Revisiting the Hadrapole Burn

This continues a revisit to a series of game ideas based off the game show Burn Notice. I hope it’s of interest.

Originally posted 7 Sep 2008

Earlier, I wrote about Burn Notice and creating campaigns using it as a template. One night after watching a couple of episodes, I had ideas for all sorts of campaigns. I noticed that the campaigns I had imagined fit the genre templates offered in True20 Revised Core. That’s how I’m going to present my ideas, using the lingo of True 20.

2016 Note: I’m no longer playing True20, but I believe its system provides a fairly good basis on which to understand the characters mechanically, so I’ve left that structure in place.

First off, Burn Notice as a fantasy adventure campaign.

The basic premise of Burn Notice is the Michael Weston is trapped in Miami. In the fantasy version, the setting will be Hadrapole, a fantasy city in which I’ve set some of my fantasy fiction. Think of it as Constantinople just after becoming Istanbul, and with a tentative truce among all the different cultures and religions. The conflicts are there, simmering, but no one is looking for a war–not when everyone else in the world is eyeing them up as prey.

The Michael Weston character will just be Weston. He was one of the Urban Cohorts, a paramilitary force that is also used to police the city. Just before the campaign begins, Weston has returned to the Old Bazaar, an area outside the city walls and his old neighbourhood. His father has died and he has gone to bury him.

When he’s done the funerary rites, one of the Whites–a group of incorruptible, elite soldiers of the Urban Cohorts, known for their white tunics and white truncheons–let’s him know he’s barred from the city proper, from the city inside the walls. Weston questions this, and it is strongly implied the Whites know whose pocket he’s in. Thing is, he’s not in anyone’s pocket.

Weston isn’t stupid enough to go against the Whites. Doing so would just give them ample reason to not only toss him from the Cohorts, but make him a penal slave on one of Hadrapole’s merchant galleys. No, Weston has to find out who framed him and why. For that, he’s going to need help.

I see Weston as a Warrior. I like the heroic archetypes in True20, and I’m going to use those. Weston is a Champion (a kind of mythic hero) for certain, though maybe he’s going to move into Fated (the hero with a destiny).

Fiona left the Cohorts the hard way. She didn’t police so much as execute. She’s made a name for herself in the Old Bazaar as a sword-for-hire, and now she’s come looking for Weston. She always looked up to him, respected him, maybe even loved him. She flattered herself into believing he had feelings for her, but was that true? What now? That relationship is for the players to explore.

Fiona is certainly a Warrior, and she fits the Shadow archetype perfectly (not quite an apprentice, but a companion who might someday supplant the Champion), with Weston as her Champion.

Sam (Samwise? Samnal? Whatever) is a confidence man and sometimes informant. He’s been friends with Weston since childhood, and Weston always did his best to protect Sam, even when Weston stood as a Cohort. Knowing that Weston is being framed, Sam wants to help. He has a deep and abiding fraternal love for Weston, and this is one time when Sam is willing to lay down his life to find the truth.

I can’t see Sam as anything but a Trickster archetype, but I am torn between Expert and Warrior. Certainly, Sam is supposed to be a fixer, meaning he needs the social skills, but the contacts and information might also be a narrative element. Mechanics might not be the way to address it. For Sam, I think it would be up to the player. Does the player want to go Warrior or Expert?

Finally, there is the fourth character, the one that actually isn’t in Burn Notice. Except in this case, the character sort of is. Michael Weston has a brother named Nate who shows up a couple of times and becomes important in the season finale. Weston also has a sibling. A sister named Natalia (or Nate!)

Natalia is one way to keep Weston tied to the Old Bazaar, to keep him from doing anything stupid. Their father is dead, their mother–a gypsy fortune teller–has found solace in the bottle, and young Nate only has her big brother to take care of her. Weston, no matter how much the hardcase he like to play, is basically a man of duty and honour. He’d feel responsible for Nate (and for his mother, for that matter).

But Nate isn’t exactly a damsel in distress. I think the Maiden archetype works well (the young child of promise), given that she is supposed to be a relatively young lady. However, I think it would be cool to have Nate as an Adept (spell casting class in True20). She learned some tricks in her time in the Old Bazaar, and it turns out she might be able to help Weston out when things go south. She may also act as the voice of conscience, a counterpoint to Fi, Sam, and expediency.

The main story arc would be learning who framed Weston and why. But there would be little adventures in the Old Bazaar, on Flotsam, and other locales outside the city. These would be presented through Sam and Fiona, as people come to them for the service and aid. Weston and his family need money, and that’s one certain way to get it. This would allow for consecutive, unconnected adventures while unravelling the mystery of Weston’s framing.

It turns out one of the senators framed Weston. Weston is about the toughest SOB in the Cohort outside of the Whites. The senator wanted Weston broken, so that the senator could then swoop in and save him from destitution. Weston would then become a tool within the Cohorts to use against the Whites when the coup d’etat commenced.

Oh, did I mention the coup d’etat? One religious faction recently lost power after the city was recently conquered by another culture with another religion, and the faction want that power–and the city–back. Weston is just one of their tools.

When Weston does find out the who, he likely won’t find out the why. Even if he does learn the why, he won’t have the proof necessary to prove anything for for the Dey to act without it seeming to be simple religious prejudice. So Weston and his crew will likely end up involved in the attempt to uncover the plot and oppose it.

So there we have it: Burn Notice as a fantasy adventure.

Next, Victorian horror!

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Burn Notice as Campaign

With a lot things – like my MA program, my job, my family, my gaming – pulling me in a lot of different directions, SEP has suffered. To try to keep some semblance of a pulse on this thing, I’m reaching back to one of my favourite series of posts in which I posit using the structure of the TV series Burn Notice in a variety of genres. I always have fun mashing up genres, and I think the versions of Burn Notice I came up with were kind of fun.

I hope you think so too.

Originally posted 6 Sep 2008

I’ve been able to watch episodes of the USA Network‘s  Burn Notice. It’s the story of a spy–Michael Weston–who has been declared “unreliable,” and loses everything his life as a spy had afforded him. He is barred from leaving Miami or “dire consequences” will ensue. He spends his time in Miami trying to figure out who burned him and why, and also helping people (a la the Equalizer) for various reasons. He’s aided by his ex-IRA ex-girlfriend–Fiona–and his best buddy, who is both ex-Navy SEAL and informing on him (with his knowledge) to the FBI–Sam. Miami being Michael’s hometown, he is also in regular contact with his Mom (Sharon Gless).

The episodes are injected with humour and with faux spy-knowledge. I don’t know, maybe Matt Nix, the show’s creator has insider knowledge of espionage tricks and techniques, but it seems very much like fictionalized espionage to me.

This matters not at all. Burn Notice has great characters, great dialogue, and the first season doesn’t have a bad episode.

And it got me thinking of adapting Burn Notice as a campaign. Last night, I actually dreamed up fantasy, Victorian, modern, and SF campaigns based on it. The funny thing was that when I broke it down into characters, I realized it was very similar to the A-Team. Now at first, I compared it to the Equalizer, but Robert McCall tended to work alone. Michael has Fiona and Sam to back him up. When I gave them roles, I considered Michael the leader (and planner), Sam the fixer, and Fiona the muscle. So other than Howling Mad Murdoch, you have the A-Team (Hannibal = leader, Face = fixer, and BA =muscle). It also led me to add a fourth wheel.

In the TV show, Michael is uber-competent, and he builds a lot of the cobbled together devices the team uses. In a game, no character should outshine the other, so the techie/builder role of Michael becomes a separate role, kind of an “expert” or techie.

These basic four roles are consistent through all the campaigns I dreamed up. They vary slightly (the techie role in fantasy and Victorian because more of a craftsman/jack-of-all-trades), but they are present in all.

Next, Burn Notice as a fantasy campaign.

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Avoiding Angst

I just wrote a very long, very confessional blog post about why the site has been so quiet. Bottom line – I still enjoy developing games but I do not enjoy Kickstarting them. Unfortunately, after having released games that have been Kickstarted and look very professional, I am hesitant to release anything without that level of investment.

The horns of a dilemma.

In the end, I have to figure out what I want to do – what I want SEP to become. Right now, I’m not sure. I am kind of hooked on developing systems. At the same time, I am starting to wonder if maybe I just need to settle back into running games, running already established systems or even my own RPGs, just not creating a game for every game I want to play.

More to follow.

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Sales for First Quarter, 2016

Here are the sales figures for the first quarter of 2016. What is very interesting – to me – is how much Nefertiti Overdrive sold this quarter. It was stronger this quarter than last, which included its release – and the release period is usually the strongest. Most of those sales (14) were through Indie Press Revolution, and 13 of them went to retailers. This makes me happy.

Also, I’d like to assure you that there are still copies available at Indie Press Revolution, 10 at last count.

So . . . on with the show!

Sales for First Quarter 2016 (Jan – Mar)
All sales venues

Arcane Kingdoms
Arcane Kingdoms, 1
For Simple Coin, 1
Gifts of the Elder Gods, 1

Covert Forces
Covert Forces Redux, 1
In Her Majesty’s Service, 2

Other
Centurion, 5
Nefertiti Overdrive, 25
Nefertiti Overdrive Quickstart Rules, 29

Sword’s Edge System
Crossing the Millers, 4
Kheufer Scrolls, 4
Kiss My Axe, 4
Suffer the Witch, 1
Sword Noir, 6

Total Sales to Date
Albenistan
Albenistan: Election Day (Modern Dispatch 113), 42
Khorforjan Gambit, 12
Qalashar Device, 135
Raid On Ashkashem, 177

Arcane Kingdoms
Arcane Kingdoms, 64
For Simple Coin, 6
Gifts of the Elder Gods, 40

Charity Products
Relief Effort, 55

Covert Forces
Canada’s Combined Security Reconnaissance Section, 111
Covert Forces, 100
Covert Forces Redux, 183
In Her Majesty’s Service, 158

Other
Centurion, 182
Cyber-state Avatar Toolkit, 43
Line Zero, 40
Nefertiti Overdrive, 58
Nefertiti Overdrive Quickstart Rules, 599
Operation Nearscape, Free Product, 430

Sword’s Edge System
Crossing the Millers, 154
Kheufer Scrolls, 199
Kiss My Axe, 211
Suffer the Witch, 95
Sword’s Edge System, Free Rules 1669
Sword Noir, 643

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The Clandestine Activities Special Executive

From the Image Comics series The Activity.

In the HardCASE game that I’ll be running, the PCs will be “enhanced” humans (parahumans?) working for a deep dark organization called the Clandestine Activities Special Executive, or CASE. Now, the description below has CASE as a Canadian organization, but following that is a second version that provides a US model. It could easily be updated for any country, fitting it into that country’s intelligence community.

CASE

The Clandestine Activities Special Executive (CASE) is a totally dark intelligence organization reporting to the National Security Advisor (NSA). Although it is run out of the Communications Security Establishment (CSE), it is considered a first responder and both a tactical and strategic asset – meaning it can engage in direct action or hostage rescue missions as well as intelligence collection or activities targeting foreign national leadership.

The Director General – Special Activities (DGSA) directs CASE on delegated authority from NSA. The NSA tasks CASE on direct order of the Prime Minister. Once NSA has tasked CASE to an operation, the only further input or direction is an abort order. The highest level of control for planning and operations is the DGSA.

CASE is broken into three sections. The office of the DGSA is known as the Chamber. This is the headshed that provides all the planning, direction, logistics, and legal support. The Office houses the Collections Team, which collects and analyzes Imagery, Signals, and Geospatial Intelligence (IMINT, SIGINT, GEOINT). The Barracks houses the Contact Team, which is the field team which undertakes operations.

The Contact Team undertakes both kinetic and collection operations – meaning the team can be tasked to shoot at people and blow things up or meets sources, surveil individuals, reconnoitre locations, or otherwise collect intelligence on a target.

Codename VENICE is the connection between the Barracks and the Chamber. While VENICE is technically part of the Office, she undertakes briefings and debriefings. She is also DAG Green – meaning that she has completed all necessary training and preparation to deploy – and will provide in-theatre liaison between the Contact Team and the Chamber.

Codename SPARROW is the connection between the Barracks and the Office. SPARROW works closely with VENICE, both delivering intelligence in advance of operations and providing priority intelligence requirements, directing collection when the Contact Team is in the field.

USCASE

The Clandestine Activities Special Executive (CASE) is a totally dark intelligence organization reporting to the Director of National Intelligence (DNI). It is considered a first responder and both a tactical and strategic asset – meaning it can engage in direct action or hostage rescue missions as well as intelligence collection or activities targeting foreign national leadership.

The Assistant Director – Special Activities (AD/SA) directs CASE on delegated authority from DNI. Once DNI has tasked CASE to an operation, the only further input or direction is an abort order. The highest level of control for planning and operations is the AD/SA.

CASE is broken into three sections. The office of the AD/SA is known as the Chamber. This is the headshed that provides all the planning, direction, logistics, and legal support. The Office houses the Collections Team, which collects and analyzes Imagery, Signals, and Geospatial Intelligence (IMINT, SIGINT, GEOINT). The Barracks houses the Contact Team, which is the field team which undertakes operations.

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How I Messed Up Nefertiti Overdrive

I posted this earlier on Sword’s Edge, but I think it’s important enough to be posted at both, so here you go: my huge regret regarding Nefertiti Overdrive.

Just after I put out the Quickstart rules for Nefertiti Overdrive, I had a discussion with a respected game designer regarding the characters. He was very unhappy with what he saw as an exclusion of Africa in a game set in Africa. The cast of characters included an Italian, a Greek, a Central Asian, and an Asian and only two from Africa – a Kushite/Sudanese and an Egyptian. At the time, I decided to change the Amazon in a Numdian/Berber, but argued for keeping the Asian character, given that the concept of Jet Li in Ancient Egypt was the idea kernel that sprouted into the story. And as for the Etruscan and the Spartan – well, I argued, Egypt was a Mediterranean culture rather than an African one.

That was a pretty stupid argument. It’s on par with insisting on a misogynistic medieval fantasy setting because that’s what history was like, while at the same time including magic and dragons. By the time Nefertiti Overdrive was released, not only was the Amazon a Numidian but the Monk had become the Misfit and was Ethiopian. While I kept the Etruscan and the Spartan – I’m sorry, but I can’t tear myself away from the image of those two iconic cultures in Ancient Egypt – I included the Bantu (a Sub-Saharan culture) and the Mercenary (from ancient Carthage) which could be used as alternatives and fit the same role.

Some might argue that I should have stuck to my initial vision, that I only changed what little I did in order to meet an “agenda.” They would be wrong. I actually don’t feel that I changed it enough, and honestly struggled with keeping the Etruscan and the Spartan – the historical argument being honestly empty and unimportant. If I could go back and re-commission all the art, I would do so and remove the Etruscan and Spartan. I could maybe include them as part of a series of iconic warriors from other cultures around the world statted for Nefertiti Overdrive.

The only agenda I am meeting is my sense of what I should have done. That’s personal. Another individual offered up an argument, and the more I think of it, the more I feel he had the right of it. I have heard others argue against his position, and I am not moved. The agenda that feeds this post is the same agenda that created Nefertiti Overdrive – what I want.

In deciding to use Egypt, I also decided to use Africa and the baggage that goes along with that. While I might be able to decouple that baggage in my own mind, it still exists, and only if I do not care for the perceptions and desires of others can I ignore it. What is sad is that I did ignore much of it. I had an opportunity to shape a game with much more African content. The more I think about the argument – and I do, regularly, especially as I consider embarking on a Korean-inspired second-world setting – the more I feel my compromise was actually a failure.

How would Nefertiti Overdrive have been impacted with the Bantu and Mercenary in place of the Etruscan and the Spartan? I don’t believe it would have been. Sure, the images of the Etruscan in a-historical Principate period legionary armour and the Spartan with his iconic helmet likely got some people excited. I’m pretty sure action images of the Bantu and the Mercenary would have worked just as well. I don’t think many have supported Nefertiti Overdrive because of the two Mediterranean characters.

Would anyone argue that I should remove this from sale, given the real weaknesses I see in it now? Probably. I haven’t heard that yet. I’m not going to do that, mostly because of all the work I and others put into it. I really do love this game, as much as I feel I missed a great opportunity.

So, this is one long mea culpa. I fucked up. It’s out there for all to see. I’ll try to do better next time, if there is a next time.

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HardCASE

I have kind of penchant for super-powered black ops and spies. Now, I think the absolute best was the short-run by Warren Ellis (big surprise) on Secret Avengers, but I was also a huge fan of John Ostrander’s Suicide Squad comics and The Boys by Garth Ennis. I’ve written some short fiction, but nothing that has seen the light of day other than a very perfunctory homage to The Boys.

From Secret Avengers 18, Written by Warren Ellis, Pencils and Inks by David Aja, Colours by Raul Allen, and Letters by Dave Lanphear

It looks like a system that I created to mimic Borderlands – which I had titled F#ck You Up – will be the basis for a new campaign/playtest in the super-black ops genre. I’m calling it HardCASE.

The PCs each have one particular superpower in that they are the absolute human pinnacle of that skill or ability. So, for example, a character like Deadshot would have Firearms or Aim, whereas Hawkeye would have Archery. Shang-chi could have Martial Arts, as could Iron Fist.

There will be much more to the characters, including Drivers and Training – so while Hawkeye’s power would be Archery, a Driver would likely be “Prove Myself” and Training in “Hand-to-Hand Combat.”

I already have a few ideas for adventures, using the basic backbone I had planned for Mission Creep, Mission Crawl and jazzing it as befits a comic adventure. I’m not going to lighten it or turn it into NextWAVE: Agents of Hate, but this has changed from the Activity to DC’s Checkmate, which means that the badguys will also have powers.

I might recycle some of the stuff from Mundus Novit – which has pretty much disappeared into the dustbin of RPG history – but this is going to be a very different take. In Mundus Novit, part of the direction was that the general public basically knew about superpowers. In HardCASE, it still isn’t general knowledge.

So now I need to adapt F#ck You Up to meet my intentions for HardCASE and to get my ideas on paper – virtual paper that is.

I have chosen to accept my mission.

You can find out more about Secret Avengers, Suicide Squad, and The Boys.

You can find out more about Mundus Novit here and read the fiction tie-in Dark Horizons starting here.

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