GenCon Indy-bound and Pulp!

Next week I'll be heading stateside to that Mecca of gaming GenCon Indianapolis!

I'll be feverishly demoing and selling my wares with the Play Collective (booth 2039). The Collective are an enthusiastic group of designers who have a passion for self-publishing, including: Vincent BakerJoshua A.C. Newman, Robert Bohl , Emily Care Boss , Judd Karlman , Tony Lower-Basch , Elizabeth Shoemaker and Malcolm Craig . These are some of my favourite designers, so it's really great  to be joining them!

The booth is also partnered with the Ashcan Front. Here you'll find some late-playtest games looking for enthusiastic and constructive feedback.

As ever I'll have Covenant on sale, grab me if you want a demo or just to chat about the game and where it came from. I'll also have a limited number of copies of Pulp! which is ready for fast and furious action!

Covenant now in PDF

Well, it's been a while coming, but I finally released an electronic version of Covenant.

You can currently download the PDF at RPGNOW for a $10 price tag. This is half what the book costs, so you're getting plenty of goodness for your e-buck.

The PDF also contains all the errata and a few extra tweaks. Nothing major was added, but if you own the book, drop me and email (matt / at / realms / co / uk) and I'll hook you up with a PDF too. Gratis.

UK Games Expo 08

The last weekend in May/first in June is the second outing for UK Games Expo. Birmingham hasn't had a big con for a while, so last year's was definitely a welcome arrival. Expo covers all kinds of games from RPGs and miniatures through to board games and cards. It's notable for the effort the organisers put into outreach, doing lots of work to get kids and families in. Hopefully there'll be some crossover into the RPG arena there, they seem to have taken onboard last years comments about the RPGs being hidden away in the basement.

I'll be running two games, which you can sign up for here. A Covenant taster and a Lost Gods preview. Both will be running start games, so expect to turn up with nothing and then do zero to game in 10 minutes. RPG sessions do cost £2 to book, so I'll be busting a gut to make it worth your pennies. With luck I'll also have some freebies...

When I'm not running stuff I'll be found on the Collective Endeavour Stand, where you can also see a range of UK Smallpress games including some new faces. Keep a look out for the Revenge of the B Movie card game from Iain McAllister and Neil Gow's Napoleonic story game Duty & Honour.

For myself, I'll have nothing new to sell, but will have an early version of Lost Gods to show off and a near complete version of my miniatures skirmish game Pulp!

Of Lost Gods & Faded Dreams

As you probably notice from the sidebar, I'm rebooting a long dormant game called Lost Gods. Originally written around 2000 and billed as "a game of fading deities", the new version is different, and quite the experiment.

Lost Gods is a game of modern day deities and the mortals they manipulate. These Gods require belief to survive, but in a world riddled with doubt can only gain it from small miracles that touch an individuals life.

Whereas the old version was a fairly traditional structure for an RPG, the new one attempts some fun things with regard to character ownership and protagonists.

It's GM-less.  This decision was influenced by Contenders. That was the first game I played that got GM-less play right, by providing a tight scene structure and a solid set of economies for authority and interaction between players. Similarly the new version of Lost Gods has a much tighter set of points of influence available, designed to aid in telling particular kinds of modern fable.

Similarly the new version aims to make who the heroes of your story are more fluid. Where before the Lost Gods were obvious protagonists and player characters, now they may just be instigators, and the Mortals are who we end up caring about in the story most. Or it might end up shifting and then shifting back.

Finally, the game is currently available freely via Google Documents for playtest purposes. I plan to keep it free when it's finished. You'll be able to grab a "done" PDF from the site, and if you like you can buy a prettier "dead tree" version at conventions or via Indie Press Revolution.

Roleplaying Techniques : Adapting the Crucible to Other Games

In Covenant, there's a big round region on the centre of the the character sheet. All other elements of the character sheet feed into it. Because it's the melting pot where story is created, I named it the crucible. This is about how to adapt it to other games.

The crucible exists because I wanted a quick way to generate scenes and I wanted to show how the primary influences that act on the protagonists come together. It owes a lot to the back of the character sheet in Sorcerer, a bit to the cosmos in Polaris and a bit to my own meandering thoughts on getting characters moving quickly to drama. Essentially it's a quick and visual way of getting your character appropriate adversity in scenes.

So how does it work? Into the crucible you write at least three NPCs, and align them towards one of three regions: self, society and faction. NPCs can sit towards any number of regions, and where they sit shows what kind of influence they have on your PC. Closer to the self zone? That character matters personally to yours. Closer to the society zone? That character can exert official control over yours. Closer to faction? Unofficial control.

Obviously some characters mix these up, some might even be all three. But for the Director, looking at a player's crucible allows them to easily select elements to put in conflict. Take a character from one zone and have them act against one in another. Easy. Simple example, girlfriend in self region vs faction leader asking you to forsake sins of the flesh. Conflict!

Of course the diagram is actually more tied in than that. Look outside the three regions and there are elements that feed into them. Outside the society region are your character's official orders, that characters in that zone expect you to follow. Outside the Faction region is your factions agenda, which they expect you to pursue. Finally, outside the self region are the truisms, those beliefs your character once held but now isn't so sure about. All of these are feeding pressure into the potential situations mapped in the crucible.

There's also another plane of interaction. Because the crucible must contain a character from the cell sheet and a either another PC or a character from their crucible, all the diagrams in play are inter-linked. When a character enters conflict with somebody on their sheet, it changes their relationships with the rest of the cell. This means that cause and effect should ripple round the group during play, as relationships are adjusted based on actions and consequences. This feeds into the way truisms work, because when one is resolved and used to add edges, suddenly the amount of impact one cell member can have on the rest is out of balance. This creates tension which feeds the drama.

So how would you adapt this technique to other games? Well, it should go without saying that this technique is best used in games that revolve around the characters, their relationships and the drama those produce.

Start off by considering the influences that act on the main characters. They should be social pressures of some kind, and the players should be able to chose which of them they accept and which they reject. Without that element of choice, the threeway split is pretty meaningless. There needs to be a level of doubt for the tension to work. Think of simple, single word labels that describe these influences. These are your regions. I'd expect at least one to be self, but it could work without it.

Example: Say it's a spy game, the regions might be nation, agency and self.

Next think about what drives these three influences. What pushes these three elements on and means they can't be ignored? Why are they acting on the characters right now? In Covenant, this is the orders, agenda and truisms.

Example: In our spy game it might be oaths, orders and promises.

So there you go, quick and easy dramatic tension by way of a diagram with some character names on it.