This Is How (What) We Do It

After having a fair break with minimal pressure following the success of the Sword’s Edge Kickstarter, with the payments in, project management has started. But that’s not all. There are a bunch of other projects on which I am working, and here’s a general overview of what I’m working on and what stage it’s at.

Sword’s Edge: So the text is off for editing, and I have both the indexer and the fulfillment locked in. Right now, I am finishing off the setup for BackerKit and once that is running, this will move to project management, which means long periods of monotony punctuated by spurts of effort.

Fiction Commission: I can’t say more until this happens, but I am updating a fiction commission that I had thought was done. That’s okay, because the reason for the revision is one I whole-heartedly support. It has kind of changed how certain characters should be impacting on the story, but it is totally manageable and I’m happy with how this is turning out.

More to follow when I can.

“Lawless Heaven”: This is going to happen. It is actually very close to being in presentable form. Unfortunately, I won’t have portraits for the pre-made characters, but I do have some art for the book and most of the text is written. I will be doing some tweaking with it before it is released, but it won’t actually hit the public until after Sword’s Edge is released as a PDF – which will likely be November 2017, a month after the Kickstarter backers get theirs.

“Face ‘Splosion”: Another Sword’s Edge adventure, this time a science-fiction high octane actioner heavily inspired by Borderlands and especially Borderlands 2. Like “Lawless Heaven,” this will be released after Sword’s Edge hits the public, but this requires more work. The adventure and pre-made characters are all ready, but I need to write the other text that will be included, like an introduction, an explanation of the genre, and a discussion of the intended setting in case this will become the intro to a wider adventure.

Head Crushers: Another role-playing game, but this one is at the intersection of Nefertiti Overdrive and Sword’s Edge. Its default is fantasy, and it was designed to replicate the Skull Kickers comic, which was itself based on RPG sessions. The writing on this one is done, but it’s going to sit on the backburner for now, though I have plans to release it.

The Wall: And yet another RPG, but this one far and away from anything I’ve done before. Rather than fast, high octane action, the Wall is much more about creating narrative scenes. Its subject – the difficulties of being a foreign occupier in an unfriendly city – screams for deep thinking and drama rather than hacking and slashing. The mechanics on this one are ready, but there is a lot of writing to get it ready to hit the public. The intention, though, is there.

“The Nor’Westers”: This is a Sword’s Edge campaign set along the North West Company’s fur trade route in Canada in 1810. This campaign is made up of short scenarios, and so needs to be fleshed out more with lots of supporting text. This will likely be the last of the Sword’s Edge supplements that will be put out as it needs the most work. This is very much a backburner project. Once Sword’s Edge is out, this will take a higher priority.

Sword Noir: I paused on the updates for this, my first RPG, but much of the mechanics revision is done. There is a lot more, though, because the included setting of Everthorn needs much more work than the SN mechanics do. For now, SN is going to follow Sword’s Edge, but with its own special differences. Everthorn, however, needs a very major overhaul in regards to characters, and I have considered releasing the mechanics separate from the setting.

Nefertiti Overdrive: The historical addendum to this game is growing, but I am still in the middle of research on the 25th Dynasty. This is scheduled to happen after Sword Noir is done, so likely not for a while. A cool part of this project is that I have an actual Egyptologist who has agreed to review my work. For those who wanted more history in their insane action, this should go a long way to scratching that itch.

Crowd-funding: One of the ways in which these projects might see fruition is through Patreon. I have been toying with the idea for a long time, and I think as a system it works better for me than Kickstarter. All of the projects listed could be Patreon projects – some of which might be released in components rather than a single work. I need to get enough in order that I will have a regular release schedule, so this is not something that will likely happen for a couple of months, but I think it makes sense. It is also a way to release my games and supplements in advance of Sword’s Edge hitting the public.

So, yeah, I’ve got a few things on my plate.


Pandora Quirk

Okay, first off, I need a better title for the game than Pandora Excess. Just doesn’t do it for me.

With that out of the way, let’s talk about (the game that will soon not be called) Pandora Excess.

In most of my published games, I’ve used Pivots or something similar as a way to provide advancement, to improve characters. Borderlands has an experience point system not unlike the most famous role-playing game in the world (which is now in its fifth or so incarnation). There’s no need for two improvement mechanics, and plenty of reasons not to complicate an already complex system, so advancement will be based on experience points.

However, I think there is still a place for something similar to Pivots. Let’s call it Quirk. I’ll go through the thesaurus and find something better later. This is a part of Borderlands as well, with the characters uttering certain catchphrases when scoring critical hits, for example.

I’m not sure exactly if Quirks should have a mechanical benefit, but my initial thinking is that if worked into the game seamlessly, a Quirk can earn a character experience. This way, something like a character regularly wondering about coffee, spouting one-liners, or always eating could add dimension to a character, as well as levity to the game.

It’s also a nice way to provide personality to a character that might otherwise become a bunch of numbers.

You can find out more about Borderlands here.

You can find out more about Pandora Excess here.

Pandora Lacks Strength

I am a fan of having basic attributes like the six stats of D&D as part of characters in my games. For me, it provides a way of accessing some fundamental image of the character, showing the character’s capabilities divorced of all skills, background, training, etc. It has served my games well, in my opinion.

It doesn’t seem to have a place in Pandora Excess.

Look at Borderlands – the inspiration for this game. There are no base aspects, no stats for strength or intelligence. Given that Borderlands is all about combat, this makes sense. Differentiating characters based on intelligence or personality has no role in the game.

But for a tabletop game that is something more than just combat, differentiating who can figure out the code or who is best to talk to the new employer has a purpose. It impacts on character niches.

However, I don’t believe stats – let’s call them that – are necessary for Pandora Excess. Like in the computer game, the measure of capability can be through the skills. You don’t have ranks in that skill? You have no talent that helps? Then you roll 2d10 unmodified and hope for the best.

It makes things smoother, fewer numbers, fewer modifiers, and less math. This is important because I want combat to be fast and fluid, but robust games generally slow down in combat due to choices and modifiers and the math entailed in those.

The plan for Pandora Excess is to have any Test (roll of 2d10) modified by skill, talent and advantage or disadvantage – and only one of each can be applied in the hopes of keeping things streamlined.

You can find out more about Borderlands here.

You can find out more about Pandora Excess here.

Talented Excess on Pandora

Along with Skills, Pandora Excess will include Talents, which will mix the Skill Trees and “rewards” of the Borderlands computer game. Like Borderlands, Talents will be organized into Trees, and these Trees will be tied to classes. Unlike Borderlands, there will be an option for a characters to access all the Talent Trees, even those which are not linked to their class.

As an example, here is my version of the Sniper Talent Tree – the inspiration for which should be obvious.




Held Shot +1 per rank to hit with Sniper Weapons
Bullet to the Head Increases Critical Damage by +2 per rank
One Shot 5 ranks from Sniper Tree +1 chance for Critical Hit with Sniper Weapons per rank
Hawkeye 5 ranks from Sniper Tree +1 per rank to hit with all Firearms
One Kill 10 ranks from Sniper Tree +2 damage per rank to any hit with a Firearm on an unaware target
Penetration 10 ranks from Sniper Tree Critical Hits affect 1 extra target per rank
High Powered 10 ranks from Sniper Tree Any Critical Hit allows a second attack on any target
Perfect Aim 15 ranks from Sniper Tree Critical Damage multiplied by the number of ranks
Quick Shot 15 ranks from Sniper Tree Any successful hit allows a follow-up attack on the same target
Zen Sniping 20 ranks from Sniper Tree Each successful hit using any means increases damage with a Sniper Weapon by +1 for the duration of the Scene.


You can find out more about Borderlands here.

You can find out more about Pandora Excess here.

Excessive Skills of Pandora

Pandora Excess, in order to emulate the gameplay of the Borderlands computer games, is going to need to have skills. The skills (also known as weapon proficiencies) in Borderlands are all weapons related, and in a tabletop RPG, one needs a wider selection. As such, Pandora Excess will have both Weapons Skills and Mundane Skills.

The skills I’ve included so far are:

Weapons Skills: Assault Weapons, Demolitions, Melee, Pistols, Shotguns, Sniper Weapons, Sub-machine Guns, Thrown, and Unarmed.

Mundane Skills: Acrobatics, Athletics, Awareness, Bluff, Concentration, Cryptography, Disguise, Fortitude, Gaming, Handle Animal, Influence, Knowledge (Arcana), Knowledge (Crime), Knowledge (Current Events), Knowledge (Humanities), Knowledge (Religion), Knowledge (Science), Mechanics, Medicine, Navigate, Sneak, Survival, Willpower

The Mundane list is pretty long, and one approach I’m considering is removing the Knowledge skills and having Knowledge tied to the class.

And, yes, there will be classes. Classes are also an integral part of Borderlands.

So, any suggestions on skills to include or exclude?

Running and Gunning on Pandora

Weapons in Borderlands create a problem for me in adapting the game to a tabletop format. Guns are very important in Borderlands, while melee weapons are there but are invisible except when used. All the guns have an intricate variety of interacting statistics while melee weapons just exist and cannot be replaced.

But there’s more: in Borderlands, characters had Weapon Proficiencies that improved with use. These were lost in Borderlands 2, which instead focused on gaining “rewards” that improved the use a variety of weapons or devices – like shields.

So I have three problems that I either need to ignore or create systems to address: weapon stats, proficiencies and skills.

I definitely think weapons are going to need stats something similar to what exists in the games, but there’s another stat not in the game that I would like to incorporate: range. It seems, playing the game, that this is an intrinsic property of weapons that is not overt. I would make it so. Elemental weapons are also very important, so that would need to be incorporated. Melee and ranged weapons will be treated the same, so you will have knives, long blade, katanas, etc. alongside revolvers, pistols, assault rifles, etc.

I dislike the “magic economy” of D&D (especially editions 3 and 4), in which PCs could go into a shop and buy a magic wand or weapon. So while having vending machines and occasional vendors is an important part of Borderlands, being able to purchase special weapons will not be part of Pandora Excess. Random tables will assign the stats to found weapons, and the player (not the GM) will roll on those tables, making each one unique.

I’m going to use a skill and feats system, so basically a melding of the Borderlands and Borderlands 2 approach. The Skill Trees and “rewards” would be counted as “feats” while the weapon proficiencies will be a basis for the Skills system, though given this will be an RPG and not just a first-person shooter, I will need to expand on those.

So, yes, this is going to be a robust system, closer to D&D than to Lady Blackbird, but I’ve come to terms to with that.

You can find out more about Borderlands here.

You can find out more about Pandora Excess here.

You can find out more about D&D here.

You can find out more about Lady Blackbird here.

Wild Pandora or World War Pandora?

I’ve been thinking of the kinds of games I could run were I to complete the tabletop RPG emulating Borderlands I’ve started called Pandora Excess (working title). What struck me was that Borderlands is the Wild West while Borderlands 2 is Occupied Europe.

In Borderlands, you saunter into town, kill some bandits, and then fight a bunch of baddies and beasties in search of the mine/Vault filled with silver/technology.

In Borderlands 2, you link up with the resistance to fight the oppressive force that has conquered the planet/country.

Lucky for me, I like both of those scenarios.

You can find out more about Borderlands here.

You can find out more about Pandora Excess here.

Robust or Needlessly Complex?

In thinking about Pandora Excess – an RPG concept based on the Borderlands series of computer games – I have come to realize it is not complex systems that I dislike, it is the pre-decided judgements that such systems seem to regularly include.

From Borderlands 2 Official Website

During the playtest of D&D Next/5E, I was thrilled with the game I was seeing in the playtest documents. That game is still there in the published version (free on-line), but it became the behemoth I had feared it would. It was not the system, per se, that created the bloat, it was the situational cases that have attached to it.

Not the feat system, nor the skill system, nor the saving throw system are bloated in the 5E core rules as presented. The problem comes in the minutiae that then follows, explaining what happens when someone falls down, when someone jumps over a chasm, when someone eats a bad mushroom, and on and on. As a G/DM, I don’t want that, and when I see a 200 page rulebook, I expect that is what I will get.

I can make a robust system, perhaps even with subordinate systems, without the bloat that I dislike. I can still build a sturdy and complex framework yet leave it to the players and GMs to flesh it out, to decide how exactly things will work in their world.

I can even leave shared narrative control that is so important to Nefertiti Overdrive. If I want to move forward with Pandora Excess, I can still do so with the design philosophy that has inhabited so many of my games – don’t ask me, tell me.

Yeah, this is probably all really obvious and I’ve been a complete tool the entire time. That would not surprise me in the least. However, for me, this is an epiphany.

And it makes me excited.

You can find out more about Borderlands here.

You can find out more about Pandora Excess here.

You can find D&D Next/5E here.

Robust Pandora Excess

I have a problem. I fear that Pandora Excess, an RPG inspired by the Borderlands computer game, may need to be a robust system. I haven’t designed a robust system since I played with hacking d20/3E.

Here’s the thing: the design philosophy behind Pandora Excess includes over-the-top, cartoonish violence with fast combat and strong niche protection. These can all be done through a simple (or light) system, basically what Pandora Excess is right now. However, such a game would not be a spiritual sibling to the Borderlands computer game.

As a computer RPG – or at least a computer game with RPG elements – it is pretty much required that Borderlands have a robust system. That’s easy to do with a computer. It can also be done in a pen & paper game, but that ends up being complex and long, something like d20/3E. Given that Borderlands has skills and a system very much like feats, I believe the comparison is apt.

Presently, Pandora Excess isn’t a project as much as it is a conceit. I believe, though, that this system could be used for more than just Borderlands emulation. I also have the very basic bones of a skill system that would pretty much work perfectly for this. The feat system would take effort, effort that I’m not putting into it right now.

But after Nefertiti Overdrive has either published or perished? Then we’ll see.

You can find out more about Borderlands here.

You can find out more about Pandora Excess here.


Pandora Excess: On the Borderlands

I’ve been away camping for a bit, and while I did a lot of reading – all of it for work – I also did some RPG work. Given my avowed love of the Borderlands computer game, I did a very quick and basic RPG to use as a foundation for creating Pandora Excess, my RPG inspired by Borderlands.

Along with a design philosophy, there were some mechanical aspects of Borderlands that I felt I needed to include, such as Shields. Weapons were a tough one, because my preference is to go with all weapons do the same damage, but Borderlands worked very hard on creating a variety of weapons. I worked that into the game as well, although I have it as an optional component.

The basics are 2d10 + bonuses against a Target Number, not like in Sword Noir. Also like Sword Noir, only the players ever roll, though unlike Sword Noir, every actor in a scene, PC and NPC, gets to act, so it’s a bit more like D&D that way.

This is my initial stats for Mordecai using the basic Pandora Excess rules.

Concepts: Hunter +2, Gunslinger +2
Skills: Revolver +2, Rifle +2, Tracking +2
Elements: Bloodwing (Short) +4, Stealth +2, Deception +2

You can find out more about Borderlands here.