The Voice of the Revolution Episode #40

March 2010 -- Fiasco review & Jeff Tidball interview

Runtime: 33:20 / File size: 22.9M

Find out more about these fine games and others at Indie Press Revolution. To comment on this podcast, visit The Voice of the Revolution forum or send us an email.

Direct download: revolution40.mp3

[How We Came to Live Here] Our Village

Last week my regular indie game group decided to start a game of How We Came to Live Here. One of our regulars didn’t show, but we had three players and me, enough to do character and village creation so we’ll be ready to start playing right away next session. We decided on a three-session game, each of the three players made hero characters and we did the group village web.

Our village is called River Canyon Village and it is far to the north, at the edge of the People’s lands, among the deep canyons above the Longest River. It is perched in a side canyon, up in a cave mouth halfway up the cliff.

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Everybody was really charged up and excited with our setup and can’t wait to get started. As intended, the village is charged with tension and there are a lot of obstacles lying in the way of our heroes’ ambitions. I’ll report back after the first session!

[Hard-Boiled Empires: Solara] A More Personal Explanation

Last month I put out a new product called Hard-Boiled Empires: Solara. This was a project I started last year for One Bad Egg before they closed up shop. The supplement was already written and edited when OBE closed, and they offered to give it back to me if I wanted to self-publish. I decided to do that, and I got it laid out and ready for February release.

Solara is based on the Hard-Boiled Cultures book that OBE had put out earlier in 2009. This was designed by Fred Hicks and Jonathan Walton based on an idea someone put out there on Story Games, I think. Hard-Boiled Cultures is a step-by-step way of creating cultures that feel dynamic and alive.

Real cultures are not monolithic, overarching creeds that define every single member. Individuals and sub-cultures break from the mainstream and create little pockets of different traditions, regional cultures, and countercultures. This is how the real world works, but most fantasy world-building treats an entire race or nation as a single culture. Digging deeper makes the culture more interesting, and exploring sub-cultures counterpoints the mainstream culture and makes it more interesting as well. This is what Hard-Boiled Cultures does.

As you can see by my gushing about the PDF, I was inspired when I read Hard-Boiled Cultures. I was in the midst of running a 4E game at the time, and I had made a brief sketch of my campaign world, a pseudo-Roman setting where there was a disintegrating human empire. Since many of my player characters were dragonborn, I had decided that the dragonborn in my setting were a sort of Praetorian Guard for the Imperial family, combined with the idea of slave-soldiers like the Janissaries. The dragonborn were not slaves any longer, but they had originally been brought in as slave guards. From this kernel, I started to apply Hard-Boiled Cultures to my world.

It made me take a close look at all of the player character races (from the Players Handbook 1—the only book available at the time) as well as orcs, since I had determined that the orcs and goblinoids were the equivalent of the barbarian tribes of the late Roman Empire. This also made me expand my horizons a bit and helped me define races like the halflings that I had not really thought about before since there were no halfling characters in my game.

The end result was Hard-Boiled Empires: Solara. If you play 4E and are interested in a new take on the setting and the core races, check it out. I’d love to hear back from anyone who has played using the setting. Contact me either here, or by e-mail from the Galileo Games web site.

If you are interested in Hard-Boiled Cultures, I can’t recommend it highly enough. Hard-Boiled Empires: Solara can also serve as an extended example of how to take the concepts of HBC and apply them to a game world. I’d be eager to see how someone used HBC in any game world, even one that is not in the 4E rule set.


Dreamation 2010!

This report is about a week late, but better late than never. I attended the Dreamation convention in Morristown, NJ from February 19 through 21. As always, Dreamation was a lot of fun, and is quite the destination if you are interested in indie role-playing games. Lots of designers from the Atlantic coast and New England come to Dreamation every year, and there were plenty of great games to choose from. 

As I often find at conventions, I only got to play the games I was running myself. I ran two sessions of How We Came to Live Here, a playtest session of FATE Edition Bulldogs!, and a session of Spirit of the Century using Edgar Rice Burroughs’ novel Tarzan at the Earth’s Core as inspiration. The rest of the time found my either manning the IPR booth or wrangling my two kids who also attended. The kids hit mostly the LARPs at the con, and by all accounts had a wonderful time.

In my games, How We Came to Live Here delivered high drama in the folklore style, as usual. The first session was with a group of experience HWCTLH players, including Dave Cleaver and Phil and Rachel Walton. That worked out well, with players really digging into their character’s goals and resentments, which ended about like you’d expect. I had fairly low energy that night, for whatever reason, but the game was still a great deal of fun.

The Saturday night session was pretty crazy. I had set up a four-player slot, since HWCTLH can take a maximum of 5 players. A week before the con, the convention staff e-mailed me to let me know that 14 people were trying to enroll for this session. I didn’t want to turn that many people away, so I told them to enroll 10 people and I would facilitate two simultaneous games. In the end, 9 players showed up. I sat in as a player in one game, and the other ran without me with five players. Luckily, one of my ashcan playesters, Buddha, was there and he knew the rules well enough that he didn’t need my help apart from a few questions on the second table. We had two really excellent games, and everyone told me they had a good time. 

How We Came to Live Here is probably the most solid original design I’ve ever come up with. It delivers every time, even when I’m not involved. I’m pretty pleased.

The Bulldogs! playtest went well, and I was lucky enough to have Rob Donoghue, one of the Spirit of the Century developers, sitting in. A couple of other FATE veterans, Matt Weber and Ryan Macklin, also participated. The remaining players were relatively new to the FATE system, so it was a good cross-section for a playtest. We have a fun game, but probably not as much testing as could be done. I always have some trouble with convention playtests. I feel an obligation at a con game to deliver a good time to the players, and that is not always the best thing to do to put the rules through their paces. I think I’d rather default on the side of fun, though, and save the painful rules bashing for private sessions. We did hash out some great rules for the commerce system and discussed the space combat rules. 

The last game I ran was an homage to my favorite pulp writer, Edgar Rice Burroughs. My grandfather had a nearly complete collection of ERB first editions and as a pre-teen I devoured the entire collection in a few years. The scenario, Tarzan at the Earth’s Core, had characters from the novel and I used the threats in the book for the adventure. We had an excellent time, and I think using real pulps to inspire your Spirit game is a great idea.


Dreamation 2010 Game Schedule

Here's the stuff I'm running at this year's Dreamation convention:

: How We Came To Live Here; "Red Clay Village" by Galileo Games; presented by Brennan Taylor.
An INDEPENDENTLY PUBLISHED GAME - Part of the Indie Games Explosion! Monsters are not much of threat deep within the People's lands, but other hazards await the inhabitants of Red Clay Village. So much wealth and safety can lead to complacency, and when love enters the equation, it doesn't take a monster to cause destruction. Two young villagers have been married, but is the husband more interested in his mother-in-law than his new wife? What will happen if his wife discovers this?
Thursday, 8:00PM - 12:00AM; One Round; All Materials Provided. Beginners Welcome; Serious, Under 18 Requires Parental Clearance.

R282: How We Came To Live Here; "Fallen Stone Village" by Galileo Games; presented by Brennan Taylor.
An INDEPENDENTLY PUBLISHED GAME - Part of the Indie Games Explosion! A new settlement has been founded at Fallen Stone Village. A small group of brave people have decided to take the abandoned village and rebuild it. What destroyed the first settlement? The new settlers are young, daring, and strong, but can they resist the threats on the edge of the People's lands? And what old grudges and new secrets lurk within these settlers' hearts? Will they be exposed and bring the village to ruin?
Saturday, 8:00PM - 12:00AM
; One Round; All Materials Provided. Beginners Welcome; Serious, Under 18 Requires Parental Clearance.

R304: Spirit of the Century; "Tarzan at the Earth's Core" by Evil Hat Productions; presented by Brennan Taylor.
An INDEPENDENTLY PUBLISHED GAME from - Part of the Indie Games Explosion! In response to a radio plea from Abner Perry, a scientist who with his friend David Innes has discovered the interior world of Pellucidar at the Earth's core, Jason Gridley launches an expedition to rescue Innes from the Korsars, the scourge of the internal seas. He enlists Tarzan, and a fabulous airship is constructed to penetrate Pellucidar via the natural polar opening connecting the outer and inner worlds. The airship is crewed primarily by Germans, with Tarzan's Waziri warriors under their chief Muviro also along for the expedition.
Sunday, 10:00AM - 2:00PM
; One Round; All Materials Provided. Beginners Welcome; Fun, All Ages.

Design Journal: Bulldogs! and Aspects

One of the things that was very important to me when I was developing Bulldogs! under the d20 system was that players would be able to conceive and create alien species for their own characters. This is something that really defines pulp sci-fi for me—the diversity of alien beings. I hate to play a sci-fi game where I’m not allowed to come up with some crazy new alien species. A short list of 10 species just won't do, and I don't want players to have to wait around for me to publish more official species to play.

 I created a sub-system in d20 that worked pretty well to support this design goal. Luckily, as I am redesigning the game in the FATE system, this task is much, much easier. There were a lot of mechanical considerations in d20 that simply don't exist in FATE, and there is one rule in FATE that makes the whole process relatively simple: aspects. Aspects are a mechanic basically tailor-made for player-authored content, which is precisely what species generation is.

By way of example, let’s compare one of the core aliens in Bulldogs! between the two systems. The Ryjyllians are a cat-like humanoid species known for exporting mercenaries.

Here are the Ryjyllians under the d20 OGL:

  • Rage: Ryjyllians can enter a combat rage, gaining great strength, and durability, but losing self-control and caution. (References combat rage rules elsewhere.)
  • Low-light Vision: Ryjyllians can see twice as far in starlight, moonlight, dim light, and similar conditions of poor illumination. They retain the ability to distinguish color and detail under these circumstances.
  • Claws: Ryjyllians have retractable claws on their fingers and toes that inflict 1d4/x2/slashing damage. All Ryjyllians are proficient in their use.
  • +2 racial bonus to Climb, Jump, and Move Silently checks. Ryjyllians perform cat-like athletic feats with ease.
  • The Ryjyllian Code of Conduct: Ryjyllians adhere to a strict warrior’s code. They will not flee a battle (but will obey an order to withdraw). Fear is disgraceful, and a Ryjyllian challenged to fight may never refuse. Ryjyllians never use deception in combat; only a fair fight is honorable. They must follow orders from a superior without question. If ordered to violate the code, a Ryjyllian may commit ritual suicide after obeying the order. Suicide is expected if a Ryjyllian is humiliated in combat or breaks the code by accident. Breaking the code requires a Will save vs. DC 20.

Now, here they are under the FATE OGL: 

Typical Ryjyllian Aspects (characters usually have two):

  • The Ryjyllian Code of Honor
  • Warrior from a Warrior Race
  • Loyal to My Clan
  • Last to Retreat
  • Cat-Like Reflexes
  • Short Temper

As you can see, some of the features are mostly dropped. Low-light vision and claws can be covered in the species description, these are features that arguably don’t require any specific mechanics in FATE. The other traits are described fairly well by aspects. In FATE, not every member of the species adheres to all of the aspects, allowing for a bit more variation and player choice. I actually like this better as alien species are no longer so stereotypical.

Some of the features of an alien species are not fully represented by aspects. You sometimes need a bit of mechanical crunch to back up the feature of the species. The Rage ability of the Ryjyllians is an example of this, and I’ll talk about that in the next design post.


The Voice of the Revolution Episode 39

January 2010 -- A Penny For My Thoughts review and Graham Walmsley interview

Runtime: 29:58 / File size: 20.6M

Find out more about these fine games and others at Indie Press Revolution. To comment on this podcast, visit The Voice of the Revolution forum or send us an email.

Direct download: revolution39.mp3