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.

State of the Conspiracy: Lockdown Update 1

So it’s mid May which equates to week 7 or 8 since the start of lockdown for me here in the UK. It sucks and having been through a similar process when writing my thesis many years ago meant I had an inkling of just how much it would sap my creative energy. Which is why I decided I wasn’t going to make any big goals about pushing Project Cassandra forward, even though it was next on my list after the release of Mission Packet 1: N.E.O., my mini supplement for The Sprawl RPG.

That’s not to say that I’ve made no progress. Following the play tests at BurritoCon and Dragonmeet I have been slowly working my way through the text, filling gaps and preparing for the dreaded rewrites. Given they’re likely to be extensive I decided the first step was to clarify my contents, which are currently:

Teaser / Blurb
Introduction
Defining the scenario
    Setup / Questions
    Pacing
    Sample questions
    Alternative setup
Agendas
    Make events extraordinary
    Build towards a dramatic climax
    Take suspicion and twist it towards paranoia
    Play to the era
    A note on historical accuracy
Safety tools
    Lines & Veils
    Script change
The Vision
Rules of Engagement
    Taking actions
        Aiding
    Premonitions
    Conditions & consequences
    Visions
    Powers
    Knowledges
    Gear
Enacting the Conspiracy
    Building the conspiracy
    Genre and tone
    Following the action
    Challenges & The Opposition
    Nulls
Example of Play
Creating characters
Sample Characters
    Secret service agent
Small time criminal
    Academic analyst
    Reporter
Two Minutes to Midnight
    Ich bin ein Berliner
    The dark of the moon

On the face of it that feel like a lot but many of those smaller sections come out to a single paragraph and my aim is to keep the finished product to within the limits of a zine.

Why?

Because I’d like to participate in ZineQuest 3 on Kickstarter next year. Having followed it the last couple of years it seems like the ideal way to launch Project Cassandra and actually produce physical copies. It would also provide the potential for something I just can’t afford right now – an editor. It’s part of the process that I really don’t get on with and where I know the game would benefit from a fresh set of eyes.

So alongside writing I’ve been slowly putting together a budget and trying to estimate the various costs. That, in and of itself, is a rabbit hole and I’m quickly discovering how much I don’t know, so I’m glad that I made this decision with enough time to just learn.

Thankfully I’ve got plenty of time to do that, so fingers cross next February I’ll be able to include Project Cassandra amongst the list of successfully funded ZineQuest Kickstarters.

New Release: Mission Packet 1 – N.E.O. for The Sprawl RPG

The Sprawl is built around missions – The Corporations have no shortage of Credits but if you want their money you had better be prepared to do the dirty work. Steal a prototype, extract an assets or trash the market value of a rival – all in a days work for the deniable, and disposable, teams that work outside the system.

Within this Mission Packet you will find three one page job outlines to offer up to your operatives. These three missions have been constructed around the core theme of N.E.O. – Near Earth Orbit.Each one page outline provides background, mission directives and advice on running the mission.

The remaining details? They’re up to you and your operatives.

Mission Packet 1: N.E.O. includes

The Geller Protocol – A liberated AI seeks a route to the stars while its corporate masters will do anything to return it to their private networks, including recruiting a synth bounty hunter to erase any evidence of the leak.

The Shynom Bombardment – Radicals have taken hold of an orbital refinery. Before the Corporations crush the rebellion they need you to ensure an appropriate rival is blamed for the uprising.

The Equatorial Ascension – An ailing King has summoned his successor to the orbital palace but it’s time for the dynasty to enter the modern age. Switch out the Crown Prince with a doppelgänger while they ascend towards the heavens and bring the family into the Corporate fold.

Mission Packet 1: N.E.O. is available now from Itch.io or drivethruRPG and for the duration of the Coronavirus epidemic is available as Pay What You Want download. Like what you see? Then check out The Synth Convergence, a full trilogy of missions for The Sprawl available from Itch.io and drivethruRPG.

Mission Packet 1: N.E.O. requires a copy of The Sprawl RPG, available from drivethruRPG. Links to drivethruRPG include the LunarShadow Designs affiliate ID and may earn me a small commission at no cost to yourself.

New Release – Slice of Life: A Demonic Fiasco

Gods. Demons. Magic. The supernatural. It’s all real and the only thing that stands between it and the end of the world is the Brotherhood of the Celestial Torch. That and paperwork, because do you know how difficult it is to get a permit for the end of the world? #@&%ing difficult and more than one apocalypse has been averted because the resurrected avatar of Death failed to file the forms in triplicate before commencing their rampage.

So while the lawyers file another round of injunctions against infernal interference we need you! We need you out there on the front line, protecting the mortal realm from more mundane evils. Horny teenage werewolves, vampires with questionable personal hygiene, lactomancers. Jims.

Fight the good fight. Who knows, you might even survive the day.

Slice of Life: A Demonic Fiasco is a playset for the Fiasco RPG inspired by the Demon Hunters: Slice of Life episode Clean Up Crew. This playset requires a copy of the Fiasco RPG by Bully Pulpit Games. Knowledge of the Demon Hunters franchise by Dead Gentlemen Productions is recommended.

Slice of Life: A Demonic Fiasco is available now as a Pay What You Want download from Itch.io or DriveThruRPG (link includes the LunarShadow Designs affiliate ID).

Design diary: Going backwards to go forwards

Getting into RPG publishing has involved quite a steep learning curve – from the basics of how to write a game (you just write a game) through to the intricacies of publishing that final product. Taking the dive right in approach I decided early on that I wanted to aim for a better layout than I could reasonably achieve with just a text document so I started to teach myself. Thanks to training in how to format academic posters I already had an understanding of the basics but dug deeper into the theory, guided by the The Non‑Designer’s Design Book.

Simultaneously I also dived into the software side in the form of Scribus, a free and open source desktop publishing program. While not as powerful or as intuitive (or as functional) as InDesign as a newbie doing this as a hobby it provided everything I needed and more. The difference between Channel Surfing, my first release using Scribus through to The Synth Convergence are a testament to the value of incremental improvements.

Last month though I made the switch from Scribus to Affinity Publisher, a vastly more powerful program and decided to go back to basics from the get go – everything from templates and style guides to page organisation and image assets. The difference was, once again, rather immediate even though I had yet to add anything beyond placeholder content.

This week though, after spending a number of hours just on setup and planning I made a rather hard decision. To start again. Why? Not because the template wasn’t working or because I’d abandoned the project but because of the slim possibility that I might want to submit these files for Print on Demand at some point in the future. It’s not the only thing I’ve thrown out this week – I’ve restarted a Sprawl mission draft three times because it wasn’t working. It’s only a small amount of text but it simply wasn’t working.

That willingness to throw material away, or even admit something wasn’t working has been a hard lesson to learn. A little over month into 2020 and happily going backwards. It’s not the position I’d planned to be in at this point but hopefully the extra work will pay off in the long run.

2020: Initial Projects

After a rush of activity at the end of 2019 I’ve started the year a little more sedately while I work out what I want to focus on. Right now that has involved a significant amount of jumping between ideas, making a little progress and then moving to the next one. I’ve completed a draft of The Geller Protocol, the first of my Sprawl mission packets (using a minimal one page format) and made headway with Say Aaargh, an expanded version of the very first Demon Hunters adventure I ever ran. Progress on Clean-Up Crew continues to evade me – the Fiasco format is harder to get my head around than I ever imagined but I would really like to get it completed so I can wrap up the Slice of Life material.

In typical fashion it is The Dyson Eclipse where my brain is firing on all cylinders. It probably helps here that I’m still at the ideas stage, so I can just jot down options and possibilities without needing to work them into a cohesive whole. What I’m still missing though is that central conceit.

What is the core focus of the game, what do the characters do.

Until I can get that solidified any real progress is going to be at a glacial pace as I can’t lock in mechanics without that aspect. So for now I’m researching – despite being a massive sci-fi fan my collection of sci-fi RPGs is relatively small. I’ve picked a few core systems to go over, to see how they work through the problem and what options they present for gameplay beyond the typical scoundrels in space.

The final thing I’ve been working on is learning to use Affinity Publisher after buying a new desktop computer for at home. That has been a lot of fun and I’ve been going back to basics as I get to grips with it. So far, so good and I think the fact that I have a much better appreciation of layout concepts than when I first opened up Scribus has been a massive help. I’ve started to put together a series of layout templates for Demon Hunters as once Clean-Up Crew is out I’d like to do a complete revamp of my layout. There isn’t anything explicitly wrong with my existing format but it could definitely be a lot better. The alternate badness table incorporated a number of new elements and going forward I’d like to have a template that would be useable for both PDF and print formats. Yes, that’s right. Print. DrivethruRPG offer print on demand options so I think it is worth exploring. It would be great if some day in the future I could offer material at a convention and this is one of the options that would facilitate that.

After saying that I’d started off sedately putting this together actually makes me realise that I am already making progress on projects even if it isn’t automatically apparent.

Reflecting on 2019 – Part 3: Earnings

As the hobby grows and diversifies there has been a growing trend amongst indie developers to talk about sales and earnings. While I am only a small hobby publisher I wanted to put my numbers out there, partially so the info is available but also as a point of reference for myself for next year.

DrivethruRPG

ProductRelease Date2019 Sales (Paid / Total)Total Sales since release2019 EarningsTotal Earnings
Towerfall05/2016– / 18207
Channel Surfing05/20173 / 20283$3.50$5.13
Missionary Opposition12/20172 / 24241$4.55$7.80
Lockdown08/20184 / 37162$3.75$5.77
Trick of the Light07/20196 / 106106$7.02$7.02
Talentless Hacks12/20192 / 7171$0.70$0.70
The Tannhauser Investment10/2019– / 299299
The Synth Convergence11/201917 / 1717$48.00$48.00
Earnings represent my personal take home after deduction of marketplace fees and automatic payments to collaborators.

Itch

ProductRelease Date2019 Paid Sales / Community copies / Total Downloads*2019 EarningsTotal Earnings
Channel Surfing05/20190 / 0 / 0$0$0
Missionary Opposition06/20190 / – / 1$0$0
Lockdown06/20190 / – / 1$0$0
Trick of the Light07/20190 / – / 4$0$0
Talentless Hacks12/20190 / – / 2$0$0
The Synth Convergence11/20192 / 3 / 39$10.72$10.72
*Itch reports the total downloads for a product as the sum of each individual file as opposed to number of individuals who have purchased the product. For The Synth Convergence this sums both downloads of the free demo and the two files in the full trilogy – what I don’t know is whether those are by the same users or unique users.
Earnings represent my personal take home after deduction of marketplace fees and automatic payments to collaborators.

Not listed in those tables is the £60 for Ghosts of Iron as part of the Crystal Heart kickstarter or a small amount of affiliate link earnings, adding those in brings my total earnings for 2019 to ~£110. Not exactly much but definitely better than nothing.

Thoughts

Looking at the tables there is quite a stark difference between the two platforms. DrivethruRPG is the dominant marketplace for RPGs and the number of downloads reflects this. It is impossible, however, to determine how many of those downloads represent active engagement with the product versus people scraping the site and downloading every free/PWYW release.

With the exception of Missionary Opposition, which started as PWYW before I switched it to a $1.50 paid product, each of my adventure starters for Demon Hunters have been released as PWYW. The main reason for this is because I originally pledged to produce them as a way of supporting the Slice of Life kickstarter. I said I would make them freely available and I have but going forward my plan is to switch over to a predominantly paid model. The overall sales will be smaller but I would like to price future adventures higher to reflect the work that has gone into them. The question here though is whether there is a market for more Demon Hunters material.

The big seller was obviously The Synth Convergence, which has quickly racked up a number of sales. I’d attribute this to two things – The Sprawl is quite a well know game and it received a number of promotional boosts thanks to people retweeting or mentioning it. Even with that though the number of sales on drivethruRPG were higher than on itch. I’ve seen people talking about itch being a better platform and getting more sales than on drivethruRPG but I think that is going to be very dependent on what you’re releasing, whether you’re a known entity and the circles you interact with. I’m not going to stop publishing there but clearly it will require more work going forward.

New Release: Talentless Hacks Adventure Starter for Demon Hunters RPG

Hollywood. People go missing all the time, it’s a big place and people don’t tend to announce when they’ve decided to give up the dream and head back home. So when a 3rd rate mystic was apparently possessed live on daytime TV the Brotherhood took notice and your team got the call. Track down the mystic and find out what’s really going on. They’re probably just another run of the mill fraud but if not we need to find the spirits and this group of talentless hacks before whatever they summoned gets loose.

Talentless Hacks is an adventure starter for the Demon Hunters: A Comedy of Terrors RPG by Dead Gentlemen Productions. Inspired by the Demon Hunters Slice of Life bonus episode Feed the Beast this adventure starter provides a framework for DMs to adapt and run an adventure for their home groups.

Within it you will find a mission overview, breakdown of important locations, intel, threats and a collection of NPCs to populate the adventure. With an open ended structure it is up to you and your group to decide how the adventure will unfold

Will the Chapter save the day? Possibly. 

Will they be lauded as heroes? Unlikely.

Will the chaos and destruction that follows them be captured on camera and risk exposing the entire Brotherhood? Almost certainly.

Talentless Hacks is available now from drivethruRPG and itch.io as a Pay What You Want release. Paid purchases, feedback or reviews are greatly appreciated and keep me motivated to produce more material.

Disclaimer: Links to driveThruRPG include the LunarShadow Designs affiliate ID. If you chose to purchase anything using these links I will earn a small commission from driveThruRPG at no cost to you.

New Release: The Synth Convergence

Initialising subroutines… decryption protocols active
(cy2.12) CaseHD@AlphaC
Password: *****************************
Identity confirmed… Welcome back runner

Encrypted message incoming
RouteTrace.ise: Interrupt error 2.5 – dumping log
Message begins:

Welcome to the future hackers and runners, mercs and shadows. Welcome to The Synth Convergence from LunarShadow Designs.

It takes time and money to be a professional which means one thing – jobs. Off the book, spec-ops jobs run by deniable resources that work outside the Corporate system that runs the Sprawl and every other one just like it. The Synth Convergence provides teams with a trilogy of new missions built around synthetic lifeforms. Push the limits of technology with independent, autonomous artificial intelligences that require no sleep, no wages and no rights.

In The Tannhauser Investment (also available as free demo from drivethruRPG and itch.io) your team are brought in to negotiate the tricky process of a hostile Corporate takeover – all while evading the awareness of the synth consciousness built into the super-luxury hotel the target is holed up in.

The Infinitive Extraction takes the team to the beating heart of the entertainment districts as they seek to extract Infinitive Cascade, the hottest DJ on the circuits from an exploitative contract. But do your employers want them for their musical talents or the military codebase at the core of their personality matrix?

Finally in The Vanda-Weiss Demolition the past catches up with your operatives as they face off against The Evolved, a radical fringe group dedicated to wiping out synths and returning humanity to the true path before they are toppled by their own creations.

Get in, do the job, get out. It’s never that simple but if it was they wouldn’t have hired professionals like you.

The Synth Convergence is available to purchase now from driveThruRPG or itch.io. The Synth Convergence requires a copy of The Sprawl RPG to play. Purchase it from Ardens Ludere on driveThruRPG. Support the creators – buy the game.

Disclaimer: Links to driveThruRPG include the LunarShadow Designs affiliate ID. If you chose to purchase anything using these links I will earn a small commission from driveThruRPG at no cost to you.

Con Report: BurritoCon4

It feels like it was only yesterday that I was reporting on BurritoCon 3 (was it really all the way back in July?) yet I find myself back from BurritoCon 4, held once again at FanBoy 3 in Manchester. Organised by @OldScouserRPing I had another amazing day of gaming that just highlights what small events can achieve. Games were once again split into two three-hour slots with five tables a piece (though one morning game was unfortunately cancelled due to GM illness) and a host of systems on offer (none of which were D&D!).

For the morning slot I gravitated straight to Goblin Quest, a comedy, semi-narrative game of incompetent Goblins attempting to complete tasks that are beyond their feeble capabilities. It was an utter blast and I’ll be keeping an eye out for a copy of it in the future. Somehow, despite our many deaths (each player has a small contingent of goblins at their disposal) we completed our simple task of putting on a play and even avoided being fireballed by evil Wizards at the end.

The well-seasoned clutch of Yark, N’Gargh and Mesk. None of whom survived their mission.

For the afternoon slot I had volunteered to run a game and keeping with the comedy theme I went with Demon Hunters: A Comedy of Terrors. I’ve been working on Talentless Hacks, the latest Slice of Life adventure starter, so this provided an excellent field test of the material.

With only 3 hours I chose to cut a number of the investigative elements, to the extent that I was worried about finishing early but we came in almost exactly on time. The game was great fun and all of the players really got into the characters and setting, culminating with the fight against REDACTED. There were definitely elements that could be improved and I don’t think the PCs were ever in any real danger (it is one of my consistent weaknesses as a GM) so I’ll be upping some of the threats during editing. Overall though the adventure works so it’ll be my priority once The Synth Convergence is released.

One of the nice touches of Fanboy 3 is their approach to supporting GMs, players pay £3 per session while the GM not only gets to run for free but receives £1 store credit per player! I’ve been consuming snippets of Cthulhu inspired material recently so my credit went towards the Mother’s Love hardback for The Cthulhu Hack, an excellent lightweight take on the genre. I don’t tend to run much in the way of prewritten material but flicking through the adventures in the book they grabbed my attention so hopefully I’ll get a chance to run some players through them soon.

While there are no immediate plans for the next BurritoCon I can say for sure that I’ll be keeping an eye out for the next one as the event and venue have been excellent each time. My next and final convention attendance of the year will be DragonMeet at the end of November, an event I’ve not been to since moving away from the South East. If you’re going to be there give me a shout.