Tox Worlds: Free RPG Settings, Characters and Stories

Free RPG resources for the Tox universe

We discovered during our Kickstarter that people wanted a lot more ready-made material for Tox RPG. So, over the next few months, we’ll release new, FREE RPG resources. These resources will include general setting information, ready-made characters, and a story. Because we want to give you a taste of how flexible the Tox is, we’ll release materials for a new setting each month.

A New Setting Each Month

We’ve organized our setting-a-month plan around our 3 favorite genres: fantasy, horror, and sci-fi.

  • November: Fantasy
  • December: Horror (Modern Era)
  • January: Science-fiction

A New Piece of the Story Each Thursday

We’ll release a new, free RPG resource each Thursday of the month:

  • Week 1: Intro to the larger word or setting and it’s unique power system.
  • Week 2: Release PC characters, with notes on creating a character in Tox
  • Week 3: (Spoilers! for GM): Release NPC characters
  • Week 4: (Spoilers! for GM): Release story.

Tomorrow, we’ll release setting information about our new fantasy setting Isladja. Isladja is an abandoned country in a dark-age fantasy world where magical powers are closely linked to personal identity.

Stay Tuned

Stay tuned! We’ll update this blog page with links to the new posts.

Non-Kickstarter: Going Back to the Drawing Board

Person at Drawing Board

We’re back online after a respite from the intensity of Kickstarter (and the whole family getting sick in the middle of it). The Kickstarter didn’t go very far, but I was warned by fellow game designers that if the Kickstarter doesn’t go well in the first few days, it is hard to get it back on track. The Kickstarter wasn’t a bad experience: I learned more about marketing Tox in a month than I would have in half a year (or more), as well as generating a lot of great materials, including:

So it’s been a very productive time, even if it didn’t result in funding professional illustration for a full-length RPG book.

What Didn’t Work

Going into the Kickstarter, we had two major assets: 5,000 Facebook likes and a local gaming convention at the start of the Kickstart. We had hoped that, between a large audience interested in Tox and the opportunity to do lots of local word of mouth, we’d get enough early momentum. As it turns out, there’s a pretty big gulf between someone liking your product and getting them to take the next step… and it was a much slower year for roleplayers at the Pacificon, so that momentum didn’t materialize.

Feedback for Round 2

Most of our backers didn’t actually come from the Google+ communities that we participate in or Facebook followers… they browsed into the RPG site via Kickstarter. So it turns out that focusing on the Kickstarter content would have been more successful than our many efforts to drive large volumes of people to the page. Specifically, the advice I received was:

  • Have a high-quality intro video before launch.
  • Don’t worry about the details so much. Most people want the general impression of the game more than specific rules or examples around how it works.
  • Replace copy with images or diagrams. Again, people just don’t want to read a lot.

The Future of Tox

The playtesting feedback for Tox has been very positive so far: it has a unique take on powers, allows for very unique/customized characters, and makes easier for GMs and players alike to tell an exciting, character-driven story. We don’t believe the non-Kickstarter was a failure of the product, but it’s clear our marketing skills are lagging behind our product development skills. We plan on improving our marketing in both the short term and the long term.

Short-Term Plans

  • We’ve set up a schedule for high-quality content: releasing settings, storylines, and characters for Tox.
  • Be more conscientious about how we build connections within the RPG community. We have FB groups, we belong to several Google communities, but we need to think more strategically about how to make Tox more visible.

Medium-Term Plans

  • We’re going to pair-down the Demo (currently, we’re offering most of our Gifts + Tox types, with all 5 levels). The future demo will be smaller, with few Gifts and Tox types, and only include descriptions of powers up to level 3.
  • Simultaneously, we’ll go ahead and create a version 1 of Tox RPG. Since the Kickstarter didn’t get funded, art will be limited to the 9 characters already commissioned and the volume will be slimmer. The first edition will be light on examples, equipment, pre-made stories/settings, GM advice, alternate rules, and guidelines for how to create custom settings… however, it will have all the stats & rules needed to play the game and enough examples to get you started. You’ll be able to check the blog for example characters, settings, and resources.

Long-Term Plans

  • At some point, when we go for an illustrated 2nd edition, we will run another Kickstarter campaign. We’ll wait until we see a lot more engagement on our blog or communities, and we’ll do a lot more video planning. We’ll also do a lot more visual planning of the page itself: fewer words, more pictures.
  • As a backup or alternative, we might look into other ways to fund the art for the Kickstarter. Because the art is by far the most expensive piece of creating an RPG book, and because we have a lot of the writing, layout, and copy-editing skills in-house, finding another method to acquire or commission art would allow us to skip the Kickstarter completely. However, the Kickstarter was such a helpful learning experience that I see Varza kickstarting games in the future.

Onwards and upwards!

2500 Likes! Sneak peak of Kickstarter Art!

Wizard character concepts

We’re very excited at Varza Games to be getting our 2500th like on Facebook.  People are really interested the concept of our core Legendary RPG concept: characters with highly customizable powers that trigger equally customizable weaknesses.  We’re right on track for launching a Kickstarter this summer for a lusciously illustrated Legendary RPG core book.  As a reward for our many supporters, we thought we would give you a sneak peak on the Kickstarter art we’re commissioning!

We’ve been working with illustrator Randy Hagmann, and it’s been a wonderful collaboration.  Legendary is a game that can create all types of characters in all types of genres, so we’re working hard to convey the widest variety we can on our our art budget.  We’ve commissioned 3 sets of characters: 1 fantasy set, 1 modern set, and 1 sci-fi set.

Goals for Legendary RPG Art

Our goals for the art have been:

  1. The characters are larger-than-life heroes as befits a game called Legendary RPG.
  2. The character art tells a story about a character’s personality, powers, and weaknesses.
  3. Be as diverse as possible: different character types, personalities, genders, races, ages, etc.  This is a game for any character and any player!

The Artistic Process

Meg started us off.  Since she’s a fan of logic problems, she worked out how we might get the most diversity our of 3 sets of 3 characters.  She considered things like how to maximize diversity in gender, race, character mood, and character role/class across all 9 individual characters, in addition to trying to balance each set of 3.  Then Alec worked with Randy to come up with loose character concepts, for example.  Here’s an example some of the initial thoughts Alec sent.

Left: black male wizard.  Strong physique.  Arcane lightning wrapped around one hand, ready to throw it… but also covered in scorch marks (possibly standing on a large scorch mark).

Middle: white female, elf paladin.  Attractive, dressed for battle (something more practical than chain mail bikini please!), tired and sore, but heroically defiant/determined. A few different options for her: an arrow sticking out of an Achilles heal, some kind of imp nipping at her heals, or maybe she’s lofting a torch that’s casting ominous shadows.

Right: gypsy dwarf (or Satyr?) female. Very curvy but very confident.  Throwing a pair of (enchanted?) dice with a smirk, oblivious to an ominous black cat crosser her path.

Notice a lot of room for interpretation, or different options for characters?  This is were Randy brought in quite a bit of artist license and visual story telling to flesh out the characters with his own creative flair.  You can see this in his initial sketches:

Wizard character concepts Paladin character concepts. Fortune maker character concepts

Having to choose only one version was really hard.  For example, the shamanic version A of the wizard has a very different look and personality than the sorcerous, levitating version B, but both make excellent legendary characters!  We also really liked the Ursula-esque gypsy B, but we thought that the playful, roguish satyr A added an important contrast in mood from the wizard and paladin.  The Paladin was easier for Meg and I to choose; we loved all of them, but there was just something extra epic about the over-sized stag gardbrace/ornament on Paladin C that we couldn’t stop looking aware.

The stag ornament is the  a great example of Randy’s story telling.  At Varza, we deliberately pick weird mixtures of characters Elf-paladins in heavy armor, buff mages, fortune tellers both controlling the dice and cursed by ill-omens.  Despite our strange requests, intended to show case the customizability of Legendary RPG, Randy fuses these strange elements into a coherent character.  The elf may have forsaken the daintier elf stereotypes of archers, rogues, and wizards.  However, she keeps the memory of her forest elf heritage alive in her own way: an oversized metal stag head on her heavy armor.  There’s a back story crying out to be written, thanks to Randy’s artistry.

Anyway, after we’re done oogling at Randy’s rough illustrations for far too long, we pass along our choices and some small clarifications (if any!).  Randy gets back to us in record time with the beautiful, full color illustration.  For this first set we commissioned a couple different versions of the background, to figure out how to present present the characters on a Kickstarter page.

Fantasy Characters for Kickstarter, Final Illustration

Legendary fantasy character: wizard, paladin, rogue.

What’s next, you ask?

Marie, our social media guru, is helping Alec work on character backstories and world building for the fantasy characters, which may make their way into the core book as an example story setting.

Randy has drawn up the roughs of the sci-fi characters, and Alec and Meg are drooling over them.  Trying hard to select just one version of a character.

Alec is coding up the alpha version of The Deal, the ‘lite’ version of the Legendary RPG that can be played from character creation to story completion in one evening.

Making RPG Character Creation Quick and Easy

Three fantasy characters.

As a teenage RPG fan, I often wondered why tabletop roleplaying games weren’t more popular. I loved the personal creativity involved in creating and playing a character.  I loved the freedom to do anything from creating a 5-story anvil out of thin air for crushing enemy fortifications to creating a fast-food empire staffed by tireless skeleton minions.  Most of all, I loved the collaboration: creating a rich story with friends that was greater than any one of us.

Now that I’ve introduced many friends to RPGs and have had lots of experience at work user testing products, I’ve come to understand better why so few people play them.  Roleplaying games, as a product, are extremely difficult to use.  Each game requires a game master who has mastered at least one, large tome of rules and created an imaginary world. Even for non-game masters, the process of looking up charts and lists for hours to create a character is a huge barrier.

While video games don’t offer as much interpersonal interaction, freedom, or creative control of the game as tabletop RPGs do, video games are designed so that the average player can dive in without reading a manual.  The game guides you through the steps of character creation, allowing players to fiddle with values and observe the results directly, getting in-game help and support when experimentation alone is not sufficient. Wouldn’t it be nice if tabletop RPGs learned a thing or two from video games?

Making Character Creation More Like a Video Game

Varza games has just released the prototype Legendary Character Generator to email list members. The Legendary Character Generator borrows a few simple ideas from video games to make the process of character creation easier and faster:

  • Instead of looking up lists of stats, select a stat from a drop down menu and instantly see the relevant description.
  • Each section has in-detail help text to give context on how stats are used.
  • A “conditions” box that describes the impact of a character’s current damage or Tox level, helping you keep track of your character’s current status.
  • Basic validation to prevent mistakes.

Interested in trying it out?

Join the Legendary Email List.

Future Features

While I’ve seen the above features cut character creation time by as much as two thirds, we have several more features for ease of use planned:

  • Saving across browsers and devices.
  • Support for inventory and equipment.
  • A step-by-step character creation wizard.
  • Templates for common character types.
  • In-app dice rolling: click a stat and roll!
  • Streamlined print version—let’s try to keep it to one page, front and back.
  • Character avatars + improved visual design.

For Techies: How I Built Legendary Character Generator

The Legendary Character Generator has been a fun, quick-and-dirty project.  It takes advantage of two excellent frameworks: Angular and Twitter Bootstrap. In order to actually make the character persist, I added an Angular plugin for saving data to local storage. Using local storage removed the need for a server and cut development time in half, for the time being, but it does mean your characters may disappear if you clear your cache.  Be careful!

Character design image by David Revoy / CC-BY-SA-3.0

Play testing Legendary at the upcoming Pacificon Game Expo!

Pacificon header

I’m looking forward to testing Legendary RPG at the Pacificon Game Expo labor day weekend! The game will be a spoof of teen monster dramas, so I’ve named the session Tiffany the Twilight Slayer and the Diary of Secrets.  It will be the longest play test of Legendary yet, lasting from 9am to 4pm!  We’ll have a lunch break, though.

Up to 5 players will take on iconic teen monster / supernatural roles: the chosen one, the mentor, the goofy friend, the dangerously dependent friend/romantic interest, and the rival (a.k.a. the indispensable jerk).  The game will open with a busy high school, character-developing scene of bickering, getting snubbed, getting a lecture, etc.  However, all the high school drama will fade into the background as the “unlikely” group discovers a book that reveals supernatural evil lurking beneath the school’s mundane facade.  Or maybe the high school drama won’t fade, and the characters will be bickering as they get eaten by monsters.  Either way, fun times!

This play test catches Legendary at an interesting time. I’m halfway through a substantial revision of the rules, based on my initial two group tests.  I’m overhauling how attributes and skills work.  Also making some more minor revisions. I’m changing the dice rolling mechanic a bit to something simpler but roughly equivalent.  Lastly, I’m changing one of the default settings of characters powers.  More on the rules updates in a later post.

In addition to all the rule updates, I’m also changing my underlying technology for the demo.  Previously, I’d been using Google Sheets as my prototype of an interactive-character sheet.  The next generation, however, is an actual web application in Angular and Bootstrap, which will allow for embedding help text, making fancier calculations, and in-app die rolling.

How much of the updates I can hack together in  week and a half?  Well, we’ll see.