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!)

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! 

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Plays Well With Others: Night Shift and Modern Supernatural Games

Guest Blog by Timothy S. Brannan

I am a firm believer that a rising tide lifts all ships, and that other Game Designers are not my competition, but my colleagues.  I buy their games, they buy mine. We all benefit and we all enjoy.

Naturally, I also feel that a good gaming experience can be had by looking to see what others are doing and seeing what I can bring into my games when I am running them.

When we were working on NIGHT SHIFT we had a fairly strict "no looking at other games" policy.  We really wanted our game to have it's own unique feel and direction.  But that was last year, and now NIGHT SHIFT is out and I am pulling out all my other games to see what each one has that can help NIGHT SHIFT and what Night Shift has that can help them.

Old School Roots

Jason and I have worked on a lot of games. Both together and separately for dozens of publishers. But the one thing we both enjoy are old-school games. This doesn't mean we don't like new ones, quite the opposite in fact. But it is the old-school design aesthetic that keeps us coming back and saying "what else can we do with this?"  NIGHT SHIFT covers both halves of our RPG hearts.

The mechanics in NIGHT SHIFT (what we call O.G.R.E.S. or Oldschool Generic Roleplaying Engine System) are firmly rooted in the Old School mechanics of the world's first popular RPG system.  What does this mean? Well if you have been playing RPGs for any length of time since 1974 then chances are good you can pick up the rules for NIGHT SHIFT very, very quickly. 

Also, it means that out of the box, NIGHT SHIFT is roughly compatible with thousands of RPG titles. 

Appendix A of the NIGHT SHIFT book covers conversions between NS and the Oldest RPG, it also covers conversions between the O.G.R.E.S. of NIGHT SHIFT and the O.R.C.S of other Elf Lair Games products; namely Spellcraft & Swordplay and Eldritch Witchery.

It also covers 0e, B/X and BECMI style conversions. Converting then between NIGHT SHIFT and anything based on Swords & Wizardry or Labyrinth Lord for example is easy.

There are guidelines on how to convert classes, but since the classes have the same DNA as the ones in many of these clone games I am going to take the extra step and say, just play them as is.

So yeah, run a Sage in Labyrinth Lord.  Put a Chosen One in Swords & Wizardry.  In fact, I'd love to hear how this works for you.  This also gives you a good way to add a new supernatural species to your game.  What to play an Angel cleric? With NIGHT SHIFTS rules on supernaturals, you can. IT also makes a nice way to create something my Basic Games have needed, a Vampire Witch.  In NIGHT SHIFT this is easy.

Need more monsters? Grab any monster manual and you can be set to go. Monstrosities and Tome of Horrors Complete are only two examples but they give hundreds of monsters. More than you will ever need.

NIGHT SHIFT is not the only Modern Supernatural RPG out there based on old school roots.  So many in fact that my next one and others would have to constitute another full post to them justice.  But I will mention a couple.

DP&D is such a delight. It really is. I am very fond of this game and I still enjoy playing it.  On the surface it looks like DP&D and NIGHT SHIFT could be used to tell the same sorts of stories, and that is true to a degree, but that really underplays what makes both games special.  

NIGHT SHIFT covers adults (for the most part, I'll talk Generation HEX specifically) in a very dangerous supernatural modern world.
Dark Places & Demogorgons covers kids in a very dangerous supernatural world of the 1980s.

Both games are built on the same chassis and have similar cores.  One day I want to run a game where the Adults (NS) flashback to when they were Kids (DP&D).  Sort of like Stephen King's "It."
Or one could start out as a kid in DP&D progress a bit and then become an adult to continue on in Night Shift.

There is not a good One to One class correspondence between the games and nor would I want there to be.  A Jock (DP&D) might end up as a Veteran (NS) or even as a Chosen One (NS).  In truth, I would give any DP&D kid character some "free" levels in Survivor but allow them to keep some of the perks of their original DP&D class.  So Goths still see ghosts, Karate Kids still kick ass, and so on.  
Frankly, I think it would be a blast with the right group.   Maybe I should write a two-part adventure that covers both. A little like "It" but something very different.  Something "Strange" happened in the 1980s and now a group of characters have gotten back together in their old home town to stop it once again.  

I singled out Generation HEX since that one already covers kids.  I can see a game though were kids from AMPA (Academy of Magic and Paranormal Arts) have to work with the "normies" of DP&D to solve some great mystery.   Likely one that is affecting adults only.

I have also used monsters from the DP&D Cryptid Manual for NIGHT SHIFT many times.

Modern Supernatural

It is no great secret that I LOVE games like WitchCraft and Chill.  I have talked many times about my love of both games. Chill was my first Horror RPG and WitchCraft might be my favorite game of all time.  Jason and I met while working as freelancers for Eden Studios, the company that made WitchCraft.  We worked together on Buffy, Angel, and Army of Darkness.  I helped him with his All Flesh Must Be Eaten books and he helped me on Ghosts of Albion.  A lot of what is in NIGHT SHIFT came out of our conversations of things we wanted to do in those games.

I guess then it is not a shock or surprise that I see NIGHT SHIFT and the spiritual successor, at least on my shelves and table, to games like Buffy and WitchCraft.

Buffy and WitchCraft defined horror monster hunting for the 90s and into the 2000s.  NIGHT SHIFT takes this to 2020 and beyond.  With NIGHT SHIFT I want to be able to play anything those other games offered me.  Sure the playstyle will be different.  WitchCraft is more about the machinations of the Supernatural World.  The Gifted (WC) for example are all covered by the Witch Class in NIGHT SHIFT.  In WitchCraft though there is a HUGE difference between the Wicce and the Rosicrucians. In NIGHT SHIFT those differences would have to be played out by the players in role-playing.  NIGHT SHIFT also is more Normies and Weirdos vs. Dangerous Supernatural types. More like Buffy or Ghosts of Albion in that sense. 

All Souls Night

There is an adventure that I have been dying to finish, "All Souls Night."  It is part of a trilogy across time and distance that includes Ghosts of Albion's "Blight", Buffy's "The Dark Druid" and what I have been thinking of as D&D's All Souls Night.  Translating them all into NIGHT SHIFT makes this so much easier to run. 

Supernatural and Chill
Not the new version of "Netflix and Chill" but adapting the best monster hunter games. 

Chill has such a long history I could not do it justice here.  I love the game but one place it has always felt a little lacking for me is the ability to play a spell-caster.  The Supernatural RPG is the same way.  In truth, Supernatural RPG is the cinematic version of Chill.   I mean sure. If I wanted to play a spellcaster, or a witch, I still have Buffy, WitchCraft, Ghosts of Albion, and about 100 other games to do that.  Both Chill and Supernatural are solid "let's go hunt some monsters" games.  So is NIGHT SHIFT.

Adapting the style of either game is easy.  Having these games also gives your NIGHT SHIFT game a slightly edgier feel.

I have already shown that Supernatural characters like The Wayward Sisters and Charlie Bradbury can have new life in NIGHT SHIFT.  

Some games, like say Call of Cthulhu, fit their niche so perfectly that I would not want to run a "Mythos" game with NIGHT SHIFT, but I certainly could borrow ideas from CoC for my NIGHT SHIFT games.  

In many ways doing a Plays Well With Others and NIGHT SHIFT is a cheat.  One of my own design principles for the game was to make it as flexible as I could so it could cover a wide variety of game and play styles.  I am happy in my belief that we succeeded in that.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Elf Lair Games Partners with Studio 2 Publishing!


Elf Lair Games has officially signed on with Studio 2 Publishing to distribute English language tabletop RPG product, beginning with Night Shift: Veterans of the Supernatural Wars

I couldn't be more excited about this partnership. It stands as the next big step in expanding our reach as a publishing company, and we look forward to getting our games into the hands of as many players as possible. Studio 2 is just the company to make that happen. Making this transition was a big step for Elf Lair and signing on with Studio 2 is a huge development for us. This represents a vital move towards what I hope will be a bright and exciting future for the company.

The partnership will greatly expand the reach of Elf Lair Games, allowing its presence in physical gaming stores and major online retailers. Elf Lair recently made the transition from a small PDF and print-on-demand company to a traditional offset publisher thanks to a successful Kickstarter in October 2019. 

About Night Shift: VSW

As most of you know, Night Shift: VSW is a tabletop role playing game using mechanics that will be familiar to players of the classic editions of the World's Most Famous tabletop RPG, and published under the Open Game License. It takes an unique approach, however, in the way it codifies these rules, and is the first game of its sort to allow playing any kind of horror, urban fantasy or dark modern game. Fans of urban fantasy literature, television and movies have celebrated the game's approach and aesthetics. 

The game uses the familiar ability scores of Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma, class-and-level character creation and fast, intuitive mechanics that involve ability checks based on a 20-sided die, percentile-based class abilities and a "rule of 2" mechanic that involves rolling a die and looking for a result of 1 or 2. The game is built to be fast-playing with an easy and fast-play rules system that allows for interpretation and application to a wide range of genres and situations. 

About Elf Lair Games

Elf Lair Games is based in Pittsburgh, PA, and bills itself as "The new class of old school." The company was first founded in 2008 as a startup publisher of "nostalgia" and "retroclone" games. Since then it has expanded to become a traditional publishing company, combining an old school aesthetic with modern design sensibilities. They can be found online at or on Facebook at  

About Studio 2 Publishing

Studio 2 Publishing provides fulfillment, marketing, sales and distribution services for other companies as well as serving as a traditional publisher in their own right. Their contacts and experience allow them to produce and distribute a wide range of profits, maximizing sales potential for clients in every aspect, from warehousing to shipping, logistics to invoicing and much more. They can be found online at

Sunday, September 6, 2020

What's So Innovative about Night Shift: VSW?


This is one of the most common questions game designers get in the modern era of game design. Everyone's looking for the latest, new and unusual thing, and that's understandable. So what do I answer when people ask me what's so innovative or new about Night Shift: VSW? 


That's right; there's nothing in the mechanics or system that's particularly new or innovative in Night Shift: VSW. 

Now, before you throw up your hands and say, "Why bother, then?" Let me elaborate. 

There's No Such Thing as Innovative Mechanics

The simple truth of the matter is, the vast majority of designers who use "innovative" as a claim to fame for their game are at least one of two things, and very often both: 

1. Trying to be different for no other reason than to say they're being different, often at the expense of playability.

2. Simply wrong. 

Most so-called innovative mechanics are smoke and mirrors at best. The truth is very simple: dice exist in a game for one reason and one reason only: to generate a random result. The idea that they are needed to drive a story or have some otherwise vital place of import in your rules system is to both undermine the point of your game and to put the rules ahead of the role playing. 

I'm not denigrating people who enjoy mechanically complex games, here, or who enjoy fiddly rules sets where the dice, once rolled, stay on the table to form a major part of the story. If that sort of rules-focused game is your bag of dice (see what I did there?) go for it! Great! But first of all, it's not my thing, and second (and more importantly) its not new or innovative. 

I'll say it again: Dice generate random results, and over the years in gaming we've seen everything from completely dice-free games to games where you have to roll on a table to make sure you strike your mouth with a fork when you eat. We've seen card-based mechanics, games whose dice have pictures instead of pips, games where the entire story is driven by consulting charts where the dice provide actions and events, and more. 

I'm not arrogant enough to claim that it's impossible to create an innovative rules system, but I will make the claim that it's 99.9% unlikely that such a thing will happen. I'll also say that it's completely unnecessary, again, except to be different just for the sake of being different. 

So how does this tie into Night Shift: VSW? 

There's Nothing Wrong with Familiar

Night Shift; VSW uses mechanics that are inherently familiar to the vast majority of players. If you have ever picked up an OGL game, you'll recognize the six ability scores immediately: Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, Charisma. When you see those ability scores, you know immediately what you're dealing with. You're not going to have to spend weeks poring through the tome trying to pick out every fiddly detail in the rules so you can understand how it works. You can, almost literally, just dive in, make a character, and start playing. 

The underlying mechanics of NSVSW are also going to be familiar--percentage rolls, d20 rolls against a target number, and a quick random decision making mechanic have all appeared in games before. We add a Fate Point mechanic into the picture, but that's also a common sight these days whether it's called story points, plot points, hero points, what have you--it's a way to add some player agency into the game without removing the authority of the GM from the picture (something else I can't stand in modern games, but that's another blog). 

Why choose familiar instead of innovative? It's simple: Familiar is comfortable and even more importantly, familiar works. These mechanics are tried and true. They've been used for forty-plus years in the RPG industry, and they're immediately familiar. They're so familiar, in fact, that you don't even need to think about them. You can simply roll the dice you need to roll, and go. There's absolutely nothing wrong with familiar. 

So Is This Just Another One of Those OSR Games?

I don't like to think of us as an OSR company, but only for one reason: it puts us in a box that we don't want to inhabit. Will gamers in the OSR enjoy NSVSW? Yes, absolutely, they will. Hell, I enjoy OSR games myself. But this game also puts some very modern design sensibilities behind it--ability scores matter more than they do in your typical OSR games. There's player agency mechanics. Yes, it uses classes and levels, because quite simply they work. Again, there's nothing wrong with tried, tested, and true. 

In some ways, yes, NSVSW does revel in a degree of old-school-ness. I've had compliments that the graphic design resembles a certain vampire-centric game from the 90s, which has been an (admittedly unintended) selling point. It's black and white, it's gritty, but it's easy to read with a pretty basic layout. The art also has that 90s punk/splatterpunk aesthetic to it. 

So if you like the OSR and you want to consider NSVSW an OSR game? Go for it. We don't market ourselves that way, but we also don't disparage the movement, because we like it. We think that our game has a more universal appeal, however, with modern sensibilities in writing, presentation, and approach.

If It's Not Innovative, What Does It Bring to the Table?

What we do in this game, however, is put the mechanics together in a way that hasn't really been done before. I guess that makes this an innovation in some way, but I don't think of it as such, because really what we've done is codify what's always been there in a way that it hasn't been codified before. In that sense, NSVSW and the O.G.R.E.S. system can be used as something of a Rosetta Stone for those bits of old school gaming you may have found confusing before. 

In the end, I guess, I'd say that's what marks most games as truly innovative. It's not the rules system; it's the way they put things together that we haven't seen before. In that way, NSVSW does bring something new and unseen. 

There hasn't yet been a game that uses these mechanics to present this kind of game; that is, horror and modern urban fantasy. We believe we've built a system with these three core mechanics that allows for play in not just this genre, but a variety of genres which you'll see brought to the table in the future. It's so intuitive and fast-playing that you'll be able to model just about any game you like with it, without a huge learning curve, and you'll be able to dive in and start playing in a flash. 

The system fades into the background and allows you to focus on story and character. It also uses a somewhat forgotten idea in gaming these days: that you and the way you play make your character, not the numbers on the page. 

What Sets It Apart?

So what sets the game apart? First, NSVSW brings more of a toolkit approach to the table than other class-and-level systems using familiar mechanics do: you can choose from a wide variety of options to create three levels of play: gritty and deadly, normal and what we term "realistic" (just for lack of a better word), or over-the-top cinematic. You needn't have all or nothing in any of these three areas, either. Some elements of your game can be gritty while others are cinematic, depending on the tropes of the world you build. 

Second, we have adopted something of a "looking back to move forward" approach. Our spell casting system, for example, looks all the way back to the original medieval miniatures fantasy supplement from which our hobby partially grew, and adapts that skill-based casting system to the percentile roll mechanic we use for our class abilities. It's an unusual approach to spellcasting, but by no means new, save perhaps in the way it interacts with the rest of our mechanics. 

Finally, what really sets NSVSW apart from other games is that nobody, to our knowledge, has done this level of a big and complete RPG using tried and true mechanics with a toolkit approach, and applied it to the horror and urban fantasy landscape. We're proud of the game and we hope others will take a look as well. You can find it at our website, and even get a link to download a quick start rules/preview set for free so you can check it out before buying. 

Saturday, September 5, 2020

Great Review of Night Shift: VSW!

Reviews of Night Shift: VSW are starting to appear in the wild! 

The most recent is courtesy of Finarvyn over at the ODD74 message boards. Fin has posted a fantastic review of Night Shift: VSW  which does a solid job of breaking down what the game is, how it works, and what he likes about it. 

If you're on the fence about the game and want a bit more information, or you're just curious about what the game is, how it plays, and how it goes together, head over there and check it out! Then consider signing up for an account and stopping to stay awhile--it's a very cool place. 

As always, you can find Night Shift: VSW over at my website, where you can head to our store to pick up a physical copy or head over to DTRPG for your PDF!

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Night Shift: Veterans of the Supernatural Wars Kickstarter fulfilled!

Well, folks, we have officially fulfilled our first Kickstarter! Night Shift: Veterans of the Supernatural Wars has completed shipping (save for a couple local hand deliveries and a few stragglers who haven't paid for shipping). 

Our original target date for release was May. Due to a printer delay (that's the middle of their busy season) we actually released and started fulfilling around late June. I'm given to understand that completing fulfillment within 2 months of the target date may be a Kickstarter record! 

Okay, that's a bit hyperbolic, but still. Given how many companies take 6 months, a year, even longer to fulfill, I'm pretty pleased that our first one was done that quickly. Doing it myself without the help of a fulfillment service was a challenge, but I only really had 3 hiccups where I overlooked increased pledges for extra books--those were corrected immediately by sending out the extra books. 

Next step: complete the few books and works I have in development, Kickstart those, and get some support for Night Shift: VSW rocking in terms of PDF adventure modules and the like. I've spoken to some freelancers and it looks like there's some good options in play to start getting you all adventures and the like. 

If you missed our future plans for Elf Lair Games, check out this blog

What Is Night Shift: VSW?

In case you've been out of touch with Elf Lair Games for awhile, Night Shift: Veterans of the Supernatural Wars is our modern urban fantasy/horror RPG that uses a new system built on streamlining and codifying old school mechanics. We call the system O.G.R.E.S., or the Oldschool Generic Roleplaying Engine System. We just like to be able to say that the game is Powered by O.G.R.E.S. 

With Night Shift: VSW you can play any kind of horror or urban fantasy game you want. Fan of the Evil Dead movies and TV series? you can mock them up with this game. Big into shows about a certain blonde Chosen One fighting vampires, demons, and the forces of darkness? This game was built for it. Looking to tackle the Cthulhu Mythos with an old-school mechanic? You're good to go with this game. 

It comes complete with four mini-settings which we call Night Worlds, to show diverse examples of the types of games you can play. There's also a full bestiary. It's really everything you need to play all between two hardcovers, except dice, pencils, paper, and friends. We can't help you with the friends part, but the other stuff you can grab at your local game store--heck, you can probably find friends to play there as well!

What Are the Rules Like?

The O.G.R.E.S. system has three mechanics, and the mechanic you use lets you know exactly what's going on in the game at any given time. It's an OGL game that will look familiar to fans of the SIEGE Engine. It uses the familiar 6 ability scores. 

Here's how it works, in a nutshell:
  1. Combat, ability checks, and saves: d20 + ability bonus + level bonus + difficulty modifier and try to get a 20 or better. In combat, the difficulty modifier is the enemy's AC. Low AC is better/harder to hit, difficulty ranges generally from 0 (really hard) to 20 (trivial), and ability bonuses are the same B/X progression you see in SIEGE). 1 always fails, 20 always succeeds.
  2. Class abilities: These are a straight percentile roll, modified up and down in increments of 5 based on difficulty of task. ALL class abilities (including spell casting) use this mechanic. To cast a spell the caster rolls against their base chance, modifying up or down by 5% per level of spell. If they fail their casting check, there's a backlash table.
  3. The Rule of 2: if there's something the GM needs to adjudicate but isn't sure what rule to use, pick a die and throw it. ON a 1 or 2, something happens.
If you head to the website there's a link buy the game in hardcover and PDF or to the free quick start rules on DTRPG.

Will Night Shift: VSW be on Roll20 or Fantasy Grounds?

I know these platforms are super popular these days, but at this point it's not likely you'll see our games on them any time soon. You are, of course, welcome to play our game using any platform you like, but I don't know how these platforms work as far as adding mechanics to their databases. I understand it's very time consuming and technical. I also really despise virtual tabletop gaming, from a personal standpoint. To my mind, TTRPGs should be played around a real tabletop. 

That being said, I know everyone's all about VTTs these days, and I understand that VTTs have allowed people to game who otherwise might not be able to, and they certainly have a purpose and place in that regard. So eventually it'll likely happen. It's just on the backburner (at best) right now. I get it if that's a disappointment, but it is what it is. There's a lot for me to think about before diving in. 

Well, folks, I guess that's all for now. If you've supported me already, thanks for the support! If you're thinking about it, grab the quick start and buy your copy today!

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Friday, June 26, 2020

Elf Lair Games Discussion Forums Re-Open for Business!

Even a pandemic can't keep a message forum from re-opening! And you don't even need a mask to go there! So saddle up, social distance, and head on over to to discuss Night Shift, Spellcraft & Swordplay, 12 Parsecs, Chutzpah! or any other great ELG products. Stay up to date on current events and see what's going on with us. The Elf Lair Games forums are removed from the toxicity of Facebook and Twitter, and will be monitored regularly. 

If you're a fan of what we've done in the past and you're excited about where we're going in the future, the forums are the place to be! 

While you're at it, don't forget to pre-order your copy of Night Shift, and stay tuned for our storefront and for the game to go up for wide sale within the next couple of weeks!

Monday, April 27, 2020

Night Shift Pre-Orders are Open

If you happened to miss the Kickstarter and are wondering what Night Shift is all about, pre-orders are open! You can now put in an order for your hardcover copy, or go for a bundle of a hardcover and PDF, and get your PDF right away.

The shipping date for the hardcovers from the Printer is June 10, and I will then be sending out the Kickstarters. After that, I will fulfill all pre-orders.

You can find all the information you want at, including a link to our free Quick Start rules on DriveThruRPG!

Meanwhile, check out Tim Brannan's blog at The Other Side, where he's released a new monster for Night Shift: The Hodag!

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Night Shift is at Press: So What's Next?

Well, it's official: Night Shift: Veterans of the Supernatural Wars is at press. Our tentative completion date for it is June 10, and after the boxes arrive at my home office, they will begin shipping to backers. I need to work out how to take direct orders from my website (setting up a PayPal button is easy; coming up with a workable fulfillment process for myself is trickier). But I do plan to open up pre-orders for the game soon, which will enable people to get an early look at the PDF.

We are printing right here in the U.S. and our printer is open for business, so there shouldn't be any pandemic-related delays in fulfillment.

So What's Next?

I have a number of things planned for the future, which I hope will really take Elf Lair Games to the next level as a legitimate game publisher. Unlike most companies, we will have not a single house system, but THREE. That's right--THREE house systems, each of which scratches a slightly different play style itch. These systems will be: 

  1. O.G.R.E.S., or the Oldschool Generic Roleplaying Engine System. This is the system that powers Night Shift, and consists of three mechanics: a d20 system for ability checks and combat; a percentile system for character class abilities, spellcasting, and skill-type rolls; and the Rule of 2, a basic mechanic that allows for quickly determining just about anything uncertain by throwing a die and looking for a 1 or 2. 
  2. O.R.C.S., or the Optimized Roleplaying Core System. This is an evolution of the system that originally powered our first edition of Spellcraft & Swordplay. The S&S second edition will serve as a fantasy core rulebook powered by an evolved version of this system. It uses a 2d6 universal mechanic whereby you throw 2d6, add bonuses, and try to score 14 or better. This system uses minimal dice rolling, and rather than a pile of hit points, you simply take hits in combat, speeding up the process of combat greatly. 
  3. Cd8, or Chutzpah d8. Cd8 is a fast, fun, and pulpy system which uses ability scores like Gumption, Chutpzah, and Cut of My Jib to generate dice pools of d8s, where you count "fist bumps" to determine successes in given tasks. It's a more modern, point-build and open system. 

Next Up: Spellcraft & Swordplay 2nd Edition

I have begun work on the Spellcraft & Swordplay 2nd Edition rules. They're coming along quickly, but that's to be expected as they're based on mechanics I've been using in my home games for many years, so they're already thoroughly playtested. This will likely be our  next major release. Rather than a traditional high fantasy book, the new edition of the game will be strongly focused towards a gritty swords-and-sorcery style of play. I will still include traditional fantasy races like elves, dwarves, and halflings in an appendix for those who wish to use S&S as a traditional high fantasy game. 

It's also worth noting that S&S second edition will not be an OGL game. It will include new ability scores, new spells, and its own rules system and terminology. It should still be easily usable by fans of the original OGL version, with very little learning curve required. My goal is to get away from the dependence on the Open Game License, while still offering someting very familiar to existing fans. 

What About S&S First Edition?

I am still debating what to do with S&S first edition. It is currently available as a POD through DriveThru RPG. On one hand I would like to leave it there for fans to still get hold of. On the other, I feel like that would be competing with myself. The Second Edition will be traditionally published like Night Shift, so it will be available on DTRPG in PDF only. We'll see when the time comes. 

Wasted Lands: The Dreaming Age

After Spellcraft & Swordplay Second Edition I will be working on a new setting-specific fantasy roleplaying game called Wasted Lands: The Dreaming Age. This will require quite a bit of work to gather my various notes and ideas from years of development into a cohesive whole. My plan for it is to use O.G.R.E.S. as the core engine for the game, but to include an O.R.C.S./Spellcraft & Swordplay 2e Appendix, so you can use whichever system you like to run the game. 

The setting is in the Robert E. Howard tradition with heavy Lovecraftian elements, crossed with elements of our own mythology. You will portray the great heroes of a bygone, lost age when humankind first crawled out from beneath the thumbs of the Great Old Ones, and are fighting to claim a world just afer the stars put the Outer Gods to sleep, but their minions still roam the world. One day, perhaps, your heroes with names like Odin, Isis, Inanna, and Zeus will be remembered as something far greater...

Tech-Noir: Role Playing in the Dystopian Near Future

This is just a working title at the moment, but Tech-Noir will use the Cd8 rules to present a dystopian future where a combination of disasters have shut down the Internet, reduced technology to the era of the 80s and 90s, and brought back the style and aesthetic of the Jazz Age. It's a mashup of hard boiled noir with primitive cellular technology, boxy computers, and a society in shambles. In some ways it's like a cyberpunk setting, but without the cybernetics. This is another idea I've worked on for quite some time and I'm excited for it to see the light of day. 

Support for Existing Games

Of course, we will hopefully be releasing support for our existing games as well, beginning with adventures and potentially sourcebooks for Night Shift. Some of our Night Worlds may see full book expansions, or we may release a book full of additional Night Worlds and Night Spots. We may add genre books to that core as well, giving you the opportunity to run games with different themes and eras. The possibilities are endless and while there is nothing planned specifically just yet, Tim and I have discussed a number of ideas. 

Fiction, novels, and possibly a quarterly magazine are also on the table in the future. 

So keep your eyes open and stay in touch! There's hopefully much more to come, and I'm very excited about the future of Elf Lair Games now that we've finally cleared the hurdle of becoming a traditional publishing company. 

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