Star Plunder INC is a sci-fi shoot ’em up future dungeoneering game I’m working on. It started off as a 13th Age hack, which inspired the factions in the game (such as Star Plunder INC rival corporations), but is currently using a modified version of Beyond Dread Portals. Paul Mitchener’s D20 Fantasy game of Multi-dimensional world hopping, which I’m kickstarting April 2nd. Mainly because Paul’s snazzy but straightforward D20 system does all the narrative things that 13th Age does without the pain of an intricate feat system (which as a writer I never get on with).
Writing is flowing like water, and it’s currently in my fun writing project (what I do in my evenings/spare time). Since my excitement for it is growing, I’ve decided to give it a whirl at the upcoming Virtual Grogmeet, which is being run online courtesy of the Grognard Files podcast.
So here’s a first peek via the pitch I sent for the con.
New employees of Star Plunder INC, congratulations on your recent successful employment! Now please move away from the Recruitment Station and board the battle bus. You will now travel from the relative safety of your hometown of Snits Creek (72% chance of living to natural terms) to the thrilling settlement of Tutorial (23% chance of living a full and fun life). That’s a full 42% drop in life expectancy statistics. Can you not already understand how much fun this will be?
Once you reach Tutorial, you will undergo the Employee Orientation Programme (EOP) in this carefully curated settlement and its surrounding Badlands. EOP is full of live ammunition, spontaneous explosions, psychotic muties and robots with annoying (and often) malfunctioning personality chips! Worry not, fearless, valued employee. Should you get shot, you’ve already signed a waiver absolving us of any responsibility. Also, you will be issued company credit to buy weapons and live ammunition to deal with all these threats. EVEN THE ROBOTS! Then find the carefully hidden loot boxes, and bingo! Mission Success!
Successful candidates will then be promoted from Level 0 Indentured Staffer to full Level 1 Freelancer status and be shipped off the world to experience full employment opportunities. Unsuccessful candidates, if not vapourised, will experience a fully paid basic funeral as guaranteed by the employment contract you have just signed.
Have a nice adventure!
Star Plunder INC is a D20 sci-fi dungeoneering roleplaying game I’m developing, set in a debris-filled post-apocalyptic far future. It’s based on the Borderlands series of computer games (with a dash of Fallout and Doom). If that seems confusing, this introductory adventure will gently ease you into the setting and the system. Just turn up with a sense of humour and the ability to roll dice when instructed.
With all my work on getting Reboot the Future out the door and occasionally dipping into finish off Blasters and Lasers Zero Edition, I’d be forgiven for not mentioning D101’s big Sci-Fi game on this blog. Right? Wrong! This is an oversight on my part and one I aim to set straight. So strap yourself in and prepare for a warp-speed tour of our flagship OpenQuest powered sci-fi game.
Science Fiction was a big part of my upbringing as a young gamier in the 80s and in some ways a more accessible and immediate part than Fantasy. It’s easy to forget that it’s only been recent that we’ve had a bounty of Fantasy films and TV series. In the 80s that sort of stuff was books and roleplaying games. Sci-fi had already hit the mainstream in terms of TV and Film, and as well as a solid base of literature to dip into, TV programmes such as Dr Who, Blakes 7, Space 99 as well as comics such as 2000AD and Starblazer were readily available and eagerly consumed on a weekly basis.
It was also really strange that my early gaming habits didn’t feature sci-fi at all. I found Traveller too dry for my tastes and FASA’s Star Trek game to fiddly. The only one that got any time at my table was Games Workshop’s Judge Dredd Roleplaying game, due to my group’s shared love of this character from 2000AD, which was intensely played for six months to the point it we were burnt out on it. When I got into Call of Cthulhu in the late 80s, Chaosium’s Ringworld game briefly crossed my radar via adverts in White Dwarf but I certainly didn’t see sight nor sound of it in our local Games Workshop (who had the license to sell Chaosium stuff in the UK at the time).
This pattern was repeated throughout the 90s and 00s. Traveller remained too dry for me and other sci-fi games were either too obscure or fiddly to catch my attention. I dallied with West End Games’ Star Wars, but it wasn’t anything too serious. Besides by this time I had a serious Gloranthan RuneQuest habit that I spent most of my time feeding.
In the early 2000s one of the players in a Delta Green game I was part of introduced me to Cthulhu Rising by John Ossoway, which was a fan made Cthulhu meets Aliens/Bladerunner that was published by Chaosium as part of their monograph range. It was a pitch perfect serious but accessible sci-fi setting. I already loved the system from my RQ love affair and to walk around the mean streets of the not too far future that was depicted in Cthulhu Rising rang all my bells too. Unfortunately we only played a couple of sessions but it stuck in my memory and I put it down as one to explore – once I had run that final epic RQ campaign that I was planning .
I’d almost forgotten about Cthulhu Rising when in 2005 I actually met John at the first Furnace convention in Sheffield and learnt that like me he was from Manchester and actually worked just down the road. So we arranged to meet up once a week and a series of chats both personal and about our gaming were had. One of the things John raised early on was did I think Cthulhu Rising could use the Mongoose RuneQuest SRD to become a standalone game? Yes I did, for I had just finished writing the first draft of OpenQuest. So more weekly lunchtime chats back in Manchester and then John came to me with a new idea.
By this point he was pretty burnt out with Cthulhu Rising, which had already taken up up 5+ years of his gaming life, and he wanted to put out a less dark more hard sci-fi game and would I be interested in publishing it. So I asked him give me an elevator pitch of what the game was and why I should play it. So he quickly described River of Heaven a Pre-Singularity/Pre-Transhuman setting, where the drama came from the fact that the human society was near those tipping points, and while it was enjoying a Golden Age of Space Exploration. Despite the game’s period being called The Bright Age in the timeline, the adventures we focuses at the edges where things look a lot less happy. The setting while firmly human centric had in the past had the touch of enigmatic alien races which had left traces.
John wanted to use OpenQuest as a rules set because its flexibility and we were both keen to make it so players familiar with OQ can move straight to River of Heaven and easily get the rules concepts. For example the Augmentations, biological and nanotech based enhancements that all characters have, are based off Battle Magic rules at their heart and John used the Ready Made Concepts system of OpenQuest (which is pretty much an optional system there) to outline the iconic professions of the River of Heaven setting. Don’t just think though that River of Heaven is a Sci-Fi version of OpenQuest (that’s not what I wanted). John wrote big chapters on Transport/Equipment and Setting to make RoH its own thing.
Talking of the Setting we decided early on to paint River of Heaven’s default setting in broad strokes. We had tired of settings that detailed every last interesting detail, leaving no space for the GM to create their own ideas. We had the fact that Space is big on our side and because setting doesn’t have Faster than Light drives then we only have to detail a system at a Time. The core rule book only details (with scenario seeds) the Sol system and nearby Alpha Centauri system (or the Kenturan Hegemony as it’s called ). Sol is a mess of old National Powers fighting over the planets, since an ecologically damaged Earth is no longer viable. The Kenturan Hegemony is ruled by a Byzantine like culture, which is made of noble Houses who struggle for dominance. The two systems share some of the same organisations, such as the Space Pilot’s Guild, so there’s a natural connection between the two systems.
Phase 1 The Kickstarter and Intial Release
John put a lot of effort into a core rule book which was at the time of its release the biggest project we had undertaken. So finally it was decided to do a Kickstarter at the start of 2014 to pay for the iconic colour art of Peter Frain, and the full colour layouts that John (who is a graphic designer by trade). As an unexpected bonus, my friend Keef, an electronic musician, who was initially asked to do a ‘theme’ tune for the Kickstarter video got carried away and wrote a whole soundtrack for the game, about 100 minutes of music which is available via bandcamp.
Overall was a huge undertaking, it took about eight years of solid development, I find River of Heaven highly satisfying and coming full circle meets what I want out of a Sci-Fi game.
This slideshow shows the covers of the main rulebook and the adventures that were released as outputs from the Kickstarter
Phase 2 River of Heaven Refreshed and To the Stars
Bringing the story bang up to date, the game got a re-release in 2019 as River of Heaven Refreshed. This was a quick update to bring the rules in line with the changes I had made in OpenQuest 2 Refreshed (2017). Also the introductory adventure Reunion was brought into the main rulebook.
Also with the help of frequent colloaborator Paul Mitchener, I got the much delayed River of Heaven Companion, To the Stars out in 2019 as well. This has rules for Organisations, such as the Pilots Guild, the noble Houses, or even the United Suns Corperations. I wrote an article addressing the confusion over what to do with the game, and a clafication about how human subspecies work in the game. Myself and Paul presented a selection of adventure seeds, and the book also gathered up Message from Futhermost and The Last Witness.
This one has snuck onto my radar and was nearly missed by me during the holiday period. All the Wrath and Glory books released by Cubicle 7 so far, except the Starter Box, are on Humble Bundle in pdf form.
This is the D6 system, more in tune with the Wargaming version, set in the Warhammer 40K universe.
I’ve been a casual fan of the setting (as opposed to a fantastic one) since the first release of Games Workshop’s Warhammer 40 K Rogue Trader in the 80s. Hopes were high that this would have been the Sci-Fi equivalent of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 1st Editon, which my friends (and the whole of UK RPGdom) and I were absolutely nuts about. We were also big fans of the Judge Dredd Roleplaying game, which was sort of WFRP light, which had whisked us off effortlessly to 2000 AD’s Mega-City One. Initial signs via advert features in White Dwarf were good. The same sort of grim psychedelic fantasy but sci-fi, with a bizarre mix of space elves and dwarfs and Space Knights (the game’s Space Marines), seemed to be on offer. Oh, and Space Orcs gave the game a nice and deadly sense of fun. If we get to choose those as characters, well, I’m sold. Imagine the disappointment when the game drops, and it’s a wargame that leads into a very expensive hobby (W40K pretty much defined the term gamer-crack).
Throughout the 90s and 00s, I watched the setting develop away from the brightly coloured mega-gaming fun of its first edition and get progressively darker, grimmer, and gothic. It’s very much Science Fantasy now, and some fans have described it as Dark Fantasy with guns, the workings of which are more like magic to the setting’s inhabitants.
Finally, a Roleplaying Game emerged from Games Workshop’s fiction arm, Black Libary, called Dark Heresy. Put together by my mate Mike Mason (who now looks after Call of Cthulhu at Chaosium), it focused on the assistants of an Imperial Inquisitor, who are responsible for rooting out supernatural threats that have taken root in the worlds of the human Imperium. It was a D100 system, and you could see its DNA coming from WFPG, which was nice and familiar. While I wasn’t an immediate fan of the setting – because I was catching up with 20+ years of lore with a very, very dark tone, which wasn’t my thing at the time, it was an amazing game. Which did very well sales-wise and then got cancelled by Games Workshop’s Accountants the next financial quarter.
The game, and its numerous splatbooks, moved over to Fantasy Flight Games, who put out similar standalone games, each focusing on one area of the W40K setting. I picked up Deathwatch and a couple of its splat books from a friend because you can play Space Marines, stomping around in heavy metal armour! I played a fair bit of Dark Heresy and found it a bit clunky in play. The starting characters were woefully underpowered, and sometimes it took lots of rolls to get things done, and the text-heavy nature of the rulebooks, on a dark page background, put me off, as a casual fan, from exploring the game more. Also, it was at a time in my gaming life when I was already massively invested in Glorantha, which is an equally lore-heavy RPG setting.
Wrath and Glory is the latest attempt to bring W40K to the masses and takes a different approach than the FFG games. The core rules have everything in one book. So Space Marines, Eldar, Imperial Guardsmen, Inquisition, and Orks are all playable character types. There’s also a method of creating an adventuring party so the characters have something in common with each other. The big change from the FFG games is that the main mechanic is around D6 dice pools, like the wargame. I’m currently reading it, and it’s a nice read, and nicely presented. Lots of great art for all the character types against a nice white page background. In short, it’s a lot less dense text-wise, which the FFG were really bad at (to the point I’d say there was a lot of text padding and rehashing the bleeding obvious). So far, It covers all the bases I need as a casual pick-up and play fan. I hope it won’t get too crunchy when I hit the rules section. But if it doesn’t, there’s a good chance I’ll run a one-shot convention game or a short series of linked adventures. Does anyone fancy an all Orks game? 🙂
One interesting post-script, Cubicle 7 has just announced that there is a D100-based RPG being developed by them.
So I finalised the pdf of Reboot the Future end of last week. It’s now in the hands of Kickstarter backers and I move forward next week in getting the printed version out (both POD via Drivethrurpg.com and a printed version which will be available via a pre-order).
Getting getting over the finish line was extremely exhausting, caused mainly by having a final day of constantly fighting my inner Demons of Nope (“you can’t do this”, “Oh no you might be successful”, “why do get to do this”, “its crap, and when you put it out get ready for being burnt in the reviews/comments” etc). But once I had recovered, and had a bit of fun time basking in the glory (about an evening just paging through the pdf going “its done, my cyberpunk game is finally done!”), I had a bit of a reflection on Reboot’s future.
I’m not done with Reboot as a personal project. I love Cyberpunk as a genre, and more importantly as a RPG genre. But I can’t be doing with some of the clunky somewhat uncool rulesets that are out there. As much as I love Cyberpunk 2020, and I’ll probably get Cyberpunk RED to leaf through, I was done with the underlying system back in the mid-90s. Reboot the Future also hooks into conspiracy theory/ufology that opens up the potential to do quick focused games (and supplements) based on various wacky ideas outside of the usual Cyberpunks vs Corporations stereotype.
I’m going to grow its fanbase. When I did Project Darklight, it was a quick get this out and walkway type of job. Which as a publisher is a very valid way of doing things. Reboot is going to be different. I went into the Kickstarter with a grim determination NOT to offer any of the killer ideas I have for supplements as stretch goals. Well, I think they are killer ideas, but by giving them time to grow and develop outside any stress of getting them done for a Kickstarter that is rescinding in the review mirror and whose pot of money is rapidly dwindling, I will do them to a higher standard. And folk who missed the excitement of the first Kickstarter can discover Reboot on subsequent Kickstarters. Then there are all the ideas I have for micro-supplements, kick easy-to-digest low-cost pdfs, which can then be gathered up as print versions and kickstarted at a later date.
I’m going to open up the game to other writers. Something I’ve been slow on other games, including OpenQuest (believe it or not). So as an initial punt, if you are interested in writing for the game, either your own idea or me giving you a brief, get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org.
Its a simple and direct Cyberpunk. I’m of the school of thought that RPGs should be easy to pick and play, nicely organised, and not a labyrinth of additional options and subsystems. If you have to ask someone else to interpret it, that’s a hard nope to me bringing it to the table. It comes from my introduction to RPGs as an 80s Teenager, where my first games were Fighting Fantasy (whose main architect at least for the rules system was Steve Jackson who now teaches Games Design theory at University level) and Moldvay Basic/Expert – which is an exceptionally clean and simple iteration of D&D. Paul Mitchener, who I’ve collaborated over the years many times, shares this view, and Liminal at the table is one of the most heart warmingly accessible TTRPGs I’ve had the pleasure to run. So it was a no-brainer to use it as a base for Reboot. So gently getting this across to potential customers, and then seeing other people pick up on this, is going to be something I’ll be promoting.
It’s going to help other games I’m writing. Without getting into the fine detail, all my other games are fantasy. I’ve now opened up a world of sci-fi and contemporary gaming by having the rules for weapons and vehicles (esp vehicle combat) in Reboot. These can be used as a base for other games, the upcoming Blasters and Lasers for example.
Its my sixth game line! When I dropped supporting Glorantha, it left a big hole in my portfolio. Not a devastating one, but one I noticed. Reboot and the things that I’ve got planned for it, can fill that hole 🙂
Convention support. Well, I’ve been playing it at various online and f2f cons, and no one has gotten sick of it yet. But keeping with getting new writers involved, I’ll be encouraging others to run the game.
See you on the streets! So I’m all fired up to do more for Reboot the Future. I’ve finally got the Cyberpunk game of my Dreams!
And with the pre-order for non-backers (opening imminently!) and the shipping of physical books soon, so can you!
It’s Saturday so I had a mini-lie in till nine, then woke up far too excited since Paul Mitchener got me his final set of corrections last night, and I’m preparing the final pdf for it. Backers should get it Sunday evening.
If you missed the Kickstarter there will be one final chance to preorder the book, including getting the limited edition cover by Daniel Barker (who also did the standard edition cover).
Both printed editions will have sewn pages, ribbons and eight coloured plates 🙂
Really excited about this. I love Cyberpunk, and now have the rules-lite system so that I can get on with playing out the stories that it inspires in me. It took too long to develop, which is down to me fiddling with it to get it “perfect”. As John Ossoway told me “books are not published, they are abandoned” so it’s time to kick this child out of the nest and into your hands. Besides I’ve got lots of plans for supplements (which had to be suppressed during the Kickstarter, so I didn’t sell them short as stretch goals) and will be looking at opening the floor to other authors.
Jonathan Hicks, author of Those Dark Places published by Osprey Games has released Fireteam a short rules-lite sci-fi RPG. It’s currently at 50% off and is published under the OGL so other publishers can publish content for it.
Here’s what he says from the product page about it.
This is an adventure roleplaying game designed for quick one-shots of high action and fast combat. Players will take on the roles of Specialists in a Fireteam of the Interplanetary Combine, a government body in constant conflict with the universe.
Threats to the Combine come in all shapes and sizes; insurrection, terrorism, and strange, alien threats that the Combine struggle to deal with. On top of all this they are fighting an ongoing war with the Gene League Separatists, a huge collection of worlds that see the Combine as a threat to their ‘freedom’ and individuality, as well as seeing the rest of the non-augmented human race as inferior. They feel they are fighting a war for the purity of their genetically superior species and their independence, and worlds and star systems continually change hands with the borders shifting every few months. It’s becoming more than the Combine can handle.
– Simple character creation and progress, with just a few minutes for a full combat team to get statted and ready, and more than suitable for one-shots and campaigns.
– Fast, easily modded rules that can be used with most science fiction setting, including rules for vehicles and starships; in fact, the character creation and rules are only 8 pages long, so you can get straight into the action in one sitting!
– A single-page setting to get you started, and five adventures that fill out the galaxy and cover everything from tactical strikes, secret missions and assaults, to starship battles, boarding actions and all-out war!
– Can be used as ‘Theatre of the Mind’ or on a grid battlemat, so you can use your favourite minis.
– Easily adaptable to your favourite military science fiction setting, with lots of room for new rules, stats and expansion.
If there’s a problem, and if every other route to a resolution has tried and failed, then it’s time to call a Fireteam.
This weekend I escaped the house to attend Grogmeet, a gaming convention held by the Grognard Files podcast in my FLGS Fanboy3. It was the first time I’ve face to face game in almost two years! Overall the event was full of happy and enthusiastic gamers, and I didn’t get to talk to everyone I knew because I was always busy chatting with folk. It was an uplifting experience.
On Saturday afternoon, I got to run Brain Dead at the Shopping Mall. This game was my first playtest of this adventure – which is an Early Bird Backer reward. Also, I had an eye on how the extra bits I’ve bolted on the Liminal engine performed. I’ve run Reboot the Future before, but that was a good year ago, and there’s been some tweaking since then.
What was immensely pleasurable straight away was that all the players were backers of the game. It was also slightly intimidating. Would they be impressed by my game which is still a bit rough around the edges? Big sigh of relief that they all took to it . and once I had explained the setup and how the characters worked, they quickly owned their characters and drove the action relentlessly 🙂
The setup came in three pieces.
The Setting: New Oldham is a colony world. Originally a desert world, that was terraformed quickly twenty years ago into an industrial workhouse. Then ten years ago, the cooperation that had an iron grip on it, Imperial Sterling INC, quickly withdrew all their staff and operations in response to the Galactic War and the resulting economic downturn. Many parts of the colony have been reclaimed by the desert, including Paradise Heights, a low-level corporate executive housing estate on the edge of New Oldham City. Imperial Sterling and its black-clad security guards have returned in the last couple of years and are busy reopening their operations. Still, Paradise Heights remains closed for the time being.
The Gang. This unit is the character’s organisation and has a background, goals, assets and premade adventure hooks. It’s almost a character in its own right. If you are familiar with Liminal’s crew, it’s the same setup but modified for the cyberpunk genre. Our Gang was the Stainless Steel Providers MC; an outlaw motorcycle gang made up of cyborg-veteran’s of Imperial Sterlings 5th Mechanised Recon Regiment. There’s a stretch goal on the Kickstarter that every backer will get a copy of this Gang if we reach it.
The Job. The hook for the players, the situation as presented by their contacts, the opportunity to make their money, boost their reputation, get them valuable information or all three at once. This job was a tip-off from an anonymous poster on the local cyberpunk bulletin board about a highly valued hoover bike that the poster had tracked down to a stylish vehicle dealership within Paradise Height’s onsite shopping mall, The Palace of Dreams.
The way the job was presented, it was very much a self-starter. It was up to the cyberpunk to investigate and recon before tackling the adventure itself, or as I call it in Reboot the Future, the Conspiracy. And the players sprang immediately into action. Not only was the gang’s cyberhacker, Lady Killer as played by pookie, straight on the case, and bringing in the deep-intel about Paradise Heights, the rest of the gang very quickly moved on that intel, did recon (which involved cleaver use of their gang’s assets), and quickly plan was formulated and acted. Of course, there were complications, this is cyberpunk, after all, but the players worked as a unit, as befitted their ex-military backgrounds and the set up of their Motorcycle Club, and brought the game to a more than satisfying conclusion.
Everybody said how much they enjoyed themselves and had a great time myself, came away with lots of ideas to polish the final game and a better idea of what the adventure write-up should contain.
This illustration is the cover of the Standard edition. When we fund, I’ll commission him to do a cover for the Limited edition (which Systems Architects and higher are getting). Believe it or not, the standard cover was done very quickly, and Dan is fired up to do the limited edition cover with more time to do it.
Then there is Jeshields black and white art, which will adorn the inside pages. Here are some samples.
If the first stretch goal funds, More Art, I’ll be asking Dan and Jes for more pieces for the book.
I feel blessed to work with both artists. I love good illustrative art, and both artists capture the dynamics of cyberpunk perfectly.
The overall theme of Reboot is that everything is information. Literally in the form that the Universe that the characters exist in is at its root pure Information. Information is the treasure that the players seek to gain power and advance their characters.
Reboot the Future works on three levels of information. In a way, these are three information Worlds that coexist with one another, feeding into each other, but to the players may appear completely exclusive. One of the setting’s great “Wow” moments should be the realisation that all three information levels are linked. If you are playing a Closed game where the Game Moderator has set up the setting in private, and the players have not realised this, make sure you don’t give the game away and let them work it out for themselves.
So here are the three levels of information.
Level1: Cyberpunks are Go! This is the standard reality of the cyberpunk, dealing with day to day stuff, and perhaps seeing how the corperations or some shady crime boss is manipulating the situation. But at this level the cyberpunks resolve the matter and live with the consquences and move on.
Level 2: Pushing the Hidden Agenda further. Here the curtain between everyday life the deeper world of the conspiracies behind the facade, starts to twitch quite heavily. Suddenly things are not so straight forward. The characters have to make firm choices, make thier own peace with the awful truths they discover, or be prepared to dig even deeper.
Level 3: Everything you know is wrong. This is where the final causes of the conspiracies are revealed, hidden behind layers of disinformation. This is where things really get weird, like in the Matrix series of films. There’s also a large dash of Ufology (well the game is set in space) at this level, that some players may not take to. I had a group where I had guided them thorugh levels 1 and 2 in a short story arc, but when I suggested we move the game up to level 3, and tour the Consortium in the UFO they had just discovered, they respectfully declined and we stayed at level 2 and finished the story arc naturually shortly after.
It’s quite important to me that my players are having fun. And a big part of this is that they get to play in a setting that they are interested in. This is set up in two ways.
A setting questionnaire. This quickly and effectively creates the System that the game takes part in. This can either be done by the Game Moderator solo, or more effectively with the players going round the table, to make choices about the type of powerlevel of the game, the type of homeworld that the game centres on, other bodies (satellites, moons, planets) in the system, and some important NPCs.
During character creation, character concepts, Drives and Styles all define not only the character, but the direction of play, and the type of situations that they get into. See the previous post about the Rules for more on this.
Because Cyberpunk is a much broader genre than it was in the 80s or 90s, its important to focus in on the things that the players find exciting.
We’re getting closer to launch. I’m anticipating I will push the button just after tea-time, 8 pm GMT this evening.
If you back during the first 24 hours, you will get a free-pdf adventure, called “Brain Dead at the Shopping Mall”. Its a Halloween-Cyberpunk cross over. Here’s the cover image by Jeshields.