Christmas in July

SEP is participating in DTRPG/RPG Now’s “Christmas in July” sale, so my PDF RPG products are available at 25% off. If you have been thinking about grabbing something, now might be the time.

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Ottawa Game Publishers Podcast

Three other local designers and I were sitting down for drinks and it all got recorded. We’re going to see if there is interest in yet another podcast, this time about game design and publishing. The first episode is available on the Accidental Survivors feed. If this turns out to be fun or there is some actual interest in this, it might become a regular occurrence and then it’ll find it’s own home. For now, since the Accidental Survivors have kind of folded, it seemed like an okay idea to release it there.

You can find the episode here.

Lots of Accidental Survivors episodes here.

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GMs Should Not F#$k With Player’s Characters

For the Screenplay playtest group, we had what was intended to be the last game in our High Plains Samurai campaign. Didn’t turn out that way, mostly because of a late start and a couple of extended rules discussions. Turns out, I have very strong opinions about protecting player agency in regards to their characters.

GMs should not fuck with player’s characters.

The first incarnation of my character Mauser as envisioned by Kieron O’Gorman.

For me, the character is the one part of an RPG that the player truly owns. Even if the player is involved in creating the campaign (in something like Spark, or the campaign creation system in Nefertiti Overdrive) or has shared narrative control, it’s not the same as the player’s character. The character is the player’s avatar in the game, it is the focus of the player’s wish-fulfillment in some cases or a finely crafted drama-machine for the player’s interests in others. In games in which all other aspects of the story is taken away from the player, the character is the focus of the player’s creative efforts.

The character is the player’s.

Now, in consultation with the player, the GM can certainly mess with that character. If the GM has an idea to create drama, excitement, or pathos, and the player is onboard with this, awesome. Who doesn’t love a chance to increase the importance of the character to the plot? But don’t do this without the player’s buy-in.

I would honestly refuse to play a game in which the GM could permanently effect change on a player’s character without that player’s consent. And, honestly, that includes death. I, personally, am okay with my characters getting killed – though I would prefer it be done in a suitably dramatic fashion – but I honestly don’t believe that death must be a viable option in order to create tension. Did anyone honestly believe any of the main characters in the X-Files could die? Or Star Trek? Did that remove tension?

But that’s kind of a whole other story. If the player isn’t happy with offering up their character for death, it shouldn’t be forced on them. That isn’t fun and the whole point of this exercise is fun. Why would we do something that isn’t fun for one of the members in our group? Don’t be a dick.

In the end, the player character is the player’s character, and it should be sacrosanct. In many games, the GM has all the other power, and it is unnecessary to give them power over PCs.

In my (not so) humble opinion.

Todd had me take over Broken Ruler Games to tweet the proceedings. The deluge starts here.

You can find more information on Screenplay here.

You can find more information on High Plains Samurai here.

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Sales for Second Quarter 2016

Things are more than a little quiet over in Sword’s Edge Publishing land, but Nefertiti Overdrive continues going strong, which is very nice. There’s not much to say other than this is likely the new normal. I would expect Nefertiti Overdrive sales will slow to something like Sword Noir‘s once we hit a year of its release (which will happen in Oct 2016). At least I’m not losing money.

Sales for Second Quarter 2016 (Apr – Jun)
All sales venues

Arcane Kingdoms
Arcane Kingdoms, 1

Covert Forces
In Her Majesty’s Service, 1

Other
Centurion, 4
Nefertiti Overdrive, 22
Nefertiti Overdrive Quickstart Rules, 28

Sword’s Edge System
Kiss My Axe, 7
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, 65
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, 159

Other
Centurion, 186
Cyber-state Avatar Toolkit, 43
Line Zero, 40
Nefertiti Overdrive, 80
Nefertiti Overdrive Quickstart Rules, 627
Operation Nearscape, Free Product, 430

Sword’s Edge System
Crossing the Millers, 154
Kheufer Scrolls, 199
Kiss My Axe, 218
Suffer the Witch, 95
Sword’s Edge System, Free Rules 1669
Sword Noir, 649

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The Revenge of Spec Ops Burn

Next up in our return to Burn Notice as an RPG campaign, I’ve got something modern for you. Given that SEP started publishing special operations-type supplements and adventures for d20 Modern, one would hope I might have a grip on this one.

You be the judge.

Originally presented on 17 Sep 2008.

So, I’ve written up mini-settings for Burn Notice campaigns in both a fantasy and Victorian horror genres. Let’s look at the modern genre now. Granted, Burn Notice is a modern action-adventure, so rather than a spy character, let’s cook up a Burn Notice special ops military campaign.

For Spec Ops Burn, I’m going to have the characters all as part of one team. I envision them as an extraction team, similar to Drift in the Mundus Novit setting. They get sent into Albenistan to extract an intelligence asset from Khorforjan, only to receive a note at the front desk that they have been disavowed. The note indicates that the team is under suspicion of rogue actions, though no specifics are given. The note also indicates a restriction to Khorforjan and its environs. Should the team leave Khorforjan, they will be considered rogue and a wanted notice would be circulated to all nations. The team knows that they have made lots of enemies, and should their identities be compromised, they and their families would be in extreme danger. It is hoped that the GM would get player buy-in before attempting to restrict the characters in this fashion, as without buy-in the players are likely to concoct some elaborate plan to get out of Khorforjan–likely just because that’s where the GM wants them to stay.

The team gets co-opted into small jobs by the local private military contractors and then later through the local law enforcement. It will likely become known pretty quickly that there is a “rogue” unit in town, but that they are “white hats.” This could actually increase the team’s pull with the local authorities.

The jobs the team would encounter could be very similar to what is seen on the series. Khorforjan is not completely lawless, and there is an attempt to lead normal productive lives by most of the population. People are running businesses, taking the bus to work, trying to get by. But there is a strong lawless element in Khorforjan, that could become a kind of regular nemesis, requiring the characters to keep a low profile, and also providing easily identifiable bad guys.

One of the PMCs is a CIA plant, and through him the team should begin to learn that their burn was based on a mission they completed in Pakistan–very black book. Turns out, the guy who tasked them to the mission was actually off the reserve. He had gone rogue. Rather than admit to this, the agency for whom he worked implicated the team. At some point, that rogue agent must travel to Khorforjan for a drug deal. This gives the characters a chance to capture him and clear their names. He is, though, aware the team are present in the city, and will be taking exceptional precautions.

For the characters, I can see them as a more serious version of the A-Team. Michael is the leader and tactical planner. Fiona is the combat expert, possibly with stealth skills. Sam is the fixer, though I think his connections and the information fed to him should be narrative. More on that later. Sam can be combat-capable as well, but with lots of social skills and some stealth skills.  The last character, let’s call her Natasha, nick-named Nate, is the tech-head, with all sorts of engineering and technical skills, including break-and-enter skills.

I say that Sam’s connections should be narrative due to their importance to the plot. In the series, the information Sam gets is required to move the plot forward. If this is the same in the game, you do not want Sam to fail or the game is stalled. Therefore, I would give Sam information to move the plot forward when required, otherwise his contacts come up empty.

For these characters, I would make Michael would likely be a warrior with a Spy occupation. Fiona would be a warrior with a Special Operator occupation. Sam would be an expert with a Con Man occupation. Nate would be an expert with the Technician occupation.

This game would likely be relatively violent. Unlike the show, force and the regular use of firearms would likely be common. Whether it was done in an action cinema fashion or something grittier would really be up to the players.

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Return to Victorian Burn

And now, after a brief pause (I suck at this!), we’re back revisiting the use of Burn Notice as an RPG campaign.

Originally presented on 13 Sep 2008

Continuing Burn Notice as the basis for a campaign, I  want to look at horror. Now I’m not much of a horror GM. I don’t really read it, watch it, or write it. Rather than horror, I’m going to go occult, something like an X-Files or Supernatural in the past, but only dealing with occult threats.

The stage is set by the return of Michael Weston to London on May 31, 1859, welcomed by the chimes of Big Ben. Michael had served time with the Foreign Service in British India, but was quickly disillusioned by the high-handed and often brutal policies of the East India Company. He found a mission he believed in  when faced with evidence of a resurgent Thuggee cult. He helped to ferret out and confront the last of the evil cult, and this led him to some frightening places and inhuman foes.

The final straw came with the Indian Rebellion. Michael wondered if his countrymen were that much better than the murderous Thuggee. While there would have been many opportunities for him once the government of India was transferred to Britain, Michael Weston returned to England, hoping to forget the things he had witnessed.

That was not to be.

Things had been released. Spirits and demons long held in check by ancient rites and ceremonies had been awakened. Some blamed these entities for the madness apparent on both sides of Rebellion. Whatever they were, and whatever their purpose, they appeared in London just as Michael Weston arrived. Someone in the Foreign Service believes Michael is somehow tied to these supernatural manifestations. The Foreign Service declares Michael cannot leave London until the danger has been dealt with–but not by Michael. His linkage to the supernatural makes them worry.
Accompanying Michael is Sam, a disgraced doctor who found service as a regimental surgeon with the British East India Company. Michael befriended Sam in India. Sam had become inured to the suffering around him, but Michael helped him to regain his lost humanity. Sam intends to get his medical licence back, and perhaps start a practice, but as events evolve, he decides to use his connections and his skills to help Michael.

Along with Sam, Michael returns with Fiona. That is the name under which she travels, but it is not her real name. She is an ex-Thuggee, an assassin trained in secretive unarmed combat techniques. Sent to murder Michael Weston, she realized he was not a cruel slaver as she had been told, and this led to her learning the Thuggee had become nothing more than assassins for hire. Still an adherent to Kali, the Thuggee assassin took the name Fiona and became Michael’s constant companion and bodyguard. In the movie, she’ll be played by Aishwarya Rai (are you listening, Matt Nix?).

In London, Michael returned to his family’s town home. Meeting his younger sister, Natalie, he learns that his father drank himself to death, and drank the family fortunes along with the way. Natalie herself is a recovering opium addict, and is haunted by visions of ghosts, wights, and other evil creatures. Natalie believes the Foreign Service is correct, that there is a tie between Michael and the entities. With their mother declared insane and sentenced to Bedlam, Natalie and Michael have only each other.

I see Michael as an Expert, with an Occupation of Spy. His work in the Foreign Service was just that, spying. For Sam, another Expert, but with the Soldier Occupation. He’s a doctor, but his time has been spent in the army of the East India Company. Fiona would be, of course, a Warrior, with an Occupation of Martial Artist. Natalie would be a Psychic, with an Occupation of Urchin (as in street urchin, the Victorian version of the homeless for children)–Natalie’s not a real street urchin, but her time as an opium addict puts her in that world.

In this campaign, the small jobs that Michael does are all linked to the central problem–the rise of the supernatural and its possible ties to Michael himself. The short adventures could be hauntings or other supernatural incidents of which Michael or one of his companions learn. Each adventure should add one piece to the puzzle.

The truth is that the supernatural manifestations are not tied to Michael. The aura that sensitives note regarding Michael comes from his confrontations with the evils of Kali in India. This aura should slowly fade, and become less and less noticeable. It might seem logical that this corresponds to the supernatural threats are being eliminated, though it is actually because of the time passing since Michael faced the evil manifestations in India.

The truth is that Fiona is not the only adherent of Kali in England. Sir Nigel Whitney Gull, a physician with ties to the royal family and a Freemason, returned from India just a few months before Michael. He has been ensnared by an avatar of Kali and is attempting to bring on the Kali Yuga–the time of Kali–through evil rituals. These rituals have raised the supernatural manifestations.

Sir Gull has many more connections than Michael, and is an important part of the Freemason leadership, as well as having strong supporters in Queen Victoria’s court. He should be introduced to the characters in the second or third adventure, probably through Sam–who, as the fixer, might also be a Freemason. He should always know just a little bit more than anybody else, yet prove only slightly unhelpful. The information he gives might help the characters, but it will be dated enough that it won’t really help them too much.

His plan to usher in the Kali Yuga requires specific sacrifices and a specific rituals. At least one adventure could be a kind of pre-Jack the Ripper as Sir Gull attempts to secure his sacrifices and commit the rituals. His identity is not known to those in his small cult, so even once the characters realize what is happening and avert it, they may not catch Sir Gull.

Sir Gull may continue to be an adversary even after the supernatural threats are averted. Once the cycle of rituals is broken, the threat is gone. The Foreign Service still doesn’t trust Michael, but they have work for him in London and elsewhere, as supernatural threats continue to exist, and there may be even more mundane adventures ahead. Michael might no longer be shackled to London, but he certainly won’t be able to leave England. Once the Foreign Service feels it can trust Michael, well then they might have work for him abroad.

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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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