The writing team here at High Level Games loves checking out new RPGs and sharing our experiences. Thus we have our attention focused on the horizon, ever watchful for the latest editions and originals in the works for our beloved hobby. As a New Year treat, we’d like to share with you the games and supplements that are “Coming Soon in 2019.” We don’t want to hog all the hype to ourselves; tis the season of giving, after all! With our breath bated and no further ado, here is each writer’s most anticipated 2019 release.
Editor’s Note: to the right of the dashes are the names of the writers that chose the games, not the names of the creators or publishers.
1) Swords of the Serpentine - Phil
Political drama? Check. Magic that’s as dangerous to the user as the target? Check. Gritty setting? Check. GUMSHOE? Check. Swords of the Serpentine checks off almost all of my boxes (we’ll see how much black humor pops up), and looks to be another excellent addition to the GUMSHOE line.
2) Kamigakari: God Hunter - Aaron der Schaedel
Kamigakari is a game from Japan, set in modern day Japan, where you play as a supernaturally endowed hunter of otherworldly beings protecting an unsuspecting populace of mortals otherwise ignorant to the horrors hidden from them. The kickstarter for Kamigakari was fully funded in November of 2018, and is expected to be available in the Summer of 2019.
3) Trinity Continuum: Aeon and Core - Josh Heath
The original versions of the Trinity Continuum are some of the few RPG books I’ve held onto over the years. I took Adventure! and Aberrant to Korea with me while I was in the Army. These games are part of the reason I explored non-World of Darkness games. The 2nd Edition will include a modern setting similar to the shows Leverage or other action story shows without high powered Supers. The Kickstarter ran in 2018. It will be coming with the Space Opera setting, Aeon. I’ve been reading the 1st Ed books in exciting anticipation. Color me sold, this is the game I’m most excited about in 2019.
4) Strongholds and Followers - Rich Fraser
Raising a cool 2.1 million dollars on kickstarter,Strongholds and Followers is my eagerly awaited gem. OK, so maybe this is cheating, but I didn’t think it would be out until January (technically the hardback won’t). Authored by the self proclaimed King of Kickstarter (jokingly, but it stuck as these things do), Matt Colville, this sourcebook for the fifth edition of Dungeons and Dragons covers something sorely missing for this edition of D&D. It’s strongholds, and followers, get it? I played D&D from Basic, Expert, Companion, Masters, and Immortals (BECMI) box sets through second edition before quitting and all of these editions had plans for strongholds and followers. Followers were an automatic thing once you reached ‘name level.’ See, in first edition, each level had a name associated with it and at ninth level you reached your name level (High Priest, Lord, Paladin, Ranger Knight, etc.). People started to know who you were so living in a bar isn't going to cut it anymore and some of these people want to join you, as opposed to just being hirelings. So Matt developed his own systems over the years and decided to release it to the public. With his extreme popularity, rightly so, on youtube he started a kickstarter and the rest is history.
5) Yellow King - Leyshon Campbell
This Kickstarter has been blasting through stretch goals because everyone knows Robin Laws knows how to make a great game. The multiple worlds and multiple selves will allow campaigns to run the gamut between subtle horror, alternate realities, and full dystopia. The different eras allow for even more variety, up to and including a generations-long legacy game where you play the great-grandchild of your first character. But even for those who will not run a whole game, there is so much rich material to mine here that it’s just not possible to not get your money’s worth out of this one.
6) Mon Dieu Cthulhu - Ross Reid
As a result of the success from the popular Achtung! Cthulhu, Modiphius has not only released multiple versions of it, but is also venturing out into other time periods. Mon Dieu Cthulhu currently only has a few fiction pieces but has been slated for a future RPG release which I for one cannot wait to get my tentacles on. Rubbing elbows with swashbuckling soldiers avoiding musket fire and blasting a cannon at the unholy gods of old is going to be a blast.
7) Silent Titans - Max Cantor
This is an OSR adventure written by one of the most prominent OSR writers, Patrick Stuart, with layout by Christian Kessler and art by Dirk Leichty. Patrick is an excellent writer full of engaging prose and weird, totally original ideas, and Dirk’s art looks incredible. This kind of avante garde work truly elevates tabletop into an artform, and is unlike anything you’ll find from the mainstream publishers. If Patrick’s other works such as Veins of the Earth or Fire on the Velvet Horizon are any indication, this book will be full of all sorts of interesting mechanical considerations that can be taken into other games, and will probably work as a setting unto itself. I’ve already backed the (currently live, and already successful) kickstarter, and would encourage anyone on the fence to check out his other works!
8) An Atlas of the Horizon - Jarod Lalonde
An Atlas of the Horizon is a passion project that has been worked on for the better part of five years, and as such, there are a lot of hopes riding on it. The kickstarter (which has already surpassed its goal) tells us that it is an intensely character driven rpg taking place in a world that is approaching a proverbial boom in culture, trade and all other aspects, and the world is just waiting for guiding hands to shape it into what it’s destined to be. Atlas is shaping up to be a game that looks to the horizon (god that nail was hit on the head) and smiles at what it sees. It focuses on optimistic themes, and honestly in this day and age, I really do think that we could all use a little more optimism. In all honesty, this appears to be a game that wants to make a statement, and I’m interested to see what it has to say in the coming year.
What are some of the upcoming games you are excited for? Drop us a line anytime and let us know!
High Level Games has a lot to be thankful for in 2018. We also have plenty that we’re eagerly awaiting in the coming year! Stick with us, because it’s going to be a blast. And if you want to show your support, take a look at our Patreon page. Thank you, and have a critically successful 2019!
-David Horwitz, Blog Manager
Picture Reference: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/255133215/strongholds-and-streaming
Recently going through Twitter I saw a lot of the people we follow really excited about a Kickstarter that had just launched. That game Kickstarter is Power Outage, a kid-friendly, kid-focused, Supers RPG that focused on accessibility, teamwork, and fun. So, even though I am already way over Kickstarter budget for the year I had to back this game. So, I did. Then, I reached out to the creator because I wanted to hear more about what this game was about and why the creator had chosen to develop this particular game.
So, first, Bebarce, tell us a bit about yourself and why Power Outage? Is this your first foray into writing RPGs?
So my name is Bebarce El-Tayib. I'm a supervisor of technology for a school district in NJ. Originally Power Outage came about with my (then 4 and 6 year old) daughters continuously stealing my poly dice. I figured, if they were going to have them, I might as well come up with a game for them to play. Dungeons and Dragons, as enjoyable as it was, didn't fit my needs exactly, and when I started out, I wasn't aware as much about what was out there, so we built a miniature game from the ground up with very simple rules. After thinking back over the fun we had, I decided that I'd like to really see this game become something that encourages parents to play with their kids, in a form of structured/unstructured imaginative play. Over time, that simple game developed and redeveloped, and morphed into what the game is now, and likewise, so too did it's promise.
This is definitely my first foray into writing RPGs, but not my first foray into writing or game design. This is the first time however that I've committed myself so wholeheartedly to a single purpose for such an extended period of time.
You mention accessibility and wanting to develop a product with this focus. Tell us more about what this means for you and for Power Outage?
While there is a part of me that has attachments to people in my life that have disabilities, I believe that it's importants not just for me, but for all of us to endeavor as best we can to create more inclusive and accessible environments. We don't always succeed, but it's important that we try, regardless of whether we directly connect to a person with disabilities. I've been attending a fantastic series of conventions in NJ by Dexposure (Metatopia, Dreamation, and Dexcon) and the focus and effort they put in accommodations shows. It shows on the faces of people who feel invited, and who feel welcome without exclusion. Tabletop Roleplaying games become a haven for many of us. A place to express our emotions through our avatars, to connect to other people, to gain a sense of being something. Making sure EVERYONE has access to that same feeling? That's pretty much the most important task we should all be undertaking.
Power Outage is tackling it in two ways. Within the book I have a small amount of generalized guidance on Accommodations that are divided into 5 primary domains other than general guidance (Physical, Communicative/Receptive, Behavioral, Cognitive, and Emotional). The idea was to approach things from a symptomatic approach rather than focusing on particular conditions. Addressing the effect, and providing guidance and support for that, without focusing on the cause. I've found it to be the best method for creating a large net of coverage of disability accommodations than just focusing on a single condition. But secondly the book refers back to a website that I set up called www.accessible-rpg.com. It's not much yet, and what is there currently is geared toward gaming with kids. It's a wiki that still needs a lot of revision, guidance, and thoughtfulness. Most importantly it needs input directly from people within the community. People that have disabilities. Once I finish this Kickstarting campaign, my focus will most likely shift back to that site, while my designer and artist work on the book.
What do you want to accomplish with this Kickstarter in particular?
This Kickstarter specifically is an attempt to fund the cost of a designer, editor, and artist, with whatever is left over going toward miscellaneous production costs. The honest truth is with enough time, I could probably release the book with much less art, and my somewhat shoddy design skills. I don't believe however, that this is what Power Outage deserves. I believe the system is great, and it has a lot of promise. I don't want it to be chained by my inability to make it stand out among a stack of other TRPGs. I believe we have something really special here, that I'm willing to dedicate my life to, and that means reaching out to others to get it to where it needs to be.
Have you looked into connecting with RPG Research, Wheelhouse Workshop, or any of the other RPG therapy groups out there? This seems like a game that would really help their practices.
I think it would! I've talked to RPG Research about the wiki, primarily and again because I want to ensure that the guidance I'm providing is sound, functional, relevant, and non-offensive. To this point, I've also partnered up with some local professionals that I know through my work in public education that are doctors in the fields of counseling and psychology. When I have a book, that I am confident will benefit the community as a whole, I'll do everything within my means to ensure that they have enough resources to play the game. I've also communicated with some great twitter community members to help refine and restructure guidance.But yeah, I think this would work fantastically in a counseling setting, and the professionals I work with agree. One aspect of the game, aside from it's flexibility in rule structures, is the concept of meta weaknesses applied to villains. In this way, achievements that occur outside of the game, can have an impact within. This helps bridge the gap between personal goals and game goals, and slots in perfectly as an educational aide.
If you had one thing that you wanted to leave us with today, what would that be?
There are a couple things to know about kids. They're more capable then they're often given credit for. They often think in circles around squares. And they are the next generation of players that will be sitting at your tables. This is our opportunity to use our games to impact the up and coming generation. To help give shape to the importance of empathy. Of teamwork. Of dedication to a cause. To the nobility of altruism. And we can do so, while having a pretty fun time of it. So get out there and be a hero to some kid. Help them learn about the hero they're meant to be.
Thank you Bebarce for telling us more about Power Outage. If you are interested in learning more you can go to the Kickstarter and become a backer.
Josh Heath is the COO of this outfit. He’s also organizing HLG Con. www.hlgcon.com in Atlantic City October 12-14th. Come join us!
One click. That’s all it took. I can’t actually remember how I got there, I think some Facebook Kickstarter group linked it. Next think I know, I’m elbow deep in alien races exploring eldritch ruins... Exactly where I like to be, to be honest.
Now, I have a rule. My love for streamlined RPG systems is so great, that I judge a system by the complexity of its character sheet.
The Fragged Empire character sheet is 4 pages long.
I hesitated for more than a few moments. And then, 5 minutes into the background and the dice rolls, I was hooked. And this is why I think you’ll like it too.
1) Great Setting
It is 10,000 years into the future. Humanity is long gone. We reached the technological singularity, relaxed, stagnated and fizzed out. Just before the end, we created another race, the Archeons, to take over the human empire.
That didn’t really work. Instead of taking over, the Archeons started anew, creating hundreds of races, always striving towards biological and sociological perfection. Amongst the most important, they created the Vargarti (human-like humanoids, cunning and charming), who they immediately abandoned, and then the X’ian.
This was, in simple terms ‘a REALLY bad idea’.
The X’ian promptly rebelled, killing any Archeon on sight. The Archeons created the Legion (orc-sized super soldiers) and the Kaltorans (elfin-like humanoids, intelligent, flexible and with genetic memories) and the X’ian came back with the Nephilim, bear-sized genetic abominations (and their escorts, the dreaded bio-ships).
It was a genocide. Every Archeon was destroyed, and when it was done, the X’ian left, leaving everything and everyone behind.
It is 100 years after the war. The Archeons are all dead, the X’ian have disappeared. The Haven System has a presence from all the other 4 races. Tensions run high. Some long-lived individuals still remember fighting in the war. But ultimately, everyone just wants to make a living.
2) Dice System
When an action is desired, roll 3D6. Then, add bonuses. Add further bonus for tools (if applicable). And then, the role play comes into…. Well, play. The GM has the discretion to give a -2 to a +2 bonus, depending on the quality of the description of the action. If you roll any 6’s, that will give you bonuses. A success is usually from a 12 to a 14, but this can obviously be adjusted by the GM
3) Character Creation
CC is non-linear, I won’t lie. However, at every stage of complexity, the Core Rule Book has a full page of a sort of flow chart, making sure they break it down into chewable bits. Also, they have a few pretty funny Youtube videos, helping newbs along.
Again, (see item 3), combat is not linear, however, have no fear! There are at least 3 types of combat, each of differing depths and complexity. Normal mode will be comparable to normal skill rolls (see item 2), but adding weapons bonus, range, cover, etc.
5) Just The Beginning
The Fragged Empire rules have now been expanded to three new settings: Fragged Seas (Pirates and buccaneers, trying to survive in the last remaining archipelagos, after a world-destroying invasion of monsters from beyond), Fragged Aeternum (a gothic setting, set in an impossibly huge city, that seems to span the world, besieged by monsters from the deepest nightmares), and Fragged Kingdom (a fantasy setting, set many years after a magical conflict has destroyed most of the world). All of these new backgrounds need the original Fragged Empire corebook, as they are simply expansions.
Possibly one of the aspects that I found the most attractive is that the rules make it absolutely clear that, albeit the background is there to be used and adapted, players are positively encouraged to make their own races, weapons, ships, locations, and so on. This flexibility and adaptability have sold this system to me.
Yes, Fragged Empires is more complex than the systems I usually play. Still, it is adaptable and streamlined enough that I’m pretty sure I’m going to go to town on it.
Rui is a Portuguese scientist that, after ten years doing strange things in labs, decided to become a teacher. Then, three years ago, like he was bit by a radioactive D20, RPG’s came into his life, and he’s now juggling teaching, playing and GMing quite happily. He lives in the UK with his partner Joana, an ungodly number of potted plants, 4 to 5 RPG’s at various stages of completion (and across as many rule systems), and maps, cursed idols, evil necklaces, and any other props he can get his hands on. He’s been writing for HLG for a few months, and is one of the resident vloggers. He can be reached at @Atomic_RPG.
Picture Reference: http://fraggedempire.com/
Blessed Machine is happy to announce the Kickstarter for our new setting, Secret Agents of CROSS. We are also excited to announce that Blessed Machine is now an official licensee of the Savage Worlds game system. We were looking for a system that could model the setting’s concept that CROSS agents are the best of the best. We discovered Savage Worlds and its Wild Card concept, exploding dice, and bennie rules and after a few playtests, we knew we had to produce Secret Agents of CROSS for Savage Worlds. Thanks to the Pinnacle team for helping us work through the process and become an official licensee.
The world of Secret Agents of CROSS is similar to our own with slightly more advanced technology. Religious persecution came into existence nearly as soon as religions appeared. The supernatural has existed in the world since the beginning of time and continues to exploit the world from their extra-dimensional realms and secret lairs. Cardinal James McDonell created CROSS to combat these evils and protect the flock.
Secret Agents of CROSS is a full-color 170-page setting book. It is your guide on how the world of CROSS operates, how to make player characters, and how to run CROSS missions steeped in secret spy stuff, religious history, modern terrorism, and the supernatural.
Below are eight reasons to pledge to the Secret Agents of CROSS Kickstarter.
1) Secret Biblical History
Read never before revealed intel from the Vatican's secret library on what really happened in Biblical times including the use of dragons during the Crusades and the evolution of saintly magic by the most devout Christians. Peruse details on Biblical artifacts and relics and where they came from and how they affect the modern world of CROSS today. Discover how angel DNA affected the gene pool of humans, creating the secret races of the Ardorim, Buerim, Luciphim, Moraxim, and the more widely known Nephilim. Finally, learn the secret history of CROSS and how it came to rest underneath the Vatican City and run operations to protect the flock all across the globe.
2) Ten Character Roles To Capture The Setting Feel
Examine the ten Character Roles players can choose from in Secret Agents of CROSS. Find out the details of the Crusader, a powerhouse of Holy melee; the Holy Ghost, a master of stealth in the virtual world; the Silent Knight, a master of stealth in the physical world; the Wrath, the embodiment of God’s wrath against man, and many more.
3) New Edges & New Hindrances
Uncover new Edges like Cybernetics Access which will allow your agent to choose from over 50 cybernetic implants. Choose the Iron Shroud Attunement which gives your agent access to power armor with 50 enhancements, or embrace your faith with the Martyr Edge and be filled with God’s might when wounded. Investigate new Hindrances like Pious or Obligation to reveal your inner Holy person.
4) Cutting-edge Weaponry, Macabre Relics, And Powerful Artifacts
Designed by the engineers of CROSS, see the specs for over 40 pieces of unique gear like the Starfly Drone, the Miracle Shroud, and the Holy Soaker. Explore body parts of the saints like St. Thomas's Finger, St. Anthony’s Tongue, and the Shroud of Turin. Research mighty Artifacts like Moses’s Staff, the Buddhist Iron Man, and the Ark of the Covenant.
5) Variety Of Deadly And Strange Adversaries
See the compiled dossiers of 30 adversaries your agents may face, collected from intel agencies all over the world. Read the details on the Vengeful Order of the New Cathars, a religion thought wiped out during the Crusades. The New Russian Empire lead by an ex-KGB officer, his number two, Asena, the leader of a lycanthrope wolf cult, and the Pri-men, three half-human primates. All work together to restore the Russian Empire to greatness. Discover the nature of early religious beings like angels, demons, jinn, hellspawn, or creatures like the Leviathan or the Behemoth. Some good, some bad, some you will have to decide for yourself.
6) Gamemaster’s Vault
Study gamemaster information on how to empower each of the Character Roles in your games and run the supernatural of the CROSS world efficiently, and discover double-secret-GM's-eyes-only information not revealed in other chapters. Additionally, pour over a detailed mission generator.
7) Three Dangerous Missions
Read the briefings for three complete missions that your agents will need to embark on to defend the flock.
- Blood & Teeth: Your team of Catholic super agents has been tasked with investigating the disappearances of people from a village in Eastern Turkey. Intel points to straightforward religious unrest, but the mission rapidly unfurls into a complex tale of power and revenge. Join your fellow CROSS agents and embark on a mission of Blood & Teeth.
- Let There Be Light: When a rash of burglaries of medieval artifacts from wealthy homes and museums comes to the attention of CROSS, their initial reaction is one of disinterest. Still, one Manger operative reviews the details to discover they were all made by one infamous man. Then the question becomes: how fast can we get them back?
- Not Dead Enough: Seattle, Washington is known for a lot of things, but grave desecration usually isn't one of them. When word reaches the CROSS agents of a rash of cemetery break-ins involving disinterred corpses, the question becomes, how bad is bad?
8) A Complete Dossier For Secret Agents Of CROSS
Receive a high-quality color pdf or printing fulfilled through DriveThruRPG in standard 8.5" x 11" size and all attained stretch goals.
CROSS wants you as their newest agent. Please head over to the recruiting department at CROSS and Kickstart your career! Don’t believe the propaganda stating that the video uses dangerous subliminal video techniques perfected during the Cold War to convince you to pledge. Accept this mission and enjoy our kickstarter video right now!
Still need convincing? I know you figure CROSS agents will battle demons and deadly hellspawn, but did you know they would also encounter dangerous supernatural creatures like the Tarasque? This giant beast is covered with a protective turtle shell and has a lion’s head with teeth that cut like rows of swords. You will also get access to relics to carry with you into battle, and the most technologically advanced weaponry like grenades that explode to release healing power, hellfire, ensnaring goo, and sleeping gas. The flock needs you at CROSS!
Pete Ruttman is a writer, artist, and graphic designer for Blessed Machine. He has produced several tabletop RPG products including Evilution Unchained and Supervillain Showdown #1. You can keep an eye on all of Pete’s missions at the following locations:
Web Site | Facebook | G+ | Twitter
Picture Provided by the Author
Imagine a world where, instead of advancing in fits and starts, young humanity was ripped into an uncaring cosmos, full of wonder and terror, left trying to figure out what our species really is. That’s a pretty good summary of Black Void, a new game being Kickstarted by Christoffer Sevaldsen. Black Void is a dark fantasy RPG in focused on personal relationships, cosmic exploration, and engaging combat. Christoffer was kind enough to answer a few questions about the game for us.
Your description of the game begins with a mention of Babylon being the greatest city on Earth. Does this mean pre- or early-historic humans are the ones being wrenched into this cosmic horror? If so, why did you decide on this era and not a later one, like the 1920s as is typical in cosmic horror?
It does indeed! There are several reasons for this choice. Firstly, I am exceedingly fascinated with the ancient civilizations of Earth, particularly those from Mesopotamia. The Sumerians, Babylonians and Akkadian cultures are generally not very well-known to the public, but they have a rich heritage, intriguing myths and astounding achievements, which seem surprisingly advanced. My point was to have a basis in something which is – at least vaguely – familiar and then add my own pinch of the otherworldly and bizarre to it. Since there is so much about these civilizations which is still shrouded in mystery, it seems the ideal as a basis for Black Void. Also, the Daimons (the terminology is based on the original unbiased Greek meaning) and monsters featured in the Mesopotamian myths just fit perfectly into my idea of cosmic horror: The Anunnakku, Lamassu, Mardkhora, Rabisu and so on just seem to fit the concept perfectly and are largely unexplored in other fantasy RPG’s. Secondly, I had very clear vision of what I wanted this game to be about. 1920’s cosmic horror is - as you write – the typical outset, which has been done exceedingly well by others. I did not want to do typical and I am not even sure that I would characterise Black Void as a cosmic horror game. To me the game is dark fantasy with a focus on the struggles of humanity in terms of the survival of mankind and - more profoundly - exploring the very nature of mankind - with cosmic horror elements lurking in the background, not necessarily at the core of the story.
The key elements of the game include enlightenment and wastaah. What is wastaah, and how do both feature into the game mechanically?
Both concepts are part of character progression, but each is story-driven and achievable only through exploration and world-interaction, not by expending experience points. Wastaah is - in essence - personal connections. It entails knowing the right people in the right places and having the sway or clout to get these to act on your behalf. The reason I found this concept to be appealing is that the main stage of Black Void, the cosmopolis called Llyhn, is a hierarchical caste society with humanity at the bottom. Wastaah functions outside this system, allowing the casteless and low-caste mankind to gain influence informally, aiding the resurgence of mankind while retaining the outwardly inferiority. It is story based, meaning that if a character manages to gain influence with a powerful entity or faction he or she will gain a tier in wastaah. Wastaah directly affect reaction and persuasion rolls when dealing with the entity or faction and it can be “spent” to achieve a favour or other significant outcome helping the character’s ambition. Enlightenment is – simply put – intuitive comprehension of existence. Enlightenment allows a character to understand the relation between the Void and the cosmos and how the two affect each other, ultimately allowing him or her to navigate, control and manipulate the Void. Like wastaah, gaining enlightenment is story-driven and requires encounters with the Void or entities from there (which is dangerous business). As characters obtain enlightenment they gain new capabilities such as sensing the Void, following Void-currents to navigate and travel between worlds, as well as a range of other supernatural abilities.
Why did you choose to go with a single d12 + trait system instead of a D20, d6, or other rolling system?
There are several reasons for this, some probably more obscure than others:
- The number 12 has significance and features prominently in the Sumerian and Babylonian sexagesimal numerals as well as mythology and other esoteric fields.
- I wanted to make a simple system enhancing story-focus, which - to me - means single-dice system.
- The D12 statistically allows a higher rate of exceptional successes and critical failures, which benefits the story if these two factors are composed in terms of how they affect gameplay, adding drama and narrative opportunities rather than being game-determining or even -breaking.
- The D12 allows you to easily and precisely convert results to D6, D4, D3 and D2 (which are used occasionally in the game) by only using a single die. No other die can do that.
- And finally, I have not seen or heard of any other game giving the D12 its deserved possibility to shine! So D12 be ready, your time is at hand!
You describe the city of Llyhn as the epicentre of the cosmos, implying that it is the beginning, or at least central, point of the universe. How does being the literal centre of the universe affect the city and its inhabitants?
The central arena of the game is indeed Llyhn the eternal, a border domain located at the heart of a massive convergence of void currents. Technically, no one knows where Llyhn is located physically as it cannot be reached by any other means than Void-travel. The city is a principal hub and waypoint connecting major trade routes and a vibrant melting pot of species from across the known worlds, as well as more esoteric entities and beings from beyond the evident world. A main staging point for exploration of the unknown reaches of the cosmos Llyhn is a median port and cosmopolis. Independent from external influence the city is considered neutral ground and hosts numerous diplomatic missions from across the cosmos making it a natural place for enlightened species to congregate; attracting cultural tensions, social intricacies, religious polemic and political rivalry while immense armies are accommodated for transit under the watchful eyes of the masked Hohr’loh’kin, the extended arm of the unseen rulers of Llyhn. Though the unseen rulers principally look after their own interests and involve their servants very little in the managing of the city unless their authority is defied, Llyhn is not an entirely anarchic place. Through a rather harsh practice following the tenet: “might makes right” the residents have naturally segregated into distinct castes of varying power and influence, which keeps the city and its inhabitants in a somewhat stable equilibrium. Llyhn is scarcely a placid city to reside in, yet besides blatant inequality and oppression and the warping taint and influence of the void, people flock to the city for the promise of opportunities and wealth, the access to foreign worlds, baffling wonders and to satiate their lust for adventure.
Movement in combat can be a tricky thing to pull off, but you put manoeuvre at the centre of your system. How do you keep movement from getting bogged down?
In Black Void the word manoeuvre is used as an umbrella term for all “combat actions” including offensive and defensive actions, movement and miscellaneous actions performed in combat. The point was to get away from the static “standard attack” constantly being employed, which is why Black Void has 39 different actions players can use in combat. Several of the combat manoeuvres, critical mishaps and exceptional strikes entail - or has as consequence - the shifting of positions and relocation of opponents making combats constantly fluctuating allowing players to employ a variety of actions or manoeuvres to gain the upper hand. I prefer theatre-of mind combat as I think that grid-based combat is too restrictive and mechanical. In order to keep an overview in case of encounters with numerous opponents however laminated maps and markers or minis are a great tool. Again, the point of Black Void is to make intense and interesting narrative combat scenes, not play rigid “battlechess” on grid-maps.
As with most cosmic horror, your game seems at least partially inspired by Lovecraft. Where does the inspiration end and your own twisted imagination take over?
It is true that Lovecraft has inspired some parts of the game, but probably not so much the parts you would think. My favourite Lovecraft story is “the Dream-quest of unknown Kadath”, and the account of the black galleys has to a certain degree inspired Void-travel. The cosmic horror element in Black Void is two-fold: Firstly, Void horrors that generally exist beyond the bounds of the cosmos, remaining largely unknown and unknowable except to enlightened people. The role of the Void horrors is probably more in the shadows and as an underlying threat rather than as a main focal point. However, should said entities be encountered, it will most likely have catastrophic consequences for those involved. The second is otherworldly sentient species that seem horrific to oblivious humanity in their bizarre and even grotesque forms and temperaments. Their outlandishness is exactly why mankind is forced to question what humanity and its ethos is and should be, when confronted by dispositions utterly alien. So, the horror probably lies more in the realizations of humanity rather than in tentacles and teeth, albeit there are quite a few of those as well. I generally prefer when horrors are not fully revealed or at least remain somewhat mysterious. It makes the imagination run rampant and leaves the GM and scenario-writers with many options. I find this so much more interesting than defining and describing everything in painful detail, which in the end only serves to inhibit imagination. An example are the primary named horrors, namely the mindless ghostly abominations of the Void; terrible entities beyond the comprehension of mere mortals. The key words being “beyond mortal comprehension”.
See you in the Void, Christoffer!
Check out Black Void’s Kickstarter here.
Phil Pepin is a history-reading, science-loving, head-banging, river-running nerd, who would like nothing more than to cuddle with his pups and wife.
Picture Reference: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/68133405/black-void-rpg?ref=nav_search&result=project&term=black%20void
BPB Games is honored and excited to be official licensees of the Savage Worlds game system, and equally excited to share our love of the tokusatsu genre. Savage Tokusatsu has approximately 100 pages of new content to transport you right into your own action packed story. While you may not be familiar with the term, you are likely familiar with the giant kaiju, transforming heroes, and giant robots that make up the genre. If you have ever dreamed of piloting a mech with your friends, fighting monsters that tower above cities, or having your own transformation catchphrase, this is the game for you! Here are our three reasons for why you should check out our Kickstarter.
1) Fast Transformations
Going from a mundane character to a transformed hero is a simple endeavor in Savage Tokusatsu. We have created unique Frameworks, a small ‘class’ to add to a character, to help you choose the best way for your heroes to come across their powers. We have also included an in-depth system for designing the monsters that you would expect to see in the genre and 40 new statblocks for example heroes, kaiju, monsters of the week, and big bads to tailor your adventure to your play style. Tokusatsu heroes are also known for their signature style and weapons. We made sure to include a system for you to design your own iconic weaponry and armor to help you stand out while still remaining a core part of your team.
2) Furious Fights
Whether you are interested in fatalistic battles against massive kaiju with only modern military technology to aid you, or the colorful transforming heroes tokusatsu is known for, Savage Tokusatsu has everything Game Masters and players will need to craft their own heroes and begin a campaign. We have included a full Plot Point campaign for a lighthearted, transforming hero themed adventure that will have your team of heroes matching wits with Fire Team Omega and their quest to put out Earth’s most dangerous fire: the Sun.
One of the additions we are most excited for is the collaborative system for creating and controlling a shared pilot mech. You and your fellow players will share an equal part of the decision making in thrilling mech combat. You will either succeed as a team or fail as a team as your mech goes against obstacles and monsters that tower over skyscrapers and threaten your world.
3) Fun Downtime
While tokusatsu is known for its bombastic fights and over the top visuals, it also focuses on the heroes’ normal day to day lives. We’ve created many new Edges, powers your hero obtains, and Hindrances, their personal flaws, that reflect the cooperation necessary between a team of heroes and the feel of youths making their way in the world. Is your clique making it difficult to concentrate in school and with your team? Does jumping to conclusions end up opening new paths or destroying your leads? Your personality and those of your teammates can affect your relationships throughout your adventures. You also get to decide what specialized knowledge skill your character has, whether it is their favorite video game, school subject, music, or any other hobby, and use that to your advantage both as a civilian and as a hero.
We have grown up obsessed with the tokusatsu genre and would love to pass on our passions to you through our Kickstarter. Learn more about what we have put together HERE and try out our Test Drive HERE! We are also grateful for our guest writers Sean Patrick Fannon, Eran Aviram, and Aaron Carsten who will be creating special one-shot adventures as we complete our stretch goals. We hope these three reasons will get you excited to transform and fight as true tokusatsu heroes!
Kyle Carty is the writer and designer for BPB Games and Savage Tokusatsu. He has also written for EN5ider, Deadlands, East Texas University, Savage RIFTS, and has also done graphic design for Red Markets and Base Raiders. You can keep up with BPB Games on Facebook, Tumblr, Twitch, and on Twitter.
Picture Provided by the Author
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.
Seven years ago, I participated in a 24-hour roleplaying game session which was going to change everything in my life. We created our own world, as was the yearly tradition in that group, and I was asked to help. Within a couple of weeks, I’d provided two alien races and worked with the small group of other Game Masters to create a Sci-Fi campaign which would entertain fifty players for six sessions held during 24 hours.
That was the last roleplaying game I had the chance to play for several years, but when I had another opportunity, I chose to resurrect that universe, tweak it, and run stories within it. Over the next two years, that became Era: The Consortium the first game that I created.
During the creation of that game, however, I met an individual who inspired me, helped me understand that we could do more. He applied as a writer and had been working on superhero comics for major names in the industry for 15 years. Our first convention working together, we spent much of the off-time discussing the potential applications for superheroes under the rules, and designing a superhero universe.
That game became Era: The Empowered, a game which is currently on Kickstarter. It was funded within 18 hours, and has now broken three Stretch Goals. Here are the reasons I think you will find Era: The Empowered remarkable.
1) The Universe
Era: The Empowered doesn’t give you just one type of scenario to play. It offers every sub-genre of superhero story you could want. You can be one of the first Empowered to appear, while the world knows nothing of abilities or how they work, and most refuse to even believe in them. You can play later, where you may train sidekicks or team up with others to face larger threats. You can save your city or even the world. You can face the Old Gods as they wake from millennia of slumber and claim rulership over the entire planet. You can fight the Assassins’ Guild, who seek to eliminate all Empowered. You can stand in defence of our world when extraterrestrial threats arrive, looking to invade, conquer, or consume.
The 300-page rulebook contains 155 pages of setting information which allow you to leap into whichever time period suits the story you’re looking for in this extensive and detailed history.
The way the universe is presented has also been well-received: the events which form the universe are presented in a timeline, which contains short stories to illustrate the events of history and provide them with emotional context. So, instead of just reading fictional historical “facts”, the reader is drawn into the moment and can enjoy a well-told story which explains what it was really like to face down the soldiers of Atlantis, even as an Empowered.
Shades of Vengeance has recently finished a previous Kickstarter which offered the chance to make your own superhero a character in the universe. “Tales of the Empowered” was a great success, bringing many more heroes, from a variety of backgrounds and with some amazing powers, into the Empowered universe. This book is also included as a reward for anyone who wants it!
2) The Era d10 Rule Set
The Era d10 Rule Set is a dice pool system where the number of dice you roll is based on Attribute + Skill and allows a variable Success Threshold based on chances of success. It’s an easy-to-learn system that’s been run by first-timers with great success, as well as giving veterans enough complexity to keep them interested. The addition of Kill Thresholds on damage rolls and opposed rolls to resolve grapples makes combat smooth and streamlined, giving a much more immersive experience than some other rule sets. You can check out the Era: The Consortium Quickstart for free here.
Era: The Empowered takes this basis and applies a new mechanic relating to powers: the Power Tree. This allows you describe any power you like, no matter how incredibly strong it is, and keep it balanced. In order to access the most powerful abilities, a character must spend points in “Lockout Layers”, which ensures that low-level characters could have them… but only with a very limited level of skill. Limited uses are also encouraged within the system, where an ability is especially powerful.
3) An Ever-Expanding Multiverse
All of the Era games are cross-compatible. There are people out there who have added elements of Era: Hitman, Era: The Consortium, and Era: Survival in order to play a Starfinder game, complete with magic.
Shades of Vengeance has produced over 35 products in the last four years and has no plans to slow down. With Era: The Empowered, there’s a new and different way to handle superpowers within the Rule Set, and several more game releases planned for this year will also contribute to that. Era: The Consortium itself has ten expansions already published with two in production, and Era: Survival, our other full-length rulebook, also has three expansions. With that in mind, it seems likely that Era: The Empowered, which has endless possibilities for further rules and story, will also be given expansions. In fact, there’s one already visible in the Stretch Goals list, which will provide for Golden Age superheroes!
4) Awesome Extras
Shades of Vengeance loves universes and loves to expand them. They offer additional material for them, and Era: The Empowered is no exception: two audio stories have already been released, with three more planned for publication during the campaign. You can find them all on the Kickstarter “Campaign” page under the title “What is Era: The Empowered?”.
These audio stories were read by Leo Cosh and give a brief glimpse into the universe during the various events that we’ve described.
Shades of Vengeance funds its games via Kickstarter, so the more support that the campaigns receive, the more books get made. If you check out the Kickstarter, don’t miss the official Era: The Empowered Facebook Group, where new content is added every day to provide more information and answer questions about the various facets of the game.
Thank you very much for reading, and I hope to welcome you into the Empowered!
Ed Jowett is the Managing Director of Shades of Vengeance and has been creating tabletop roleplaying games and card games for 5 years. He runs most of the playtests and the majority of the convention games which take place in the UK, as well as his own campaigns with his private group. He’s a dedicated gamer who loves to play with new people as well as veterans and works to create interesting and immersive universes. You can find more information about Shades of Vengeance at http://www.shadesofvengeance.com.
Picture Reference: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/shadesofvengeance/era-the-empowered-a-super-powered-rpg?ref=7nj12a
Indie tabletop RPG publisher Melting Point Publishing has released their first ever Kickstarter. Unlike most Kickstarters, you can receive a copy of any book unlocked during the Kickstarter and its stretch goals.
Check it out here.
The Kickstarter’s focus is The Krell Effect - a sci-fi adventure that sees the party thrown headfirst into a literal race against time as a megalomaniacal scientist targets them for death while he tries to unlock the secret to control the forces of time itself. Can your party solve the mysteries and thwart his scheme before the crazed scientist threatens all of existence with his hubris? They better - or all of time and space will be at risk!
Their other upcoming stand alone adventures cover a range of styles, times, and themes; from action and adventure stories to mysterious tales of monsters and madmen. They range from traditional fantasy epic adventures, through to Victorian and WW2 era mysteries, and even more.
Here's six reasons why you should back this exciting new Kickstarter!
1) Unlocks As It Progresses
Anyone pledging at the £10 New Adventures Bundle level will receive a copy of all the books unlocked as stretch goals free of charge. That’s right, you'll receive a copy of everything that’s unlocked as the Kickstarter progresses!
2) Instant Adventure
If you pledge at the New Adventures Bundle level you'll receive The Krell Effect (mentioned above) and a ready to use mini adventure (Carjacked) for Savage Worlds. If enough stretch goals are hit, you can choose to receive your rewards for either FATE or Savage Worlds.
The first 20 backers can buy the already released adventure, Still Life and Death, for a 50% discount. This allows you to pick up the first adventure released at a great discount so you can own the entire range of adventures.
Still Life and Death sees the party hired to discover the whereabouts of a missing girl; from there they are drawn into a bizarre mystery involving multiple missing people and antique paintings that seem to depict them being attacked by a variety of monstrous creatures. The party is hurled into multiple encounters with supernatural monsters before coming face-to-face with the scheme’s mastermind. Can they thwart the mysterious figure’s plans, or will they become his final victims?
4) The Ground Floor
You'll be helping a new publisher release a range of exciting new adventures! Furthermore, it’s an opportunity to interact with a fast growing company from the beginning. Melting Point Publishing is looking to help build a community of roleplayers; if you join their Kickstarter you can be part of this movement from the very start.
5) Faster Releases
Helping Melting Point Publishing speed up their release schedule will allow them to publish full campaign books and settings in the near future. This means even more great adventures, campaigns, and settings available to you and your party.
6) Help Fellow Backers
You'll be helping the other backers to unlock more rewards. The more rewards that are unlocked, the more rewards every backer of the New Adventures Bundle level will receive free of charge. This means it’s in the interest of the backers to help spread the word to the rest of the RPG community. Your assistance is appreciated!
If you would like to check out some of Melting Point Publishing's work for free, then you can download their PC character pack for use with Still Life and Death here:
Melting Point Publishing is an up and coming games developer and publisher, and they're looking for your help. So, if you're looking for a variety of interesting adventures for your tabletop roleplaying group then look no further.
Ben Baker is the head writer at Melting Point Publishing. He’s been an avid roleplayer since childhood, and loves helping the RPG community make the most of the technological possibilities available to us in the 21st century.
Check out their Kickstarter here: www.kickstarter.com/projects/1762405716/new-tabletop-rpg-adventures-from-melting-point-pub
Find him on Twitter: www.twitter.com/MPP_Games
Join their Facebook group: www.facebook.com/groups/389243758202302/
Buy Our Newest ST Vault Product Here
Right around twenty years ago I heard about an RPG that immediately caught my attention. This game was Aberrant. Produced by the original team at White Wolf Publishing, Aberrant was the Supers game I didn’t even know I wanted. It was a new genre for the deep, gritty storytelling I’d fallen in love with and it reflected both the broken optimism of the ‘90s and the Iron Age of comics I loved. This was the first Trinity Universe game for me, but it wasn’t the first game in that continuity. No, that game was Trinity (Aeon) and my friends that were into space opera, cyberpunk, transhumanist sci-fi, and space horror were big fans. It took me a few years to give it a shot, but when I started reading the books I saw the nuance, the layers, the texture of a game that offered something unlike other games I was playing.
Now Onyx Path Publishing is releasing a second edition using their storypath system. They are currently running a Kickstarter to bring a deluxe version to market, and I was one of the first 50 backers. Here are the reasons I think you need to get on this train.
1) The Continuum
In early releases that backers have access to we’ve learned more about what the new continuity, called The Trinity Continuum. Our universe is influenced by parallel universes causing Flux. Some people have the ability to tap into this Flux, which allows them to effect the world around them in subtle and un-subtle ways. In this Kickstarter we are being provided two time-frame settings for the Continuum, Aeon and Core. The Core setting is a modern day action adventure setting. If you imagine shows like Leverage, Agents of Shield, and Arrow you’ve got a general idea of the type of power levels most characters will display. They are super smart, maybe a tad more powerful than normal people, but they are still generally human.
Aeon is set in 2123, decades after the Aberrant War and the Nova era have ended. Those elements will be fleshed out in the upcoming new version of Aberrant, and I’m already salivating. Aeon is the space opera setting for the Continuum. Humanity has begun colonizing the solar system, and is just starting to edge outside of the solar system to investigate other worlds and rediscovering colonies where the Aberrants left and abandoned humanity during the Nova age. Players will take on the roles of Psions, individuals that have been awakened to powers through the Prometheus Chambers. In previous editions, Psions differed from Novas by manipulating sub-quantum particles, versus the quantum forces the Novas abused and destroyed their bodies by harnessing. I haven’t been able to dig into how the new system approaches all of these elements, but the previews backers have seen seem super exciting and well crafted.
Future releases will include Aberrant, Adventure!, and possibly other setting options along the Continuum. Adventure! only had one book in the original run, and it deserves to have a lot more word count spent on it. I’m excited to see what the Continuum will bring us!
2) Storypath System
The underlying system behind most White Wolf Games was the Storyteller’s System, which used d10 dice pools based on Attribute+Ability. In the older version of Aberrant the most effective way to show superhuman powers was through a Mega-Attribute system. You had Dexterity and Mega-Dexterity for example. This often created large dice-pools which wasn’t impossibly unwieldy, but it wasn’t perfect either.
The new system is a lot more streamlined, and honestly it is clearly better designed for Scion and Trinity gameplay (both games that are using the system). You can check out the Storypath System Preview for free. The core of the system is still dice pools, but these dice pools will likely not become quite so overwhelming with the new design. There is also information on player editing story elements, which is a feature of newer game design concepts and I think it works well for this type of setting.
3) Access To 1st Edition
One of the reasons I’m encouraging people to back the Kickstarter is that there is an option to get all of the 1st edition books if we hit enough stretch goals. You can purchase these books through DriveThruRPG right now, but it is helpful to get them for a huge discount. Some of these books look like they may not be as perfectly in sync with the new canon, but with the concept of parallel worlds being important to the setting… well… you can alter, adjust, and mess with the Continuum as you see fit. So, backing the Kickstarter will open more of these early books and open the creation of new books to supplement the new setting. This is a selfish reason to want you to back the Kickstarter. I have all of the Aberrant books already, I want to get all the Trinity Aeon ones cheaper… is that wrong?
Alright folks, those are the three major reasons that I think you should check out the Trinity Aeon Kickstarter. If and when you do so, take a look at the previews Onyx Path has released and let me know what you think. When you are ready to step into the future, shout.
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.
Picture Reference: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/200664283/trinity-continuum-aeon-rpg/description
(Editor’s note: responses edited slightly for clarity.)
Check out SIGMATA: This Signal Kills Fascists here.
Unless you’ve literally been living under a rock, you’ll have noticed that politics have been a bit, well, we’ll call it “touchy” this year. And while our hobby can be an escape from the trying times in which we live, it can also be a big release to deal with our anxieties about rising authoritarianism through gaming and roleplaying. I chatted with Chad Walker about his fascist punching (and shooting, stabbing, etc) game, SIGMATA: This Signal Kills Fascists.
1) Let’s start at the beginning. How did fascists take over America in your dystopia?
Without giving too much away, the alternate American history of SIGMATA begins in 1954. Wisconsin senator Joseph McCarthy would not be censured for his outrageous witch hunt against alleged Soviet sympathizers and supposedly blackmail-prone homosexuals that had infiltrated the State Department and other branches of government. Instead, he would go on to win a primary battle against Richard Nixon, defeat John F. Kennedy in the general election, and become the President of the United States in 1960. He wins by normalizing the concept of the “Interior Threat,” the notion that America’s failures in industry and military adventure were not due to ineffective policy, failed diplomacy, nor a refusal to adapt to evolving markets, but rather, due to an international conspiracy of Soviets, homosexuals, immigrants, ungrateful minorities, and effete globalists committed to destroying the American way of life from the inside. Between 1954 and SIGMATA's 1986, that ideology has had two solid decades to materialize, mechanize, and mobilize.
2) One of the first things that struck me about the world you have created is the diversity of groups which make up the Resistance, especially since some seem antithetical to each other. How did you decide to include the radical left, libertarian militias, Evangelical Christians, and the wealthiest Americans as the opponents of fascism?
If it feels totally wrong, you're my target audience. As part of the game's exploration of how tyrannies defeat people movements, I thought it would be fun and instructive to create an imaginary popular front so disorienting and discomforting to players in real life that their biases would bleed into the gaming fiction. Divide and conquer is Tyranny 101. Even though it's not a secret, we all fall for it. Some folks seriously stopped reading as soon as they read the line about factions, only to race to Twitter and concern troll about it. The militias, evangelicals, and business people would support fascism, they'd insist. Yes, certainly some would. Maybe even a lot of them. Thing is, it's pretty natural to think of these groups as monolithic blocks when it comes to politics... "the" Evangelicals, for example, or "the" radical Left. But these groups are, themselves, extraordinarily diverse. We can quote statistics all day to reinforce our biases (e.g. 80% of [insert group] voted for [insert candidate]). But there's another way of looking at those statistics: *only* 80%? You mean 1 out of every 5 of them is a Resistance sympathizer who is on the inside already, primed to counter-recruit and/or sabotage at the Resistance's behest? Why wouldn't you break bread with these folks? I mean, other than you want to lose. Westerners often look at the very messy struggles happening all over the world, aghast that sectarianism continues to serve the interests of the some of the most brutal and vile regimes in history. Then they go high-five each other while posting memes alienating the very men and women who could very well be their brothers and sisters in arms if push came to shove.
3) This is a very political game, during a very politically divisive time. Have you received any blowback from unsympathetic gamers?
Yes, though none of it was a surprise. I've seen some Nazis and forum trolls hating on the game, but Nazis are gonna Nazi. I've also seen some *intense* hand-wringing from some leftists, mostly concerned by the ahistoricism of a temporary Left/Right popular front against fascism in a game about FM radio-powered cyborg revolutionaries.
I'll let that sink in for a moment.
I've also been accused of promoting fascism, McCarthyism, or generally being to the right of Timothy McVeigh (may he burn in Hell). I'm not complaining... when you do anything explicitly political, you're going to ruffle a few feathers. There's also the challenge of being unable to articulate the rationale of very, very intentional design choices in the marketing blurb, so it's reasonable that folks might hit a snag on some of the hyperbole or strong language. I gotta say, though, that one of the best things about 80s film and television shows is that despite that decade's extraordinary racism, sexism, and jingoism, kicking Nazi ass was an unambiguous, equally-opportunity public good. You didn't have to check in with the gatekeepers of party purity or be told to calm down by pearl-clutchers.
4) What can you tell us about The Signal? Where did the idea of it come from? How much can you tell us of its in-game origins? How closely is it tied to the cybernetics in the game? Are members of the Regime able to make use of it?
I get a lot of questions about the Signal. I'm not gonna go into the specifics of the Signal that are represented in the game's fiction. In part, because it is a surprise, but mostly because the fiction of the Signal is not nearly as interesting as the real life historical event that inspired it. As a security professional, I try to influence the design of resilient, redundant systems that can survive and thrive even in the face of disaster or massive attack. All of us witnessed one of the most gorgeous and cyberpunk-as-fuck examples of this during the Egyptian Arab Spring in 2011. The Muburak regime killed the Internet in an attempt to disrupt the uprising in two ways: 1) make it harder to organize, and 2) make it harder to beacon out to the international community to apply external pressure on a tyrant. To defeat this censor, the Egyptians went low tech. They smuggled in satellite phones, communicated over HAM radio, and even busted out their dial-up modems to hit a prehistoric BBS in Sweden. Anything and everything to keep beaconing out to the world, to keep Repeating the Signal, simultaneously a technical signal while also being an international message of defiance and legitimacy. That incredible lesson in revolutionary organizing using low tech means was something I sort of stowed away for safekeeping. 2016's terrifying resurgence of fascism in the West made me dust it off. There's more lessons of the Arab Spring that aren't as jubilant, like how the Signal can be smothered or distorted by effective counter-insurgent techniques. Assad is still in power because he figured this out (may he also burn in Hell).
Anyways, there you have it. That's the real secret to the Signal. In the game, the Signal is the key to victory. The Receivers' subroutines (superpowers) and blades (cybernetic modules) are absolutely tied to the strength of the Signal, which is, in turn, determined by how well the Resistance is doing in taking over FM radio towers, spinning up pirate radio stations, strategically placing repeaters throughout rural areas, and distributed the Signal in data-form over BBS networks. As to your last question, can the Regime make use of the Signal? I guess I'll answer that with another question: do you think super-powered clashes between nigh-invincible cybernetic commandos would make for some good gaming sessions?
5) All of the stretch goals sound rad. Which was your favorite to write up?
You mean which of my children do I love the best? Seriously, that's a really hard question. I think it's safe to say that tonally, they all hit different spots. I know there are backers out there who are more excited about these alternate settings than they are the core SIGMATA setting. And that's exactly why I reached out to these folks. I'll reserve judgement of my favorite until I see them completed. Me and the various stretch goal authors have only generally agreed on the surface level elements of their setting. I anticipate being surprised and delighted.
6) You’ve mentioned in the risks and challenges section that you are in the risk management field and that you’ve prepared for the worst, even though this is your first Kickstarter. Can you give specific examples of how your day job has helped you through the process?
It's pretty simple. Identify single points of failure and have a backup for each. If person X gets hit by a bus, what is the plan? Who will carry on their work, and what does that mean for the product? Have all the requisite account passwords (KS, bank accounts, email, etc.) been securely distributed to "break the glass" locations? There's also the idea of learning from other Kickstarters that have run into unanticipated problems, and taking actions to avoid the same fate. Yes, I could have opted for an off-set print, outsourced order fulfillment, and crossed my fingers that everything worked out OK. But I've seen that go haywire, too, creating major headaches for backers and the unfortunate, well-meaning creators who have to manage their outrage. I'm not an expert in finances or shipping logistics, so I offloaded these tasks to DriveThruRPG, to ensure it's done right. Does it impact the project's margins? Sure. But people are gonna' get their stuff no matter what, and that's really all that matters.
7) Finally, what are your plans to support SIGMATA in the future?
It's really up to the backer community, the subsequent community who buys it after the KS campaign, and how SIGMATA is received by players. I'd love to spend a few years really developing this game... diving deep into iconic 80s settings like Miami or Detroit, developing "instant adventure" kits for GMs, and extending the idea into different genres (e.g. horror, science-fiction, fantasy). There's a ton of exciting stories buried in this really simple idea.
Check out SIGMATA: This Signal Kills Fascists here.
Phil Pepin is a history-reading, science-loving, head-banging, river-running nerd, who would like nothing more than to cuddle with his pups and wife.
Picture Reference: Artist rendition of the hardcover edition.
Today's RPG product review is Titan Effect The Role-playing Game by Knight Errant Media for The Savage Worlds game system. Unlike my standard reviews, I was given the opportunity to interview Christian Nommay, CEO of Knight Errant Media and a co-writer for Titan Effect. Having read through the Beta Edition of the rules, I (DMDR) had a few questions for Christian (CN).
DMDR: Going through the beta version of the book, and many Influences come right up to the front: X-Men, Ghost in the Shell, and real-life military and intelligence history. What inspired you and your team to bring these elements together?
CN: As a great fan of superheroes and spy fiction, I always had the crazy idea to combine these two genres together. With Titan Effect, I had the perfect project for that. I wanted to tell a spy story with an epic and heroic dimension, or even mythological. The work that probably inspired me the most for Titan Effect was the video game Metal Gear Solid. Besides the richness of the story, I was amazed by the unique mix of grounded espionage, science fiction, and superhero elements, and how these elements managed to remain consistent with each other. I wanted to be able to bring this same consistency for Titan Effect. When Daniel Eymard and Ghislain Bonnotte, my two co-writers, became involved in the project they also brought their own inspirations and references.
DMDR: By drawing from real-life history and topics, how did this affect the lore for Titan Effect? Would the cosmology have had a different feel if placed in an entirely new world?
CN: It was important for me and the team that Titan Effect was grounded in reality as much as possible. The best way for us was to mix Titan Effect’s elements with real-life history. The three of us are history buffs, especially everything related to the history of espionage and war as well as secret societies. This was really the fun part for us. Titan Effect's cosmology probably wouldn't be the same if it was placed in a different universe, or at least it wouldn't have the same impact. For example, World War Two and the Cold War had a lot of influence on how most organizations and characters have evolved in Titan Effect.
DMDR: The history references stop with 2014. Was it your team’s intent for Titan Effect to take place in the present or a near future timeline?
CN: Initially, Titan Effect was to take place much further in the future, in the 2030s (I started writing the project in 2007, but that’s a long story). Since a lot of elements in Titan Effect were linked to the Cold War, it made more sense to bring the action back to the present. Besides, trying to create a futuristic universe is a different kind of beast. At the end, it will be up to the players and the GMs to shape the future of Titan Effect.
DMDR: What excited you most about working on Titan Effect?
CN: The thing that excited me the most during the writing of Titan Effect was the opportunity to create a whole storyworld, with its own rules and characters.
DMDR: What was the most troublesome part of this project?
CN: The biggest challenge during the development of Titan Effect was undoubtedly to ensure the consistency of all the elements and achieve a good balance. It was true for the background as well as adapting Savage Worlds rules.
DMDR: The Titan Effect Kickstarter will be live in October. What potential stretch goals can pledges unlock during the crowdfunding?
CN: I don’t want to reveal too much and keep the surprise. However, I can tell you that among our stretch goals there will be a Plot Point campaign, a player companion, a world atlas, and a lot more.
DMDR: If there was one thing you wanted readers to know about Titan Effect, what would it be?
CN: Titan Effect's creation has been an exciting and emotional journey. With your help, I'd like to share the result of this journey with everyone else.
Review and ScoresComing from the opposite spectrum (Fantasy, non-SW GM/Player), the Titan Effect review took me out of my comfort zone; in a good way! The art is amazing, the text reads like a novel (fun, engaging, nice flow), and the concept perfectly blends together different sources in a way that made me feel at home. I think my biggest complaint about Titan Effect is that I do not have a group using the Savage Worlds game system. I may need to change that.
Cost vs Value
The Cost here is a touch of an issue. Generally speaking, many companies set prices around 10-15 cents per page on soft covers and around 20-25 cents per page for hard covers. There are plenty of examples of main and third party publishers going outside of these ranges. This comes in at around (expected, I cannot guarantee this price) 30-47 cents per page (again expected retail after Kickstarter), which isn’t not too far off of what other Savage Worlds third party publishers are charging for a premium color, hardcover. I will note that you will be getting closer if not under that 30 cents per page if you pledge to the Kickstarter. Once you throw in the fact you get a PDF for most of the pledge tiers, and the prospect of stretch goals, that price per page drops quickly. This is one Kickstarter where there will be huge savings versus retail.
Now that we handled the cost per page, what is the actual value you’ll get? If the core book is similar to the beta rules, you get quite a bit. The beta rules come with everything you need, if you’re a Savage Worlds player. You get a cosmos that seamlessly blends with real-world history, a plethora of psychic spy character options and gadgets, a fully loaded armory, and more than 20 sample NPCs and foes. Want more? The beta rules supplied a really well-thought-out mission generator so a GM can pump out plenty of missions to keep agents busy.
20 points (KS)/ 9 points (expected retail)
I am not really a “digital painting” kind of person. People can make really awesome artwork using a digital painting medium, but I still prefer seeing awesome line-work and traditional mediums. But you know what? I genuinely enjoy the art in Titan Effect. The art is well-placed, not just filler. The images really give a sense of the flavor Knight Errant Media is aiming for. I nearly jumped out of my seat when I saw an operative image with a censor bar over her eyes trying to hide her identity. It was like something out of a spy movie. Perfect. Everything is professionally finished. Definitely order this book in premium color. 10 points
I need to do a lot of reading on my phone: in the lab, at my desk, or a even stopped at a red light. The layout and text worked perfectly on my phone. No need to zoom-in and out or scroll all over the place. The writing is just as perfect. The technical portions provide clear, concise information. Never once did I backtrack and re-read something for clarity. The creative side is not sprinkled on top; it is loud and in your face. As I read the opener, I felt like a secret agent. I reminded myself more than once this was a rule book and not a Tom Clancy novel. 20 points
There really isn’t much to say about the mechanics. But that is quite common in a “campaign setting” book. While there are a few new mechanics in play, most of what you deal with is based on the core book (Savage Worlds in this case). I will mention that Titan Effect uses a supplement that generally can be OP (Super Powers Companion). Titan Effect tones down the power creep with built-in limitations and alterations to the source material. 13 points
Titan Effect almost stands alone. Almost. Like most settings, you need the core rules. If nothing else, this is how I would define a stand-alone setting. Titan Effect calls for partial use of the Savage Worlds Super Powers Companion. While calling for a main-line product typically does not impact the score, this specific rules companion has known power creep with some SW groups outright banning the book as hard as my group did Book of Exalted Deeds from D&D 3.5e (I think that was also the last time anyone ever let me in a PvP session, too). Though Titan Effect will give you extensive use of your Super Powers Companion, not having a copy of this sparingly-used supplement means an extra investment. 12 Points
Titan Effect draws inspiration from almost every source imaginable. We have historical references, real-life military intelligence, and folklore all spliced with biomechanical/genetically-engineered humanoids (or simply evolved) X-men meets Ghost in the Shell flavors. Separate, these ideas are cliché tropes. Together, they create a diverse experience where everyone at the table feels informed with the material and game-style. 19 points
With 94 out of 100 possible points (Kickstarter), Titan Effect is going to infiltrate many Savage Worlds collections. If it doesn’t, it’s because the Kickstarter slipped under your radar (Tentative 83 out of 100 for retail pricing).
If you are interested in picking up a copy (Savage World groups really should), the Titan Effect Kickstarter is live. Keep tabs on all the Titan Effect news by following their twitter and facebook pages.
Donald “The DM Doctor” first discovered the ancient tomes known as AD&D at the age of seven. After twenty years of experience in various RPGs from both sides of the table, Donald took the leap into freelance game design. A Paizo RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 32 contestant and freelance writer, The DM Doctor posts DM tips and free RPG resources on his blog: www.thedmdoctor.com. You can follow The DM Doctor on twitter, facebook, and google+.
Image source: https://www.facebook.com/pg/TitanEffect/photos/
Fantastic Reality created a splash with their 5E compatible campaign setting and adventures, World of Asatania, and Darkness Surges. They recently launched a new product Kickstarter, In Darkness Delve vol 1, a series of adventures that can be used in any campaign setting. Fair disclosure, I wrote one of those adventures, Dealing with Your Demons for this product. Michael Cerny is the main behind the curtain of these really well developed products. I can tell you, he was a great editing resource, really pushing me to make the adventure I wrote reach its full potential. The adventures in this volume are going to be awesome, and I really think you should take a look. Before you do though, I wrote up some of the experiences I had writing this adventure, with advice you can take home when you are writing your own in the future.
Writing this adventure was a positive challenge for several reasons, I’ll list those below.
1) Here’s A Great Idea
When I pitched the core idea of Dealing with Your Demons, I was riffing off the ‘pitch-a-concept’ post that Michael had made. To be honest, demons aren’t really something I’ve ever used much in my fantasy RPGs so I wanted to take that pitch, and twist it toward something I do love. I pitched the concept of a two-act adventure, with the first act having the potential to be used as a flashback instead of running it first. This type of storytelling is something I’ve used with a lot of success in White Wolf games, so I thought it would be interesting to try and pitch something like that with a fantasy game. I was right: it was a great pitch and Fantastic Reality agreed.
Advice: Pitch what you know, because writing a pitch that sounds great but you can’t really grok will drive you insane.
2) Um, Great Idea, How Do I Write It?
One of the problems I ran into is I wasn’t sure where I wanted to even start. The first act was clear in my mind. It was going to be a classic dungeon crawl, but the second act was nebulous. I wanted there to be a red herring. The first act was going to set-up the idea that the party destroyed a fairly powerful demon for 1st – 4th level characters. However, that isn’t quite the case. Instead, the party destroys a being much more precious to a specific group of beings. In this case, Kobolds! By doing so, they put themselves in spiritual and physical jeopardy. That said, I couldn’t quite get the concept out on paper. I ended up running a version of the 1st act at BlerDCon as a way to figure out how the Act would unfold. Usually my Game Mastering is a mix of moderate planning and massive improvisation, so this worked well for helping me construct the sequence I wanted to use.
Advice: Find a way to play out the story if you are stuck during the writing process.
3) Here’s What I Wrote!
My first draft was not terrible, but it really wasn’t quite what I would have been proud to publish. Thankfully the editing on Dealing With Your Demons was full throttle. My sentence structure and grammar weren’t the only things critiqued and adjusted. The themes, specific elements, and outcomes were all noted where they were not clear, or where they weren’t the strongest they could be. This process was fantastic, it really allowed me to look at what I’d created and find a way to make the adventure work. Editing is essential to creating a great adventure.
Advice: Accept all editing help. You don’t have to agree with it all, or even follow all the advice, but you do need to have an editor look through your piece. You’ll thank yourself later.
4) Four More Adventures!
My adventure is awesome, and the other adventures in this compilation are the same high-quality. There is a dark humor adventure, set in a dwarven mine, by Brian Saliba. John Teehan has two adventures in the compilation that utilize the theme of Demons to tell some self-reflective and nuanced stories about power, betrayal, and family. Beyond the adventures, we’ve created new monsters to use, and a collection of compelling items.
Advice: Read other adventures. It will help you know what to avoid and what to use to make yours compelling. Also, create something eye catching that others will appreciate.
I can tell you this, Dealing with your Demons has a twist, one that your players won’t see coming. If you love Kobolds, you should back this product. If you love surprising your players, pushing them to really question their actions, and leave them with a story they will tell tales about for years after, then you should back this project just for that. All of the stories in this product are awesome, and you’ll really get your money’s worth.
Josh is the intrepid Chief Operations Officer of High Level Games. With 19 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 preparing 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.
Image Owned by Fantastic Reality and Used as Promotional Material
What happens when you transplant your fantasy adventuring into the a modern setting? You get Modern Adventures of course! We sat down with Ray Machuga from Higher Grounds Gaming to talk about their new Pathfinder supplement entitled, quite appropriately, Modern Adventures to see what they are bringing to the table.
1) What sets Modern Adventures apart from other d20 systems set in the present?
A. The sheer amount of lore that has gone into developing the setting sets us leagues apart. Fluff and lore are some of my favorite things to develop in a game, as I feel that it really is the bread and butter of any given game. The Modern Adventures setting gives a place for magic, monsters and other races in the history of Earth. The classes and races have been properly worked out, as well. Each class and race is thoroughly designed and play-tested. Finally, the levels of technology have increased dramatically since d20 Modern was published. All in all, if you placed the games side-by-side, they would barely resemble each other.
2) Modern Adventures sets up a new spell system for Pathfinder and moves away from the spell-per-day that we all are familiar with. Can you tell us what we can look forward too?
A. Absolutely! Spell casting is something that I am very pleased with. Basically, if you break it down, once your Mage knows a spell, he or she can basically cast it at any time. There is a bit more emphasis placed on learning the spells, as well. As a balance, your character can choose exactly how strong or powerful their spell would be. If your character overpowers a spell, which basically means going over a power level based on your spell casting ability modifier, he or she stands a chance of suffering damage. Typically that damage is nonlethal, but there is a small chance (rolling a 1 on a d20) of it being real, lethal damage. To expand a bit on the magical lore, the world is animistic for the awakened spell casters and they are capable of summoning spirits and binding them to service to empower spells or even your endeavors whether they be stealthing through an occupied building, firing a gun or swinging an axe. All in all, I've tried to make magic a bit more gritty, powerful and dangerous. I wanted to make it feel like magic, again.
3) You’re also adding some new races and classes. What are they like?
A. This is another aspect of life in the modern world that I've had a lot of fun with. Fertility treatments and advancements in genetics being what they are, I've added a race that seems to be very popular with play testers - Half-Gnomes. They are crafty, gnome/human hybrids. There is also a Half-Bloods supplement being released that you can grab in the rewards section of the Kickstarter. Half-Bloods will explore more "half-breeds" such as what happens when an elf and a troll breed, or a dwarf and a halfling, etc. The combinations are endless. Within the core book itself, aside from the half-gnomes, I've added the Acaroi which are a small, insect-like race of humanoids that are fascinated by humanity in a very alien manner, even though civilized races tend to despise and abhor them. The ratkin are another great race I've added, which are small rat-like humanoids that are quick and curious by nature. There are a few more, but I'm keeping them a surprise for the backers of the Kickstarter.
4) What role does religion play in your setting? Has it become more secular like the real world, or does divine magic still exist?
A. Religion plays just as much of a role in the game's setting as it does in the real world - with one exception. The gods are known to be real. Divine magic exists, but not exactly in the same sense as you'd find in Pathfinder. The gods do not typically bestow any special powers, and are basically absentee. I don't want to give away too many spoilers, as this idea will be explored in an adventure path later on, but I will say that the gods are preoccupied with very important matters of their own.The gods do not typically bestow powers to individuals as they do with their Clerics in Pathfinder. Instead, clergy is a profession that opens up mystical knowledge and abilities through ritual and theological practice. Healing spells instead become something that all spell casters are capable of accessing. In the end, as far as religion, my aim has been to recreate what occurs in the real world.
5) What was your inspiration for tying together fantasy and the modern world in the way that you did?
A. It was a long time coming. I've played Dungeons and Dragons since Revised edition, and Pathfinder was a natural follow-up to that. I've also explored games like White Wolf's World of Darkness, Call Of Cthulhu and Shadowrun. Having become familiar with mirror-Earth style games, I wondered why there weren't any urban fantasy games that really stuck to the true fantasy side of things in the modern world. That was really when I started working on Modern Adventures. I wanted to play the game, and I did. Players i ran it for loved it. I started getting ideas for it in my every day [sic] life. Soon, I started working on it professionally until it became what it is today. It was really a natural progression.
Modern Adventures is on Kickstarter now.
Phil Pepin is a history-reading, science-loving, head-banging, river-running nerd, who would like nothing more than to cuddle with his pups and wife.
Picture Reference: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/highergrounds/modern-adventures-tabletop-rpg
At some point in almost every gamer’s career, we get tired of being the good guy. The helpless villagers start to look less like citizens in need of aid and more like easy marks, we realize it’s easier to burn a town down instead of, searching for the bad guys, and the princess in the tower.... Well, let’s not mention that. But most systems aren’t designed with evil in mind, and keeping a group of evil PCs together is akin to herding cats. That’s where Book of Exalted Darkness comes in. Mike Myler was kind enough to sit down and talk about his book, which is aimed at providing a world where evil will thrive, mechanics to help players find the darkness in their hearts, and tools for GMs to keep their parties focused on being the horrible people they actually are.
(Editor’s Note, interview has been edited for length.)
1) The Book of Exalted Darkness introduces Sanctity and Sin attributes into 5E, which reflects on a PC’s holiness or vile intent, but what struck me is how a character loses points, namely being witnessed taking an action of the opposite nature. Why was is the perception of others so important to the loss of Sanctity and Sin, but not to gaining it?
First of all thanks for interviewing me about Book of Exalted Darkness!
Sanctity and Sin are thematic attributes—that is to say they are mechanical expressions of themes inherent to the game. All of my 5E campaign settings use thematic attributes as a way to reinforce how the game is fundamentally different than a regular D&D 5E game. For example, Hypercorps 2099 5e uses Luck and Reputation (to quicken the futuristic cyberpunk game’s pace), Mists of Akuma has Dignity and Haitoku (how honored you’re thought to be and “fall from virtue” that ends with transformation by the mists), and 2099 Wasteland has Irradiated (which is self-explanatory).
In Book of Exalted Darkness there are two new thematic attributes each serving two purposes. Sanctity defines how easy it is for a wicked soul to seem uncorrupted and Sin is a measure of that actual corruption, but both are largely involved with inaequa, wherein your answer lies. Again I have to divert a bit to explain something important: the actual campaign setting itself is not evil, mostly it’s just the adventurers. Everything (and everyone) else is holy decopunk—think Rocketeer or Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow—so there are blimps, radios, telephones, trolleys, jetpacks, and what have you. The trick here is that all of that technology is fueled by inaequa, a substance that radiates energy elongating the lives of good creatures. The PCs (and other evil adventurers like them, as well as some mad scientists) are flawed souls that can take this fundamentally unjust technology and trick it to make it work for them or pervert it to overcharge and explode or produce other nasty effects.
Mostly it’s a matter of game intent—the book is built around the idea that a group playing in the world is out to wreck it. Throughout a campaign the PCs work with mad scientists lurking beneath the earths and seas, dismantling the 9 Spheres of Askis (inaequa being one of them) and restoring balance, or much more likely, imbalance in a different direction than before. By encouraging the party to secretly act in evil or good ways, it navigates gameplay towards subterfuge, reinforcing the pulp feel that decopunk brings with it.
2) What drove you to make inequality, which manifests itself as inaequa, the powersource of technology which prolongs the lives of good creatures, into the game?
We actually (we being myself, Savannah Broadway, Luis Loza, and Michael McCarthy) started writing this a year ago and it just didn’t hook. All of the other settings we’ve made all feel super distinct and are conceptually as tight as a drum, but the original pitch for Book of Exalted Darkness—a medieval world where angels had won the day, instilling a world of goodness for evil adventurers to fight against—just wasn’t clicking.
While checking on the status of the Book of Exalted Darkness pitch (which in its original form was not sent to Legendary Games but another publisher) I ran into an article about how the world needs more decopunk—and I emphatically agreed.
They decided to pass on it (which was a good call for everyone!) and since I had control of it again I started figuring out how to merge those two ideas together, then—like all my best and worst ideas—very late one evening I had an errant thought: “what if humans develop a gene that transforms electromagnetic energy in a practical way, like increased synapse firing or…” and off I went for a twenty minutes. The idea got tossed into my subconscious for a while and then a few days later it hit me: that could be the crux for the campaign setting! I ran to the computer and started a flurry of messages to my team and they were like “that’s it, we got it”. After a few more days all that germinated into inaequa and then the gold and blood encrusted grimoire of good and evil that is Book of Exalted Darkness. We actually had some other things planned for the start of the summer and ended up swapping the schedule around after figuring out inaequa because it really is something worth thinking about; it doesn’t do harm, it only unfairly grants gifts, a boon to one’s life, something more valuable than any gem or relic! I know I wouldn’t be cool with inaequa (even if it did work for me; anything that discourages free will is bad in my book) but it’s definitely a worthwhile conundrum and most importantly, it gives the party a reason to unify together and some justification for being truly despicable villains: for JUSTICE!
3) What challenges have you had bringing extra technology into 5th Edition? How have you tweaked character classes traditionally associated with medieval fantasy to integrate them into your decopunk setting?
Oooh, excellent question! Hypercorps 2099 5e is superhero cyberpunk, Mists of Akuma is eastern fantasy noir steampunk, and 2099 Wasteland is apocalyptic sci-fi, so this is going to be my fourth campaign setting where technology plays a significant role. In the past we relied on class archetypes, but starting with the most recent book we decided that technology was playing an important enough role that it needed to get entirely new class options so 2099 Wasteland has doctors, mechanics, and scrappers, all of which are available in that book’s PDF preview. We also created a customized weapon-building system but those rules don’t really have a place in Book of Exalted Darkness—we’ll be pulling the vehicle rules from 2099 Wasteland but otherwise every piece of technology is getting its own entry on how it functions (and in the case of inaequa-powered devices, the rules for how it works for a good/neutral/evil creature).
As far as technological archetypes go in Book of Exalted Darkness however, there are none yet. If backers or playtesters say, “Hey Mike! I want to ________”, I will make a draft of rules for it and toss it around with the design team, then probably include it. This book we’re shooting to make 180 pages but most of the time we end up stretching resources to the brink and producing 50% or more past what the initial budget planned on. But hey! We’re making the best books we can!
I’ve been mentioning mad scientists and those are where I’ve been putting my technological emphasis on, creating the equivalent of a warlock for the scrapper from 2099 Wasteland (which is built mostly like a wizard but with technology). Mad scientists only use their spell slots to cast offensive things through their Scientific Weapon, relying on Scientific Devices (like a warlock’s eldritch invocations) to access other magic. For their archetypes there’s an Evil Engineer (who specializes in surviving within society), Fleshworkers (chirurgeons that perform surgeries that grant a variety of benefits or things like lobotomies), Tricksters (want bombs and explosions?), and Unholy Technologists (if you’re looking to trick and manipulate inaequa, this is the way to go). There’ll be a free Mad Scientist Playtest PDF coming out before the Book of Exalted Darkness Kickstarter ends on June 17th so keep an eye out! :D
4) What’s been the most twisted thing you or your PCs have done so far in playtesting?
Oof, that’s a hard one. There are four things that stand out for me:
5) One of the biggest challenges in running an evil campaign is keeping the party focused on a unified goal. How does Book of Exalted Darkness help GMs and PCs stay unified?
Well the whole world is quite positively arrayed against them and they have a shared enemy (albeit an uncaring global effect as opposed to entity) but those are pretty vague. Part of the Book of Exalted Darkness is going to be devoted to fleshing out as many GM tools as we can provide for keeping a cadre of villains from backstabbing one another but there’s a trinity at the core of them all—fate, thematic mechanics, and circumstance.
Fate is pretty obvious: make the party need one another through plot, tie them to one another by connections in their backgrounds, or have some very vital story reason for the group to work together. Thematic mechanics are a little more vague—these would be things like an in-game pact that has out-of-game consequences on character sheets—but there’s also Sin. Killing one or two companions might not be so bad, but going about murdering too many (unprovoked allies) will rack up your Sin. Then there’s circumstance or tertiary benefits. Having a trusted ally you know is competent means access to a network of contacts you don’t have yourself, it’s easier to survive against a state government when you have allies, different compatriots have their own unique talents (like that mad scientist you all know and are kind of afraid of but have to rely on for technological help anyway), and so on. Near the end game it’ll be very important that at least one party member be able to act as the “face” when their villainy becomes truly infamous or they’ve transformed into vilespawn, otherwise the party will be up to commando-esque raids on the workings of Askis’ most powerful defenders with little ability to manipulate the exploitable bureaucracy surrounding them.
Thanks again for interviewing me about Book of Exalted Darkness! As of this writing we’re still in the first week and 67% funded, so we’re pretty excited about reaching the funding goal and unlocking a few stretch goals (hint: we’re looking to convert outside of 5E!) Check out the project page, download the 2 free PDFs, and consider pledging to my (6th, sure to overdeliver again) Kickstarter! :D
Check out the Book of Exalted Darkness Kickstarter here.
Phil Pepin is a history-reading, science-loving, head-banging nerd, who would like nothing more than to cuddle with his pups and wife.
RiotMinds has been busy for the past year. Following a successful Kickstarter campaign to translate their Nordic myth and folklore inspired Drakar och Demoner Trudvang into English as Trudvang Chronicles, the company has already smashed through their initial goals in a follow up campaign to bring their game of 18th century occult mysteries and secret societies, LexOccultum, to the English speaking world. I had the opportunity to ask Theo Bergquist a few questions about LexOccultum and Trudvang Chronicles, along with what's next for RiotMinds. (Full disclaimer: I backed the Trudvang Chronicles Kickstarter last year.)
1- What makes LexOccultum different from other mystery and intrigue games out there, and what makes it different from Trudvang Chronicles, which is powered by the same engine?
Theo: I guess we focus more on the occult and mystery play and less horror and also the time era. LexOccultum is set in a fictive 18th century whereas many other games take place in the 19th century. One of the main themes in the game is secret societies and conspiracies and less of vampires and werewolves. Trudvang Chronicles is a pure fantasy game and even though the two games share the same engine I’d say that LexOccultum is deadlier and more ”realistic” than Trudvang Chronicles.
2- Both Trudvang Chronicles and LexOccultum feature excellent artwork that seems to help shape the world. Did you have a setting in mind and use the art to shape the world, or did you come across the art first and build the world around the art?
Theo: Thanks, yes we work with truly great artists. Yes, we had a clear view of how and what the look and feel should be already from start. When I fist approached Paul Bonner years back I’d see his great work on Mutant Chronicles but also some great fantasy pieces. When I told him we was looking for a John Bauer look-and-feel he was really happy and I’d say he’s nailed it since then. Alvaro Tapia is very much behind the design of both worlds. I was working with Justin Sweet on some Conan covers and felt he was the perfect man for a more ”mature” and less ”fantasy” look that we decided to have for LexOccultum. So yes, even though we’re the first to acknowledge the great work of the artists, I’d say that we had a clear vision from start.
3- The game was originally called Götterdämmerung in Swedish; what does 18th century occultism have to do with the fall of the Norse/Germanic gods?
Theo: The 18th century was the great century of the enlightenment and as such, for the first time in history, the church was starting to loose it’s grip and power over the people. The ”gods” were losing power. Götterdämmerung means Ragnarok, the fall of the gods, but also Armageddon, it was a perfect name for a game combining the great mysteries, occultism and the enlightenment. Is this a second fall of man? Or is it the fall of the church? It’s a battle between man and god so to say.
4- Religion and myth play a big part in shaping Trudvang’s identity; is this something you specialize in and is there a particular reason for this focus in LexOccultum and Trudvang?
Theo: Good questions. I guess we want our worlds and settings to be believable and to have the depth in both mythology and ”every day life". Without that it’s just another hack-and-slack fantasy game. We’ve spent tons and tons of hours for both games just to do the research of which much was never used. However, it adds to the games and give them that flavor we like. For example the Stormlands (a region in the Trudvang world) is a mix of barbarian/viking culture and Mongolian culture, it’s not just another viking region. That kind of ”cross-over” and mix with our own ideas is what make the worlds different I guess.
5- You’re in the middle of what will be your second successful campaign to bring your games into English. What’s next for LexOccultum, Trudvang Chronicles, and RiotMinds?
Theo: Next up for Trudvang Chronicles is the Stormlands, Mittland and Westmark source books, and the great campaign SnowSaga. We haven’t fully decided in what order of scope they will be launched but focus on finalizing the core rules now. For LexOccultum we have tons of exciting stuff including a book about the secret societies, a monster book, campaigns and source books about the world. This will be a fun ride and for the English audience these are the two games we focus on. I have this crazy idea of expanding the Trudvang world into a more ”arabic” or ”asian” setting, but first things first.We’re so happy about the great support both our games have gained from the international audience and now it’s time for us to deliver.
Check out the LexOccultum Kickstarter here. The campaign ends Friday, March 24.
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