A Justification for a Lightsaber

(This essay is SPOILER FREE. So, continue reading.)

I’m finally doing it. I’m getting a lightsaber.

I was nine years old when I saw Star Wars—not Episode IV, but goddamn Star Wars—for the first time. Of course, I saw it a few more times that year. I raked leaves and cut grass to buy a ticket. I sat in the dark theater spellbound to the screen. I memorized every word, every visual. I bought the novel and read it and read it and read it until it fell apart. That year, at Halloween, I had a homemade Luke Skywalker costume, complete with lightsaber I made out of a toilet paper roll and some bits of other stuff I found around the house. I bought A Splinter in the Mind’s Eye and read that over and over and over again until it fell apart.

I was twelve when The Empire Strikes Back broke my heart. I fell in love with Yoda. And in just a few short seconds, he convinced me that I could be a Jedi. I didn’t go around trying to lift things with my will alone, but I believed in the philosophy of it. “Luminous beings are we!” I believed that. And my skeptical mind still does in a metaphorical way. I adopted the ideals of the Jedi—as unbending and unforgiving as they are—and I think it helped me become the writer I am today…for better or worse.

 

The whole idea of Jedi consumed me for a year or more. I began studying Eastern philosophies that inspired it, discovered Buddhism and it’s militant cousin Zen, and read Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces and watched him talk about all this with Bill Moyers. I learned the simple lesson of finding what I wanted to do in my life—tell stories—and found a way to make it support me. I learned to fight my own doubts and the voices telling me it couldn’t be done. And all because of that little talk Yoda gives. Those brief seconds.

But in all that time, I never owned a lightsaber. Just that little piece of cardboard I made when I was nine. That was it. To me, a true Jedi made their own lightsaber and those skills were far outside my own abilities. If I wasn’t going to make my own, I wouldn’t have one. That was the rule. And you don’t break the rules.

Fast forward to last weekend and me sitting in another darkened theater watching The Last Jedi. A film I found to be deeply flawed, and yet, incredibly beautiful. (If you want to know the flaws, there’s a lot, but that isn’t what this is about.) The very first thing Luke does in the movie made me stand up and shout. No kidding. I can’t explain why because this is spoiler free, but suffice to say, I suddenly knew that I could own a lightsaber I didn’t make.

I may not make it, but I can make it mine.

But in order to do that, I had to justify it. I had to give it a story. And it couldn’t be as mundane as “I went online and used my Xmas money and…” No. It had to be a story. And the only way to do that was to make the character who owned it. My character. And if I’m going to make the character, I might as well make the costume, and if I’m going to make the costume, I’d better damn well have a lightsaber.

Yeah, I’m that much of a geek.

And so, I started thinking about a character. When in continuity the character takes place, his history, his…

…hey. Why does my character have to be male?

Well, I’d have to wear a mask or shave my whiskers. The mask…yeah, I could do that. But I also don’t have the figure for it. Although, I could probably fake that. But I’d want to take the helmet off at some point, and that would ruin the effect. Eh. Male for now. Maybe I’ll change my mind later.

My character’s name is Jzora Vhe (pronounced juh-zoar-ah vay) and he was one of those red clad fellas who guarded the Emperor. He was a Jedi who fell to the Dark Side, but never became a Sith. He earned that position by hunting down Jedi after the  Fall of the Republic, using his knowledge of their ways against them. And when another Jedi was captured and brought before the Emperor, he was the one who did the executions.

Until they brought in a Jedi Knight by the name of Aleno Sovan. Aleno and Jzora were secret lovers before the Fall of the Republic. Aleno ended the relationship and Jzora’s loneliness was the crack the Dark Side needed to get to his heart. When he saw Alenah kneeling before the Emperor, his heart almost broke again. Palpatine ordered, “Executioner! I have another Jedi for you to dispatch!”

Jzora stepped forward, trying to keep his hands from shaking. But then, Aleno looked up and saw him through his mask. Said his name.

“The Force has brought me here,” Aleno said, looking up at him. “So I can ask your forgiveness before I die.”

And Jzora’s hands faltered. The Emperor sensed the weakness in his Executioner, and commanded the other Red Guardians to act. The two lovers fought and tried to escape, but Aleno was mortally wounded, dying in Jzora’s arms. Jzora did escape, and since then, has hunted down the Sith and the Emperor’s slaves.

He is not a Jedi Knight. Not anymore. He was never a Sith. And while the Dark Side always calls to him, he uses its power to weaken the Emperor. He met Leiah once. He tried to join the Rebellion. She refused him, the darkness in his heart was too strong to trust.

So now, he operates outside the Rebellion and outside the Empire. And he will get revenge on the Emperor for his true love’s death.

 

That’s my character. Possibly redeemable, not entirely a Sith nor a Jedi. I’d use the “Fallen Jedi” template in the old d6 Star Wars RPG if I was making a character sheet for him.

And this, my friends, is his lightsaber…

 

It’s the “Crimson Scorpion” from Ultrasabers. You can find it by clicking that link. I plan on making some modifications to it. Making it mine. I want to add leather straps to the grip, switch out what they call the “pommel” (that piece on the end) and add a lock of hair to the end as well.

As for other changes, we’ll see. But for right now, those are the changes I’m making.

I bought a lightsaber. And I’m going to make it mine by giving it a story. And in order to do that, I have to make a character and a costume.

I’m such a geek.

Welcoming New Members to the JWP Crew!

The winds of change are a-blowin’ at John Wick Presents. With the 7th Sea: Khitai Kickstarter underway and more 7th Sea: Second Edition sourcebooks moving down the pipeline, we’ve welcomed new members to the JWP crew!

Eloy Lasanta – Financial Manager

Eloy Lasanta is a writer, publisher, gamer and the founder of Third Eye Games. His three kids and awesome wife keep him happy, and there is always fun to be had. He likes to talk a LOT. Eloy has joined the team as JWP’s new Financial Manager and his expertise is a welcome addition to the many projects we’ve got in store!

Nicole Winchester – Events Coordinator

Nicole Winchester has come on board to help with events planning and conventions! We’re expanding our convention schedule every year, and with PAX Unplugged right around the corner, Nicole’s organizing efforts offer essential support. Nicole is a longtime freelance RPG writer and LARPer, with years of experience in social media management. Find more of her work and words at games.cultureaddicthistorynerd.com.

Monte Lin – Production Manager

Monte Lin is a writer, editor, game designer, and first reader for Strange Horizons magazine. Previous tabletop work includes Fantasy Flight’s Star Wars, Wyrd Miniatures, Fate of the Remnants. Previous mobile game work includes EA, abitlucky, and Zynga. Monte’s already done excellent work as a copy editor for JWP, and we’re looking forward to following Monte’s lead on the production side!

Give a warm welcome to Eloy, Nicole, and Monte. We’re happy to have them on board!

Supposed Former 7th Sea Junkie

Way back in 1998 (geez, I’m old), Alanis Morissette released her follow up to Jagged Little Pill, an album that sold over 16 million copies (thus going platinum 16 times). JLP was a phenomenon, breaking records every which way. Of course, her follow up, had the impossible task of meeting the same expectations.

Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie sold 2.2 million copies worldwide on its first week of release, but was considered “a disappointment” by the record companies. The woman went double platinum in seven days and the record company was unimpressed. For her third album, they spent less money on marketing, less money on production, less money on everything because the record only sold 2.2 million copies in seven days.

I bring up this story because I was recently at a convention where someone asked me if I was disappointed in our most recent Kickstarter, 7th Sea: Khitai. I laughed and told the Alanis story. Then, I said I wasn’t disappointed because my next most successful Kickstarter raised around $40,000 (Wicked Fantasy). We beat that in the first couple of hours.

I also pointed out that we were currently one of the top five most backed RPG Kickstarter of 2017. And we aren’t even finished yet.

People asked me if I felt Khitai was a failure. I pointed at the goal and the fact we’ve raised over $100,000 more than we asked for. “Yeah,” I said sarcastically. “Total failure.”

7th Sea: Second Edition was an anomaly. We all knew that going in to Khitai. We had no idea how much Khitai would raise. Just getting to do the core book would be awesome, and everything else after that would be a bonus.

Now we know. It’s going to happen. We’ve already promised two 200 full color hardback books as supplements and we’re probably going to hit another one soon. So, no. I’m not disappointed. I’m not even surprised. I’m happy we’ll be bringing Khitai to 7th Sea fans and people who are new to the game. The writing team and I are excited and can’t wait to show you what we’ve been working on.

And if I have to settle for Top 5 Best RPG Kickstarter of 2017…well, damn. I guess I’ll have to settle for that.

DragonCon Part 2: Antitheism and Forbeck’s Law

Let’s start with the latter, shall we?

Matt Forbeck writes a lot of words. Tons of them. I used to hang out with him a lot at conventions, although we don’t get the chance to do that anymore. One time, I was sitting in a seminar with seven people on the panel. Seven!

Meanwhile, out in the audience, we counted only three.

That’s pretty typical for a gaming panel. I mean, if you get more than a dozen, you’re cooking with gas.

Looking at the audience, Matt says, “Time to move the panel to the bar!” Which is exactly what Forbeck’s Law is.

“Whenever the panelists outnumber the audience,
the panel moves to the bar.”

I’ve spread Matt’s rule as far as I can—even though I don’t usually drink anything stronger than Classic Coke—because the panel suddenly becomes much more intimate. Also, as Matt informed me, the audience tends to buy the panelists drinks.

This year, attending DragonCon, I noticed something odd. I never needed to invoke Matt’s Law. In fact, the panels were crammed with people. Loaded with them. Enthusiastic, full of questions. They just kept showing up. I’d only seen this in Poland—another story for another time—but never in the United States.

(Granted, I don’t do panels at GenCon, which is probably the exception to the rule. But only probably.)

I sat on six panels at DragonCon and all of them were a blast. One or two, however, suffered from the “too many cooks” problem. When you have six people sitting at the table and only an hour to talk, nobody gets to say anything meaningful.

(I’m pretty sure there’s no Law for that. Hm…)

But most of the panels only had one or two people—maybe three—and we all got to “get our stuff in” as professional wrestlers like to say.

One of the high points of the convention for me was a surprise meeting with an old friend of mine: Robert Boney. I met Robert when I moved to Georgia and we played a lot of RPGs together. He showed up with a beard and offspring who were polite and beautiful. Robert knew me when I was just 16 and still figuring out who I was. Modern psychology was just figuring out teen depression and didn’t quite know how to deal with it. Hell, I didn’t know how to deal with it. Despite my curious—and probably infuriating—problems, he remained my friend. And more than thirty years later, sought me out at DragonCon to say hello. Unfortunately, that’s pretty much all we got to say. I hugged him as hard as I could and promised to keep in touch better.

Robert Boney and Friend

 

And so, “Hi Robert!”

At that same seminar, a fellow asked me a GM question.

Bonus for you, Faithful Reader! I don’t know if this is actually the case, but I learned this from Robin Laws, so I’m calling this “Robin’s First Rule of Game Seminars.”

 

All Game Seminars Eventually Turn into GM Advice Seminars

 

There’s probably a proper name for it, and I’m sure either Robin or Ken Hite will correct me within 24 hours of this posting.

Anyway, a GM question. He told me the story of a player who liked to cause trouble in a particular way: pissing off another player’s deity. Whenever the cleric’s deity shows up or they encounter a temple or a shrine, the trouble player—let’s call him “Bob”—does whatever he can to piss the deity off.

“So, he’s an antitheist,” I said.

The GM looked at me quizzically.

“He thinks gods are a bad thing for humanity.”

The GM nodded. “Yeah, I guess so.”

I said, “Okay. First thing you do. Take the player aside and find out if this is intentional. Does he really want his character to do this and is he okay with in-game consequences for his actions. If he says ‘Yes,’ then, move on to Step 2.”

“What if he doesn’t say yes?” the GM asked me.

“Then find out why he’s doing it. But chances are, he’s doing it intentionally. And if that’s the case, here’s what you do.”

I told him, “Have the deity show up again. When Bob smacktalks the deity, have the god throw a thunderbolt or something. Doesn’t matter. Whatever you want. The thunderbolt bounces off Bob’s chest. It doesn’t affect him at all.”

The GM looked at me skeptically. “What do you mean?”

“I mean his antitheism protects him from divine magic,” I said.

The GM shook his head. “No. That will make him worse.

I smiled. “Yes, it will. He’ll jump up and down and shout and thumb his nose at the cleric’s deity and he’ll be a complete ass about it…until he needs a healing spell.”

That’s when the GM started to get it. He returned my smile and nodded. “Not just that god’s magic…”

I finished his thought, “… all divine magic. The healing spells, the protection spells, the buff spells.”

We said it together, “Everything.”

Then, I told him, “And the only way to get it back…is if he submits to the gods. If he humbles himself. If he becomes the penitent man.”

“Only the penitent man will pass,” he said, picking up on my cue.

I nodded. “That’s right. And until he does, no divine magic.

The GM shook my hand. “That’s awesome.”

“Another day’s work,” I said, smiling. He walked away and I spent the rest of the day wondering how that little trick was going to work.

Next Time!

Next episode of my DragonCon trilogy focuses on…well, you’ll just have to tune in to find out! See you then!

 

DragonCon Part 1: “Can’t I Have Just a Little Peril?”

The Distinguished Gentlman from Ultima, Lord British

This is the first part of a series of blog posts about DragonCon. Part 2 and 3 will be up soon!

I was at DragonCon this weekend and addition to staying up way too late and dancing way too much, I was also a panelist. The panels at DragonCon are different from the ones at gaming conventions because…well, people attend them. 

(For those of you who don’t know the Forbeck Rule—named for Matt Forbeck—”When the panelists outnumber the attendees, the panel moves to the bar.”)

The rooms were packed to capacity. Standing room only. In fact, on many occasions, there were people standing. I ran a 7th Sea panel that was full of fans eager to hear about the game. I was also on a “Making a Great Character” panel and a “How to Make a Game for Everyone” panel. (Short answer: Don’t.) I got to sit next to Lord British on that one, and let me tell you, the man is nothing short of the archetypal gentleman. I also got to hook up with the ever-brilliant Keith Baker (of Gloom, Eberron, and Phoenix: Dawn Command fame) and Clint Black (systems developer for Savage Worlds) and we all chatted about ways to make games more fun. There were a ton of D&D questions, and one suggestion I gave seemed to haunt me for the rest of the convention.

A GM started asking a question about the right way to handle hit points and before he could get to the end of his question, I stopped him. “Ditch hit points,” I told him. “They’re a redundant system. They do the same thing as armor class and saving throws. They all do the same thing. Instead, you should replace hit points with peril.”

I explained how this little system worked and the room seemed to light up. And for the rest of the convention, people asked me about it. “John,” they’d say, “I heard about this thing you use to replace hit points. Is it written down anywhere?”

“Nah,” I’d answer. “If you heard what it does, you know what it does.”

Well, after this blog entry, I can’t answer that question the same way. “Yes,” I’ll say. “It’s on my blog.”

The Always Wonderful Clint and Jodi Black

How It Works

PCs have peril instead of hit points. Just replace any hit points a character may have with peril. If your fighter has 34 hit points, she now has a peril threshold of 34. That means she can take 34 peril before hitting her threshold.

Whenever a character would normally lose hit points, they gain peril. If your character gets hit for 8 hit points, instead of losing those 8 hit points, she gains 8 peril. 

Your character can also take peril for non-combat actions. If you’re trying to sneak around and you get seen by a guard, take 1d6 peril. (I just made that up. If the situation calls for something less drastic, use a d4. However, I seldom use more than a d8 for peril, unless under really dire circumstances.) 

As soon as your character hits her peril threshold, the DM announces some sort of perilous consequence for your character. For example, if your character is in a duel, you may lose a finger or an ear. Or, if you’re fighting on a rooftop, the villain may throw your character from the roof to the cold waters below.

In essence, peril is a way to get around the humdrum, boring death mechanics D&D (and other games) have. “My character died? Fine, the cleric will pay 5,000 gold and I’ll be back.” May as well do a console restart, my friend, because at that point, you’re playing a computer adventure game. 

It opens options for players and DMs for when your character hits zero. It isn’t just death, it’s sometimes something much, much worse.

Fighting a vampire and you hit your peril threshold? Guess what? You’re a vampire now.

Sneaking across the city and you hit your peril threshold? Now, you’re in jail.

Dueling a man with six fingers and you hit your peril threshold? Now, you’ve got two scars on your cheek and your father’s sword.

Once you hit your peril threshold, it resets to zero. Lucky you!

The Very Brilliant Keith Baker

But What about Healing?

I have to admit, I have an answer for this one, but Keith Baker’s was better. When he heard about peril and someone asked about healing, he brought this up. I think it’s brilliant and I’ll be stealing it (and putting Keith’s name in the thank you section) of my next game.

My answer goes something like this: healing is gone. It’s a narrative thing now. Can a cleric heal peril? No. But he can restore your confidence! A bard can do this, too. Restoring a character’s confidence is pretty much the same as healing, but once you’ve taken a wound such as a lost eye or limb, that’s it. That’s a permanent injury. And you can’t get rid of it. Just like Raistlin can’t get rid of his silver skin and bloody cough. Just like Elric can’t get rid of his albinism. Just like Jaime Lannister can’t regrow his hand. (Or Tyrion regrow his nose, if you’ve read the books.) 

Clerics (and bards) gan restore confidence. That’s it. And I usually only allow a d6. If you’re generous, anyone can restore confidence equal to their charisma bonus, but clerics and bards get to add a d6 to that. And only once per day. 

But Keith brought up a rather brilliant healing thing that I really liked. In a nutshell, he said his clerics can heal wounds, but they have to put the wounds somewhere. Good clerics take the wounds unto themselves or share them with the group. Evil clerics heal their own wounds and put them onto someone else.

I really liked that idea. So, I’m sharing it with you. 

Next?

We finished today talking about gods and next time, I’ll be talking about them again, but I’ll be putting on my Play Dirty hat. A young man asked me for some advice about a player of his and I improvised an answer. He liked it enough to take it back to his table. I’ll be sharing it with you the next time we meet.

And get a helmet. This one is rough.

Vote for 7th Sea at the ENnies

Summer is con season, but that also means it’s awards season. We got nominated for an Origins Award, won a Golden Geek, and now, it’s time for the ENnies.

Usually, I don’t get excited about awards, because I’ve won my share, but this year is a little different. People like Mike Curry, Rob Justice and Mark Richardson are up for the first time and it would be really cool to let them take the stage. That’s my plan, anyway.

So, yeah. I’d like to see the people who worked so hard to bring 7th Sea: Second Edition to life get some recognition for that. And you can help. Go to the ENnies website and vote. If you think we deserve an award, give us a thumbs up. That way, the folks who brought you 7th Sea 2e will get that recognition they deserve.

Thanks and see you at GenCon!

-John


For quick reference, here are the nomination categories. Thank you for your vote!

Click here to vote.

 

 

 

Gen Con 2017 Call for GMs

 

Friends of JWP and fans of 7th Sea! Want to help Heroes set sail, rescue loved ones, and vanquish Villainy?

We need Game Masters to run 7th Sea: Second Edition at Gen Con this year.

You get gratitude, glory, and greatness.

Oh, and loot, booty, and perhaps even a free badge.

For details and to sign up, follow this link.

May you have wind in your sails, dice that roll well, and good games in your future.

Sincerely,

Monte Lin
GM Coordinator

The War of the Cross: A Letter From John

Hi everybody!

It’s hard to believe that the Kickstarter launch for The War of the Cross is just one week away. We’re going to be publishing updates every day this week to talk more about the game and to share our excitement. Today, I’m here to tell you a little bit about the history of The War of the Cross board game. It all starts twenty years ago. Actually, twenty-two, but who’s counting?

Back in Rancho Cucamonga, California, in the AEG offices, Dave Williams and I (and others) were working on the Legend of the Five Rings collectible card game. We were all first time game designers, flying without radar, fresh out of college and thought we knew everything. Dave and I began bonding over games, and as we talked, we found out we two mutual favorites: Avalon Hill’s Dune and Diplomacy.

Dune Board Game print-and-play recreation, Image from Board Game Geek

We used to talk about a board game that combined the best aspects of both games. Not a lot of math, intuitive rules, lots of diplomacy and secrets. But L5R dominated our time back then. Dave and I both went on to win Origins Awards—for Best Collectible Card Game and Best Roleplaying Game—and a lot of that had to do with the chemistry we had. Dave was in charge of mechanics and I was in charge of story, but I was always in Dave’s office making suggestions and he was always in my office making them, too. It was kind of like a guitarist and lead singer playing off each other’s strengths. That chemistry, I think, is one of the many reasons L5R really felt like capturing lightning in a bottle.

Many years later, when the 7th Sea Kickstarter exploded, Mark Diaz Truman and I talked about making a board game stretch goal. And as soon as we did, I thought of Dave and the game we always wanted to make together. So, we gave him a call.

Dave jumped at the opportunity, but insisted we bring Luke Peterschmidt on as well. I’ve known Luke almost as long as I’ve known Dave. He’s been doing board game Kickstarters for a while and had the kind of experience neither of us had: actual production. That’s so important. So many landmines you have no idea are out there waiting for you, and Luke knew them all.

Dave and Luke drew up a board and started proposing rules. Mark and I threw feedback at them and things started moving fast. Big changes, little changes. But the goal was always the same: simple game, intuitive rules, no dice, lots of diplomacy, and secrets. We stuck to those goals and one day, I received a working prototype in the mail.

Meanwhile, Thomas Deeny and Mark Richardson—layout and cartography, respectively—started making a board. Thomas has experience in board game layout, so his insight came in useful as well. And, of course, Mark’s attention to detail added even more awesome.

Side-by-side of early version of map and final map

And now, as I write this, we have a game that I think achieves all the goals young Dave Williams and John Wick wanted those twenty years ago.

And let me tell you, honestly, no BS plug here: I love playing this game. I’ve been playing it almost non-stop since I got the materials in the mail. I’ve been playing it with folks new to strategy games, folks who play a lot of strategy games and a whole ton of grognards (a term I not only use as a compliment, but considering my age and time in the industry, now wear with pride). A local game designer here in Phoenix—a man with some merit—told me, “I like this game more than Diplomacy.” That made my heart two times too big for my chest.

The game also accomplishes another goal of mine: it broadens the world of 7th Sea. The 30-year long incident known as “The War of the Cross” has always been a kind of mystery. Everybody knows about it, but not everybody knows what happened. Now, with this game, we can tell the story of a three decade long war that nearly tore Théah apart. And there are secrets—oh, yes my friends, there are secrets—waiting for you to uncover in the game. The origins of the war go deeper than politics. And why did the war go on for so long? There’s a reason. It’s ugly and awful. And you’re going to be mad.

Let me say that again: you’re going to be damn angry. And when the Heroes of Théah discovered it…

Well, let’s just say you’ll be finding that all out in The War of the Cross.

See you there!

-John Wick


The War of the Cross launches June 20th on Kickstarter. We’ll be counting down with daily updates and sneak peeks of the board game on the 7th Sea mailing list. Sign up to receive those updates here: