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.

Campaign INSPO Part 1 – What it is.

I took last week off, but now I’m back and ready for MORE! This week I’m going to write a short two-part series on campaign/game inspiration and why you should consider establishing this for your own games.

One of my favorite things, in fact one of the things I’m most likely do upon immediately opening a brand new RPG book is to hunt down their Inspirations section and see what media and other games influenced the making this new game in my hands.

Appendix N from AD&D is the Ur-version of this concept, but for me I really started loving this small section of RPG books because of the New World of Darkness series of books where they explained what exactly they meant by “you’re a VAMPIRE!” or “you’re a WEREWOLF!” or “you’re a SIN-EATER!” (that last one really benefited from an Inspirations section, let me tell you).

Like I would imagine most RPG bloggers and probably most DMs/GMs/MCs whatever out there, I’ve worked on many games of my own, and I’ve found that establishing my own Inspirations section is a healthy place to start from. It helps me keep in mind what flavor and type of story my rules should reflect.

For example, I’ve been simmering on an idea for an OSR adaptation called Street Punks & Crowbars for a while. Rather than try to explain what I want exactly out of the setting/rules, let me share my list of Inspo for the game:

2000 AD (Comics), Akira, The Warriors (1979), Escape from New York/LA, Dredd (2012), The Robocop Films, Roadhouse, The Running Man, Predator 2, Soylent Green, Streets of Rage (Sega Genesis), Streets of Fire (1984), Attack the Gas Station (1999), Rumble Fish (1983), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (The original comics and movie), Big Trouble in Little China, Assault on Precinct 13 (1976), and many more.

From looking at that list, I’m hoping you’d get a very strong vibe of what I’m going for with Street Punks & Crowbars.

Of course there’s other ways to establish the feel for everyone in the game, and that’s through directly sharing media that boils everything down to exactly what you want out of a game.

The video that inspired (har har) this post was the following excellent opening cinematic from the original Resident Evil video game (NSFW cause blood and stuff):

Oh God, I want to run that game right now. The music, the graphics, the makeup/costumes/HAIR! It’s just screaming to me to run it.

Another popular video on the OSR subreddit to show off what old school D&D could/maybe SHOULD be is this amazing short animated film (again, lots of violence and crazy shit, so probably NSFW):

Again, I NEED to run something someday that lives up to that video. The music doesn’t hurt anything here. The art style is almost uncomfortable to watch – its simplicity matching its brutality. There’s desperation and literally faceless, unbeatable enemies. Then the mushrooms. Oh the mushrooms. I mean magical flowers. Of course.

So now we’ve established what campaign INSPO can be, next time we’ll take a look at why it’s so important!

Class Armor and Armor Die for Black Hack.

I just finished the first real dungeon I’ve ever run – OSR or otherwise – and it’s given me some thoughts. I ran A Hole in the Oak from Necrotic Games (of Old School Essentials fame) using the Black Hack 2nd Edition rules. TBH certainly has taken and held my attention as my OSR rule system of choice.

I may write about my experience with Hole in the Oak in the future, but that’s not what this post is about. It was fun, if a little unfocused (intentionally so), and felt like it was a pretty good tasting of OSR dungeon crawls in general. I certainly would recommend it as a first exposure for both GM and players to the genre of play.

But like I said, that’s not what this is about. While I love TBH, the one thing I don’t love about it is the way armor works. I found myself having to explain it every session again to my players (not their fault, IMO), and it relied on a lot of bookkeeping (well, a lot for our online game).

ARMOR

Every class has an Armor Die listed in its entry. This Armor Die functions as a usage die does but is used exclusively to negate physical damage in a fight.

When a player character would take physical damage during combat, they may choose to roll their Armor Die instead. The damage is negated entirely, and the player rolls their Armor Die.

On a roll of 1 or 2, the Armor Die drops down one size just as when a Usage Die is rolled. If an Armor Die of d4 rolls a 1 or 2, the player character can no longer rely on that armor until repaired.

After a long rest where the character spent some time repairing the armor, the Armor Die is returned to its default value.

Shields provide one free reroll of the Armor Die before breaking.

CLASS ARMOR DICE, ABILITIES, AND SPELLS

Warrior: d8 Armor Die

Replace SelfReliant with: You may repair/increase a damaged Armor Die one step after one short rest once per day.

Thief: d6 Armor Die

Cleric: d6 Armor Die

Wizard: d4 Armor Die

Replace Shield with: Gives the caster Arcane Mail (Armor Die d6) – when you roll a 1 or 2 on Arcane Mail’s Armor Die d4, it’s gone for good.

Replace Protect with: Gives Nearby Characters Aura (Armor Die d6) – when you roll a 1 or 2 on Aura’s Armor Die d4, it’s gone for good.

So instead I took direction from the game itself and went with a rule that seems like a natural evolution of the mechanics already present. So these rules completely replace the rules for armor as they exist in TBH 2nd edition. It shouldn’t be difficult by that same standard to extract how to mod other rules from here.

It’s also trivially easy for me to give a notable monster/NPC an Armor Die.

Overall I think my players definitely preferred my houseruled armor. I kept little cards on my end and tracked with little beads where their armor was at any given point. This was much easier, but it did have an interesting effect in that a d8 Armor Die seems to be a source of over confidence whereas a d4 really made them hold back using it, which I think might feel right, actually.

I actually very much want to run with the Usage Die and take it even further, but this was a good test run. I mean, if it works for armor, why not hit points all together? What about armor dice against sources of damage like magic or psionics? Against fire or other elements? Very easy to implement. Sky is the limit here on this one.