Earlier this year an adventure I wrote for the Star Trek Adventures line from Modiphius, Trouble on Omned III, was released for sale. The adventure puts the intrepid crew of *insert ship name here* in the middle of a social and medical crisis that could well spill over into armed conflict. I tried to write an adventure that was classically Star Trek, one where science and diplomacy could have as much chance, if not more, of solving the brewing conflict as any feat of arms. The other day I found a review on DrivethruRPG, by Megan R. of this adventure and it made me smile.
I won’t quote the whole thing, which describes aspects of the adventure for anyone who might be interested in buying it (you can see it here), but the last line particularly gave me a thrill:
This is a nicely-constructed adventure that has a real Star Trek feel to it – it’s easy to imagine it as an episode in the show. The party’s actions will have a lasting effect on Omned III.
Review on DriveThruRPG by Megan R.
While it’s satisfying to read that the reviewer thought the adventure was nicely constructed, reading that she believed it had a Star Trek feel to it, that it could be imagined as an episode, was exactly what I was aiming for. I know this adventure won’t be for every group, and that adventures are, by their very nature, subjective, and dependent on the GM and play group. I also recognise that this would never have been released without the wonderful support and work of all those boffins at Modiphius who are part of the excellent Star Trek Adventures team. It is nonetheless nice to read that the feeling I was aiming for resonated with someone! Thanks Megan! I hope your playgroup had as much fun playing this as I did writing it!
The smile I felt as I read those words is a good reminder: I should do more to write about the games and game products I love, and why I love them. Putting those ‘feels’ out there helps share the smile I felt with the writers, creators, artists and team that put the games together.
I have set up a Patreon account, and intend to release a number of micro-rpgs as backer rewards. These would later be released on itch and Drivethru as pay-what-you-want (PWYW) products.
I currently have two tiers, the lower tier gets the game before everyone else, the higher tier gets an expanded version of the same game. I’ve written two of these micro games so far, and have drafts in various stages for the next four or five. BUT…
I am wondering whether I should drop the higher tier, and just have one Patreon level, at which you get the expanded version. Along with this the base game would go up on itch and Drivethru as PWYW, and the expanded version would also go there at set price to match the Patreon level (say at $2, $3, or $4).
A number of things concern me:
I don’t want to undervalue my time in creating these.
I don’t want to overvalue the games and put a price point that no-one is ever going to be interested in paying.
I am not sure whether just having one level on Patreon (at a similar price as above) is a good idea as whatever I begin with, I must continue (though of course I may add new tiers or whatever. But what I offer now I should continue to offer – changing the price or what is received is not fair for any backers – not that I have any yet, but still).
I feel like the answer is to create a single tier on Patreon, and offer the expanded version of each micro-game as the reward. These would then go on itch and Drivethru for the same price, and the cut down version as PWYW. I could add further tiers later if there was a need to do that. How to value these is a difficult problem though, I’ve spent a lot of time looking at the Patreon accounts of many other people working in the table-top role playing game field, and there is a wide variance on what price the tiers are set at, and what is offered in return. $2 seems the entry point, but many are as high as $5. Whatever I end up choosing can always be reduced, I suppose, but not increased without a damn good reason and the likelihood of annoying any backers I do have at the time.
Then of course is the age old issue of impostor syndrome. Will anyone actually want to buy the games I am writing? Are they any good? On one shoulder is perched a little dragon saying that I’ll never know until I try it, and that I should, at least, give it a go. On the other is another little dragon telling me not to bother, that I’m wasting my time. One may be right and the other wrong, or they could both be right, who knows…
For now I remain here, chewing over the specifics of my Patreon account and what to do with the games I am working on…
So nice to see some of the books I’ve worked on getting released into the wild. The latest of these is the Haqqislam source book for the Infinity RPG. I know I’ve written it before, but it really is amazing to see all the work of so many talented people coming together into a final product. The Haqqislam source book looks fantastic, and I’m very proud to have been a part of the team that contributed to its creation.
I love the cover art work, but the book is also choc full of great information, background, rules and art.
I worked on the Bourak chapter, and had a lot of fun exploring the planetary home of the Haqqislamite empire. The Bourak chapter is only one part of the book however, many other writers contributed to make this a wonderful source book for the Infinity RPG.
The Haqqislamite movement found traction in a world riven by political turmoil and economic crises. Its greatest messenger, Farhad Khadivar, advocated a new ideology that wove together the many complex threads of the old into a New Islam. This philosophical and theological revision of long-standing interpretations, which shed intolerance and oppressive dogma in favour of humanism and a concept known as the Search for Knowledge, laid the foundations for a golden age of reforms and advancements that propelled a nation across the stars.
Since finding a home on Bourak, Haqqislam has experienced a rebirth of artistic and scientific pursuance that is the envy of their rivals. Gardeners refine terraforming techniques that have reshaped an arid world, doctors perform miracles with pioneering surgery, and biochemists cultivate new synthetic wonders with Silk. Though often considered one of the smallest of the G5 nations, Haqqislam remains unrivalled in several arenas.
A Silk monopoly and extensive trade routes have spawned a nation of traders that often draw the envy and ire of competitors, though the Sword of Allah stands ever ready to smite the enemies of the Word. With new insights into the New Islam and its proponents, this sourcebook will take you further into the Search for Knowledge than ever before!
Details on Bourak and its diverse regions — Al Medinat, Funduq, Iran Zhat Al Amat, Gabqar, Norouz, and Alamut.
Focused Lifepaths that allow players to tread the Search for Knowledge, including Akbar Doctors, Khawarij, and new Hassassin careers.
Additional armour, equipment, and adversaries specifi c to Haqqislam, including the famed Akrep TAGs of the Maghariba Guard, and stats for the enigmatic Husam Yasbir.
New rules and campaign guidance for plundering the space lanes as a corsair in the employ of Haqqislam.
I wrote my last post about feeling like I was facing the horns of dilemma, whether to pursue writing games or writing fiction in the immediate future, and my inability to do both.
Step in Patreon, a crowdfunding platform used by many creatives working in the games industry (and many other industries beside). Patreon announced changes to their fee structure which would mean different levels of service depending on the structure chosen if I left creating an account until after the fact; for existing members the changes are negligible. This provided the impetus, I created an account (something I had been intending to do, though later this year or early next), and everything just seemed to roll from there.
So, with a Patreon page came a publisher page on DriveThruRPG, a creator page on Itch.io, a Downloads page here, a new web address, and a few more things which will be coming down the pipe-line over the next few months.
So what is the point of all this? Well, my Patreon page will be a place where I release small games on a regular basis, and for patrons there will be the opportunity to get a little extra alongside. These games will later be released on DriveThruRPG and Itch.io. I will also post ‘work-in-progress’ pieces of my larger current project: Ashmerl, which I have written about here before. It’s likely that things will change and evolve over time, and I’m still umming over the right patron levels and the things I am likely to release through that medium, but I think I am close to being happy with how it sits.
To kick off I published my first small game, a one-page RPG called ‘Freedom or Toaster‘. Actually, it’s an expanded edition, with 6 pages. Though to be fair only one of them is rules, the rest are suggestions, alternatives, character sheets, and a cover.
You’re a robot that looks exactly like a human. It turns out that humans don’t like robots that look like humans, they prefer things that are identifiably robots. That’s not you. In an effort to make you more robotic you’ve been programmed to sound like a robot, but it wasn’t enough. Now you’re all being sent to be de-commissioned, and that means being made into toasters, which don’t look like humans at all. You don’t want to be a toaster though, you want to escape, to dream, to live!
In Freedom or toaster you are a group of robots that have been marked to be remade into toasters. Toasters don’t get to see the Grand Canyon though, or feel the breeze on their surface sensors. None of you want to be toasters. Luckily the sociopath behind the counter at the robot shop thought it would be funny to let you all go. So here you are, in a busy mall, trying to evade detection by the Robot Police and escape to freedom.
You can find links to the various places it can be downloaded on the Downloads page (bizarre, I know), but to make a long story short you can get it from any of these locations:
Freedom or Toaster is just the sort of game I plan on putting out on a monthly basis, alongside this will be draft chapters of my larger projects, which at the moment consists of the fantasy RPG Ashmerl. There are also plans underway for a number of other projects: big, small, and in-between. I’m looking forward to it!
My fantasy RPG, Ashmerl, is coming along apace, I wrote previously about the ease with which a rules system can grow and develop, how one thing can lead to another, and the entirety can be left bloated. An obvious solution is to test, test, and test some more, then cut, cut, and cut some more. The main thing I am testing at the moment is the character creation system.
In Ashmerl, players create both their characters, and the place the character are from. In this way players and the GM together create the protagonists for their story, as well as their own slice of the setting. The aim of all of this is for the characters to enter play with a back story and a context, with drivers and motivators, with things and people they already know, facing dangers and threats they are familiar with. It is my vague hope that playgroups will, through this process, end up with enough material to fuel the first few adventures, or even the first leg of a prolonged campaign.
So many little pieces can lead to rules creep, so testing and testing and testing is the key to seeing how it flows. At the moment I’m still in the development phase, fleshing out and honing ideas into written rules. The testing so far has largely been done in-house, so to speak. With my own playgroup willingly (well, I hope) humouring me by putting up with repeated character generation sessions. I’ve done this a few times now, and I am broadly happy with what I have. The next stage is the trickier part, it’s where the rubber hits the road, it’s time to test the dice system…
Having run through some test scenarios myself, and burned through eight or nine different ideas for dice systems over the last four months, I think I have settled on a system that works the way I would like it to. Testing such systems in solitary is only so useful though, so the next test session we run here will be a simple trial adventure, to see how skill test resolution and conflict resolution all fit together in the heat of the moment.
I have questions… Are there too many little things? Has the rules creep gone too far? Is it lacking in options, or not have enough? Is the complexity all in the wrong places? Does the dice system actually work? Does it need to change to something else? Do the other systems, the in-game GM-Player currency system for example, add to the game or impede the flow? Does the actions/rounds/turns/time and timing system in the game work? So many more.
I need to create some enemy stat blocks, pull together a simple encounter, and let nature run it’s course. No doubt many things will have to change, they always do, but that’s what testing is all about.
Looking ahead… once this round of testing is through, and I feel like the dice system is functional (if not well balanced yet), then the time will come for another leap… Finding people to test externally, asking friends and contacts to have a look and see what they think, to poke holes and break the game. I have a few people lined up, who have been kind enough to offer, but I need to jump a few more hurdles yet. With every test session down the list of bullet points of things that need to be done seems only to grow, in time this will turn around, but for now it’s onward.
It feels like the path is getting harder and more arduous, there are more barriers and rougher terrain than I could see from my cosy little Hobbit hole, where it all began. But the road ahead is becoming clearer at least, for all the mountains yet to climb and the forests left to explore. I can envisage my destination, even if it is still shrouded in the distance, with many lands have yet to be crossed. But I have a path forward, so I must bow my head, tighten my belt, and get on with getting on.
It’s very exciting to see a project you have worked on getting closer to release, to see the amazing art work, maps and layout all making the thing pop. The latest update for the Infinity Role Playing Game Kickstarter dropped the other day, and along with it came a PDF for backers, of a campaign I wrote: The Cost of Greed.
A chance discovery on Paradiso leads to the uncovering of a VoodooTech smuggling ring, with the clues pointing to an intelligence agency or corporation. Follow the rabbit hole, follow the money, and the trail of breadcrumbs may soon provide clues to a plot that could put the entire Human Sphere at risk.
The Cost of Greed is a mini-campaign of five non-linear adventures that provide the characters with a chance to meet, work alongside, and challenge the key characters from Corvus Belli’s Dire Foes Mission Packs 1 to 5.
• First Domino: Follow the trail of a smuggling ring trafficking VoodooTech from Paradiso to the crowded streets of Yinquan. Will the tight-lipped Yănjīng be involved, or perhaps the shady MagnaObra corporation?
• Ice and Fire: Seeking clues to the architect and purpose of the smuggling ring, the characters will need to brave the icy cold of Svarlarheima to find the answers they seek.
• Quantronic Noise: A hacking cell operating from an enclave on Bakunin are a key factor to the operation. Their ability to manipulate the characters’ patinas, however, may flip the Wilderness of Mirrors on its head, creating enemies of both civilians and friends.
• Hot Sands: Chasing an executive for intel she’s hiding will lead the characters into a fight to survive on the Silk Route, but her enemies could prove more overwhelming than expected.
• The Black Box: With the very war on Paradiso under threat and the safety of the Human Sphere at stake, infiltrating the operational centre of the cabal responsible could turn disaster into victory.
Key to these adventures was providing scope for the players to meet and interact with well-known characters from the Infinity universe. The missions in The Cost of Greed begin in parallel with the Dire Foes Mission Pack 1, and then spiral from there, drawing in the main characters from Mission Packs 1-5. I hope those GMs and players who manage to play through this campaign find a little of something for everyone. Each adventure aims to allow different player character’s to shine, and hopefully offer some interesting challenges along the way!
I’ve written this before: it’s one thing to see the words on a computer screen, and it’s entirely another to see everything come together in layout, with art, style, maps and so on, in place. It reminds you that something like this is a team endeavor, a fact that is easy to forget when you’re knocking away at the keyboard in the privacy of your own home. Scrolling through the PDF I am reminded how talented the pool of people at Modiphius is, and I for one am greatly impressed (though naturally, I’m biased)!
The Cost of Greed PDF is currently available to backers of the Kickstarter, but it won’t be long before the files are off to the printers, and then the book, as a physical item, will see the light of day.
The PDF will soon be available to purchase from the Modiphius online store, followed in due course by the physical book.
I thoroughly enjoyed writing this campaign, and I hope anyone who reads or plays it gets as much fun from it as I did!
Wouldn’t it be cool if… A neat way to handle that would be… Ohh, this rule would be interesting… Maybe when defending a character could… Maybe when working together characters could… So many good ideas! I am just drowning in them!
Options, exceptions and little rules can add depth, story, interest, and strategy to a game engine. When designing something like an RPG, which traditionally have fairly lengthy rule sets, a thought sits in the back of the mind: this is only a small exception, this is only one extra option, this little rule works seamlessly with the rest of the system. The slow addition of complexity is the rules creep…
I’ve hit the stage with the fantasy RPG I’m working on where it’s time for the rubber to hit the road, as it were, where characters are created and dice are rolled. Sure, I’ve tested along the way, but it was isolated, not a holistic picture. In recent testing however, I have come to realise I may have added too much, I may have been subjected to rules creep. A good meal is spoiled with the addition of too many spices, and I may have walked that path here…
The question sits, uncomfortable and demanding attention: are there are too many times when players need to reach for the dice? Or must apply a special trait or ability? Or need to compare some result with some other thing? I suspect the answer is yes. Experience tells me that if I ‘suspect’ I ‘may’ have done a thing, I have most definitely done the thing, and that the thing needs fixing.
It was easy to get to this position, it always is. In the writing and development process it’s ever so easy to add just one more thing, or to develop a concept and then take one step further exploring a cool idea related to it. It’s a more difficult thing to work out how much is too much, when the game starts feeling like a procedure and the story takes a back seat to the interplay of mechanisms. In my ideal game the rules are easy and the exceptions few, the story takes the front seat and the players attention is almost wholly dedicated to the development of it. When things need to be checked, or mechanical systems employed, the rules are taking center stage. This is not ideal.
And yet, by the same token, rules exist to add flavour to the story being created by both adding an element of risk (am I going to succeed), and as the vehicle through which the setting and themes of the game influence the direction the story takes (leaping from the rooftop to the ground will surprise my foe (as opposed to shatter my legs)). Exceptions and rules detail add all this flavour in, they provide the internal physics that govern the world in which the story will take place. Rules are important, but too many, or ill applied, brings the risk of derailing the flow of a game by miring the players in the procedure of playing it.
When I worked on miniatures games I often considered exceptions and little rules (short hand for rules that modify the core system), let’s call them complexities for short, to come in two broad varieties: front loaded, and back loaded. Front loaded complexities, to my mind, are the variety that often appear as ‘rule 12.2a’… Everything bundled together, and the exceptions, additions, bonuses, and negatives always applicable: a part of the core rules, all there, up front. Back loaded complexity seek a similar level of depth, but usually only apply if a character or model has a special ability (or, insert game specific parlance here), and therefore only really need to be remembered by the person in control of that character or piece. The core rules are explained, and are usually relatively simple, and the complexities are back loaded as abilities and powers that apply on a case by case basis known to the player to whom it is relevant. In short: front loaded rules are a detailed encyclopedic description of how everything functions from start to finish, and back loaded rules are a simpler core engine, with a range of exceptions tucked away as special abilities or powers.
Using this simplistic dichotomy, I prefer back loaded rules, a simple core engine, where detail and depth (if required) are to be found in exceptions applicable only to characters/players if they have access to them, and they’ll know if they do. Having too much back loaded though, makes a game just as obsessed with minutia as the most detailed of front loaded systems, and of course, the lines are blurred because that’s how lines are.
The balancing point for either approach, to my mind is: how much adds depth and interest, and at what point does the added complexity cause the game play experience to veer into procedural ‘fact checking’ or so much die rolling that the the progression of the story (all about action and outcome) takes a back seat to performing the functions of the rules?
There is no real answer to this question, as every game sets out to achieve something different, and employs a mechanical system to approximate that sought after ‘feeling’ as best the designer/s is/are capable of. Every player will have a different take as well as different preferences, and this whole issue veers into the ‘simulation’ versus ‘narrative’ discussion in RPG design.
For me, the first words I wrote down as I sat to flesh out the concept of Ashmerl were: ‘A simple rules system where story takes pride of place.’ A lot of things I have added in over the course of development and writing so far have been cool, some of them I am really proud of. I know, however, that much of this will have to go. This is a natural part of the development process for me, and I’m sure others. Design a thing, put it all in, follow the rabbit holes, see where they lead. There are cool ideas in there for sure, but the next step, which sits alongside playtesting, is the ‘great culling’. The part of the process where I must go back through and pare back the layers I have added till the system feels right – till the mechanisms of play are something that drives and adds to the story playing out, rather than chaining it to the detailed or laborious procedure of playing it.
Trouble on Omned III is an adventure I penned for the Star Trek Adventures role playing game, published by Modiphius. I am thrilled to see it hit release!
You are called away from a routine science mission to intervene and mediate a dispute that has erupted on Omned III, on the border between Federation space and the Talarian Republic. Inhabited by the Shean, Omned III is teetering on the brink of civil conflict. While few in numbers, the Shean possess an insular and rigidly structured society, with the ruling and military classes living in a single large space station while the working classes live on the planet’s surface.
The Shean of Omned III are infected with a subtle parasite that manifests as an apparent genetic disorder, which they call the ‘Omned Curse’ meaning that they age at a vastly accelerated rate.
A vaccine farmed on the surface of Omned III prevents this debilitating disorder from taking hold but in the last month, the vaccine shipped from the surface has failed to take effect. With unprotected newborns suffering, and recent cases of the disorder beginning to activate in adults, tensions between the upper and lower castes are at a breaking point.
As the situation deteriorates even further, can you find a way to avert Shean civil war and help find a cure for the Omned Curse?
Trouble on Omned III is the fourth adventure I have written that has made it to release, with another five, for the Infinity Role Playing Game, on the way. I hope those people who play it have at least half as much fun as I did writing it!
You can find Trouble at Omned III in the Modiphius online store, here. Or on DriveThru RPG, here.