I think the suspicion, paranoia and intrigue of old have gone.
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.
In the beginning, The Dee Sanction was a slightly different game from one that exists today. At that moment in time, I had as much interest in creating a system to support a Brave New World-a-like called Complex 214 as I did to release tales of esoteric espionage into the world. Indeed, if you read 214 — the first post on this blog, which span off from another blog (I have so many) called Omega Complex — you can see that my key objective seems to have been to spout a riff on The A-Team introduction with Elizabethan trappings.
However, though I might have cast suspicion and paranoia aside, much of what The Dee Sanction was back in 2014 remains.
I always wanted to leverage the notion of Elizabethan times that people had from school, casual reading, TV serials and movies over high-end academic insight. The classic paperback roleplaying game Maelstrom definitely inspired. That little paperback made me want to play AND study more about history while not teaching a tedious lesson of the 16th century itself. I wanted to step forward—away from the simple adventure of an assassin contained in the books, choose your own adventure—and enter the wider world that Alexander Scott’s game spread before me.
On top of that, I wanted simple. I had one mechanic (more or less) from the outset. I wanted that level of simplicity that has allowed a tsunami of amateur game designers to bring their creativity to a welcoming public.
I wanted something I could bring to a convention and not spend 30 minutes explaining everything before the adventure kicked off. I could run The Cthulhu Hack almost instantly, spending 5 minutes creating characters from scratch and 5 minutes explaining the mechanics. The Dee Sanction needed to be that, too.
I wanted something I could sell to gaming newcomers and veterans alike based on that accessibility as a concept and a gathering of mechanics. Roll a die to face a challenge; a result of 1 or 2 means making progress with a complication, while any other result means simple success. Three hits, and you’re down. Sometimes, you can work simple miracles. Now, go. Play.
Something like that.
Competence with Threat
I wanted a game where a character could be broadly competent in a small number of areas to ease the team into the concept of working together despite the paranoia and suspicion. In The Dee Sanction, there’s a death sentence egging you on to help your companions and get the job done. In Complex 214, the punishment for failure wasn’t much different or less terminal (although advanced genetic tech meant that the latter wasn’t a permanent thing).
At heart, the current iteration offers a 50/50 chance of success doing something that you have some skill in. An Ability makes it possible to face a Challenge, and a D4 in a Resource means a coin flip to succeed. In the original, with a skill, you had a 44% chance of success, wanting a 6, 7 or 8 on a roll of 2d6.
The threat isn’t about being incompetent or outclassed (well, OK… maybe); it’s about vulnerability—you’re fragile, death-marked, in enemy territory, and reliant on other people, no less vulnerable. And you’re facing inhuman forces, both natural and supernatural.
All in One
The Cthulhu Hack often sells because you can play the game with only that book. You have all you need, and once you have done playing that first investigation, you have the tools to go on. Along with a simple core mechanic and an easily carried form factor for the book, it could set the game apart from the competition.
The Dee Sanction needed to be just like that.
There were tokens, cards, and odd dice in the early days, but they fell early in the playtesting. People enjoyed the game but didn’t feel that the accessories would make it an easy sell. What if you didn’t have the cards for character creation? What if you didn’t have the dice to support the narrative twists? What if a gust of wind carries away all the tokens?
The version of The Dee Sanction available right now can be played from the book with a normal pack of playing cards. Without the playing cards, you can take a pencil and stub the back onto the character creation pages to determine occupation, associations and so forth. It’s tempting to create some tables—like the one for Combat in the back of the old Lone Wolf books—to make it possible to recreate dice throws without dice or another handy randomizer (trust in the Internet or apps to save the day when you forget your dice… unless the batteries dead).