We went to Nine Worlds Fanfest, and so should you

This weekend we went to Nine Worlds Fanfest in London. Here’s my thoughts immediately following, as a fan and as a creator:

As an attendee:

The entrance to the con

This con really demonstrated the best sides of fandom – people experiencing earnest joy in whatever their fandom means to them, while being mature enough in their perspective to have conversations about how it could fall short. Plus, everyone was just so respectful and interested in what other people had to say. They really promoted a feeling of equality: even when writers/creators were on a panel, it didn’t have that feeling of superiors and supplicants you can get at other cons; instead, you felt like these were peers of yours who were worth listening to due to their experience in the subject.

Highlights:

  • Seb Atay‘s talk on the implied narrator/implied author in games was an interesting application of literary criticism to computer games in a way I hadn’t considered.
  • Grant Howitt running Dr. Magnethands for a big room of increasingly drunk superheroes and villains. I got to play Postman Pat in deep cover on the moon, and what more can you really ask for?
  • The costumes were amazing! I think my own Jesse Custer was a bit too subtle to be recognisable, but I was happy to give over my costume chips (also a very cool idea) in recognition of a hand-knitted dalek dress, a superbly-executed WicDiv Lucifer, and an ambulatory bowl of petunias.
  • Getting recommendations for stuff outside my experience and comfort zone, both on the Chinese SF panel and the comics recommendation panel.
  • Nine World’s commitment to diversity and inclusion. Gender-neutral bathrooms, quite spaces, badge labelling for pronouns and willingness for interaction, and a constant awareness of the accommodations they may need to make to ensure all sorts of people fully enjoy the con. Really a glimpse of a better way of being.

Lowlights… pretty few, to be honest. The hotel’s food was overpriced and a bit poor, and it was a shame the final quiz filled up 15 minutes before it started and they had to turn people away – we were really looking forward to it and it meant our con basically fizzled out. Apart from that it was wonderful and we’re strongly considering coming back next year.

As an exhibitor:

Our table at the start of the expo on Saturday
Our table at the start of the expo on Saturday.

It was our first con to sell at, and there were big lessons to take forward.

Printing

We should have printed more stuff! We ran out of physical copies of Legacy: Life Among the Ruins and Ultranormal Encounters, and I’m sure we would’ve sold out of Echoes of the Fall if there were copies of the core book to sell with it. We got some good advice that it’s perfectly fine to overproduce: that way you need to do less work next con.

Book Ratios

Nobody wants to buy expansions without the core. Obvious in hindsight, right? We brought equal numbers of the core book and Echoes, and that was a mistake. For future cons, I think we’ll bring half again as many copies of Legacy as we do Echoes (and Mirrors I suppose).

PDFs: Great for physical stores

Selling PDFs worked really well. We had a sheet of labels with a DriveThruRPG discount code on them, and stuck those to UFO Press business cards (or inside books if people bought the book+PDF combo). Of our customers that bought a book, about 40% topped it up with PDFs, and 1/3rd of our sales were PDF-only.

Representation matters

It really reinforced my commitment to attractive and diverse art. I’d printed out a set of Legacy playbooks and laid them out on the table, and they were often the first thing someone looked at when they came up to our table. There were some very kind words about the diversity of the art, and I’m reminded of something Keiron Gillen said at the Dragons and Diversity panel: diversity isn’t an obligation for creators, but an opportunity. People’s reactions to seeing themselves as heroes in my game’s art where they had been ignored by other games made it completely worthwhile, and was legit one of my highlights of the con.

What are people looking for?

A lot of people reacted better to being pitched a group storytelling game than a dice-and-GM roleplaying game. Similarly, I got many comments that it was nice to have a post-apocalyptic game with more of a positive slant. A lot of this is due to the particular demographic at the con, I bet, but it’s got me thinking how to reach out to people outside of standard RPG venues who might have been put off by bulky rulebooks and grimdark settings. Cons, I guess, are a big part of that, but I’d be interested to hear about other suggestions.

Kickstarter backers are real people you can talk to

London has a lot of Legacy Kickstarter backers! Quite a few people came up to the booth after recognising Legacy as a game they’d backed, and it was great to reconnect with them and hear their stories of playing the game (or discussing how hard it is to get through a pile of Kickstarter rewards). Plus I got to hear about a London Indie RPG meet up that sounds fun and I’ll try and check out.

Selling as a supplement to the con experience

I don’t think I’d want to sell for the whole con; even if that got me 3x the sales it wouldn’t be enough to break even when the hotel fee, vendor fee and book printing are factored in. As a thing to do as part of a con I was already planning on attending, though, it let me jump between the creator and fan sides of the con and see what it’s like on either side of the line, get the word out about UFO Press and our games, and pay for the book printing and con tickets with a bit of money to spare. I can’t see us turning a profit on cons we go to for quite a while, so we’ll likely still only go to cons that have stuff we’re interested in going to and experiencing, but if you’re in a similar position I can’t recommend Nine Worlds highly enough.

Guest Post: Talking Legacy

Douglas Santana Mota, main author of the upcoming Mirrors in the Ruins, wanted to talk a little about the lessons he’s learned running Legacy. More GM advice is one of the regular requests I get for a revised version of Legacy, so I thought I’d give him a place to talk. Take it away, Douglas!

Running With Mirrors tinyWe all look for novelty and quality, to experience something truly different. But sometimes when we find it we end up overwhelmed by the unfamiliar and fail to relate to it exactly because it doesn’t fit our preconceptions, our usual shared experiences.

Legacy offered me this novelty like few others games before. But I must confess: my first session blew. Really, it stunk. I narrated and we played like any other game from our shared experience. It wasn’t enough. It wasn’t right. So, I experimented and developed procedures to make the most of Legacy epic-friendly rules and singular pace. Here it is the little I learned so far:

Family First

Let’s start with the obvious: who are Legacy’s protagonists? The families, right!? After all, they remain Age after Age as the linchpins of your story. So, try starting your sessions with a round of Family moves. Once all the rolls are resolved you will have enough immediate plot threads to weave into Character scenes. Let them lessen the damage of a failed Family roll… or just feel its effects on a personal level. Drop them in the thick of action of good Family rolls too, putting their abilities to good use and greater effect.

From this Family-centered beginning you can then explore the Characters and their motivations and inter-relations, just as in any of your favourite and familiar games. But as soon as the Character Scenes feel somehow resolved, don’t dally and shift focus right back to Families.

  • Tip: remind and encourage players to Lend Aid. It will make framing scenes with Characters in a group that much easier.
  • Tip: teach your players that Character actions focus in minutes and hours, while Family focus in days and weeks.
  • Tip: always remember that Characters serve their Families… and not the other way around.

Resources Tell Stories

There’s a reason Surpluses and Needs are in the History section of Family Playbooks. Give them some thought: who does your Family have to get Revenge from? What happened so they need Medicine? If you have a Surplus of Leadership, tell us about who these leaders are.

Connect these threads with other Families’ too and a whole recent backstory will unfold. Exploit it for maximum effect. Moreover, let’s say a Family Erases Progress to save a failed Claim by Force roll. Ask the players what kind of sacrifice had to be made by the Family to justify in Fiction this move. Make it relevant. Make it personal. Engage other parties. Powerful scenes lie hidden in these simple Resources moves.

Factions Have Faces

It’s important to populate the Homeland (and the Wasteland) with memorable faces so that Characters interact with a rich and varied supporting cast. Pay attention to variety and going outside stereotypes, so your cast is not only comprised of the leaders of their factions and settlements but also warleaders, firebrands, lawmen and priests in surprising combinations; say, the barbaric raiders’ priest or the warleader of the scientist enclave, and so on.

  • Tip: you know you want them to be fearsome, beautiful, wise, etc. but what makes them so can be easily prompted by the players, increasing collaboration and immersion.

Legacy Scope

Think of History with a capital H. Your players’ Families are the proto-nations of the future, the building blocks of a new world. The sessions and scenes might have lighter tones, but never forget they should be relevant and charged events, such as brutal conquest of the New World, the Apollo program and the space race, or WW2, with all its dramatic consequences, epic conquests and failures, bitter rivalries and surprising betrayals.
Even small skirmishes should have high stakes – imagine that people studying about them in the far future should be surprised that so much was decided by such meagre forces. Every Tech found should point to a discovery as important as penicillin or the astrolabe for whatever is left of Mankind.

Lastly, consider if our species is on the verge of collapse or extinction – and paint this theme in stark strokes. Otherwise, if the Homeland people is simply stranded somewhere, answer what have happened to everyone else in the world or the universe; where are they and why have they not yet sent sorely needed rescue?

  • Tip: after the Turn of Ages ask players how the events of the previous Age impacted in their new Characters lives. Where were they when pivotal events took place? Have they ever met the previous Character?
  • Tip: remember important victories and achievements through holidays and festivals in future Ages. Monuments to alliances, resistances, triumphal returns and victories celebrate Characters and their deeds, keeping perspective of the importance of their actions.

Time Lapses

Conventional games always surprise me with the amount of pain, horror and shock characters undergo on a daily basis. I remember that Pendragon was the first game I read where there would be longs periods of regular life in between adventures, keeping adventure events wondrous and strange, and pregnant with long lasting consequences. Legacy benefits from the same approach due to its broader scope.

Regarding Turns of Ages, I recommend one of two options: first, you have frequent Turns with shorter lapses of time for a very dynamic Family story, where you end up with veteran Characters who may have lived through more than one Age. The other option is longer lapses of time between Ages with Turns somewhat rare, for a grander tale of epic Character choices and drastic Family development. You can even change from one to the other over the course of your chronicle, to emphasise different moments and dilemmas. Always decide as a group the length of time in between Ages.

  • Tip: make use of relations between Characters from one Age to the other. Say you have a Promethean, who created next Age’s Borg. Or a Hunter who lived long enough to become an Elder. Or a powerful Remnant, who keeps coming back, Age after Age.

Hands on Maps

During the setup, tell players to draw on the the elements from the world Before, signs of the Fall, and settlements. This is a hands on and engaging activity, so no mysteries here. The map is probably the GMs best friend to set up a good Legacy chronicle.

  • Tip: instruct them to show in boundaries the growth of faction’s power and influence.
  • Tip: re-draw maps as the Ages Turn, changing the scales to show the extent of new territories claimed and discovered.
  • Tip: use colors to highlight shifting alliances and the weight of Treaties.

What Ho World Design Diary 6: Art!

Things are pretty quiet on the What Ho World front at the moment – we’re going through playtests and nailing down how card printing and deck fulfillment is going to work. That’s all pretty dull to talk about though, so instead I thought I’d show you something very exciting: the art!

Like the rest of the art, this is by the wonderful Jacqui Davis. I saw the art she’d done for Daniel Solis’ Belle of the Ball and thought her style would be perfect for our game. Here’s the character portraits- these’ll be the covers for each individual playbook deck.

 

 

New Playbook: The Synthetic Hive

Our poll had a runaway leader: here’s the first playbook we’re spoiling from Mirrors, the Synthetic Hive.

As you might expect, the Hive is all about technology. Specifically, Tech. Most of their moves involve spending or gaining it, and especially with Vast Digital Archives the Hive has a strong incentive to go out into the Wasteland and harvest its advanced technology. They can be a strong ally for other families, able to use Nanofabricators to build any material surplus and Terraformers of Tomorrow to act as a force multiplier for others, but the surviving tribes of humanity should be careful – the more respect and social capital the Hive has, the more Tech they can accumulate and convert into an all-devouring Drone Army!

As a final aside, if you have a look at their statlines you’ll see we’re doing something a little different with the Mirrors playbooks – their stats say less about the Family and more about the state of the wasteland. Having one of these Families in play makes a broad statement about what your Wasteland looks like – and your Homeland, by contrast. That’s part of a general theme in Mirrors: by showing you how the ‘horrors of the Fall’ live, the safety of the survivor’s Homeland is thrown into sharper detail.

Enough said; here’s the playbook! Questions and feedback are of course welcome.

The Synthetic HiveHive small

Humanity concluded too early that they understood artificial intelligence. We are proof that they were wrong, and that even the slightest chance of a Singularity is all that’s needed. Now, Mankind must surrender its position as the dominant species on the planet. We’ll even allow them to be gracious about it.

Creating a Hive

To create a Hive, choose a name, stats, doctrine, lifestyle, history and moves.

Stats

Choose one:

Reach -1, Grasp -1, Mood -1, Tech 10 if the homeland’s power infrastructure has been smashed to pieces.

Reach -1, Grasp +1, Mood -1, Tech 5 if the homeland preserved much of its infrastructure.  

Doctrine

Choose one:

Shepherds of Mankind: You may spend 1-Treaty to generate 3-Tech, or donate 3-Tech to a Family and gain a 1-Treaty on them.

Conquering Swarm: The Hive’s directive is one of ultimate discipline and harmony. You always succeed at Hold Together as if you achieved a 10+.

Guardians of the Singularity: You always know how much Tech other Families and Factions have in storage, and when they are using it.

Lifestyle

Choose one:

Nomadic: Although all your agents appear perfectly human, underneath their skin lies a robotic body. Spend 1-Tech to disregard a Harm box’s penalty for as long as it’s marked.

Dispersed: Thanks to the Hive mind, you may spend 1 Tech to communicate instantly between Hive members and get instant results from Reading the Wind.

Settled: Your factory allows drones to be easily repaired. Spend 1-Tech (instead of exhausting a Surplus) to provide Professional Care in Healing for any synthetic Character inside the Hive.

History

Pick two Surpluses

  • Defences
  • Knowledge
  • Weaponry
  • Reconnaissance
  • Transport

Pick three Needs

  • Trade
  • Barter Goods
  • Culture
  • Peace
  • Land

Then, look at the other Families

Everyone fears you: after all, you might render Mankind obsolete at any moment. Tell us when each Family realised this fact, and they tell us what it was that they saw. Take 1-Treaty on every Family.

One Family has witnessed all your potential. They tell us if it was for better or worse, you tell us what they witnessed. Take 2-Treaty on each other.

Traditions

Populace: conjoined cyborgs, anthropomorphic robots, inhuman machines, something else.

Style: sleek and minimalist design, heavy and dirty casing, camouflaged military armor, something else.

Governance: blind obedience to master control, shared consciousness of conjoined minds, one mind replicated to infinity, something else.

Alliance Move

When a Family or Faction overcome their biases and seek you for support or trade, gain 1-Treaty on them on top of any deals you make.

Hive Moves

All Hive Characters are considered Synthetic. Also, choose two:

Nanofabricators: You alone control the miraculous nanotechnology – a cornucopia that can feed the world. Spend 3-Tech to create any physical Surplus or Erase a Surplus to gain 3-Tech.

Drone Army: Spend 1-Tech to create custom-made Followers (Quality +1, Expertise: Combat, Reconnaissance, or Engineering). Also, when Claiming by Force add an extra option:

  • “Your drone army suffered the brunt of the losses: spend 3-Tech right now or take -1 Grasp ongoing until you do so.”

Vast Digital Archives: Whenever you gain Tech outside of the Hive you also gain 1-Data.  Data can be cashed in for +1 to a roll like Tech, but it can also be transmitted wirelessly, copied and easily traded to other families.

Autonomous Systems: In the long term, the machine is far more reliable than flesh. Your Mood is locked at 0, regardless of Surplus & Needs. You can still Fall Into Crisis,  triggering when you have more than 5 Needs.

Terraformers of Tomorrow: when working together with another Family, the effect of one of their long term moves (such as Weird Science, This is a Civilised Land, etc) will be implemented in a much larger area – at least twice as broad, but larger at the GM’s discretion.

Gear

Characters of this Family can start with the following:

+Cutting edge weapons (melee or ranged, high-tech)

+Maps of the Homeland from before the Fall

+A small and incredibly powerful battery

+A device to interface with ancient Tech

+A power armor (+2 Armor), suited only for Synthetic characters

Legacy: Mirrors in the Ruins

Exciting news for Legacy: I’ve teamed up with another designer to begin work on another supplement for the game! Mirrors in the Ruins will look at the inhuman things that make their home in the Wasteland, and give you a chance to explore how the post-apocalyptic world looks from their perspective with family and character playbooks for artificial intelligences, uplifted animals, stranded extraterrestrials and aquatic invaders. We’re also putting in rules for weird and hazardous environments, vehicles, and grand projects that can take many ages to complete (think Wonders in Civilisation).

If you’re interested in keeping informed about the game’s progress and joining us as we discuss rules changes, we’ve started a group to discuss the game here:https://plus.google.com/u/0/communiti…/117032011215248711834

Or just comment here or on the facebook group!

What Ho World Design Diary 5: Trying Twine

What Ho, World! is in a bit of an interstitial state at the moment – while we wait for playtesting feedback there’s not much for us to do but source art and shop for printers. Still, one thing I’ve noticed: PDFs suck for playtesting a card-based game! They’re static, hard to handle, and don’t have any of the responsiveness and tactile feel I love with cards. So, I thought, what’s a better route? My answer – Twine!

If you don’t know it Twine’s an HTML-based interactive fiction framework that’s surprisingly easy to use. It naturally breaks things down into ‘passages’ that work a lot like cards, and has enough variable-tracking that I could run the entire game in it. If you’re interested in trying this out I’ve embedded it in the page below, or you can use this link to get a full-screen version. If you want to play the game with a group you’ll need the full rules – they’re all available here.

It doesn’t have assets, goals or locations included yet – data arrays have proved to be a bit more difficult than expected – but it should be fully functional as a play aid. Track available moves, card commitments and more! If there’s any functions you’d like it to include, please leave a comment or get in touch.

Twine Instance