Pre-Order Hillfolk Now!

July 30th, 2013rpg

To say I was floored that Robin Laws would want me to contribute anything to a book of his is a vast understatement but I’ve had a couple chances now to work with him and it’s been a treat every time. The most recent release is Hillfolk, the introductory book to his brilliant DramaSystem roleplaying gaem. Much like how his Gumshoe system was designed to emulate procedural dramas, DramaSystem gives players the tools to craft stories with personal conflict at their heart.

The base setting, Hillfolk, centers on the drama of the Iron Age people. From the official website:

In an arid badlands, the hill people hunger. Your neighbors have grain, cattle, gold. You have horses and spears, courage and ambition. Together with those you love and hate, you will remake history—or die.

As you build your story, you mold and shape the Hillfolk setting to fit its needs. Do you entangle yourself with the seductions of your wealthy cousins to the north? Do you do battle with the fearsome sea people to the west? Or do you conquer the scattered badlands tribes to forge a new empire of your own?

It’s really good stuff. For those who wish to expand beyond the base setting, Robin recruited a who’s who of gaming folks to contribute series pitches that apply the DramaSystem rules to new settings and genres. Check out this list:

Jason Morningstar, Michelle Nephew, Kenneth Hite, Matt Forbeck, T.S. Luikart, Jason L. Blair, Chris Pramas, Emily Care Boss, Rob Wieland, Steven S. Long, Eddy Webb, Jesse Bullington, Gene Ha & Art Lyon, James Wallis, Chris Lackey, John Scott Tynes, Ryan Macklin, Graeme Davis, Dave Gross, Allen Varney, Meguey Baker, Sarah Newton, Kevin Kulp, Mac Sample, Jason Pitre, Wolfgang Baur, Keith Baker, Will Hindmarch, Rob Heinsoo, Ed Greenwood

I can’t believe I’m in such company. My own series pitch, Inhuman Desires, brings paranormal romance to the DramaSystem. You’ll play as vampires, werewolves, fair folk, ghosts, and the enigmatic elders as they vie for control and influence of their shared resource: humans.

Hillfolk is out next month, and you can pre-order it (and the new edition of the excellent Esoterrorists) over at the Pelgrane Press website.

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Behold the Human Stretch Goal

October 5th, 2012fiction, news, rpg

Over the past couple weeks, three different game designers offered me a chance to contribute to their Kickstarter projects as a participant in possible stretch goals. As the first’s been active for a bit, and the second was just announced (the third isn’t slated to go live until next month), now seems like a good time to direct some traffic their way.

Hillfolk: DramaSystem

If you’re reading this, I suspect a high probability that you’re familiar with the work of tabletop game designer Robin D. Laws. I’ve been a fan of his stuff for twenty years, and I always look forward to seeing what he does next. He’s been teasing out his latest, DramaSystem, for a while and now folks will be able to get their hands on it.

As Robin’s excellent GUMSHOE (Esoterrorists, Mutant City Blues, Trail of Cthulhu) emulates procedural shows such as The X-Files, Law & Order, and CSI, his latest centers on the personal dynamics and relationships of more character-driven fare. The first product to use this, Hillfolk, is a game set in the Iron Age. Here’s the blurb from the pitch:

In an arid badlands, squeezed between mighty empires, your people hunger. Your neighbors have grain, cattle, gold. You have horses and spears, courage and ambition. Together with those you love and hate, you will remake history—or die.

The Kickstarter is already over 400% of its original goal and is well on its way through the slew of announced stretch goals. Chief among them are a variety of alternate premises using the DramaSystem. Not interest in Iron Age politics? Step into the shoes of time travelers stuck in the 1940s with Matt Forbeck’s WW2.1. Or play supervillians doing their best to stay reformed in Michelle Nephew’s Mad Scientists Anonymous. Or dip your toe in Cold War espionage with Kenneth Hite’s Moscow Station.

If the project hits $14k (and it looks like it will do that handily), I’ll contribute my own setting, the True Blood meets Being Human meets Vampire Diaries meets Twilight melodrama Inhuman Desires.

One Shot

Subtitled “a roleplaying game of murder and vengeance”, Tracy Barnett’s two-player One Shot focus on personal relationships of a specific sort: the kind that usually have a gun involved. Check out the premise:

One Shot is a tabletop roleplaying game about murder and vengeance. Two people work together to tell the story of the Shooter, a normal person wronged, and set for revenge. One player plays the Shooter, on their path to their one shot. The other plays the Forces, the world and people around and in the way of the Shooter.

Sounds great, and fits perfectly with the work I’m doing on the Kickstarter-funded project I ran last year, Streets of Bedlam.

With a month left to go, One Shot sits near the halfway mark to its goal. If the project meets its stretch goal, I’ll contribute short fiction to an anthology that explores the ideas presented by the game itself. Other authors include Jess Hartley, Will Hindmarch, Filamena Young, David Hill, and others.

So please check out the above and, if they interest you, pledge your support! Kickstarter is a fantastic way for creatives and customers to connect. I love seeing folks like Tracy and Robin putting new ideas out there in a way that doesn’t threaten their pocketbooks.

As for the third, I’ll let you all know when that goes live. I think you’ll really dig it.

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Character Collection: The Esoterrorists

March 28th, 2010character collection, rpg

This new feature is getting a late start as I’ve been sidelined by illness these past few days.

For this almost-inaugural edition of Character Collection, I’ve chose a game I recently acquired (and spoke about some previously): The Esoterrorists. Let’s get to it.

Game: The Esoterrorists
Publisher: Pelgrane Press
Books Needed: Just the main book.

The Esoterrorists is a game about normal people with regular jobs who also fight back against the machinations of the titular network of reality-hating ne’er-do-wells. The Esoterrorists get their name from being terrorists, yes, but they’re esoteric. Estoeric terrorists. Eso-terrorists. Esoterrorists. See? Huh? HUH? C’mon, it’s clever.

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Gimme Something to Do

March 18th, 2010essays, rpg

Yesterday, on my Twitter account, I posted:

I prefer games that are more focused on stuff I can do than on stuff I need to know.

This is something I’ve been turning over in my head for a while. I have shelves full of games, including a lot of big lines, but I keep coming back to the same handful over and over again. While I rarely get buyer’s remorse over a game purchase, I do look at some and wonder what it would take to get me play the game. Or, perhaps more telling, to run the game for friends. For playing, all I’d really need is time and an interested party. But in order for me to run a game, I need it to really speak to me, to compel me to heave the conch shell of game moderator and all that entails.

Now, part of this is the game’s premise. I’m not that into standard fantasy. Of the broad genres, it’s my least favorite by far. I’m more easily drawn into urban fantasy, modern horror, and dark future games.

Some of it is design. I don’t care for systems that bend over backwards to simulate the real world. Back when I was more active in the game publishing scene, first with Key 20 Publishing and then at Human Head Studios, I didn’t go long without being pitched “the most realistic game system ever designed!” I didn’t bother looking at a single one. These types of simulations bore me. I want systems that have something to say or that emulate interesting source material, such as crime fiction or the beats of a television series. If I want a realistic game system, I’ll plagiarize a physics book.

But some of it, I daresay a fair chunk of it, is presentation. Not artwork and font styles, though they don’t hurt, but ratio of useful player material to game fiction and setup.

I have to be very smart about how I spend my free time; I don’t have a lot of it. Frankly, I have zero interest in reading 100,000 words on stuff that will never come into play. I don’t want supplements that expand upon this or advance an in-game timeline. I want premise, ideas, setting, and enough fuel to light my own fire. Some folks thrive on this stuff. They eat it up. They want to exist in a shared world that folks are participating in all over the world. I make no bones that this is a preference. I want to tell my own stories. I want tools to do that, not a bunch of fiction that’s just trivia to memorize.

I prefer games that are more focused on stuff I can do than on stuff I need to know.

This is probably what makes me such a bad freelancer. I want to create or expand game function more than I care to add to a game’s fiction. I don’t mind writing about someone else’s world (I can imagine a few game lines for which I’d like to write stories) but I want it to be whole fiction, not backstory, not continuation of metaplot. If I do add to another game line, I want to build a new facet, explore a new idea, add substance to what’s already there and give players more to do. By this I mean new organizations, new character types, new systems (magic, hacking, stunt driving, whatever fits the game or new idea presented for the game).

That said, I am currently available to novelize any major film or video game releases, thank you.

In my own games, that’s something I struggle with. I want to give players plenty of stuff to claw into without dictating a strict canon which will invalidate their own games as I continue to build on it with supplements. It removes power from the players, and games are nothing if not power tools. The supplements I’m currently designing for Little Fears Nightmare Edition are idea-focused.

I’m currently reading Robin D. Laws’ The Esoterrorists RPG. It’s a slim book, 96 letter-sized pages, with big margins and fair-sized type. It’s a quick read and a light system. It’s also not written for the new gamer so the text can be pretty assuming and doesn’t hold anyone’s hand. As a gamer with nearly two decades of RPG experience under his belt, I can ride its wave. If this were retooled for the newcomer, it’d probably be a signature thicker at 112 pages.

And I’m loving it.

The thing I like best about it: It’s all ideas. It’s stuff to do. There are two sections totaling five pages that I’d consider backstory. I’ll sum it up: “You are a normal person who is part of a secret society. You protect humanity from supernatural bad things.” That’s the hook. And it’s enough.

The rest of the book gives systems which provide the tools you need to go forth and create. The Esoterrorists is heavily biased toward premise. Anyone with exposure to The X-Files, Supernatural, and even straight-up procedurals like CSI can see how to use the premise and these pieces to great effect.

This isn’t to say I don’t like supplements. I do. I like supplements that give me new toys, new systems, and most importantly new ideas for stuff to use in my own games. One of my favorite things about Eden Studios’ All Flesh Must Be Eaten is that it’s a simple idea (“Zombies are on the loose. You have to fight them to survive.”) that is iterated again and again and again. The corebook focuses on the game systems you’ll need, based on the UniSystem (and, in the Revised corebook, d20 as well). The back is all different premises, brief histories behind the zombies, and samples of zombies built specifically for that setting.

Of all Eden’s lines, AFMBE is its most supplemented. And these supplements do what I love for supplements to do: They give me ideas. Character books, new types of undead, new (blissfully brief) backgrounds for zombie invasions, using zombies inside other genre settings (Westerns, pulp, sci-fi, etc). There’s no metaplot, no exhaustive breakdowns of thirteen core zombie infections and the five common mutations, or 3,000 years of history for the mass conspiracies behind the infestations and outbreaks. It’s all meat, no filler. Human meat, sure, but as my Aunt Zombilena once said, “Anything that can no longer press charges counts as food.”

Now, there are some major game lines I like to play. White Wolf/CCP’s World of Darkness line is one. But I don’t read the fiction, memorize the faction histories and current rivalries, keep up with the moving and shaking of the official game organizations. I don’t want to play in their game. I want to use their game rules to create my own game with my own group. I’ve been chastised before by fans of certain games who think I should not play a particular game unless I’m current with official canon.

I don’t mean for that to be indicative of my counter. I don’t think folks either fall into my camp or are slaves to canon. But I do know a fair amount of gamers who love to dig their hands into setting, who anxiously await the book that will tell them the history of their favorite player class or fantasy race. When I look forward to a release focused on a favored class or fantasy race, I’m looking for new bits, new ideas. I usually have to skim through the fluff to get to the parts I’ll use.

I realize mine is a preference, and possibly a minority one within the hobby, but I’m certainly not alone in it. I’m sure I might find my own exceptions—especially if a favored show was ever adapted into a full game line*—but the big book game lines rarely fit the mold. I have great respect for the folks who build those elaborate, incredibly detailed game worlds. Some of the designers are good friends of mine. As a whole, as writ, as law, those big books don’t appeal to me. As toolkits wrapped in six inches of padding, I’m much more comfortable.

Because above all, I’m not looking for something to know about a game world; I’m looking for something to do within a game world.





*For which I am also available, thank you.

© 2010-2013 Jason L Blair except, y'know, stuff that belongs to other folks.