I’m going to put out a separate con report later this week but wanted to quickly talk about my purchases from the convention first.
Goblin Quest by Grant Howitt
Did I intend to purchase this: Yes
I first came across this delightfully silly game of incompetent Goblins only recently at BurritoCon. Inspired by how much fun I’d had, and working completely from memory, I then hacked it to run a slasher inspired Halloween game that was just as much fun. Based on all that and plans to run a Christmas themed Elf Quest I knew I needed to pick this up and had purchased it less than half an hour after arriving. Skimming over the various hacks included with the game and its clear that this is one I’ll be coming back to on a regular basis.
Scum and Villainy from Evil Hat
Did I intend to purchase this: Yes
I’ve been looking to pick up a copy of this for quite a while. I love sci-fi games but own relatively few of them while the Happy Jacks mini-campaign earlier this year piqued my interest in the system, especially given I’d yet to pick up any other Forged in the Dark games. I’ve not opened it yet and don’t know when I’ll play it but suspect this game will be a great reference during development of The Dyson Eclipse.
The Sprawl by Ardens Ludere
Did I intend to purchase this: No
Given I’d released The Synth Convergence only the day before Dragonmeet you might be surprised that I didn’t already own a physical copy of this book. The simple reason behind this is that I’d never seen it in print in the UK before this weekend so I jumped at the chance when I spotted it. Great game and one that I really need to introduce more players to.
Alien RPG corebook by Free League
Did I intend to purchase this: No
Ok, confession time. I have never watched Alien. Or Aliens. Or any other entry in the wider franchise. Despite that I ended up regretting not buying this during the pre-order period. Why? Firstly, Fria Ligan have put out consistently great products since exploding onto the gaming scene. Secondly, I listened to the Idle Red Hands actual play and really enjoyed what I saw. Finally, I saw the book which is absolutely stunning. The artwork alone would have made it a worthwhile (but expensive) purchase even if the game hadn’t looked so awesome. I can’t wait to run this next year and to see how the line develops.
Crystal Heart Action & Adventure Deck by Up to Four Players
Did I intend to purchase this: Sort of
I’d ummed and ahhed about picking this up during the Crystal Heart Kickstarter but decided against it for some reason. Then I saw the final artwork in the PDF and knew I wanted it so dropped by the stall to pick it up. The material put out by Eran and Aviv has been consistently awesome and I can see myself acquiring quite the collection as they release more material for the setting.
Disclaimer: I wrote one of the stretch goal adventures for the Crystal Heart Kickstarter and had access to the draft material for the main book prior to publication. I purchased the print edition as a regular backer to the Kickstarter using my own money.
While the Kickstarter for Crystal Heart by Up to Four Players has already completed delivery of the PDF of the setting book and most of the stretch goals (as I write this I’ve just received an email with yet another PDF – printable character minis!) I’ve been eagerly awaiting delivery of the physical book. I got home from work yesterday to find it waiting for me and I have to say that it is absolutely gorgeous. 216 pages, full colour, amazingness that cover everything you’d need to run a game in the world. How to create Agents of Syn, using Crystals, the five lands that comprise the known world. This is a seriously impressive and detailed book at every level.
I’m going to hold off on a review until I get a chance to run a few sessions with my current group so for now here’s just a few pictures to whet your appetite. If you missed out on the Kickstarter you can buy the PDF on drivethruRPG while physical copies should (I believe) be coming to retail soon. Eran and Aviv will also be at Dragonmeet next week (30th November 2019) and will have the book on show there (Edit: Looks like they will have it for sale at the convention).
It’s hard to understate the value of playtesting a game or adventure. The human brain excels at filling in the gaps and seeing what it expects to see, so when you’ve been immersed a piece of work it’s all too easy to overlook simple errors or conflicting information. You know that the map to the dungeon can be found in the secret archives of the thieves guild but then forget to mention that the thieves guild even exists. Or maybe you alter the adventure hook and now a merchant is not only the big bad antagonist but is also found dead during the opening scene. Suddenly the players are paranoid about shape-shifting doppelgangers and you’re left with either retconning everything or trying to adjust the plot on the fly.
In a home game, GMs are expected to adapt as they go but when it comes to publishing an adventure those little (and sometimes large) errors just cause headaches. Another GM reading what you have written doesn’t know all the little details that you omitted due to space limitations or that your players always break into the wizard’s tower on the first floor, hence why there is no description of the ground floor. It’s up to interpretation, which is why published material should always be playtested and read over by an editor. Trust me on this, it’s a lesson I have learned the hard way.
With that in mind last week I ran a playtest for Ghosts of Iron, the first step in identifying any potential issues that I had overlooked or details that I had omitted. As the writer I went in with a few clear questions I wanted to answer:
Does the adventure work as written? Not ‘does the version floating around in the head work’ but does the one-sheet writeup provide enough detail at the correct points for the players to know what they need to do and be able to do it.
Is the adventure fun? I’m serious here, as an experienced GM it’s easy to fall into the trap of assuming you will always write a daring tale of thrilling heroics but that is never the case. I’ve written and run adventures that just fell flat before so I couldn’t assume that this one would automatically be enjoyable.
Are the difficulties appropriate to the task at hand? It’s all too easy to write a challenge that is impossibly difficult or, conversely, absurdly easy. This is especially true when you assume a particular party composition with the associated skill sets.
Can it be broken? There is truth in the statement that two heads are better than one. It’s especially true in gaming if there is a challenge that the GM has set then at least one player will think of an unexpected way around it. This is good, and isn’t something to be avoided. The issues you want to avoid are those that completely break the scenario, that turns 4 hours of fun into a 30-minute tale of there and back again.
Thankfully, the playtest worked pretty well. I was careful to keep to the details as they were written and from my perspective, it easily passed the first two hurdles. On the third, we identified a few points where the difficulties as written assumed the PCs possessed a less frequently used skill (which they didn’t) while the combat encounters were appropriately balanced given the action-orientated nature of the mission. As for the final question, can it be broken? Almost. The players did identify a possible way to bypass the first third of the mission due to a missing detail during the mission briefing. It’s an easy fix and one that I’m glad we spotted.
Beyond those core questions, the playtest also picked up on smaller, non-critical issues, such as elements that needed to be clarified or highlighted better. So while a major rewrite isn’t going to be required (this time) I have plenty to work with before passing it on for the next critical step – external editing.
With the successful completion of the Crystal Heart Kickstarter in December, I find myself in the fortunate position of starting 2019 with a commission to write RPG material for somebody else. The brief for the adventure was broad – something that an Agent of Syn might face, including an NPC ability or hazard to demonstrate knowledge of what makes Savage Worlds fast, furious and fun! My pitch, as presented during the Kickstarter campaign was:
So where do I start? How do I go from a pitch to a finished adventure? I’m aiming to cover that process through a series of blog posts as I develop Ghosts of Iron.
Right now, that answer is research. While this may be my first commission there are a wealth of resources I can draw on. Firstly, there are my own adventure starters which were designed around a similar framework to One Sheet adventures – streamlined overviews that outline the adventure but require additional GM input to fully flesh out. It also helps that Pinnacle, the company behind Savage Worlds have a treasure trove of One Sheets available as free downloads from their website. I’ve begun mining that to put together a framework – what should be included, how do I highlight sections, how much detail do I give locations vs NPCs vs plot. Once I have identified those I can start to take my existing notes and begin to fit them to the page.
Secondly, there is the Crystal Heart setting itself. While the book is still in development Eran and Aviv have already showcased the world through the webcomic and accompanying page notes. Over the coming months, I’ll be going back to that repeatedly, to pick up on details that I might have missed and to ensure that my adventure embodies the spirit of the setting.
I’ve posted already about the Crystal Heart Kickstarter and how amazing it is going to be but as of today, it becomes personally awesome. Why? Because I’m going to be writing one of the stretch goals! If the campaign hits £20,500 then I will be writing a one-sheet adventure titled ‘Ghosts of Iron’. The teaser, courtesy of the Kickstarter:
Piracy is nothing new to the Islands, but of late a new name has come to the fore: Arakil, the iron-clad ghost ship that attacks from beneath the waves.
The Kickstarter runs for another week and at the time of writing is sitting at £18,629, well past its funding target of £12,000. Find more details (and back it) via the Kickstarter page or head to Up to Four Players to read the webcomic that showcases the world (and the fantastic art by Aviv that will be throughout the setting book).
While I enjoy the system I’ve never been a big backer of Kickstarters for Savage Worlds, even to the extent that I didn’t back the recent campaign for the latest edition of the core rules. Of the many settings only Deadlands and its spin-off Deadlands Noir have really grabbed me. Everything else has gone on my “I might pick it up eventually” list.
Until Crystal Heart.
Developed by Eran and Aviv through their webcomic Up to Four Players, Crystal Heart presents a world in the process of uncovering lost artifacts and knowledge from an advanced Bygone Age. The most powerful of these relics are Crystals, gems of unknown origins that channel unique abilities and powers to the wielder. The catch? The only known method of controlling them requires that the user have their own heart surgically removed and replaced with the Crystal. Only one organisation admits to possessing the skills necessary to do so, Syn. Their Agents are relentless, fearless. Heartless.
The setting is beautiful, intriguing and while only a small percentage of the world has been explored its clear that it has a depth to it that many settings lack. Best of all? A setting book is on Kickstarter right now, the project went live earlier today and is already sailed past the 50% mark.
So what’s included in the Kickstarter? For £15 (~$19) you’ll get the full setting book in PDF format plus any bonus PDFs which are unlocked via stretch goals. £30 (~$38) + shipping will net you the physical book plus all the PDFs while the £55 (~$70) + shipping ‘fan’ level rewards you with all the PDFs, the physical book, print issues of the Up to Four Players comic, dice tray and sticker sheets. In contrast to many Kickstarters, Eran and Aviv have gone for a relatively simple tier structure, with only a single, limited quantity, high-level pledge at £175 (~$225). For that, you get to create a Syn Agent to be included in the setting book, which will include character artwork by Aviv.
The details of the stretch goals have yet to be announced but will include additional content for the core book, a collection of one-sheet adventures and custom Crystal-themed bennies. Given the goal for the Kickstarter is likely to be reached within the first day it shouldn’t be long before the details for these are unveiled.
If you’re interested in the Kickstarter then you can find it here and it’s running until Tuesday 11th December. If you want more information about the setting then I’d highly recommend the comics, which can be found at www.uptofourplayers.com and if that isn’t enough then how about checking out the free starter set, which includes an overview of the setting, pre-generated characters and an introductory adventure? You can download that via the Up to Four Players website or directly from drivethruRPG.