Back in August of 2016, Monte Cook Games launched a kickstarter for their game Invisible Sun. At the time, there was a lot of secrecy surrounding the game, with very little details of what all the obtuse terminology the game was using meant. It had numerous components, each with a name that wasn’t explicitly indicative of what purpose it served, and further, the game wasn’t made available online. It was described as a “Luxury RPG Experience.”
As of February 2019, however, Monte Cook Games has announced that they were going to release Invisible Sun digitally in pdf form, along with a digital preview of the game. When it initially came out, I mostly ignored it. Though with the release of the preview, I decided to dig into it a little bit, because I believe that an informed marketplace is a healthy one.
If the title of this article is any indication, I was not impressed with what I was able to surmise. So for your reading pleasure and to help you make a more informed decision as to whether you should get this, I bring you Five Things Wrong With Invisible Sun!
1) It’s Expensive And Excessive
When it was initially funded via Kickstarter, the lowest tier that gave you a copy of the game was set at approximately 200USD, and since then, the price for a pre-order of the next batch of these to be shipped out is about 300USD. This is a steep price tag for any game, especially when you consider that the trio of books for Dungeons and Dragons is about 150USD (oftentimes much less), with the options to eschew certain books if you don’t want or need them. Even the digital copy of Invisible Sun goes for about 100USD.
While Invisible Sun does come with numerous books, there’s also other props it comes with that, frankly, probably aren’t necessary. Props such as The Testament of Suns, which is a plastic hand meant to hold a card for everybody around the table to see.
Invisible Sun’s weight, according to its listing on Amazon, is 30lbs (about 13.5kg). There’s a lot in this box which, even if one isn’t opposed to paying a high price point, still means you’ll not only need to find room for this 30 inch cube (about 75cm), but you’ll need to lug it around and move it about when you’re going to play.
And the game has several books, several decks of different cards, and several other things that contribute to our next concern...
2) It’s Poorly Designed, Organized, And Explained
The rules and all the pertinent information needed to play the game are spread across four different books, as well as numerous different decks of cards. Some of these decks contain information that isn’t reproduced in any of the books, according to their web page. This means if one of these cards is lost, that’s a part of the game that’s likely to be lost as well.
Four books sounds like an incredible thing for a game to have, and I will give props to Invisible Sun because they do seem to divide the content of the books up pretty reasonably: basics information in one book, setting information in another, etc etc. That’s an idea I can get behind, since one of my favorite games, Tenra Bansho Zero, has a similar setup for its English edition.
However, if the table of contents is to be believed, the index for Invisible Sun is located in the back half of the book “The Gate.” While I’m fond of the multi-book approach, putting the index in just one book like its an encyclopedia does open up some problems. What if that book is unavailable, and you need to find a specific piece of information within it?
Furthermore, on the subject of indexes, Invisible Sun does a little bit of indexing throughout itself. This is a welcome answer to the issue of the index being in only one of the books, but, they picked a jarring place to put these mini-indexes: right in the center of the page.
3) It’s Not As Original As It Claims
Invisible Sun makes some very bold claims; among these being that it’ll change how RPGs are played, it’s a new way to play RPGs, and also that it includes “magic that is truly magical.” These are all claims that, at best, are exaggerated, with one of the big selling points being that includes rules for how to play without having everybody present, or even when the GM isn’t present.
On its own, that isn’t a problem. How to handle player absence would ordinarily be something I’d welcome in a rulebook. It’s one of the praises I sing of Meikyuu Kingdom. In fact, if a player character is absent for a session, there are codified rules on how that character can still contribute to the game.
However, these are issues the greater RPG community has, for the longest time, already solved. We’ve figured out how to run games without a GM, we’ve already come up with and codified the idea of flashbacks as a gameplay device, and we’ve also come up with having one-on-one scenes between GM and Player.
It takes hubris (or being wildly out of touch) to codify these things we’ve been doing for so long, and use it as a selling point for your boutique priced game.
4) It’s Pretentious
“Invisible Sun is deep. It’s smart. Just like you. Invisible Sun will change the way you play rpgs.”
That is the the final line in the original sales pitch for Invisible Sun, the crowning gem after a passage of nonsense and promises of solving problems that were already solved. This page has since fallen off the Invisible Sun website, replaced instead with a somewhat more informative one that describes the setting and premise a little better.
Arguments could be made in contrast to the first three points: Invisible Sun is smart because it codifies these solutions the community has solved. It should command a higher price for this benefit, since there are games that don’t do this. Other games have obtuse settings and a blurred line between where rules and setting information are.
However, it’s this collection of traits, convoluted layout, obtusely described setting, high price point, and being described as a smart game for smart people, that marks the sort of snob appeal that makes it pretentious.
Given that this hobby is social in nature, though, it behooves me not to villainize anybody who likes this games. So more power to you if you were one of the folks who got your hands on the limited quantities of Black Cubes out there. Just keep this in mind: high barriers to entry, monetary or otherwise, means there’s not likely to be as many players for your game.
I’ll end this article on a slightly more amusing note.
5) Bonus! Poor Security For Their Web App
This factor isn’t really a strike against the game, so much as something that makes me think perhaps the team at Monte Cook Games is out of touch with the modern world. (After all, never blame on malice what could just as easily be incompetence.)
Invisible Sun also had a companion app developed for it, though it isn’t available on the Google Play or Apple App stores. It’s instead what could best be described as a web-app, a website that has the functionality of a smartphone app. In my quest to dredge up more information on Invisible Sun, I came across the app, and wondered if registering might yield any secrets.
There’s one field that asks for a specific word, from a specific page, of a specific book that Insibile Sun comes with. This is what we call a Dictionary Encryption, and it’s an old form of securing information that was also used as a form of copy protection in about the 1990s.
However, the app doesn’t seem to include a captcha verification. Meaning somebody handy with scripting languages could potentially brute force their way through registration, trying every possible word to fulfill the Dictionary Encryption. (An activity that, we at High Level Games do NOT condone.)
Aaron der Schaedel is aware of the folly of punching up at a name like Monte Cook in this hobby. Having been chased out of other circles for more absurd reasons, though, he remains unperturbed. You can chastise him for questioning a long time member of the industry via twitter: @Zamubei
Picture Reference: https://www.montecookgames.com/store/product/invisible-sun-preorder/
So, here’s the deal, guys and gals:
I have never, in all my time roleplaying, seen such enthusiastic fervor for Dungeons & Dragons. Late-end Baby Boomers and Generation X’ers are coming back to the game in droves. Millennials are discovering the game for the first time, and in many cases, since 5th Edition is the first edition of the game that they’ve played, they’re becoming masters of the rules and living archives of spell duration and effect, creature difficulty and Hit Dice, and the ins and outs of class sub-specialty versus bi-classed characters… and somewhere, in the middle, there are some pretty awesome groups playing games every week with all of the diversity in culture, sex and background that anyone could possibly want. Husbands are finally playing Dungeons & Dragons with wives, Fathers and mothers with sons and daughters, and the internet has made players and Dungeon Masters in one-horse towns in Nevada or snowed-in hinterlands in Michigan reachable via Skype, Facebook Messenger, and Discord; reachable by players and Dungeon Masters in Glasgow, or the UAE, or a military duty station in Bahrain.
The games are out there. Finding a great group is a wonderful thing. It can be done, and now, it can be done more easily than ever. However, there are a few things to keep in mind for players both new and old coming back to Dungeons & Dragons or who are discovering the game for the first time.
1) Be On Time
We have a saying in the military; if you’re not fifteen minutes early getting to where you’re supposed to be, then you’re late. Don’t be late to game night. At least, don’t be late to game night without calling, texting or sending out an email to let everyone know that you’re going to be late or that you’ve run into something that will keep you from attending the game altogether. There are any number of avenues with which the absence of a player can be handled, and ultimately, it’s up to the DM. However, it is polite to let your fellow players and DM know well in advance of the start time for a game session if you’re going to be late or if you won’t be attending.
I’ve also had DMs no call/no show on an entire assembled gaming group who are waiting for him or her. As a matter of fact, that is exactly how I began running the campaign that I am running now. This is a little more detrimental to an assembled group, and in all honesty, a lot harder to recover from. If you’re lucky, you’ll have another member of your group that is able to pick up the ball that the absent DM dropped. If not, you’re just hanging around when you could probably be doing something more constructive with your time.
My suggestion would be to obtain phone numbers and email addresses on the very first night that the group assembles, even before character creation. Use these tools to communicate with one another. I use my players’ emails to handle down-time/long rest activity in between sessions, and I have made it absolutely clear to my players that not communicating an absence is something I’ll only let happen twice, and on the second time, I’ll ask them to leave the group due to the overall lack of respect that they’ve shown myself and the other players.
2) Do Not Ever Argue Rules With A Dungeon Master
There are five separate editions of Dungeons & Dragons. For each of those separate editions, there are some similarities, to be certain, but by and large, those similarities are the minority. If the similarities weren’t the minority, there would be no purpose in creating a whole new edition of the game. So, this being the case, when you understand what edition of the game you’ll be playing and you agree to it, do not argue rules systems, die rolls, or results with the DM.
Not only is it rude, it’s distracting and it takes the wind out of the room for the other players at the table.
If something has been done to one of your characters that you simply cannot abide, that you cannot just roll your dice and say “Wow.
That’s not what I wanted,” then finish the session, and contact the Dungeon Master the next day advising him or her that you won’t be returning to the game. If it’s THAT BAD, don’t go back… but do not ever argue rules, rolls, or reactions with a DM.
In my opinion, and having it done to me more recently than I would like, I would even go so far as to state that this is a violation of a cardinal rule of Dungeons & Dragons regardless of edition.
There are people who serve as living, breathing rulebooks. They have read every book, memorized every spell, know every single stat for every single monster. Ever. I cut my teeth on Dungeons & Dragons playing with one of these people. He was one of my best friends throughout my school years. It was his hobby not just to play the game, but to memorize every aspect of the game and, sadly, to use every single bit of knowledge he possessed to argue for it all to weigh in towards his character’s advantage, more often than not.
But here’s the catch: For every Dungeon Lawyer, there is a DM out there who can shatter their perception of the game’s ironclad rules system, which to be completely honest, has never been very ironclad at all. The rules are a guideline to maintain order within the game and to address systems that a DM might not have an immediate answer for. The true game of any roleplaying game is the story being told that stars all the players’ characters at the table as protagonists.
Don’t argue. Again… walk away. Don’t waste time trying to prove how you’re right and the DM is wrong. It will serve no purpose other than to make you look petulant, make your fellow players resent you, and make your DM think about the best, most artistic way to eliminate your character from the game.
3) Let Your Talents Shine
If you can draw maps, and you’re good at it, then let your DM and players know. If you’re talented/skilled at painting miniatures, then let your DM and players know. If you’re an above average artist, and you want to play around with sketches of fellow players’ characters, don’t hide it. Let them know.
I have a Cleric in my current group who is a fantastic artist. She does character sketches and draws scenes of what’s going on in the game for characters who might be the “star” of that scene. I have a Fighter who is one of the best mini painters I’ve ever sat at a non-Warhammer 40K table with who paints all my miniatures for NPCs that I purchase. What do I do to show them that they’re appreciated? “What’s your favorite chip? Soda? Pizza’s on me, too.”
These people are valued not only for their participation in my game, but also for the talents that they bring – literally – to the table when they show up for a session. Don’t hide these things from anyone, and don’t ever think that someone’s going to criticize you for doodling or sketching while you’re playing. Show your gaming group what you’re good at, and I can practically guarantee that they’ll find a way to compensate you for including them in it. Even if it’s free pizza, soda and chips on game night.
4) Share Your Books
Dungeons & Dragons books are like textbooks; they’re very expensive. They’re worth every penny, but they’re expensive. My advice to anyone who spends the money on books is to put their name in it, but also be prepared to share them. Not all your fellow players have the same resources available to them as you do. Just like in the game, some characters will be more well off than others. Don’t hesitate to let someone look through your Player’s Handbook for something they’re not sure about, or better yet, if you do understand it better than them, show them in the book where it is, mark down the page for them, and take the time to explain how it works to them.
Why the list of page numbers? One of our players hit a financial rough patch not too long ago, and the last thing he was able to do was purchase a Player’s Handbook. For his birthday, we decided to all kick in our pizza money one session to gather up enough cash to buy him a Player’s Handbook and a nice set of dice. Since he’d been writing down all the rules questions he’d had when he referenced other players’ books, he had a list of bookmarkable pages for his own book when Amazon shipped it to him two days later.
Sometimes, stuff like this can be one of those random acts of awesomeness that cements a gaming group together for years.
Don’t let people abuse your books, but don’t ever hesitate to share if they don’t own physical copies like you do.
Now, if you've been allowed to share a book by an owner, treat that book like a true treasure. Do not lick your fingers as you turn the pages. Do not dog ear pages. Mind how you treat the binding. Don't ever set a drink on a book. Treat that book as though it were the only copy of the book in existence.
Don't ever take someone's generosity or property for granted.
5) Be Excellent to One Another
I don’t care what your relationship is to your DM or to other players at your table, don’t be an ass. I don’t care if you’ve been my friend for ten years and you’ve been playing Dungeons & Dragons for twenty, don’t be an ass. Odds are you’re going to be playing with people who have not been playing for as long as you have. They deserve as good an experience with their discovery of the game as you do. Keep your nonsensical behavior of your character in check. Do not disrupt the entirety of the game with ridiculousness unless the DM has set the stage for ridiculousness to ensue. Do not talk over younger or newer players, and do not make decisions for younger players or newer players..
It’s the wrong thing to do, and deep down inside – game or not – you know it’s the wrong thing to do.
Let the younger and newer players have the opportunity to move past their anxiety at playing and their reservations with meeting new people and discover their own voice.
Just like you did the first few times you played Dungeons & Dragons.
Respect the DM who is trying to create and weave worlds of wonder around all of you for the time you have together. Spend that time together laughing, adventuring and escaping… but don’t make game night all about you, because it isn’t all about you.
It’s about the table. Remember that.
Shannon W. Hennessy is a professional nurse, a long-time role player, a freelancer and a contributor to the Storytellers Vault. In his spare time, he writes, parents four children, and hunts the occasional dragon. He can be reached at email@example.com
Picture provided by author
With the rise of Virtual Table Tops (VTTs), the opportunity to play Dungeons and Dragons (and other TTRPGs) without a local group has become increasingly flexible. While most people may still prefer to play in person, many people have turned to VTTs as the only option in rural areas, or to play with friends across the world. While playing online presents a new set of challenges, following these tips will help ensure it is the best possible experience for everyone in the game.
1) Find The Platform
There are a lot of Virtual Table Tops to choose from, and picking one can become a bit overwhelming.
Roll20 is the best combination of versatility and functionality. Supporting dozens of games from D&D, to Call of Cthulhu, to Pokemon, Roll20 is relatively easy to learn and boasts three million user. This makes it easy to find a group to play with, and you can play for free with no real limitations.
Fantasy Grounds offers less options (a dozen of the most popular), but is more user friendly and purportedly has better customer service. At least one person in your group will have to pay a premium fee to use it, however.
Tabletop Simulator can play just about anything (including chess, checkers, etc.), but the graphics are limited and it’s not as user friendly. It’s a one time fee of $20 on steam, making it a cheaper option that Fantasy Grounds. Leave other suggestions in the comments below!
2) Vet The Group
When you play online, it’s likely you’ll be roleplaying with a bunch of strangers. This has the potential to cause quite a few issues as game expectations, communication, and play styles inevitably clash. To help avoid most of these issues, you can make sure you are very selective about who you play with. Whether you’re the DM or a player, the following are important to know:
How old, in general, is each player (Teen/minor, college kid, young adult, older)?
What are they looking for in the game (a fun time, lots of roleplay, primarily combat, a good story)?
What is their play style (leader, tactician, power gamer, etc.)?
How much experience do they have with this system and with TTRPGs in general?
What class do they plan to play?
What is their personality (you might have to gauge this through casual conversation)?
3) Talk Outside Session Times
I’m a fan of doing text-based roleplay with my group between sessions, but even if you’re not into that, it’s important to check in with your group every couple days. You can talk about what you’re looking forward to in the next session, recap the previous session, strategy, or what’s going on in each other’s lives. The point is to both form a relationship with the people you’re playing with and stay in a mindset of team play and narrative focus.
4) Over Prepare
When you play online there’s fewer traditional responsibilities such as hosting or providing snacks. Since you don’t have to worry about these other things, it is best to over prepare for your session. Know your character sheet and abilities by memory, know some macros or shortcuts for whatever VTT you’re playing on, and know where the narrative has been and where you want it to go. This will speed up session time and shows courtesy to the rest of the group.
Communication in online groups is just as important as in person, but in many ways it’s more difficult. Talk about problems early. Be polite and try to see the other person’s perspective. Basically, just act like adults. Use emoticons to express intent behind your words. If issues really get bad, take the time between sessions to get some space and reassess your desire to be in the sessions. You don’t have to see these people in real life, and in some cases that’s beneficial.
Playing with people online can be difficult at times. But if you follow these five steps, you can have a long-lasting and fun experience playing TTRPGs online.
Ryan Langr is a DM, player, and content creator of Dungeons & Dragons 5e. His passions include epic plot twists, creating exceptionally scary creatures, and finding ways to bring his player’s characters to the brink of death. He also plays Pathfinder/3.5. In his real life, he is a stay at home dad, husband, and blogger of many other interests.
Picture Reference: https://www.syfy.com/syfywire/stuff-we-love-roll20-lets-you-play-dd-with-people-anywhere
When I saw the early teasers for this setting I almost exploded with excitement. When the Kickstarter launched I was a backer really early on, and I am thrilled to have gotten a chance to learn more about Swordsfall from Brandon Dixon, the creator. I hope you are as excited as we are to learn more about the game and how it's going to rock your world.
1) Tikor is an animist world, and Swordsfall is an Afro-futurist setting. Honestly, that was all I needed to read to be excited for this project. But, for those folks that haven't been able to dive deeply into the material on your website, what are the key elements of the setting you think people should know?
Well, the biggest key element for anyone to know is that Swordsfall is first, and foremost, Afrocentric. That means that all the underlying lore, and structure is from Africa. Specifically Pre-colonial Africa. So at first, there are a number of things that might feel like business as usual, but you'll quickly notice its not. This comes into play with things like the position of King. In pre-colonial Africa, King just meant ruler. And there were quite a few nations that were matriarchies. So you had lines of Kings that were all women. And they enjoyed all the same power as their male counterparts. It's a small change, but you quickly realize how much that ACTUALLY changes.
Swordsfall has a number of things like that. When you start taking out the European based parts of fantasy, you quickly become surprised at how different it can actually be.
2) T'umo Mere is doing the amazing art that goes along with the book, and I think the art goes along so strongly with the setting it nearly speaks for itself. That said, what were some of the principles that went into deciding what elements to focus on in the art for the setting?
Well, T'umo is an artist I picked specifically for his style. I had browsed Pinterest and Google Images for about 7 to 8 months while I was world building. There was a lot of great art out there, but not a lot of black art. And I knew that for Swordsfall I needed an artist who didn't just occasionally draw minority characters but did it OFTEN. And in various characters and types. I've always been a fan of that "old school" sketchy style. I came across T'umo's work when I came across a Black Panther fanart piece that just blew my mind. The style was PERFECT and after cruising through his Artstation, I saw that he drew a ton of black characters. Then I found out he was actually from Botswana. I knew I had found the perfect artist for my project.
When I contacted him and started telling him about the project, he was almost immediately on board. Then he started on the first piece, the Minos picture that's broadly displayed on the Kickstarter banner. And now, we're here.
3) The one thing that I'm not seeing on the Kickstarter, or the World Anvil is information on what system the RPG will use. Is this going to be all new game mechanics or are you using a system that is already out there?
Haha, ah yes, the rules. The question everyone has asked since I launched the Kickstarter. Well, the main reason I haven't talked about it is because I don't like to talk about things till they're done. Or done enough for me to REALLY talk about. It's why I didn't really launch Swordsfall till I was almost a year and 150,000 words deep.
But I'll tell you a bit about it. The system itself is a mix. It was originally a hack of the Genesys system and it's grown into more. I wanted a narrative system, but one with a bit more crunch. Something solid enough to feel rooted, but free enough to be fun and fluid. A lot of people bring up the custom dice when I say Genesys, but one of the first things I did was break the dice down. I show how to play with regular dice, and it's super easy actually. In some ways easier than the dice symbols...
I call it Cinematic Play. As rather than be about battle by numbers (Crunchy) or imagination (Narrative), I'm taking bits of both where it makes sense. Part of that combo comes from the Profession system which is my answer to Classes. "Welcome to Tikor" is actually a giant clue to the tenants of the game mechanics, as they're all born from lore rather than gamification.
4) Can you tell us more about the various nations in Tikor? I'm particularly taken with the various locations, particularly Vinyata and Grimnest, but I'd love to know more about the people that live in these places.
So there are two Great Nations; Garuda and Vinyata. That's where the bulk of the meta-plot happens, and they make up almost 70% of the landmass on Tikor. So needless to say, you'll deal with them a lot. Garuda has a moderate climate, so lots of trees and forests in between open plains. Garuda is run by the Divine Order of the Phoenix, an organization partially founded by the deities of Garuda. As a nation, it's fairly decentralized, with the populace spread across the land and some in remote locations. It's very much a place that differs depending on where you go.
Vinyata is basically one giant desert. The Southern Hemisphere of Tikor is almost all desert and ruined land. This was caused by a mix of the ancient battles between Dragons and Deities in the area, and the punishing heat from the second sun, Adume. The main people that live there are the Dracon. They are the descendants of Ryuu-jin, a dragon who rebuked his kin and fought for the side of Tikor. His betrayal is what helped tip the battle toward the side of good. However, the world was never able to look over the fact that he was a dragon. And this ingrained hatred was passed down to his children, the Dracon.
Overall, the world of Tikor is huge and it's one of the reasons why doing the setting book was so important. There's Grimnest, a land with no ruler or government but plenty of pirates. Then you have Hawklore which was founded and run by god turned king, Hawken. In the waters that surround the landmass, you have the island of Teslan where Crystal Priests study the secrets of the world's biggest source of energy, Azurean.
And you can't forget about the rest: Ramnos, Ebon Cascade, The Canopy, The Isle, Martalan and so much more.
5) With so much amazing lore on this game already, how long has it been in development? I find myself getting lost and learning new things every few clicks when I'm on the site.
Well proper, Swordsfall has been in development for just shy of a year. However, I started the original story when I was just 17. So the seeds were sown over 18 years ago, ya know? It all started when a group of friends and I decided we were going to make a video game. My job was the story and world, someone did programming and another person was doing music. Well, in the end, I was the only one that followed through. I wrote about 40 pages of world building and basically fell in love with the story. Back then it was called Ethereal though. Over time I'd tinker with it, write a small chapter here or there, and a character and such. I'd then take little pieces of the world and use it in other Tabletop campaigns. I used the character's names in video games and such as well. Haha, my World of Warcraft account after the novels come out is going to be hilarious. My toon roster is basically the names of all the main characters from the meta-plot and books.
One day I decided to do a "new" storyline for a campaign. But that time around, something was just different in me. I wanted to do more than a simple campaign. I wanted to do something deep, something fulfilling. I knew that this was the right time to finally make my old story happen. So I sort of did a giant world smashing event. I grabbed all the side stories, campaigns and random things born from Ethereal, and the campaign idea I had called Swordsfall and put it all back together. Once I did that, it was clear I had something special. My brain had just worked through this whole world in different sections over time. And when I put it all together finally, it just clicked. I spent the last year fleshing out all the parts of the story I had ignored. Connected pieces and doing in-depth research on pre-colonial Africa to give it a real backbone.
6) What is the central conflict that you expect players experiencing Tikor to focus on? There are so many interesting hooks that it is hard for me to pick just one, but what would a good starter idea be if I was a GM looking to drag some excited players into this world?
In a way, you can pick themes by picking places on the map. So like with any tabletop game, the first question will be "What's the tone going to be?". If you want to see the futuristic, Afropunk side of Tikor then you head to Northern Grimnest to visit the city of Prime. If you want to crazy tech and awesome tattoos, that's the spot to start. Looking for a more classic fantasy romp? Then head to Garuda, where the area is vast enough for huge sections to be unexplored or poorly mapped. When danger and death is a must, an expedition to the Ebon Cascade is the ticket. Waterfalls of acid and light emitting vampires are all there to be found.
Part of the fun with doing a whole world is that I didn't have to create any singular experience. I was able to let the history of the land truly transform it. One thing that's missing from some TTRPG's these days is the understanding that a world is actually quite big. Traveling a landmass is no small feat. The first thing a post apocalyptic world drives home is how FAR something like ten miles can be. While Swordsfall is not post-apocalyptic, it is a world unconquered by man. Travel isn't as simple as buying a plane ticket, nor is it as basic as foot travel. It's as a world as advanced as the world ITSELF seems to allow. It gives each land its own feel and vibe without being alien.
7) Is there anything else you'd like to leave us with? I'm already breathless.
I'm excited for everyone to finally be able to sit down and read what's been in my head for half my life. This isn't just a single setting to eventually be paired with a single rulebook. This is a world I truly love, and one my artists are quickly falling for. I want to do this for a long time, as long as I can in fact. I'm 50,000 words into the first novel with the outline for 7 more. I have a number of short story ideas, with one half finished. The comic book Stretch Goal won't be the last one we do either.
So if you enjoy what you see of Swordsfall, then pack a couple of suitcases. You'll be on Tikor for awhile.
Check out Swordsfall on Kickstarter
Josh Heath is the COO of High Level Games. He likes to do interviews when he isn't running Kickstarters and creating projects upon projects for the writers to work on.
There is an ongoing debate that most of us will be familiar with. It comes up at the office, it is especially prevalent at the local café, and it leads to fights at Comic Con. When it comes to coffee… how dark is dark enough? Some would argue coffee should stay in its natural state: black. Others - whom I shall refer to as heretics - choose to put milk in coffee, making it essentially tea. As you may have guessed, I like mine black.
All of this to say, I like my fantasy like I like my coffee: so dark it makes me contemplate the inescapable and all-encompassing vastness of the void, putting into sharp contrast my own meagre existence, a tiny speck of dust, insignificant in the greater scheme of things, and like most life in the Universe, essentially meaningless.
Welcome to Warhammer, kids.
Here are 4 reasons why Warhammer Fantasy is a… fantastic setting.
1) This Isn’t Your (Grand)daddy’s Fantasy
Are you tired of classic good vs evil tropes? Do you feel like your medieval fantasy setting isn’t quite apocalyptic enough? Ever find yourself thinking “these elves would be a lot more interesting if they looked more like a Norwegian death metal band?” Well, have I got the setting for you.
Warhammer Fantasy - or the Old World, for the setting specifically - manages to at once be familiar and derivative, while also original and different to everything else in this genre. You can’t call yourself a geek if you don’t know what an elf is. Orcs, dwarfs, trolls... these are all familiar to you as concepts. The great thing about Warhammer is that it takes these established tropes and builds them into a solid, interconnected web of factions that have complicated relationships with one another - and many an excuse to go to war against each other.
And all the while, the gods of capital ‘C’ Chaos want to literally watch the world burn.
In the simple sense, it’s Tolkien - but everyone’s an asshole.
If one were a little unkind, one might describe the setting of Middle Earth as a little naive, or at the very least, too black and white. In terms of morality, the Old World is definitely a greyscale, one that someone’s gone and spilled a bunch of Nuln Oil over (hobbyists know what I’m talking about); it’s all distinctively dark.
There are no “good” people. And, with the exception of Chaos and verminous Skaven, there is no real “evil”. Just when you think someone’s gone and done something unbelievably, irredeemably evil, someone’s already done something worse. There is conflict, and in conflict, there is victory and defeat. And depending on which side the pendulum swings towards, that faction is right on that particular day.
If anyone enters the forest of Athel Loren, realm of the Wood Elves, they are killed, skinned alive, and their corpses left to feed carrion. Are the Wood Elves evil? They are defending their realm, and when you remember those same humans will set fire to these forests and destroy the homes of ancient spirits, you have to think… maybe they had it coming.
Vlad von Carstein is a vampire, a ruthless overlord who will enslave a populace, turn their dead into a horde of zombies for him to wage war - but he does it to defend his territory and to claim that which was denied so long ago - his rightful (at least to him it is) title of Elector of the Empire. Cruel, but then, he’s more or less a regular feudal lord… with a little help from necromancy.
And Nagash - a priest who was obsessed with conquering death, in a culture who was obsessed with conquering death, and he murdered, lied, backstabbed, and dark magicked his way to obtaining immortality… thus conquering death. So he immediately begins to dish it out, like it’s promises on election day. Basically, Ramses but with actual necromancy. And, naturally, he wants to kill everyone, and raise their souls as his slaves.
Ok, Nagash is a bit of dick.
2) Everything Is Turned Up To 11
So the Old World has everything, but with a spin. That might be original enough to launch a product of minis and call it a day. But what truly sets Warhammer apart is how everything is absurdly exaggerated, whilst remaining - if not entirely believable - coherent in its own universe.
Dwarfs are known to hold a grudge. Warhammer dwarfs have turned it into literal bookkeeping. Their king rides into battle on a war palanquin carried on the shoulders of his warriors, with a giant tome containing every wrong, sleight, and heinous crime committed against his people. He is aptly named Thorgrim Grudgebearer.
The elves are noble and haughty. And in the Old World, they are a xenophobic, decadent and dying species, whose noble courts are ruled by infighting and backstabbing, hidden Chaos worship, and their noble prince turns into a bloodthirsty madman.
Furthermore, the elves are split into three factions: the depraved and xenophobic high elves - corrupt and dying. The Dark Elves, murderous slavers whose king and his sorceress mother would fit right on the cover of a heavy metal album. And the Wood Elves who will tear out your heart and sacrifice it to their forest gods if you step on a fern.
The lizardfolk are not just bipedal saurians you might encounter in caves. They have a sprawling empire, and are the most ancient of species. They guard life on this planet, and they have a grand plan - one that probably involves genocide of all other species.
Chaos are the lovechild of Abrahamic legend and Lovecraftian horror. I mean, there’s no “love” in that, but… you know. And yet, you could argue they’re not evil in the same way entropy isn’t evil. They are a dark mirror of this world’s own follies, come back into our “reality” to exact the toll of everyone’s own evil.
And, my favourites, the Tomb Kings - what if Egypt had actual necromancy. What if the pharaohs could actually become immortal, albeit undead? How would that society look? How would a culture whose sovereigns are immortal (and possibly insane) actually function?
The great thing about it all, which also sounds strange when you say it, is that it all makes sense. All factions and species are interconnected, and have got beef with each other. Dark Elves are a splinter faction of the High Elves whose king is the rightful heir to the kingdom of all elves. A dark elf sorceress gave Nagash the secret to necromancy, who created a kingdom of undead, one of whom became the first vampire, whose vampire lover moved North, where he became a count in the Empire, who are sometimes allied with the dwarfs, who fight the Wood Elves, who are another faction from the same kingdom of elves, and so on.
This is complex faction map with so much history and nuance that it should honestly be studied in political science classes.
3) The World Is Always On A Razor’s Edge.
While the post-apocalyptic genre has become established and has blossomed of late, there is a slightly less numerous style of world-ending fiction: the pre-apocalypse. It’s more difficult to do right, because if I may paraphrase an “established truth” of literature and filmography: if the world’s been ending for too long, it gets boring.
Likewise, there’s an inherent problem with grimdark (and I’m proud to have made it this far without using the word): if it’s all too bleak with no hope, then what’s the point?
Warhammer exists in a fine balance of shining heroism that stands out against the dark background all the more for how striking the contrast is. And with the world being as insane as it is, you might find yourself rooting for someone like Malekith (not the Disney one), the exiled prince of the elves whose civil war to claim his rightful throne left his kingdom in tatters, the elves forever divided and hateful of each other. I won’t say #MalekithDidNothingWrong, but the man’s got a point - he was betrayed. So when he finally got his throne back, I thought it was well deserved, if bittersweet. Plus, he’s a stone cold badass.
And that’s the other thing, with the world being so insane and in such constant and extreme danger, heroics are all the more impressive. Take the Empire, one of the human factions, or “what if the Holy Roman Empire had wizards”. Day to day life in Reikland, one of its richest provinces… is not easy, folks.
If it’s not ratfolk burrowing under the city to explode (literally) into the streets, it’s undead invading the burgh, or maybe it’s beastmen. If it’s not them, it’s Chaos. Daemons showing up everywhere, crazed followers of the corrupt gods invading from the North. Yir auld ma’s turned into a plague daemon. Everything is insane.
Yet the Empire endures.
4) You’ve Got A Bit Of Everything.
Besides amazing, inspiring, scary and insane, the word I’d use to describe the setting is: complete.
You can do anything.
This is why it is perfect for a tabletop RP campaign. There is dark mystery: exploring abandoned dwarf forges, going through ancient ruins, venturing into Sylvania and trying not to become a zombie-slave. And there’s grim horror in the land of the Tomb Kings or the Vampire Counts, and let’s not forget about the Lovecraftian monstrosities conjured by Chaos.
There is thrilling action and high fantasy adventure. Dragons’ lairs to explore, villages and cities to save (they constantly need saving, after all), ancient secrets that can save or doom the world - or moderately delay its inevitable demise, at least.
Combine this with the rich history built into this world, and the complex political map mentioned above and you’ve got a thriving, living (if diseased and dying) world to explore in a setting that is both familiar and like nothing else out there. Except maybe Age of Sigmar, but I’m still bitter about that.
Against this backdrop of constant danger and madness, there are those stories that inspire. A detachment of Reikland gunners holding the line while civilians flee a beastmen horde - that’s awesome. The dwarfs locking shields in a last stand against endless Skaven - that’s heartbreaking. Thorgrim getting vengeance for those deaths - inspiring. Durthu, a kind and ancient tree spirit is burned to a husk by the dwarfs, and turns into a gigantic, perpetually charred rage-monster - that’s tragic. Malekith the Witch King kneeling before an orc warboss in order to get the challenge-loving greenskins to attack his enemies - and, oh, by the way, all this to save the world - that’s amazing.
Grimdark doesn’t have to be constantly depressing and relentlessly hopeless. In an insane world, look to the mad ones to lead the way. Because against a tide of unrelenting Chaos, against constant attacks by monsters, mutants, daemons, and hordes of crazed bloodthirsty lunatics, who else could stand against the tide - but the utterly mad, and the truly heroic?
Anderson is a swarm of bees in a skin suit who have attained sentience and decided to infiltrate society as a writer. Their hobbies include: kendo, painting miniatures, scheduling Warhammer and D&D. When they’re not writing, they’re studying anthropology (to better understand humans).
If you’ve ever been part of a long-running game, you’re no doubt familiar with what some folks call supplement fatigue. This is a condition that happens when the game you’re playing has a great deal of additional books beyond the core, and you start to feel overwhelmed trying to take it all in. Even if you’ve been with that game since the very beginning, constantly reading new books and trying to keep your mental software updated feels exhausting.
This is around the time people start talking about “bloat” in regards to a game. Because it used to be streamlined, easy-to-play, and no problem to run. But now… well, now it takes an entire library shelf just to make one character.
If you’re one of those players (or storytellers) who gets bent out of shape over a game being “bloated” then you’ll be glad to know this problem doesn’t really exist. It’s all in your head.
I talked about this back in There’s No Such Thing As Bloat in RPGs, and Here’s Why, but some of these points need to be reiterated. Points like...
1) One Player’s Feature is Another Player’s Flaw
Think of the mechanic you hate most in a game. Maybe it’s your least favorite race, that vampire clan you can’t stand, or that one rule that you just wish would be deleted. I guarantee you that, for another player, that is one of the things they love about the game.
If you’re honest with yourself, I bet there are at least a few supplements that you think are good, or which represented a step in the right direction for the game as a whole. But those supplements you like will be seen as unnecessary bloat by other players. So if we can’t even agree on a definition about what bloat really is, then chances are it may not actually exist at all.
2) Finding Things Isn’t Nearly As Hard As You May Pretend It Is
Another metric some people use for accusing a game of being bloated is that it becomes impossible to find the rules you need in a timely fashion. You can’t remember if this merit was in a clan book, or in that one Middle Ages sourcebook, or if it was somewhere in the base book’s optional rules section, and everyone’s looking at you, waiting for a ruling, or for you to declare your action.
In ye olden days, this could be a legitimate problem, requiring several folks at the table to have an encyclopedic knowledge of the game’s rules and errata. However, technology has shouldered a lot of this workload for us. Now all you need to do is type in the name of a mechanic, or ask a database for the rule, and pop you’re there in seconds, and you can read the text aloud for your table. So while there is more stuff, it isn’t as difficult to parse through as a lot of folks would have you believe.
3) You Don’t Have To Use It
While there might be some crazed completists out there, it’s important to remember that supplement books are just that… supplements. If you want to include the half-dozen Ultimate books in your Pathfinder game, or all the special rules and lore in the different clan books for your Vampire campaign, you totally can. That’s what they’re written for, after all. But you are under no obligation to do that.
I’ll repeat that, because it bears repeating. You do not have to buy supplementary books, you don’t have to read them, and if someone at your table actually has one, you’re under no obligation to allow them to use that book in your game. If you just want to stick to the basic books with no additions, that’s your call. If you want to allow the first two or three supplements, but nothing else, that’s cool too. And if you want to allow anything and everything at your table, that’s your choice.
It’s all there for you to pick what you want from. And it seems like a lot of folks forget that.
But Game Publishers Just Want My Money!
I’m going to say this for all the folks in the back: Every business out there that creates a product you want is out for your money. The authors you read? Money. The video games you buy? Money. Your favorite YouTubers? Well, they’re trying the best they can to get money.
These companies don’t put these products out just for the love of the game (most of the time, anyway); they’ve got bills to pay. And if there’s a market of folks who want more content for a game, then rest assured publishers are going to keep putting out more stuff as long as people keep buying it. That’s why we’ve got something like 500 The Fast and The Furious films.
And just like with gaming supplements, you don’t have to go see them if you don’t want to. Nor are you required to like everything in a series if you’re just a fan of one or two extra installments. Keep what you like, and ignore the rest if it makes your games better for you.
For more from Neal F. Litherland, check out his Gamers page, as well as his blog Improved Initiative! You can also find books like the sword and sorcery novel Crier’s Knife on his Amazon Author Page.
Picture Reference: https://www.etsy.com/au/listing/183531915/rifts-conversion-book-rpg-vintageantique
Hey Loyal Readers! Welcome back to High Level Games and we'd like to welcome back Craig Campbell of Nerdburger Games to the site. About a year ago, Craig ran a successful Kickstarter for his game, CAPERS, which is a Supers game set in the Roaring 20s, filled with gangsters and lots of other fun tropes of the era. And now, a year later, Craig is running another successful campaign for the expansion to that game, CAPERS Noir.
Our intrepid Chief Operations Officer who lives in the shadows decided to reach out to Craig to talk more about what makes CAPERS, and CAPERS Noir special.
1) Craig, you've been busy since we had you on for an interview last. You created CAPERS, you developed Die Laughing, which you ran at HLG Con, where you were a game studio guest. How do you feel with all these great creations coming out from Nerdburger Games?
The past year has been huge for NerdBurger Games. We published two games, CAPERS and Die Laughing (and CAPERS has a bunch of support material that was part of the Kickstarter and is now also available online). I went to twelve conventions in twelve months, ran a ton of games, and met a lot of cool gamers. I started a Patreon, dipped my toes into Twitch streaming, and have announced the very first glimpses of a new game that’s under development.
CAPERS has turned out to have a very solid following and is seeing a lot of sales and interest, post publication. And to top it all off, CAPERS won a Judge’s Spotlight Award for the 2018 BAMFsies, which was totally unexpected and incredibly flattering.
It’s been a great year!
2) It seems like the core conceit about Noir, is that the timeline for CAPERS has moved into the 1940s. What should we expect to see with this setting shift?
The focus of the 1940s variant setting is that of crime noir. The intent is for the stories to swing more into the moody, atmospheric, mystery dramas of film noir and noir literature. To that end, there are investigation rules in CAPERS Noir and guidelines for GMs to create mysteries and adjudicate the investigations. The setting also has a bit of a horror bite, with dead things seeping into the world. So CAPERS Noir has monsters like ghosts and revenants, as well as a corruption mechanic called the “shade track.” Characters who perform terrible acts at the wrong time can fall to corruption of the soul.
Additionally, there’s a bunch of new powers and character options, as well as some new TM tools, all of which can be used for CAPERS Noir but also work just fine in the 1920s core setting without any modifications.
3) CAPERS was set in the Northeast (particularly Atlantic City), and Noir in Los Angeles. Tells us more about why you chose these locations?
CAPERS delved deep into Atlantic City, New York, and Chicago because those were pretty significant hubs of Prohibition activity with real-life personalities that people will recognize (Al Capone, Lucky Luciano, etc.). I hit on a bunch of other east coast, Midwest, and southern cities to flesh things out mostly because it’s easy for characters in the 1920s to road trip to nearby cities and because gangsters from nearby cities often ally themselves with each other.
For CAPERS Noir, I jumped to the other side of the country, specifically Los Angeles, for several reasons. First, it hadn’t been addressed in the core game. Second, because LA is the backdrop for so many great noir films, I figured people would feel at ease with it. Finally, Los Angeles has a different aesthetic than grittier cities like New York and Chicago and I thought that would help define the Noir setting as something different.
4) The core mechanic of CAPERS is a card based system. Should we expect any changes in Noir that would change the mechanic or adjust it at all?
There aren’t any significant changes to the core mechanic. The only variation is in the investigation rules. Nothing kills an investigation in an RPG faster than a rules system that says, “You fail the check; you get nothing.” So now you have no clue.
The CAPERS Noir system keeps the investigation moving forward. Trait checks focus more on complications that arise from failure and additional benefits you get if you succeed on a check. Get a boon on a check and you get to ask a question about the clue. Fail the check…you still get a clue, but a complication could make the rest of the investigation more difficult.
5) Tell us about the reward tiers for Noir, what should we as potential backers be looking for?
For those who already own CAPERS, $10 gets you CAPERS Noir in PDF, along with a discount link to buy a softcover at cost later. There’s also a $13 tier that gets you just CAPERS (PDF and discount link), a $23 tier that gets both books (PDF and discount links), and a $35 tier that gets you everything we’ve published for CAPERS so far, including discount links for other things like cards, maps, and paper minis.
There are also a few premium tiers that get you all the stuff you want, plus you get to help make an NPC, help make a monster, or get your likeness in a comic that’ll be in the middle of the book.
6) With the success of Noir, do you see a potential expansion of the world of CAPERS or perhaps for Noir?
I don’t think I’ll expand CAPERS Noir in any significant way -- maybe a small, free PDF of a few things at some point. As for the rest of the CAPERS world, I’d love to continue to explore. I have ideas for other time periods for supplements, going a little sci-fi/outer space in a supplement, or even producing a full-sized book for a larger CAPERS game set in a significantly different time/theme. I’m going to be asking backers to fill out a survey to help let me know what they’d like to see.
The specifics are a little up in the air right at this moment, but it’s looking like there will be quite a bit more CAPERS to come.
We are super excited to see where this goes! Find CAPERS here, and CAPERS Noir here.
I was fascinated to read Paul Bimler's article on Solo D&D.
I also enjoy solo gaming. As people say, there are as many ways to play D&D as there are DMs. With solo play there are as many ways to solo play as there are players.
My style of solo roleplay is somewhat different to Paul's. There are two significant differences. The first is Paul's flipmat and markers. I am much more in the ‘Theatre of the Mind’ school and do not use any physical play aids, but more about that later. The other big difference is the rule system. I prefer to utilise a much lighter rule system for my solo play. The primary reason is all about continuity. Once you start a solo adventure, if you find yourself breaking off from your narratives to check rules, roll dice and check tables, I find it makes it harder keep the story flowing.
Rules light games often have just one or two mechanics that are employed in every situation. Alongside simple mechanics you often get extremely simple characters. This means that you could in theory keep your character on a Post-it note and run your game from memory.
If you strip out the flipmat, miniatures, or tokens that leaves only the solo rules and the journal.
Paul has his The Solo Adventurer’s Toolbox. The Toolbox is one example of a “Solo Engine”. All the tables that make up the decision making rules in solo play are generally referred to as a Solo Engine, GM Emulator, or a GME as they drive your stories. When you would normally ask a question of your GM you instead ask the Solo Engine and roll for an answer. Once you have an answer you have to apply gut instinct, common sense and imagination to make that answer fit the game you are playing, the situation your character is in and the sort of adventure you want to have.
I have here five combinations of solo engines and games give you an alternative to Mythic GME and D&D.
1) Solo Engine for 7th Sea Role Playing Game
These rules were made specifically for the 7th Sea game. Where D&D can turn into a battle of hit point attrition, 7th Sea is a much more narrative style of game. You don't have to beat your way through hordes of kobolds rolling ‘to hit’ and the dealing damage to each one. 7th Sea deals with whole groups of these ‘minions’ as single entities which reduces your record keeping and speeds up play.
The solo rules have a more sophisticated set of question tools that go beyond the no, maybe, and yes that Paul talked about in his article. The basic principle is the same but you lose the maybe answer and in its place you get and… and but… modifiers.
The and… modifier means that your answer was what you expected and even more. To take Paul's example of ‘can you find an inn’, a Yes and… would be the first thing that you think of that would be even better than just finding an inn. My first reaction was ‘Yes you find an inn and the landlord is a retired adventurer friend of yours.’
The but… modifier adds a complicating factor or makes things not as good, yes but…, or as bad, no but…, to the standard answer. ‘Do you find an inn?’ Yes but… there is a mob gathering outside complete with torches pitchforks.
With the and, but, yes, and no there are six possible answers from the same simple ‘roll for an answer’ mechanic.
In addition to the yes/no roll, these rules give you a complex question tool. If you are watching a villain across a tavern and you try to overhear their conversion a yes/no answer is not going to help you. The complex question tool gives you a two word pairing that is to be used as the distilled essence of the conversation, in this case. The complex question tool is used for conversations, the subjects of books, or anything that conveys meaning.
Finally, these rules use dice to prompt NPC reactions and, should a fight start, their tactics.
That sounds a lot of work but the whole thing is about ten pages with full examples.
7th Sea is one of the most popular narrative games of recent years and you can run an entire campaign with this simple booklet and some note paper for your journal.
2) 3Deep Episodic Role Playing
This game uses a simple 2d6 mechanic for just about everything from stats to skills to driving cars and flying X-wing fighters. It was also written with a solo engine built into the game from the start.
3Deep's solo engine uses something called story arcs. You start with at least one story arc or thread that is part of your character’s background. As you ask questions the answers can make achieving your goals harder or easier and manipulate NPCs.
3Deep has a more structured journal and asks you to keep track of scenes, NPCs and unfinished plotlines as these often reappear in your character’s adventures making everything interconnected.
The game is genre neutral, and therefore equally at home with swashbuckling, special forces or stormtroopers.
3) Devil's Staircase Wild West Roleplaying
This game is so new it is not even released yet. You can download the playtest documents, a quickstart PDF, and a set of solo rules all for free from DriveThruRPG. Devil's Staircase is the underlying game system and is driven by a poker style playing card mechanic rather than dice. The accompanying solo engine has the yes/no/and/but and complex question tools as well as NPC reactions but this time they are driven by dealing cards rather than rolling d100s, d20s or d6s.
Of all the games here this is about the lightest in terms of rules and you really can have a character on a sticky note with space to spare.
Although the Wild West is not everyone's favourite genre, it is easily accessible for solo play as it doesn't take a huge leap of imagination to picture the setting and NPCs. There are other Devil games in the pipeline.
By solo playing this game you can help with its play testing and help bring the game to market.
4) Grim & Perilous Solo Rules
These rules share a lot of their DNA with the 7th Sea rules above. They were derived from a set of rules called the One Page Solo Engine by Karl Hendricks. This version has been written to work seamlessly with Zweihänder.
You would not normally think of Zweihänder as rules light but there is an eight page rules summary to use as a reference in place of the main book if you are familiar with your character and setting. The game also uses a common mechanic for all skill tests and challenges so running the game without the book in front of you is relatively easy.
The Grim & Perilous Solo Rules are a stripped down version in comparison to the 7th Sea rules as the NPCs reactions have been cut back. Zweihänder has detailed rules for social interaction so the solo rules do not really need a ‘roll d100’ to see how the NPC reacts. What you do get on the other hand is an actual play written up where you can see how a complex plot evolves from just a few interactions with the solo rules.
5) Demonic Solo Rules
Shadow of the Demon Lord is not really a rules light game but the actual play is really easy to grasp. I have included it in this round up because it is, I believe, one of the only solo engines where the state of the character is taken into account by the oracle. Most oracles or solo engines remain unchanged by the status of the character. They change the distribution of results based upon the probability of the question being true or false, yes or no. This solo engine interacts with the character in a subtly different way. The core method is the same but Shadow of the Demon Lord has a mechanic called Fortune that can modify all the rolls made by a character until it is ‘spent’. In this solo engine when a character has Fortune it is used to nudge the result in the characters favour. It is a subtle difference but over the duration of a campaign a 5% difference in your favour has real consequences.
The big gain when using a solo engine that is build specifically to work with the game you are playing is that you don’t have to learn a new game mechanic. The solo rules should sit naturally alongside the existing game rules.
On the other hand, the big gain in using a rule light game is that you don’t have to interrupt your game to check the rules or consult endless tables. Rules light games often put more on the GM to interpret but where you are both GM and player and the entire world is being created by you on demand GM interpretation is intrinsic to solo play.
All of the games here are available as PDFs. Light rules, digital rulebooks and simple solo rules mean you can solo play anytime and anywhere from your commute to work to while waiting for a plane. The most expensive of the solo rules featured here is $7.99, the rest are one or two dollars, and Devil’s Staircase is completely free. If you have not tried solo play it is not a big investment to give it a go. If you have bought one of these games but not been able to play it then I would say give it a go and get those unplayed games off the shelf and give them a go.
Peter Rudin-Burgess is a gamer, game designer, and blogger. When not writing his own games he creates supplements for other peoples to sell on DriveThruRPG. His current obsessions are Shadow of the Demon Lord, 7th Sea 2nd Edition, and Zweihander.
Header image is in the public domain
Is your 5E game too heroic? Is it not grim and frostbitten enough? Do you want grimy firearms to cover your PCs in soot? Well we have good news: HLG COO Josh Heath recently dropped a Kickstarter for our new setting Snowheaven, created by Justin Weaver. Josh was kind enough to answer a few questions about Snowhaven and what you can expect from it.
Snowhaven is billed as a grittier, darker, and much more frostbitten version of Dungeons and Dragons. What mechanical changes has Justin brought in to reflect the intrigue and cold of the setting?
We’ve actually written a pretty extensive set of conditions to simulate cold illnesses, like frostbite, hypothermia, and more. All in all, those conditions don’t yet exist in 5E’s core rulesets, so it will help GMs running the setting. Mechanically, there are also new archetypes for a few of the classes, and we’ll expand these in 2nd Edition, which will lean into the intrigue and corruption elements of the setting. Much of the grit though is pure setting and doesn’t really have to have new mechanics.
The description of the setting says that it originally “created during the original D20 Era.” Does this mean that Justin has been working on this setting since the days of 3rd Edition, and if so what changes has it gone through?
Easy answer, yes. The setting has been run in 3.0, 3.5, Pathfinder, and 5th Edition. There are a lot of elements that have come and gone, ideas that have been pushed on, and some that have sustained themselves. It’s hard to catalogue all of the adjustments over the years, honestly.
At the time of writing, only one playable race has been previewed; the totally rad Yetu, a race of skiing, herding yeti. Are there other races planned based on other mythological/cryptozoological creatures?
Actually, the Yetu are a steamweaving species who are one of the more technologically advanced species in the region. Yes, they are skiers, but they also know how to steamtech it up. Yetu gunslinger should be a cool concept for people to dig into if they would like.
So far, we’ve also written a species of Fox people, the Lapsa, that have descended out of the Feywild due to some sort of war that is happening in the snowy extraplanar realms close to Snowhaven. We are also testing out the idea of a snow siren species, and several other cold weather sea creatures.
Do you have plans to expand Snowhaven beyond 5th Edition, Pathfinder, and Savage Worlds?
Yes, potentially. I know this might be disappointing but we are probably going to hold off on a 13th Age conversion and some form of OSR edition until after the Kickstarter. We know that there are dedicated communities for both types of systems, and we would really like to expand into them, but we’d have to go really high on the Kickstarter for it to be a good financial decision to do so at this time. So, if we can get over the $10,000 mark, will we do it? It’s not impossible, but it isn’t particularly likely.
On that note. Once we hit our last stretch goal we are likely official done with stretch. But, the positive thing I want to tell folks about is that we will make more Snowhaven. If we have more people that back the project we will spend more time developing, expanding, and creating more products in the Snowhaven setting. If you love it, we’ll make it, and we love it, so it will not be hard for us to invest the time, money, energy, and excitement into the setting. So, come by, back the project and know that we will take the money you give us and do great things with it.
What can you tell us about the new rules for firearms?
We’ve gone back into some elements of rules for previous editions of the OGL to borrow some things that can help firearms stand out without breaking the ruleset. One of those things is the possibility of increasing the threat range of weapons. We’ve tried not to go overboard with this, but some firearms do have a critical hit range of 19-20, which fits what makes sense of their deadliness, but also is a little deviation from 5th Edition’s core ruleset. Allowing some flexibility between editions to pull in some of the best elements is something I really think makes sense for third party creators and I’m happy we are doing that with Snowhaven. The rules for Pathfinder and Savage Worlds will need some other elements, but the good thing with those rulesets is that they already exist because of the way the systems were designed.
Check out Snowhaven on Kickstarter here. The campaign ends on March 31st, so be sure to grab it while you can!
Phil Pepin is a grimdark-loving, beater extraordinaire. You can send him new heavy metal tunes, kayak carnage videos and grimdark RPGs on Twitter: @philippepin.
Imagine a world where instead of plain ole George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and the Marquis De Lafayette, you had superheroic battles across revolutionary war America. Well, now gamers, you have a chance to do just that in Legion of Liberty: Superheroes of 1776. To learn more about this Savage Worlds setting book, we reached out directly to Happy Monster Press and Josh Heath, our COO found out this awesome information from them.
First, tell us a bit about who you are and previous projects that folks might know you from.
Happy Monster Press is a collaboration between Joy and Scott Marchand Davis. Joy is a published science fiction, fantasy, and horror writer, and an RPG player. Scott is a game writer, with 25 years of experience as an RPG gamemaster. Our previous project, Children of the Apocalypse, is currently available on DriveThruRPG. https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/237254/Children-of-the-Apocalypse Happy Monster's goal is to produce fun, flexible, and inclusive RPG setting books, and our current focus is the Savage Worlds RPG system.
So, folks. why the Revolutionary War? What about the time period calls out for a supers game?
The American Revolution is a United States creation story, and superheroes are part of modern myth-making, so combining them made sense to us. We were also inspired by genre-mashing works such as Naomi Novik's Temeraire series, which is the Napoleonic Wars, but with dragons.
Ok, as a Son of the American Revolution the semi-historical nature of this setting is important to me. How much actual history of colonial America can we expect from the book?
Happy Monster games are intentionally written to provide gamemasters and players maximum flexibility, allowing gamers to focus on the tabletop battle aspects, to engage in both role-play and tabletop combat, or to focus more on role-playing, where players are empowered to create their own back story, play out personal goals, and explore the issues of the time as deeply as they wish. Another core value is to make games that are quick to start, welcoming to everyone, and easy to play. In the setting book, we include historical sidebars and links to online resources for anyone (gamemasters and players) who wants to dig more deeply into the issues surrounding key points of the campaign. We’ve included only enough history to get the ball rolling—we expect gamers to take the ball and run with it in whatever direction they prefer.
The background sections of the setting book, therefore, are mostly descriptive rather than prescriptive; the Plot Point Campaign is based on the course of the Revolutionary War, with key battles presented in sequence. However, we give the gamemaster some tools for altering the course of history, both to meet the needs/interests of the players, and to ensure the game doesn’t have the players plodding through battles they know they’ll win. For example, the heroes might lose the Battle of Trenton after Washington crosses the Delaware! In that case, Washington is captured by the British, and the next adventure in the Plot Point Campaign involves rescuing Washington from a prison ship off the coast of New York City!
The first adventure in the Plot Point Campaign is based on a historical event in Salem, MA (home of Happy Monster Press). A few months before the Battles of Concord and Lexington, a British detachment led by Colonel Leslie tried to confiscate some cannon from the Salem militia, leading to a standoff at the drawbridge to North Salem. Fighting nearly broke out, but a local parish minister negotiated a compromise, wherein Leslie would march 40 rods into North Salem, do an about-face and return to Boston without violence. This incident, known locally as Leslie's Retreat, almost started the war, and in the Legion of Liberty Plot Point Campaign it does start the war! However, gamers who want to play out the Revolution exactly as it did historically are encouraged to modify any element of the campaign to better suit their needs and interests. Flexibility is key to every Happy Monster Press setting book.
The British have their own squad of supers, The Greycoats. Can we play these characters? Sure, I might want to trounce Tories all day long, but it might be fun to swap sides in a story.
The Plot Point Campaign assumes that the players are on the side of the Patriots. If the funds raised in this Kickstarter greatly exceed our expectations, we could add a stretch goal to create a follow-up Peninsular Wars campaign, where our heroic Greycoats fight Napoleon’s elite force of superhumans! However, if gamemasters want to modify the Plot Point Campaign to allow Greycoat player characters, more power to them!
One of the areas that many stories of the era overlook is the importance of alliances with Native peoples in the Revolution and various conflicts prior to and after. How will you handle these with nuance and respect?
In the Revolution, according to standard history books, Native Americans mainly sided with the Crown, trusting that the British would honor their agreements with the Native peoples regarding land and settlement (and, for good reason, not trusting the colonists to do the same). One of our Savage Tales touches on the historical conflicts within the Iroquois Confederation; some members of the Confederation sided with friends among the Patriots, and others sided with the British. The players are tasked to convince the Oneida Nation to side with the colonists, and, in the adventure, the odds are stacked against the heroes, as they would have been historically.
So, High Level Games is a Canadian company, so sorry about that, so I’ll ask a question for our loyal fans from the North. Can we expect any elements of the setting to touch on the Canadian side of the conflict?
Absolutely! The invasion of Quebec is part of the Plot Point Campaign, which means the players can change history by capturing Quebec for the Patriots! (Sorry about that. We do encourage any enterprising Canadian gamemaster to revise any Savage Tale to play out however they want, though. Flexibility is key!)
For the Kickstarter, what reward level are you most excited for fans to jump on?
We're happy for backers at any level, but we were thrilled to see our first General of the Continental Army grant himself a field promotion on Day 2 of the campaign. This level is designed for anyone who wants to give their gaming group a live action experience. All Generals of the Continental Army will receive five signed hardcover copies and five PDF copies of the setting book, plus Scott and Joy of Happy Monster will run a custom game on Roll20 for the Backer and four friends.
Thank you very much for inviting us to talk about Legion of Liberty, and for asking such excellent questions about the game. We send everyone at High Level our gratitude for your effort and consideration. We hope that you and your community will check out our Kickstarter, and help us get over the finish line and beyond!
Scott and Joy – For the Revolution!
Find the Kickstarter Here!
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