Design Journal: Star Wars Playtest Characters!

I mentioned in my post last Thursday that I ran my first playtest of my new rules engine last Wednesday, and it went swimmingly! I also mentioned that I wanted to post up my character sheets, so here’s what I threw together in a couple of hours when the opportunity presented itself to run my engine in a Star Wars setting.

I went with an alt Post Return of the Jedi setting and set my two players on a mission from the New Republic about 8 years after RotJ. They were to infiltrate an old Imperial mining base and stealthily steal a Lambda class shuttle. The session lasted about two hours, and they were able to be successful without any need to fudge the dice on their or my part! Pretty amazing.

Quick note that I’ve already made some substantial changes based on the experience and feedback, but the structure remains the same.

TALIA RALL JEDI KNIGHT

BACKGROUND 

You are one of the first generation of four new Jedi Knights under Master Luke Skywalker. He found you among the royals of Naboo, lingering as a child senator bored with the politics of a planet. You favor mind tricks and empathic abilities rather than blunt telekinetics and force manipulation.

ATTRIBUTES

IRON: D6/CURRENT: D6

  • EXPERIENCE

RESOLVE: D8/CURRENT: D8

  • EXPERIENCE

POISE: D6/CURRENT: D6

  • EXPERIENCE

RESOURCES: D4/CURRENT: D4

  • EXPERIENCE

WITS: D4/CURRENT: D4

  • EXPERIENCE

BANKED EXPERIENCE (UP TO 5):

FEATURES

JEDI TRAINING – You are adept at Using the Force for the following Force effects (rolling Use The Force without Disadvantage for them) – 

  • Energy absorption.
  • Sensing others.
  • Mind Trick.

LIGHTSABER – You have a double-bladed golden lightsaber. 

  • You may use IRON to defend against any small arms attacks. 
  • When you attack with your lightsaber it counts as one higher level than you rolled regardless of your result. Your attribute still still drops a step on a result of 1 or 2.

NOBLE BORN – You may reroll POISE tests when engaging in diplomatic actions.

KOTHA (Kotha’eziaw’coasduw)CHISS MANDALORIAN

BACKGROUND 

A revolution is a wonderful opportunity for profit, and up until recently, that’s all you cared about. After a recent job went bad, you were given the choice – Republic prison colony or do a job to work it off. Lucky for you, the Republic’s got a job right up your alley…

ATTRIBUTES

IRON: D6/CURRENT: D6

  • EXPERIENCE

RESOLVE: D6/CURRENT: D6

  • EXPERIENCE

POISE: D4/CURRENT: D4

  • EXPERIENCE

RESOURCES: D4/CURRENT: D4

  • EXPERIENCE

WITS: D8/CURRENT: D8

  • EXPERIENCE

BANKED EXPERIENCE (UP TO 5):

FEATURES

MANDO ARMS: Your armor has a number of benefits – 

  • Test with Advantage whenever you roll to avoid taking damage from any personnel-scale source.
  • When you use your flamethrower it counts as one higher level than you rolled regardless of your result. Your attribute still still drops a step on a result of 1 or 2.

UNDERWORLD CONTACTS: You may reroll RESOURCES tests when utilizing a contact you have that exists outside the law.

VETERAN PILOT: Test WITS with Advantage when operating a starship or planetary vehicle..

Design Journal: My experience running my first playtest.

I’ve tried my hand at writing quite a few systems over the year, but I finally got to the point where I could conceivably run a basic version of my game to see if the thing even works in the first place.

I ran it last night for two of my four regular players when the other two couldn’t make it to our scheduled game, and it was a complete blast! I opted for a post-Return of the Jedi Star Wars game skinned onto the top of it so my players wouldn’t have to learn a new setting, and it worked like a dream. They infiltrated an imperial mining garrison, pretended to be stormtroopers, and successfully stole a shuttle! AND one of my players was playing as a Jedi, and the system could support it as well!

It was an ABOSOLUTE THRILL to finally run something that had came out of my head, spewed into a Google doc, and helped us now tell our little story together. Super fun time, and my players were both very, very happy and positive with the experience even with me asking them to mercilessly tear it apart. I even got a couple of good notes on what I need to change or add at this point, but the thing is largely workable as is.

I posted about my experience on the RPGDesign subreddit, and user FF_Ninja posted some great follow up questions that helped me think through the experience. Below are their questions in bold and my answers:

What state of completion would you say your game is now?

If I had to say, I would expect a GM could run something that looks approximately like what I ran yesterday with my players as long as they had the pregens and my scenario notes. I largely told the story from the hip – I had a premise, a mission, and an adventure site. Literally everything else I was able to improvise (and my rules supported very easily!).

I barely have character generation rules (although it’s a lite rule system, so what I have is most of what there is going to be), so I would need to walk someone through making new characters.

What were the biggest takeaways you got from the playtest, including things you definitely want to keep or change?

The biggest takeaway is that my game engine works. I have designed it so that my PCs and encounters are almost the same mechanically – think of how Fate allows PCs, NPCs, environment, items, etc. all have Aspects as a rule. I found that treating my encounters all the same – whether exploration, combat, or social – can work as well. This was huge for me, and it was both challenging and rewarding as a GM to run encounters this way.

The engine works, so now it’s figuring out how to make it sing. It’s mostly minor things – I need to come up with a different word besides “Mettle” for one of my attributes as I love it on the page, but saying it out loud was quite clunky. I added a possibility of a critical success mid-game to dice rolls that was very rewarding in how it was achieved and seemed to make my players happy when they rolled it. That was a call I made on the fly, and I want to write it up.

Those kinds of things, minor, but the stuff that will really make the system polished instead of an amateur work like it is now.

What aspects of creation were the most difficult for you to sludge through?

I’m actually worried that this is still coming, which is probably why I haven’t done it yet! I need to come up with concrete rules on PC character abilities. My attributes are pretty great right now, but the stuff that really makes characters unique – call them features, powers, moves, whatever – I need to figure out how to implement that from a character generation/progression point of view.

I don’t want to do classes, but instead am leaning toward “feature packages” where you can purchase individual talents – like being good at piloting or mechanics in Star Wars – or you can purchase the “Jedi Guardian” feature package that gets you a handful of exclusive features because I want to protect that “Jediness” in the setting. Note that I’m not actually trying to write a Star Wars game, but it is incredibly easy to relate concepts in these terms!

Coming up with magic/force powers/supernatural stuff was a little challenging, and I doubt it’s close to its final form, but I took a lot of influence from the Monster of the Week move “Use Magic” for now.

Generally speaking, the hardest, and yet most rewarding was continually cutting out the fat and bloat in the rules to ask myself why I had this extra rule when something else already exists in this very rule system that would work just as well.

For example, encounter design. I wanted to treat the entire game like skill challenges from D&D 4e. Whether it’s combat or another complex challenge, it’s all treated the same. For a while I was picturing clocks like in Blades in the Dark. That system is gorgeous in how simply and universal it can be to track PC progress in a challenge.

And then it clicked for me that I can use the same mechanic for encounter design as players use to track their Attributes (which is based on the Usage Die from The Black Hack).

Not to toot my own horn, but holy smokes, that was a game changer for me, and I think/hope others will take to the idea once I go public with the rule set. It was incredible and thrilling as a GM to run encounters this way, and equally incredibly easy to do so from a bookkeeping perspective. I felt like I was playing a game too since I had to narrate things based on a dice roll I made in reaction to the actions taken by the PCs.

Figuring out all that was both a challenge and beyond exciting when I had the break through!

I’ll be posting up character sheets for the two Star Wars characters early next week and hopefully have more to share after next Wednesday when I test the engine with four players in a post-apocalyptic urban fantasy setting!

I can’t wait!

I can’t support Kickstarter anymore.

This post is more of an editorial, and if it’s not your thing, no prob! It’s just a collection of observations and information from what I’ve read or observed of the recent Perfect RPG zine Kickstarter fiasco.

It’s a long and winding road, but here’s a pretty good summary thread of what happened recently with Luke Crane’s “The Perfect RPG” zine Kickstarter project – https://forum.rpg.net/index.php?threads/luke-crane-is-publishing-adam-koebels-work-as-part-of-a-zinequest-project-cw-sexual-assault.877928/

Essentially Luke Crane, who is “VP of Community” at Kickstarter used his position to get some of the biggest names in indie RPG development (along with a few first-time authors) to lend their names and legitimize the return of Adam Koebel to RPG publishing.

It appears he misled the other creators and snuck Koebel into the project right before launching “The Perfect RPG” himself on Kickstarter, and when the other creators found out, they began pulling out of the project.

Crane then cancels the Kickstarter and posts about how creators were “pressured” into withdrawing their names, although all the creators who have spoken out about the project have talked about how they were blindsided by Crane about Koebel’s inclusion, which is what caused them to withdraw.

Since then more stories about Koebel and at least one notable one about Crane ignoring problems reported by female creators about predatory male creators have come out.

It bums me out incredibly, as I’ve backed dozens of RPG Kickstarters over the years, but I had to cancel my One Ring pledge just this past weekend because I couldn’t stand giving any money to a company that houses someone like Crane.

I also think his actions are a threat to the very concept of RPG Kickstarters as a whole as he was willing to throw the reputations of numerous creators under the bus in favor of backdoor platforming Koebel once more. Kickstarters are made or broken on the backs of the reputations of the creators.

What’s more, it appears he was given tools and access to his Kickstarter on a fundamental level that other creators have been denied for years. Not only does he have an elevated voice in his position at VP of Community and former “Head of Tabletop” at the company, he also has the capacity to put his thumb on the scales and signal boost his own projects for his own personal profit over the projects of other creators.

That was more than I intended to write, but I won’t be backing another Kickstarter project until Crane is removed from the company. This was especially difficult as I am a HUGE Lord of the Rings fan and enjoyed the past edition of The One Ring, but I’ll wait until it hits retail before picking up anything for the game.

One more addition to this. Go check out the comments on the Torchbearer 2e Kickstarter to see just how much money this little prank is costing Crane in canceled and refunded pledges. I’m a long-time fan of Mouse Guard, but I’m never purchasing anything from BWHQ (Burning Wheel) ever again.

Zine Quest Hype – Not A Place of Honor by David Lombardo.

I am not above backing down from a previous, secret promise I made to myself not to back any more Kickstarters for a while.

For the most part, I’ve held the line pretty well, but gosh darn it does Zine Quest really put a promise to the test. And the promise has failed.

Not A Place of Honor by David Lombardo just ticks two giants boxes for me, and I pretty much instantly backed the zine on Kickstarter.

A render of some of the text from the Kickstarter preview. I love it.

This isn’t an advertisement, but I a definitely going to use my tiny platform here to signal boost stuff that I get really excited about. Here’s an intriguing summary posted by the creator on Reddit:

“Not A Place of Honor is both a supplement, and an “in universe” object created by the fictional Bureau for Arcane Neutralization of Esoterics (a sort of fantasy SCP Foundation). The idea to format it this way came from the Field Guide To Hot Springs Island, and I just love the idea of rpg supplements you can actually hand your players and say “this is what you find”.

It’s part travelogue, part scrap book, and part “found footage” about the exploration of millennia old sites dedicated to containment of dangers. The design of these ancient containment sites is based off of an actual US government research project to determine how to mark the danger of buried nuclear waste in a way that would be effective for 10,000 years. See excerpts from the document here.

That document makes the rounds in TTRPG circles every once in a while, and ever since the first time I saw it, I always had the thought that all those warning systems and threatening architecture would be like candy to most adventuring parties. I wanted to recreate these ideas in an RPG context, to test if they would work (they will not work).

You can check out the Kickstarter page to see a couple previews of spreads to get an idea of how I’m approaching this, and also see the incredible artwork being made for the items.

Also we have a super cool promo video that I just want everyone to see.”

Will I ever use this in a game? Maybe, maybe not, but from the summary and previews on the Kickstarter, it seems quite readable, so it’s worth a look in my book just because I love reading about the answers to the question of how do we communicate with people so far in the future in any meaningful way.

Anyway, if this looks cool to you, the pdf is a steal on Kickstarter, and please go back it! I’m not affiliated in any way with the project. I just think it’s neat.

Campaign INSPO Part 2 – Application

This is a continuation of my initial post about Campaign Inspiration – Part 1 – What it is.

Part of the reason I wanted to really push myself and write regularly on this blog was to get myself moving on a long-term goal I’ve had – make progress my science fiction game and get it past the initial draft stage of creation.

As most projects, the focus, mechanics, and flavor have all evolved over time, and at this point its mutated a bit beyond what I originally imagined and felt was right. As a result, one of my biggest issues is answering a simple and yet fundamental question about the game.

What do you do in the game?

Seven words, but frankly the answer can make or break a game. Or rather, not having a specific answer can break a game.

So I’m going to utilize my campaign/game inspo I’ve written up to help myself examine what protagonists do in my sources of inspiration and how I can apply it to my own game. It’s a long list yet certainly not exhaustive, and I imagine cutting it down a bit before the game would ever get published. Still, I think it’s a good example of a starting point for inspo, and I hope if you look over the list, you would get a feel for what I’m trying to communicate.

FILM AND TELEVISION

The Films of Alejandro Jodorowsky, specifically The Holy Mountain and El Topo.

Star Wars – all of it. Yes, even those bits.

The Fountain by Darren Aronofsky.

The HBOMax TV series Raised by Wolves.

The Alien film franchise and offshoots.

The Exo-Squad cartoon series.

Battlestar Galactica (Sci-Fi Reboot).

Neon Genesis Evangelion.

The collected works of David Lynch.

Event horizon.

GAMES

The Mass Effect series.

The various flavors of Warhammer.

Delta Green.

Dread from The Impossible Dream.

BOOKS AND GRAPHIC NOVELS

Lovecraftian and Cosmic Horror.

The Malazan Book of the Fallen novel series and companion novels.

House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski.

Dune by Frank Herbert.

The BLAME! Manga series.

Phew! That’s quite a bit, but from this list, if I had to pull a couple of the most important influences to summarize the feel of a campaign, I would say it’s this:

Take Twin Peaks, Neon Genesis Evangelion, and Star Wars and throw them in a blender.

So what do the protagonists (note: NOT the “good guys” but the actual protagonists) of these stories do?

Well in Twin Peaks you’ve got a murder mystery (and of course much, much more), but you’ve got various law enforcement coming together to try to solve an impossible mystery of who killed Laura Palmer. Is my game about law enforcement and murder mystery? I would say not. Twin Peaks is certainly more of a flavor/setting influence than a story influence. The protagonists of Twin Peaks are navigating a world where there is so much going on beneath the surface it can be tough to make sense of everything. They’re haunted by ghosts of ideas, and this certainly speaks to me, just not as an answer to the above question.

Okay, what about Neon Genesis Evangelion? The protagonists in this story on the surface level are trying to stop the end of the world (so to speak) by utilizing giant suits of armor to fight “angels” that are after something that can spark the end of the world. Beneath that, I would argue that the characters are trying to find meaning and belonging – something they can actually latch onto in their lives. Both of these aspects speak to me pretty strongly when I’m thinking about my own game, so we’re definitely getting closer.

In Star Wars, well, we all know what Star Wars is about, right? It’s about communists over-throwing a fascist imperial/colonizing dictatorship! I don’t hate this at all when I’m thinking about my own game either.

Part of my setting is that the equivalent to a fascist imperial/colonizing dictatorship just fell – think of the very ending of Return of the Jedi after, spoilers!, the Emperor dies on the second Death Star. What was left over? Dozens if not hundreds of massive warships, a huge leviathan but with its head – the Emperor – cut off.

I don’t want any ambiguity for my game – you’re not going to be playing as the destroyed empire, you’re playing as the other side. You’re not bounty hunters (or at least not just bounty hunters) – you’ve got some investment in this rebellious force that won this huge victory, effectively everything they’ve been working toward for years, but it’s only the start.

At the same time my setting is full of these large monolithic creatures – dead corpses of space gods floating in fixed points in space that are one of the major reasons FTL travel is even possible in this setting – they act as beacons for ships traveling great distances.

One of them finally wakes up at the exact moment of the death of the head of the evil empire, and what does that mean for the future of the galaxy?

Perhaps that’s one of the answers to the big question? Maybe part of what the protagonists do in the game is explore the nature of these dead space gods, these cosmic horror creatures that are starting to wake up. At the same time they’re working to establish a new order of the galaxy – one not based on the tyranny of a centralized fascist governmental body but through mutual cooperation to the benefit of all?

At the risk of going too much further and making this post too long for anyone to read, I hope this illustrates how useful it can be to the GM to try to understand the focus on their side of things. It’s a bit like Principles of a Powered by the Apocalypse game. When trying to decide which way to go – fall back on your inspo and think what would make sense in that kind of a story.