Gentlemen Explorersby Sergio Mascarenhas
Gentlemen Explorersby Sergio Mascarenhas
GENTLEMEN EXPLORERS: THE CORE RULESBOOK FOR THE AMAZING JOURNEYS RPG
In the two past columns I promized a new role playing game based on the premisses then presented. I also mentioned that the new game would use what I called the Glove Engine, the system I've been designing for the games that I'll present in my column. This month it's time to present the first game.
I suppose I don't need to explain who Jules Verne is. This XIX century percursor of sci-fi wrote tens of books about travels around the world and behound. He called these "Voyages Extraordinaires", French for "Amazing Journeys". As a teenager I read many, many of Verne's books. They have the right blend between an exotic setting, adventuring, interesting characters, imagination, all trademarks for a simple and accessible rpg. It was only natural for me to pick his books and try to turn into such a game.
There was another good thing about Verne's books, though. A good deal of them can be downloaded for free from the net. One of the aims of my column is that you should be able to find the reference materials in the same place where you find the game books... and for the same cost. That means that I want to work with net-accessible digital editions of whatever I want to to turn into a game. Verne's novels correspond nicely to this requirement.
The end result? My first rpg will be called precisely Amazing Journeys and it is based on Verne's novels.
FROM RPG TO RPG BOOKS
What is a game? My own take is that a game is what happens around the table. This column will not provide you with a game. All it can do is provide you with materials you can use to start your games.
How much do you need for that purpose? You need a setting, a situation to game in that setting and rules to allow the game to happen. Let's look at these one at the time.
Since Amazing Journeys is based on Verne's novels you don't need anything else than those novels to access the setting. In other words, you don't need me to provide you with the setting. Just go to the places from where you can download the novels, download the same, read them and voila, the setting is yours. Just click to...
What about the game situations? Here you need something more than the novels. These are written to be read, not to be gamed. In other words, you have to derive the situations from the novels yourself or you have to find game books that do this for you. One of the purposes of the Amazing Journeys line of rpg books is to provide exactly these. Yet, I considered that there was something that should come first. And that's...
The rules. You see, if you are a creative fellow with some rpg experience you design most of your own game situations provided you have an inspiring setting. I think Verne's novels provide enough clues for you to create your own game situations. What you cannot derive from the setting is the rules that will govern the game. My main aim was, then, to design precisely those rules. What you find with this column is precisely the core rules book for the Amazing Journeys rpg. With it, Verne's novels and your imagination you can play right away.
Then with this column you will find the first book for Amazing Journeys. It's directed at both players and GMs since it basically presents the game system.
HOW IT WAS DONE
Actually I started working on this long ago. My past columns provide a glimpse of the ways I've been through before getting into the present book. A little more than one year ago I decided to move the GlovE way. I started working in a generic game system. Months ago I changed direction and decided to work on independent games. That's when I actually started working on the Gentlemen Explorers book.
To write this column I looked back at the drafts of the GlovE system (the oldest of which dates from July 2003) and first draft of the game (dated last March). All I can say is that both were heading in a direction that was a lot more complicated and "hardwired" than the final product. I'm glad I changed direction.
To a certain extent the change in direction was a result of expediency: I had defined a time line and wanted to keep it. The only way was to simplify things. Another important decision was -- as I said before -- the conscious decision to pick things from Verne's books and work from there. To do this I really needed a minimal system. Another crucial input came from Stephen and Conall. They had the patience to read my drafts and came with important sugestions. There's never too many "thanks folks" I can say.
Basically I started with character creation. In the beginning I had a lot of things inherited from my previous attempt at game creation, 'The Travels of Mendes Pinto'. Step by step I reduced it to the core: Read the book and work from there.
On what concerns action resolution I had a clear idea of the randomiser I wanted to use (my dice pool system) and how to use it. At a certain point I was using d6s but I returned to the d10 due to Conall remarks and the fact that it worked better.
What required a lot of work was the action resolution process. I attempted several different break ups but in the end the analysis of Verne's novels lead me to settle on the goal -> alternatives -> odds -> result model.
The distinction between the different types of actions is part of my past musings on game systems, looking at other games, and the core "let's see if this works" design approach I've been following.
To a great extent the last thing I decided to include was the 'hardships'. Until some weeks ago I still didn't have a defined way to record the nasty things that may happen to gentlemen. I thought about lots of possibilities from no separate system other than to say "you suffer what the result of the action/event says that happens" into some complicated structured break up of different sets of states. In the end I decided to just find in the novels the different situations and work from there. Once more, I allowed the system to follow the setting.
ABOUT THE GLOVE ENGINE
I've been speaking about the system I would use for my games but so far all you know is its name, Glove Engine or GlovE. Gentlemen Explorers offers the first application of that system. Let's see its features.
Character creation is heavily inspired by HeroQuest's narrative character creation rules. Basically you just get a description of the character. There are some major differences from HeroQuest, though:
First, I dropped the 100 words limit. Players do as they want since different persons have different requirements.
Second, I completely dropped the list method that can be found in HeroQuest. According to this method the game may provide a pre-defined list of keywords from where the players may choose their characters keywords. What I've seen in the past is that HQ players end using the list method of character creation a lot more than the 100 words narrative method (just check the foruns about HeroQuest and you will see this). I'm not impressed at all with the HQ implementation of the list method, so I didn't want to come even close to it in my system.
Third, GE (and the coming GlovE games) has something to work with that HQ lacks, and that's fiction novels. Due to this I can do something one can't do with HQ: Just pick characters from the novels by looking for their description in the same.
Finally, I don't convert the character's description into well defined keywords nor do I assign numeric values with these keywords.
Action resolution has some features I wanted to implement from the start. Let's see which.
I wanted to work on the assumption that character creation provides what's specific about the character. The basic idea is that he is an average human being (of a particular culture) in everything that is not described in the character record.
The basic approach to action is fairly simple. You decide what you want to achieve with your action; work out what would happen if things went out different from your expectations; establish the factors that define the odds of reaching your aim; and finally settle on what alternative really happens.
All of this is fairly context sensitive. The examples of objectives and alternatives presented in the game book are derived from the novels that inspire the game. The idea is that, if you want to play in a setting that's derived from novels, your best inspiration to what you can do is those novels themselves.
The factors that affect action making it easier (providing a edge) or making it harder (the handicaps - thanks Stephen for suggesting the terminology) are taken directly from the character description and from the description of the game situation. The computation of edges and handicaps provides the balance that define the character's odds of achieving what he aims at.
I wanted to allow for both random and randomless gaming and to ensure that both alternatives would offer consistent results. For that purpose I started with random by using a dice-pool I had written about in the past (check my past columns Ruleslawyer for Free and The Travels of Mendes Pinto). Your exact dice-pool is factored from the odds based on the edges and handicaps. The twist is that the Base Die (the situation where you roll only one die) is a d10 with values mapped into a set of results that fakes a normal distribution curve (1, 2-3, 4-7, 8-9, 10). The five alternative results that can be rolled go from disaster (1) to Superb (10). Because I want fast and simple the game uses the simplest usage of a dice-pool that there can be: roll and retain the highest/lowest value rolled, discard everything else. As I said, I explained this in other previous columns.
Randomless action resolution uses exactly the same basis than random: The odds or balance of edges and handicaps. The difference is that you don't need to roll the dice, you just pick your odds and assign them a result (for instance, if your odds are a handicap of 5 you have a disaster; if they are an edge of 2 -- 4 you get a good result). How did I decide on how to match odds to the five possible results? By looking at the possible results for the different dice-pool combinations.
This way the difference between random and randomless is not that they provide different results because on average you get the same outcome of your action. In other words, the choice between random or randomless is a player's choice, not a system choice. You play the way you like.
To finalize I worked out different types of actions and provided description of how to handle them with the game. I also looked at the different nasty things that may happen to characters, how they may happen, and how the characters can recover from them. Most of this was done by just reading the novels and trying to turn the narrative into game examples.
GENTLEMEN EXPLORERS, THE AMAZING JOURNEYS CORE RULESBOOK
Let's see if the book lives up to the expectations I created with my previous column (the expectations I may have created with the first column will only be addressed within two months, tough).
A game that does not use game lingo, instead working with the terms taken from the setting materials. I suppose I deliver on this point. The game has no pre-established stats, instead it works fully and only with whatever can be taken from the novels that inspire it.
A system that can be addapted to different settings with minimal effort. This is still to be demonstrated. Only after I develop a series of games based in different settings we will be able to see if GlovE delivers or not.
Pick-and-play. Another that is still not delivered. It will have to wait a couple of more months. There's a reason to it, though. I think that before I can design a pick-and-play (pre-gens plus rules plus scenario) I need to have the rules and the setting well defined. You see, a pick-and-play rpg is like a snapshot of a widder reality.
Single, abstract resolution process. Needless to say, GE follows exactly the action resolution procedure I outlined in my second column. Of course, it introduces several complications but these correspond basically to the aplication of the procedure to different game situations.
Balance is according to the game situation, not abstract and relative scaling. Another that is delivered. It's up to the players to figure in each situation which personal and situational factors apply. Because everything defaults to the base die, the average situation, balance is the departing point actually. It's up to the players to justify why things should be unbalanced to their advantage given the particular conditions of the situation at hand. There is no predefined general scale of performance assigned to abstract traits.
WHAT IS NOT THERE
Novelty. You may find that a lot of things in the game book can be found in other games. Please let me know. I may or may not know those games but then I claim no originality or invention. I assume that all this game does has already been done. Yet, some of the things in the game were original 'for me'. At a personal level that's good enough.
The game was not playtested. I didn't even play it since I don't have people to do it. It was not professionaly edited. It is amateurism at its best and worst.
The question is, is it playable? Or will it crack and fall to pieces at the first attempt? I hope you will provide the answer. If it does not resist the first 20 minutes of play, well, I can always open a bottle of champagne and metaphorically sink like the Titanic.
On the other hand, if it turns out that the game is, humm, a game after all... who knows where it may lead?
The game has no 'production values'. Almost no art, basic page design, certainly a lot of unforgivable mistakes, mediocre writing, some or all of this can be found in the book. I don't care. I have no patience for perfection. I have no resources to fight for it. I just attempted to come with a diamond in the rough. If someone wants to polish it, just let me know. You are hired. Payment? I'll share the profits fifty-fifty.
CREDIT WHERE CREDIT IS DUE
The setting first. It's Verne's work, not mine. If this game leads you to (re)read is books, it is a success.
Next RPGnet in general and Aeon in special. Not only for hosting the game and the column but also for producing the pdf version.
Finally Stephen and Conall. They read the files and provided invaluable feedback. Without you folks I would be here today with a vastly inferior product. Once more, thanks.
WHAT COMES NEXT
Well, I need to provide more fuel for gaming. For that purpose I'll work out some guidelines on how to play in Verne's world. I'll do that by chosing one of his novels and turning it into a campaign book. This is basically an anotated reading of the novel from a rpg perspective using the Gentlemen Explorers rules. It will not be a finished book, though. It will be a notebook instead. I'll explain why in a moment. After that I'll do a stand alone scenario based on the GE rules and the setting notebook. These will be my next two columns.
What will not come next is more developments in the GE game. Which developments? Here are some ideas: A who's who book collecting the description of characters from Verne's novels; a instruments and technology doing the same for stuff; an atlas of the world based on the novels; a guide on science, ditto; a collection of examples of action resolution based on examples taken from the fiction; a presentation of plots and cameos taken from the same source; a GM book with examples of game situations from the point of view of a GM and ideas on how to leverage on Verne's novels to work out a detailed and rich game.
Why will I not do this? Because I don't have the patiance to. I have ideas for a lot of games using GlovE. My to-do list has more than 10 settings and it is far from exaustive. For me it is more fun to present the core ideas for many settings than to explore to exaustion a single one.
That's all for today.
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