Spirit Game – Secret Rage

This continues on from PBM Thanks & Secret Rage.

I developed the Secret Rage idea by changing the player character from that of following a lineage of Garou, to that of playing a powerful spirit. Making the game about a powerful spirit, something effectively immortal, which can guide Garou, who the player can also play, gave me the idea: “A chronicle to prevent the Apocalypse”. This idea links to the forthcoming new World of Darkness that is in development, which builds upon the old World of Darkness (oWoD), but the end days (Gehenna, Apocalypse, or Ascension) never happened.

The scale of this spirit game is even bigger than my old Vampire Methuselah and Elder PBM games, more like the professional games I ran at KJC Games. Whilst the spirit has vast powers and epic plans, the key is to treat the character like any other, to be propelled by motivations and personal drama. An added benefit with this project is it also allows me to playtest ideas from a commercial PBM project that I’ve been working on for years: Elemental Masters. This game is about the building blocks of reality and the plots of pantheons; I seriously need a better name than this working title, meh.

A few RPGs go in to some detail about spirits, particularly several of the World of Darkness (old WoD & Chronicles) as well GURPS Spirits. Sadly despite the numerous details they present, I still wanted more depth. To be fair to those books, I do tend to go overboard with my ideas, plus the Spirit label is so all-encompassing, so it is no surprise that a collection of predominately enigmatic entities are described in vague terms. One of the strengths of the WoD books is how many ideas they present, whilst not creating a rigid structure to limit possibility. As normal for any GURPS book, GURPS Spirits is filled with a plethora of thought provoking ideas, and plenty of rules options, plus plug-ins to such a powerful system.

When I first read the Werewolf I was reminded of how the game brilliantly compares with Dungeons & Dragons; I’ll justify that statement another time. Manual of the Planes was my favourite D&D book, and Planescape is my favourite setting, so it is no surprise to reveal that Umbra is my favourite WoD book, my second favourite is the Mage Book of Madness.

Spirit Scale

Given the cosmological scale of any spirit world to its setting, any decision made can have far reaching impacts upon said setting. It is common to declare that the ephemeral nature of spirits makes them mysterious to mortals/beings of flesh, which is understandable given that Spirits are not player characters (PCs). The three tiered Umbra (High, Middle and Low) in the old World of Darkness effectively contains every idea and its spiritual impact, so detailing literally everything would be an impossible task. It is up to each group as to the scale of any Umbral impact they want to explore, there is certainly enough information for any Storyteller to launch all manner of games.

Given how many different games I’ve played for extended periods, I’ve gotten to explore the core setting of each game. This is another reason for my obsession with all RPG cosmologies, to explore. For example a very long running game of Legend of the 5 Rings slowly became about the setting’s cosmology; I am quite looking forward to the forthcoming 5th Edition and to see what more they add. As a Star Trek fan, I did consider another name for this campaign:

Tellurian Trek!

Spirit Courts

Another important consideration is the complexity of any Spirit Courts, powerful gatherings that surely would have connections to each other. A design dilemma is how best to present such entities, especially if they are long-lived, and thus would have many ancient relationships to work out; never mind the historical events they could discuss.  The Dungeons & Dragons setting Planescape went in to a lot of detail about the Blood War, which I think really added depth to the D&D cosmology; the machinations of ludicrously powerful entities and Gods is better presented in that setting. Werewolf did a good job of summarising many Spirit Totems and their relationships, and the setting itself is based around the Triat and Gaia.

I believe the vast cosmological scale of is one of the key reasons so many players of the World of Darkness setting preferred Vampire over Werewolf or Mage, and to a lesser extent Wraith, Changeling and Demon. Vampire is a rich enough game; it has plenty of characters, depth and history, without needing the Umbra to be brought out of the shadows. When Dirty Secrets of the Black Hand came out, a few players I chatted with explained that they didn’t like the new layers of plots, and some said they disliked the Umbral tie-ins; there were of course forum posts debating this point. Several players I’ve chatted with who love Werewolf or Mage typically list the vast cosmology as a reason why they do. Of course plenty of players, like myself, appreciate the different games for different reasons.

Spirit Psychology

Years ago I had written a collection of ideas about Spirits for Elemental Masters setting, but I had not fleshed my ideas out enough. Typically for me I had avoided finalising ideas due to constantly feeling that I needed to research more. Finally with years of research and this idea for Secret Rage I was able to finalise ideas. I had been working on detailing the psychology of different types of spirits, also drawing upon computing and philosophical ideas. Exploring ideas such as compartmentalised minds, how an Incarna’s brood relationship works, how I think slumber works, more about a spirit’s relationship with Gnosis, Gaia, etc. My spirit work is not ready for public release, but things are at a good playtesting stage, which Richie and I will explore.

I’ve considered whether to develop this work in to a commercial product, so it is interesting to note that the new White Wolf have the Storytellers Vault.

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PBM Thanks & Secret Rage

A while ago when I was mostly bedridden several of my friends would skype with me. It really helped to have some extra communication, and thankfully with a wireless headset it meant I could rest in bed. One of my long-time friends is Richie; he’s self-employed working from home, and has a young child, so he’s ludicrously busy, yet he still allocated time for me.

In addition to saying thank you to Richie for his support, I have tried to offer small gifts to show my appreciation. Richie and I first role-played together well over twenty years ago. Due to his busy life he’s not able to game regularly, so I thought a Play By Mail (PBM) game would do us both good, neatly sliding in to his hectic life schedule, at whatever pace he could manage. I wrote an introductory series to PBM here.

Roughly a year ago we discussed playing old White Wolf’s Aberrant game, since Richie’s a fan of comics, but he’d not played that setting yet. Aberrant has a rich Supers setting with mature themes, and lots of world changing powers to explore. Sadly this game never quite got going due to how busy Richie always is, and since I was still struggling with my health I didn’t push the subject. I have managed to offer a few other things as thanks, for example I made this small thing a while ago when he was ill:

BatJanoSandman

More recently I returned to the idea of offering a better present by running a PBM game. As we are both writers I considered proposing a classic style Dungeons & Dragons game emphasising the Hero’s Journey arc. Although this may feel a bit too cliché to many role-players, I think it is worth keeping in mind that there is so much you can do with good old D&D, there are so many settings and styles of gameplay. I also considered a Cthulhu game, given the single player nature of this game maybe doing something along the lines of Groundhog Cthulhu: Live, Go Insane, Die, Repeat. Or maybe going a bit over the top and running a GURPS Infinite Worlds game. I went through lists of other RPGs, even games that I’d not tried out yet. Eventually I settled on a game that I thought was the most likely to get Richie to bite, so I suggested the Gift of Werewolf.

We both adore Werewolf: The Apocalypse; well we adore all of the classic World of Darkness (cWoD). Despite how much we played Werewolf, we still want to play more, both feeling the genius game was overlooked by many gamers, and those who did take an interest in the World of Darkness games typically favoured Vampire. Over the years when I’ve been asked to pick to my favourite cWoD game I’ve always picked the World of Darkness as a cohesive whole, since that was how I always ran the setting. So my friend knows that when I suggested Werewolf, I really meant the cWoD with the primary focus being Werewolf.

After some chats I made a list of ideas for the Werewolf PBM for us to discuss further, and things quickly developed; typically I wanted to do something more and a bit different than my previous games. The initial premise was Richie playing a lone Garou, however, role-playing a lone Garou is a bit depressing; they are primarily pack animals after all. So I proposed a game spanning eons, we could use Past Lives to allow for story that covered such a time period, a chance to explore a powerful historical and social background of the Garou, and it could be about preventing the Apocalypse. The new White Wolf Publishing company are working on a new World of Darkness, one that roughly continues from the classic, without the Apocalypse/Gehenna/Ascension ending. Whilst we are waiting for those products I considered this to be an intriguing idea.

Over the course of a few weeks I played about with the premise and kept coming back to wanting to do something more like my Vampire Methuselah and Elder PBM campaigns. Meanwhile Richie wrote a cool short story, things were a go. I then had a more intriguing campaign idea, one that would take the Past Lives plan to an even bigger level, and take the game in a radically different direction. It didn’t involve abandoning what we’d initially set out to do, and Richie’s story would tie-in.

Next time I’ll go in to more detail about my Secret Rage.

You can check out some of Richie’s great designs at http://www.richiedigital.co.uk/

#RPGaDay 30

If you are not familiar with #RPGaDay, then please read this page first. For the 30th day of #RPGaDay the question is:

What is an RPG genre-mashup you would most like to see?

My tweeted answer is: #RPGaDay 30, #RPG inspired by many systems, and my old job, a Mafia Time Extortion game.

Like many role-players, I have a collection of ideas that I’ve been adding to for years. It can be argued that so many genre-mashups have been done, that there is nothing left. I almost agree with that sentiment, particularly with so many systems and settings allowing for easy adaptation of anything.

  • Whether it’s GURPs in general, or the Banestorm setting in particular.
  • The wondrously detailed Heroes system.
  • Palladium’s Rifts, and the Megaverse in general.
  • Technically the World of Darkness has everything within its vast Tellurian.
  • Dungeons & Dragons has mentions of links to other realities, so there is nothing preventing mash-ups with that system.
  • Or other systems that work well as a launching platform such as Savage Worlds or Fate.

Keeping to the spirit of RPGaDay, and having fun with the question, I’ll get hung-up on whether my idea is silly, or already been done. I am sure people will mention all sorts of ideas that may actually in a few groups giving it a bash, so I am quite looking forward to scouring the Web for answers.

When I worked at KJC Games back in the 2000s, there a few ideas that Mica, my boss, and I discussed as potential for a commercial PBM RPG. Mica worked on some details for an interesting flashback vampire game. Since he knew I was a fan of supernatural myths and many game systems, in particular World of Darkness, he used me as an example of the target customer. Sadly that game never happened, too many other things to do. Years later I contemplated doing something with the idea, but decided against it since it was originally Mica’s, instead I got obsessed with coding software to support role-playing a time travel game.

d6

There are many games that touch on time travel, and of course GURPS explores the subject in quite some depth. In the 90s and early 00s I had run the Vampire Giovanni Chronicles with a few groups, and my main group had gotten up to book 4. The PCs start out as mortals in the 1920s working for the Mafia. The chronicle explores their lives being drawn in to the World of Darkness, eventually being Ghouls, and eventually embraced by Giovanni. My players, however, decided they were really happy playing a mortal Mafia game, since they were having such fun they even requested I delay any supernatural aspects indefinitely. Since I was still working on the time travel game ideas, I got the idea of doing a setting that was a mash-up of a Mafia Time Extortion game. Years later Looper was made, which is somewhat of a Mafia time travel story.

In 1999 I spent a year working on time travel ideas after meeting Martin and Damian of the original Suzerain team. After writing them a detailed essay about the game, I was invited to become more involved with the game, and so I became a freelance writer. I later helped with Suzerain’s GenCon UK launch, demonstrating games and helping to run the two LARP events that weekend. Suzerain was an interesting RPG, that reminded me of Quantum Leap. I’ll write about my Suzerain interest another time.

Although I’ve not playtested the designs I have for my Mafia Time Extortion game, I did adapt a few things for the Trinity Verse game I ran. What started out as a typical Aberrant campaign became about tracking down Max Mercer’s time travel. Typically for me the game got complicated, and required a database to track all the Novas, as well as Adventure and Trinity era NPCs. That game is on hold awaiting the release of the Trinity Continuum.

#RPGaDay 29

If you are not familiar with #RPGaDay, then please read this page first. For the 29th day of #RPGaDay the question is:

What has been the best-run RPG Kickstarter (crowd funded) you have backed?

My tweeted answer is: #RPGaDay 29, #RPG #GURPS Dungeon Fantasy @sjgames Looking forward to getting @manticgames #TerrainCrate

I am impressed with how the Kickstarter for Dungeon Fantasy box set by Steve Jackson Games was run. The campaign kept us backers informed, whilst avoiding spamming. The updates were useful, and even included interesting bonus things like a video of a factory visit showing production lines. Since I went for the big bundle, once the campaign was funded I received the PDFs of products that were already available. As new Pyramid magazine issues were released I was promptly sent them. I received the PDFs for the boxset whilst the crew were at GenCon. I now eagerly await the physical products, but that doesn’t feel like an issue since I’ve got so many PDFs to read currently.

This year I finally started playtest part of a big RPG project that I’ve been working on for years; effectively inspired by everything 😉 Due to being programmed my system is exceptionally detailed, but due to health I’ve not been able to code for the last two years, and there is still a lot TODO. Whilst being bedridden I simplified my ideas and adapted them to use GURPS, so when I saw the S. J. Games campaign I was immediately hooked.

Batjutsu GURPS prep
Preparation for my Elemental Masters game, currently using GURPS rules.

Quick tangent: adapting many old ideas has led to some surprising breakthroughs in some of my old designs. By the end of this year I should know whether these breakthroughs are real, or just my enthusiasm at being healthier and playing again.

My project is a bit like a megadungeon, so I decided to playtest the game using models and scenery; I’ve not used models for years for RPG. Years ago a friend introduced me to Mantic Games; they backed many of Mantic’s campaigns, and always raved about the company. We were impressed by the quality of their work plus their cheaper prices, especially when compared to other companies. I currently own Mantic’s Dungeon Furniture Pack, so when the Terrain Crate Kickstarter was launched I backed it, and so far so good.

Mantic Dungeon Furniture Pack

RPG & Crowd Funding

I find it interesting how crowd funding has become a big part of the way of the many RPGs are made nowadays. I appreciated that crowd funding would help with regards to product awareness, but I wasn’t aware of the scale of it until this month, primarily because of RPGaDay answers, and seeing numerous extra comments about the subject.

Videos

Today I’ve been setting up hardware to record videos, and learning more about the process. By tomorrow, I’ll finally be joining the people on Youtube with some answers; I will go back and video my previous RPGaDay blogs over the next few weeks.

#RPGaDay 26

If you are not familiar with #RPGaDay, then please read this page first. For the 26th day of #RPGaDay the question is:

 Which RPG provides the most useful resources?

My tweeted answer is: #RPGaDay 26, #RPG since knowledge is power #GURPS. The amount of information in #GURPS is astounding!

Since a group can stick to a single system and have fun for years, they would likely want a recommendation about a resource specifically targeted to that system. I think my answer could still prove useful to them. I am a fan of reading and playing many systems, to keep expanding my mental RPG-toolkit, and I believe GURPS is amazing at this.

Whilst many games provide great resources, I decided to choose GURPS, because I have used the books for many years primarily as reference material. You could summarise my thinking with the classic statement: knowledge is power. Many systems have their specialities, and they can all be great inspiration, it’s just I think GURPS does this better than others, and with such a broad range of topics.

As the tabletop hobby continues its ponderous embrace of computer technology, each year I wonder what new things will be released? The same could be said for RP technology, understanding, and presentation of RPGs. Since there seems to be so much happening these days, I am quite looking forward to reading other people’s answers for today.

#RPGaDay 23

If you are not familiar with #RPGaDay, then please read this page first. For the 23rd day of #RPGaDay the question is:

Which RPG has the most jaw-dropping layout?

My tweeted answer is: #RPGaDay 23, #RPG, #GURPS

I was blown away when I was 11 and I first saw AD&D 1st Edition; it seemed even more impressive than the D&D boxsets. I had the same reaction a short time later when I looked through the Manual of the Planes 1st Ed. The pictures and text layout emphasised the goal of the book, an encyclopaedia of places and metaphysics to explore. For my formative years I have had similar reactions with the majority of RPGs I looked at: Cyberpunk, Warhammer, Vampire, Palladium, etc. I guess typically for my age, even a game with poor layout didn’t particularly bother me; I’d mine it for what I liked regardless.

This changed in the 90s when I finally took a lot at GURPS. I found the books to be jaw dropping, the sheer amount of information crammed in to them. Even the content pages are detailed and long. The layout style in GURPS is further enhanced by its usage of sidebars to layer even more information. I know from chatting with a few other people that the layout of GURPS added to their apprehension with the game, they felt the book was assaulting them with information. I appreciate their point, but for me it’s almost like having a book within a book.

GURPS layout

After I’d seen GURPS I did keep coming across works that impressed me, but I didn’t have the jaw dropping reaction. Even with games I adore: L5R, Changeling: The Dreaming or Aberrant.

As I gained professional experience with layouts, I was required to learn more about the power of layout. When I made the Quest: GM Edition rulebook, it was all about providing information without swamping the reader; I still have mixed opinions on that work, but at least I worked hard on it. Whilst, when my old boss converted the Beyond the Stellar Empire game to Phoenix, he settled on a layout similar to GURPS approach for the rules, which suited the nature of that in-depth game. We discussed different layouts for hours, as well as examining other peoples’ work, fun times.

These days I genuinely appreciate the craft of layout, and the time sink it can involve. I think I’ve finally figured out the layout for my massive role-playing guide, which for years I kept altering. I felt that most of the previous designs, gave the work the presentation like that of a waffling textbook. I feel I still need to learn a lot more, especially given how impressive RPGs can be these days.

There have been many great examples posted for today’s question. In particular Runeslinger’s answer introduced me to a very impressively designed book.

This video gives a good overview on the power of layout:

#RPGaDay 21

If you are not familiar with #RPGaDay, then please read this page first. For the 21st day of #RPGaDay the question is:

Which RPG does the most with the least words?

My tweeted answer is: #RPGaDay 21, #RPG #L5R Haiku 😉 #GURPS Lite, #SavageWorlds more at:

Today’s question hits a personal struggle for me, learning how to do the most with the least amount of words. Years ago when writing rulebooks, I tended towards a lot of detail; I liked providing examples to help clarify things. It took a lot of work to determine what to cut, especially since some of the customers wanted even more detail. Over the years I have strived to improve my writing, reminding myself “it takes more effort to write less”, as well as the old quote “If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.” Whilst I have gotten better at this, it is still a struggle.

A bit of comedic answer first, but I do have a serious point when I mention L5R and a game of haiku. I’ve run a few L5R sessions that did have a lot of haiku scenes; one of my players had a character that loved Haiku, and wanted to do more, but the character was a bit shy, so he would show me their work via his character journal. I have some design notes about a Haiku game, but I’ll save that for another blog. Since this quirky pseudo-L5R Haiku game only partially exists in my head, clearly it is not a good answer to the question 🙂

Batjutsu GURPS prep

A small overview of role-playing, rules, and settings are all someone technically needs to get going, imagination can do the rest. A small introductory game can work wonders, for example GURPS Lite is only 32 pages, and it’s free! I think GURPS Lite is a great way to introduce a system that is famous for its vast amount of options, despite owning a lot of GURPS, I stuck with Lite for my first session. Similarly Chaosium has a free rule lite called: Basic RolePlaying. My go to advice with anyone new to role-play, save the epic till later, or change your perspective:

Small can be epic, it’s all in the delivery.

There have been a lot of tiny RPGs made over the years. I’ve actually not played that many and none of the ones I’ve played stood out to me. I would like to play more of them, especially the newer ones due to how the technology/knowledge of role-playing keeps expanding. When I used to go to conventions, besides playing a lot of D&D and Star Wars Living Environment, I also set aside a few sessions to try out new games. With online games, and in particular one-shots, I know things are easier these days; now to resolve that time issue we all have.

I appreciate that having a condensed overview might be considered to be lacking some depth, which a bigger rulebook can convey. Savage Worlds is a good example of a game that packs a lot in to a lower page count that most core rulebooks.

Today’s RPGaDay question has provided some interesting recommendations:

Runeslinger’s #RPGaDay 2017: Day 21