Monday, January 18, 2021

(Night Companion Preview) Light and Dark: a Variant Alignment System

Note: This blog is a preview of the forthcoming Night Companion sourcebook for Night Shift: Veterans of the Supernatural Wars. 

Light and Dark: an Alternate Alignment System

The core alignment system in Night Shift: VSW focuses on the law/chaos axis found in the earliest games of this type. An alternate alignment system is presented here that uses the good/evil axis instead, but also adds a new level of descriptiveness in the form of light and dark. The intent is to provide a better descriptor of a character's moral and personality types than the law/chaos axis does, and one that works a bit better in modern games. 



Good vs. Evil

The idea of good vs. evil is easy enough to delineate and should be accessible to all of our players. If it's not, well, we worry about you a little. Essentially, "good" implies placing value on other human lives, on honesty, forthright living, and generally understanding the difference between right and wrong. Good characters generally keep their word when they give it, don't break promises, don't kill, avoid violence when possible and usually seek diplomatic solutions to problems. They recognize social problems and wish to see them corrected, and fair justice is important to them. 

Evil characters are selfish, cruel, and value themselves over others in all things. While they certainly can develop relationships and care about others, such caring tends to manifest in a selfish way—where a good character wants to see someone they love happy, even if it hurts, the evil character wants to keep someone they love close, never let them go, and hold them under any circumstances. They'll ruthlessly remove obstacles in the way of what they want, and in the worst cases, they even take pleasure in lying, manipulation, and violence. 

Neutral

Neutral is the middle point of the Good-Evil axis. It can mean characters who lean one way or the other but aren't necessarily all the way "in." Most people in the world, for example, tend to be neutral but lean towards good. That is, they can be selfish and they're often tempted to put their own needs ahead of others, but they still have a conscience and they feel guilty when they don't do the right thing. 

Other types of neutral characters may be those who function in society because they make a choice to act in a moral fashion, but don't have an innate imperative or drive to do so. That is, these characters don't commit murder, but that's not because they feel sick at the idea of killing, but because they rationally know murder is wrong and so they make a choice to fall on that side of the equation. These are the characters that have no compunction about killing in self-defense and may not even feel guilty about it. 

Neutral characters who lean towards evil, on the other hand, do their best to remain within the law and the bounds of morality, but they don't sweat it if they have to step outside every now and again. Petty criminals who commit armed robbery but generally try to avoid killing might be those who are neutral leaning towards evil. Manipulators who lie and cheat, then justify to themselves why it's because they deserve it fall into this category as well. 

Neutral characters have a range of possibilities, and for this reason, most characters will likely fall into the Neutral (Good) or Neutral (Evil) category. "True" neutral characters are rare beyond rare and very difficult to play, as they tend to have difficulty making decisions for themselves as they simply can't decide whether a given action should be taken. 

These are characters who might be driven to do something despicable because they're selfish, but then will go over the top to do something good and selfless because they now feel the need to balance everything out. 



Light vs. Dark

Light vs. Dark encompasses two distinct ideals each, and a character may be one, the other, or both. That is to say, a character may define themselves as light one way but not the other, and it's left to the character to determine which is the more important for them. 

Light means both physical light, the daytime, and the sun; and it also means being outgoing, in the open, the center of attention. Light characters draw their strength from being in the spotlight, whether it's the noon day sun shining down upon them, or a literal spotlight as they stand on the stage soaking up the cheers of an adoring crowd. 

Characters who are extroverted and outgoing tend to be light characters, as do the ones who thrive on being out and about during the daytime. These are the characters that enjoy going out to lunch, shopping, or hitting a cafĂ© for their morning and even afternoon cuppa. They're the ones at parties who are in the thick of the conversation and are great at making new friends and acquaintances. They may be natural leaders or just outspoken team members. 

Spellcasters who are of the Light variety will prepare their spells in the morning every day. 

Dark, on the other hand, means both physical shadow and darkness, as well as characters who avoid the spotlight and prefer to remain behind the curtain. These are characters that draw power and strength from the night time, who are invigorated by midnight air and the silence of the late-night city streets. They enjoy late night TV, quiet and shadowy neighborhood bars, and they dislike social gatherings. They may even enjoy being among people, just so long as they can stay in the background. Dark characters might frequent Goth dance clubs, but prefer to sit in the corner with a beer or a cocktail rather than being out on the dance floor. Their energy comes from watching others, not from being in the thick of things. 

Characters who are introverts, who don't like conversations unless they're deep one-on-one philosophical discourses, tend to fall into the Dark category. These are the characters who might be invaluable, powerful teammates, but who never call the shots, but rather whisper in the ear of those who do. They're the ones that people listen to when they speak up, because they speak up so rarely. They're observers. 

Spellcasters who are Dark will prepare their spells at midnight or 3 am, sometime in the dead of night when everything is quiet, and they can be alone with their own personal demons. 

Twilight Characters

Twilight characters are those who draw their power and strength from the period just before dark and just after dawn, when the sky is red and purple and the shadows long. They disdain the spotlight and don't like to be the center of attention, but at the same time they find cloudy days and the dead of night depressing. 

These are characters who are comfortable in their own skin and are okay in crowds once a conversation starts—they may even feed on the conversation—but aren't likely to start the conversation themselves. They're good listeners and thoughtful leaders, but they might be people of few words, making those words they do speak matter. They can give a speech in public, but don't prefer it. Stage fright or performance anxiety might get the best of them every so often. 

Many twilight characters have some level of impostor syndrome. They might be great at what they do, and even be able to put on airs of confidence, but deeply doubt their own capabilities and wonder when people are going to figure out that they're a fraud. 

Spellcasters in the Twilight area will prepare their spells either at dusk every day or be up to do so just after dawn. 

Putting It Together

This system is a two-axis system. Each player will choose one space on each axis for their character to occupy, and work to interpret their character's persona within that space. A character could, for example, be light-evil, a megalomaniac who is out for themselves and is a brutal leader who believes that might makes right. Another character could be good-twilight, a deeply moral person with a black sense of sarcastic humor that they use to hide their own insecurities. 

Still a third might be neutral-dark, the character who knows right from wrong, who recognizes social injustices, but doesn't care enough and is too gun shy to stand up and speak out in person. They try to do what's right, but they also know that to survive you look out for yourself and don't draw attention to yourself.  

By combining the Good-Evil-Neutral with the Light-Dark-Twilight descriptors, you can create many different personality types, and it's the author's feeling that these descriptors work much better than the law-chaos-good-evil boxes we've all become used to for so long. Still, like most of the rules in Night Shift: VSW, this subsystem is entirely optional. It could even be combined, if you wish, with law and chaos to create a three-axis system. It can also be ignored entirely. 

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Elf Lair Games Partners with Troll Lord Games on Drivethru RPG

 From Troll Lord Games and Elf Lair Games comes a combination of great gaming goodness from the mind of Jason Vey.  Jason is a writer of many talents, having worked with Troll Lord Games on his Amazing Adventures RPG and Castles & Crusades as well as owning his own RPG company, Elf Lair Games.


This bundle offers TWO core rulebooks--Amazing Adventures from Troll Lord Games and Night Shift: Veterans of the Supernatural Wars from Elf Lair Games, the latter co-written with noted designer Timothy S. Brannan. Also included are five adventures which can easily be used with either game, with only minor conversion work needed!

Whether you're in it for the high-flying multigenre adventure or the creepy and shadowy worlds of horror and urban fantasy, this bundle has it all, at a whopping 40% off cover price for a limited time!

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Dark Superheroes with Night Shift: VSW

 




 Let's be honest: It's more than likely that there's a supers supplement for Night Shift: VSW on the horizon some day in the future. Here's the trick, though: you don't really need it to do supers with the game as it stands. You could do a street level supers game with NS:VSW exactly as it sits, and you'd still be well within genre. Look at TV shows like Arrow or Batwoman on the CW or the Netflix Marvel shows for examples of how street-level supers can be dark urban fantasy at its finest. 

Hell, consider Blade as an example of how the superhero genre can be mixed with horror. It's certainly not outside of the wheelhouse of Night Shift to experiment with superheroic games, particularly if you keep it at "street level" abilities. 

Let's check out the easy ways you can do superheroes with Night Shift: Veterans of the Supernatural Wars

Start with the Supernatural Race

In Night Shift: VSW, you have essentially two options for your character "race," which we usually prefer to refer to as "species," as it's more scientifically accurate. These are your standard humans, and your Supernatural. The Supernatural PC character is highly customizable, and basically comes stock with a suite of superpowers. 

From the standpoint of getting started, there's your core. The only big differences I'd make is allowing the +3 to raise ability scores above 20 for Supernaturals, and maybe adding an option that multipliers of what you can do increase with every point above 18: thus, Strength 19 means you can double your carrying limit, 20 trebles it, and 21 quadruples it. For Dex 19 you'd double your base speed, for 20, treble it, and for 21, quadruple it, etc. This doesn't affect your bonuses for your attribute checks, which still scale as normal, just what you can lift, how fast you can run, etc.

This may not be a perfect solution when it comes to things like Con and the mental abilities, but the GM can easily come up with a modification for those abilities modeled on Str and Dex. 

Next, you may wish to rename the race/species, whether it's mutant, demihuman, metahuman, altered human, whatever. 

Finally, pick your power and go! You're out of the gate a superhero, and you even get to improve and gain new powers as you go. 

Character Classes Mean Customization

Don't ever imagine that character classes don't have a place in a dark street-level supers game. First, playing a normal human with a character class should, theoretically, still be balanced against your supernaturals, since supernaturals suffer an XP penalty for starting off with thair powers. 

Second, adding a character class to your supernatural character offers a degree of customization. What if you want a character who had a mystical encounter with a black cat on Halloween? She absorbed the soul of that cat due to a mystical ritual gone wrong in a nearby building, which she didn't even know about, but now she has the abilities of a cat. She of course wishes to apply them to selfish ends and is also a cat burglar. Simply choose the right powers, give her the +3 to Dexterity, and then choose the Survivor character class to give her abilities like move silently, hide, locks, and the like. You're done! You've got your superpowered cat burglar with the powers of an actual cat. Sure, it's a bit derivative, but we're offering examples, here! 



Of course, several of the classes already play nice with a supers game.  The Witch/Warlock, Psychic, Theosophist, and even Inventor are already primed for a supers game. Heck, the Inventor gives you that crime-fighting gadgeteer detective type character or the character with that flying suit of super-weaponized armor right off the bat, which you can improve with additional gadgets and effects as you go. It's even possible to retool the Inventor entirely and allow for the Science Points to become Power Points; instead of creating super science devices, your character simply purchases superpowers. 

There you have it! Street level supers with Night Shift: Veterans of the Supernatural Wars. Learn more about it on our website or get your copy today!

Official Discussion Boards (where we'd love to see more talk!) https://elflairgames.proboards.com/


Tuesday, November 17, 2020

NEW RELEASE: A Faustian Dilemma (Night Trip for Night Shift: VSW)



 Welcome to the City...

The City is vast and sprawling, in many ways an archetype of every city in the world, from New York to Sydney to LA to Hong Kong, to Paris, London, Dubai, and beyond. It’s a city where the buildings tower so high into the sky and are so thick together that the sun doesn’t penetrate the streets and it’s always dark. Night is when the City comes to life, and few people here ever see the daylight anyway, because Night time is the right time in the City.

The City doesn’t seem to have a name. To those who live here, it’s simply “The City,” and it’s more than home. It’s heart. The City is a piece of those who live here, and those who live here are a piece of the City. It’s a City of contradictions—on one hand always dark and shadowy, with foreboding alleyways and oubliettes, on the other hand full of vibrant life where there’s always something going on. This is a City where shops don’t close at 9, but operate 24 hours a day, where people are sure they sleep, but can’t remember the last time they saw the sun.

Except in the Botanical Gardens. For some reason the sun is always up in the Botanical Gardens.

Friday, November 6, 2020

Why Re-Use Old Mechanics? Why Not Create a New System?

 This is a question I get asked far too often, and far too often it's with an accusatory tone, along the lines of, "what kind of a game designer are you if you can't create an original system?" or "Aren't you creative enough to come up with something unique and original?"

The truth is, I have worked with just about every kind of system you can imagine over my decades of game design. I've done stat + skill systems, roll and keep systems, fistful 'o dice and count kills systems, graduated die type systems, and more. All were fun, all were quirky, all were unique in some way. 

I did go through a phase where I spent a lot of time coming up with new and different systems. I even designed a couple from the ground up that used cards instead of dice. One, the Hoyle System, used a standard deck of playing cards with each suit and the jokers representing something different in play, and another used tarot cards as a means of resolution, where the major arcana had specific game functions. While they were fun intellectual exercises, for the lion's share of my professional game work, I have almost always come back to tried and true. 



Do What Works and Keep It Simple

Here's the reason. Tried and true works. If your game is entirely focused on your rules system, you're doing something wrong as a game designer (unless it's a board game; then the rules are what matters more than anything). But trying to come up with something "innovative" in an RPG is at best an exercise in futility, and at worst, arrogant pretension. The more "unique" your dice mechanic is, the more it draws attention away from the role playing and the more it forces attention on the mechanics, which is counter to the point of this kind of gaming. 

There's an old truism in gaming that states you shouldn't roll dice unless you have to, unless the situation really calls for it. Don't roll dice to climb a ladder unless that ladder is rickety and covered with grease. Don't roll dice to find a piece of information that the adventure requires the players to have for the story to move forward. If this is the case, why would you create a rules system that takes longer to adjudicate and/or forces you to put more attention on the dice than should be due?   

It might be fun to play with at your table but here's the simple fact: your system, no matter what it is or how it works, revolves around generating random numbers to mimic a probability. I've said this before, and I'll say it again: "innovative" dice systems are smoke and mirrors which in the end, use increasingly complicated means to just generate a random result, and overcomplicate things to no good end. 

It's really simple: if you're going to generate a random result, just roll a die. The more complex you make it than that, the further away from the simple idea of role playing and shared storytelling you get. If your dice system is required to drive the story forward, your game has failed and it may as well be a board game. Dice don't (and shouldn't) drive creativity. 

When you try to push something completely different out there, a full 99% of the time all you're doing is re-inventing the wheel. That's just putting a lot of time, thought, and effort into something that could be much better spent looking at other more creative aspects of your game. I've done a number of articles over at my Wasted Lands blog about not re-inventing the wheel, about how it's better to re-skin something you've already got that works, than it is to invent unnecessary subsystems. As a game designer, I firmly believe you should always apply the K.I.S.S. principle. 



Types of Systems

There's a few simple, straightforward ways to handle a dice system which again are tried and true, and to which I'll always come back. The first is the basic "roll a die and add modifiers against a target number" system. This can be seen in everything from the combat system in the earliest days of gaming to modern stat + skill vs. TN systems. Even basic roll under percentile systems fall under this category. It's easy, intuitive, straightforward, and quite simply, it just works and gets the Hell out of the way so you can concentrate on your story. 

Next is the dice pool, count success levels system. In this version, you throw a handful of dice usually generated by a series of trait ratings, and count success levels. My own Cd8 system works off of this mechanic--throw a fistful of dice and every 7-8 you get counts as one "fist bump." Tasks are rated based on how many fist bumps they need to be successful.

Finally, and probably the least common, is the roll and keep system. In this system, you generate a dice pool, roll a number of dice, and keep a lesser number, often based on a skill. You might, for example, roll dice equal to your strength and climbing ability and skill, and keep a number of dice equal to your climbing skill, adding them together and applying the result to a target number. This system usually crosses over with one of the above: either you'll total the dice you keep against a TN or you'll count successes on the dice you keep. 

The truth is, the vast majority of game systems on the market today fit into one of the above. It's just that too many try to mask themselves as something new when they're just a complicated coat of paint on the basic idea of generating a random result based on a simple probability. 

You Have Nothing to Prove

In the end, as a game designer, neither I nor you (if you're a new or experienced designer reading this) have anything to prove to anyone. You're a gamer first, after all. Make the game you want to play. That's the real takeaway from this. Your job as a game designer, your first responsibility, is to you. You have to make games you love. Otherwise you can't genuinely represent them to your fanbase. Understand that you can't please everyone, but if you're making a game you want to play, you'll get where you need to be in the end. 

Now, despite what I said above about pretention and presumption in innovative systems, if you legit don't find anything that works for you in the systems that are out there, by all means cook up something that's what you want to play. As you work on it, though, always look back to what's already been done and ask yourself, "am I just complicating something that works just as well, already is out there, and is easier to do?"

Note that I'm not suggesting you outright steal someone's system--never do that. Not only is it uncool, it's illegal. What you can do, though, is look at the variant general types of system (target number, dice pool, roll and keep, etc.) and see if something really basic like that is at the heart of your game, then strip it back. The faster, easier, more intuitive, and more streamlined your system is, the better off you'll be in the end. 

But in the end, you don't need to show off your awesome game design skills by coming up with something shiny, new, and innovative. Worse, the more you try to do so, the more you'll likely just be overcomplicating something that already does exist, when taking a simpler, more straightforward approach would service your game far better. 




My Design DNA

So in the end, that's where I stand. Over the years, I've written for such companies as Palladium Books, Eden Studios, Misfit Studios, Troll Lord Games, Goodman Games, and others. Every one of those companies has brought something to the table that influenced me as a designer. My design DNA is drawn from elements of all of them--percentile-based class abilities, straightforward flat target number systems, Fate Points, stratified ability scores, and the other elements of my games. 

All of this has come together to create something that I think is, in fact, unique, but still at the same time very straightforward and ultimately, intuitive and familiar so anyone who has played an RPG can grasp it and get up and running fast. I like to think that once you grasp the core systems, you can play my games without cracking a book, or only rarely doing so. 

I don't consider the O.G.R.E.S. system, the O.R.C.S. system, or the Cd8 system to be innovative in any way, but they do have a personality that's mine, and in the end, that's what every game designer should aspire to achieve and offer. 

As always, thanks for reading and be sure to check out Night Shift: Veterans of the Supernatural Wars, now available from Studio 2 Publishing!
 

Monday, November 2, 2020

What Does Night Shift: VSW Bring to the Old School Table?

(This blog sort of dovetails off of an earlier one regarding what's innovative about Night Shift.)



What Does Night Shift: VSW Bring to the Old School Table?

Whenever a new game using old school mechanics is released, people very justifiably want to know what it brings to the table? What makes it worth buying? It's a totally legit question--let's face it, the old school table is stuffed to bursting with games, rules systems, and different takes on the way the earliest games were supposed to be played. When this whole thing started we had Castles & Crusades, followed by OSRIC, followed by Swords & Wizardry. A few others followed, including my own Spellcraft & Swordplay

Now we have Labyrinth Lord, Old School Essentials, Basic Fantasy, Dark Dungeons, Mazes & Perils, Blueholme, Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea, Champions of ZED, and a litany of other games, all good, all solid, all astonishingly fun and created by outstanding designers and great guys. In the end, however, at our core, all of us are doing the same thing--looking back at the core of early gaming and putting out our own versions of those days, trying to address our vision and how we think the game should be played based on our own scholarship. 

This has led to a whole world of creative output but it has also, inevitably, led to burnout on the part of consumers. They rightfully want to know what one game offers that the games they already own don't? Is this just another re-presentation and re-working of the B/X rules? If so, why bother? Naturally, people have the same questions about Night Shift: VSW. 

The good news is, we do bring something new and (I think) worthwhile to the table. Let's dive in. 

The Design Intent and Meta-Setting

One thing many folks have started to do is take these old school rules and apply them to non-fantasy settings. We've seen that with games like Kids on Bikes, Stars Without Number, and Dark Places & Demogorgons. Night Shift: VSW applies this old school mindset to adult urban fantasy and horror gaming in a way that hasn't been done before, and it's completely compatible with your other old school games. It can sit on the shelf right next to your B/X rules and be used right alongside them. The statistics that went into the probabilities and character class progressions have been calculated to closely match those from the Original and B/X days of gaming, so there should be no problem there.

Obviously, we don't claim to be the first ones to offer alternate-genre takes on those old rules. The games I already mentioned above did it first. But we're the first to tackle this kind of broad approach, I think, where you can dive into just about any sort of modern gaming you want, from a game inspired by modern alien conspiracies in the Alphabet Soup organizations to that cheerleader who is chosen to hunt vampires, demons, and the forces of darkness to a succubus fey who refuses to sell out to one of the courts, to demon-hunting brothers in a muscle car to a sorcerous private eye with a talking skull, and beyond. 

The Toolkit Approach

Tim and I both enjoy old school play, but we are also very much into the rules lite new school approach, having both worked together on many Unisystem books throughout our careers. Our DNA is all over this game and we took a toolkit approach that's not quite like anything else that's been done. We have added options for a skill system, for character backgrounds, for madness, for exorcism, Fate Points, and a litany of other options. The forthcoming Night Companion will offer even more, including weapon classes, variable damage, and others.

Beyond this, however, we've built three levels of play into the game: the standard (which we call "realistic"), the gritty, and the cinematic. These three levels apply in different ways across most of the rules mechanics, and can be mixed and matched to create a custom game that suits your specific tastes. If you want cinematic healing but gritty and deadly firearms combined with the standard attack and class ability mechanics, just pick the options you want and go. You can even start with one level and change it out as the heroes grow in experience--perhaps you want to start off with Cinematic healing to give your players more survivability at low levels, but then you switch to realistic at mid-levels and gritty at high levels. 

That's the toolkit approach. 

Codifying the Game

We also did something that no one else has done yet: we took the three basic mechanics that are already in play across all the different versions of that original game, through its second edition, and simply spelled out in a codified form how they work. I talked about this in a blog I did over at my Wasted Lands blog a year or so ago, which was one of two blogs there that led to Night Shift: VSW being written in the first place. 

So we've taken the three mechanics that have always driven old school versions of play, and instead of scattering them throughout the game here and there to be figured out as you go, we've split them up and defined exactly how each works in the context of the game. It is my opinion that this forms a sort of Rosetta Stone for old school play. The O.G.R.E.S. system can actually help you better understand the workings of old school fantasy games. 

That may seem a grandiose claim, but I really think it stands. 

So there you have it; that's what NSVSW, as we like to call it, brings to the table. I hope if you're on the fence, you'll head over to my website and check it out


Friday, October 30, 2020

The Craft: Legacy



The wife and I watched The Craft: Legacy last night. We really enjoyed it! It's much more a modern fantasy than a horror film, so be prepared going in. It pays direct homage and reference to the original in several ways (one or two very major), but after setting itself up as a straight rehash, takes a sudden left turn and really does its own thing. We appreciated that.  There is, as you would expect, a strong female empowerment note in the movie and it's done well, if more than a little in your face in its delivery. Still, the characters are likeable, the story fun, and it's an excellent soft reboot / continuation of the franchise 20 years later. There's also a fun surprise at the end. 

One of the girls with her netspeak and hyperactivity is a bit over the top, as is the spectacle of the witchcraft powers, but it works in context. The cast is stellar overall and the story engaging (even if I did figure out all of the plot twists far in advance). They leave it open for more, and leave open the possibility to see some of the original cast in the next one, so I'll be interested to see if that happens. Overall, another slam dunk for Blumhouse. 

What was most fun for me was it was like watching a Night Shift: Veterans of the Supernatural Wars game play out on screen, so go get a copy of the game and play it! 


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