[AP & Redesign Thoughts] Marquis of Ferrara

Kevin looked at my work, an ashcan of a story game about Renaissance Game of Thrones, and then to me, his eyes sympathetic but unyielding.

“B-but, I need every part! Each rule is so beautiful!” I cried. How could he criticise my work so? How could he not appreciate the elegance of 15 interlocking mechanics and the resultant story they would no doubt produce?

“Looks like a mess, mate” he replied, placing a paternal hand upon my shoulder. “Like you vomited alphabet spaghetti on a Pollock painting”

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Zhang’s Journey

Last Saturday I managed to make it to the London Indiemeet for the first time in 6 months and got to run a playtest of the Alternative Histories idea for a follow up to Intrepid.

I knocked together a map the night before based on the journey described in this reddit comment (and this map) which follows a 2nd century BCE Chinese explorer called Zhang Qian. Here is the map after the game…

Zhangs Journey 1

The game started with this introduction to the world:

“Under the reign of Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty, c. 139 BCE an emissary named Zhang Qian was dispatched along with 99 men (including a non-Chinese guide) to penetrate the military blockade the Xiongnu Empire. The Emperor had sent him to find a long-lost kingdom called Yuezhi that had become nomadic wanderers after the Xiongnu had displaced them from their ancestral homeland, and convince them to aid the Han military in retaking the area.”

Upon which the players each added a function detail about the world (see World Facts on the map). Only one of the three facts really came into play in any significant way but I don’t think that hurt the game at all, they all helped set the tone.

We then also created 5 characters, giving them a name, trait and relationship… 3 from Zhang Qian’s expedition, one from the Xiongnu and the last form the Yuezhi. While creating these characters in advance felt important, a promise of what’s to come, the actual content (name/trait/relationship) felt a little weak, especially when I played Marquis of Ferrara in the next slot which comes with lots of excellent characters you can still make your own. Something needs to be done here.

The game then proceeded to play out 3 scenes at each stage of the journey (as you can see from the map I removed Kangju to improve the pacing) in a fairly standard pick a character, frame, free narration kind of way. Framing scenes did a lot to flesh out the locations on the journey, which was good and I hope to encourage.

Each scene ended when all players had put a card in the middle of the table, pick one at random to get a good/bad ending for the framing character. Kind of like a cross between Intrepid’s crossroads and Fiasco’s black/white dice. It was serviceable and introduced some reasonable twists into the story. I don’t know yet if I want to to be more or less.

All in all we got a decent story with some unexpected twists and interesting characters. The world building was a little shallow and I think the character setup wasn’t as robust as it could have been so I’ll need to work on those before the next playtest. I’ll probably stick with Zhang to see how different two playthroughs of the same scenario can be, but after that I think Napoleon’s march on Russia will be next.

I may have now played a game of it but it still doesn’t have a name (unsurprisingly).

Intrepid Spinoffs

London 2051 is in a state where it needs a bit more playtesting and then I can release it as a free pamphlet. I had plans for making it bigger but they just aren’t needed.

So I’m looking to my next project, and I think I’ve found some fun directions I could build upon Intrepid. Intrepid is very much heroic fantasy even if the rules look like they could support any setting, that world ends up being filled with heroes on quests.

But we could take the same core idea, building worlds as you go with rules that encourage them in the right direction, and apply it to other types of fiction, although as you’ll see the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree (both in terms of rules and the types of setting).


It’s hard not to stand on a UKRPDC and see peoples enthusiasm for superheroes and not feel like I could tap into that myself. My own love for comics ranges from the mid 90s to present day, so while it may eb sensible, I’m not interested in silver age nostalgia.

Instead I have in mind an evolving continuity, where you have multiple heroes (characters) and teams (factions) resolve some plots (quests, probably integrated with characters/teams) that lead up to a big crossover event that wipes the relationship map (no need for a geographical one) clean and you start again, bringing those bits forwards that you like as you need them.

Very much focusing on evolving relationships between heroes/villains. I also have ideas for time travel and alternative realities which is pretty much required. Also crossroads should be replaced with a system for talking out your differences while hurling tanks at one another.

Space Opera

Obviously this for Star Trek/Firefly/BSG/B5/etc. style settings.

You have a persistent core of a ship and characters, then a more episodic structure as you flesh out this week’s corner of the galaxy and play with it. Probably have a much looser idea about what goes on the maps, so you can integrate doodles and major events and make it a more vibrant record of your adventures but anything more permanent goes on the ship map.

Cyberpunk City

Kind of expanding on the ideas in London 2051, you have a city map, evil corporations and downtrodden protagonists. Quests become corporate agenda which the characters get wrapped up in. Mechanically it would flip the proactive protagonists of Intrepid on their head.

I’m still enamoured by Shadowrun though, so I can’t shake the feeling any cyberpunk game I write should be able to support a heist.

Alternative Histories

Inspired by this map of Napoleon’s fateful march into Russia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Joseph_Minard#mediaviewer/File:Minard.png

Possibly by favourite idea of the moment, it’s more one-shot/con focused and would need a series of maps that integrate physical and timeline features. So you take historical events and then amend them in play, playing with the same core idea but putting your own spin on it: Maybe Russia is a nation of Tzarist Elves and Napoleon’s engineers have invented steampunk tech, or play on the same map but instead Rome never fell and they are marching against the Mongols.

I’m not sure on the range of maps that could be made though, military campaigns are easy, as are mass migrations and explorer’s  journeys (there are some interesting Chinese explorers you could map the journeys of). I also though a series killer’s rampage could make for a good map. I’d probably want at least one more type of map and then have 1-3 of each to play with.


I’d be very interested in questions/suggestions as I’m still very much brainstorming ideas.

Big games

I’ve been a bit quiet here lately, Intrepid’s out, doing well and doesn’t have any news to speak of, while London 2051 has been stuck in a creative rut it’s only now starting to climb out of.

So rather than that I thought I’d write about is another project of mine ‘Athesia Reborn’ a game ran twice annually for the Essex University Roleplay Game Society. It’s been running for 7 years, usually hosts ~25 players, lasts from Friday evening to Sunday afternoon and has recently transitioned from using D&D 4E to a system of our own devising.

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Intrepid – Post Mortem

Now that Intrepid is done and been on sale for about 3 weeks I feel like it is worthwhile looking back over how it all went, from start to finish, so this post is kind of long.

Intrepid started out being called Quest and it came as a direct result of me finally saying goodbye to GM’d games, including D&D. There have been plenty of games harking back to old school D&D but my ‘golden-era’ was in the 90s; when TSR were cranking out large elaborate campaign settings like Forgotten Realms, Dragonlance, Dark Sun and Planescape: adventuring was part heroic quest and part magical mystery tour.

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Playing with form factor

When producing our works, a lot of games designers limit their ideas of how a game can be presented.  Most games fall somewhere on the normal book size scales. Sure there are differences, and you get the occasional, slightly funky-sized books, like In a Wicked Age or Annalise.

Form factor can be so much more than that. The original edition of Ribbon Drive was one of the most expensive experiments in terms of how much copies of the game ended up costing, but that DVD case with its CD and Booklet in it, really made the whole game an experience.

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