I call a Jadepunk campaign a Jadepunk Tale. As anyone who roleplays can tell you, a campaign can be a single game session or a twenty-year adventure. Since Jadepunk has been out for awhile, I’d like to get a sense of how other people are playing the game.
What tales are you telling? Who are the archnemeses of your players? What’s your Jianghu society’s name?
Even if you aren’t running a game of Jadepunk currently, what would your Jadepunk game be about?
Leave your answer in the comments below (and link the community to any campaign materials you may have online). I’ll start with a description of my favorite Jadepunk Tale –– the one that I have yet to play but that started the idea of Jadepunk, and that I hope to write a novella about very soon.
Those of you who follow me on social media know that I’ve been working with Paul Mitchener to create the Perpetual Motion Engine gaming system. And The Age of Anarchy is the setting we’ve chosen to release the game.
What is The Perpetual Motion Engine?
PME is a labor of love that has been underway for several years now. If you’ve read my blog for awhile, you know I love to tinker with gaming systems. That’s because what I want to play (what I really want to play) isn’t out there.
I didn’t make a game that was like the games I enjoy playing. I created the game I want to play because it doesn’t exist yet.
Here are the high points:
Consequence-based: Winning or losing ignites the story by forcing a relevant consequence (win and get what you want, lose and something bad happens).
GM Rolling is Optional: You can play it like Numenera or Apocalypse World, or you can have the GM roll. The rules for each are baked right into the system.
Rolling is Simple: 2d6 or 1d6 + your modifier. That’s it. That’s all you need.
Damage is Numerical: Consequences are not aspects, as they are in Fate Core. They are story occurrences, which could mean a dishing out of numerical damage.
The PCs are Heroes, but Not The Heroes: This one is big, so I’ll delve into it a bit further in the next section.
If the PCs are not the heroes, then who is? The Patron, that’s who.
In PME, a Patron can be a cause, a person, an organization…pretty much anything a group of player characters can devote themselves to. And that’s the goal: to see your Patron’s goal realized. So the PCs are the heroes, the Patron’s heroes.
A business can’t build itself. A city can’t save itself from supervillains. A cause needs activists to spread the word. And an impoverished noble can’t rise to greater power without loyal followers.
The Patron-based part of PME is truly my favorite. It opens up so many options for gameplay.
GM’s don’t have to convince players to get involved in an adventure; the Patron has a need, and the PCs were created to help.
When a player character “dies,” the GM can decide that the Patron takes a hit to their status instead (or the player can choose to martyr their character for the Patron’s good).
And, best of all, the entire table creates the Patron and decides their Issues. And when it’s time to take on a new mission for the Patron, the players decide which Issue they want to solve for their Patron (usually, it’s the one that’s about to become a consequence for the Patron, but it doesn’t have to be).
PME is truly a shared storytelling experience, but with rules (though not a lot of them).
Enter the Age of Anarchy
So why Norman England? Because when I brought the idea of a Patron mechanic to Paul Mitchener, he said that historical RPGs are not as prevalent as they should be and that The Anarchy is uniquely set for us to explore building a noble lord or lady with the Patron mechanic.
If you want to know more about The Age of Anarchy game specifically, check out our Kickstarter. Supporting that will allow me to create a wider variety of games with PME (I can’t wait to bring it to a superhero setting).
Have you already read the draft of Age of Anarchy? What did you think?
For those of you who aren’t caught up, I recently received a letter from Kausao City’s governor’s office describing how the Kausao City Post Office is being used to contact rebel sympathizers outside of the hegemony. After more than a week of searching for information regarding the seized letters mentioned in that correspondence, I received another letter.
Here it is:
I’ll refrain from using names for mutual protection. In fact, it may be too dangerous to contact you at all. I hope our desperation has not compromised you.
Jonica…A contact in the Four Winds Trading Company has alerted us to a plot to kill the Kaiyumi crown princess during her first visit to Kausao City, and frame a prominent Jianghu society in the process. We already have a tough time convincing recruits that we’re a legitimate rebellion – we’re losing the propaganda war. If the princess, a known critic of the Council of Nine, were to fall, seemingly by our hand, the Jianghu may be too discredited to carry on.
One of our number – again, no names – has informed us that you have contacts within the Empire. It is our hope that you can impress upon them how dangerous it is to allow the FWTC to remain sovereign outside of the Empire. The treaty that created the Kausao City hegemony dictates the corporation can only be regulated by the Aerish government.
We have already sent word to the princess, and are praying to Ehal that it arrives before her retinue departs. If you can lean on your government and keep the FWTC too busy to become embroiled in such distant plots, you could save a lot of lives.
The Swift Songbird Society
I’m not sure who they think I know, or how one voice could make a difference, but I’ll do my best. Though picket signs outside the Capitol might be too much.
Then again, I do know someone who applied for a government job last year, an assistant to some middle manager somewhere. I wonder if he got the job. I’ll check.
In the meantime, I’ll continue to post here and keep a record of my findings. And, again, here’s the original letter – for your files.
The Jianghu rebellion is the centerpiece of the Jadepunk roleplaying game.
I just received a strange letter from The Governor’s Office in Kausao City. Did you get it yet? It’s sort of…well, I’ll let you read it for yourself.
I’ve attached the letter at the bottom of this post but transcribed it below for those of you who can’t read Túyangan:
From: Office of the Governor of Kausao City
To: The Peoples of the Great Nations
It has come to our attention that some employees of Kausao City’s mailing service have been colluding with terrorist cells that collectively call themselves The Jianghu. City Watch agents have found three letters that describe treasonous activities against The Council of Nine. Rest assured; those responsible will be brought to justice.
The Governor has launched a full investigation, but until all suspects are found, we ask that you show all letters delivered to you by the official mailing service to your local Kausao City ambassador’s office.
Failure to comply with the above mandate will result in your immediate arrest and extradition to Kausao City for crimes of collusion with known terrorist cells.
Thank you for your cooperation,
Assistant to The Governor of Kausao City
I’m going to try and get my hands on some of these “treasonous” letters and find out more (can they really extradite us for keeping them?). If I manage to find any, I’ll let you know – you might want to subscribe to the blog (at the bottom of this page) to make sure you don’t miss anything.
Believe it or not, and probably unlike others in this industry, game design wasn’t my first choice for creative outlets; I sort of fell into it. In fact, it wasn’t even on the radar until a few months before I launched the Jadepunk Kickstarter. And after that Kickstarter happened, I fell into the gaming industry…hard.
I’ve always been a game hacker, whether it was Mutants and Masterminds, GURPS, or Fate Core; whatever I’m playing tends to get a warped around my preferences. The reason is simple: no one was making the games I wanted to play.
What I Actually Wanted to Do
This can be found on the Fate website somewhere, but I only looked into game design to find someone to make a game based on my fiction. I didn’t think I was capable of making a game because the task seemed so…professional (I had no idea that indie games even existed back in 2012).
What I’ve always wanted to do, since I was 10, was be the next Marvel Studios. My first love is comic book writing. But when Marvel and DC closed their open submissions back in ’09, I felt like I needed a different route to break into comics. Maybe if I published a novel, which must be easier than breaking into the Big 2 (yeah, right!), then I could have my agent pitch me to Marvel. But then I got hold of self-publishing, moved down that route, and overplanned the release of a book that didn’t even exist yet (remember those posts about letting perfect be the enemy of great?).
I still had the plan on using books to break into comics even after the Fate Core Kickstarter, but then I impressed so many people with my Fate articles and Fate Core Star Wars implementation, that it just seemed like launching a Kickstarter for one of my fictional settings was the thing to do.
But then Jadepunk was so well received, and I was just slammed by thinking that this is what I do now. I’m a game designer. And really, that felt odd. I’m a helluva game hacker, but gaming theory…I took a game design 101 during my time at the Art Institute. But I’m a systems guy. All my life, I’ve taken martial arts systems apart, figured out how they worked in relation to their why, then put them back together, often with some pretty great results. For me, game design is another exercise in this process.
But, with all the self-reflection I’ve been doing in my most recent posts, I believe I have begun to pick myself up from my hard fall into this industry.
Gaming is a Part of What I Do
I’m not about to leave the industry behind. I have come to enjoy playing with systems and, the best part, interacting with other gamers that I would never have met were it not for my launching Jadepunk. But I think I know where gaming belongs in my life.
That post I made on settings vs. systems last week hinted at it, but I was exploring the concept for myself (you all just got to read along with my internal monolog). Releasing a systemless setting gives me the starting point for all kinds of things: system conversion documents, supplements to explore the fictional worlds, and (the best part for me) an ability to easily bridge out into all kinds of fiction (prose, scripts, even poems, if the muse descends). Sure, I could do that with a game/system combination, but then I would feel beholden to the fanbase of the system, kind of like how I’ve been with Jadepunk and the Fate community. But while Fate is bigger than Jadepunk, Jadepunk is also bigger than Fate. I’ve got more stories to tell with that setting and several others.
So I’m going to continue making games (especially those I’ve promised to continue producing for, like Jadepunk), but I’m going to be shifting a large part of my activities toward my true passion: fiction.
Have you ever “fallen” into something that you really enjoyed, but knew that it really should have been your side gig?
Most of the game design articles this week have centered around making games more accessible for new audiences. In this article, I’d like to touch on a method for 3rd party publishers to attract some of the extant RPG audience that’s out there.
Go All-In with Setting
Let’s face it; most 3rd party published supplements are new settings to be played with a particular system. This was the way I went with Jadepunk: Tales From Kausao City and Shadowcraft: The Glamour War. And I’m here to tell you, I wish I hadn’t. It’s not that designing for Fate Core wasn’t incredible fun, nor lucrative (the Fate audience is great to its creators, in my experience). The problem lies in narrow distribution.
Just like how no one outside of the Mutants and Masterminds community is going to know what Emerald City is, and most people who don’t play Savage Worlds will have anything but a passing awareness of Deadlands, few people outside of the Fate community know what Jadepunk is. And that’s sad because Jadepunk is awesome (seriously, everybody says so).
So unless you have the clout, and extreme patience, to build a single system from the ground up, I suggest you…
There are more systems than players in today’s market, and most players already have their favorite 2-3 systems that see 99% of the play at their tables. That’s a huge barrier to entry right there.
So what’s a fledgling game designer who wants to sell their shiny new game to do?
I suggest you write up your core setting document, sans system and put that out as a sort of “RPG travelogue.” Most RPG players are pretty smart, able to figure out how to make their favorite system play for film or comic book franchises that are out there, so there’s no reason they couldn’t do the same for your setting.
The unique thing that you have to offer in this instance is your setting, so this approach makes sense. By only releasing the setting (at first, see the next section), you are giving your setting mass market access – anyone can try it out, without having to learn new mechanics. (And what if someone’s table loves your setting, but hates the mechanics you attached it to; they won’t give it the time of day.)
Once your setting is released…
Add SOME Systems
“But I want to play with mechanics,” I hear you saying. Well, this is where you get your chance. Once you release your setting, you can poll your buyers (or Kickstarter backers) and ask what systems they like. Then you can get to work on conversion documents targeted at your audience like a smart missile zeroing in on exactly who is most likely to buy it.
Personally, I wouldn’t make these conversion documents very long; 10-40 pages are probably enough for most systems, but it’s really up to you at this point. And the most beautiful part: by making conversion documents for your setting, you’ve opened the door for others to make them for their tables, increasing the value of your setting to the wider market.
After a few years of applying this method, you would hit the most popular systems out there, and your setting (if it’s good) and it’s conversion documents will sell better than if it were attached to a single system.
What Do You Think?
Does this sound like it would work? I’ll tell you, Jadepunk has been out since 2014, and I know many people who would love to give it a try, because of the setting, but who have a distaste for Fate rules. (Even some of the people who have worked on Jadepunk have said they want to convert it to their preferred systems).
To me, if setting is your thing, this is a no-brainer.
I’ve always found trying to play a roleplaying game solo to be of great interest (maybe because my best friend is my dog), but not a great exercise. Games just don’t support the format. But maybe they could? Maybe the old “choose your own adventure” stories hold a key here?
If you’ve read them, you’ve likely had a similar rush to the one you get when you the GM tells you how terrible your decision turned out for you. If that isn’t what we’re looking for in solo RPGs, I don’t know what is.
Even video games are reinvigorating the “choose your own adventure” format; just look at the success of TellTale Games’ lineup of (great) “choose your own” games.
Customization is the Key
I haven’t played a TellTale game since the first Walking Dead series they released (not for lack of want, let me tell you), but one thing I noticed in that first game, and especially the aforementioned “choose your own” books from the 80’s, is the lack of character customization. And for a tabletop roleplaying game, customization is everything!
A solo game where you create a character and”play” through a series of adventures, “leveling up” certain skills along the way, as well as gaining new items to use (TellTale uses some of these concepts, but I’m going back to tabletop/fiction stuff now). And those items can have big repercussions for future decisions – “progress through <option A> only if you possess <device option B from the last chapter>.”
That could be a fun exercise for a small DTRPG release next year (Siri, put it on the To Do list), but this is a digital age, we need…multiplayer solo gaming (that’s how you all play your MMOs anyway, amiright?). So we include a posting template on a web page that lets you plug in your choices. Then out comes your personalized story, to share with all of your friends on social media.