Outbreak REVEALED!

If you've been following me on Twitter then you know that I've been working on two SECRET PROJECTS over the last few months. One of those has already been revealed, the other is this one, OUTBREAK.

Outbreak is a sort of updated 'choose your own adventure' for the age of the mobile phone and the iPad. It's a textual adventure, albeit with many of the accoutrements of more modern game forms, creating a form of interactive fiction which we think combines the best aspects of games and stories.

I have worked hard in this project to bring a tabletop-gaming sensibility and a personal touch to the story, to make it about more than simple slaughter of the infected, with investigative elements, a thought out background and a plausible interpretation of what might happen in such an event and where it might stem from.

Six chapters have been turned in already and we're aiming for at least three times as many as that for release but the game has the potential to go on in almost an unlimited fashion. There are many side-elements that reveal parts of the plot and many items and codes that you might miss on a single play-through of the story. Hopefully people will find it engaging, exciting, sinister and worthwhile.

The company is a new start-up and is looking to gather some of the funding for the project through Kickstarter.* If you pledge some money you COULD even get immortalised in the story :)

This is a big project for me and my second foray into social gaming, so I hope people will lend some support and help us get it off the ground.

Playing Dark Sun


So we finally started our Dark Sun game this last weekend and the first half went really well. I started us out with the characters being gladiators, slaves sold to fight in the arena in Draj before the Sorcerer King. Between the set-piece dramatic fights there was some good RP and in-house intrigue an in the end they managed to both embarrass the Jasuan Knights in the arena and to escape the city to a life of freedom in the wilderness.

This part of the adventure worked really well but the second half, derived from Marauders of the Dune Sea didn't work at all. The adventure as written fell flat and while I did a lot of work to make it fit into my overall plan it just didn't work. Dungeons as a string of fights just don't see to go well in 4e for some reason, even though they worked fine in previous editions and even though that seems to be how many of the adventures are set up.
So that's something to avoid in future adventures and something I'm doubly, triply, happy we've avoided in many of the adventures that Postmortem has produced. Less big fights - and boss fights - interspersed with intrigue, puzzle-solving etc. Less is most definitely more.
I haven't gotten to try all my modifications to the rules  yet but of those mentioned in previous articles:
Off the Grid: is a massive success and works far better than anticipated. It makes manoeuvre characters and leader  characters much more useful in combat and allows for dramatic and effective teamwork. I can see some problems coming up on a team basis due to the size of the group and the size of enemy groups but I'll deal with that when I come to it. The potential problem being powers that give whole teams shifts/slides etc.
Karma: hasn't come up yet and while it's a good way to formalise RP rewards it may not be necessary, at least for our group.
Crafting: rules are only just coming up and seem to work OK. I definitely prefer the idea and the depth to the existing rules.

Kynn Bartlett/Caoimhe Ora Snow, Heartbreak & Heroines - and more genuine heartbreak

I will present this initially without comment, but only with context. Commentary will come later.
This is a serious issue only tangentially related to RPGs so if you're drama averse you should probably skip it.
If you know Kynn (@dazedsaveends on twitter) you should probably read this.
If you backed or were thinking of backing Heartbreak & Heroines you should probably read this.

The sources are:

Comment later, but the context is that Kynn is a hyper-critical individual and a self-appointed net-warrior for feminist and LGBT issues in gaming (and elsewhere). These accusations may be false for all we know, but given the context it's probably worth at least making people aware.

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Agents of SWING: Gosh, Spies! Preview

Gosh, Spies! is going to cover the phenomenon of child/tween/teen spies within the world-setting of Agents of SWING. It will largely concentrate on the young ladies since I'll also be drawing on the old girl's comics like Bunty and Jackie for inspiration as well as the Blyton style mystery solvers like The Famous Five, Secret Seven and so on, not to mention Nancy Drew. The main concentration will be on the Gosh Girls and another travelling team of lady mystery solvers, The Teen Valkyries (minus Captain Neanderthal after the... incident).

There will also be rules and guidelines for making child/tween/teen characters of all genders, writing adventures suitable for younger characters (and players) and capturing the feel of these sorts of sources, whether modern reinventions or harking back to the classics.

Why would SWING use child investigators? Well, SWING is an unconventional organisation and not bound by the laws and moralities that might govern others. Many agents have children and want to stay close to them, many children have special abilities or are the first port of call when their brilliant scientist fathers want to experiment with something. Children are often overlooked and thus can make great spies and what with the various enemies determined to recruit young, SWING needs to do the same. Great agents CAN be made at Spy School!

Coming soon(ish).

Gamma World, GSL, Cease & Desist Letters, oh my!

Not that kind of atomic.
Fire From the Sky & Gamma World GSL Issues

Many of us were overjoyed to discover that Gamma World was covered by the GSL but there's been some confusion since then, especially since the withdrawl of the Fire From the Sky adventure for the game, produced under the GSL by DarkLight Interactive.

Getting straight answers out of Wizards of the Coast customer service is like finding hen's teeth, then forcibly removing those teeth from the hen, which turns out to be a giant, killer chicken with lots of friends, while from the sidelines someone shouts at you that you shouldn't be attacking the hen at all, but rather contacting the legal departent. So, having slain the hen you quest forth seeking The Legal Department only to discover that they live in a cave up an unclimbable mountain, only speak an ancient dialect (Haad'Copi) and even then don't deign to speak to most people anyway.

In short, getting any contact or clarity from these people OTHER than a C&D order from Hasbro's attack lawyers is an exercise in excrutiating masochism and, personally, as a regular GM I'm much more of a sadist.

Still, I'm passing familiar with these legalese nonsense and I managed to get a hold of a copy of FFtS, I also have my handy copies of all the Gamma World books and the GSL to hand and so, I think, I can discern what went wrong and how people might go about producing saleable Gamma World material in the future.

Where God Went Wrong

The first thing that leaps out and nobbles you the moment you look at FFtS is that it openly advertises itself as a Gamma World product and announces its compatibility, complete with a self-designed compatibility logo. You can't do this, yet. The GSL has no references to Gamma World and only references D&D. While it talks about 'forthcoming' GSL information for SF/Modern materials I think we can probably all safely bet since the layoffs and the reluctance to have the GSL and modify it beforehand that we ain't going to see this in a while, if at all.

Without explicit permission you cannot and should not advertise your product as compatible with Gamma World in much the same way as you cannot advertise your product as being compatible with Dark Sun, Eberron or Forgotten Realms. You can only advertise your product as being compatible with D&D. Even though Gamma World is more of a separate game than a setting per se this makes no odds as far as this problem is concerned.

Some More of God's Greatest Mistakes

Trade Dress: A clear attempt has been made to make FFtS look like the official GW material. This is laudable n'all but companies tend to be pretty protective about this. While it's (probably) fine for the powers, attacks and monster stat blocks, not so much for the main body text. Best to play it safe.

Monsters/Powers Etc: Not a mistake here, but something to be wary of. You can't reproduce the monsters in the Gamma World books AT ALL. You can't use the base stats and fiddle them a bit to create a 'deadly nightshade vegepygmy' though you could create a 'deadly nightshade plant-midget'. Equally you can't reproduce power/attack text or damage or anything else direct from the book, like hazards.

Omega Tech/Alpha Mutations: Nope, can't mention these or make up your own. You can of course create your own NAMED loot and maybe 'evolutions' but you can't redefine or work it into the existing system. You'll have to leave people to do that themselves maybe with vague suggestions like 'There might be a couple of high tech devices in this bunker for the characters to loot' or 'the reality flux in this area may cause random genetic and other changes in a character from turn to turn'.

Healing Rules: Specific mention/reference to Gamma World healing rules. Can't do that. You could refer to D&D healing rules, but not to the GW healing rules. You can only refer to the books covered in the GSL.

Who is this God Person Anyway?

OK, so, what CAN and CAN'T you do for Gamma World under the GSL?

Adventures: Monsters and encounters appear to be no problem, just watch your terminology. There's nothing that says you have to use a standard monster template in your material, so as far as baddies go you should be golden.

Rules: You can only mention rules that are in the main 4e D&D books and covered by the existing GSL. You can't refer to the GW peculiarities, you can't redefine terms but you CAN expand them or add new ones.

Mutations: So you can't create new Alpha Mutations, but you could produce 'Evolutions' as a mutation mechanic to bolt onto 4e D&D that works in somewhat the same way, maybe a table instead of cards, maybe permanent instead of temporary mutations.

Omega Tech: You can't produce Omega Tech cards or a field guide, but you could produce books or tables of 'high tech weapons' that work much the same way, though, again, you can't use specific GW terminology that doesn't appear in the GSL.

Cards: So you can't have items with 'expended' and 'salvaged' rules specifically. With mutations you can't have 'overcharged' and you can't talk about tap, refresh and other card handling.

Character Origins: Nope. Can't do these. Too many non GSL terms and references. It's just not going to work. Nothing to stop you putting them out as fan material, but that's a different samovar of piscines altogether.

PreGens: Nope. If you want to include pregenerated characters with your adventures you're shit out of luck. You could always put them out for free as 'fan material' as with origins, but that's inconvenient really.

Weapons & Equipment: Gamma World is pretty vague, so long as you don't use the same names you should have no problem here coming up with your own stuff.

Cryptic Alliances: You can't call them that or make cards, but you can come up with secretive groups all you like.

Vocations: Nope, these aren't allowed. They're not covered in the GSL. You could create some things that are analagous to them in some way, but again you'd have to be careful.

Feats: You could make up Feats all you wanted, but since they can only - normally - be gained via vocations in Gamma World you'd need to work out some other rationale and why someone might want to take them in place of their vocational one, while still not mentioning vocations.

Don't Panic

None of this constitutes legal advice, it just represents what I've been able to discern are the probable issues with FFtS and the likely reasoning behind the C&D order. I have taken a rather conservative and paranoid outlook on what may and may not be allowed for material produced for Gamma World and your mileage may vary, as may your tolerance for risk. If you've NOT signed up to the GSL and want to produce Gamma World material you're probably better off confirming to normal copyright and compatibility legalities, but I'm not going to get into those here. Look it up for D&D on Google and you should find some articles explaining it nicely.

Ultimately the only way we're going to know exactly what's going on is as and when Wizards legal offer some sort of explanation or cure opportunity to DarkLight Interactive.

I do not consider Brainclouds to be a 'n00b' or to have done much wrong in this instance. It's a messy area and Wizards are providing conflicting messages on the issues that have been raised. If anything we've been done a favour by having this pushed out into the open. Since the dropping of the OGL and the confusion around the GSL the whole issue has been a mess for 3PP which is a large part of the reason you haven't seen a great deal of 4e support and why so many more 3PP have embraced Pathfinder (feeding its success).

Hell, just the sheer amount of acronyms used above should be a warning to anyone.

Hopefully this helps some people get their head around the issues and, if in doubt, crosscheck with the existing GSL.

Grim's Tales: Low Fantasy

Low Fantasy
While many take 'Low Fantasy' to mean a grim and gritty, sword and sorcery or 'weird fantasy', typically a setting without a huge amount of magic in it, this isn't necessarily so. Rather, low fantasy takes place within a recognisable, plausible and internally consistent world that is either our world – with a few differences – or a fantasy world that is recognisable to us from our history and what we know of our politics, wars and societies from the past.

A classic example of a Low Fantasy world would be The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper, a young adult fantasy series in which supernatural elements, hidden from the 'real world' begin to intrude and make themselves felt.

Low Fantasy can be found a great deal in role-playing games, perhaps influenced by White Wolf's success in the 90s with Vampire and their other 'hidden supernatural' games. Almost any conspiracy or 'you are the monster' game can be said – from a certain point of view – to be a low fantasy game. More classical examples of low fantasy worlds in RPGs might include Harn or the more historical version of RuneQuest that was put out by Games Workshop in the 80s.

Low Fantasy doesn't tend to survive encounters with players particularly well unless their access to the fantastical elements is also limited. If the players get the toys then, generally, without a Deus Ex Machina the fantastical cat is out of the metaphorical bag before you can say 'fireball'. Players have a disturbing and annoying tendency to blow things up, flash their magic where they shouldn't and to defy witch hunters, enforcers of secrets and other forces that are supposed to keep the fantastical under wraps, controlled or punished as heresy.

Because of this, low fantasy tends to work better, unless the whole game hinges otherwise, upon low access to the fantastical on the part of the players. Rather the fantastical is something they encounter, get caught up in, get threatened by and take on by force of arms and luck. Leaving out the fantastical altogether leaves you free to indulge in 'what ifs' and to craft new societies, tribes and so forth mixing up elements from history and the imagination freely. You often don't even need magic at all if the world is interesting enough.