Roll for initiative!

Have you ever rolled the dice so hard that you completely forgot about the money and stumbled straight into storytelling? 

I owe somebody an explanation.

Certainly not you, but buckle up, because you're already here. Right place. Wrong time.

I was absolutely not that nerdy kid growing up. But I was certainly weird, and neither swimming meets nor drama club could change my reputation during middle and high school.

In hindsight though, I didn't want to be anything else except weird. I'm pretty proud of the kid I was, to say the least. I promise there's a point to this, though.

So I survived high school, got into a college with a solid creative writing program, learned how to longboard, and took advantage of a fresh start like every other freshman.

Something I got into right away was Nerf Guild. Two nights a week, we took over the old humanities building with modded nerf blasters and over-the-top costumes. We had some typical games like team slayer and capture-the-flag. We also had zombie tag.

There's no point where I got tagged by a zombie and thought to myself "Wow, what if we pretended I was actually getting eaten by one?" But a few months in, I learned about this post-apocalyptic zombie LARP in New Jersey. So I gave it a try, and after a couple of false starts (winter is a terrible time to try larping outdoors), I ended up playing that game for just over five years.

That was the beginning of games for me. LARPs turned into TTRPGs very quickly, and less than a year later, I was helping run Dresden File LARPS and devouring Fate Core mechanics for my friends. It was weird, but weird is awesome. I'd fallen head over heels for narrative-style roleplaying games in particular, so of course, I got it into my head that I could write these games too.

And shockingly, I did.

There have been moments of great triumph and righteous fury. I can say that I'm an award-winning game designer. I can't say that it helped all that much. But every now and then, I got to do some really good work, which you can read about below.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, I continued freelancing for six months before taking a massive step back from game design. I had a lot of reasons why. Still do, honestly. 

But the door is never locked. I'm still playing. Still running games. I expect you'll see something new here soon. A lot sooner than you think, perhaps. But since it's harder to run and play the games we love, game design is certainly something that has languished for me during the pandemic.

But it'll pass. I promise.

 - Nicolas Hornyak, December 29, 2021, 11:37 pm

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We Are Wild

We Are Wild is a roleplaying game built on the tradition of collaborative storytelling. In the game, you play the Wild Children, or simply the Wild for short, as the Last Paradise is threatened by the Harvesters—adult humans bent on harnessing the magical energies of the island which the Wild rely upon for their powers.

"We all start out somewhere.

"This game was written for Game Chef 2015, and is probably my first real crack at designing something original. The theme that year was "A Different Audience" so a lot of designers were tackling the question of new formats for new players. I took a very simple approach and designed my game to the scale of a poster. Hang it up, read, play. I even commissioned art for it, just for my own professional satisfaction. The design of the island is clearly inspired by Puerto Rico, so there's some solid roots here about my future work.

"We Are Wild did not survive the peer review process. Four designers took a look at it. Not one realized it was supposed to be a poster. On the computer, it just looks like an overcrowded mess.

"Welp. You live and learn."

 
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Deception - A Metagame

A pen-and-paper ARG played with yourself and your imagination. Deception is a metagame in which players spend time at gatherings such as conventions or conferences carrying Truths with them. These short snippets of text put new and unique spins on their surroundings while joining them to their own personal conspiracies. A person can also enter play at any time by finding one of the envelopes laying around and are free to exit by leaving their Truth in a place where somebody can find it.

Deception is a game on one page of paper. It, along with lots of Truths, are hosted on Tumblr.

"This game came out in 2015 during the Metatopia Game Design Festival. It wasn't a 'release' per se. I assembled a stack of twenty or thirty of them without my name on the front, wrote up Truths, and layered a puzzle on top that would reveal the name of the designer if you solved it. I don't think anyone actually took the time to solve it, but I didn't tell a soul that I wrote it until the final night when my best friend pulled her copy out for another look. She must've caught on by then, though. I kept sneaking off to leave more copies around the conference.

"The next morning, when I told the organizer, she asked me to let her know in the future so that I wouldn't accidentally leave it somewhere I shouldn't."

 
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Celestial Bodies - Golden Cobra Anthology 2015

The Golden Cobra Challenge is a friendly contest open to anybody who wishes to design and play freeform LARPs. It normally runs in the months before Metatopia, a Double Exposure conference and game design festival held in Morristown, NJ, every November.

Celestial Bodies is Nicolas Hornyak's 2015 entry. It's an abstract romance LARP where you play great bodies of the cosmos in a meditative state.

"I think I mention on the fiction timeline that my first manuscript was really, really bad. This entry sometimes feels like the game design equivalent. It was probably the first proper freeform LARP I ever wrote, and I constantly get this unnerving feeling that I blew it.

 

"The difference is that anybody can read it. Dammit.

"A cursory glance soothes me a little. Not much, but a little. I don't think I've quoted Emily Dickinson on paper since writing this. I was clearly using my degree here, as I graduated the same year."

 
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Dino Dig Daze! - Golden Cobra Anthology 2016

The Golden Cobra Challenge is a friendly contest open to anybody who wishes to design and play freeform LARPs. It normally runs in the months before Metatopia, a Double Exposure conference and game design festival held in Morristown, NJ, every November.

Dino Dig Daze! is Nicolas Hornyak's 2016 entry. It's a comedy about the ghosts of dinosaurs whose fossils have been mistaken for replicas in a children's exhibit

"I vaguely recall that one of the ingredients was dinosaurs, and they wanted to see some comedy games in 2016. At the time, I had just finished my first summer working at a children's museum, during which the staff organized a Dino Dig with replica fossils and an absurd amount of sand. It was one of my favorite spots to work because museums don't really have windows in exhibits, and this was all outdoors. Literally a breath of fresh air.

"This game cracks me up though. 'Like Mean Girls, but with dinosaurs?' This is clearly when I peaked."

 
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Corn! - America's Favorite* Roadtrip RPG

You are a survivor in search of corn. Your goal is to spot corn.

Before you play: consider not playing.

How to play: While you're on the road, keep a vigilant eye out for crops of corn. Upon spotting one, wait until the car is alongside the crop. Once it is, you must shout "CORN!" in order to gain status within the clan. If more than one survivor calls "CORN!" at the same time, they must stare at each other and sing the Ironside siren theme from Kill Bill in order to contest their dominance. If someone calls "CORN!" but there's no corn in sight, they are punished for wasting everyone's time.

After game, commiserate the death of humanity.

"This game started as a joke before taking on life in its current form. On yearly road trips to GenCon in Indianapolis, where I was commonly the sole driver, my riders frequently fell asleep on me. With no one to talk to, and nothing but straight roads after the drive through Pennsylvania (which is hell in and of itself), I just began yelling "CORN" every time we passed a corn field. This pissed off my passengers to no end. They deserved it.

"At some point, I taught it to a bunch of larpers on a bus ride through Poland, which makes this game international. Eventually, I wrote up this ridiculous set of rules, fit for postcards that I never actually printed off. This game has since become one of my most infamous creations, and people are still making fun of me for it after all these years. (Joke's on them: Chuck Wendig, author of  The Heartlands Trilogy, retweeted it on Jan 14, 2018. Clearly my greatest accomplishment.)"

 
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Arecibo - A Fate World of Adventure

Enter the all-too-timely world of Arecibo...

Everyone on the island knew that something was amiss when the power went out. It isn’t that Puerto Ricans never saw their lights and appliances turn back on, but in the municipality of Arecibo, frogs and crickets begin to fall quiet and bring stillness to the night. Slowly but surely, children investigate and start to understand that something far worse than mere animals dwells in their tropical paradise. But when the island is abruptly blockaded by US Armed Forces, it's up to them to determine what has gone wrong when no adult will listen, and perhaps stop the very end of the world.

 

In the far reaches of space, something stirs in response to the Arecibo message. Deep in the giant caverns of the island, another answers. Stranger Things and the eldritch meets Puerto Rico and Arecibo Observatory in its darkest hours.

"Sound familiar? Yeah...

"This was not the first time a piece of my creative writing seemed to predict the future, but this one was overt. Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico a few months before release. The game had been written already! So when Evil Hat reached out and said they wanted to use it to raise money for relief efforts, I said yes instantly, and wrote my first foreword ever.

"Funny enough, out of my three pitches to Evil Hat Productions, I thought this one was the weakest. I was very surprised when they picked it. As a Nuyorican, Arecibo quickly got personal, of course. None of my relatives actually hailed from that city, ironically, so I supplemented a lot of my experiences and visits to that part of Puerto Rico with research, and that turned the game into a clever sort of travel guide.

"After its release, a friend of mine submitted it to IGDN's Indie Groundbreaker Awards for their consideration. It got some nominations, but I didn't think it stood a chance against Harlem Unbound. I was almost front row and completely blindsided when Arecibo won the Best Setting award. The first Fate World to win one of those awards, and also, the first game I'd ever been paid to write. Wild."

 
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Dystopia Rising: Evolution

No one knows how long it’s been since the world was blasted with nuclear radiation and became infested with the undead. The survivors of the Fall were the first strain of deviation of the human condition and were able to make it through the rapidly spreading epidemic. Finding a community of decent size in this world is rare; finding one that has any concept of equality or morality is rarer still. 

Oh, and people have the unnerving ability to come back from the dead, regrown from the very virus that destroyed the world.

"I tried for YEARS to land a position on the storytelling staff for the Dystopia Rising LARP (which is, indeed, the game that got me into all this game design work), but no luck. I left the game for unrelated reasons, but fate loves irony.

"Intriguingly, this is also the game that finally put me in the writer's pool for Onyx Path. To my recollection, I was one of only a few writers who beat out a very large pool of candidates (and I think a lot of them still played the LARP, but that might be hearsay).

"I kind of treated it like a reunion and took a very hefty load of words. I think my original assignment was 18,000 words, spread out over four different sections. I even landed one of the short fiction slots! 

 

"But I mention this because the largest section I had was Threats of the Wastes. It was supposed to be evenly divided between me and another writer, but I, like an idiot, took both the Raiders and the Zombies--or about 75% of the enemies. In the end, I had to go way over my word count for the good of the book, and now I have the pleasure of saying that I put more words into this rulebook than any other writer. Not that we can prove it."

 
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The Phantom Hamlet

The Phantom Hamlet is a story game about everyday people left to their own devices with everyday phantoms in a town of your own creation. Featuring simple mechanics to structure your story as though it were onstage at the local theater, its haunting and diegetic narration guides you through how to approach and play this simple game.

Built for 2-5 players, this indie RPG does not require a gamemaster to play.

"A lot of firsts here. First game on Itch.io, first GM-less game I wrote. The origins of this game aren't rooted in Pokemon, sadly.

"Back in college, I spent a year and change as a double major, studying creative writing while collecting credits for the new playwriting and screenwriting major they started in my sophomore year. I loved the theatre, and I enjoyed a good movie as much as the next guy, so it seemed like a logical pursuit.

"Unfortunately, while I had the chops to write plays and dig into dramaturgy, I simply couldn't wrap my head around the theatre history course, which was a requirement for the major. Halfway into the semester, my professor warned me that there was absolutely no way I could pass that class with my current grades. I withdrew from the course to save my GPA, and that was that.

"A year later, my creative writing advisor pointed out that I was only a couple courses away from picking up a screenwriting minor. A happy accident from my failed second major, so I collected on that opportunity. 

"Years later, I spent the first weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic designing this game. Its design is clearly inspired by the publications of the Dramatists Play Service. They probably wouldn't publish it, though."

 
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Silver Age - Fantaji Noir

The only superheroes left are in their mid-50s. They survived the superhero wars of the 1990s by dodging the draft and going into hiding. Of course, everyone who enlisted got killed, so I guess you can't blame them. For more than 20 years, supers have been distrusted and hated, but now the world needs them again. What are you to do?

Silver Age takes great leaps over tall buildings, offering a rule mod called Heroic Scale. This fundamentally changes the relationship between Drama Tokens and dealing damage. Anyone at any time can exchange Drama for damage, which keeps every combatant on their toes. Not only that, the setting also has something for the GM: Last Laugh. This mechanic gives you an alternative way to end scenes and play out tense encounters that you don't want devolving into another slugfest.

"I got this gig because I panicked.

"See, at the time, I worked a job that dried up once school was back in session. So I had two weeks off every September. It was a missed paycheck, but survivable even though I didn't make that much.

"In 2019, my managers informed me that we'd be out of work for closer to three or four weeks that September. I knew I would most certainly not make rent if I sat and did nothing about it. So, in a minor panic, I put out a call for help on Twitter, and Calvin reached out to me about writing this setting.

"I don't recall why he didn't have a writer. I think the prompt came from a Kickstarter backer though? Calvin literally saved my butt that autumn though, and this was a lot of fun. Who says writing doesn't pay the bills?"

 
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Pathfinder 2E - Lost Omens Legends

It's not always what you know, but who you know! The heroes of the Age of Lost Omens forge their path through an uncertain world, but that world has been shaped by many others who came before or who now stand beside them.

 

Lost Omens: Legends provides details on 42 of the Inner Sea region's biggest personalities, from queens and kings that rule the present to distant figures from Golarion's past. Uncover details from the inner lives of movers and shakers from all around the globe, as well as the secret techniques, items, and knowledge PCs might gain from encountering these larger-than-life figures!

"There has never been a better place to emphasize that when you're a writer, a sizable chunk of your success is based on sheer dumb luck. In this case, I was on Twitter at the right time. One of the Paizo developers wanted to extend more opportunities to Latinx writers, so I DM'd him, and he gave me his direct email to send some writing samples over.

"By then, I was finally something of a competent game designer and writer. I had samples from Arecibo, Dystopia Rising: Evolution, and The Snowfall Initiative (still unreleased) all ready to go.

"Not sure how I got from there to here, but I ended up writing Magdalena and Martum Fallows for Lost Omens Legends. I did a TON of research. I listened to a million podcasts about the Underground Railroad on my drive to Gen Con that year. I reread Harriet Jacob's work. The parallels between the Underground Railroad and the Bellflower Network had to be identified, and in turn, respected.

"It was a lot of extra work for four pages. I'm very happy I put the quilts in there. I still have my doubts that I did this one right."

 
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Pathfinder 2E - Advanced Player's Guide

Ready to go beyond the basics? Expand the limits of what's possible with the Pathfinder Advanced Player's Guide! This 272-page Pathfinder Second Edition rulebook contains exciting new rules options for player characters, adding even more depth of choice to your Pathfinder game. Inside you will find brand new ancestries, heritages, and four new classes: the shrewd investigator, the mysterious oracle, the daring swashbuckler, and the hex-slinging witch. The must-have Advanced Player's Guide also includes exciting new options for all your favorite Core Rulebook classes and tons of new backgrounds, general feats, spells, items, and 40 flexible archetypes to customize your play experience even further!

"I got some MASSIVE bragging rights when Paizo brought me aboard to contribute to the Advanced Player's Guide.

"So did a lot of people though. It may seem like I accomplished something huge here, but at most, I wrote a batch of backgrounds, a few feats, and called it a day.

"I still haven't played a game of Pathfinder."

 

Okay, now roll for Perception...

Far too often, the games we play, playtest or offer advice to along the way end up seeing a little bit of our influence. Or perhaps a little detail that wouldn't otherwise exist in the game.

I'm insanely proud of myself when this happens. It's like a little hat trick. Ideas are a dime a dozen, but the execution costs money, so it's very nice when people can run away with my thought and build something spectacular.

So this is my best effort to share those moments with more people and keep track of these delightful occurrences. You won't see my name in the writing credits here. I sometimes appear in playtester lists or editing roles, though.

I encourage you to check out these games. I love them all.

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Smoke and Glass

The City of Kroy: a modern juggernaut built on the bones of a fantasty kingdom. Under smoky skies, agents of law and criminal masterminds clash in a constant brawl for control over a world on the brink of change. Industry marches ever forward, grinding lowborn lives to fuel the progress of the elite. And old magic, long since thought tamed, stirs in the blood of the everyday citizens while ancient enemies stir in the wilds beyond the city walls.

Smoke and Glass is a steampunk Dickensian Fate Core setting, allowing you and your friends to experience life as a citizen of a metropolis on the brink of industrial change. Customize the citizens of Kroy with a brand new Fate character class system. Discover a new blood magic system for Fate. Most of all, come together with your friends to tell great stories of legendary heists, mystical secrets, and social change. 

"My involvement here is a funny story. I'd become close friends with the people who made up Phoenix Outlaw Productions. At the time, I wanted to write thematic music for TTRPGs, and so I hopped aboard as a stretch goal for this game's Kickstarter. 

"When we hit it, I asked for a copy of the draft so that I could pull some inspiration for the EP. It needed copyediting. Badly. I turned around and said that they couldn't publish it until I went through the whole thing and edited it to hell and back.

"I turned around this entire game in less than a week. Afterward, the team decided it needed a developmental edit, so Amanda Valentine came aboard and knocked it out of the park. I took one last look at it, and long story short, that was my first editing job in TTRPGs. I even got my name in the credits!"

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7th Sea 2E - Pirate Nations

Piracy on the Seven Seas has reached a fever pitch. The black flag poses a constant danger for merchants and navies, as unscrupulous brigands seek their fortunes. But there are more dangers afoot than pirates: beasts lurking under the waves, rumors of haunted and immortal ghost ships...and the demon named “Reis.”

This book contains material for 7th Sea: Second Edition including new Backgrounds, Advantages, Stories, and Sorceries. Pirate Nations also includes new setting materials for 7th Sea, featuring the Devil Jonah, the dreaded Reis, and Theah’s first multinational, the Atabean Trading Company. There be adventure aplenty in these lands, more than any one crew can hope to see in a lifetime.

"I wrote absolutely nothing for the book, although I probably would've killed for the chance.

"But at the time, my friend was one of the writers, and one evening, they sat me down to pick my brain about all things Taíno and Puerto Rican. It helped that this was around the time Arecibo got released, so I was a go-to person on the subjects.

"What emerged were the Rahuri, their ghostly ancestors, Soryana--honestly, a couple of ideas seeded many more, and this is still my favorite of the 7th Sea books as a result. But if anything (and I swear, I will die on this hill), I'm the reason why coquís appear in the book. You're welcome.

"Hindsight tells me I could've asked for credit as a consultant. That boat has long sailed though. Oh well."

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ReMemorex

THIS IS ONLY A TEST

You’re a normal kid in a normal town, until things change. Until the strangeness sets in.

ReMemorex is a tabletop roleplaying game of suburban 80’s horror. Experience late-cold war-era fears as evoked by greats like Spielberg, Carpenter, King, and the Duffer Bros. Relive the existential dread of a latch-key generation with this fun new game by Nerdy City. ReMemorex uses six-sided dice, paper and pencils to re-create the feel of the trope-heavy earnestness of VHS cinema, in a collaborative storytelling experience set in the suburban streets and cul-de-sacs of 1980s America. You and your friends will all build your story together. Sometimes, through the magic of an effect known as a Tracking Error, you might find you have the most power when your character isn’t even present.

"I did SO much playtesting for this game, so you cannot ask me if I prefer Kids On Bikes to ReMemorex. I'm biased. It will always be ReMemorex.

"You might take notice of a character named Yolanda in this book. That was my character. At the last game of that campaign, she was introduced as "Yolanda Harrison: The Girl Who Isn't There" because by then, she only existed when you were looking directly at her. Horror takes many forms.

"Anyway, my favorite mechanic here is the Tracking Error. When your character isn't part of a scene, you can interrupt someone else's scene with a complication, or a sly benefit. You can even guest star as a minor NPC.

"Some Tracking Errors have gone down among my friends as infamous, given their consequences. But my main contribution here is that one playtest, I rolled a Tracking Error that didn't help or hinder anyone. I just added ambiance with a wayward hellgrammite in a closing scene. 

"They liked it so much that it eventually became the Jump Cut, where players zoom in on an unnoticed detail in order to improve the story."

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Commandroids: A World Transformed

Commandroids: A World Transformed is a game about the mythology of giant transforming robots. An ancient war from a machine world light-years away comes to Earth in 1986, as the forces of the evil Nemesite Capacitors clash with the noble Symbitron Transistors. Both forces hide as normal machines on earth, but when bonded with a human pilot, they can transform into mighty robots to wage their shadow war on the streets and skies of our world. Through the power of the Sacred Subroutines, they can even combine into towering Configurations--massive robots played by all groups of players.

"To put it simply, this is the Transformers RPG that existed before Hasbro decided to develop their own Transformers RPG, and quite frankly, Commandroids does more and does it better. It's a more mature take on the concept of transforming vehicles and mecha pilots. And, if the whole gaming table is aligned, you will see magic in the stories of your teenagers, or delight in the long-forgotten past of your machines.

"These are the same designers that worked on ReMemorex above. The Jump Cut appears again. But my true mark here is that they included the final words of my first robot character, Atari Telemachus. Magic."