Just how many universes are enough?

Do we really need another campaign setting? Another universe among countless universes? Isn’t Middle-earth, Forgotten Realms/Dark Sun/Eberron/Greyhawk/Dragonlance/Cosmoverse/(enter your favorite setting here) enough? Isn’t the real world enough? In a word: No. Not really, no.

Toonaria offers a universe unlike any other, and one that can bring back the warm fuzzies on a cold night when you’re at your wits end. Frankly, we need snugglebunnies, gubbies and the worlds of Toonaria more now than ever before. Let me illustrate:

snugglebunny_qtgames.com

Sure, the real world is crucial. We can’t live without it. And there are important things to do. But when you need a breather. When you’re looking for a smile, you don’t have to go any further than Toonaria. Those other universes are cool. They have their place, but so does Toonaria. It’s a universe I dreamed up over three decades ago, and have only grown more fond of as the years passed, and as I continued to write stories, illustrate, and make games about this wonderful realm.

‘Nuff said. Stand with me, and let’s make Toonaria blossom for our benefit, and for future generations! We’d love to hear your thoughts on Toonaria. We have great plans and many projects in the works. But we need you. You are an important element in making Toonaria a success. Without fans, the brightest dream fades. Stand with us and let us know your thoughts! Thanks, and see you in a week!

 

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Posted in Art, author, blended-genre, Campaign Setting, cartoon, Cute, cute critters, Epic Destinies, fantasy, Fiction, Game Design, publishing, QT Games, Role-playing, Roleplaying, RPG, Sci-fi, science fiction, superheroes, Toonaria, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Toonaria Creature Spotlight: Snugglebunnies!

Snugglebunny_QT_Games

Toonaria started with this little guy called a snugglebunny, way back in 1977. Just a silly critter? Well, yes, but I knew they had huge potential even back then, and couldn’t stop thinking about them. The sketch above is from around 1983, shortly after I graduated from high school. I was so enamored with the creature that it made its way onto my first business card, a few of my board games, dozens of greeting cards, posters, a few appearances in a San Antonio magazine, comic strips, and of course in my fiction and Cosmothea Roleplaying Game sessions as well.

Snugs_hiding_QT_Games

Speaking of fiction, before I wrote my first Cosmoverse tale, I wrote stories snugglebunnies and my other Toonarian critters. My first board game, Minotaur Madness, showcased them. It hinted at their unusual abilities and exuberant personality, and included several short stories. Snugs even became the mascot for The Drama Guild, an acting guild I formed back in 2001 to produce, direct and act in my plays and skits both in Las Vegas and eventually, abroad. While the snugglebunny never featured in any of my dramatic presentations, it remained a regular part of my life and a welcome diversion.

Snugs-director_QT_Games

Over the years, I’ve developed a big backstory for the creatures and have been expanding their universe, which eventually came to be known as Toonaria. As with the top picture on this post, snugglebunnies are often depicted around mushrooms. One of my Minotaur Madness game board prototypes was three dimensional. It included a mushroom forest where the snugglebunnies lived.

Later, I started developing the Snuggleland board game. With each appearance, their story grew bigger and more exciting. Most snugglebunnies live on the Arcasia layer of their sky ark, a realm filled with other adorable “monster” friends. Snugglebunnies are quick to make friends and are equally quick to forgive (and forget.) In fact, they are extremely forgetful. They are also incredibly resilient and powerful, though they don’t realize it.

Snugs_marker_QT_Games

Fortunately, they never tap their full potential, because while they are very good-natured, they are not “with it” enough to safely wield such power, and are somewhat naive. As such, at times other creatures have been placed in their paths to help guide them. Sometimes when a snugglebunny feels threatened, it turns whatever’s scaring it into a giant mushroom, and then hops away completely oblivious to what happened. Why? Well now, that’s a big Toonarian secret (that backstory I was telling you about? Yep, it’s in there!)

I’ll reveal that secret one of these days—likely when I release the creature-filled Epic Destinies Roleplaying Game and Toonaria Campaign Setting source books! If you’re uber nice, I “might” reveal it sooner. We’ll see.

Snugs-and-Minotaur_QT_Games

(Some of the pics above like the one with the minotaur were done pre-computer. That is, I didn’t own a computer until around 1992—the year I got married and entered the “real world”! Yeah, these are very old pics, but I thought you might enjoy seeing the snugglebunny through the years.

The stats and such in that pic are from my original Minotaur Madness board game and were done with pen and markers.) Oh, and those bold words, numbers and lines in the chart? They were all done at a snail’s pace using Dry Transfer sheets (you align the letter/number or line over your artwork where you want it, and then rub down the letter until it transferred to your artwork. (Yes, I’m aware that means I’m old, but my mind is still young, and actually, those sheets are still sold in some stores. Thankfully, I have a computer for that sort of stuff these days.)

As for the gooey stuff on the ground below the minotaur—those are fallen pies—one of the weapons used in Minotaur Madness. As with all of Toonaria, there are moments of silliness and humor as well as moments that make you think, and wonder and dream.

Toonaria is the sort of place like in the old Andy Griffith show where most everyone gets along and are friendly, but misunderstandings and questionable outside influences inevitably stir up trouble. Just as The Wizard of Oz had their sweet munchkins and Glinda the Good Witch, there was also the Wicked Witch of the West and her flying monkeys. Snugglebunnies, like much of Toonaria, harken back to a more innocent time, but make no mistake, there’s plenty of conflict and even thought-provoking, meaningful things going on—just not always. 🙂

Snugglebunnies play a very interesting role in my Cosmoverse as well. They’ve made a few appearances in our gaming sessions over the years, but have also appeared in some hard-hitting stories in recent years, so there’s far more to them than meets the eye. Read my novella, Voices, from Arcane Synthesis, for a sampling on where I’m heading with them in that universe! (you can even read an exciting, FREE excerpt by following that link, though the more significant inclusions appear later in the gripping story.) Speaking of Arcane Synthesis, don’t miss great fiction and more on Toonaria and our other projects by joining our newsletter (doing so will also earn you a FREE Cosmoverse novella!)

I am currently revamping and expanding the Toonaria universe of the snugglebunnies. I have created hundreds of lil creatures over the past three decades plus (at least I think hundreds—I’ve never actually counted them all, but I have piles of sketches and keep turning up more and more adorable—and not so adorable—Toonarian critters every time I open a box in my office. And I have lots of boxes of my creations.)

I’ve been encouraged to create some cartoons based on the snugglebunnies and other Toonarian critters. I do hope to do just that one of these days (reboot the comic strips, if nothing else, but I’d love to go to the next level with them.) We’ll just have to wait and see. My plate is full currently. Your showing enthusiasm over what QT Games is putting together would go a long way to getting things on the market. Just sayin’.

Well, that wraps up my creature spotlight. When Epic Destinies is finished, I’ll probably post the snugglebunny’s RPG stats, if not sooner.

As any snugglebunny can tell you, sometimes all you need is a hug or a gentle ear. Me? I’m all ears! I’d love to hear your thoughts on this blog, our current and upcoming projects and more! Time is limited if I’m ever going to get Toonarian goodies to market, but I can also chat on some other topics as well. Let’s raise the mark and enjoy some positive, encouraging discussions here and/or on our QT Games forums. Till next week, friends . . . every day’s a gift! Appreciate what’s working in your life and never give up! Cheers!

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Toonaria: Creating a Universe Part 5

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Humans are optional. When I began designing the Toonaria universe, I set aside the usual fantasy tropes of dwarves, elves, gnomes, etc. I love those classic creatures, but wanted something completely different. In fact, I wasn’t even sure I wanted to include humans. Ultimately, I did include them, though they are not a major species in Toonaria, at least not on the “sky ark” I will be spotlighting for many years to come. Now, different doesn’t mean better, but I’ll address that shortly.  

Why did I include humans at all? Well, for one, because they bring to the table instant understanding. I write a lot of blended-genre stories (fantasy blended with science fiction and other genres), which means introducing a non-human character is more complicated than introducing a common one. You have to introduce the species, too, or confusion will result. With a new species, you have to at some point delve into a number of topics (psychology, customs, language, physiology, etc.) That’s fine, of course (fun, even), but such concepts must be dealt with carefully. And when it comes to shorter stories or games, some just want to play what they know.

With humans, you can slap on a name and gender and just jump into the action. Those of you reading this blog who are humans understand what I’m talking about. You don’t have to think, you just know what humans are basically like. The rest can be revealed in time or left to the imagination.

I handled things differently with my Cosmoverse Campaign Setting, which does include both the classic tropes as well as a large number of unique species. In that universe, even the classics I turned on their heads, changing them in a few ways. Largely, however, a dwarf is still a dwarf and an elf and elf. I focused my creative energies more on making those classics feel a bit different and even more on the other species, exotic locales, unusual magic system, etc.

Of course, if you are dealing with numerous worlds as I am, you can easily ignore elves, for example, and focus on worlds without them. The Cosmoverse is an enormous, rich setting, so it’s a non-issue.

For Toonaria, I wanted to focus on both smaller species, and to —ahem—a smaller degree, on much, much larger kaiju species. Both types open up an amazing number of interesting story concepts. Adventuring in Toonaria does not feel like adventuring in any other universe for many reasons. I’ll delve more into Toonarian adventures in the months ahead (See also earlier blog posts!)

The major species I currently have slated for my Epic Destinies Roleplaying Game (drawn from Toonaria) include: Domas, gubblings, jawbas, moobis, orynii, puffs, robotos (a floating shell housing a dying species), traku, shinar and vogs. Never heard of ’em? Don’t worry. That will change before long. I’ve talked about a few of them on this very blog, as well as on my QT Games forums, but we’ll discuss them more later.

The thing is (and don’t hate me for saying it) . . . innovation is overrated. It really is. Don’t get me wrong—I’m all for it, but it has advantages and disadvantages. And of course we don’t need another generic fantasy or science fiction universe (or copycat universe, for that matter.) That leaves us with one of my earliest design goals for both Toonaria and the Cosmoverse, both of which I have been exploring through games, stories and art for well over thirty years: Create something familiar, but not too familiar, something obscure, but not too obscure. Let me explain . . .

Humans are extremely familiar to most of us (heh), and including them is an exception—by that I mean they are handy to include, but at the same time, if you want things interesting, you need to do what I’ve done and shake them up a bit.

As for new species, anyone can throw a bunch of names into a bucket or random generator app, and draw two (cat/whale, elf/dog, blob/horse). Doing so would likely turn up innovative new species, but that’s not necessarily a good thing. And it’s definitely not something I’ve done, though I love to brainstorm. I’ve lovingly crafted each creature, as well as their talents, backstory, personality and more.

Nobody wants stale, but they also don’t want the uber obscure either. The more obscure something is, the harder it is for people to identify with it, and identification is one of the keys to immersion. You can get pretty crazy with your concepts, but obscure/innovation does slow down comprehension, and in some cases, enjoyment (There is an exception to every rule, of course.) It is very difficult for most humans to understand how a cat/whale would think, much less a blob/horse. Me? I have zero interest in reading about a cat/whale or blob/horse, but you get my point.

Anyone can be innovative, but I suggest caution. Bizarre creatures have their place, but don’t expect your average joe to identify well with them without jumping through some serious hoops. And be sure to think them through carefully before moving forward with “unique” designs.

Personally, I prefer to think of “innovative” as referring to something that’s not only new, but also useful and cool. Skip innovation for the sake of innovation and focus more on the experience you are trying to deliver.

With Toonaria, I’ve created a universe populated by a very wide variety of creatures, most of whom are at least vaguely humanoid in appearance, but they are quite different from humans, to say the least. They are unique, but understandable, and struggle with some of the same things we do in the “real” world. They deal with loneliness, pride, fear, and other familiar concepts.

Connecting with the real world helps make your creatures more real, even if they are pink and fuzzy, have magical ears, or “some other third thing”. I’ve gone way off the beaten path with Toonaria (my sky arks, for example, instead of regular worlds), but I have strategically grounded key elements in reality to ensure a sense of familiarity while still stepping not only out of, but away from the box.

Okay, that’s all for this week. I may revisit the “Creating a Universe” series in the future if I both find the time and you show enough interest, but next week this blog will focus on other Toonarian topics. As always, if you would like to know more about a particular aspect of Toonaria, or just want to chat about our upcoming creative projects, I’m all ears! Have an amazing rest of the week, friends!

Posted in Art, author, blended-genre, Campaign Setting, Cosmoverse, Epic Destinies, fantasy, Fiction, Game Design, games, QT Games, Role-playing, Roleplaying, RPG, Sci-fi, science fiction, Toonaria | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Toonaria: Creating a Universe Part 4

endless-clouds

Travel way over the rainbow with me to far away Toonaria, a realm of exotic creatures, fantastic places, advanced technology, and magic like you’ve never seen it before. In the days ahead, I’ll share more of my fiction, games and art, hoping you, like me, will fall in love with the realms and unusual creatures that have captivated my attention for nearly four decades. If you’ve missed earlier posts, I recommend starting here: click!)

What goes into creating a big, blended-genre universe like Toonaria, or my other, more gritty ‘verse: the Cosmoverse? A lifetime of passion, brainstorming, and elbow grease. Toonaria is my Oz. My playful dream—one that has snuck its way into numerous stories, games and even greeting cards and comic strips. It has invaded my waking thoughts daily, and refuses to let go of me until I explore its deepest reaches.

Finding time to create is one of my biggest challenges in life. By necessity, my highest QT Games priority has to be The Sea Of Worms, Book 1 in the Cosmoverse World Tour series. Even so, I carve out a little time seven days a week for Toonaria, but not nearly as much as I’d like. (That’s not to say I’m not enjoying writing about the Cosmoverse—I love it, but want to do even more on both!) Those of you who are regular readers of this blog know that I’ve written piles of stories, created even more art and over two dozen games set in Toonaria. I aim to create more, and begin publishing my Toonarian work (finally!) via QT Games.

For one reason or another (money being one, time another), I’ve never published anything specifically for Toonaria, only for the Cosmoverse, though Toonarian creatures have popped up in my published fiction and Cosmothea Roleplaying Game sessions. A magazine published pictures of my snugglebunny creature a lifetime ago, and I’ve given away dozens of Toonarian greeting cards over the years. These days, I’m too busy to do greeting cards, and while I’m dying to do a new comic strip, it will have to wait. To me, time is more valuable than gold. Wealth comes and goes, but time is something you can’t get back once it’s gone. I have to be very careful with how I spend my time. As I’ve always said: Every day’s a gift. None of us know how long we have. That doesn’t mean obsess over your dreams or the time you have, but use each day well, my friends! We all need breaks, and we all need each other, so don’t neglect what’s really important. Everything else is just cake!

I’ve worked on my worlds for countless hours, and am currently revamping a board game (Freeze Or Burn) and designing a new tabletop roleplaying game (Epic Destinies), both set in Toonaria. I know of many authors and game designers who have worked hard and a few that have gone far, especially those who are single, or who have put their lives on hold for a time (and in some cases, much longer), to chase their dreams.

I believe in living a balanced lifestyle, and so I have not pushed my worlds ahead of God, family or day job. I can see the draw—my heart aches to work well into the night on my worlds, but my family deserve better, my body and mind still need rest, and so instead, I try to get creative with my “free time”. I also don’t spend huge amounts of time in front of the TV. Entertainment has its place, but my dreams are entertaining enough for me (most of the time. I do enjoy a great movie now and then.) I’m happily married with children, and refuse to ignore my family, or slack on my day job so I can focus more on my career as an author/game designer or artist. That doesn’t mean you’ll have to wait forever to see some Toonarian projects hit the shelves. I’m a very productive person, overall.

I keep with me at all times something to write or draw on so I can unleash the ideas in my head, and multitask while waiting at stop lights, a doctor’s office or after a walk with the dog. As a creator, I have to ask and answer tons of questions in order to flesh out my universes: What types of societies live on my worlds? How do they think? What has shaped their opinions, belief systems and lifestyles? For that matter, what religions, political systems and philosophies are out there, and why? What sorts of creatures populate my realms, anyway? How have they shaped their surroundings, and how have they been molded by them?

One world, or 1 solar system? An entire universe/multiverse with dimensions? Many are the questions a creator needs to ask themselves. How do physics work in the new universe? What color is the sky? The sun—is there even a sun? If something’s different than life on Earth, how is it different, and why? What level or levels of technology are there, and how did they get to be where they are? What genre or genres are present and how do they interact, if at all? What happened in the past? What is happening now, and where is the universe heading? Does magic exist, and if so, how does it work, and how has it impacted life? Okay, you don’t have to ask yourself all these questions, but you might want to. That, and more. It depends on the scope of your world(s). Are you dealing with galactic empires as I do in the Cosmoverse or the drama taking place in a single high school or town dealing with a zombie outbreak?

Every creature needs to have a backstory, custom, language, eating habits, talents, values/belief system(s), and much more to make them feel real. What about foreign relations? Crime? Fashion? War? Exploration? The questions are endless!

So, how does one start, much less finish such a herculean project? Frankly, you can start anywhere, and then spread out from there, asking and answering one question at a time, and remembering that it’s okay to change your mind later (at least until you start publishing or sharing your universe(s) with others, as I’ve done via tabletop roleplaying, board and card games with friends and with my fiction and art.

Everything I publish becomes canon, so I have to be careful. I understand fully why Disney decided to pair down the backstory for Star Wars. It got too crazy huge. Both my Toonaria and Cosmoverse Campaign Settings have been around nearly as long as Star Wars and are enormous, which is why I’m revamping Toonaria and am uber careful with each new Cosmoverse release.

When I was preparing to bring on board authors to help write novellas for Arcane Synthesis: A Blended-Genre Anthology, I had to prepare a Setting Bible to help them understand the Cosmoverse well enough to write about it. It was at that time that I realized just how big that universe had gotten. As a result, my Bible never felt complete. (One never really finishes making a universe.)

The Cosmoverse is larger than Toonaria, and I’ve struggled many times to write a complete timeline for it because it is so freaking huge! As I revamp Toonaria, I’m constantly refining and even expanding it, but I’m doing so in a very organized fashion, so I’m hoping it won’t get out of hand. So far, so good!

Thankfully, Arcane Synthesis worked out great. I hope to put out Divine Synthesis one of these days (exploring the gods of the Cosmoverse and the impact of the mysterious GodStorm), and have recently finished The Shadow Reaper, one of my all-time favorite Cosmoverse stories. I have many other stories in the works slated for down the road, but Toonaria will be taking center stage before long. It deserves some time in the spotlight (though I’ll never stop writing about the Cosmoverse, too—no worries!)

If you are considering making a universe or have already started, I encourage you to keep a concise, but comprehensive bible and timeline. As I mentioned earlier, you don’t have to answer everything right away. Brainstorm considerably before making things “fact” in your universe. If you aren’t sure how brainstorming works, look it up on Google. It is critical to the success of any project. At some point, however, you have to reel in your imagination and ask the tough questions (Like, “Why does it work that way?” and, “How does that affect everything else? You don’t need to incorporate all of your ideas. Sometimes less is more, after all.

I love blending genres together, so my universes are fairly complex. I also love writing lore and making up creatures, but you don’t have to know everything about your universe. For that matter, it’s good to leave some areas unexplored—for both the readers/players and you to discover later.) Toonaria has floating islands, god-like artificial intelligences, fallen gods, post-apocalyptic environments, thriving societies of adorable monsters with extraordinary powers, towering kaiju, crazy cool magic, unexplored dimensions, virtual reality, dream parks, zombies unlike any you’ve ever heard of, and all sorts of things that likely could never happen in real life.

I mentioned in a previous post that in Toonaria, fun trumps logic every time. I’m not shooting for near future realism. I’ll leave that to reality buffs and the scientifically inclined. I do a good amount of research, and if you are designing a universe, you should too! But if you put too much science into something, you can also end up painting yourself into a corner only to be corrected and embarrassed later.

Some things can and should be left up to the imagination (or the Game Master.) Other aspects need special treatment and attention (Like, “How can a jawba out eat a tribe of gubblings?” And yes, a jawba can do just that! I answered it, and it makes sense. Internal logic is important, but allow yourself to breath, to create, to get fantastical or use magic to answer some questions. Doing so is not only okay, in some cases, it’s downright mandatory. Toonaria is larger than life, so I’m not allowing myself to get bogged down in concepts some believe are scientifically impossible (floating islands, for example.) Why spoil all the fun?

Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something. (Or at least don’t let them discourage you.) Do ensure you present your vision in a manner that allows others to suspend disbelief, or at least become wrapped up in your stories. Sometimes a question might be interesting to explore even if it doesn’t need to be. For example: Why does the “yellow brick road” of Oz meander in places, and why is it so darn yellow? Did the munchkins have a hard time finding Emerald City and therefore need such a bold path to follow? Did their species get lost easily?

Yellow brick road
Is that a red brick road in the picture, above? I think the red pavers might just be how the rest of the town is paved, but it would be more interesting if there really was a red brick road. Where would it lead? Doesn’t really matter, but as the creator of a universe, you not only have to create many things, you have to decide whether you will explain them and to what degree. In my book, Sea of Worms, I wrote three different legends for the Sea of Worms and let the readers decide which one is true, if any. I could have written one or even none. What power creators have, and what fun it is to create!

Well, that’s all for this week, folks. Next week, I’ll switch gears and leave the creation process aside for a bit and talk about Toonaria specifically. Not to beat a dead horse, but I’d love to hear your thoughts! Are you creating a universe for your fiction or games, or do you just enjoy reading about them? Do you want to know more about mine? Don’t be a stranger. Let’s explore the universes together!

—Bob Whitely
QT Games

Posted in Arcane Synthesis, author, blended-genre, Campaign Setting, Cosmoverse, Epic Destinies, fantasy, Fiction, Game Design, novel, publishing, QT Games, Role-playing, Roleplaying, RPG, Sci-fi, science fiction, superheroes, Toonaria | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Toonaria: Creating a Universe Part 3

Deep_space_ToonariaWelcome back to another entry in the Creating a Universe series, where I go behind the scenes and discuss what I’ve been creating and why. I believe in developing a battle plan for every dream, working my tail off, and not giving up until I’ve either achieved it, or no longer draw breath. You can’t fail if you never give up, but I also believe in being realistic, doing research, experimenting, and getting additional pro help (Pro editors, artists, designers, etc.)

Ego/arrogance/pride/secrecy/worry/doubt only hurts your dreams, as does living an unbalanced lifestyle (relationships and health are more important than any career.) As for my dreams, I’ve been working on them for a very long time and thought I’d talk about the process a bit, as it relates to my universes, hence this latest series.

In Part 1, I provided some context and talked about a few of the goals I’ve had since the beginning (a thick blend of high fantasy and science fiction, caches of uber-advanced technology, the ability for even an average joe to change things in an extraordinary way, for better or worse, superheroes, flawed gods, the GodStorm, and other fun elements in my campaign settings.)

Wait, campaign settings? By that, I mean Toonaria and the Cosmoverse, which are sprawling, imaginary universes—backdrops for both my fiction and tabletop rpg/board and card games.) For an expanded overview, read Part 1!

In Part 2, I discussed QT Games’ unusual take on magic. Be sure to check that out too, if you haven’t. And I’ll shed even more light on these concepts down the road (and you can pick up a free book on my publishing site for an even juicier bite! There’s also a big excerpt for my anthology: Arcane Synthesis here!) I also have a forum and site for all things Cosmoverse and Toonaria at QT Games. ‘Nuff said, let’s roll . . .

Today, I’m going to spend some time talking more about what I’ve been up to, and why I started creating Toonaria when I had (and still have) such big plans for the Cosmoverse. (The Cosmoverse is also blended-genre, includes some of the same elements as Toonaria, and is even bigger — If you’ve seen the giant star map, then you know the Cosmoverse is really quite vast. I printed only 3 maps and put one up on my wall–it’s a giclée art print, even! It’s quite “purdy”, I think — one day I hope to have a “need” to print many more.)

In addition to being an author and game designer, I’m a commercial artist, and have always brought a notebook or clipboard everywhere I’ve gone. I’ve been doing this for as long as I can remember. If I’m not designing a new creature, I’m brainstorming a game mechanic or laying out a new story. Some of my most productive moments have been at red lights or while walking the dog (for that, though, I have to wait till I get home to flesh out my ideas.) Cartooning has been one of my many loves, and I’ve come up with a large number of critters over the years, more than a few of which were cute, like this one you’ve seen before (I didn’t have time to chase down another):
gubbling

In the late ’70’s, refusing to let my young age stop me, I started making board and card games spotlighting my characters. Inspired by Tom Wham’s comic book-styled backstory for his Awful Green Things From Outerspace board game, I started drawing comic strips to tell the backstories for my own games. Being very young and still very rough around the edges, I didn’t realize just how rough my work was back then.

I submitted one of my games to the same company that published Tom Wham’s games (then TSR, now WotC), but they told me they were only accepting Tom Wham’s games in a cartoony art style. That turned out not to be entirely true, but looking back at my work then, as fond as I still am of many of those early concepts, I’m not surprised. They were turning me down gently. I didn’t let it discourage me, but kept designing, drawing and writing like mad.

My 7th grade English teacher had been pushing me hard to pursue a career in writing after a continuous flow of A+’s, so I switched to writing short stories for my own games. I never stopped doodling, however. When it came to games, Wham and I thought alike for the most part. I’ve always avoided crunchy rules, preferring simpler mechanics and storytelling, and my Epic Destinies Roleplaying Game, a card-based game using my toony critters, is no exception.

Even so, I do like a rich reading and gaming experience, having cut my teeth on Dungeons and Dragons and numerous other roleplaying games. As such, even Epic Destinies and my Toonaria Campaign Setting include some deeper elements, and enough mechanics so you aren’t left scratching your head guessing how to handle things. Epic Destinies is still under heavy construction and I’m revamping and expanding Toonaria.

I’ve matured as an author, artist, game designer and as a person (at least a little, I hope!) And I’ve worked hard to make Toonaria a place that grown ups can enjoy at least as much as younger adventurers. I’m not actually designing Toonaria for kids, but I’ll be keeping it PG enough that it can be enjoyed by young teens and up. Okay, tangent over—back to the “Why am I working on Toonaria?”

Every time I started creating a board or card game I couldn’t help but ask loads of questions about the critters I was populating them with (In my big, Minotaur Madness board game, I included over thirty creatures and several short stories–it was a really big game.) I never cared much abstract games. I wanted stories! I wanted characters, not pawns, and I wanted to know why they were doing what they were doing, how they felt about it, how they got along in between the games, and what their lives were like. So I wrote piles of stories about them all. Minotaur Madness became this huge, intimidating thing, though if you glanced through the rulebook, you’d see over half of it was only stories. Still, it was an expensive game to make, and I had crafted a 3 dimensional game board for it.

Minotaur Madness was under review at TSR for a year and a half. They were interested enough to work with me to develop 3 iterations of the game, each simpler, slicker and cheaper to make than the last. Unfortunately, they were struggling financially and the company nearly collapsed, and so ultimately they couldn’t afford to publish it. Just as well, as I’ve grown leaps and bounds as a designer since then (you never stop growing if you never stop), and now I can have more creative control over Toonaria, my fiction and my games.

I am finally in a position to start publishing at a higher level of quality, especially with the help of Kickstarter and you. Okay, I would love to be able to say some of my games have already been published, but I believe I’m heading in the right direction (it’s just taking longer than I’d like.)

High quality is one thing I’ve always been committed to. I’m not interested in publishing Toonaria or anything else unless it rocks. That means I work hard to get things right, always use pro editors, and when my own work falls short artistically or otherwise, I find another pro to assist. I’m not above teaming up, and have done so before on my Cosmothea Roleplaying Game. I don’t rush things (my upcoming novel, The Shadow Reaper, went through around 12 drafts and two pro editors, costing me a pretty penny, but I couldn’t be happier with the results, so it was all worth it, exhausting as it was.)

As for why I’m pursuing Toonaria when I had already started developing my gritty Cosmoverse Campaign Setting, well, I didn’t set out to make another universe. Toonaria came together on its own, showing me it was needed, because I couldn’t stop drawing and writing about it! I made prototypes for over two dozen games, each with their own creatures. Toonaria filled a different niche, one that inspired laughter, hope and courage, touching on different and sometimes important concepts in ways I could never address in my more serious Cosmoverse.

Toonaria embraces a more innocent image of yesteryear, and avoids the sleazy trappings present in modern TV, cable shows and music, without pretending that such things don’t exist. It offers a breath of fresh air for those tired of reality TV, sexually-saturated media, tired tropes and intolerance, and handles interesting topics in fun ways. Oh, and it’s silly at times. It just is. At other times, it’s thought-provoking, despite appearances. It does deal with some deep topics in subtle ways. And the games are flexible enough to enable players to focus on the sort of tone and experience they’re shooting for. Those are all things that I’m betting a good number of you feel we could use more of! Toonaria and Epic Destinies (not to mention my board and card games) aren’t kiddie games with elementary school stories (nor are my Toonarian stories)—they just don’t pander to the darker, sleazier side of modern culture.

So, Toonaria is my outlet for telling different kinds of stories, stories that may not be “cool” in the way that some think of as cool, but have a special significance and charm all of their own. They’re cool in a different way. If I do my job right, many of you will fall in love with Toonaria as my friends, family and I have over the decades. I’m tired of creating and not publishing, so now I’m doing both. If you help spread the word and back my projects on Kickstarter (or just buy them), that will help me create even more, which means we all win!

I’m working on several very cool projects currently for both Toonaria and the Cosmoverse. Both The Shadow Reaper (A story I get giddy just thinking about), and Sea of Worms will be out before too long, and I’m working very hard on other projects as well.  More good stuff’s coming! That’s all for today, my friends. Don’t be silent, let me know your thoughts, and let’s chat!

Till next week (when I write a shorter post!), remember that every day’s a gift, and every dream worth dreaming is one worth planning for—and working hard at. If you don’t have a dream, I encourage you to think up a good one, or stand with another and share theirs. Cheers!

 

Posted in anthology, Arcane Synthesis, Art, author, blended-genre, Campaign Setting, Cosmoverse, Epic Destinies, fantasy, Fiction, Game Design, novel, publishing, QT Games, Role-playing, Roleplaying, RPG, Sci-fi, science fiction, superheroes, Toonaria | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Toonaria: Creating a Universe Part 2

The-History-of-Magic_QT_Games

In the beginning, Oaa created a great many things . . . one of them was magic, and Toonaria has never been the same since. As promised, today I’ll be talking a little about the unusual magic system found in both my Toonaria and Cosmoverse universes. If you are just jumping on board (welcome!) feel free to read Part 1 first. It isn’t necessary to enjoying this post, but I’m sure you’d get a kick out of it, (and our Mysteries of Toonaria series a few posts down, for that matter.)

Okay, I’m just going to dive right in, focusing on Toonarian magic for now, and give a brief rundown. Magic works largely the same in both of my universes.

Absolutely no one who knows a thing about magic in Toonaria uses scrolls or spell books. They’re much too frail. Wands? What are those?

Before you drag me off to be stoned, bare with me, read further, and check out my earlier posts about magic. Doing so, you’ll likely surprise yourself and fall in love with the magical Toonarian and Cosmoverse tools of the trade. For the record, while I started writing about Toonaria and the Cosmoverse long, long before Harry Potter became a thing, I have nothing against wands and spell books. But with my universes, I was shooting for upping the cool factor. I wanted to see if it was possible to come up with exciting options that were off the beaten path. I couldn’t be happier with the results!

Here’s an overview of Toonarian and Cosmoverse magic:

Magic is very dangerous, but also terribly useful. Most creatures can’t tolerate more than a little magic flowing through their veins. Storing large amounts of magic internally can make you sick, or worse. As such, most rely on a magical device called a power template (also known as an arcane apparatus) to store the bulk of one’s magic. Beats dying of the Withering any day. Mages also use racassas to aim their magic (among other things). Such devices can look like anything from a bladeless sword hilt to a gun, and oftentimes mages will mount a weapon or power cube (f’lantii) onto their racassa to unlock additional cool features.

Templates are also used to store arcane notes, runes and spells, which can be used to shape spells. During a battle, it’s possible for a template to become damaged, lowering its efficiency, cutting off access to spells, enhanced features and more.

Financing a template’s construction is no small matter. Usually, only children from wealthy families manage to avoid sizable bank loans or lengthy indentured servitude to cover such costs.

Thanks to the Onji Mojo dueling system that I’m hoping to also release as a standalone card game one of these days, it’s possible to protect one’s template from arcane hacking and direct damage and still engage in a high octane magical duel without ever casting a single spell. Instead, shapers can manifest traps, special guardians and champions to protect them from harm.

The mysterious GodStorm, which has most folks (and gods, too) on the edge of their seats, made casting spells even more dangerous, especially misfires. When things go wrong, they can go way wrong, sometimes in amusing ways, but other times in downright deadly ways.

There is no limit to the amount of magic an arcane shaper can cast, though they have a “safety threshold” and a maximum number of potent spells that are possible without upping the danger even further. All day long a shaper’s template absorbs magic. The problem is trying to expend too much magic within a short period of time. Doing so can result in an arcane accident, template damage, etc. The trick is to know just how far you can push your luck and resist the temptation to go overboard and get yourself in over your head.

Most spells range in power from Power Order (PO) 1 through 10. There are also ancient spells which pop up every now and then. These start at PO 10 and get quite powerful, though few beyond the gods can master them.

There are also Epic spells, miracles and enchantments, which are rare and slightly more powerful than normal spells. Epic spells range in power from PO 1-15. They offer more potent, fun effects, even at PO 1. For Example, with the epic miracle, Awaken, even a Sleeper (Read “Dead” for people living outside Toonaria) can be awakened at PO 1. They don’t stay awake long from such a weak miracle, but Awaken has its uses, and when a holy adept learns how to cast higher order versions of it, such miracles (and epic spells) can be very handy.

Magic is only useful for spellcasting, miracles and enchantments when it is in its quintessence form. Power users store another, weaker form, within their bodies called “maki”, which they use to control their template and perform minor magical tricks (also called maki.) Quintessance is the refined form of maki, which itself is a little more refined than pure magic (quari.) Quari is found in a huge abundance throughout most of the realms. Some creatures breath quari and exhale quintessance. Maki is the result of an expended spell or other magical effect breaking down after the effect has worn off. It, too, is found in abundance.

When quintessence is exposed to significant amounts of certain mundane metals and chemicals, Entropy forms. Volatile, Entropy has been known to disrupt the flow of magic, causing accidents and misfires. It can also be harmful to creatures exposed to it—especially magic wielders. As such, most mages don’t wear armor, and those that do, only wear special metals.

Shapers with advanced training can crack into their spell templates and swap out key components to improve spell efficiency and expand their spells’ options. It isn’t uncommon to see a mage rush over after an illegal street duel and attempt to hack into a fallen mage’s template in hopes of salvaging something. One has to be careful fooling around with another’s template, as such devices can be rigged to discourage tampering.

This last one is super secret, so don’t share it with anyone, okay? Promise? Great! Here goes . . . Toonarian magic doesn’t really require lil components like the wing of a bat, snot from an ogre, blood of a virgin or anything else like that. We’re not talking witchcraft real, or imagined. We’re talking Toonarian magic, and it only needs a physical component in certain cases (as when you want to imbue a ring with power – you gotta have a ring, of course!) Further, shapers don’t need to gesticulate wildly or most of the other antics you see in movies and fantasy books to look cool.

Toonarian magic needs a sharp, clear mind, concentration, and certain runes to be present, as well as the shaper to use her mind to “shape” a spell. That’s it. All that other mumbo jumbo, when it’s done at all, is merely to baffle and impress onlookers and keep magic even more mysterious than it already is! Call it job security, if you will.

Actually, there is a lot about magic that we just don’t know, and even without all the gimmicks I mentioned above, learning magic is just not easy (though some artists are able to do it without the geometry and other trappings–intuitively, and with paint or markers, no less!

You can read even more about magic in my novels (read a free excerpt!) If you join my newsletter, you can even get a free book to boot! In it there is a conceptual adept who can indeed use his creativity instead of brains to manifest spells. Read The Train Less Traveled!) Hopefully before long you’ll be able to read about magic in my games, too, and actually try it out in-game.

That’s all for this week, friends. Questions? Comments? I’d love to hear from you! Cheers!

 

Posted in Art, author, blended-genre, Campaign Setting, fantasy, Fiction, Game Design, games, novel, publishing, QT Games, Role-playing, Roleplaying, RPG, Sci-fi, science fiction, superheroes, Toonaria | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Toonaria: Creating a Universe Part 1

universe-for-blog

Creating a universe is a herculean task from any vantage point. I’m sure creating a real one is a real doozy, but I’m just talking fiction, of course. For well over three decades, I’ve devoted huge amounts of time to creating not one, but two: Toonaria and the Cosmoverse.

My quest was made a tad easier by sharing some concepts between them, despite their significant differences. This wasn’t laziness–I had some concepts overlap so I could explore how they are affected by their environment and opportunities. (Certain gods can be found in both, for example, but they are Not the same.) In other ways, the universes are significantly different and the tone is very different as well.

Universes being rather large constructs, we’re talking lifelong projects, here. I thought I’d take a lil break from the Mysteries of Toonaria series and spend some time talking about what sorts of considerations go into designing a universe.

First a bit of backstory: To date, I’ve designed over two dozen games (most still languishing in boxes) and have written three novels set in the Cosmoverse (one that is sitting on a shelf waiting for a good number of rewrites). I’ve also written a portion of three other novels, and wrote a huge pile of short stories set in both Toonaria and the Cosmoverse. I’ll publish as many of the best ones as I can while I can in the days ahead.

Wait a minute. You have published something, haven’t you?

Yes, finally. I got tired of seeing some of my games and stories sitting in boxes or popping up in other people’s works, so in 2015, I published my first book, Arcane Synthesis, via QT Games LLC. I have two more books due out by early 2018 (one is completely done, except book formatting, the other: The Sea of Worms, I’ll have done later this year, if all goes well.)

Actually, I’ve written a ton of contemporary plays and skits over the years as well, a large number of which I’ve produced and even acted in, both in the US and abroad. None of them were set in these universes.

Both Toonaria and the Cosmoverse are near and dear to my heart. Most of my board games are set in Toonaria, and in my spare time, I’m revamping one (Freeze Or Burn) that I created a very long time ago, along with a new card-based roleplaying game (Epic Destinies.)

As for Toonaria and the Cosmoverse, they have also been the backdrop for most of my stories and games. Chances are, countless stories could still be told in these universes long after I’m six feet under. That’s not a boast–I know I’m not perfect or the hottest author out there, but I’ve always taken my time to build into my universes plenty of mystery, and more than a little backstory, exotic creatures and fantastic places.

Of course, I haven’t been designing in a vacuum. I read books, play games and watch movies like everyone else. I’ve let many things inspire me over the years, and of course I also innovate, brainstorming new concepts and new spins on old concepts. If I find something I love and it seems appropriate to do so, the concept eventually makes its way into one of my universes, and sometimes both. I don’t just kitchen sink the universes tossing in anything that I feel like on a whim, though. I consider carefully how something might affect the rest of the universe(s) as well as the existing tone, backstory, etc. I make it feel like it belongs, or I leave it out.

As I love flexing my creativity, I can’t resist changing things, so sometimes when I have included a cool concept I ran across somewhere, I reenvision it, making it my own– changing numerous aspects. Everything from visual to psychological and origin story is subject to considerable changes. For example, I have a species of godzilla-like creatures living underwater, but they are quite different (and much smaller) than the famous one. I also have a Kong-like gorilla, but his backstory and abilities couldn’t be further from anything you’ve ever heard of. Creating is fun stuff! As I said, it’s hard work, too, but I don’t regret a moment I’ve spent designing universes.

With both Toonaria and the Cosmoverse, one of my goals was to build in ways in which the average Joe could accomplish anything. So, both universes include fantastic technology, magic and even superheroes. Some might call my work Science Fantasy genre, but I call it blended-genre. I’ve given my reasons for this before, so I won’t elaborate here, as this is already getting longish.) Just this one decision alone, blew the doors off of what was possible.

I wanted caches of exotic technology that few could understand, but anyone could accidentally activate, causing all manner of chaos and interesting stories, so I created the ancient Architects. These god-like AI have their own agendas and travel the universes leaving behind machines and objects of power for reasons of their own. They aren’t doing it randomly –these aren’t merely plot devices–they have a reason for every object they’ve placed, but the mysteries behind them are not usually obvious.

I devoted a blog post to the GodStorm recently. It is a magical phenomenon that moves around unpredictably between dimensions and universes changing everything it touches. I GM’d a long-running adventure of the gods on the QT Games forums (and WotC forums before that) a few years back that was just starting to get into the GodStorm. It ended before it’s time (I stopped it so I could devote more time to writing and designing). Had it continued, it would have revealed the origin of the GodStorm.

Why did I make it? I wanted something that even the gods were afraid of. I wanted an anomaly that could change life wherever it went, and came up with ideas on how it worked and why.  I’ve hinted here and there on such matters, and couldn’t be happier with how it turned out. It can be used for so many things by Game Masters as well as by authors (yep, I’m hoping to continue having other authors write in my universes in the future, as I don’t have time to write everything.) The GodStorm has appeared in many stories (both my own, and those I’ve commissioned from other authors.) It also appears in my upcoming novel: The Shadow Reaper.

Next week, I’ll talk about magic and how I turned the concept of spellcasting on its head to provide a unique and exciting experience for both readers and gamers. Do you have a Toonarian topic you’d like me to write about– an aspect of Toonaria you would like me to reveal? Let me know. I’d love to hear from you. Cheers!

Posted in Arcane Synthesis, author, blended-genre, Campaign Setting, Cosmoverse, Epic Destinies, fantasy, Fiction, Game Design, novel, Play-by-Post, publishing, QT Games, Role-playing, Roleplaying, RPG, Sci-fi, science fiction, superheroes, Toonaria | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments