Archive for the ‘design’ Category

Well spring is firmly in the air and as the weather gets nicer, thoughts are turning to spending more time indoors playing games. I have a hard time just picking up and running a game as written – I much prefer to get under the bonnet and tinker with either the setting or the mechanics. So, these are the top 6 games I want to play, and the hacks I want to play with them.

1. Fiasco: Dick Head

Not so much a hack as a playset to vaguely recreate the stories of Philip K Dick, with all manner of weird and wonderful results on the situation tables and a tilt table to pull the curtain back for the second act. Why Fiasco? I dunno, there’s something about the way the situation generator that I think will produce great, weird, Dickesque stories.

2. Hot War: Ultraviolet/True Blood

I think Hot War might be the game I own with the most hackability. Its setup lends itself perfectly for tight-knit, character-driven conflicts and monsters. So what better way to represent one of my favourite settings, Ultraviolet, a show all about agents with mixed agendas hunting vampires, perhaps mashed liberally in with True Blood.

3. Empires of Alexander

Anyone who knows me will know I’m a big ancient history buff, especially when it comes to Alexander the Great. I reckon there’d be a lot of fun to be had playing Alexander’s various generals leading their own armies east alongside the Macedonian King, and for me there’s no better game when it comes to military campaigns – Duty & Honour/Beat to Quarters, collectively known as the Empire system. All it’d take would be a reskinning of skills and character creation bits and bobs and you’re ready to ride to the ends of the world!

4. Remember Tomorrow: Revelation Space

I’ve never got into cyberpunk beyond Ghost in the Shell, but love me some hard scifi, especially Alastair Reynolds and his oeuvre. I think the multi-protagonist, split narrative of his books would map brilliantly to Remember Tomorrow’s varied stories told from multiple perspectives. I’ve got a few tweaks to the situation tables to embed the setting in the game more, but RT does the job admirably out of the book.

5. Smallville: the Walking Dead

I’ve got a real yearning to run Smallville but no great desire to play in the published setting. Instead I want to use it to run a game reminiscent of the Walking Dead, as the relationship-focused nature of the game will capture the complicated character situations of the show. In actual fact I’m going to make the setting Unhallowed, but it’s similar enough, just swap zombies for demons.

6. Lost Days of Memories & Madness: Game of Thrones

This hack will almost certainly be the subject of a future post, but with the fantasy epic about go return for a second series I’ve got a hankering to run a high-stakes political game of intrigue, and would use my own Memories & Madness to pull it off. Instead of memories, you’d have subjects or power bases, and coins would become influence or power. Easy. I’ll dig into that one a bit more another time.

How about you? What are you jonesing to a) play and b) hack?

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The new Prometheus trailer has got me pondering a question me and my friend Gaz often ask – where are all the sci-fi games? You can’t move for horror or fantasy, but where are all the good science fiction roleplaying games?

Now, before the comments thread gets inundated with angry remarks, let me just say that a) no I don’t mean your game b) yes I’ve considered x or y game and c) I’m actually talking about the wider premise of science fiction, so stand down.

The reason me and Gaz inevitably come to is that the problem lies with the question, namely that the genre of science fiction is too vast to be properly captured in a single game, or even a single genre, really. Let me explain.

Do you want a game to replicate Alien or Event Horizon. That’s surely a horror game. How about Star Trek, Firefly or Mass Effect? Well that’s more of an adventure or space opera game. Star Wars? Heroic fantasy. Aliens? Military science fiction. Battlestar Galactica? Political and social commentary. And when you get into the realms of Iain M Banks, Arthur C Clarke or any Philip K Dick-esque sci-fi you’re looking at corners of the genre more esoteric still.

And how can anyone possibly capture so many diverse genres in a single game?

And that’s before we come to the question of science vs. fiction. Are you looking to tell interesting stories and have the science merely as colour, or is the science the driving factor of the story? How do you keep the science from becoming meaningless fluff or dominating the game with lists of equipment or endless made-up on the fly techno-babble?

So with all those questions in mind, I’ll rephrase my search parameters. I want a game to tell exciting stories set in space, with science as more than just colour but less than endless pages of stats for rayguns. I want the feeling of being out amongst the stars without getting swamped by setting or suffering from a planet a week. I want dead civilisations and the hint of aliens. And I want it to all have a used, worn feel, ashtrays in space as Gaz would put it.

In short I want Prometheus: the game please. Don’t make me write it myself.

And I was joking in my preface. I’m looking forward to all the comments on why I’m wrong, right or where I can find the games me and Gaz have missed all along.

*One day I will write a sci-fi Fiasco playset called Dick Head. Wait till you see the tilt table.

Yesterday I showed off the cover for Lost Days of Memories & Madness, my game of intrigue and insanity at the court of the elves. Today I thought I’d post up another piece of art and talk a little about the background for the game, as this piece forms the opener for Chapter 1: The Elves of the Eternal Court.

I’ve posted it up in full colour because I wanted to share George’s awesomeness, but the book is in black and white. You can see for yourself now – I’ve put the PDF up on RPGNow for sale.

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I got some copies of my latest game, Lost Days of Memories & Madness, to sell at Dragonmeet at the weekend and realised I’d barely posted about it here! So, with the game going on sale in the next week, I aim to put that straight!

First up, here is a look at the awesome cover – the picture is by George Cotronis, whilst the design is Paul Bourne, and combined they make for a very striking piece of art.

The interior art is all in the same vivid style, and Paul has used each of the pieces as chapter heads. I’ll post them up over the course of the week too.

Next Tuesday I’ve been given the honour of kicking off Sheffield-based investigative storytellers Overlap’s pilot season of events, where I’ll be giving a talk on what storytellers can learn from story games. I’m equal parts excited and terrified, as I’ve never done anything like this before yet it’s a great opportunity to talk to an audience about something (relatively) new yet fascinating.

I’ll be talking about what story games and roleplaying games are and how they’re a form of storytelling in their own right. I’ll be looking at a variety of different games, showcasing just how wide a range of topics they address, from the world of boxing in Contenders to child soldiers in Grey Ranks. And I’ll also be talking about some of the techniques used in story games, such as series creation in Primetime Adventures and situation creation in Fiasco, and what storytellers in other mediums can learn.

I do hope people will be intrigued enough to come along! Here are the details for anyone in the Sheffield area next week. And for those of you who can’t make it, I’m sure there’ll be a variety of multimedia online soon after.

Setting is characters, the rest is just color. Figure out how to express what you want from the period through the people.

– Rob Donoghue

That’s what Rob Donoghue posted over on twitter a while back in a discussion about historical settings and I’m kinda conflicted about it. I was trained as a historian, so I can see both sides – I appreciate how historical characters, traditionally kings but in recent times more common folk, are great at providing a lens through which we can examine an era. Conversely, I dig the historical events and setting themselves – the battles, as it were, or the colour as Rob puts it. To me, they’re more than just flavour, they are the setting.

Yet it’s easy to get bogged down in the minutiae of a setting, providing the readers with tons of needless details in the hope that you’ll bring the setting alive, but in reality running the risk of burying any sense of flavour or interest they might have had.But of course it’s possible to go too far the other way, instead of providing a setting overview just providing a series of character descriptions and hoping readers can infer what they need to for the biographies. I think the right mix will vary from game to game – to me games like Polaris and Hot War get it right, providing enough setting to spark my own imagination, and enough characters to give me an idea what to do with that setting.

Looking at the game I’m currently working on, Lost Days of Memories & Madness, I can see room for both styles. Consider these two takes on the same piece of background, about what happened to all the dragons. First up, battle style:

Here be Dragons

The once-noble creatures known as dragons were perhaps the first victims of elven conquest, for these great reptiles were no less arrogant and independent than the elves themselves and neither race would bow to the other. As mighty as the dragons were individually, they were few number and overpowered by the armies of the elves. Those rare creatures that still live are as shadows of their former selves, broken and bound by elven magic to serve as steed or pet, their memories of past glories long since stolen by the elves. But it is whispered that, somewhere in the hidden corners of the world, true dragons still live. For the memories of such a beast – full of simmering rage long harboured – to be harvested would be a treasure highly prized indeed.

And now from a ‘king’ perspective:

Kesar, the Last Dragon

The once-noble creatures known as dragons were perhaps the first victims of elven conquest, for these great reptiles were no less arrogant and independent than the elves themselves and neither race would bow to the other. Kesar is the last of his kind, saved from a life of slavery by the draconic magic that changed him from dragon to elf, allowing him to bide his time and plot his revenge from within the Eternal Court. That the elven memories that crowd his mind alongside his own threaten to drive him to madness is of no concern to Kesar – his thirst for revenge drove him insane long ago.

Now, both pieces have their own advantages and disadvantages. For me, I think the former just edges it, giving me a glimpse at the world and allowing me to fill in the blanks myself. The second piece offers me the same glimpse, but I find a little too focused, a little too ‘zoomed-in.’ In focusing the lens through the eyes of a single character, there’s the danger of it just saying something about that character, not the setting he inhabits.

Which do you prefer? Are you more a fan of ‘kings’ or ‘battles’ when it comes to background? And what settings have got that balance just right?

Or should that read Old Games?

Awesome artist and games designer Keith Senkowski uploaded some art I commissioned 4 or 5 years ago a couple of months back, along with the comment that it was for “a role-playing game that will never see the light of day.” I’ve got to admit, that stung a little, not least because, in my head at least, one day I still hoped that Six Bullets for Vengeance would still see the light of day.

But how realistic is that hope? I’ve not touched the game in over a year, and even then that was just a bit of tidying up of the text. Six Bullets saw a fair amount of playtesting 18 months ago, when Rick Evans (aka Indie Pete) and the Pompey Crew ran the hell out of it, but this came crashing to a halt when fellow Collective Endeavour-ites Joe Prince and Gregor Hutton gave it a good beating and pointed out some of the fundamental flaws that I’d been too blind to. It went into the metaphorical draw, and hasn’t come out again since.

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