Monday 31 August 2020

Those Dark Places RPG - Designer's Blog #4

 In this designer's blog I'd like to talk about my influences and what it was that helped inspire the idea that became 'Those Dark Places', as well as what kind of adventures the group can have out there.

My initial inspiration came from such movies such as 'Alien', 'Outland', 'Dark Star', 'Silent Running' and even the Disney classic 'The Black Hole'. These movies dealt with a theme I found fascinating; space is big, vast, and when you're out there you are - quite literally - on your own.

These movies dealt with different ideas and each one of them really helped me form my setting. 'Alien' gave me some stunning visuals and the aesthetic and overall design I longed for, as well as the horror of the unknown. 'Outland' gave me the fear of an indifferent company, much like 'Alien' did, and what a person must do to fight against it, as well as deal with the claustophobic place they work in where hard-pressed workers could go off at any time. 'Dark Star' gave me the awkward silliness of it all, the depressing idea that not only would you lose your way you'd lose your identity way out there in the deep black where sheer boredom and errant technology could do you in. 'Silent Running' gave me desperation and hopelesness, where a mind might crack under the pressure of indifference and ignorance. Finally, 'The Black Hole' gave me that sense of what a person might do to realise their ideals and their twisted dreams out where they feel there is no consequence, as well as what - and who - they'd sacrifice to get there.

I was also inspired by computer games such as (obviously) 'Alien Isolation', 'Dead Space' and 'Alien Breed Trilogy'. While these games deal with monsters and body horror they, too, capture the feel I was looking for; starships and stations in the middle of nowhere where no help is coming, as well as twists and turns and the need for brains as well as brawn to get you through it. 

All of these things helped create the setting of 'Those Dark Places' and, while there is no definitive timeline or history to the backgrond, there is a definitive design idea behind it all - that the darkest reaches of space, where travellers are alone and surrounded by death, can be a physical and mental minefield, where old technology can be just as dangerous as vacuum and radiation because the machines that keep people alive are thousands of cheap, easily produced and replaceable parts built by the lowest bidder in a marketplace that puts profit ahead of everything else.

So, what kind adventures can a group have? Well, that's up to the group and what kind of mood they're in. There are plenty of adventure hooks in the game - 'Those Dark Places' calls adventures 'Reports' - ranging from espionage to exploration to investigation. Although science fiction horror and thrillers influenced the game there are no direct stats and rules for the horrors in the dark - aliens, eldritch horrors, genetic monstrosities and the like - but there is absolutely nothing stopping GMs from including this kind of thing if they feel that the experience would suit their group. The system is so simple that statting such creatures would be easy.

This design decision was done on purpose; I originally designed the game with monsters and creatures involved but as I wrote I realised that there was no need for this. If I included these things then the unknown would be known and the players would anticipate these horrors, but if the choice of danger or foe was left in the hands of the GM then they would not know what to expect at all.

And that's something about 'Those Dark Places' I wanted to make sure was prevalent - that sense of nervous anticipation, of the players not knowing what was coming and that unknown factor adding to the tension. It was why I added a level of success that was basically 'Yes, but...', so that the players knew that they had barely succeeded but that scrape might come back to bite them at some point... but when?

And how?

Artwork by Nathan Anderson

Sunday 23 August 2020

Press release: 'The Cursed King' adventure for Dragon Warriors

Serpent King Games

The last few weeks have seen me working on a new project, and at last I can reveal what that project is - I'm writing a new full adventure for the Dragon Warriors fantasy roleplaying game from Serpent King Games.

I've been a huge fan if Dragon Warriors for a very long time but my love for the game exploded when the hardback book of the RPG was released. The setting, the system, the atmosphere is everything I love about old-school RPGs and I've played it a lot. I've always wanted to be able to write something for it.

Well, here I am! After finally getting everything published for it - in fact, it's the only RPG I own for which I have all the books and PDF supplements and adventures - I've absorbed the Dragon Warriors game and decided to delve into one specific location; Thuland.

The official press release is below. I'm excited to be adventuring in the Lands of Legend!

“Thuland welcomes you! The town of Oskild is celebrating a prosperous year and the Master of Rings Festival has something for everyone: games, hunts, song and plenty of food and mead. There is much to do here and the rewards are rich for those who are worthu. Oskild also has a myth, that of a cursed king who suffered for his people, a magical artefact used in revenge, and dwarves who retreated deep into the earth in shame…”

The next release for Dragon Warriors will be The Cursed King, by Jonathan Hicks. We are anticipating a February 2021 release date, as a 64-page print and PDF book. As ever we will round out the adventure with source material on the warlike kingdom of Thuland, and its jarls, merchants, farmers, smiths, and raiders, as well as adventure hooks so you can expand the adventure into a short Thuland campaign if desired.

The Cursed King is an adventure for players with characters of Rank 5-6, of any profession and heritage.

We are very much looking forward to exploring the northern waters and crags of Thuland with you!

Wednesday 19 August 2020

The Farsight Podcast Episode 7 - Influence and Inspiration

 In this episode I talk about my influences on my gaming hobby, and talk about a couple of ideas as to where to find inspiration for your own TTRPG stories.

The Farsight Podcast Episode 7

Thank you to Ryan Hicks for the awesome intro music!

Monday 10 August 2020

Those Dark Places RPG - Designer's Blog #3

Welcome to another designer's blog for my upcoming roleplaying game 'Those Dark Places'. Today I wanted to talk about character creation in the game. Trust me, this is going to be a short blog entry.

Character creation can be as detailed or as simple as you want it to be. The majority of the decisions go into deciding what kind of person you want to play, their personalities and attitudes, and there are only three choices you need to make as far as abilities go:

Choose the scores for your four attributes CHARISMA, AGILITY, STRENGTH and EDUCATION. These are the number 1, 2, 3 and 4 - there's no rolling for scores or dividing up points.

Choose a primary Crew Position.

Choose a secondary Crew Position.

That's it.

I ran a game of Those Dark Places for Gen Con 2020 recently and it lasted two hours. There were six players - who had never played the game before, nor knew anything about it - and they had all created characters within ten minutes, I spent five minutes explaining the rules and then we played. Character creation was incredibly simple because everyone has the same numbers to choose from and decisions to make regarding their position in the crew. Choosing the position not only gives them their abilites but it also gives them impetus, something to give them a purpose and helps define who they are as a character as well as their role in the group.

The Crew Positions (including such positions as Science Officer, Navigation Officer and Security Officer) are linked to certain attributes but there's no need to take any notice of that if you don't want to. Sure, you might want to be an engineer, but that doesn't mean you'll be any good at it, does it?

There are no skill lists, no long descriptions regarding how skills work or how they affect the game. When a roll is made the player/GM chooses the attribute that suits it best and then adds bonuses depending on the Crew Position and any relevant equipment. So, if the player decides to repair an engine they will have a bonus to the roll if they have the Engineer Officer Crew Position and maybe some other bonuses from relevant equipment.

Character creation is quick, easy and simple and this gives the group more time to focus on who their characters are and how they interact with each other rather than how the numbers on the sheet work and perusing over a myriad of scores and bonuses. This also does away with charts and tables, reducing the time it takes to work out a roll and enables quick resolutions. This keeps the action moving and the tension high.

In the next blog I'll talk more about the setting and how exploring the dark can make for exciting adventures.