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.

Mr. Fancy Pants!

A Guy This Fancy, You Call Mister

Nefertiti Overdrive Quickstart has been sent to layout and my crew in Ottawa has settled in to A Team of Losers Pulp Edition, so I have no more pressing design issues. There is work to be done on Nefertiti Overdrive since I want it to be 90-100% complete before the Kickstarter (trying not to contemplate what happens if it fails to fund again), but this is not really what I consider design work, although it is explaining a process (creating adventures and campaigns).

My work on the need-a-new-name RPG based on the Borderlands computer game series has stalled because it is not something I’m ready to pursue right now. The concepts are laid out, but the work required to realize it as a game is daunting, especially since I see no opportunity to playtest or market it. It was and remains a thought experiment, and it was a lot of fun. This was an exercise in disassembling a game in another medium and reassembling it as an RPG. Perhaps in the future this is something I will pick up, but a modified version of Nefertiti Overdrive or the UGS would work for me running a Borderlands-style game with my crew (should that happen after the pulp campaign).

That’s Right, Fancy-Pants

Or I might use Fancy-Pants the RPG (working title).

Every time I’ve gone to Gen Con, I’ve gamed with JJ Lanza (formerly of Fist Full of Comics and Games). The last two times have been with JJ and his two sons. I’ve decided I’m going to Gen Con 2015, and part of my excitement is to run a game for the Lanza crew yet again. This time, I promised something even more over-the-top than Nefertiti Overdrive, and so I have created the basic framework for a game of even more insane action, which I’m calling Fancy-Pants for absolutely no reason whatshowever. The design goal is for a game that is fast, easy, and promoting crazy action.

I have no idea if the concept I’ve laid down will do this, but I have a little under a year to prepare.

I have come to the realization that my games tend to focus on cool people punching bad people in the face with outlandish style, and I am very okay with that.

The pictures of fancy-pants action are Chow Yun-Fat, the Killer himself.

Mandarins of Manchukuo – the Supernatural Opponents

A supernatural adventure is no good without supernatural opponents. The PCs encountered a few of these in “Mandarins of Manchukuo,” but rather than being based on actual mythic lore, these were based on mass media adaptations.

The first of these, and the one that the PCs heard the most about before encountering, were the White Water Witches. These twins – Susu and Qingqing – were based on the Sorcerer and the White Snake, a movie starring Jet Li, itself based on the legend of the White Snake (not the hair metal band, though that joke did appear during the game). I mistakenly claimed the legend for Guangdong when it rightly belongs to Zhejiang. Mea culpa.

The group also encountered a group called the Priests of Thoth, my own little twist on the the Brotherhood of the Cruciform Sword from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and the Medjai from 1999’s the Mummy. Other than assassin-warriors with a lip tattoo of the hieroglyph for the Greek god Hermes, the PCs know little of these guys. I’m going to leave it that way. The PCs did figure out that while the Priests of Thoth attacked them three times during the adventure, the Priests weren’t bad guys, per se.

The big bad who showed up at the end was a rendition of the Mummy from both its 1932 incarnation and the 1999 version. The big bad appeared as Boris Karloff from 1932, but had many of the powers of the 1999 Mummy. He wasn’t as tough as either, but that’s not to say that he was the boss fight, or – if he was – that he has been destroyed completely.

The PCs might find the truth later, or they might never learn the truth.

You can read about the Sorcerer and the White Snake at Wikipedia and IMDB.

You can read the Wikipedia page on the legend of the White Snake here.

You can read about the Brotherhood of the Cruciform Sword on the Wikipedia page for Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

You can read about the 1932 Mummy on Wikipedia or IMDB.

You can read about the Medjai on the Wikipedia page for 1999’s the Mummy.

Mandarins of Manchukuo – the Supernatural Allies

The pulp A Team of Losers campaign on which my Ottawa group has embarked is going to be a kind of The Losers/A-Team by way of Raiders of the Lost Ark/Supernatural. Maybe a weird melange, but it turned out well enough for the group to vote for it over Starship Commandos and a planned Borderlands/Guardians of the Galaxy homebrew.

In the first adventure, the group encountered a few creatures – some by way of myth, others by way of mass media. The adventure was in Manchuria during the Japanese occupation – 1936 Manchukuo – and I was using the working title of “Mandarins of Manchukuo.”

The group encountered a bake-danuki – a supernatural raccoon dog – in the guise of a Japanese officer who seemed to appear wherever the group found themselves. He didn’t follow them, because he was always there first. In the final battle, he made himself known, providing the PCs with an advantage against their adversaries.

Alongside the bake-danuki, the PCs encountered a kitsune – a supernatural fox – in the guise of a Japanese woman. She was not as interested in the PCs as the bake-danuki, but she was the one the PCs identified first, mostly through meta-game knowledge. That’s not a bad thing. In a lot of monster movies and spooky TV dramas, the viewers are way ahead of the characters in identifying the creature.

These were the “allies.” There were some “villains” as well. Stay tuned!

You can read the Wikipedia entry for the bake-danuki here.

You can read the Wikipedia entry for the kitsune here.

You can read more about A Team of Losers here.

You can read more about Starship Commandos here.

A Team of Losers uses a modified version of the Untitled Game System.

Getting Pulped

It’s official. My Ottawa group has voted for the pulp adventure version of A Team of Losers. They completed the first adventure, part of what is planned as a world-spanning search for mystical artifacts which will intersect with (poorly researched) local myth and lore.

“Pulp Mystery” by estivador on deviantart.

The team right now includes Dr. Nicholas Hollows, eminent archaeologist with a fixation on the myth of Pandora’s Box; Johnny Cargen, mystic martial artist; Gertrude Blaze, carnival trick-shot artist and all around showbiz person; Dr. Hans Zarkov (of the Brazillian Zarkovs), scientist of questionable sanity; Zantar, lord of the jungle; and Lenny Something, non-descript comic relief who somehow ends up regularly shooting people in the face.

Their last adventure was in Japanese dominated Manchuria (inspired by equal parts Raiders of the Lost Ark and the Good, the Bad, the Weird). We shall see where their next adventure takes them. After each adventure, I’ll share information I’ve used on interesting mythical lore and stuff I’ve totally made up.

Next post, demon snakes, raccoon dogs, and red foxes (rather than Redd Foxx).

You can find more information on A Team of Losers here.

A Team of Losers is based on the Untitled Game System.

You can read about Raiders of the Lost Ark at Wikipedia or IMDB.

You can read about the Good, the Bad, the Weird at Wikipedia or IMDB.


A Team of Nefertiti Commandos

I wanted to pop in and give an update on what has been happening on the RPG front over here at SEP.

NO_G+cover-photoI’ve received back the edits for the Nefertiti Overdrive Quickstart. I will be amending the text and then sending it to layout. I am expecting one more piece of art before it gets published, which should be happening around September.

The first playtest of Starship Commandos wrapped up. The system has changed in that I have adapted the original damage and stress system that I was planning for Nefertiti Overdrive. Nefertiti Overdrive evolved into something very different, and that system was never used, but with Starship Commandos, it fits really well.

A Team of Losers is going to be a pulp action-adventure game with the first adventure taking place in 1936 Manchuria, creating a mix of Supernatural, the Losers, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and the Good, the Bad, the Weird. It is going to use the system of Starship Commandos and adapt it changing the Harness to Equipment.

Here’s a version of Pulp Sara Cooper for A Team of Losers.

Sara Cooper, Marksman

Mental d10; Physical d8; Social d6
Marksmanship d12; Survival (temperate) d10; Scout d8; Lived Experience d6
Quiet Professional d10; Hunter d8; Patient d8; Exceptional d6
Scoped Winchester Model 1894 Lever-action Rifle d12; Mauser C96 Broomhandle Auto-loader Pistol d10; 30m braided rawhide lariat d8
My Word Is My Bond (Cooper keeps her promises and fulfills her contracts), Buy the Farm (She’s always talking about the farm in the country she’s going to buy when she retires), and Never the Innocent (Cooper will not target non-combatants. Ever).

Starship Commandos – LC-427 the Landing

MJOLNIR Powered Assault Armor from Halo Nation

Here’s a quick rundown of what happened in the first playtest for Starship Commandos. For those not in the know, Starship Commandos has the PCs as specialized troops in the far future who utilize power armour. This is as much for my gaming group as for your entertainment, but I hope it sparks some curiosity and maybe some inspiration.

The PCs are attached to 121 MARSAT (Marine Special Armour and Tactics) with the 71st Fleet Special Purpose Force as part of the ground combat element of the 7th Marine Expeditionary Unit aboard the Command Support Vessel MARLOW. On anti-piracy patrol in the Tau Ceti system, the MARLOW is diverted to the Asterion system (Beta Canum Venaticorum) for a possible support to civilian authorities operation. LC-427 (also known as Logan’s Cross) has gone dark – no signals, no transmissions and they haven’t broadcast their no-fail signal for three days running.

On planetfall, the PCs learn that the MARLOW’s ARVs (autonomous reconnaissance vehicles) have all been neutralized by EMPs created through electro-static discharges (ESD). While it might be natural, it sure looks like a coordinated attack, and so MARSAT is sent down using landing pods (atmospheric entry person torpedoes) to secure a landing site. Further ESDs bar the use of landing craft, and so a follow-on security detachment is sent down also using landing pods. The site secure, MARSAT advances on the civic centre (city hall) to seek survivors.

On the way, MARSAT uncovers a collection of bones, lacking any tissue or garments, beneath a building that has a signals relay tower on it. Triangulating all known ESDs, the team traces the events to buildings with signals relay towers. Sending their own ISR (intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance) assets, they discover more bone pits in the basements. Investigation uncovers biological residue very, very similar to native species similar in size to racoons and squirrels, however other information leads the team to believe the beasts that undertook the killing and eating ranged in size from a large tiger to a rhinoceros.

Further, short range sensors uncover a flow of energy beneath them. Scanning for further such flows, they plot them and expect they will intersect under the civic centre.

Reaching the civic centre, the team uncovers a mainframe and server centre beneath the building that is awash in glowing green goo. They also discover an area the size of an aircraft hanger beneath the building that is not identified on the blueprints. The lieutenant decides to lead MARSAT into the unknown area.

The unknown area turns out to be a laboratory with a bio-hazard containment area. Inside that area is a container of glowing green goo.

Sundown, and the xenomorphs come out to play. Sensors detect movement burrowing toward the building while the team’s ARVs witness an attack en masse on the landing site. The security detachment loses more than half its force before barricading in the terminus of the off-line orbital elevator and calling down an orbital bombardment, destroying the surrounding area.

MARSAT is trapped in a lab as the xenomorphs advance. A fight ensues during which a marine accidentally initiates an ESD which leads to an EMP shutting down the team’s power armour. At about the same time, a grenade is dropped. Blood, terror and lots of damage ensue for 30 seconds while the armour reboots, and then the team destroys the xenomorphs.

They are left out-of-breath, cut off, and more than a little nervous.

You can read more about Starship Commandos here.

Starship Commandos – Getting it Done

Mjolnir Assault Armour from Halo Nation

Reporting in from the first playtest of Starship Commandos. It went very well. It was mostly story until the last 30 minutes, when the crew met their first xenomorphs. It just so happened one of the team triggered an electro-static discharge of immense proportions that created an EMP and the team faced the xenomorphs during the 30 second re-boot of their power armour.

Oh, and someone dropped a grenade.

So there was a lot of blood, a lot of bad dice rolls, and a lot of fear. In the end, everyone survived. But, boy, it really did get Aliens there for a bit.

There are going to be a fair number of changes to the system. Not how it works, but some of the specifics, like how many dice are rolled and success level target numbers. I’ve also figured out lethality and how it can be dialed up or down.

So, very much a success.

You can read more about Starship Commandos here.

UGS v. Military: Death and Injury

In talking about adapting UGS for military games – which includes both Starship Commandos and A Team of Losers – I mentioned the need for resource management. Another part of resource management that is very important but which I did not mention is ammunition.

"Tactical Air Control" by IMK
“Tactical Air Control” by IMK

In my games so far, there has never been any question of equipment or ammunition – it is always assumed the character has what the character needs or what the player wants the character to have. That doesn’t work for military games. Planning and preparation are important aspects, and part of that is having the proper equipment, so it’s important that players need to make choices, and those choices can lead to negative consequences.

Ammunition is key in this. You do not want to be a soldier who has run out of ammo. Now, in most teams, a teammate will give you a magazine, but that’s a drain on a teammate’s resources, and that might put that teammate at risk. This is one reason trained military don’t spray and pray. Automatic fire suppresses the enemy by making them seek cover, but you pick your shots and make them count.

As Hicks says, short, controlled bursts.

Skydiver by Dean Martin
Skydiver by Dean Martin

Adapting UGS to a military game is more than just a matter of  resource management. The threat of injury is a constant for a soldier in a hostile environment. A military game requires a way for players to be hurt and possibly killed. Now, I am not a fan of killing off characters. Characters are a player’s main tool for agency in the game, and removing that character – even if it means the player can drop in a new character – gives the message that the player’s agency is subordinate to the GM’s, and that is not how I want my games to work.

Further, players are invested in games through their characters. If the players cycle through characters, their investment in the game is weakened. Unless you are playing a light-hearted, beer and pretzels game, you want your players invested, because that makes them take in-game threats seriously, creating tension and excitement.

Given all this, the threat of character death still needs to be there. I cheat in SC and AToL, as right now, PCs can one-shot kill NPCs, but NPCs cannot do the same to PCs. That’s a cheat, and if I can figure out a clean and simple way to expand the rule to PCs, I will. Right now, I think the threat of real damage and possible death will be enough.

These are some of the additions I’ve made to UGS to create a military version, both futuristic and modern.

You can find the earlier article here.

You can find UGS here.

Starship Commandos: An Example Character

In case you were wondering where I was putting my energies since the Nefertiti Overdrive Kickstarter failed to fund, I’m actually working on a quickstart package for Nefertiti Overdrive which I hope will lead to a second and successful Kickstarter. Also, I’m working on Starship Commandos and A Team of Losers, which I’m in the midst of getting ready for testing with my group.

Halo Commando Armour from Halo Nation

Just in case you are interested, you can see an example character below. How does the game work? It’s pretty simple. Here are the basics – the very basics:
1) The players state – in whatever order they prefer – their character’s intentions.
2) In the order of the players’ choosing, the players gather dice provided by their characters’ Qualities and roll those dice. The player may add a bonus from one applicable Element.
3) The result of the roll is compared to the Success Level.
4) If the result of the roll is 6 or lower, one of the Qualities the character used is lowered by one die type and the character receives either Damage (if Physical was used) or Stress (if Mental or Social were used).
5) If the result of the roll is 7 or higher but lower than the Success Level required, one of the Qualities the character used is lowered by one die type, and the GM narrates the failure.
6) If the character succeeds, the player narrates the outcome, which follows from the character’s stated intention.

And the character:

Sgt. Cara Cooper, Designated Marksman

Mental d12; Physical d10; Social d8

Scout-Sniper d12; Long-Range Reconnaissance d10; Undercover d8; Lived Experience d6

J25S Long-Range Reconnaissance
Stealth d12; Long-Range Sensors d10; Indirect Fire Support d8

Quiet Professional +3; Hunter +3; Patient +2

Guardian Angel (Cooper won’t let her team go out without her – she needs to protect them), Buy the Farm (She’s always talking about the farm in the country she’s going to buy when she retires), and Never the Innocent (Cooper will not target non-combatants, Ever).

Primary Equipment (17)
Mk 19 Mod 0 enhanced battle rifle, Effective range is 1,500 m. Wt: 5 kg. Magazine 40 cartridges (40 shots) with removable suppressor (2)
J22 personal protection weapon, Effective range is 90 m. Wt: 1 kg. Magazine 15 cartridges (15 shots) with removable suppressor (2)
J25S Long-Range Reconnaissance Harness (grey), including body armour, helmet with head’s up display and flashlight, load-bearing equipment, tactical radio, hydration system, personal data device, and watch

Accessible (total weight 12)
Bayonet (1); Chemlights, 5 (0.5); Field Pack (1.5); First Aid dressing and pouch (1.5); Flex cuff, package of 25 (0.5); Fragmentation grenades, 4 (2); Identification Tags (Dog Tags); Iodine tablets; Lensatic Compass (0.5); Magazines, weapon 6 (3); Magazines, sidearm 2 (1); Multi-tool (0.5); Notebook and pen

In Field Pack (total weight 15.5)
Ammunition, weapon 150 rounds (2); Ammunition, sidearm 50 rounds (1.5); Canteens, 2 (3); Clothing, two changes (1); Meals, Ready to Eat, 6 days (4.5); Personal hygiene kit; Sleeping Bag (2); Sleeping pad (0.5); Weapon Cleaning Kit (1)