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.
We'd like to thank Craig Campbell of NerdBurger Games for talking to us today. He's created some great games in the past, including Murders & Acquisitions, and has a long RPG freelancer resume including Dungeon magazine and Pathfinder Society adventures. I first heard of NerdBurger Games on the podcast, Podcast: The Wreckening by The Wrecking Crew. They were talking about M&A quite a bit at one point, and it sounds like a fantastic game. You can find CAPERS on Kickstarter.
Craig, did I miss anything you think our readers should know about?
That covers things pretty well.
1) CAPERS, tell us how this game is different? What's the setting and why would I want to run this game?
CAPERS is a super-powered game of gangsters in the Roaring Twenties. You play gangsters and bootleggers making their fortunes in a world that’s sort of coming into its own following the Great War.
The setting is one of action, adventure, virtue, and vice where characters are risking their lives to get rich and flaunt their power.
Alternatively, you can portray members of law enforcement who are fighting what is, essentially, a losing battle. They’re understaffed and underfunded and illegal booze (as well as gambling, prostitution, and racketeering) are everywhere. For them, it’s more about fighting the battle than it is winning the war.
The game delves into an era that isn’t represented in quite this way very often. The gangster heyday of the 1920s, at least as portrayed in CAPERS, is a romanticized ideal of the decade. It’s filled with colorful characters, action, and intrigue which is further “ramped up” by the existence of people with extraordinary abilities.
2) Instead of dice, you use cards for the resolution mechanic in CAPERS. Tell us what your thought process was in choosing this mechanic. Another game I love, Ki-Khanga, also uses cards, so I'm seeing something I'd hazard to call a trend in the game community toward trying something other than dice.
While the world of CAPERS is built around Prohibition, illegal gambling is a prominent aspect in the organized crime of the era. I was looking for a hook in the mechanical sense that would compliment the narrative hook of gangsters with super-powers. I’d worked in dice systems before and created my own for Murders & Acquisitions. My mind floated to playing cards and I toyed with some ideas. Ultimately, I settled into a card-flipping mechanic that plays as sort of a gambling, press-your-luck system.
The characters are taking risks in their lives…they’re gambling with their lives. The players are, in turn, using a mechanical system that makes each trait check a bit of a gamble as they make active choices about whether to keep the card they have or flip for a new one, hoping to be rewarded, but risking failure.
3) If you had one reason to suggest someone back the Kickstarter, what would that one thing be?
If you dig supers, you know that there are a lot of supers games out there. Many of them are built on the modern day and the well-known tropes of superHEROES. CAPERS is one of a handful of supers games that flips the expected dynamics of supers games into something different. And it touches on an era that doesn’t get a lot of love in RPGs outside of noir and Cthulhu games.
4) I know a lot of the art on the Kickstarter demonstrates a cross-section of people represented and I take that as a good sign for the product overall. How, if at all, are you hoping to make the 1920's era of CAPERS an inclusive product?
The RPG hobby, industry, and community are important to me. For a long time, it was spun through with LOTS of straight, cis, white guys. And many of the games were representative of that. In the past several years, there has been a strong movement to make the hobby more inclusive, to welcome ALL types of people. To give voice to all types of designers. To give all types of players an experience they can enjoy and that they identify with or at least that invites them in.
I feel there are only things to be gained by broadening the appeal of RPGs in all ways. CAPERS certainly has its share of white guy NPCs, particularly because there are so many well-known historic figures of the era that are white guys. But it’s also filled with gender-swaps, race-flips, and a variety of other NPCs that fall outside the white guy range. It’s an alternate history game that supposes, “Wouldn’t it be great if every type of person could be a nefarious gangster or a stalwart law-dog?” And the text, NPCs, and art reflect that.
5) Do you anticipate creating any other supplements or other products for either M&A or CAPERS?
Each of these games are intended to be standalone games with everything you need to play in one book. I’ve created a little Holiday Bonus PDF for M&A and I’m doing a monthly, 1-page PDF supplement for M&A called M&A Memos. I expect CAPERS will see some simple support products in the future.
I’m not averse to offering larger support and game/setting expansion products, but it’s more a matter of whether the game’s popularity and fanbase can support it. I’m open to all possibilities, but I have to see how CAPERS sells first.
6) What's the next thing for NerdBurger Games?
I’m about 90% sure that the next game will be Die Laughing. That’s a short-play, no-prep, GM-less story game where everyone portrays a character in a horror comedy movie. Everyone is going to die. It’s just a matter of when and how funny you can make it. The game features a reducing dice pool mechanic that functions as a countdown to the character’s death as well as ways for you to remain involved in and influencing the story even after your character is dead…or a zombie…or a sexy vampire.
Beyond that, I have an idea for a very simple family game that parents can play with their kids. And there’s nugget of an idea for a mid-apocalypse game with a very unique twist that I think people will dig.
Josh is the intrepid Chief Operations Officer of High Level Games. With 20 years of playing rpgs, Josh started with Mind's Eye Theater LARPs and loves the World of Darkness. He runs, www.keepontheheathlands.com to support his gaming projects. Josh is the administrator of the Inclusive Gaming Network on Facebook. He’s running a Changing Breeds game. He’s a serious advocate for inclusive gaming spaces, a father, and a graduate from the International Peace and Conflict Resolution graduate program at American University in Washington, D.C. You can also find Josh’s other published adventures here and here.
All blog materials created and developed by the staff here at High Level Games