RPGaDAY2015 Day 12

#RPGaDAY2015 is the brainchild of game designer Dave Chapman. Basically, each day in August there is a question about RPGs. This is day 12.

Favourite RPG Illustration. Favourite RPG Illustration? Wow. He’s not making this easy.

I am going to cheat here. Deal with it. My absolute favourite RPG illustration right now comes from one of my own books. It’s a picture Kieron O’Gorman did for Nefertiti Overdrive.

Tell me that’s not awesome. Actually, don’t do that, because then I would be legally required to smack you in the mouth . . virtually, as in over the intarwebs, and since I don’t know how to do that, don’t make me.

This awesome piece of action artwork is kind of in a tie with two other pieces created for other games – one by Ed Northcott and another by Kieron O’Gorman.

Ed did some pics of my adaptation of an iconic fantasy pair which appeared in Sword Noir.

Kieron did fantastic work for Centurion, and this is my favourite from that.

Yeah, I guess otherwise, if I had to choose something from outside my own games I’d have to go with the first cover to the AD&D PHB. Not so much because it is something I think is particularly evocative on its own, but because it has become so iconic.

SEP State of Play

Every week I’m trying to get two articles up on the website, but some weeks it’s tougher than others. Tuesdays I generally like to have an advice column while on Thursdays I write about inspiration. This time, instead of providing advice, I’m going to let you know what is happening over at SEP.

The main concern for SEP (which is me) right now is Nefertiti Overdrive. It is in layout and the graphic designer – Rob Wakefield, who has laid out all our books since at least the Khorforjan Gambit – is optimistic about getting it back to me early July. Fingers are crossed. Once we get those files in a format with which we are both happy, the PDFs will be sent off to backers and to the printers to get some books done. I wish printing were faster, but due to schedules and the early start to Gen Con this year, I can’t see us having any Nefertiti Overdrive books to sell at the con.

However, I will be at the convention. The Nefertiti Overdrive games that I am running are all full, but I’ll be on the panel for a couple of seminars, and there are seats available to those. On Friday at 9 AM, I have “Indie RPG Matchmaker” with Jason Pitre of Genesis of Legend Publishing, while on Saturday at 1 PM, Ben Woerner who wrote World of Dew and I sit down to talk about “Historical Gaming.” I will be selling copies of both Sword Noir and Centurion there at the Independent Game Designers Network booth. Come by, say hi, shake hands and chat!

The play test for the game with the working title A Team of Pulp Losers is winding down, and the rules have proved successful through a one-year campaign. I am wondering about beta-testing these rules, but have had difficulty finding playtesters beyond my alpha-test circle. In the end, there is no business plan for these rules. I have not costed-out a release because I am a bit burned out on Kickstarter. What will happen to these rules? First, I need to find a better name. After that? We shall see.

Another system is ready to go for Gen Con. I’m calling it Fancy Pants because – as noted above – I suck at creating good titles. Fancy Pants is a game very much in the vein of Nefertiti Overdrive. It provides players with the opportunity to control the narrative and pushes them to get fancy – describing “success or failure in a way that is dramatic, cinematic, amusing or otherwise dazzling.” Unlike Nefertiti Overdrive, rather than providing an incentive by providing better dice or bonuses, getting fancy is tied to advancement. One Fancy Pants session at Gen Con will be based on Borderlands 2 while another is going to be a high octane action take on Sword Noir.

I honestly have no idea what will happen with Fancy Pants . . . even if it finds itself a good name.

There are two other completed systems that are steps between Nefertiti Overdrive and A Team of Pulp Losers: Direct Action and Starship Commandos. I’ve written about both games before, and they have both had shakedowns. They lack art or professional layouts, but they are ready to move forward.

And even with a backlog of four games, I have a new one for which I am about to pull the trigger on playtesting. This one is termed Riggers, although that name no longer applies. Riggers was tied more to the setting than the system, and I am working on playtesting the rules in a campaign attractive to my players. I intend to use the scenario generation system from Nefertiti Overdrive to create the campaign for the Riggers playtest. Maybe the setting will work with the name.

Riggers won’t be ready for prime time for at least a year. Like Centurion, it is a system built from scratch. Nefertiti Overdrive, like Sword Noir, was inspired by mechanics encountered elsewhere. Riggers was built from the ground up. I’m not going to say it’s totally new and unique, because I honestly expect someone at some point to say “this works just like X.” Still, because it’s new and unique to me, it’ll take a while to work out the kinks. Centurion changed dramatically during the playtest, and I expect something similar from Riggers.

So, there you go. Three completed games, two getting ready to have their tires kicked. Once Nefertiti Overdrive is in the hands of the backers, I’ll be doing some serious thinking about what I want to do and how I want to do it.

Until then, stick around. Let’s chat over at the SEP G+ group.

Facing the “Five Destructive Myths”

So, there’s been some discussion about an article entitled “Five Destructive Myths Perpetuated by Roleplaying Games,” and I decided to see how my games stack up against these myths. To be clear: I don’t consider any of these to be destructive per se. I think that many of these are viable topics or facets for an RPG. The exercise here is to look at something identified as ‘destructive’ and then see how my games conform or subvert and why.

1. RPGs are about the “great men of history” and not the little people: Sword Noir, Kiss My Axe, and Centurion are all specifically about the little people, not the great men. Nefertiti Overdrive, however, is about iconic heroes that change history, and that’s kind of its point. So on this, I think I score pretty good. 75%?

“Camp” by Kieron O’Gorman from Centurion

2. Social ties don’t matter: Kiss My Axe includes a discussion about Viking honour and Viking society. There are very specific points about social ties, although the game is not about them. Sword Noir is based on hardboiled detective fiction, in which social ties – even those recently minted – tend to matter to a large degree. Centurion is set in historical Rome and explicitly states how important social ties, especially patronage, matters. Nefertiti Overdrive is all about the social ties – ties between team mates and ties to a nation and its population.

3. Idolization of explorers when most explorers haven’t ‘discovered’ anything . . . unless you count the Moon: None of my games are about exploration. While Kiss My Axe refers to the far-travels of the Vikings, but in the context of trade, which – by its nature – is not exploration, except perhaps exploring for people one has not yet exploited.

by Ed Northcott from Sword Noir

4. What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger: Yes, as we age and mature, we do not always get better. Life and events take a physical and psychological toll. My games are guilty of this, however – as the article itself states – creating a game that dispels this myth would be incredibly niche. Even when I’m not playing an iconic, legendary hero of mythic ability – as one would in Nefertiti Overdrive – I want to play a character with above-average competence. So this is kind of like saying RPGs perpetuate power fantasies. Yes, many do, but generally in a healthy and cathartic manner.

But what about ongoing suffering due to violence, or permanent damage to characters? Both Sword Noir and Kiss My Axe specifically have a Flaw system that can be triggered by massive damage. Centurion and Nefertiti Overdrive, on the other hand, only have temporary and removable damage, so let’s say I’m 50/50 on this one.

by Ed Northcott from Sword Noir

5. Violence Is the Ultimate Solution: Epic violence is kind of the point of Nefertiti Overdrive, however there is a lot in the characters and the mechanics of the game that stress other avenues of addressing opposition. While the Monk’s “Kind Philosopher” or the Spartan’s “Political Exile” could be twisted into application in a fight, these and other Qualities are indicators of those other avenues of conflict resolution. Centurion is about the legions, . . . so, yeah, violence. However, Centurion‘s mechanics work just as well for social or mental conflict resolution, and this is very clear in the rules. Kiss My Axe is about as straight up ‘fix with violence’ as any of my games, but this is a game about Vikings, so there’s that. Even in Kiss My Axe, the Vikings as traders and far-travellers in implicit in the text, but I don’t think I can let myself off that one.

Sword Noir, however, is kind of violence averse. Well, it’s “fair-fight” averse, since the rules can be very punishing if you start to lose a fight. This is again part of its hardboiled roots. There are plenty of people in the world that can put you in the ground, and those that can’t might know someone who can, so walk carefully. Violence exists, because this is a dark, gritty, and unwelcoming world, but it is not the ultimate solution.

Can I give myself 75% on this one? I’m going to.

So I might score 4 out of 5, and I think that’s pretty good. What’s interesting is that Sword Noir, my very first game, scores the highest. It subverts all these myths. Not so bad. Maybe after Nefertiti Overdrive is done I can go back and give Sword Noir some more love. It’s coming up on four years since its release.

New edition? Would anyone commit violence on me were I to do so?

You can read the referenced article here.

You can find all of my games – except for Nefertiti Overdrivehere.

You can find the free Nefertiti Overdrive Quickstart rules here.

You can learn more about Nefertiti Overdrive here and here.

UGS Design Goals

Last post, I told you a lot about my history as a designer, now let’s talk about my specific design goals for the Untitled Game System (UGS). It is slightly different than for Starship Commandos or A Team of Losers, so I’ll get into those later.

Sword NoirThe continuing thread that runs through all my game designs starting with Sword Noir: A Role-Playing Game of Hardboiled Sword & Sorcery has been simplicity. None of my games from Sword Noir on have had more than 20 pages of rules. Examples expanded Sword Noir and Centurion: Legionaries of Rome slightly out of the 20 page milestone, but the mechanics have been pretty compact.

I wanted UGS to be the simplest system yet. For me, simplicity itself is a worthy goal, but there was a further goal beyond this: speed of play. Simple games seem to move faster than complex ones, and that is only logical. However, some simple systems can still lead to complex interactions. The strategy involved in building a hand with your dice pool in Centurion was part of the design goal, but it complicated the actual Tests. Not a problem, they still move quickly, but I wanted something pared down even further.

So, simple and fast. What else?

Centurion: Legionaries of RomeI wanted to get back to a system in which the GM does very little mechanical adjudication. In Sword Noir and Kiss My Axe: Thirteen Warriors and an Angel of Death, both built with the Sword’s Edge System, the GM does no dice-rolling. Everything is a target number which the GM decides beforehand. In a sandbox game, these numbers need to be assigned during the game, so there is some mechanical adjudication, but not as much as with Centurion or Nefertiti Overdrive, in which the GM is rolling dice along with the players. I want to be able to focus on the game and the story rather than the mechanics or how many dice I am using.

So there you go. UGS is intended to be simple, fast, and with little to no GM mechanical adjudication during the game session.

Starship Commandos and A Team of Losers had other requirements, but those would be built on top of the chassis provided by UGS.

You can find print versions of Sword Noir here and Centurion here. SEP’s PDFs are all available here.

You can find the UGS here and talk of Starship Commandos and A Team of Losers here.

A History of (Fraser’s) Designs

The Warden is one smart dude, and since he has decided to discuss his process creating the uber-secret Project Pheonix, I thought I’d do something similar.

Covert Hero by Dean MartinImitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Anyone following this blog has already had access to the Untitled Game System v1 document. UGS is the backbone and basis for the games that I’m going to be developing for my gaming group – Starship Commandos and A Team of Losers. Starship Commandos v1 Playtest document is done. I’m turning to A Team of Losers now, but as both games focus on military characters (present-day and future) much of what I have done for Starship Commandos will work well with A Team of Losers, as will a lot of the modern military stuff I did for the Spec Ops line of SEP.

But what am I trying to do? Having that target, that idea for what the rules are supposed to do, really helps in the design process. I will be frank with you – the very first games I designed, way back in university during the days of D&D 2E, had no real design philosophies but were built to work in a genre other than fantasy, so I had an SF game and a modern magic game. Following that, I had a long fallow period until coming home from Korea.

At the outset of SEP, I was publishing support material for d20, though I was still privately toying with design. These were mostly “fixes” of d20. It wasn’t until the desire to run games similar to the stories that I was writing led to Sword Noir: A Role-Playing Game of Hardboiled Sword & Sorcery.

Let’s be honest, Sword Noir was a hack on PDQ, more specifically, on Jaws of the Six Serpents. I really like Jaws, but it needed to be tweaked to do what I wanted to do. That tweaking led to wholesale revisions that led to Sword Noir.

Centurion: Legionaries of Rome was really the first game I designed from the ground up, purpose built for specific goals. Nefertiti Overdrive is a synthesis of the design goal approach of Centurion and the genre emulation of my earlier games.

UGS is closer to Centurion in its birth than Nefertiti Overdrive.

But that’s another story.

You can find the Warden talking about Project Phoenix here.

You find PDQ here and Jaws of the Six Serpents here.

You can find print versions of Sword Noir here and Centurion here. SEP’s PDFs are all available here.

You can find the UGS here and talk of Starship Commandos and A Team of Losers here.


Kicking Something Lovely

Art by by Paul Slinger, Design by Rob WakefieldJust stopping in to let you know that SEP is going to be quiet while the Farewell, Something Lovely Kickstarter is ongoing. However, please visit that page, as I’ll be putting up articles through the updates. You can already find “Five Great Film Noirs” and “Five Influences on my Writing Philosophy.” You can expect to see “My Top Five Fantasy Fiction” and “My Top Five Fantasy Films.” That should give you a few recommendations to consider while you wait for your paperback copy of the short story collection.

Because you have supported the Kickstarter, right?

Please support the Farewell, Something Lovely Kickstarter.

Good News, Bad News

I’ve got some good news and some bad news.

The good news? The physical copies of Centurion: Legionaries of Rome are with our fulfillment company and should be in the mail any time now, if not already.

The bad news? With the physical copies of Centurion on their way, I was ready to go live with our next Kickstarter – the sword noir short story collection Farewell, Something Lovely – however I’m likely to be travelling in January, and so I’m going have to delay the kicking the start until February 15.

I don’t know about you, but I’m getting frustrated with waiting to go live with Farewell, Something Lovely. This was originally planned for November! Delay seems to be endemic with Kickstarter, so I guess I just better accept it and move on.

Waiting impatiently for February 15.

You can find more information on Farewell, Something Lovely here.

Creating Centurion Adventures: People and Places

So we talked about how I generally come up with the situation in my one-page adventures. In our first playtest for Centurion: Legionaries of Rome (the Kickstarter is funded but help me make at least one stretch goal), I chose a Late Republic game set in Spain/Hispania. Here’s the Situation section:

In 156 BCE (one year before the Lusitani revolt which led to the Lusitanian War), the PCs are linked to a junior tribune in V Legio based in Corduba (modern Cordoba) under Proconsul L. Aurelius Orestes. An ex-legionary now merchant in the city has been paid off by a tribal leader among the Lusitani to sell poisoned food to the Romans. At the outset, no one knows how the men are dying, but sickness is rampant and a plague is suspected. The tribune is ordered to investigate, and he turns to the PCs to find out what is going on.

The second part of my one-pager format is Places. This section refers to a couple of interesting sites that the action should take place in or around. One of the places I chose is right there in the Situation: Corduba – New Carthage. We know the place as Cordoba, and it continued to be an important part of Spanish history, so I thought it would be fun to set the adventure there, in a city that had a couple of thousand years of intrigue and political machinations in its future.

Generally, the Places in a one-pager have a hook that links them into the adventure, but both Places in the original playtest were more about general setting than special encounters or action. For Corduba, I wrote:

Corduba – capital of Hispania Ulterior (Far Hispania). As with most provincial capitals, this town has been laid out like a legion camp, so it has east-west and north-south roads, along with an earthen wall topped with a wood palisade. It exists beside the far less organized and geometric Iberian town founded by Hamilcar Barca in the late 3rd century BCE as Kartjuba. Two legions are present in Corduba under the proconsul.

Again, this is pretty much cribbed straight from Wikipedia. There wasn’t a whole heck of a lot of research that went into it. Maybe that too much of a glimpse of the sausage getting made, but I’m being honest here – historical gaming doesn’t need to be that difficult.

The second setting in Places was the province itself. I used these two in places mostly because I am not as conversant with this place and time in Roman history as I am with some others. I encapsulated what I thought was essential for my knowledge into a concise paragraph. It worked. It was all I needed.

Hispania Ulterior – Far Hispania is along the south-east and southern coast of the Iberian Peninsula. The province has been at peace since Carthage’s defeat in 201 BCE. Although the Celtiberian tribes within the province have been quiet, the Romans know that they have not been fully assimilated, and so the legions remain. Raiding into the province from the Celtiberian tribes along the borders, such as the Lusitani and the Vettones.

After Places, I have People. These are the major NPCs, good-guys and bad, that are going to help move the plot forward, or support the PCs as they do so. These characters are a mix of actual historical figures (most of the Celt Iberians) and totally made-up dudes whose names might not even be historically accurate (I’m not good at identifying in which period certain names were used).

I used the history of the time and the Lusitanian Rebellion to decide who I needed to move my conspiracy forward, then I tried to decide who in the legions the PCs might consult or interrogate. There was very little difference between what I do for any other game – from D&D to Covert Forces – and what I did here, other than having history as a backdrop and inspiration.

And an important thing that I learned is that historical names can be much, much worse than any consonant-riddled, constructed fantasy name.

Given all that, here’s the cast of characters I cooked up.

1. Quintus Cincius Salvius: A legionary who retired to Corduba. He had lost his farm after a stretch of six years in the legions, and that left him pretty bitter. He left behind a wife and children in Roman Italy. He now has a wife, Sicounin of the Turduli tribe of the Lusitani, and sister of Sosinbiuru, a Turduli war-leader.

2. Sosinbiuru: A war-leader among the Turduli tribe of the Lusitani, Sosinbiuru is an ally of Viriathus, the Lusitani leader creating a confederacy to fight Rome. Sosinbiuru has a camp on the western borders of Hispania Ulterior, and his confederate, Terkinos, maintains a rebel faction within Kartjuba.

3. Terkinos: A confederate of Sosinbiuru and a warrior of the Turduli, Terkinos is Susinbiuru’s contact with Quintus and Sicounin. He passes himself off as a grain merchant, which explains his regular contact with Quintus.

4. Titus Didius Iustus: The signifier (standard-bearer) of the 1 Centuria of V Legio, he acts as the senior commissary, and is the one who deals with Quintus for grain and other food.

5. Marcus Carvilius Narses: The medic for 1 Centuria in V Legio. He’s almost 50 (not absolutely certain of his age) and has seen a lot of action. He does not believe the sickness is a plague, but the symptoms are like poisoning.

6. Urcebas of the Turduli: Urcebas is the confederate of Tureno, Susinbiuru’s rival in the Turduli tribe. He is in Kartjuba to spy on Terkinos. If he can foil Terkinos without word getting back to Sosinbiuru, he’ll do it.

7. Korribilo of the Vasconnes. Kooibilio is the chieftain of the Vasconnes, a Celtiberian tribe allied to the Romans. He commands a forces of auxiliaries attached to V Legio. His warriors are known as exceptionally capable and professional.

And there you have it. That is the total of the one-pager that I used in the first playtest. I am comfortable creating on the fly, and I had some other resources with me to help me, including lists of names for the various cultures that were interacting – Roman, Celt-Iberian, and Carthaginian.

The time spent reading to create this one-pager helped to immerse me more deeply than the one page might indicate, so while the one-pager was my guide, I also had gained a lot of knowledge of the setting and events during the prep phase. You might want to print off some of the on-line resources you used (*cough* Wikipedia *cough*) or photocopy particularly helpful pages from a physical reference you might have used, highlighting important passages.

The prep was honestly not much more than I would do for a game of Sword Noir, and about on par for the prep in my Vikings campaign that led into the creation of Kiss My Axe, so don’t get intimidated with historical gaming. A lot of the work is already done for you!

Go support the Centurion: Legionaries of Rome Kickstarter campaign here.

Interested in the games mentioned in this post? Get your own copy of Covert Forces Redux, Sword Noir: a Role-Playing Game of Hardboiled Sword & Sorcery, or Kiss My Axe: Thirteen Warriors and an Angel of Death at RPG Now.

For research, Wikipedia has got you covered.

You can see the first post, “Creating Centurion Adventures: the Situation”, here.