Clockwork: Dominion Is Out!

clockwork dominion cover

The year is 1999, or maybe 2000, and I’m having a series of conversations with my friend Zeke about this game he’s designing called Spiral. It includes a card-based mechanic, and some lore that I don’t remember apart from the snakes with robot arms. I only dimly remember the conversation, and I’m surprised Zeke remembers it at all.

Fast-forward 13 or 14 years, and science-fiction Spiral has become Victorian-Steampunk Clockwork, and the card mechanic Zeke was developing is all grown up. He asked me to help out with the RPG project, and my official title eventually became ‘Editor.’ Clockwork became Clockwork: Dominion. We had a highly successful Kickstarter campaign. Many hundreds of hours (or more) of editing, and thousands of hours of writing, design and testing for my friends Zeke and Than later, and our new TRPG Clockwork: Dominion is available for purchase.

The game itself is excellent. The art is excellent. Zeke did a great job with the layout and book design. I have yet to hold a physical copy in my hands, but it probably won’t be long. I went into this project not even a fan of Steampunk and Victorian stories and games, but I’m proud to have helped to make it a game I would recommend to anyone, period. You can pick up Quick Start rules for free to get a feel for things, but for the whole experience you really need to core rulebook and the custom deck of cards. Honestly, I’m not even aware of a close second in terms of Steampunk TRPGs.

clockwork dominion quick start rules

I’m really proud of this game, of the whole project, of all the work that went into it over at Reliquary Game Studios (by which I mean, on Google Docs). I wish I could be at GenCon this year because Clockwork will have booth space and books to sell (and sign) and all of our game sessions have long since sold out. It’s going to be awesome, and been awesome, and I expect, will continue to be awesome, as more than just the core rules are coming.

Anyway, check out this game. You’ll be happy you did.




Pathfinder: New Spellcasting Feats

I’ve always thought that Augment Summoning was lonely, and I wanted to see other Feats linked to Spell focus in the other arcane schools.  So here we go – this is a rough sketch, feel free to take and adapt for yourselves:

Augment Dispel
Prerequisite: Spell focus (abjuration)
When making a d20 roll related to dispelling a magical effect, the caster can take 20.

Augment Scrying
Prerequisite: Spell focus (divination)
The duration of all divination spells is extended to concentration +2 rounds where that duration exceeds the listed duration.  For example, scrying lasts for 1 minute/level or concentration +2 rounds, whichever is longer.

Augment Charm
Prerequisite: Spell focus (enchantment)
Charm spells cast by a person with this Feat are more powerful than normal.  Opposed Charisma checks are not required except for the most extreme commands, and the subject of the charm spell will undertake dangerous actions which fall short of suicide.  Lastly, when the charm spell ends, the victim will not have a clear memory of having been magically coerced unless she succeeds at a will save at the spell’s normal DC.

Augment Elementalism
Prerequisite: Spell focus (evocation)
Then caster chooses an element in which she specializes.  When she casts evocation spells with this element, the deals +1 damage per damage die rolled.  For example, a fire-specialized elementalist would deal 5d6+5 damage at 9th level when casting fireball.

Augment Figment
Prerequisite: Spell focus (illusion)
Illusionists who take this feat are able to create more persistent figments using spells like Silent Image or Major Image.  These illusions persist even after the caster ceases concentrating on them.  As long as a figment persists, however, the caster loses that spell slot until she dispels the illusion or it is dispelled with a successful will roll due to disbelief.

Augment Undead
Prerequisite: Spell focus (necromancy)
All undead created by a necromancer with this feat are affected as if they are on desecrated ground, including +1 to attack and damage rolls as well as saving throws.  These undead also receive +1 hit point per HD.

Augment Augmentation
Prerequisite: Spell focus (transmutation)
When the transmuter casts a spell which augments the ability of it’s target, this bonus is raised by +2.  So, for example, Fox’s Cunning increases Intelligence by +6.

GURPS Midnight: Running A Big Fight in GURPS (Aftermath)

Image from Heroes of Battle, WotC

The Post-mortem

This is the follow-up to my post about setting up for a big tactical battle using modified GURPS rules…

In short, the player-characters kicked ass during the mass tactical combat.  They seemed to have fun and to be engaged in placing their various troops, which is cool because I know two of them aren’t usually all that engaged in tactical combats.  They got a kick out of really giving the Orcs a beating.  When the Orcs realized things were going bad, one of the PCs nailed a roll to taunt them into fully attacking, and they were basically pinned down, surrounded, and then rushed by angry villagers who cut them to pieces.

The battle was still significant.  One PC took a javelin in the chest and went down in one hit, as did one of the named NPCs who had been with the PCs since the first session – she almost didn’t recover, in fact.

One of the things I really like about GURPS is that having a javelin thrown at you is like “Oh shit!  A javelin!  I might die!”  Instead of D&D, where you might think “Oh, a javelin, 1d6 plus strength modifier damage.  I can eat ten of these, easy.”

Anyway, overall, it was a complete success.  As always, in high-lethality tactical combat, planning is everything.

It was also pretty efficient.  A full-scale tactical fight, with combat modifiers for footing and cover and everything, was resolved in under 2 hours, with over 100 combatants and 11 different unit types.  That’s quicker than a D&D 4th edition fight can be with a tenth that many participants.

I give the whole experience a B+.  Everyone was engaged, everyone had a thing to do, and the fight was quick and big and bloody.  Good times.

GURPS Midnight: Running A Big Fight in GURPS (Prep)

In my periodic GURPS Midnight game, we are coming to the end of the introductory sessions I’ve planned to help the players get used to the new system, tweak their characters, and so on.

Last session the PCs ended up rounding up a peasant resistance south of Baden’s Bluff, with the able-bodied people of three villages fortifying and preparing to fight against a group of a couple dozen Orcs and some Goblin slavers.  The PCs came up with a plan, and this session, we find out how the plan works.

First I’ll talk about what is involved, the situation, and then I’ll go through how I represented it using GURPS.  Lastly, I’ll post a report on how the game works out.

The setup

Here’s what the prepped table looks like:

On the far side of the table, where I’ll be sitting, are the Orcs.  I’m using colored cubes that I found at a craft store to represent the units, as well as the D&D minis that I have that fit.  The red cubes are extra Orcs.
On the near side are the five PCs looking lonely and heroic facing the Orcs – I set it up that way just to set the scene.  The PCs are the heavy-hitters in this fight – the peasants they’re leading aren’t soldiers, they’re villagers the PCs have convinced to join them.
The colored cubes at the near side of the table are for the PCs to place – those are their “troops”.  They’re stacked in descending order of ‘power’ where this fight is concerned.
Blue cubes are the toughest villagers: the smith and his two burly sons, two people who have hatchets, and two people who have bows.  Remember, all weapons are illegal, on pain of death, in the Midnight setting.
Orange cubes are the rest of the villagers who have spears – the village they are defending, Dorn Hill, is a village that happened to have a comparatively large amount of contraband weapons.
Green cubes are the villagers who have slings – not a lot of damage, but they have the advantage of being able to hit the Orcs without being hit themselves.

Purple cubes are the villagers who have large knives and are willing to fight with them (given that most families have a knife between them, even though they’re technically illegal, because it’s a ubiquitous tool)

Yellow cubes are the villagers who are willing to fight, but don’t have anything more dangerous than farm tools – grain flails, wooden pitchforks and quarterstaves.

The system hack

I’d like every villager death to be dramatic, and every Orc injury to be hard-won, so I want to treat each interaction with it’s own die-roll, possibly hand-waiving if things begin to drag.  But I want every death to hurt.  This battle may very well not go in the PCs’ favor, and the characters have never led troops before.

For the purposes of simplifying the battle, I am assuming everyone is using an All-Out Attack maneuver, as per the GURPS rules – the weaker ones, using knives and farm tools, taking a +2 to damage, and the others taking the +4 to attack rolls.  This lets me ignore defenses – it’s hard to parry with a knife or a hammer anyway.

I’m assuming the Orcs are really excited at the chance for a real, pitched battle where mostly their job is terrorizing unarmed villagers.

I also simplified damage: each hit from an Orc will take out the villager they hit.  Villagers don’t have more armor than layering the clothing they have, and the Orcs are wielding military weaponry with deadly skill.  Each hit from a villager wounds the Orc in question, and a second hit will take that Orc out.  Taken out means downed, unable to move well, and possibly going into shock, not dead unless the person is left without help.

On the fly, I’ll try to take penalties and bonuses into account – mostly penalties for things like slingers on rooftops (bad footing -2) or Orcs and villagers trying to fight across the debris barriers the villagers put up to block the road at two points.

I am also taking morale into account.  I need to double check the GURPS morale rules, if I can find them, but I’m assuming the Orcs will make a morale check after losing 20% of their force and the villagers will have to after losing 10% of their force – they’re not used to seeing their friends and family die around them.

Morale will be a collective Will roll and a Leadership roll from the leader of each force (an Orc veteran on one side and a PC on the other side).  If both succeed, they force is fine.  If only one succeeds, the force is stalled.  If both fail, the force withdraws.  A second failure means they panic and break.

The PC plan and the wild-card

One of the PCs is a spellcaster, using a lot of Mind Control magic.  The PCs’ plan hinges on him using a Panic spell to make groups of the Orcs run away, making them unable to defend themselves and letting villagers injure them as they flee.  He probably won’t have the energy to do this more than a couple times.  At the very least, it allows the PCs to use his magic-induced panic as cover.

It remains to be seen whether the PCs will set things up to be really able to take advantage of this tactic.


We’ll see how things work out – I’ll be trying this during our game tomorrow.

The Lumpley Games PDF Library

Ever wanted to main-line awesome directly into your veins?

It’s never been this accessible before.

$25 for PDFs of Apocalypse World, Dogs in the Vineyard, kill puppies for satan, In a Wicked Age, Mechaton, and Poison’d.  That’s…$4.17 per game.

Stop what you are doing and buy Vincent Baker’s games.

Neil Gaiman Makes My New Year Bright

One of the things that I got from my wife for Christmas was The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman in audiobook form, read by the author himself. It is kind of like Gaiman’s take on a Harry Potter-type coming-of-age story, but it is, as one would expect, better than Harry Potter in every way.

I’m sure that some of its impact is due to hearing the author read it himself. I didn’t know this, but Gaiman is a superb dramatic reader – downright mesmerizing. I wonder if he also excels in kendo, or racecar driving, or perhaps landscape painting? My looming green jealousy aside, I think that the impact of the story is increased by Gaiman’s rendering. It is coming alive, and I must admit, sometimes makes it difficult to concentrate on my commute. I’m not done with the book yet, but I already recommend it to everyone without any reservations.

I am also deep into reading Monsters and Other Childish Things as well as the long-awaited Magic Burner for Burning Wheel. I also picked up a copy of Artesia: Adventures in the Known World and a copy of Mutants and Masterminds, which I’ll talk about more later.

Reading Monsters has been a real pleasure. It is laugh-out-loud funny, and well written, and an elegant system. It is an interesting contrast with the Magic Burner – Burning Wheel in general is a very complex system, and while others describe it as elegant, I don’t agree. It is an excellent system, and it is fun to play, but it is not elegant in the way that Monsters is elegant. It does not solve problems with the simplicity and grace that I look for in anything I would call elegant.

I’ll have more to say on what elegance in game design means to me once I finish Parsec at long last. Which should be soon. Or I will explode.

Discovering Fantasy

It’s been far too long since I’ve been able to play any role-playing games. Mostly I’ve been so busy, and there’s been so many new things in my life that I haven’t had time to miss it, but the last couple days I’ve been getting the urge in a strong way. I’ve begun daydreaming the next game I want to run, and that has led me to some thoughts about the fantasy genre as represented in gaming…

Fantasy in gaming is essentially a genre term that has completely moved away from it’s root. Really there is nothing “fantastic” about RPG fantasy settings. That is because all of the supposed fantastic elements are really just natural, presumed parts of the setting. Dragons in D&D aren’t any more fantastic than a hippopotamus is in Africa. Depending on the setting they may be rare, exciting, or significant, but they aren’t fantastic. No one is surprised to encounter a dragon. Dragons are in the title.

To be sure there are “high-fantasy” settings for games, and “low-fantasy” settings and you might think I was just expressing a preference for the latter, but that is not really what I mean. Low-fantasy implies that the magical or fantastic elements are rarer, but they are nonetheless native elements, expected, even required elements of the setting. For a game or setting to even qualify as fantasy such things must be a given.

Fantasy as a genre, of course, owes a huge debt to Tolkein, but almost all fantasy since Tolkein has followed after the LoTR trilogy rather than the Hobbit. In LoTR, elves, wizards, dragons, orcs, magic and demons are all simply assumed. They are part of the background of the story, not the substance of it. The story isn’t about Frodo venturing out in the world and discovering to his shock that it is inhabited by magical beings. In the Hobbit by contrast, Bilbo is on a constant adventure of discovery from step one. Gandalf’s encounter with the trolls who turn to stone by daylight is far more “fantastic” than Gandalf’s face-off with the Balrog – at least in the sense that I am after.

What I am looking for is the sense of wonder or mystery attached to the fantastic that a character like Alice feels when she falls through the looking glass. It is what all the ancient heroic journeys are about – a Celtic hero is tricked into entering Faerie, a young warrior sets off on a sea-voyage and is beset by sea-monsters, the old-crone turns out to be a powerful sorceress… What happens in these stories is that the “fantastic” is discovered rather than presumed. It is fantastic precisely because it is unbelievable, it breaks the known rules, it doesn’t conform to our expectations of reality, it conforms to something deeper and more inscrutable.

There ARE games out there which can involve the fantastic in the sense I mean here.

Mage the Ascension comes to mind right away. There is no better game for subjecting the players to a collective experience of discovery, and breaking or pealing away the nature of reality. Where I feel Mage isn’t meeting my current craving is that it is too open-ended, so open-ended it verges on the surreal. It would be difficult with Mage to tell a story about a Celtic hero that didn’t end up involving space aliens and werewolves.

Changeling the Lost is almost the reverse of what I’ve described. The characters in this game are coming home from their journey of discovery into the fantastic. It definitely captures the wonder and mystery, but it is ultimately more cynical than I want.

Everyday Heroes is another. I have yet to play this game, but it seems to set out to accomplish precisely what I’ve described. If I have a problem it’s that being “everyday” has very limited appeal. Even Bilbo ends up becoming a clever, and adept thief with a magical ring that makes him invisible.

Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying, if it ever gets published, is another option. This game would be perfect for a medieval setting, my only question is how it will handle fantasy elements like magic and monsters. Until that question is answered it is tough to say whether this game will work.

GURPS, of course, is always a viable choice. It is good because the bias of the system is toward realism, making fantasy elements in GURPS already seem out of place. It would be easy as well to start with something very realistic and slowly weave in magic and monsters into the game with the rules as established. GURPS might really be my best choice here, but GURPS has the perpetual downside of being super-crunchy. My GM style tends to work best in a rules-light atmosphere, but GURPS is meant to be hacked…

Whatever system I end up choosing (or if I come up with something homebrew), the game I’m slowly brewing up in my mind starts out as a medieval adventure story with historical-realism as its basic assumption. Indeed, I might even keep the players in the dark about my plans to incorporate monsters and magic into the game. The idea being that the players are genuinely surprised to encounter goblins in the woods (and therefore perhaps genuinely frightened). Let the fantasy slowly unravel before them and lead them on a journey of discovery that D&D could never replicate.