Sunday, March 17, 2019

Relics: A Game of Angels

Over the last three weeks I've been looking at the Tarot and how it has influenced my game playing and designing over the years. This brings me handily to this week's blogpost - a preview of a forthcoming Kickstarter that uses the Tarot as a game mechanic...

Relics: A Game of Angels launches on Kickstarter on the 10th April 2019
Relics: A Game of Angels really ticks some major boxes in appealing to me. First of all, it uses Tarot as a mechanic for task resolution (and other cool elements). It also is about angels, which is very cool. And also, it's written by Steve Dee who I've known from the days of playtesting Conspiracy X 2.0. Sure, I may be a little biased, but I'm not reviewing - I'm giving you a sneak peak into what is sure to be a very cool Kickstarter launching next month.

Relics uses the Fugue System as designed by James Wallis that first appeared in his game Alas Vegas (which I mentioned last week in the blog). In Alas Vegas the basic premise was that the characters woke with no knowledge of who or where they were, and the game gradually filled in those details as the story progressed. The Tarot cards are used for task resolution using Blackjack (or "21") as the main system. However, in Relics the characters know who they are - they are angels stranded on Earth. The memory recovery element is still present, but the players start with a definite feel for who their character is, as they struggle against demons, creatures and some humans, to try to save the world from itself. Instead of remembering who they are, the mechanic cleverly allows players to recall skills or information that will help them in times of need, filling in the character's backstory as the game progresses. The player determines the skill they need to "remember" but another player narrates the memory.

In addition to this, the angels can discover and reconnect with powerful relics that have powers and abilities that could aid them in their fight, or have the opposite effect. While the game could be a pure fight against demons and evil forces, the inclusion of these relics adds an element of hunting for hidden and powerful items, racing against time and demonic powers to gain control of them before they fall into the wrong hands.

Artwork from the forthcoming Relics RPG
I've been reading the playtest document for Relics and I'm really enjoying the use of the Fugue system for it. It seems like a perfect marriage of system and setting as the characters uncover elements of their past that can influence their actions now.

The Tarot cards are used in additional ways in Relics, coming into play in character creation (though in a faster way to that which I've been toying with in WILD) as well as generating random miracles, and other narrative effects.

It is going to be hard to review or preview Relics without mentioning other angelic roleplaying games, and this really does feel like it could be an excellent successor to the incredibly popular RPG In Nomine, (originally In Nomine Satanis/Magna Veritas) that was big in the late 90's. And that's not a bad thing to be compared to as I loved In Nomine. Relics also has echoes of TV series such as Lucifer and Supernatural, and movies like The Prophecy, though the tone of the game is certainly a lot darker.

Another fantastic element that the game has going for it is the design of the Tarot cards. Remember a couple of posts ago I talked about the original Mage: The Ascension game and the Mage Tarot that was produced to accompany it? It is still one of my favourite decks and the artwork is fantastic. Well, it seems that Dan Smith (aka SMIF) who did some of the artwork for the Mage Tarot, as well as most of the illustrations for In Nomine, is on board as artist for the Relics Tarot.

With that, and Steve Dee's writing, and a great use of the Fugue system, it looks like Relics could be a huge success. Definitely check it out when the Kickstarter goes live on April 10th - I'll be posting a direct link to it here once it launches. I can't wait!

Monday, March 11, 2019

Tarotica (Part III)

Over the last two weeks I've been chronicling my relationship with the Tarot, and how it has inspired and influenced my gaming and art. Onto the final part (with an epilogue to follow).

The first generation of the Tarot used for playtesting WILD
When I started working on WILD, my RPG of dreamsharing, my natural assumption was to continue with the system I knew the best - Vortex, the game system I'd designed for Cubicle 7's Doctor Who RPG. It seemed to work for just about anything with a few tweaks, and I started stripping the system down to be even simpler. Four Attributes, and five "Skills", though these skills were more like roles or archetypes to begin with.

These skills were initially inspired by the most influential source for the game, with names like Forger, Architect, Pointman, Shade, etc. and I'd had a moment of clarity for the name of the game system - Rapid Die Movement.

But the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to incorporate a set of Tarot cards into the game. I thought the randomness of dreams could be inspired by using a card draw (when the primary dreamer loses control over their own dreamscape) and some of the Tarot images could incorporate some of the list of 100 common dreams that I'd compiled. Then I started to wonder - why am I using dice for one thing, and cards for another, when I could just use the Tarot for everything - randomness, task resolution, and even character creation? Character creation was the real moment I turned my attention purely to the cards - if you lay out a spread of Tarot cards that look at your past to divine the future, why not use the Tarot cards to inspire and guide through character creation for the game? A detailed background is essential for WILD, as images from your past may surface in your dreams.

Much as I hated to say goodbye to the name Rapid Die Movement, I put the dice away and started to focus on the cards - their symbolism, alternative uses, and how they could work in task resolution. In order to do that, I thought I'd check out some other roleplaying games that used cards as a mechanic.

Everway RPG by Jonathan Tweet, Published by Wizards of the Coast (1995)

First one I was recommended was sitting on my gaming shelves. Everway was been a great influence in the way it looks, the design and the production. It's a rather gorgeous set that was way ahead of its time. Using two decks of cards - a Fortune Deck that was used for action resolution, and a Vision Deck that could be used to inspire encounters, quests and adventures. It came in a big box with three books and a handful of character sheets. To my regret, I've never played it, but the way the cards are used to randomly inspire the adventure, and other cards are used to resolve tasks, has been quite inspirational.

Once I'd decided to go the Tarot card resolution route, I actively sought out roleplaying games that used Tarot as a mechanic. Mostly to make sure that whatever mechanic I was using hadn't been done exactly the same way before! People have pointed me to Castle Falkenstein (which I haven't managed to check out yet, but have read up on), and to a quirky game called Psychosis - Ship of Fools.

Psychosis: Ship of Fools by John Fletcher, published by Chameleon Eclectic (1993)
Psychosis - Ship of Fools is an odd game in the fact that it was a set storyline designed to be played in about 4-8 sessions. The first of a line of Psychosis games, the second being Solitary Confinement (which I haven't read yet... must hunt that one down) the game involves the players waking in very different environments and trying to figure out who they are, where they are, and what the hell is going on. The Tarot are split into two piles - Major Arcana and Minor Arcana. The Minor Arcana is used to determine task resolution (Wands are strength, Swords are agility, Coins are knowledge and Cups are intuition). The Major Arcana are drawn at special times in the game, when really major reality shifting stuff can happen. Very interesting!

Alas Vegas - written by James Wallis, published by Spaaace/Magnum Opus Press (2017)
More recently, I'd backed the Kickstarter of James Wallis' Alas Vegas, utilising Wallis' Fugue System, using Tarot cards for task resolution (with extra effects). Like Psychosis, Alas Vegas' gameplay is structured for a limited experience, taking place over four 3-4 hour sessions with a rotating GM. And, also like Psychosis, the characters wake with no memory of who they are or what's happening. The game answers these questions as the players progress. Task resolution is done by playing Blackjack (or "21") but all of the cards are in play, with the Major Arcana's numbers representing their value (special effects happen if you can 21 with 0: The Fool and 21: The World).

Again, very interesting, and thankfully not the same system as I had in mind.

The task resolution in WILD is being tweaked a lot at the moment, and I'm hoping to have another moment of clarity where all the cards will suddenly fall into place...

Until then, I'll keep playing with those cards until something drops.

--

Next week, continuing the theme of games that use Tarot cards, and following nicely along from Alas Vegas, I'm going to take a look at Relics - A Game of Angels - a game coming to Kickstarter in a matter of weeks that uses the same Fugue system.



Until next time, stay multi-classy!

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Tarotica (Part II)

Last week I thought I'd start a series of blog posts about the Tarot, and how I've been influenced by their use and design over the years. On to part 2!

I got into University, or Art School as it was then before it gained full University status, with a very clear purpose. I was going to draw comics. I loved comics, and I'd teamed up with some of my RPG group to publish some comics including my first title - Drowning in Darkness. How cheery! After the review that called me the "Goth Hergé" I was more determined to pursue my comic career. You can read more about that, my comic publishing company that was, and the few titles I released here.

While attending Uni, I started hanging out at the local comic shop (Abstract Sprocket) and continued my obsession with all things Vertigo. I loved the Sandman, Shade: The Changing Man, Kid Eternity, Enigma and The Invisibles. Almost everything they brought out I loved. So, when the lovely purveyor of comics at Sprocket showed me the listing for a rather special collectors item - The Vertigo Tarot - I put in an order straight away.

The Vertigo Tarot set, published by DC Comics in 1995. Gorgeous!
What sold it to me was not only the use of Vertigo characters for the Major Arcana (The Fool is an image of John Constantine, The Empress is Titania, Queen of the Fairies from Books of Magic), but the artwork was by Dave McKean - someone whose art I've admired for years. It's a huge set, in a big white box (strangely the same size as the fabled Nobilis 2nd Edition) with the deck, and a hardback guide book that explains the images and divinatory meanings, written by Rachel Pollack. While I'd been aware of her writing from her time on Doom Patrol, I didn't know she was an authority on the Tarot as well. As I read, my eyes were opened to how the cards worked, and Rachel's explanations have become my instant go-to for Tarot readings.

However, a weird thing happened. Inspired by how cool the cards were, and the clear and informative write ups in the accompanying book, I started actually doing Tarot readings. And the weirder thing is - they seemed to be strangely accurate. I had no idea what I was doing, and maybe that is the power of the Tarot and its iconography - with the vaguest of interpretations the questioner applies the meaning to their lives and it suddenly all makes sense.

I was doing readings for myself, as well as friends from Uni and my new found gaming group...

-

At Uni I rediscovered my love of tabletop roleplaying. When I'd gone into work, and then on my Graphic Design course, I'd almost put the RPG writing side of things away. I was concentrating on the comic production, and getting into Uni, and RPGs didn't really seem to be in my life. However, when I relocated to Uni I quickly fell into a game being run by my fellow students. A game that had become huge in the early 90's - Vampire: The Masquerade. The reawakening of my gaming interests has been covered before in my blog, waaaay back here.

We played a lot of Vampire, and then I kinda went off and started a new game with new players continuing the World of Darkness setting, moving over onto playing Mage: The Ascension. Wow, I loved that game. Our Mage game was huge, epic and bonkers, with some massive Paradox Backlashes that distorted reality. It inspired Debs to write her fiction, and I had my eyes opened again when they released the Mage Tarot set.

The Mage The Ascension Tarot set (pictured on the Mage rulebook)
We were very into Mage: The Ascension in a big way, so much so that Debs was the one who actually bought the Tarot set. As a card carrying Wiccan (as she liked to call herself) she took the cards very seriously, keeping them wrapped rather than boxed, and I was only allowed to handle them for short periods of time (something I respect even now - I touched them enough to put the cards on the table for the above photo before putting them carefully away).

The cards came with a little book of how to read and interpret them, though there was also a short section on using the cards to help with the RPG itself. However, the cards themselves were another revelation. Exchanging the traditional suits from Cups, Coins, Swords and Wands to Dynamism, Questing, Pattern and Primordialism was a revelation to me. You could change the suits? And use them in a roleplaying game?

Now we're getting somewhere.

The next incarnation of Mage (Mage: The Awakening) would explore this in even greater detail with a whole book called "The Keys to the Supernal Tarot" which looked at each card and how they could be used to inspire storylines and adventures. Excellent! Also helps that the art in this newer edition was bloomin' gorgeous!

Anyway, back to the right place chronologically. I had a strange moment when I wanted to continue our game but I had turned my back on the World of Darkness. I managed to fill the hole in my urban horror/magic/occult gaming with a completely different system - KULT. Again, that connection between tabletop gaming and the Tarot would come to the fore when I picked up a supplement for KULT called Taroticum.

The Taroticum supplement for 1st Edition KULT (US Edition 1994)
At its heart, Taroticum is a series of adventures that revolve around a deck of Tarot cards that can shape reality. It's an epic adventure where the characters must basically travel from London to Hell to create a missing Tarot card for the deck to save creation itself. It's wild and wacky, and I never ran it as our game morphed into a game of CJ Carella's Witchcraft.

However, the Taroticum of the game, KULT, has appeared again with the new edition (Divinity Lost) and the cards are available to purchase.

Kult: Divinity Lost set of the Taroticum cards
The Major Arcana are radically different to normal cards, 0 representing the Awakened Man (Anthropos) and 1 representing "God" (The Demiurge), 2 representing "The Devil" (Astaroth) , and the remaining 20 cards each for the 10 Archons and 10 Death Angels. The Minor Arcana is FIVE suits, rather than four, numbered 1-9 (no court cards) with each suit tied to one of the five paths of awakening - Death (Skulls), Passion (Roses), Time & Space (Hourglasses), Dream (Crescents) and Madness/Elysium (Eyes).

Having the suits represent actual elements of the game, like the Mage Tarot, has been a bit of an inspiration too. But I've gone on too long for this post. Next post will be about how I'm using the Tarot in WILD, and maybe a look at other games that use Tarot for task resolution in tabletop roleplaying.

Until next time, may the cards be in your favour.

Be kind.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Tarotica (Part I)

Let's get back to normal things shall we? By that I mean my usual mix of nostalgia, game design and rambling on about stuff. I had this weird idea a number of months ago to do a few blog posts about Tarot.

I know, it's weird, but I've always had this strange fascination with Tarot. One that I remember from my dim and distant childhood and has stayed with me right into the development of my roleplaying game - WILD.

The first real memory I have of Tarot is from James Bond. My parents got me interested in movies at a young age, and one of the first movies I remember them taking me to see was The Man With the Golden Gun. I was instantly hooked. My mum dug out her collection of Ian Fleming novels for me to have a look at and one of the first records I ever bought was an LP of James Bond themes. Yes, I got obsessed with things very easily. I guess some things never change!

But this was the late 1970s, and we didn't have things like video recorders and so on. Luckily, in January 1980, ITV in the UK showed Live and Let Die for the first time. In the TVTimes before it aired there were production drawings and designs for the gadgets and the stunts, and I kept those pages for many years to come. However, during Live and Let Die, the now famous scene introducing Jane Seymour's character - Solitaire, I was a bit confused by the weird cards she was using.

Solitaire reads the Tarot cards - Live and Let Die
Colour me sheltered, but up until this point my eleven year old brain was purely focused on spaceships, lego, and Star Wars figures, and certainly not on the esoteric.

My dad told me about Tarot cards, and how they were used for fortune telling, but they sounded weird and mysterious, and not to be messed with.

It wasn't long after this that my father bought his first (and to my knowledge, his only) deck of Tarot cards. Maybe he was as inspired by watching Bond as I was? Dad was always intrigued by these things and I remember him bringing the pack home, though I wasn't allowed to play with them.

Course, it wouldn't be long before my obsession with James Bond movies would collide with my biggest pastime - tabletop roleplaying games. When the James Bond RPG came out from Victory Games I was not only amazed at the incredible production values, but the game was fantastic too. We played a LOT of sessions of the Bond RPG. A LOT!

But something was different about the Bond RPG. Due to the licensing issues at the time, a certain villain and his vast organisation that featured so heavily in the movies could not be used. Instead of Ernst Stavro Blofeld we had Karl Ferenc Skorpios. And instead of SPECTRE, we had TAROT.

Intriguing.

Dad eventually decided he was never going to use those Tarot cards, and gave them to me. I still have that set now - the "Tarot Fortune Telling Game" as it was called came complete with a book to assist in working out the divinatory meanings of the cards, as well as a sheet that showed you where to place the cards, and explained what each card position meant.

My dad's one and only Tarot set, purchased in the early 1980's.
They weren't anything too fancy or pretty, very old and traditional illustrations. I don't know if it's because the names of the cards were in French, but they felt mysterious. Like that book cover of a horror novel that scares you but you can't help but look at. I never did a reading, looked at the cards once in a while but didn't really return to them for many years.

It wouldn't really be until the very early 1990s that I would find myself drawn to the cards again...

--

I had left school, was unemployed for a little and, after a spell working in Nature Conservation and Archaeology, had gone back to college to do art and graphic design (much to my mother's delight). At the end of my BTEC the course tutors were really keen to get all of their students onto degree courses around the country. While initially I wasn't too fussed about going away to a university, I still applied as it kept the tutors quiet. My first couple of choices of places to go didn't accept my application, but my third choice asked me for an interview.

Before the interview, well in advance, the University sent a letter - an assignment that was part of the interview process. I was tasked with painting, drawing, sculpting or whatever, a self portrait. For some strange reason, I can't remember why, I decided that for my self portrait I'd create a deck of Tarot cards. Time was limited, so I focused on the Major Arcana.

To make it a self portrait, I looked at the meaning of each of the cards, and how that related to my life at the time. Then, I got some friends to take photos of me in various poses, and used them as a basis for a mixed media collage for each card. I know, it's a pretty lame idea, but it seemed to be okay. The cards were very oversized - each one A5 - and I created a box for them with a suitable quote from David Byrne on it: "People will remember you better if you always wear the same outfit." As I always wore completely black, I thought this particularly apt.

My first, rather bad, attempt at creating my first Tarot deck, as part of a self portrait assignment for University.
It seemed to work as I was accepted at the University, and while I could tell the tutors in the interview were underwhelmed by my portfolio, they liked the originality of a self portrait presented as Tarot cards.

I'll continue the Tarot stuff later, looking at my favourite decks, and look a bit more at creating a specific deck for WILD.

Until next time, who knows what fortune awaits?


Monday, February 18, 2019

Holding Pattern, Disengage (Part II)

Marla is suitably narked at the last six weeks
I posted at the beginning of January about how life had become stuck in a holding pattern for the duration of the festive period, and I was now approaching the start of the new year with a new vitality and determination to get back to the writing, to do... well, stuff.

All that fell by the wayside. I got sick. Nothing major, just a bad case of the flu, but it knocked me out for a couple of weeks. Literally in one case. I remember sitting up in bed and then blacking out completely. Totally unaware of where I was. It was weird. And, being the sharing type, I gave the flu to my wife as well.

This period of being ill had an adverse effect on the third member of our family, Marla - our fur-baby.  She does get stressed easily, and a combination of her worrying about our weird passing out and sleeping all day behaviour, along with some dental issues that we were initially unaware of, meant that she stopped eating at all and there was an incredibly stressful number of weeks where we feared the worst. We didn't know what was wrong with her, many trips to the vets, blood tests, medication and trying to feed her recovery food (a weird meaty paste delivered in a syringe) every few hours, squirting the paste onto our fingers and letting her lick it off while she hid under our bed.

She was booked in for dental surgery, but her bloodwork was worrying, and we were panicking a little to say the least. She was due to have all of her teeth out, but luckily they only removed two, cleaned the rest, and after another week of medication she's almost back to normal - as is her bloodwork (seems the worrying levels were purely from her not eating).

She's a little nervous of noises, convinced she's going to get put in the carrying box again and taken to the evil vets, and she's clingy with us - which, let's face it, is nice to have lots of cat attention.

Now that those worries are hopefully behind us is it time to finally disengage that holding pattern? I hope so. But with very little writing work being offered to me, very little communication from anyone really, I need to get back into the swing of it.

But I'm having my doubts about the core game mechanics for WILD, and I need to get my head back into the game.

Hopefully, very soon.

Until next time...

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Holding Pattern... DISENGAGE!


I was going to call this blogpost something like "It's the end of the year as we know it" or something suitably New Year-y, but it's been an odd one and it's probably best to just get on with the new one...

The last year has felt like one big holding pattern. Circling, endlessly, waiting for something exciting to happen. For that phone call. That email. For someone to come along and say "Hey, I like your ideas. You need to work on that, rather than wasting your days in retail. Here's a handful of cash. Make your dreams a reality."

Of course, it never really happens like that. You have to reach out and grab opportunity by the gronk-nuks.

I had my share of waiting last year. That holding pattern of self doubt. Convinced that after my last professional writing stint that I'd never get a publishing contract again. Convinced that all of my ideas are nonsense.

But I mustn't give up. I can't give up. There have been times last year when I seriously thought I should just pack in the writing and resign myself to my fate - one of retail, customer service and the hell I deserve for my past mistakes. But I can't do that. I've been trying to get into game writing since the late 1980s, got my first published game product on the shelves in 2002, won awards for game design and writing. It's what I want to do. Or something like it.

With Dragonmeet looming at the end of last year, I decided that I needed to sell myself. I needed to prove to someone, as well as myself, that I could do it and that my own project was worth taking a chance on. So I decided I'd produce a small sample - a pitch document, just as we had with Doctor Who over ten years ago - to show my wares and my ideas.

I produced a forty page book - half of it a "pitch" summarising the concepts and ideas of WILD, the RPG I've been working on for years. The other half a sample of one of the chapters, to give a feel for the text, and how I'd envisioned it being laid out.

With the excellent service of a digital printer (www.inkylittlefingers.co.uk) this book was printed, in black and white, with a hardback, full colour cover.

The printed "pitch" document for WILD - 20x20cm, with a very rough illustration on the cover
The printers did a fantastic job of it, with even the images they flagged on the document (the tiny jpgs of the covers of some of the books I'd worked on) coming out brilliantly...

The "Pitch" half of the document summarises who I am, and the concepts of the game.
But seeing the actual pages I'd been working on, with the ink-splat designs I'd had in mind, was brilliant. Great inspiration to keep going and to keep working on my dream project...

Playing with the text, little details like repeated lines, ink splats and blurs. This is what I had in mind...
Awesome. And despite me sending the files off to the printers with just ten days to Dragonmeet, they delivered with days to spare. Three whole copies of the WILD pitch. THREE. Talk about limited edition!

Dragonmeet was cool. Busy and exciting. Huge as well. So much bigger than last time I'd gone. I'd only been there a matter of minutes before Dom from Cubicle 7 dragged me off to a secluded location to record a podcast for "Wibbly Wobbly Dicey Wicey" - a Podcast dedicated to Doctor Who roleplaying. That was great fun - I'll post a link to the podcast when it is published.

I showed the pitch off, and hopefully there will be some news about the future of WILD soon. But I don't want to jinx it. I'm just going to keep plugging away at it. Writing the pitch document has revealed some areas I want to rewrite and redesign, which I'll start work on in the next few days.

After Dragonmeet it was a most definite return to the holding pattern - unable to work on anything except the dayjob and madness that is working in retail over the festive period. With just a couple of days before the kids go back to school, things will return to a slower, calmer pace and I can reassign some energies to working on the writing, and what I want to get done this year.

Most blogposts posted to the interwebs on the first of a year is all about the writer expressing their hopes and dreams for the coming year.

I hope to write more - get more written for WILD, unless something bigger and cooler comes along that would actually pay...

I hope to escape the day job - but I know this is unlikely. Gotta pay those bills!

I hope to escape the city - I'm a country boy at heart.

With that, I'll close the blog with a track from my wife's favourite band of the last year.


May 2019 bring you everything you hope. May it be kind to you, bring you prosperity and good health, and bring your dreams to life.

Stay multi-classy!