Lost in Translation

Thanks to a very positive run of Lost in Translation at The Kraken, one of my many playtest adventures for The Dee Sanction, I’ve finally managed to get the whole thing down in a first draft.

Clearly the moment grabbed me, as 5,000 words just flowed out over the weekend, with some measure of relief.

To be transparent, the adventure spins off of material from an existing D&D adventure – so, this is not something I’ve created from nothing. However, as well as writing the adventure up from scratch—word-for-word brand new material—I’ve also sought and gained permission from the author to publish it with credit for the original.

It will form part of the ashcan release of the game, as the playtest adventures I’m keen to write up all effectively communicate the themes and atmosphere I want from the game. I fully expect a polished final adventure will also appear once the full version of the game sees release.

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.



IMG_20141011_131147419Despite best efforts, the mechanics behind any version of the 214 system continue not quite to gel as I’d hoped. I think if I can’t quite get it to work in my head, it’ll be a tough sell at the table.

I have run half-a-dozen convention demo games and run two or three sessions at my local gaming group, but I think I need to up the effort and focus kicking this one into gear and out of the door.

I remain determined, for the time being, with the roll of a 7 on 2d6 mechanic. Without any expertise and under stress, that’s a slim chance, but not impossible. With some skill, the range expands to 6-through-to-8 on 2d6 – which means a better than 40% chance of success.

The game intentional emphasizes the need to use circumstance and expertise to the characters advantage. The team shouldn’t plough on in where even angels fear to tread – this isn’t a Monty Haul dungeon crawl without consequence.

Whether defending Queen and country in Tudor England, fighting the future in Ward 13 or battling the insidious Martian weeds in Red Watch – the characters have a lynchpin role in events that means failure has serious repercussions. They do not have the option to take things lightly, but they also face strange challenges that mean they cannot rely on others to bail them out.

On top of the dice mechanic, I also have the card-based character generation process, which I have found works really well. I have used it at conventions with considerable success. However, I’m keen to provide a more open and story-based option that would ask questions to fill in the answers currently offered by drawing cards from the character deck. With the right questions, I should have the means to tease out both character traits and a coherent connection with the setting/team.

I have further development of the project down as a resolution for the New Year. I plan to keep to it!

Weapons of Magick and Devilry

John_Dee's_Seal_of_GodThe Dee Sanction is a game and setting in a steady state of development. It uses a fast-paced, card-based character generation system to get the game up-and-running in moments.

Players take on the roles of outsiders, dabblers, and criminals, given a second chance when recruited as investigators into Queen Elizabeth’s intelligence task force for handling magickal and supernatural threats.

Headed by her long time confident Doctor John Dee, the setting covers both investigations on home soil and the period Dee spent in Europe seeking to secure weapons of mysticism and devilry.

Elizabeth prevails… but for how long faced with the threat of Church, Spain and foul sorcery alike.

I realise this is nothing new, but I needed to remind myself that The Dee Sanction remains very much in progress and worthy of my time and attention.

This time of year hangs heavy with convention-based commitments. The opportunity to sit and tinker with stories, plots and mechanics seem to dry up.

However, I have been pondering the greatest concern for myself around The Dee Sanction – the mechanism for handling conflict and competition. As of yet, I have not settled on a single means of resolving situations in doubt – but, I feel I’m on the cusp.

I plan to run the game at a couple of cons over the next few months and continue to aspire to run an online game or two.

Token-less and Dice-free

cow-tabletopIt’s possible that I’m coming to a turning point with the whole system and approach for The Dee Sanction and the 214 system in general.

Running an adventure without using half the system – and finding it works well – might prove worthy food for thought.

I ran a new adventure – Thunder and Steel – at the Seven Hills gaming event in Sheffield.

The characters only recently made the trip to Europe with Dee and Kelley, and the call of angels in Edward’s ear seemed to be making the trip a long-winded one. Halfway through Moravia, Dee heard rumours of a young girl with prescient dreams who had foreseen the assassination of the Virgin Queen, so sent the characters off to investigate. The trail started in a hamlet nestled in the Little Carpathians and led them on a trail of lies, deceit, bad weather, and unfurnished accommodation.

One way or another, the game system element of this session never kicked in – but, the story felt fairly satisfying.

I had good comments about the atmosphere and background of the tale, and a chat with players afterwards gave positive comment on the snappy three-card character generation process. Interesting also to have players asking about the history itself and explaining the seeds of truth behind the setting and the adventure itself.

I have now played three adventures and many sessions of the system and I’m seeing a leaning away from the fiddly token approach and more toward something that drives and supports the interaction and character.

The character cards offer a view of who the character is and what they’ve got themselves into. Between the three cards, everyone has a clear idea of where their strengths lie and the sort of personality they might have. Perhaps I still could so with a relationship mechanic, but it didn’t feel necessary in this session. I actually choose to reamble my games with a few statements about playing characters as a team, giving each other a chance to speak and contribute, and engaging in the adventure with energy and a splash of derring-do.

I suspect I’ll ruminate on the feedback and my own experience – and then see what I can tweak before I run the adventure again at UK Games Expo at the end of May.

Narrative Results

in-the-diceDice in the pair used for Complex 214 and The Dee Sanction have symbols on them, intended to help focus the story. The symbols include: equipment, surveillance/vigilance, access, the system, them, and mutation/magic.

In practice, when you roll the dice initially, the symbol rolled can help understand – plotwise – what helped the challenge succeed or fail. Even if the player rolls a fail and then adjusts it with counters, the symbol applies.

For example, in a scuffle against three thugs in a cluttered room, a fail rolled with the ‘Equipment‘ symbol might suggest the character misses when he stumbles over a chair. On the other hand, a success might indicate the enemy fell over the chair or the character managed to use the guard on their sword to catch and skew the enemies aim before delivering a slash. A success with teamwork could mean that another character shoves a table backward into the path of the enemy causing them to dodge into the oncoming path of your weapon.

In my first game of The Dee Sanction, one player rolled a failure with the ‘Equipment‘ symbol and skidded in a pool of blood catching himself on the furniture. In the game this weekend, a character failed a roll to glean information from bar clientèle with a ‘Them‘ result, which meant they didn’t get any useful information, but their enquiries led to someone, looking mildly suspect, slipping out of the bar, probably off to inform an interested party.

It worked well enough that, after a short while, the players started referring naturally to the symbols themselves. I have them referenced on the character sheet – with a brief word of explanation – but, I think, a little more obvious urging and guidance should have them flavouring the narrative themself. The die isn’t the be-all-and-end-all; the symbols provide a nudge as a tool for story advancement, not a rod for the players’ backs.

As mentioned yesterday, with the introduction of the new Incriminating Evidence mechanic, the teamwork dynamic and counter economy clicked in well. The session felt like it worked well and the feedback at the end seemed to carry that feeling. That the players engaged with the system and each other – despite being relative strangers at a convention – made for a very positive experience. Obviously, I remain keenly aware that I have a long way to go – but, this made me feel more confident I’m going the right way (in some measure) with both adventure and system.

Quick Thoughts on Last Night’s Game

circumstance-and-happenstanceI ran The Bell’s Toll over the course of two short sessions with my regular gaming group. I have asked them for feedback on The Dee Sanction – and I look forward to getting some good stuff over many future sessions.

Generally, the adventure seemed to work. I think the premise generally works in principle as well. I need to give some consideration to fleshing out a little of the detail and making succinct notes on clues. Short, pithy notes for adventures like this would be perfect, and a necessity for smooth running.

Also, when I turn this into a supplement/book, I think I’ll have a string of random names appearing in the margins or footer. Having these immediately to hand and in full view would be supremely useful for improvisation. You can spot a name, circle it. Make a quick note of the who, how and why. Whatever.

I found myself occasionally stumbling coming up with a flavourful name because I didn’t have the table right in front of me. With this, you could just look down and choose one – or flick to a random page.

One thing that definitely struck me at the end of the game was that it didn’t end with a battle or combat. The wily players managed to pool their professional skills and suggest they could use materials available to concoct something equivalent to tear gas. Taking the improvisational cue of ‘Yes, and…’ as the preferred option, I ran with it.

Why not? In a game that has largely involved investigation and a little drama, why would it end with a fight? In this case, it ended with a bang, some tears and a final gasp to cleanse the dark magic.

For some reason, this felt wrong and right. I could feel the cogs inside my head turning wondering whether a conclusion without a fight would be the right way to go. The adventure did have a conclusion – though again, how conclusive should a procedural investigation be? In the real world, catching the bad guy doesn’t deliver a full stop. He’ll stand trial, and he might yet get off on a technicality, with the assistance of a good lawyer, or through a plea bargaining… something like that.

The team found the culprits, defused the threat, and arrested an extra accomplice for good measure. Shouldn’t that be enough?

Favourite revelation of the night concerned Effect Counters. When you succeed, you turn over a counter. I had 6 – four with a value of 1, two with a value of 2. For whatever reason, the group kept turning over the low value counters, chipping away at the enemy rather than cutting them down with speed and efficiency.

Anyway – someone asked, why isn’t there a counter with a value of 4?

The system is called 214 – where’s the 4?

It made sense. Indeed, adding a seventh counter with a value of 4 means that the Effect Counters match the game system AND drawing a 4 has the same chance as rolling a 7 on 2 six-sided dice. It makes sense – and that 4-value counter becomes a bit of a critical hit option that could sway a challenge in a devastating way.