Bounty Hunters

Bounty of the Week

The complicated lives of Bounty Hunters have been on my mind since watching The Mandalorian.

So I asked around at the Gauntlet Forums for suggestions on RPGs that do well with that subject matter. Scum & Villainy and many others were kindly recommended. Many I’d heard of and a few I hadn’t. The one that caught my attention the most was the reskin of Monster of the Week PbtA RPG that Rich Rogers had done and ran as part of his amazing Star Wars Saturdays series, called Bounty of the Week.

I watched the four sessions and was hooked. Using what I could from the recorded sessions and my copy of MotW, I set about to make a version of Bounty of the Week for myself to run. I created five playbooks: The Veteran, The Expert, The Designed, The Knight, and The Trainee. I worked on Hunter moves, Keeper moves, some information about bounty hunting abstracted, changed the Mystery Sheet to a Hunt Sheet and more. Then I got to posting the event at the Gauntlet Calendar and on Roll20 to recruit players while refining what I had so far. I added information and moves for the ship, The Wraith, based on information from Impulse Drive. Added a few new Hunter moves as I thought about things. Players signed up for both games. I began to work with the Gauntlet players to do some prep beforehand and got the Hunt Sheet bounties ready to go. The players were so generous and willing to help. Then I ran the first sessions for each.

For the Gauntlet group, our hunters include a Mon Calamari Expert as the captain, an old clone trooper Veteran, a shiny clone ARC trooper Designed who’d frozen in carbonite for decades, and a fire elemental sect Knight. We got all four players ready and did the In Media Res move which started off well but I feel got too tedious for the action I had hoped for. I should have really cut the scenes sharper with more action.

I have to admit that I was caught flat-footed on so many high rolls from the PCs. Plan B worked okay but took too long and slowed things down. I was also rushing some elements and we didn’t get to do much character interaction and tension raising as we’d all liked. The hunters got paid for the job turning that bounty in and took on the next job at Bespin where they are succeeding again very well with rolls to steal their next bounty out from under a medical operation.

We left things as a cliffhanger due to time constraints from tech issues and me needing to leave a little early so the whole episode felt off to me. I’m hoping that we can get more character-building and more action in the next session. Also, there are some rough patches with some of the moves and hopefully, that will get smoothed out over time.

Special thanks to Rich Rogers for helping with online streaming through his Zoom account and for recording the session when Streamyard failed us.

For the Roll20 group, I didn’t do any pre-prep with the players. We spent the first session working on characters and the ship for two players as one didn’t make it. I have a request for a fourth player to join so we’ll see how that goes. The Roll20 group is vastly different in personality, tone, and energy as well. We have dubbed the series Hutt Fuzz given that the captain is a Hutt Expert Hunter who’s run away from the family crime business and has taken on a Wookie Trainee Hunter. Hijinks ensue. Both players are well versed in MotW as well so it should be helpful to refine the game.

Printed draft of SSO v2.7.1

ME VS SPACE STATION OMEGA V2.7.1 DRAFT

As mentioned about a year ago, I seriously began work on Space Station Omega (SSO). I just printed out a color version to begin reviewing as I move on to version 2.7.2+.

AREAS OF CONSTERNATION

  • At nearly 300 pages with more to add and finish, the game is moving along. A chunk of this, about 40 pages will depend on the finalized official Cortex Prime System Reference document. Now that Cortex Prime is through Fandom, everyone like me is waiting to see what’s next and what we as designers can and can’t do.
  • I still don’t have the Effect Die in the game and will see if that changes.
  • I have a variety of experience/advancement options to test for the final recommendation.
  • I don’t use Distinctions as they are commonly found in other Cortext games, however, there are some specific traits used like Distinction, such as with Profile and Background.

AREAS OF ACCOMPLISHMENT

While not perfect and a ways to go before it’s ready for a stronger editing pass, I’m pleased with the progress so far. Here are the milestones for me thus far:

  • I spent a lot of time being anxious and creative effort to work on the Talents. Some help was from Tim Bannock and his Head Shot! Cortex Prime Zombie game. Some I found at the Cortex Prime Discord servers. The rest was through revisiting Cortex Plus games and me fumbling around. I currently have seven assigned talents for each role, for a total of 35, plus seven open, and three heritage talents just in case, for a grand total of 45. I’m not against doing more, but the effort—sheesh. 18 pages now.
  • Thanks to talking with Jason Dettman and his comments on an earlier draft I have simplified the specialties closer to that found in Leverage: The Roleplaying Game. So from six to two pages.
  • I’ve gone back and forth about the use of Powers and Abilities in SSO, and have opted to go with the use of them under one thing called the Empowered talent. It costs two talent slots. Instead of having a master list of powers I’m mapping how you can use them similar to the seven basic actions of the game and providing some guidance through the use of Stunt Dice and spending Plot Points. Hopefully, this will allow for something flexible and not become overpowering vs. the rest of the talents, roles, and traits in general. It cuts my page count down from 29 to four pages, which is a good reason to try playtesting it as soon as possible.

Another Step Into the Well

Weeks later, I’m still working with the feedback from Metatopa for Dark Well.

For me, I often design for and from the character sheet, and for Dark Well’s, I had a lot of questions myself as a designer that the playtesting helped me revisit from their perspective.

With the Dweller File sheet I have the following goals:

  • To change as the character engages with the fiction through the mechanics so that when a Dweller gets a Dweller, a Threat, or a Crisis token, there is the potential for that to affect or change them—including a narration rule that helps to feed this back into the trait changes.
  • To address the more common approach to experience where you get better or more things and so I have that through the experience tracker and have all Traits with the option of two marks.
  • To have big changes for Dwellers to feed the game and this is where the growth of leveling up ties directly into the information on the Conspiramap.

As a result, I’ve made the following changes so far:

  • The traits for the three Stats of Life, Power, and Truth, work the same when it comes to engaging with the token pool drawing from the Well.
  • Instead of tags I’m using something called details which are touchstones or aspects to help players pick traits for their Dweller which won’t box them in.
  • A copy of the Well Operations is on the sheet to test its inclusion because I like to have procedural things easy to locate for players.
  • The experience system has been revised and now includes both noting marks to traits in the trait section, keeping tokens, change, growth, and clearing conditions with the experience tracker.

The next thing that needs to happen is for me to playtest this next version to test my new hypotheses and to change the rules to reflect what’s working.

Metatopia 2019 Dark Well session 2 with conspiracy wall

Post-Metatopia 2019

Metatopia 2019 was a great experience. As I have time I will post thoughts and feelings about the convention. I’m already working on some revisions for the two games I brought with me: Dark Well and Vigilance.

Schedule

The convention started Thursday evening with a social event. My partner and I were exhausted from the trip in so I checked in but didn’t have enough energy to really participate so we went across the street and had delicious Persian food for dinner. And there were a lot of great food places nearby!

Friday, Saturday, and Sunday were a mixture of panels–many for first-timers to Metatopia, and playtesting. I’ll get into some of the panels later on. There were several that I attended which were a good fit for where I am in the game design industry.

I did get in a quick chat with Phil Vecchione about our love of conspiracies. His writings on Gnome Stew are an inspiration for what I’m doing with Dark Well.

Sunday afternoon was spent wrapping up my last playtest and then heading out asap to continue our trip to Philadelphia and then Washington, D.C.

Playtests

Dark Well: I’ve got a fair amount of redesign to consider for the character sheet to make it easier to understand and I’m hoping to simplify things considerably. The playtesters really enjoyed the conspiracy-generation and setting, with the Well part in second place, and character creation in last for ease of understanding. The suspense of drawing from the Well was consistent. The tags could be useful but were cumbersome. The differences between the derived traits under Life, Power, and Truth need to be easier to grasp and engage with since I modified them, though I have to figure out how to get the Change/Grow/Conditions part to work from scene to scene. In the short playtest sessions I don’t have enough time to use the pool of tokens to work with the game as the GM yet so I’m looking forward to doing that again at some point. Comparing the tokens to the chart works once people wrap their heads around it as it’s a novel approach. In the second group test of Dark Well, I was able to use some kindly donated yarn to make an impromptu conspiracy wall on the table (see the featured image above). We had a six-PC group for this one. I took the advice from the first group and used a completed character sheet to share visually with the second group and it helped immensely. While we didn’t get very far in the game I could see how the prop could be fun. It would likely be easier to maintain on a wall or dedicated surface–the group loved it so I’m glad I tried it and will see about testing it more location permitting. In particular, I’m redesigning the Conspiramap for Dark Well for the next playtest. These conspiracies freakin’ build themselves. More iterations to come, with half-baked Dwellers and conspiracies to get the players into the thick of things faster.

Vigilance: The playtesters loved the spreadsheet character creation and world creation and setting, with the dice mechanics being too easy-for-success. 1s for generating Chaos/injustice complications rarely came up which was very unusual and led to deflated anticipation and missed expectations for all. I definitely need to revisit to get more risk in the dice and possibly reduce or remove the Arena Dice pool. We didn’t get to test things at length, but I did have one of the groups do scenes that were non-combat to see how things flowed rather than worry about collaborative world-building, which definitely affected player investment and cohesion like never before. I think it also suffered from a late Sunday slot and me messing up a basic mechanics roll. We had a cool blessing scene and engaged with the constellations! The first group where we did build things together was a tighter fit but we weren’t able to engage as much with the mechanics with the time. Need lots more dice-rolling and tweaking to be more complicating/dangerous. Great suggestions on branding from the first group and I appreciate them throwing themselves into the game with heart and soul. Overall, there are a lot of strong pieces that I can skip over moving ahead with half-baked characters and precinct to get to play quicker.

Rebels of the Outlaw Waste: This is NOT a game that I’m designing, but rather one that I playtested Saturday evening and it was a hoot. Gonzo post-apocalyptic to 11. What sold me in the description was that it included stickers as part of the advancement system. The designer, Michael Addison of Nerdy Pup Games, has a fun rules-light RPG with potential and I hope that he continues to develop the game and share it with others.

Thanks

Thanks to all the playtesters who participated in my games and who make Metatopia a conversation rather than lonely fun–you are valued. I want to thank Avie Wing and all of the amazing people who help to make Metatopia be as successful as it is. I wasn’t very talkative as I was taking everything in, but I did appreciate the hard work and fun experience learning and sharing our love of games.

Putting the Pieces Together

As time permits, I’m pulling together my content for the two games I’m bringing with me to Metatopia: Dark Well and Vigilance.

Along with that comes the return to inspiration sources applied with some recent studies on writing: Steering the Craft, by Ursula K. Le Guin. I especially enjoyed chapters 9 and 10 that directly discussed her take on story and plot.

For Vigilance, I’ve been collecting books about and watching a BBC series on ancient civilizations. As a result, I’m probably going to include the Olmec. I just learned that the height of their civilization was at about the same as the others who fell suddenly at the end of the Late Bronze Age. And I just heard about the Sanxingdui civilization which was likely a contemporary group to the Shang Dynasty in China.

For Dark Well, I’ll be catching up on tv shows, such as Dark, Fringe, and Millennium. Maybe start reading about conspiracies again in between some other projects. It’ll be nice to have the company of ideas as I sift and edit content down to a portable and consumable version to share with others in NJ come November. And oh yes, there will be character sheet revisions!

Axe on stump

Chop, Chop!

I find that cutting content and ideas are always the most difficult to do as a designer.

Part of my struggle with cutting is that I’m never 100% certain I’ve made the best decision at that moment. Sometimes I have to live with the decision for a while and try to test the revised version. Sometimes the changes result in immediate improvements for clarity, and at other times it takes the project into an unexpected direction requiring further changes.

What helps me make and cope with the cuts is having a separate file with the chopped content saved as a backup. Should I ever consider a project finished I can delete this stored file of random bits. More likely I’ll keep it in a misc folder for future ideas. This reassurance helps me to manage my progress and expectations.

For my recent work with Space Station Omega, given the scope of the game, I’ve broken chapters into their own files, and then have used versions.

For the smaller NightMirror content, I’ve only needed a few different full version and now a bits file as I slowly write my way to a finished first draft.

For the two games I’m planning to take with me to Metatopia this November, I’ll be working to identify what I want to have playtested for each. At this point, I’m planning to take Dark Well and Vigilance. I’ll be weighing the strengths and weaknesses as a designer in September and perhaps (re)writing parts of the game as well.

NightMirror preview

Updates Since June, 2019

I’ve been very busy with RL commitments this summer so gaming has had to take a backseat until recently.

That being said, I did participate in Game Chef 2019 and will share more details about my experience with the game design competition in a future post.

Other than Game Chef, Corridor Games on Demand has started its relationship with the Cedar Rapids Public Library where we are running our Playing in Public events in one of the library’s meeting rooms once per month. If we have the resources we’ll try to scale our efforts. We’ll be part of an intro to gaming event this September. I’m looking forward to that.

I also had a strange obsession to work through an idea about mutant animals using a combination of DOGS and Powered by the Apocalypse. Don’t worry, it’s only 4-pages and scratched a sudden itch. If I do more with it, I’ll need to file off some serial numbers and flesh it out to make it playable.

Later in September, I’m planning to attend MinnLoCo to game with some amazing friends in MN. I’m considering running three separate yet connected RPGs during the event with the same group of players. The games are Questlandia (the world-building part), The King Is Dead, For the Queen, and then end with Queslandia (with characters). It’s an experiment of related narrative collaboration RPGs with a monarchy. We’ll see how this goes.

In November, I’m attending Metatopia for the first time. Metatopia is a game convention for playtesting and networking in the game industry. I’ll be bringing two games to have playtested.

Regarding my own game design projects:

  • I’m waiting for the next version of the Cortex Prime System Reference Guide before updating Space Station Omega.
  • I’ve returned to write and edit NightMirror in between other projects.
SSO mockup

Space Station Omega Progress Update: June, 2019

Now that the Cortex Prime System Reference is out I’ve been working my way through revisions to match up with it as time permits. I’ve gotten feedback and hope that the next version will be ready for a more thorough test of the rules and content. Just have to keep writing and editing.

> Space Station Omega

I’ve created a mockup cover for fun (see the featured image above in a graphic novel form factor for about 300 pages) to help keep the motivation going as I work on sections, one paragraph at a time.

Space Station Omega Personnel Datafile Version 3

The feedback is coming in and it’s great to hear that people are reading and thinking about how Space Station Omega can be improved. It’s making me feel like the spirit of great sci-fi shows lives on through the game.

> Space Station Omega

Version 1 was very much influenced by the Leverage Roleplaying Game. Version 2 was me rethinking everything after going through the Cortex Prime handbook with many concepts on the brain. Version 3 is me thinking about feedback from the draft with the Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Game in the background as a result of listening to many MHR actual play games online.

Here’s a look at the most recent character sheet design (front), version 3. It includes the list of actions for this version of SSO. [Edited: even newer version listed below.]

 

> PDF version

Printed drafts of Space Station Omega

Me vs Space Station Omega v2.5 Draft

And so it continues…

I’ve got a draft of Space Station Omega (SSO) ready to undergo a closer inspection and more ruthless editing after Gamicon, 2019. I already know that there are sections which need cutting—even after adding them in to remind me to not forget about them, but the question for me will be to see how important it is to salvage the essence of those parts for the game.

What I’m attempting to construct is a game that pulls together parts of the Cortex Plus/Prime RPG system to emulate a subgenre of science-fiction television stories, such as Babylon 5, Star Trek: Deep Space 9, the reimagined Battlestar Galactica, and The Expanse.

I’ve reviewed many of the game sourcebooks and the Hacker’s Toolkit. I’ve studied the releases for the Cortex Prime Handbook. For SSO, I feel that I need drama, action, and politics. Cortex Prime uses traits to build out parts of its modular toolkit system, so here are the ones that I’m working with:

  • Drama Traits: Values, Beliefs (value statements), Relationships
  • Action Traits: Roles, Talents, Abilities, Specialties
  • Politics Traits: Backgrounds, Factions, Sectors
  • Other Traits: Signature Assets, Extras, Scene Assets

 

Areas of Consternation

I’m wondering how much of the game I can simplify or leave with more system mastery pieces. The Abilities for one are quite long and serve a game with powers at its core very well. However, in SSO, I feel that Abilities are rarer and should fit into the specific story.

For example, what if my group decides that they don’t want telepaths, but do want genetically engineered super soldiers? And the next one wants mystical space magic but not teleportation? How much of the Ability structure needs to remain to give a group enough content to confidently build their own without requiring a significant number of pages to read and understand or to see enough examples to understand how it would play out in your particular situation?

Also, I’ve dropped the use of the Effect Die and it’s raising alarms specifically for the Abilities. I don’t want to break something that would work normally out of the sake of wanting to simplify the game.

Another long-ish area that I like and want to simplify is the use of Events. Similarly to dropping the Effect Die I’ve dropped the use of Milestones and XP, again to make things easier so I’m not certain how Events will play out mechanically at this point.