RPG Sigmata + Politics Your Way

This follows on from Kickstarter Sigmata RPG and part 2.

At the time of writing there are just 12 hours to go till the Sigmata Kickstarter ends. It has reached an impressive level of backing, having now gone over $35,000. The stretch goals include several different settings for the game, a soundtrack and now a companion book, has been unlocked.

Whilst initially I had planned on doing an interview with Chad about his game and inspirations, he has provided lots of great answers in several interviews, well as a Reddit AMA. There are quite some diverse Q&A and I’d recommend checking them out.

Instead of more questions I decided that the focus of this blog would be about politics and choice in regards to RPGs. Part of my reasoning is that I’d read several comments querying the focus of the game, a few debates about political terms, ethics, history, plus even an accusation of cartoon evil. Given the nature of Sigmata’s focus: “ethical insurgency against a fascist regime”, it is no wonder that trying to condense such important debates in to a summary of a game, one that also needs to serve as a sales pitch, is difficult. I can appreciate why different people are focusing on particular points, and why given the serious nature of politics someone would have the audacity to gamify the subject.

Whilst I have spent many hours reading and writing about RPG theory, I appreciate that not every player has, nor wants to, as well as why some players think it is all irrelevant nonsense. Sigmata is being designed with mechanics to emphasis the game goals, which is great, but it is worth remembering that players that dismiss RPG theory do have a point, that players can still play however they want, with whatever emphasis they want. This is especially true for a group of friends who regularly play together. After all role-playing is very much what we make it, and my summary regarding this topic is:

Systems matter, I think players & implementation matter more.

I previously had a brief chat with Chad about how in any game players will play how they want, it is of course something he is well aware of. Much like with his Cryptomancer game, Chad is providing players with mechanics and a setting to help explore things in the best way possible: a game. The importance of play is something that gained a lot of credibility in science, whilst this was obvious to so many, unsurprisingly other people dismiss play as childish and an actually waste of time. Also the idea that adults cannot explore ideas to keep learning, or that play has no value, is strange to me; at least it seems that general consensus on play has shifted. So I am all for Chad’s approach to RPGs and gamification.

One thing that has stood out to me is Chad presenting a few game examples with different ways to handle things. Additionally Chad’s Cryptomancer game similarly had choice, but with an emphasis on caution/care, since considering repercussions in a game inspired by cybersecurity was paramount in helping players to think about real life security. I bring this up in regards to RPG choice, since although many role-players are all about choice, other players prefer to play the same narrowly focused violent style games, so it should be no surprise that some people have focused on the violent aspects of Sigmata’s game. Like most games I’ve played with many groups, all with varying degrees of focus, resulting in a plethora of differences, I am all for players playing how they want, as I wrote about in Your RPG is Yours, Not Mine. If you want to play in a game world with a cartoon evil government and hyper violent PCs then go right ahead, plus who knows where it could lead.

Another area of concern for some is Sigmata’s examples of player character factions. If this is an issue for you then feel free to change things, maybe take the the middle ground and make strange bedfellows more of an exception in your games. I appreciate that different words generate strong rationale and/or emotions in each of us. In a highly polarised world it can be easy to forget, or not even appreciate, that most people are not as different or divided as some say we are. I don’t wish to come across as naive, note I wrote ‘some’, I do appreciate that some people are invested in, and profit from, dividing people. Nor that it is just a matter of education, genuine psychopaths exist, people can develop mental disorders, temporary stress is usually a factor in peoples’ responses, etc. Back to role-playing, party conflict can be a great source for storytelling, think of the list of examples as a powerful source of inspiration and conflict.

If someone reads Sigmata’s overview and is worried about players arguing then I recommend they discuss ideas with their group before playing; I find problems can be minimised, or even avoided. For groups that don’t normally have a session 0, or email list to discuss things, then I’d recommend doing so in regards to Sigmata if only due to the divisive subject matter, particularly in comparison the vast majority of other RPGs.

I think Sigmata promises to offer something to all gamers, but particularly to anyone that has an interest in history, military tactics, psychology, or similar subjects. I recommend backing this game and giving it a try, if only to expand your RPG mental tool kit/belt.

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/2089483951/sigmata-this-signal-kills-fascists

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Kickstarter Sigmata RPG p2

This follows on from Kickstarter Sigmata RPG.

I am currently playing about with campaign ideas for this game, as well as future ideas merging with other games. Chad’s previous game Cryptomancer included a suggestion about a mechanical bolt on approach for other games, hence my thinking along this line for Sigmata. If you’ve not checked out the Sigmata Kickstarter page yet, here is a quick overview. The game is linking together serious and silly ideas, drawing upon numerous political ideas, people movements like the Arab Spring, as well as 80s pop culture. Major influences include things like Synthwave, plus films like Akira along with Saturday morning cartoons like Transformers and G.I. Joe.

Sigmata is an RPG in the Cyberpunk genre of games, joining the likes of famous RPGs like Shadowrun and Cyberpunk. For a few people defining Cyberpunk is an almost religious process. My simple take on the subject is that Cyberpunk is a broad encapsulating term that includes all sorts of products; I agree with the following genre overview:

Cyberpunk is a subgenre of science fiction in a futuristic setting that tends to focus on “a combination of low life and high tech” [1] featuring advanced technological and scientific achievements, such as artificial intelligence and cybernetics, juxtaposed with a degree of breakdown or radical change in the social order.[2]

Sigmata allows players to play as Cybernetic badasses, who have access to diverse and interesting capabilities. Players (receivers) receive their powers via hearing signals, which are broadcast via radio towers. When the players have access to a very strong signal they are akin to superheroes in power level. The game includes a campaign tracking system, which in particular intrigues me.

I plan on running Sigmata by itself first, so I can get a good appreciation for the game and the practical experience of the rules. Additionally the Sigmata Kickstarter already has many goals unlocked, which includes alternate time periods to play in. This alone should keep the majority of gamers engaged for years to come. Lots of game options at launch, most impressive.

Merging with other RPGs

Whilst Sigmata is much more than just resistance tracking and signal towers giving powers, but these two ideas in particular are what I am very keen on exploring in other games. Following on from my previous post and my habit of mentioning RPG mental tool kit/belt, I’ll provide a list of ideas, like I wrote for my Changeling Kickstarter blog.

I love the idea of adding the Signal to a fantasy game, whether a high fantasy setting like D&D’s: Forgotten Realms, Ravenloft, Planescape, etc., or a grim-dark setting like Warhammer. Part of my thinking is that Sigmata could provide Avatar-like potential, as well as an extra level of campaign goals, but with mechanics of how to track such things. Whilst I have run very politically and rebellion focused campaigns in D&D previously, it was a long-time ago, and I didn’t make any mechanics for tracking resistance movements.

Consider how many fantasy settings have tyrannical rulers, but not just mortal monarchs, but also Magocracy or Theocracy, etc. Many magical settings include abilities empowering communication, speed of travel, as well as divination, all of which would really mix things up. However, what if magic cannot be trusted, and the party has to travel to hand deliver importance evidence, trying to avoid a scrying government, relying more on individual power, charm and guile. In a world of rare powerful magic the Signal could provide the party a much needed edge. Whether playing Rokugan with the Legend of the 5 Rings system, or the D20 system, there is interesting potential for Sigmata crossover.


Cthulhu mythos could take the Sigmata into dimensional territory, as well as paranoia and insanity. Imagine a game with cults having infiltrated tyrannical governments, so not only do the players need to resist things, but the fate of the world is at stake. Players (receivers) wondering where the signal comes from, and whether their newfound power cost something like sanity, or worse!


The World of Darkness is a game setting has all sorts of potential. The Signal could be related to any one of the existing supernatural groups, or something new. A Changeling campaign based in the Dreaming could have tyrannical Sidhe ruling commoners with an ‘iron’ fist, maybe the Signal allows a commoner to overcome the increased power of their innate nobility that Sidhe have in the Dreaming. A Werewolf game could have Garou being empowered by the Signal, which could be a new techno-spirit, providing new tools in the fight against the Wyrm. The same applies to a Mage centric game, but the metaphysical debates and paranoia regarding the Signal would be what I would want to focus on. An interesting twist to the Jyhad, such as Anarch vampires fighting Camarilla Elders, or Hunters avoiding Kindred. This could also work with the Chronicle of Darkness games.


Although the Trinity Continuum is about to be relaunched in the near future, the Trinity, Aberrant, Adventure settings of old included a powerful signal altering people. I am currently running Trinity and will be for a while yet, so I may start including things.


GURPS Riverworld, this setting is based upon a great sci-fi novel, which has its own sort of towers and effects on the world. I will avoid spoilers here; I guess most of those that have read it will appreciate where I am going with my thoughts. For me the wonderful GURPS reference books epitomise the RPG mental tool kit, so there is easily infinite scope regarding Sigmata ideas added into the GURPS system.


Shadowrun or R. Talsorian’s Cyberpunk games should be quite easy to merge with Sigmata due to the genre closeness and the typical adversarial nature of Corporations. Since powerful cybernetics already exist in these games, imagine if they were further empowered, which radically alters things. The magic in Shadowrun could also be enhanced, maybe in a way like with the D&D ideas I mention above.


I hope I’ve convinced you to at least check out the Kickstarter page for more information. Join in and #RepeatTheSignal.

#RPGaDay 31

If you are not familiar with #RPGaDay, then please read this page first. For the 31st day of #RPGaDay the question is:

What do you anticipate most for gaming in 2018?

My tweeted answer is: #RPGaDay 31, #TrinityContinuum #Aberrant @TheOnyxPath & #Cryptomancer @Papa_Shell finally releasing my own #RPG work

I’m greatly anticipating the launch of Trinity Continuum by Onyx Path; previously old White Wolf’s Trinity Universe (Trinity (Æon), Aberrant, Adventure). I’ve mentioned Trinity in several of my answers for RPGaDay, I adore the setting, and I am confident this upcoming version will be a masterpiece.

I am quite intrigued to see what happens with Cryptomancer, especially as more people are getting involved. I’ll review the recent release of Code & Dagger volume 2 in September. Cryptomancer’s Chad is also writing for the recently funded Spire RPG, so that’s on my TODO list.

If multiple playtests and edits go well, then I’ll be publishing some connected RPG products next year; I have several near finished. I’ll not waffle about my own work, since if my players hate my projects, or more likely think they are weak, then I may have a lot of rethinking to do.

This month’s RPGaDay has certainly helped highlight several games I’d like to play. I plan on changing from my normal long campaigns, and running very short campaigns, plus maybe a few one-shots. My current TODO games list goes back years, I guess like many other role-players. Whether as a player, GM, or writer/designer, I always enjoy exploring other people’s work; besides fun it’s also research 😉

#RPGaDay 19

If you are not familiar with #RPGaDay, then please read this page first. For the 19th day of #RPGaDay the question is:

Which RPG features the best writing?

My tweeted answer is: #RPGaDay 19, #RPG, for me #L5R, more shout-outs at:

Like many others answering this, I’ve decided to go overboard in regards to special shout-outs.

Shout-outs

In Nomine, Dogs in the Vineyard, Fading Suns, various GURPS sourcebooks, Exalted, Witchcraft, Cyberpunk’s Night City Sourcebook, Unknown Armies. Maybe even something like H.o.L. 😉

 ‘Old School’

As a kid I thought Manual of the Planes 1st ed. by Jeff Grubb was the greatest sourcebook.  Even to this day that series is still one of my favourite RPG supplements. The writing sets the ideas out well, providing enough metaphysics for the reader to make great games from. Besides his other work, Jeff joined Guild Wars to work on Nightfall and continued to work with ANet leading towards the splendour of Guild Wars 2.  Interestingly Jeff co-wrote the Ghosts of Ascalon, a Guild Wars 2 novel with another RPG standout, Matt Forbeck notable for working on Deadlands, amongst other work.

Educational

I really like the way Cryptomancer was written. A key design goal was to explain concepts like hacking, security and privacy concepts. I found Chad Walker’s explanations to be well explained.

Bronze

I love the writing and diversity of the classic World of Darkness games. From the simple rules, the numerous examples, the amount of short stories and in-character overviews in the various sourcebooks, to the totally in-character books like the Book of Nod or Fragile Path.  I have so many choices from this setting, and of special note Orpheus.

Silver

I really enjoyed reading Aberrant. The old Trinity Verse has some exquisite writing, but Aberrant really stands out to me. Besides liking the rules explanation, I particular loved the in-character pieces that made up the first 100 pages of the book. The whole product was superb.

Gold

L5R won out for me. The first book presented the massive amounts of cultural detail well. Whilst many other RPGs are great, I feel that L5R went that extra mile. I also found the rules to be quite clear, as I mentioned for Day 16.

cropped-batjutsu-books2.jpg

Also of note for L5R is the L5R City of Lies boxset, by Greg Stolze. I was part of Greg’s playtest for his game Reign, so I got to see different iterations of that game, and thus Greg’s writing. I find Greg’s work to be enjoyable and accessible, and he has quite a diverse range of games and fiction.

Sunglar’s blog has a great write-up, and I nearly made the same choice, I’ll not spoil it, and I recommend checking it out.

A good breakdown by Runeslinger at Casting Shadows.

Another RPG I’d considered is discussed by Nolinquisitor. A great explanation about why he made his choice:

#RPGaDay 15

If you are not familiar with #RPGaDay, then please read this page first. For the 15th day of #RPGaDay the question is:

 Which RPG do you enjoy adapting the most?

My tweeted answer is: #RPGaDay 15 #RPG WoD just a few tweaks. Plus as a toolkit #GURPS #Cryptomancer

I am going to separate my answer in to two:

1) The setting I have enjoyed adapting the most is the classic World of Darkness, after just a few tweaks I was very happy with the game. Once Werewolf came out, and the WoD had two games, I always ran my games as a cohesive world, not as separate games. Those that know the games appreciate that they were not designed with any idea of balancing a mixed party; I ran a few games with a mixed party, so I know they can work. I am referring to the complicated supernatural web that envelopes the WoD, the different factions pulling at strands. I’ll blog about this more another time.

2) Since 2000 the game I’ve drawn from the most is GURPS, it has greatly helped me with other games. The books are a wonderful source of information, and I’ll go as far claiming they are the ultimate RPG toolkit; overstatement aside, GURPS is brilliant.

Following on from GURPS, this year I’ve really taken a shine to Cryptomancer. I think the game has added something missing in the RPG hobby, and it was written with system hacking in mind; I wrote a review. I have already been using it, and I have plans to incorporate it further in other games. So whilst I have not used it as much as GURPS yet, I suspect over the next few years I certainly will.

I have enjoyed adapting every game, even the few I am not keen on. As I mentioned for Day 14, I think it is great to expand our mental RPG tool belt.

#RPGaDay 06

If you are not familiar with #RPGaDay, then please read this page first. For the 6th day of #RPGaDay the question is:

You can game every day for a week. Describe what you’d do!

My answer is: #RPGaDay 6, discuss with my group: 1) run the week like a convention, or 2) see link

As always whatever I run would be discussed with my group. Since we’ve gamed together for decades I guess the vote would either be:

  1. Running the week like a tabletop convention. I’d have a choice of different games that the players could then vote on what games to fill those slots. Ideal for mixing things up, enabling players to return to old campaigns, start something new and also a chance to try out the latest RPGs.
  2. I am currently playtesting my own game (Elemental Masters (rubbish working title)). I feel it would be best to take breaks from this so I could take on board any feedback, and then tweak designs as necessary. The other 50% of the time I’d go with my answer for day 1 of returning to a long running L5R campaign, but adding in Cryptomancer shards for: “Shadow in the Shardnet”.
  3. Run a multitude of different settings using GURPS. Maybe on the final day the different settings are all linked up.

RPG Reality

I currently only have one group, and we are all too busy. Sadly we wouldn’t have a week we could put aside, and even if we did I would still want to focus on writing and design. Still I appreciated the dream time that the question instigated.

Quick Nostalgia

Like many gamers in their youth, I gamed as much as I could. During the summer holiday of 1990 I played Cyberpunk 2020 practically every day during 10+ hour sessions, for most of the 6 week summer holiday. I had been playing a lot of D&D before then, and World of Darkness once it was released.

Some years later I had less time to due to work, but for a while I did play in many different groups and ran several groups.  So I was gaming 5 days out of 7, mostly classic World of Darkness, but also some Street Fighter, Palladium (Ninja and Superspies) and D&D.

By 2000 when I was working at KJC Games I didn’t get to game as much. I was not gaming in as many groups. I started going to gaming conventions, as well as helping a bit with the local convention TowerCon. I stopped going to tabletop conventions since I returned to playing LARP. More recently I’ve mostly been finalising years of designs.

https://batjutsu.wordpress.com/2015/12/06/street-fighter-rpg-look-back/ and other links to old articles can be read via my RPG post summary page https://batjutsu.wordpress.com/role-playing-game-links/

#RPGaDay 05

If you are not familiar with #RPGaDay, then please read this page first. For the 5th day of #RPGaDay the question is:

Which RPG cover best captures the spirit of the game?

There are so many amazing game covers I contemplated picking, I’ve listed ones I nearly choose below. Since this question has no correct answer, choosing one was quite difficult. I went with:

#RPGaDay 5 Usagi Yojimbo, also the only game I’ve bought simply due to the cover.

Batjutsu RPG IP Covers

Since any RPG using existing intellectual property (IP) brings with it a lot of sentiment, be it: Star Wars, Trek, D.C, Marvel, Middle Earth, Babylon 5, Street Fighter, etc., could be thought of as having a bonus to any dice roll to help capture what the spirit of a game would be; I’d go as far as claiming that it’s an automatic success. This is why I think it puts any RPG cover for such an IP in to a special category. This is not to diminish some of the amazing front covers for any RPG using a big IP setting; I’m just saying that for me I already have an opinion of what the spirit is.

I had no idea what Usagi Yojimbo was when I bought it, so I am ignoring the fact the game used an existing IP; also it’s clearly not as famous as the IPs mentioned above 😉 I vaguely recall thinking it might be a bit like TMNT, but it looked less zany, more serious. Also my first introduction to Greg Stolze, whose varied great work I’ve enjoyed many times over the years.

I almost choose the stunning artwork used for Tales from the Loop. So many are saying it really captures the spirit of the game, but I have not played it yet so I thought in inappropriate to pick. Whilst the game is partly inspired by Stranger Things, but it does not use the title, so I think it is fair to not treat like the big IPs like Star Wars.

Tales from the Loop

Minimalist Front Cover Shout-Outs

It’s hard make a front cover whilst keeping details to a minimum. It makes sense to make epic fantasy/sci-fi pictures for an RPG, since the fan base is usually the sort of people that will plaster their walls with pictures of dragons and spaceships. So it is understandable that the majority of RPGs use an epic scene for their front cover, especially given how important drama is for any RPG.

Two games that deviate from this norm, that I also think use the front cover to capture the spirit of their game are:

  • Traveller’s text on a black background somehow works; maybe because it is a gripping short story, atop the black which represents deep space and vulnerability?
  • Code and Dagger (Cryptomancer) does a great job of encapsulating that game.

CodeDagger

Other Shout-Outs

There are so many other front covers that I nearly choose: Cyberpunk 2020, Warhammer 1st Ed, Shadowrun, L5R, Deadlands. Of special note to me is Aberrant, there is a lot going on in the picture that captures the drama of the setting, without it being too busy.

Batjutsu RPG covers

aberrant

Like many others I have spent too much time on pinterest if you’d like to look at more RPG artwork: https://www.pinterest.co.uk/batjutsu/