Project Cassandra on Le Repaire de Gulix

As a small indie developer there’s an amazing feeling that comes with seeing my work highlighted by somebody else and over the weekend the French blog Le Repaire de Gulix was kind enough to give the game a shout-out. The post, Coups de soleil sur itch, mentions the game alongside the work of other developers such as Rogue Scroll by Epidiah Ravachol and Our Queen Crumbles by Jason Brown.

New Release: Mission Packet 2 Subversion

The Sprawl is built around missions and the Corporations have no shortage of dirty money but if you want to take the fight to them that means subverting their goals, one directive at a time. Mission Packet 2: Subversion introduces three new, non-Corporate factions struggling to fight against the system, custom moves for subverting the goals of the Corporations and missions for each faction for once you have earned their trust. The Factions introduced in this Mission Packet are:

  • The Synth Republic, who seek to rescue captured AI from the hands of their Corporate masters and provide them the opportunity to experience life in the physical domain. 
  • The Peoples Union, local gang or the last protectors of labour rights? When they offer you the chance to wipe the debt of thousands of workers from the system will you step up to protect the downtrodden?
  • The Env, anti-capitalist environmental activists pushed to take extreme measures in their fight to protect what little is left of the natural world.

Mission Packet 2: Subversion is available now from itch.io and drivethruRPG (includes affiliate link) for $1.50. This release requires a copy of The Sprawl RPG to play.

New Release: What’s so [Redacted] about [Redacted]?

What’s so [redacted] about [redacted]?

What’s so [redacted] about [redacted]? is a game of psychic operatives during the Cold War, fighting to prevent a dangerous vision of the future from coming to pass. The game was created as a submission for What’s so cool about Jam and hacks the simple system of What’s so cool about Outer Space by Jared Sinclair to focus on psychics out to save the world.

The premise of the game might sound familiar and that’s because it serves as an introduction to the world Project Cassandra. The game builds on the concepts developed for Project Cassandra, most notably by allowing players to outline elements of the adventure from the outset, which provides the GM with a road map of scenes to work from. As an added incentive to interact with each scene the player that predicted it gains an ongoing bonus thanks to their foreknowledge of the event.

For a game that came together in less than a fortnight I’m extremely proud of the result. It fits the aim of the jam, aligns with the core concepts underlying Project Cassandra and also looks the part.

What’s so [redacted] about [redacted]? is available now from itch.io and drivethruRPG (includes affiliate link).

Podcasts I Love: Happy Jacks RPG

I’m a dedicated podcast listener – I got hooked on them in the early days and they’ve become a constant source of entertainment, from filling the time during long commutes to being a welcome distraction while being stuck at home during the current crisis. I’ve got a number that I want to give shoutouts to in these quick posts. I’ve picked each of them based on a simple parameter – they’re the ones that I regularly push to the top of my queue and do my best to keep up with.

Of all the podcasts that I listen to Happy Jacks is the one that I’ve stuck with the longest. How long? Roughly a decade. It was the second ever podcast that I got into, after the now defunct Bear Swarm and it’s safe to say that it’s the one that has had the biggest influence on me as a gamer. It not only got me through the wilderness of periods where I found myself barely playing games but has been responsible for introducing me to so many amazing gamers over the years. The community, through both the (numerous) forums and discord has always been fantastic and welcoming (with only a small number of flame wars). It’s been a big enough part of my gaming life that I even flew out to the amazing Stratigicon convention back in 2015 for the best four days in gaming I have ever had.

The regular advice show, which has always had the welcoming feel of friends just casually chatting about the hobby, has also developed an extensive stable of actual plays, featuring a wide ranging style of games from D&D to Legend of the Five Rings (Inukai!), a multitude of PbtA games and smaller indie games. As the show has grown it has also worked to diversify the cast roster and continues to do so at a time when representation is something so much of the hobby is struggling with. I’m not going to pretend that they’re perfect but they are actively engaging with issues and striving to improve.

New Release: Home Amongst the Stars

After creating To Travel far from Home and The Stars will carry you Home business card micro-games earlier this year I spent a long time pondering how I would complete the trilogy. I knew that I wanted a final game that covered the explorers returning to Earth, just not how to go about it.

Then I saw a tweet about the bookmark game jam being hosted on itch.io by Diwata ng Manila. The slightly larger format offered the potential to rework the first two games while keeping them true to the original intent. In the process of doing so I got the inspiration for This Earth we called Home, the final part of the trilogy, which sees the explorers return to a world in need of hope but at risk of falling to fear. With the concept in place the final game came together nicely and the trilogy now function as a set of interconnected journaling games – the explorers log their thoughts and dreams as they undergo selection and a perilous voyage before coming together in an attempt to unify the world. With a word count of less than 600 I’m extremely happy with what the games achieve and hope that others get the chance to read and play it.

You can download Home amongst the Stars for free on the LunarShadow Designs itch.io page.

Podcasts I Love: Pandas Talking Games

I’m a dedicated podcast listener – I got hooked on them in the early days and they’ve become a constant source of entertainment, from filling the time during long commutes to being a welcome distraction while being stuck at home during the current crisis. I’ve got a number that I want to give shoutouts to in these quick posts. I’ve picked each of them based on a simple parameter – they’re the ones that I regularly push to the top of my queue and do my best to keep up with.

Panda’s Talking Games is a weekly advice podcast from the Misdirected Mark podcast network hosted by Senda Linaugh and Phil Vecchione. Each episode the hosts answer listener questions from alternate perspectives, typically but not always One-Shot vs Campaign. Those questions may range from topics such as balancing immersion with mechanics to discussions on the approaches of new vs old games or even how to translate their favourite Ditch Lilies albums into game mechanics.

The alternating viewpoints provide a really refreshing approach to the topics compared to many podcasts where the hosts often just end up agreeing with one another. It’s especially welcome because Phil and Senda don’t just play devils advocate with one another, their points are always well thought out and complementary rather than trying to compete with the old ‘this way is better’ argument.

What really makes the show stand out though are the hosts and their attitude to gaming. The fact that they love the hobby is apparent from the energy that they bring to every single episode of the podcast and I think it’s a safe bet that they’re the sort of people that would not only bring that energy to the table but help everyone else find it as well.

You can find Panda’s Talking Games on the Misdirected Mark site, on all the major podcast aggregators and on twitter.

Project Cassandra: Inspiration and Origins

Project Cassandra: Psychics of the Cold War header with image of an ominous man smoking a cigar and stamped Classified

With the release of Playtest Packet 2 over on itch.io I wanted to take the chance to sit back and think about how far Project Cassandra has come since its inception. I first started working on it in 2013 with the intention of putting together a hack of the amazing Lady Blackbird RPG. That game is a masterclass in design, especially with how much depth it manages to convey in only a few pages. The characters are fully realised, the rules are elegant and the minimal description of the setting somehow flips a switch in your brain to fill in the gaps without you even realising that that is what you are doing. I’ve played Lady Blackbird numerous times and while the setup for the scenario is predefined the game always plays out in a unique way.

My aim with Project Cassandra was to replicate that, with a scenario that started the same way each time (a premonition of the President being assassinated) but that naturally spun off into its own, contained story.

But why Cold War psychics? The inspiration for that is, as it turns out, a little more disjointed. I’d reread the original Jason Bourne novels, which are set during the Cold War, not long before starting work on the game and had subsequently gone digging into some of the conspiracy theories from the era. It was a bit of a Wikipedia rabbit hole. Most, such as the Majestic 12, are just that – conspiracy theories with no actual evidence but as is often the case truth is stranger than fiction and I ended up reading about dozens of formerly classified projects.

The most famous is probably Project MKUltra – which explored extreme approaches to interrogation and mind control. That project was itself preceded by Project Artichoke – which sought to determine if a subject could be programmed to perform an assassination against their will. Then there was Project Stargate, which investigated remote viewing and psychic abilities as a method of gathering intelligence.

With all these real world examples to draw the only thing that I needed to introduce with Project Cassandra was the element of success. The secret project that had trained a group of psychics but then ignored their warnings, forcing them into direct action.

In the summer of 2013 the final piece of inspiration came into play – a video game. Specifically The Bureau: XCOM Declassified. The game was fun without being spectacular but two aspects stood out. Firstly, it was rooted in the aesthetics of the Cold War which helped reinforce my choice of backdrop. Secondly, the abilities of the characters struck me as something that would complement the system. I had already started to develop Project Cassandra, including the use of Powers (again inspired by the abilities in Lady Blackbird) but the way the game implemented them, and encouraged interaction, cemented my desire to make them a core feature of the game.

From there the game went down the usual route of alterations, tweaks and dead ends that I’m sure are familiar to any designer but looking back it’s comforting to see that many of the core elements were present early on and I can’t wait to finally release the game next year.

State of the Conspiracy: Playtest Packet 2 Released

During the last few weeks I’ve been working towards a fairly major milestone in the development of Project Cassandra – the completion and release of a second playtest packet for the game which is now available as a free download via itch.io.

Playtest Packet 1 featured a minimal rules set, a single mission and pre-generated characters. Everything was there from a technical point of view but for anybody other than myself it would have been a stretch to run the game in the way I have always intended. This new release improves on the prior one in almost every way. The rules have been placed into context with explanatory text while new explanatory text sets the game and how to play in context. Crucially this includes additional detail on the central role of precognition to the game, from the opening questions during setup through to the use of premonitions during play.

Project Cassandra – draft cover page

Framing all of these changes is a test layout that I have been working on since purchasing Affinity Publisher earlier this year. While there are still tweaks to be made it looks great and helps immensely in setting the tone of the document. I’m hoping that in the coming months I’ll be able to use it for some test printings, both to test out a couple of zine options and to show it off in the run-up to the kickstarter.

Yes, kickstarter. Specifically ZineQuest 2021.

I’ve been considering the possibility since this years ZineQuest as the format is an ideal match for Project Cassandra, which I have always envisaged as fitting a small booklet form. It would also allow me to bring an editor, and possibly some writers, on board. That gives me five months to complete development and more importantly spread the word about the game so if you download the playtest packet I would greatly appreciate any comments or shout outs about the game. As a tiny indie designer it can often feel like I am shouting into the void when it comes to my work so any boosts are greatly appreciated.

Playtest Packet 2 is available for download from: https://lunarshadow.itch.io/project-cassandra

Example of play with layout

System Building: Transformations (The Pressure Cooker)

After partaking in a Demon Hunters roundtable discussion last month (or was it the month before? Time is weird right now) one of the points that I’ve been pondering is how to model transformations more deeply in the system. Part of the complexity is that transformation covers a wide range of possibilities. From an at-will shapeshifter like DS9s Odo to a traditional, only at the full moon werewolf.

Rather than try and cover all of the options in a single post (or with a single rule) I’ve focused initially on what one of the attendees termed the Pressure Cooker, a transformation type where you have to build up a meter before you can transform into a powerful but focused alternate form. The Hulk would be a clear example, with Bruce Banner having a Rage track that must fill to a certain point before he can transform into the Hulk. Once transformed his ability to do anything more than smash things is severely curtailed.

I had initially intended to present these rules with an associated, rotating character sheet but that is taking longer to put together than I had anticipated (I decided to use it as a challenge to learn how to use Affinity Designer) so instead here is the current rules draft:

When you take harm you may redirect up to 5 hits to your Rage track – tick off 1 box per hit. If the track crosses the first boundary marker you may transform with a successful roll of Forceful + Fringe (werecreature), difficulty 10. If it crosses the secondary boundary marker you transform automatically and against your will.

After transforming rotate your character sheet 180 degrees.

While transformed you may only take actions actions that align with your reduced Approach + Discipline list. All other rolls are at 2d4 or impossible. While transformed you have 3 approaches rated at d10, d8 and d8 and 2 disciplines rated at d10 and d8. You may raise 2 of these by +d6 to represent the supernatural enhancements of your alternate form.

While in your Rage form you clear 2 boxes per turn (DM discretion out of combat). You may extend your rage by passing Demon Dice to the DM – tick off 1 rage box per die, up to a maximum of 3 per turn. Allies and antagonists may extend/shorten your Rage by invoking relative aspects – for each Faith/Demon die spent fill or clear a Rage box. Example aspects which could be invoked may include Scathing insult or Tranquiliser serum.

You may attempt to return to human form only after your Rage drops below the willing transformation boundary. Roll Forceful + Fringe from your human form, with a transformation difficulty equal to the number of filled Rage boxes. If the number of filled Rage boxes ever drops to 0 you automatically transform back.

First Thoughts: The Summit of Kings from Swordsfall Studios

Note: This isn’t a review as I’ve yet to have a chance to play through The Summit of Kings so the thoughts presented here are based only on a read through.

The Summit of Kings is a stand alone RPG module set in the Swordsfall universe, an AfroPunk setting by Brandon Dixon. The setting itself was the focus of the wildly successful Welcome to Tikor kickstarter last year and this game builds on that, showcasing both one small section of the world and the system that powers the RPG line associated with it. The game is centred around The Summit of Kings, a yearly tournament that brings together Jalen’s, the wordsmiths of Tikor, to battle it out through lyrics and rhythm in the hope of being crowned the Supreme Jalen. Included in the 27 pages are half a dozen pre-generated characters, character creation rules, a full system for musical battle and background information for the event.

One day I want to make a page spread as beautiful as this.

One of the most striking elements of this module is that it is absolutely stunning. The artwork is gorgeous and just speaks of the amount of depth that has gone into creating the world. There are so many elements that have gone into each that are clearly a reference to defined parts of the setting, it’s a level of detail that just wouldn’t be possible without the weight of a fully fleshed out world behind it. Alongside the art is the layout. It’s clean, crisp and works perfectly. Not many people get away with shifting between one, two and three column layouts but here everything flows smoothly and you are never left in any doubt about the intended structure of the page.

Mechanically the game is focused almost exclusively on the battles between individual Jalen’s. While this may seem limiting to some degree it is used extremely well to highlight the system and how it can be tweaked to shift the focus of the game. Rap, which was the inspiration behind the tournament, isn’t a genre that I know much about but the system included here showcases it effortlessly, from how techniques flow from Openers to Transition to Finishers or to the way that winning can be achieved by exhausting your opponents Pride. I love it, and can’t wait to see how it is expanded further in future material.

Being inspired by the Genesys RPG the system leans into the narrative elements of successes/advantages and failures/disadvantages. There’s a table to convert regular d6/d8/d12s included in the book but personally I find this approach rather clunky, especially as the conversion of each die size doesn’t completely align with the others. I believe the custom Genesys dice are compatible with the game but where the mechanics will really shine is with online platforms that tally everything up for you (and it’s worth noting that Swordsfall is a launch partner for the upcoming Role platform).

While they’re relatively minor there are a couple of points aspects where I would have appreciated either clarification or more details. The ‘How to play’ page omits the fact that you subtract failures/disadvantages from successes/advantages to get a final tally, though this is covered in the example of play. It also wasn’t clear to me whether Performance was the only skill that could be used during the Battles or whether Jalen’s were expected to mix and match (personally I quite like the idea of each skill only being usable once per contest). Finally, while a number of side hustles are described for scenes outside of the main tournament there’s no guidance about setting difficulties.

Ultimately The Summit of Kings left me wanting more – Yes, there are parts in the book where I’d have appreciated more detail but really I just can’t wait to see more of Tikor and the Swordsfall Universe. If this is a sample of what is to come then it is going to be one hell of a product when it lands.

You can purchase The Summit of Kings from:

The Swordsfall website – https://www.swordsfall.com/

as well as

Itch.io and DriveThruRPG (DriveThruRPG link includes the LunarShadow Designs affiliate ID)