Thursday, 17 September 2020

a Free Hobby

Threads on the subreddit for board games tend to fall into one of a few categories. Is this game any good, framed as “is it worth the money”. This new game is out now/soon, framed as “here’s a thing you can [soon] buy”. Here’s my collection, or “here are the things I’ve bought”. Even the more innocuous posts like personal crafts projects often result in comments asking to purchase the thing someone’s made.

The rpg subreddit, and other online spaces for talking about ttrpgs, aren’t all that different. Online conversations about hobbies are framed around money. This extends to physical spaces, too. In a pre-socially-distanced world, the real-world hubs for the hobby were, at least through the US-centric lens of most conversations, the FLGS (where you buy things) and the game convention (where people sell you things).

As someone who can’t afford to frequent games stores or travel to conventions, I could have seen this focus on interaction with the hobby through commerce as a deterrent, or passive capitalist gatekeeping. Same as any other hobby with a price point - I can’t play golf, and wouldn’t consider trying, because I’m aware of the costs involved. The money means it’s not for me.

As game designers know, if most of your book is combat rules people will think your game’s about combat - and if most of the conversation around your hobby is framed around commerce, people will think they need money to engage with it. People will assume, fairly reasonably, that buying and owning things is the primary mode of engagement with tabletop as a community and, by extension, a pastime.

Luckily, my personal gateway to games was through old hand-me-downs and homebrew, and eventually through stumbling into a sphere of generous, creative writers and designers, happy to build things for fun and share them with anyone who might want them. Free content was my introduction to this hobby and, like any interest, without a suitable introduction I doubt I’d ever have engaged with it.

Free stuff as a gateway is brought up fairly regularly, but the conversation often stops there. The fact that the current most popular ttrpg, 5e, has its basic rules available for free, is mentioned briefly in your average introductory blog post or YouTube video - but the underlying assumption is always that you will, sooner or later, buy things. The starter set is “only” x dollars, or you can use online dice rollers “until” you want to buy your own custom dice set. The assumption is that you will spend money on something at some point.

And, yes, all these prices are relatively low. This is an enormously reasonable hobby, by and large. But any price point is a barrier to entry in a world in which poverty exists. I’m not against creators putting price tags on art to express its value within the restrictions of capitalism, and I’m certainly not against artists trying to use their skills to earn a living and survive. This is how the world works at the moment. Knowing that money sucks ass and that I need it for rent are not mutually exclusive beliefs. Insert Matt Bors comic, etc. But the fact remains that any product outside my price range is by its nature inaccessible. TSR’s greatest and most terrible innovation was turning home games and zines into a paid subscription model.

(Side note on piracy - if it’s your only option then you do you. If you’re using it to deny hegemonic corporations your money then that’s chill, but also you... do realise you don’t have to play their games at all, right? And if you’re using it to deny income to poor and marginalised creators then fuckin check yourself.)

The thing is that under all this, under all the starter sets and subscriptions, the free SRDs and at-cost PoDs, the limited editions and Invisible Suns, the collections and libraries and d20s made of gemstones... under the restrictions placed on it by capitalism, which are the same ways in which capitalism affects all things, this is a free hobby. Anyone can access it free of charge, and crucially anyone can continue to play, indefinitely, without spending.

There are free games. There are free modules, adventures, hacks. Free essays to read, free conversations to engage in, creators who are open to dialogue. It costs nothing - not nothing but, not nothing until. Tabletop RPGs are, at their heart, entirely separate from capitalism. Not above it or transcending it, not below or restricted by it. They are communal traditions. My game design didn’t start with the first book I bought and hacked, but with my playground games and notes scrawled on stolen paper.

Now, this is obvious, but please, please, support independent creators. I wish I could put out everything I make for free, and I do my best, but that’s just not the world we live in right now. Capitalism uses money to denote value, and so if you feel you’ve found value in this hobby, and are able to support the people who make the stuff you like... well, y’know. Money, mouth. You can start here, hint hint.

But if you, or someone you know, thinks this space isn’t for them because they’ve fallen on hard times, or have never not known hard times, if someone is working class or marginalised or just has better things to spend their money on... this space has no ticket price. You’re already included.

D&D is folk art. It is made of words, the only legitimate barriers to play are accessibility, culture and communication, and capitalist restrictions on our hobby are entirely arbitrary.

Tuesday, 15 September 2020

Sisterhood of Sleep

This is a dungeon i doodled about a month ago, good for a side quest maybe. Someone you know got took.


Entrance - 1d4 cultists, moving inward

A cave at the foot of treacherous cliffs, out of the reach of the tide but wracked by sea spray. Cold, wet grey stone and the faint orange glow of torchlight on the far wall. The entranceway is hidden in the stone. This is where the cultists, women in white robes, cloth masks bearing the Closed Eye, have taken their kidnapped.

Pillar Chamber

Here, the stone is less rough, natural but hewn into shape. Four pillars support the craggy ceiling. On the first two, facing inward, are two twisted faces - any movement between them causes sleeping gas to spew from their gaping mouths. The cultists know this, and casually walk around the pillars in a twisting path.

Stairwell and Antechamber - 1d2 cultists, preparing

Stairs in the stone lead down. There is an opening to the east into a small room - to the left as you enter is a stone basin for the ritual washing of hands, and to the right a keg of sleeping draught. The back section of the space is separated by a thick white curtain - behind it are spare robes and masks.

Great Pit 

The passage opens onto an enormous cavern deep in the cliffside. A walkway encircles the great pit in the centre, leading to a raised altar on the opposite side. The pit is immeasurably deep, and leads to the dimension of the Dreamer.

On the western side of the walkway, an alcove contains a spiral staircase leading up to a mezzanine level, which mirrors the walkway except for a gap over the altar. To the east, steps lead down into the library.

Library - 1d4 cultists, researching

Two joined chambers, full of old tomes. The first contains the majority of the books, while the second has the rarer pieces. The northern bookcase in the second chamber is a secret door - pulling the right book causes the case to slide away and reveal a hidden passage.

Notable Books: 1, a spell to ease nightmares and protect dreams from being eaten; 2, holy texts on the Dreamer, detailing the sacrificial ritual; 3, history of the Sisterhood, giving the current leader’s name and details such as clothing, greetings and minor rituals; 4, a history of the area, leading to another dungeon.

Hidden Passage - cult leader, with prisoner

A tunnel connecting the library to a room behind the altar. In this space, the leaders of the Sleeping Sisters prepare for their sacrifices - placing a sleeping person on the altar and performing the rites cause the Dreamer to stir and lift Her mighty trunk from the great pit to impart dreams into the sleeper’s mind.

Once the drugs wear off the sleeper wakes in a stir, and has mere hours to recall their prophetic dreams before their mind fades into endless sleep. The prophecy will contain information about a greater power in your campaign.

Friday, 11 September 2020

GRAVEROBBERS Bare Bones Edition - update 0.3

 New version of the Bare Bones just went live! Download for free here.


Patch notes:

Setting + semantic changes

Have changed the intro and various game terms to reflect the new implied setting, the urban gothic fantasy city of Lanton. Prep and Job phases are now Day and Night phases (this was actually what they were called in the first ever version of the game, I just remembered), other shifts in terms and tone. Changed use of die face Unicode for better readability. The Judge is now called the Dealer to fit the casino theme. This should be the final time any of these terms and bits of flavour are changed or updated.

Crime changes

The Grifter is now the Mountebank. No more die roll for items, now gets set vials of potentially useful substances. Other small changes to starting items in some Crimes.

New Rule: the Raise

One additional line under Night Phase means that players can now “raise” a fellow player’s roll with some risk/reward cooperative stuff. Not too dramatic but should bet everyone focused in more on the rolls.


This is probably the last “big” change to the Bare Bones until it goes to layout/art - which will be whenever I can afford it. So... we’ll see. Support your local graverobber by redownloading the Bare Bones and tipping a buck or two!

Happy gaming x

Tuesday, 1 September 2020

BUTCHERY


My ZineQuest 2020 project, BUTCHERY, is now available for purchase.

Thanks again to all the backers who made this happen! Check your messages on your Kickstarter account for a code to get the zine for free.

Happy hunting.


Wednesday, 26 August 2020

welcome to GRAVEROBBERS

Past

I’ve been writing this blog for nearly 3 years now, which means 3 years of being a hobbyist RPG person. I had brushes with games before then, but in my mind that’s when I started being an active participant. Since then I’ve become a professional RPG person, as in I’ve been paid to make stuff, but I still pretty much see myself as a hobbyist.

This is probably a combination of good old impostor syndrome and the fact that the infinitesimally low barrier to entry for RPGs means that there’s very little distinction between different “levels” of engagement with the hobby. A GM with a home game is a game designer already. If you put your home game notes up and earn a few bucks off itch or the DM’s Guild (don’t use the DM’s guild, it’s ass) you’ve got a foot in both the entry level and highest echelons of the industry - doing it for free and doing it for a bit of money. It can be hard to know where you stand - best to carve out a niche of your own.

The whole time I’ve been writing here I’ve been working on GRAVEROBBERS. It wasn’t called that to begin with, and it’s changed drastically through various iterations, but hey so’s D&D. I’ve always seen it as the same ongoing project, from when it was “the heist game” I mentioned in one of my earliest posts that got any kind of attention to when I first put up the public alpha.

If you don’t know what GRAVEROBBERS is... well, that’s probably my fault. The aforementioned impostor syndrome and just a general anxiety get in the way of me talking about my stuff, pushing it and putting it out there. I’ll never be a SEO-optimised marketing bro, but there’s got to be a balance between that and barely communicating.

I’m drafting a “GM’s guide” type section of play procedures for GRAVEROBBERS right now, and I keep pushing this idea of communication being foundational to these kinds of games. I should probably take my own advice a bit more, huh.

Present

I’ve always kind of struggled with the setting of GRAVEROBBERS, mostly without realising it. The core mechanic covers so much of the game’s tone that I’d considered setting info as a nice bonus, but other games have shown me that what I really appreciate in a setting is specificity. I was never aiming for a “universal” system, I don’t think those particularly work, but more of a D&D thing where the same engine can be put into various flavours of machine. Of course, delving into old school stuff has taught me just how specific D&D really is. Or was, or was meant to be.

The other struggle with setting was more abstract than mechanical. I’ve written before about how GRAVEROBBERS mechanises its morals, how it doesn’t function outside of the assumption that you’re an oppressed minority fighting an oppressive system. It’s a game about struggling in the face of capitalism and societal rejection. This is, clearly, a reflection of my own beliefs, but I also knew when it came to flavouring these faceless mechanics that It wasn’t my place to tell someone else’s story of rebellion.

I abstracted this issue away with the coward’s genre, Western European fantasy, then soon after by leaning into gothic romance - a realm I didn’t feel was appropriative from me to draw from but was also a great source of flavour that fit the rules nicely. That’s how the setting of GRAVEROBBERS has been for a while now - a vague “gothic fantasy”. I could flesh it out in adventure modules, I thought, the openness and range of influences was a boon to players rather than homework, I thought.

I love the gothic, it’s a genre that introduced me to some of my favourite writers and has a strong tradition of feminist and working class texts. But it felt like a well I was going to rather than something that came from out of me and my experience. GRAVEROBBERS is my baby, but there was scant family resemblance.

I’d shied away from expressing myself outside of my art, and I’d been doing the same with GRAVEROBBERS too. If this thing is going to be “my game”, I’m going all in.

And all this realisation came at once when I was designing an adventure and googled “gothic cathedrals” for inspiration, and remembered that I had a perfectly good one barely a 15 minute journey from my front door.

I knew then that I wanted the setting to be based on my home, the city I was born and raised in and love from the depths of my heart, the city my family fled to when the Spanish Inquisition came knocking (Jewish and Romani? Not here you don’t!), the city made of its vibrant, artful, colourful citizens but ruled by an oppressive class of imperialist, colonialist bastards. As limited as my first-hand experience of oppression is, I know what it’s like to be poor in the greatest city in the world.

But it had to be fantasy, not modern, because I didn’t want to write computer hacking rules. So, keeping the looming spectres of medieval gothic and gothic romance in the background, I turned to the urban gothic, and the city of London as depicted by Charles Dickens.

Thieving urchins? Check. The plight of the underclass? Check. Randomly sometimes a ghost? Big ol’ check! It’s a weirdly perfect fit for GRAVEROBBERS and I’m honestly shocked I didn’t see it before. This is still my take on the setting rather than a straight rip - I’m not taking enough from Dickens to call this a “Dickensian fantasy” RPG - but there’s a lot there that fits and I’ll be stealing it all, as light-fingered as the Artful Dodger (though perhaps we’ll leave behind Fagin’s semitic caricature winding up executed vs blond-haired Oliver finding out that he’s actually good and pure because he was from a rich family all along).

A Christmas Carol is the best one btw.

they’re all in. ‘cept maybe steampunk

Yet to Come

GRAVEROBBERS is a set of rules and tools for adventure games of stealth and sedition, set in the gothic fantasy city of Lanton.

Once my zinequest project is sorted, GRAVEROBBERS will get its final “alpha” update, which is going to change a few maths-y bits and add a new “raise” rule to dice rolls, but mostly what it’s for is cementing the new setting (and getting me to start really working on getting this thing done. 3 years is too long already).

And once the alpha version is done?

The Bare Bones are available for free, and always will be. I’ve wanted this project to be free for anyone who wants it, in one form or another, since I started it - and that’s probably what’s been taking me so long. I’m a lot luckier than most, but I’ve spent almost all of those past 3 years below the poverty line, even when I’ve had work.

I’m resolved to take this seriously and put myself and the game out there more, but as it stands I don’t have the time and resources to give that this project needs. Realistically, at this rate I probably won’t be able to continue participating in this hobby.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have a few RPG jobs here and there, but I need a more solid foundation if I’m really going to buckle down and get this damn game out there. I’m unemployed again right now, and looking for something unrelated to support my writing as I have in the past, but if my eventual goal is to do this full-time I need to step up my game.

Thing is... I’m not yet sure how to go about this. My current thinking is to launch a subscription service, the Graverobbers Gazette, with monthly updates on content, gm stuff, adventures, rules, resources and whatever, plus first looks at the final, fancy version of the book once that becomes a thing. £2 a month for a stream of WIP content, maybe.

I just don’t know if there’s enough interest - I did something similar when I had Patreon and a few awesome supporters stuck it out on there, but that wouldn’t be enough to get GRAVEROBBERS off the ground as a side project, let alone eventually doing it full time. I’m sure getting the Bare Bones laid out nicely and adding an adventure and selling that would generate a bit of attention, but that requires an initial investment to hire people for layout and art and whatnot, and I’m really not at the Kickstarter stage yet.

If you have any interest at all in GRAVEROBBERS - and I’m going to assume you do since you’ve reached the end of this post - please let me know if you want to see more of it and if you’d be willing and able to lend your support in making it happen. And support can be financial, sure, but also retweeting stuff is great, or playing the free version with your group and giving me feedback, or whatever.

I’m prepared to, finally, put my all into this, and give back to the hobby that’s given me so much over the past few years. I really hope there’ll be an audience waiting.

make a Will roll


Thursday, 13 August 2020

DEADLINE rules draft + play report

I got a great response on the socials to yesterday’s post about my new game DEADLINE (get up to speed here), thanks to everyone who commented, shared and offered their own thoughts and ideas! It’s super early days but everyone’s reaction has me energised to get to work on this thing.

I figured I might as well share the draft rule book so far, such as it is - this is very sketchy but has all the basic mechanics and should be enough to run the game on (you’ll have to supply your own adventure for now though, sorry!).

Here’s a google doc with the first version of the game.

Like I said everyone’s feedback and ideas have been really awesome and helpful, so if you have any comments, questions, etc about the game now that you’ve read it (especially if you manage to play it!) I’d love to hear them.

The final version will obviously have more mechanics and content than this sketch version, so if you have some thoughts about what you’d like that extra stuff to be let me know that too! Comment on this post, hit me up on Twitter, email me, whatever (my email is in my twitter bio).


I also wrote up a little play report, the idea being that something like this could maybe be included in the final version of the book to help teach the game.

Honestly I think I’ve laid out the rules pretty clearly in terms of giving readers an idea of how gameplay works, but maybe something like this could be useful? It’d be edited down and changed up of course, as with everything the paint is very wet here.

Anyway here’s a Mission Report, with GM advice-type commentary.

Enjoy!(?)


Mission Report: Room 106

 

The best Agents learn from the best. Study the following mission report from Agent 1, and try to find techniques you can utilise when playing your own game.

 

In this mission, Agent 1 is in a hotel room, behind enemy lines, where she must meet with a supposed defector from the other side who claims to have important information.

 

As the Agent who has prepared this mission for the other player, Agent 1 currently has all the info, while the Operator has none. Her first objective is to get the Operator on the same page so that he can play along too.

 

Agent 1: “Ok, so for this mission, I’ve been sent to a hotel room to meet someone and get some secret info. This is our first mission so let’s just work it out as we go.”

 

Here, Agent 1 is just a player, talking to her friend and explaining the premise of the game. The easiest way to get key information across to someone is always to just tell them! At the very least, an Operator will need to know the objective of a given mission.

 

Operator: “Cool, makes sense.”

 

Agent 1: “Operator? This is Agent 1. I’m approaching the room now.”

 

Now, Agent 1 is speaking in-character. This can be a fun way to bring players into the game, but it isn’t always necessary. The key is to communicate clearly, whether or not you’re acting a role.

 

Operator: “…”

 

Here, the Operator is pausing, unsure of what to do. That’s because Agent 1 hasn’t yet given them enough information to go on. They know their overall objective, but not what to do to get to it, or what obstacles might be in their way.

 

Agent 1: “Shall we check if the room is secure? I don’t trust these people…”

 

Now, Agent 1 has given the Operator an actionable prompt. She’s not telling them what to do, or doing the thinking for them, but she’s given them a clearer, immediate goal.

 

Operator: “Ok, uh, listen at the door?”

 

Agent 1 has all the mission info, and she knows there’s nothing in the room that could be heard through the door. But the Operator doesn’t know that, and is making a pretty sound judgement based on the small amount of information they have.

 

Agent 1: “Good thinking, Operator… No, I don’t hear anything. Let’s proceed.”

 

What just happened was an example of the basic cycle of play in DEADLINE. The Agent described a situation, the Operator made a call on what to do next, and the Agent made a decision about how those actions would play out. Everything that happens in your game will be some variation on this basic pattern.

 

Operator: “And then you get shot as soon as you open the door.”

Agent 1: “Ha, yeah, that would be terrible!”

 

They’re only joking, but the Operator has just given an example of how an Agent could disrupt that basic cycle of play and possibly ruin their game. If there really was someone waiting with a gun behind that door, it would be the Agent’s responsibility to telegraph that danger somehow. Footprints, noise from the room, or a suspicious individual seen earlier might be good clues.

 

Then, if the Operator did make the mistake of letting the Agent proceed without caution, it would be their mistake for not paying attention, not the Agent’s for communicating poorly. If an Agent ever realises they’ve misspoken or left out a crucial detail, they can always just apologise and backtrack a bit.

 

Operator: “Ok so are you in the room now?”

 

Agent 1: “I’m in. Looks like a pretty standard hotel room… I don’t see anything suspicious…”

 

Agent 1 knows that the room is bugged because she has all the details of the mission noted down, but within the game, the Agent wouldn’t know this information. Part of the fun is for the Operators to work out what’s going on themselves and investigate the mystery.

 

Operator: “Ok… So, I guess we just wait here for this meeting?”

 

Looks like the Operator hasn’t guessed the room might be bugged. Somebody familiar with spy stories might jump to that conclusion, but in this instance Agent 1 simply hasn’t communicated the situation clearly enough. Just like the assassin example, she should have left some clues lying around.

 

With a bit more time to think, or if she was playing this mission again with someone else, Agent 1 might add to her notes, reminding herself to describe the room as being in disarray, as if someone had been in there before. That might work as a clue.

 

Agent 1: “Well, like I said, I’m not sure we can trust them… maybe we should search the room?”

 

For now, Agent 1 is thinking on her feet. Telling the Operator what to do next isn’t a perfect solution, but at least she didn’t reveal the surprise. Now the Operator knows to search, but they don’t know what for, so they’re still able to play the game by coming up with their own plan. If Agent 1 just led them through the mission step by step, they wouldn’t be playing the game along with her.

 

Operator: “Oh, yeah, there might be traps. Or bugs or something. Ok, uh… Agent 1, search the room.”

 

Agent 1: “Where should I look? There’s not much in here, just a bed, some lamps, a chest of drawers and a mirror. And there’s the bathroom next door.”

 

Now, the Operator can play the game. They have agency, information, and can make their own decisions. Agent 1 knows where the bug is, so it would be no fun if she picked where to search.

 

Operator: “Well, it says on the character sheet that you have Investigation… So can I use that?”

 

Agent 1: “You could, but that would advance the DOOMSDAY clock. Maybe it’s best not to risk it.”

 

Operator: “Ok, I think I get it. So rolling dice is dangerous, huh. So what do I do instead?”

 

Agent 1: “I’m the Agent, you’re the Operator. Just tell me where to search and I’ll get to work.”

 

Good work, Agent 1. Here, she’s reminding the Operator of the core tension of the game. Just running in blindly and using the Agent’s training to solve every problem will only end badly. She’s encouraging the Operator to rely on LIFELINE more, think creatively and come up with their own plans. That’s going to make for a more engaging and rewarding game.

Operator: “Start with the mirror. It might be one of those two-way mirrors, where they can see you from the other side.”

 

That’s a good idea from the Operator! In this case, though, it’s just a mirror. However, since Agent 1 knows that this part of the mission is about finding a bug, she decides to reward the Operator’s clever thinking.

Agent 1: “No, it’s just a mirror… It comes away from the wall. Wait a second… You hear a kind of cracking sound, then I whisper through the LIFELINE… It’s a bug! They’d hidden a listening device behind the mirror.”

 

In Agent 1’s notes, she’d just written that there is a bug in the room. That fact wasn’t going to change. But what wasn’t particularly important was where exactly the bug was. By deciding in the moment that it would be behind the mirror, Agent 1 made the Operator feel good for trusting their instincts, and also saved a lot of time instead of checking every piece of furniture one by one.

 

Agent 1: “Ok great! You found the bug. That was the first obstacle I had planned. Sorry, that was a bit simple, it should get more interesting from here on.”

 

Operator: “No, it’s cool! I get the game a bit better now, and I feel like we’re in a spy thriller. I’ll check every room that I can for bugs from now on!”

 

Agent 1: “I liked your two way mirror idea too, I might steal that…”

 

Be careful changing details last minute. An Agent is the Operator’s eyes and ears into the mission, and so something only becomes true from the Operator’s perspective once the Agent communicates it. As well as communicating information regularly and in detail, an Agent needs to keep the world of the mission consistent.

 

If an Operator feels like reality is shifting, or that things only appear or exist for their benefit or to make the mission difficult, they won’t have any fun. Agent 1 could have decided that the mirror really did have a window or camera behind it, but that’s not true to the mission she’s playing here. Sticking to her notes helps her keep the mission’s reality feeling real. Besides, improvising a whole other mystery she hadn’t planned for would be a lot of work!

This part of the mission is now over. An obstacle has been identified and overcome. It’s a small victory, but now both players understand how to play better, and can use that knowledge in future missions.

 

Nobody starts out as a world class agent. The best way to learn is on the job. Start playing, work things out as you go, make mistakes and have fun.


Wednesday, 12 August 2020

oh god not another one

BUTCHERY is in its final stages of development, Paradice Arcade is a go (and will have a small Kickstarter later this year for its first “non-mini” game!), and GRAVEROBBERS is pootling  away in the background as ever.

Obviously, my game design brain cannot let me rest, and so another brand new project is needed. I tweeted about this and a couple of folks seemed interested, so I figured I might as well spill the beans even at this early stage of development. I think there’s some value to doing things relatively out in the open, letting people in from day 1 as it were. Anyway.

Announcing DEADLINE.

DEADLINE is a set of rules and tools (I’ve stopped calling rulesets “games” for the same reason that a LEGO kit with a spaceship on the front doesn’t market itself as a toy spaceship) for tabletop roleplaying adventure games (like, OSR or whatever) in an underworld of intelligence that never was, inspired by the superspy thrillers and Cold War chillers of the 1960s.

Spies. It’s a spy game.

The idea came because I wanted to do a game, any kind of game, where the players are the shadowy intelligence agency that oversees these classic secret agent capers. That seemed fun to me - being in a kind of “mission command” position, as M or Q or whoever, the folks the movie cuts back to when the spy talks into their earpiece, looking at maps and personnel files and overseeing operations.

I like heists for the same reason, hence GRAVEROBBERS - a plan coming together and being executed under pressure, while your enemies are, hopefully, none the wiser.

I tried doing a board game, and bounced off a few ideas, then decided on an RPG. The fun bit of RPGs for me is the adventure game aspect, exploring a situation or world, collecting and utilising information and items, devising and executing your own plans. That’s the whole point of the games I play and make, and those elements of the playstyle at least seemed like a good fit for the genre.

As I saw it, though, there were two big problems with doing a spy adventure game. I think I’ve fixed them?

The first is that James Bond (who honestly didn’t come into my head until later, my first points of reference were The Man from UNCLE and Spy x Family and the less fashy Tintins) works alone. There are tons of workarounds to this though.

The obvious would be to ignore it and do a team narrative (Mission Impossible does this great already) but there are already RPGs that do this and it seemed a bit obvious. Since I had it in my head to focus on the agency over the agent, I could’ve done a Jason and the Argonauts with one OP character and their lackeys/support, but that just doesn’t seem fun to me. Given the option, everyone would want to be Bond.

So in DEADLINE, the GM role is fulfilled by the person playing the Agent. They have something called the LIFELINE system, an in-universe device that keeps them in constant contact with HQ. The players are still controlling the character in the exact same way they’d control adventurers in D&D, and the GM still has the same job - describe situation, players make decisions, describe how situation develops - so gameplay is exactly like a typical OSR or adventure type game. The only difference is how it’s couched in the fiction. The GM isn’t reporting on the situation as a semi-omniscient arbiter of the action but as the agent in the field, and the players aren’t making decisions as the characters in the field but as, in-fiction, semi-omniscient arbiters of the action.

I can’t quite picture how difficult or not this will be for players used to other games to get to grips with, but to my mind it’s pretty simple? “You enter a room, there’s a locked door” becomes “I’ve just entered the room, looks like there’s a locked door, over”. “I wanna try my lockpick on the door” becomes “Agent 99, you should have been outfitted with a lockpick for this mission, disguised as a fountain pen. Try it on the door.”

And LIFELINE being a Thing That Exists draws attention to the primary play mechanic of ttrpgs - communication. I hope this will encourage GMs and players to be more open and talk through descriptions and plans more, leading to better play! Also I hope changing “you have to be the GM” to “you get to be a cool spy” makes more people want to be GMs :D

The other Big Problem with playing an OSR game as James Bond, other than that there’s just one of him, is that he’s really good at everything. He has bad luck and loses fights, but he always wins overall, and his basic capabilities as a character far outstrip, say, a level 0 farmer in DCC. We never doubt the danger, but we also never doubt that he’ll succeed at anything he attempts. Not exactly “roll a d20 and see what happens” material.

OSR games enforce the playstyle I mentioned above - planning, creative problem solving, careful exploration - through not only making the world perilous, but the characters frail. A secret base under a volcano is a perilous dungeon, but Sean Connery is more than up to the task, removing that sense of threat and therefore the tension that necessitates an “adventure” playstyle.

I’m sure there are other ways to solve this, but in DEADLINE I decided to mechanise the concept of threat. This might seem abstract and game-y, but RPGs have been doing it from the start with HP - only HP focuses on physical threat. I took a leaf from GRAVEROBBERS, where Luck (“HP”) can be lost through the treat of being caught as well (it’s a stealth game), and in which any failed roll results in loss of Luck (thereby discouraging rolling and encouraging creativity, more on that here) and took it one step further.

Now, all rolls result in the game’s equivalent of HP loss, advancing the DOOMSDAY clock closer to failure (hit midnight and it’s game over, roll up a new agent). There are two big differences - you don’t know how far you’re going to advance the clock (that’s what the roll is for), and all rolls succeed.

In the fiction it’s abstracted as the Agent “falling back on their training”, basically the agency throwing their hands up and leaving it to Bond to do his thing (which literally matches what the players are doing! ludonarrative assonance, yum), who succeeds at the given task but in his own reckless, cool-guy way, which can alert attention or leave clues or otherwise jeopardise the mission. You can explore the area, find clues, investigate and devise a plan, all without rolling - or you can roll and hope for the best.

This puts the players firmly in the role of those folks back at HQ, trying desperately to find answers and keep the situation under control, with a highly skilled but strong-willed agent in the field enacting their orders - to the letter, if with a little flair. If you’ve seen any Bond movies, or any of the similar things I’m drawing from here, you’ll recognise the dynamic. I’m hoping players of DEADLINE will too.

Also, mechanising the threat means the Agent (GM) doesn’t have to stat enemies or anything, just make up a cool mission. That, and I’m going to give notes and a few random tables and whatnot - I foresee DEADLINE being very easy to run.

And, uh, that’s it? That’s almost the whole game mechanically, it’s very light, just how I like em. As I said I’m working on a draft rulebook, if you like the idea of this and want to see more then yell at me about it and I’ll oblige.

Stay tuned for more, I guess?

This message will self-destruct in 5... 4...