see what happened. In the evening session I made feedback happen at a value of 5 and that seemed to work/threaten the players as it was intended too.

The Bad:

The Memories didn’t really come into play at all. Everyone agreed they needed to be there and would have value in play, they just need more meat.

Also Improvised Moves while good on paper never really came into play. It is possible it has a greater effect on small player count games?

If you are interested  in the continuing development of my game, the current draft and the scenario/character sheets used for the convention are available on this site.

– Mark Richardson