One of the results of working on Project Cassandra is that I’ve been trying to learn more about the central events of the Cold War. Being born in the early 80’s I only vaguely remember the tail end of it, such as the Berlin Wall coming down but the bulk of it is something that I’ve had to learn about. The JFK assassination was something that I studied in school but I’ve avoided diving into while working on the game as I specifically didn’t want to focus on that tragic real world event.
Even so this coming across this article – Photo showing Lee Harvey Oswald with same type of gun used to kill JFK ‘authentic’ – got my attention and has set thoughts moving again, specially this time about the ideas of conspiracies and secret plots while I expand on a few sections of the game, most notably scenario advice for the GM.
Of the three games I ran at Gateway 2015 the one I was most apprehensive about was Project Cassandra, most simply because it was the first time I’d run it for people I didn’t know. There are a number of steps between now and publishing it, the first of which is working out what needs changed so this summary will try and pull together my thoughts about how it went in order to get me thinking about edits.
Project Cassandra: 4 Minutes to Midnight
The Cold War. A time of spies, paranoia & fear. A top secret research project into ESP yields startling results, only to be betrayed from the inside after the subjects receive a shocking premonition: The President is due to be assassinated at an upcoming rally. Fleeing from the flames and with only their developing psychic abilities to aid them can the subjects stop the attack, or is the Cold War about to turn Hot?
All in all not too bad but a little on the short side and could have had more details, especially about the system given nobody would be familiar with it. Definitely something that I’ll need to work on a little.
Part of my aim with Project Cassandra was to give the players an element of control in determining the setup for the game. The characters are psychics after all. Prior to this I’d already decided on a number of elements, designed to frame the questions. Firstly it was 1969, Nixon is a year into his presidency and Apollo 12 has just returned from the moon with news of a startling discovery. The project members have learned of this through one of their visions and that President Nixon will announce the discovery to the world in 3 days during a speech at MIT. Unfortunately for the President they’ve also predicted that the President will be assassinated during said speech, spinning the world into the chaos of mutually assured nuclear destruction.
For the Gateway game this led to the following questions (and answers from the players):
- The assassin will strike during the President’s speech. What will be their primary method?
A prototype robot, unveiled by the President earlier in the speech.
- What did the Apollo missions discover that has led to the assassination attempt?
A clearly unnatural monolith, of unknown origin.
- How are the Russian’s involved? Or are they just scapegoats?
The Russian’s have reprogrammed the robot to stop the US from being able to claim the monolith first.
- Who do you need to find at the diner on Highway 29?
Yuri ‘the defector’ (We left details about Yuri deliberately vague)
- What is Senator Rickman’s role in the plot?
He is a spy for the Russian’s
All in all this provided a good setup, I already had ideas for a number of scenes lined up, such as the diner but until this point I didn’t know who they were meeting or why. The robot, well that threw me but that’s the point of the questions, to mix things up for the GM. All in all, a good start to the game.
Next up, the game itself.
It’s been a month since Gateway and ideally I’d have wanted to have had an updated document for Project Cassandra up by now. Work and DIY at home have, unfortunately been sucking up more time than I’d have hoped.
That’s not to say that there hasn’t been any progress, the rules updates are almost complete, though widening the skill list is proving more challenging than I’d expected. The next immediate step is a revision of the text in general after which I’m aiming to solicit feedback from a few RPG design communities.
Then comes the big steps, artwork and layout. My drawing skills are pretty much non-existent so if I want to get some artwork in there it means commissioning some. At a minimum the aim is character images plus a cover though I’ve got ideas for a few other images if I can afford them. Layout I’m likely to try myself, the rules are short enough that they shouldn’t need too complex a setup and it’s about time I played around with Scribus.
Fingers crossed it won’t be another month until I get the update out but I’ll wait and see on that one.
A few Thursdays ago (3rd September to be exact) began the journey that had resulted from one of my wackier ideas of late, I set off to Gateway 2015, one of the Strategicon gaming conventions run throughout the year at the Hilton at Los Angeles Airport. For those that don’t know me this was, all in all, a rather wacky idea for the simple reason that I live in the UK and I was basically going to the other side of the world just for the gaming convention, having set aside only a single day of the trip to be a tourist.
Why would I undertake such a trip? Because of the fine folks of the Happy Jacks RPG Podcast, and the rather amazing community that has grown up around the show. Since leaving Glasgow three and a half years ago the amount of gaming I’m doing has drastically reduced and those games I do play in are primarily run online. I miss face to face games and most of all I miss doing them with friends. So I flew five and a half thousand miles for the chance to play in games with people I only knew online and from podcasts. Sounds crazy right?
Turns out while it was crazy it was also one of the best weekends of gaming I’ve ever had and all the people I met were genuinely brilliant fun to be around and I got to have a great time in the games I played in / run. I’m aiming to do separate posts for the three games I ran (Project Cassandra, Demon Hunters: A Comedy of Terrors and Firefly) but first a quick round up of Gateway itself.
Continue reading “Gateway 2015: General Roundup”
This past weekend I ran Project Cassandra at a convention (Gateway 2015 in Los Angeles) for the first time using a scenario called 4 Minutes to Midnight (I’m thinking of incorporating that into the actual game title). It was the first time I’d brought together all the rules and complete character sheets into a single file, which can now be downloaded from the following link: Project Cassandra Gateway Beta Edition.
A full session report will follow shortly, as soon as I get past the jet lag. Suffice to say it highlighted a few things that worked really well and a few that didn’t. The biggest issue was the target numbers, characters typically had either too many applicable specialities or had virtually none. Coupled with the premonition mechanic whereby they were only rerolling failed dice and it ended up being harder than it should have to challenge the characters. I’ve already started incorporating some relatively simple fixes into the system which should sort these issues, the main changes being:
- Changing the specialities of each character to broaden their scope while reduce the number that can be easily combined
- Premonitions will now re-roll all the dice with the best result being kept
- Remove 1 premonition from each stack (essential for con games)
- Add suggestions for actions requiring multiple successes (such as tough opponents)
All in all the changes aren’t too major and hopefully I’ll be able to incorporate them relatively quickly, after that the next step is artwork and layout.
After quite a bit of work and tinkering with the game that’s included more than one rewrite of the system Project Cassandra is finally at a stage where I’m happy to put it out there as a fairly complete document that includes both full rules and mostly complete characters. At this point the core game is, I hope, there and the rest of the work consists of editing, layout and getting some artwork together. Then finally try and spread the word about the game, while just being able to say I’ve written a game was my real goal it would be nice if people outside of my own group actually played it.
Download Project Cassandra Draft 1 (pdf)
Its been too long since I did a Project Cassandra update (or any regular posts but on that one, ssshhh) for the simple reason that the game went back to the drawing board quite heavily after the first (and so far only) playtest. That session identified a fatal flaw in the system, simply put tasks were either impossible because characters lacked a given skill or too easy due to the combination of sufficient skills and the premonition abilities. Originally the system had been designed as a fork from that of Lady Blackbird, with players building a dice pool from their available skills. The major difference, however, is that each character in Lady Blackbird has a pool of dice they can draw from to add to rolls, thus even unskilled characters can potentially still roll a large number of dice. In replacing that with Premonitions, which allow rerolls of dice, I’d severely limited the potential of players to complete goals when they lacked the right skills.
Having spent a fair amount of time considering the matter the system has been completely overhauled. All rolls are now made from a fixed pool of 5d6 with the number of skills available setting the range on the dice which count as successes. For example if they have only 1 applicable skill then only 1’s count as successes, 4 skills and 1-4 all count as successes.
Having already fallen foul of probabilities with the first version of the system I’ve made sure to do a bit of maths this time round and as is apparent from the figure the curves are much nicer this time. The difference though is that even with a low number of skills it’s still theoretically possible to achieve a high number of successes, even before accounting for the Premonition ability. There’s also the added bonus that with it being always being possible to succeed at hard tasks players will be encouraged to spend their premonitions more frequently.
With that major hurdle out of the way the second issue to resolve was that of the skill trees. In order to ensure a player always has something to roll each tree now starts as either MENTAL, PHYSICAL or SPECIALIST before breaking down into the specific skills. With those changes, plus some rewording of the skills themselves the game is pretty much ready for another playtest session which can be worked around the writing of character bio’s plus the rules pages.