The Princess Deviation

20160820_174218Building up to some more playtesting of The Dee Sanction, ready or not. As mentioned before, the game will use the same basic mechanic of needing to roll a 7, but I’ll be testing new approaches to improving the chances of success.

Characters track their physical and mental condition with a Wellbeing grid – but all characters broadly have the same capacity to withstand harm. I may well tinker with the mechanics in their as well, which will be novel as they’re untested as it is.

The adventure is one thing I’m certain of, as I have run it before – but that means I can worry less about the specifics of the story and give more attention to the way the game runs, mechanically.

I also have a degree of confidence in the character generation process, which has worked seamlessly on all occasions I’ve run the game. I haven’t done any expansion of it since the last time I ran it – which should be on my list of things to do.

While The Cthulhu Hack underwent playtesting, that covered a small aspect of the system that varied from the source of The Black Hack. Here, the whole thing comes from somewhere inside my fevered imagination. I hope that in the not too distant future I will get the core of the game down in written form, rather than a pile of written notes and random thoughts inside my head.

Once I’ve got through my game development To Do list, expect draft v1.0 of The Dee Sanction next.


The Red Watch

War_of_the_Worlds_shootIn the wake of the Second Great War, humanity found Earth divided. What had been a shared world now had an alien edge. Literally. No one in the world could ever have imagined that aliens would gaze upon the blue-green orb of Earth with envious eyes and draw their plans of invasion.

And yet… In 1938, the savage hoards of the Eicsh Abk invaded, their forces carried across the expanse between worlds in great metallic capsules. The martian invaders, clad in metallic skins that rolled, stalked or hovered, seared and ravaged the forces that greeted them, feasting on the bodies of the fallen.

The warlords of the red planet unleashed weapons of mass destruction that would scar the planet for decades – atomic, biological and chemical constructs that fouled the water, choked the soil and poisoned the populace. However, in the end, the invaders suffered a mortal blow, sickening and dying in the invasive climate of our own ‘alien’ world.

By the late 40s, victory seemed like just another face of defeat. The battlefield of Earth lay shattered and defiled. When communication next came from Mars, humanity greeted the words with incredulity, anger and revulsion. The Martian Senate – the Ahka Thca – passed on messages of sorrow and despair, for the attack on Earth had not been sanctioned by the greater population, but launched by a petty and vicious few.

In 1951, the Martians set up a diplomatic representation and embassy in New York to work alongside world states to engender peace and repair the damage done by the attack. Mars shipped resources from their world and contributed support for the creation of a UN-backed team of specialists to handle the clean-up operation. The ‘Red Watch‘ would work to root out extant War Criminals and defuse ongoing threats: leftover bio-weapons, intractable warlords, dangerous collaborating extremists, and those in possession of alien technology intent on using it for their own bitter ends.

Martians work alongside representatives of world military and intelligence agencies in tracking down rogue elements, sleeper agents and war criminals who pushed the conflict beyond the bounds deemed reasonable by the Martian Senate. Also, bio-containment operations seek out Red Weed pockets that continue to poison and subvert the environment. Martian Ambassadors pursue ongoing talks with the key World Governments on reparations and make formal apologies for the decision to use the Red Weed, an aggressive bio-agent banned on their home planet for centuries.

Background for a new game setting, likely to be tested out over the coming months!

One-off Adventures

English: Stationary bicycle Česky: Rotoped Deu...

I had one of those inspiration moments again last night, though this one took place out in the garage on my exercise bike. Those thoughtful moments alone seem to be a fertile time for interesting thoughts.

Key amongst those thoughts, I have decided to focus on 214 as a system designed primarily to support standalone adventures. While I have no issue with the idea of a campaign, a lot of my personal gaming tends towards one-off adventures. I might run them over one or more sessions, but when the adventure ends we often won’t come back to those characters for a while – or at all.

Equally, when I run an adventure at a convention, I tend to run it again and again with the same set of pre-generated characters.

Why would I want to spend time worrying about campaign play and balance, when I can keep my focus on one-off sessions like this?

At a convention, 214 shines; you have a system for generating new characters quickly with either cards or the roll of a few dice. You can have a session up and running in no time, without the need for a fixed bunch of character sheets.

That doesn’t mean that the game won’t accommodate progression of the setting. For me, that seems to make a lot of sense. You can get the story moving forward and develop that instead, without worrying about the characters. It seems to me that the characters are just a cog in a greater machine, perhaps a bit like grogs in an Ars Magica game.

The characters in 214 facilitate telling a single story in an overall tale. The fight against uncontrolled witchcraft, heresy and magick in The Dee Sanction is an ongoing battle, fought over a period of almost twenty years while Dee retained the ear of the Queen and Walsingham lived. Around 1590, following Dee’s return from Europe and Walsingham’s death, the tale comes to a close. The game picks up specific events and threats to the Crown during that time, but only key characters in Elizabeth’s Court remain constant – the lowly characters in player control come and go, serve their purpose and then fade away.

The stories of 214 are bigger than the characters, but what the characters achieve is not without significance. They attain incremental goals that support the greater cause. They shine like fireflies for a moment, then die. As it happens, I have an explanation for this in game terms, but I’m still working on the details. Each setting will have some consideration of ongoing story and why characters come and go.

Trust me, it all makes sense.

As it stands, when I get to writing up 214 as a system, it will support several story frameworks. Each will include background, portraits of non-player minions and patrons, campaign notes and tables for randomly creating characters. I have several settings in mind, including The Dee Sanction and Complex 214 (the background for which is evolving even as we speak).

More on that in another future post.


Signs of Treachery

hope-or-no-hopeOne aspect of play in 214 revolves around the seamy business of corruption, deceit and treachery. Sometimes, the end justifies questionable means to secure certain success.

In Complex 214, you may choose to improve your chances of success by exploiting a mutation, for example, or in The Dee Sanction, your association with one of many secret societies and cabals that influence events in Europe mean you’re better equipped than at first might appear.

When you face a challenge, you need to roll a 7 for success. Before you roll, you have the opportunity to use one (or more) of your secret abilities to expand the threshold for success. If you exhaust a single card, you move it to the left side of your character card, swivelled sideways. The threshold for success now expands by 1, up and down – so, a single card means you will succeed with a 6, 7 or 8.

The moment you use one of these cards, you open yourself up to scrutiny and the possibility that someone might notice your unexpected and suspicious success.

Once you’ve made your roll, failure isn’t necessarily the end of the challenge. Your colleagues have the opportunity to spend points from their own pools – whether Access or Power – to nudge you toward success.

Whether selfless or selfish in their intentions, if they spend enough points they can then take a Success Counter. However, before they do that they have another option. You still have your success, but they uncover a piece of Incriminating Evidence (or more than one if you actually exhausted more than one special card). The GM hands out a little black token, or other marker, to indicate the presence of this compromising information.

These little black tokens sit next to your character card until you reach a point in the adventure when your team might contact home. At that point, the number of tokens might well spell your doom – the form of which depends on the version of 214 that you’re playing. Nevertheless, it won’t bode well in matters of advancement or trust. In a one-off, it will be a determination of basic success; in an ongoing game, evidence will slow your development and, most likely, drive blood feuds and further distrust within the group.

This mechanic means you can have a means to uncover and assign mistrust and bad behaviour, without worrying too much about keeping track of the detail. No need to pass secret notes across the table or go into play stalling detail about the discovery. One of the team has seen evidence of your misdeeds – and you would do well to check yourself in future.

Playtest Eventing

IMG_20141011_131147419While I have been tied up with matters technical for the last week or so, I have had the opportunity to commit myself to some playtest games at upcoming events. I’m certain this will sharpen my interest in getting more low level playtesting done in the meantime.

While I’ll be attending Furnace in Sheffield, next week end, I will not be running any games – although, I might take something 214 along just in case I have the chance come evening time.

The following month I’ll be at IndieCon for three days (of the four day event). IndieCon, sited at Hobourne in Dorset, on the south coast, runs between 6th – 9th November. I’m there partly to assist with All Rolled Up, but also to run games and catch up with folk.

I will be running sessions of Complex 214, The Dee Sanction and Night’s Black Laundry – though not necessarily in that order. The first two will be playtest sessions for 214, while the NBL session will use my The Laundry/Gaean Reach mashup of the Gumshoe system. As they all use card-based character generation, that will be my focus over the next few weeks. I already have the set prepared for NBL, but only a few for C214 and none for TDS.

All being well, I might even squeeze in a game of Advanced Fighting Fantasy (AFF) – but, we’ll see how the weekend pans out.

Come December, we then have the new and enlarged Dragonmeet to attend. That’s Saturday 6th December at the ILEC Convention Centre.

I will be running a session of Complex 214 – though a different one to the IndieCon adventure. There’s a possibility I might have players attending who have played the previous session, so I had best be prepared. Also, it doesn’t make sense to playtest with the same adventure every time, as that isn’t really giving the system a proper run. I want to stretch my legs and try different approaches.

I will also be running a game of AFF that afternoon – as the game I run intentionally aims at just a 90 minute session. I will, however, look to vary this a little also – as I quite like the idea of having quick, drop-in style games suited to filling a partial slot of even doubling up in a big one.

All very busy – so, I need to get this computer/web stuff sorted and get on with it.


Complex 214The 214 system is the heart of both Complex 214 and The Dee Sanction, games of suspicion, paranoia and intrigue in very differing settings.

Complex 214 takes places in a world of dystopian certainty. Tales of a dystopia driven by fear, bureaucracy and a low level of life expectancy.

Born from vats, trained to fill roles with a minimum level of ambition and competency, you live to work and serve the community first and foremost.

You have been biologically force-grown to a purified and protocol cleared template – you will not have any Mutation.

You have been hypno-trained and edutainment led to work within your defined capacity – you will not have any cause to push or apply skills toward suspect and Unethical Ends.

You work hard all day, eat and relax all evening, then sleep through the allotted suspension cycle – you have no time to engage in suboptimal diversions or foster Secret Affiliations.

In The Dee Sanction, you serve as part of the travelling support for Doctor John Dee and Edward Kelley, as they voyage through eastern Europe.

In 1583, court spymaster Sir Francis Walsingham sent an adept gnostic team to Prague on a mission he didn’t commit to public record. These men journeyed through rough and heretic-infested lands engaged in a task of maximum-security in the defence of the realm from increasing Catholic-fuelled aggression.

Today, still engaged in secret activities for Her Majesty’s government, they survive as scholars of fortune. If you have a supernatural problem… if no one else can help… and if you can find them… maybe you can hire… The Dee Sanction.

Both games include specially designed six-sided dice, displaying facets of storytelling intended to support interpretation of failure and success.

In addition, a deck of cards allows you to rapidly and secretively determine the motivations and special abilities that both differentiate and set your character at odds. Your ends and affiliations drive your success but may also kindle the pyre of your downfall. Beware!