Broken Tigers: A Sword Noir Adventure

In a city of memories is a city of violence.

A fantasy city in darkness illuminated by a strange blue light

I’ve released another adventure for Sword Noir 2E. In it, the PCs go back to Everthorn and East Reach outside the walls to face a piece of their past.

Traditional wisdom says one cannot go back to one’s home, because one cannot travel in memory. To forget one’s past is to forget one’s self, but the past is always a trap for the present. Of course, you’ve never been one to let good advice ruin a bad plan. An old friend is in trouble, and no matter what trap the past has laid, you’ll help them if you can—and you are certain that you can.

Broken Tigers is a 45-page PDF adventure for Sword Noir: A Role-Playing Game of Hardboiled Sword & Sorcery (Second Edition) with 6 pre-generated characters for use by the players. While the adventure does not require the use of Sword Noir, the narrative characters and some situations are based on that system and would require modification to use with another.

You can purchase Broken Tigers at itch.io.

Direct Intent

I am almost finished with Direct Action—the newest version of the kind of game I have worked on and played since Covert Forces in 2005—and hope to have it available early in May 2022. As much as I enjoy writing about elite military units, I am not blind to the real-world problems and issues with these units.

Cover of Direct Action

As military units and tools of national policy for rich nations, elite military units and the operators that staff them have been used in unjust ways, undermining the rule of law and the right to self-determination for many people. They have not and generally are not particularly well-integrated. Their reputation draws to them individuals keen to showcase their physical capabilities and those whose patriotism may lean more to jingoism. Though their initial imagining was as a precise kinetic tool comprised of philosopher-warriors, many have become blunt hammers comprised of shooters. Further, their representation in modern media generally reinforces negative stereotypes of the ethnic and cultural makeup of terrorists and criminals. No matter the truth about the current profile of those who threaten democracy and rule of law, it is always easier to point to the brown and black ‘other.’

To top this all off, during the period that I was working on this, questions regarding adherence to the laws of armed combat surfaced for elite units in Australia, Canada, and the United States. It delayed completion multiple times as I set the game aside.

There are definite problems with these units.

But it is also true that many are drawn to these units because they believe in the rule of law, the right to self-determination, and the requirement for the strong to protect and nurture the weak. Historically, Western society has always lionized bands of elite warriors, no matter the actual truth behind them.

Developing a role-playing game for elite military operators carries many of the same risks as developing games based on the Vikings or Roman legionaries—like Kiss My Axe and Centurion: Legionaries of Rome. Those historical groups did not, in actual history, display the heroism their legends might suggest, and were brutal, violent groups that oppressed those they could safely dominate. However, I would argue that it is possible to play games based on heroism using the tropes of those historical legends, which is why I designed those games.

Understanding that special operations forces can be problematic—as can any military force—this game is intended to allow participants to play heroic characters that have reached the pinnacle of their chosen profession and use their abilities and resources in an attempt to improve the world. That they fail or that they are disillusioned can be included in their stories. The shortcomings of the units need not be ignored, but there is an attraction to ambitious, competent, and driven figures, and that is a good description of most of special warfare operators.

On a personal note, I enjoy playing video games like Ghost Recon and Call of Duty. I have every issue of the comic the Activity. I watched the Unit during its broadcast and have watched both the Six and SEAL Team. I have seen both Acts of Valour and 13 Hours more than once. I am also a middle-aged white guy who has never served but whose career has brought him into contact with various special operations and special operations capable forces. I’ve written a lot of RPG content focused on elite military units. I also believe that black lives matter, that trans rights are human rights, that racism is hard-coded into the structures of most institutions, and that indigenous peoples’ rights and claims must be respected. I am a socialist who believes in strong national security policies and a robust, effective military under complete civilian control.

I want to believe that one can portray heroic characters who have undergone the most rigorous training available in the modern military and now seek to pursue just causes and fight the good fight. That is why I wrote Direct Action and why I think there are those out there interested in playing it.

Speaking Of Winter’s Silence

Some of you may have noticed that SEP has released a few Sword’s Edge adventures recently, as well as updating two Sword Noir adventures to 2E. I’ve just finished the first draft of a third and original Sword Noir adventure that I hope to have out soon.

Betrayal is part of the game.

The client claims to be a mythical figure of legend, exiled from his body, inhabiting that of another until he can regain his sanctum sanctorum. Whether you believe him or not, he’s got gold and he seems ready to spend it. You know it means trouble, insinuating yourself into the world of the guilds and their wealthy members, but trouble is always part of the bargain. And the client’s story is only the tip of a very cold and very dark iceberg.

Hopefully that gets you in the mood and gets you excited. Another Sword Noir adventure is in the works, though I have done nothing other than write down some conceptual notes. I intend to get that to you as quickly as I can.

Resistance: EARTH

Resistance: EARTH is now available at itch and Drive Thru RPG.

Ten years ago, the world ended. Today you’ve been chosen to bring it back.

A resistance to the alien overlords who govern the Earth is forming. Small, ill-equipped, and de-centralized, it had been in hiding, staying out of the regime’s gaze. It needs capable leaders, people who have the skills and audacity to take the fight to the regime.

That’s why they’ve tipped their hand, revealing themselves to the regime.

That’s why they busted you out of prison.

On the run, out of options, and marked for death, your characters are part of the resistance seeking to topple the proxies of the aliens who now rule the planet. You have nothing but your wits and out-dated weaponry. You face a technologically advanced force that vastly outnumbers you.

The only way you will survive is if you adapt, resist, and finally overcome.

Welcome to Resistance: EARTH.

Resistance: EARTH is an adaptation of Modern and Fifth Edition, blending the robust customization and granular options of OGL and Fifth Edition with the character-centric, narrative-focused style of story games.

Sagas of the Sea Peoples Quickstart

The climate is changing, causing droughts and famines. Natural disasters limit the ability of governments to respond. Those governments are involved in wars that are bankrupting them. The global trade network has collapsed. And all this has created waves of migration, which governments are characterizing as ravening hordes, coming to destroy civilization.

Welcome to the Late Bronze Age Collapse.

It’s the turn of the eleventh century BCE in the Mediterranean. The kingdoms of the Achaean Greeks, the empire of the Hittites, the trade centre of Troy, and the powerful city-states that line the coast have fallen. Egypt faces ruin. The world, as you know it, is ending.

You are one of many who have fled your homeland, finding a community among those we now call the Sea Peoples. How will you survive as order and government collapse? How will your protect your community—your friends and your family—in these most unstable times? When will you ever find peace?

Sagas of the Sea Peoples is a tabletop role-playing game set in the Late Bronze Age Collapse. The characters are leaders of the Sea Peoples, seeking better lives, struggling against innumerable enemies, and facing the fall of the civilizations in which they were born. It will be crowd-funded on Kickstarter in early 2020, and has been released only through my Patreon. This Quickstart is intended to give a glimpse of the system and the setting.

NOTE: (16 May 2020) the Kickstarter for Sagas of the Sea Peoples didn’t fund, and as the only purpose of the Quickstart was as a proof of concept for the game, it is no longer publicly available. As I’ve had requests, I’d like to point out that both it and the full game are available on my Patreon.

Sagas of the Sea Peoples: Introduction Preview

This post was original presented at My Patreon on 16 Aug 2019.

While the research for Sagas of the Sea Peoples continues, I have begun writing the game itself. I wanted to share the introduction with you, in which I try to encapsulate the aesthetic of the game.  

The stories of the Sea Peoples are heroic tales of the Bronze Age untold by the conquerors. These are chronicles of trade, raids, and migration. Your characters are destined to become great leaders of warrior cultures, but the warrior ethos to which many cling may be a hindrance to success even as it is gains one prestige among one’s people.

Welcome to the Late Bronze Age. Iron is on its way but hasn’t made its full impact on cultures, and many of the dominant polities of southwest Asia and the east Mediterranean Sea coast have collapsed or have seen their power and prestige decline. Economic turmoil and war have created a churn of disarray, leading to suffering and desperation.

In the middle of all this are the Sea Peoples. Led by Mycenaean migrants and joined by the dislocated from around the Aegean Sea and beyond, these groups are seen as pirates, raiders, and barbarian invaders by what remains of the great powers – the Hittites, the Levant city-states, and the Egyptians. There are certainly those among them who have profited from the vast ungoverned space of the Mediterranean and its shores, but there are many more pursuing a better life for their families, seeking opportunities and freedom from oppressive hierarchies.

The characters in Sagas of the Sea Peoples have been pushed to the periphery, and now they have decided it is time to push back. Better to die on your feet than on your knees. They pose a threat to the status quo because they are the other – the outsider and the barbarian. They represent something different, something that is motivating change, and the elites do not like change. While belonging to an egalitarian society which struggles with a conservative need to rebuild the structures of the past, the characters seek to overturn the status quo and avoid a return to the hierarchies that destroyed their society. They cannot escape violence – who in this world can? – but they are special because they have recognized the trap of the warrior ethos and they are seeking something else, something that will preserve their lives, their families, and their peoples.

Abyss of the Crimson Caves, a Fifth Edition Adventure

Sword’s Edge Publishing has released its second of three Fifth Edition adventures, this a sequel to Cult of the Abyss.

A minor cult following an obscure myth is seeking artifacts and using ensorcelled children to do their digging. The Crimson Caves hide more than simply this, as the cult is building an army for the day when their deity is released. It’s up to a band of adventurers to free the children and foil the cult in this dungeon crawl for Fifth Edition.

Abyss of the Crimson Caves is an adventure for 3-5 player characters of levels 5-7, though it best played with 4 PCs of level 6.

The format of this adventure has the monsters listed without further information in the room description, with the monster’s information blocks at the back of the PDF in the order in which they appear. A separate file is included with the monsters information provided in the order in which they appear so that it can be referenced while playing.

This adventure and the earlier Cult of the Abyss is already in the hands of my Patreon backers, as is the following one. If you like the kinds of products SEP releases, you might want to back the Patreon to get them first and usually cheaper.

Abyss of the Crimson Caves is available now at Drive Thru RPG.

Cult of the Abyss, a Fifth Edition Adventure

Sword’s Edge Publishing has released its first Fifth Edition adventure: Cult of the Abyss

Young Prince Erd has been kidnapped along with some other children from a village. An observant hunter told the Royal Guard of seeing a handful of armed men leading a small group of children into the Red Valley. The characters are sent to retrieve the prince and rescue the children. Easier said than done as the characters find themselves facing off against a strange cult in this dungeon crawl for Fifth Edition.

Cult of the Abyss is an adventure for 3-5 player characters of levels 5-7, though it best played with 4 PCs of level 6.

The format of this adventure has the monsters listed without further information in the room description, with the monsters’ information blocks at the back of the PDF in the order in which they appear. A separate file is included with the monsters information provided in the order in which they appear so that it can be referenced while playing.

This adventure is already in the hands of my Patreon backers, as are its two sequels. Those sequels will likely get a release in the following months, but if you like the kinds of products SEP releases, you might want to back the Patreon to get them first and usually cheaper.

Cult of the Abyss is available now at Drive Thru RPG.

Who Watches . . . Civil Disobedience and the Wall

This post was first presented on 23 Jun 2019 at Patreon.

The Wall is a game about being part of an occupying force and the ethical challenges the characters will face in trying to maintain their humanity – or at least their moral core. In the game, the occupying forces are explicitly stated to be from another state – the occupying power. Watching the reporting on the widespread protests in Hong Kong, it provided another example of how the “occupiers” – or at least the occupying force – do not always originate in a distant land. For the citizens of Hong Kong, they faced a group employing force against them in the interest of the ruling elite who were – ostensibly – their own government. 

This is not so unusual in history, nor is it restricted to authoritarian regimes or – in the case of Hong Kong – local representatives of an authoritarian regime. Canada has had its own moments, and not so long ago. Both the FLQ crisis and the Oka crisis saw employers of force – and in both cases, the Canadian Forces, Canada’s military – acting against Canadians in the interests of “the state.” Note: this is not to say that the state was wrong in employing these measures nor is the intent to conflate the FLQ and the Mohawk Warriors, but these were cases of military forces acting as security forces within the borders of Canada.

Many of the difficulties the kind of occupying force in the Wall would face remain for these state assets, especially since in an open and democratic society which values the rule of law, the employment of force against one’s own citizens should be an extreme last resort. However, in all of the cases I’ve mentioned – the Hong Kong extradition bill protests, the FLQ crisis, and the Oka crisis, the occupying force came/comes from a community outside of the target community or protects an outside community’s interest. In Hong Kong, the police were really acting in the interests of the Communist Party of China, which is the ultimate sovereign whom the Government of Hong Kong must propitiate. In Canada, the government and parliament’s interests are in the continued federation of the provinces and territories to the benefit of the mainly anglophone, white population. This put it at odds with the FLQ and the Mohawk Warriors, which were pursuing what they likely perceived as the interests of a minority, marginal, and/or victimized group. 

The Hong Kong protests from Business Insider

The Wall is about the tensions between the characters and the rest of the occupying force, the elites, and the dispossessed. In these cases, the elites would actually be part of the polity directing the characters and the occupying force. In the game, that polity – a distant dictator or empire – does not have a mechanical function, so it’s loss changes only the narrative and not the mechanical structure of the game. In a game which replicated an internal crisis, the elites would be the portion of the society and/or population that is in the majority or at least that part of the population that is not marginalized or victimized. This part of the population supports, accepts, or at least does not protest the government’s actions against the marginalized group – the the protestors in Hong Kong or the indigenous residents of Kanesatake and other communities who side with the Mohawk Warriors. . 

The tensions with the rest of the occupiers could narratively be described as perhaps different organizations – the PCs are police or security forces while the rest of the occupying force is military, or perhaps the reverse of that. It could even just be the tension between a team that is questioning the tactics or the entire premise of their deployment against fellow citizens and the rest of their peers, who accept and perhaps even relish in the action.

Finally, the marginalized group is the dispossessed. They have the same mechanical function, however the dispossessed may not seem removed from the general population in situations like the Hong Kong protests. Bloomberg (the news service) reported 2 million people involved in the protests on 16 June 2019. The population of Hong Kong is around 7.7 million, so that’s a pretty hefty percentage of the adult population confronting the government and police.

Protesters march at night during a rally in Hong Kong: Kyle Lam/Bloomberg

They had the numbers, but their stand against their government and confrontation with state security forces makes them the dispossessed- for the Wall.

Playing in these kinds of games might not be for everyone. This is not to say that exploring modern political protests through the Wall is political while other games aren’t – every inclusion and exclusion in the narrative of a game shapes its politics. I would expect it is plain that the Hong Kong protests are immediate in a way that the Spanish occupation of the Low Countries simply isn’t.

As always, be considerate of each other, and try to figure out a way for everyone to get the most of the game without anyone being hurt or made uncomfortable in an unwelcome manner.