Unreview: A Simple Favor

Unreview Rules: 1) I must like it, 2) I had to pay for it, 3) I do my best to use E-Prime.

I love a movie that refuses to fit genre stereotypes but uses them to its advantage. I also hate genre. Movies that defy genre with a unique and compelling voice always bring me to the theater. That’s one of the reasons I love the Coen Brothers. They own their own genre. “Coen-esque.” And, of course, as a fan, I’ve watched The Big Lebowski about a billion times. The gimmick always makes me smile: a film noir with the most unlikely detective. In Lebowski, our detective—”the laziest man in Los Angeles”—smells like white Russians, has no job, and seems obsessed with bowling. Lebowski has so much character and absolutely does not belong in the noir detective story unfolding around him. The premise still makes me giggle.

Now take A Simple Favor. In many ways, the same premise. Let’s make a classic film noir complete with a femme fatale, a wife in trou…I mean, a husband in trouble, and let’s throw in the world’s most unlikely detective. In this case, a single mom.  But not just a single mom, oh no. Instead of “the laziest man in Los Angeles,” let’s make her “the craftiest crafty woman in the world.” You know the one. The woman who has time to get her kid to school, bake brownies, sign up for every school activity, maintain a daily mommy vlog, and has her own helium tank because “kids love balloons.” Yes, that woman. You know her. She can knit together a hat or a pair of socks or a scarf while you’re wasting time on the X-Box. She owns killer Excel sheets and keeps track of everything. Now, let’s put her in the middle of a film noir mystery and see what happens.

As I sat in the dark theater watching the story unfold, I was laughing. Because watching Anna Kendrick play the craftiest crafty woman in the world delighted me beyond belief. I’ve known more than a few (and yes, I’m living with one now) and just thinking about tossing her blindly into this elaborate game of charades got me giddy. “Remember moms, do it yourself.” Remember that. It’ll be important as you watch.

But Kendrick wasn’t the only marvel on the screen. I’ve suddenly become a huge fan of Blake Lively. She killed this role. Can she play every femme fatale from now on? Please Hollywood? Please?

The twists and turns kept me on the edge of my seat. I’ve usually got my writer hat on when watching mysteries, but this time, the film had me so entertained, I took that hat off, sat back with my popcorn and Coke Icee, and just enjoyed the show. I don’t think there was a single moment I didn’t have a smile on my face.

Finally, Santa Vaca

So, I did a hack. Begin the jokes now. “A hack did a hack.” There, I beat you to it.

When I say, “I did a hack,” I mean I did a hack of the world’s most famous RPG. This has been years in the making. I had the…wait. Stop. Let’s start over.

Just below, you can read the introduction to Santa Vaca: A Hack of the World’s Most Famous Roleplaying Game. I’ll be releasing the “DIY” version as a PDF next week. The introduction goes through some of the why’s and wherefore’s of how this whole project came to be and gives you an idea of what this monster looks like.

And when I say “DIY,” I mean Do It Yourself. I wrote the thing, I laid it out, I edited it, I got art for it, the whole kit and kaboodle. Once you read the intro, you’ll understand why.

Santa Vaca will be on sale via my website and Drivethrurpg next week.

 

 

Sacred cows make the best steaks.

— The Tao of Zen Nihilism

 

This all started as a dare. A dare I made to myself. Actually, it started a lot earlier than that, so let’s jump all the way to the beginning, back to 1999 when the folks at Wizards of the Coast gave permission for other game designers to play with their toys. I’m talking, of course, about the d20 SRD, or “Standard Reference Document.”

Now, most folks see that and say to themselves, “Hey, I could make a few new feats!” or “Hey, I could make a new prestige class!” or “Hey, I’ve got a few spells I could throw in there.”

I don’t see it that way at all. I see it as an invitation to come in and mess things up. You want me to play with your toys? Fine.

I’ll take the heads off all your dolls and put tinker toys in their place.

I’ll switch the voice boxes on your G.I. Joes and Barbies.

I’ll take your Legos and some superglue and make laser sights and other accessories for your super powered squirt guns.

If you tell me I can do whatever I want with your toys, when you get them back, you won’t recognize them.

Like I said, most people see an OGL as permission to write adventures and add on more features. I see it in a completely different light. I see it as permission to really screw things up.

And that’s the point, isn’t it? That’s the whole point. Experiment. Don’t just think outside the box; throw the damn thing out the window.

* * *

The idea for this book first came to me in the place where all good ideas happen. I’m talking about the shower.

For some reason or another, I was thinking, “Could I change the core resolution system of D&D without changing the character sheet?”

(Don’t ask me why I was thinking this. I honestly could not give you an answer.)

The more I thought about it, the more I realized, “Yes. Yes, I think I can.”

I jumped out of the shower, sat in front of my computer and recorded my thoughts. When I was done, I posted them on my Youtube channel. You can even watch my wet hair slowly dry as the video progresses.

It was a challenge that caught my imagination and wouldn’t let go. Held on with the grip of a maniac crocodile. Then, I started wondering, “What else could I change without changing the character sheet?”

Could I change alignment? “Yeah, I could.”

Could I change the magic system? “Yeah, I could.”

Could I change… dare I think it?… combat?

After a short while, I said, “Yeah. I could.”

Not make them “better.” No, no, no. Change them to something else. Make them say something I wanted to say.

How much could I change without changing the character sheet?

That was the question I first asked. And from that, I got this book.

* * *

I feel it’s necessary to say this again: I’m not “fixing” anything. Nor do I think my ideas make D&D a “better” game. But, as a game designer, I often putz around with game systems after I get done reading them. I fool around with them more when I’m in the middle of running them. I even think about ways to change them when I’m not running them.

These are ideas I’ve had while reading, writing for and playing D&D. If you ever played in one of my games, these are the house rules I’d make.

They change the game in fundamental ways. You cannot play the game the same way if you implement even one of these changes. The whole game transforms. Takes on a different feel. It means something different.

Also, each of the ideas in this book are modular. That is, you can take one of them and leave the rest. You could use all of them if you like. (You’d be playing a very different game, but maybe that’s the point.)

* * *

So, I wrote all this stuff down. Then, I forgot about it. This thing called 7th Sea showed up and smacked me in the face and stole all my attention, saying I wasn’t getting it back until I was done. So, I forgot. Until recently.

See, I’ve been fascinated by the OSR (old school revival). Something pinged in my heart and I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. I was enthralled. And it wasn’t until very recently I understood what it was.

These little black and white books with black and white art and very little layout and they were only a few pages and they…

…holy @#$!, these were the games I was doing back in 1999. When the original OGL popped up. They were full on DIY punk rock. The stuff I loved when I was in high school. The attitude, I mean, not the games. The “@#$! you, I’ll make the game I want!” attitude. I finally figured it out.

And when I finally got it, I got to it. And now, you’re holding it.

No fancy layout. No fancy art. Not even any fancy editing. Just the game the way I’d play it. But with some of my own rules. Not the game rules. I mean, game design rules. Anyway…here they are.

Rule #1: Keep the Cows

If I’m gonna do this, I have to keep the “sacred cows” of D&D. I have to keep the stuff that’s remained through all the editions, the stuff that’s appeared on every edition character sheet. In other words, I have to keep:

  • The Six Abilities (Strength, Intelligence, Wisdom, etc.)
  • Alignment
  • Armor Class
  • Character Level
  • Experience Points
  • Hit Points
  • Spell Levels

Rule #2: Slaughter the Cows

However, I do not need to keep the mechanics. I can change the mechanics to anything I want. But I have to keep the nomenclature.

Rule #3: Separate the Cows

I have to make each system independent of itself. In other words, if you want to take my idea for hit points and put it in your game, and just the idea for hit points, my mechanic has to work.

Rule #4: Ergodic Cows

Back in the day, when I first bumped into roleplaying games, they could be defined as ergodic literature. That is, text requiring non trivial effort to traverse. In other words, you had to figure things out on your own. The author didn’t give you everything you needed. And sometimes, it seemed the author was intent on making things difficult.

I’ve done that here. There are references to rules that don’t exist. Sometimes I use two different terms to refer to the same rule. I’ve even taken the effort to leave out an entire page. But if the point of all this is to make this feel like “the early days of roleplaying games,” I felt those steps were necessary to make the game feel authentic.

And you know, when my friends and I discovered that the rules we bought weren’t exactly “complete” (there are no healing rules in 1st Edition Call of Cthulhu, for example), we were forced to make things up. And that lead me to game design. So, maybe you’ll follow the same path. You can thank me later.

 

* * *

 

It’s an experiment. I don’t imagine it will change the game industry or anything dramatic like that. I got inspired, I did a thing, and it’s done. And now, I want other people to have it. Play with it. Mess around with it. You know, like we used to do. At least, like used to do.

So, enjoy it. And let me know if you use any of it for your home game. I look forward to hearing from you.

 

Take care,

 

John

War of the Cross Kickstarter Suspended

Tonight we suspended the Kickstarter for War of the Cross. We are deeply saddened to have to do so, but we are committed to providing quality projects to all of our backers. Thank you to all of our fans who supported this project, and all of our other projects.

Here is the full update that was posted on Kickstarter:

To all our backers,

We deeply regret to inform you that we must, once again, cancel the Kickstarter for War of the Cross.  

After our first Kickstarter for the project failed, we did our best to take the feedback we received from the community and make the necessary adjustments to help ensure its success, as well as to attempt an expanded marketing push on the game’s behalf. But we’re now forced to acknowledge that those efforts were ultimately not enough to attract the kind of response we needed to make this project viable, from either the existing 7th Sea fan community or the strategy board game community in general.  

It is possible that we may barely hit our funding goal for the project. But after seeing the second round of feedback, we’re now also concerned that enough work needs to be done on the game that our funding goal would not be sufficient to pay for the additional development costs, additional production, marketing, printing, and shipping, especially given the amount of resources we have already committed to fulfilling on our other Kickstarters.  

To be clear, we haven’t given up on War of the Cross—we think it’s a solid design that deserves to be put out into the world in some form, and we’re committed to finding some kind of solution down the road in that regard. But right now, we feel the right thing to do is to close this out and go back to the drawing board.  

We know this is going to be disappointing for many of you, and we apologize sincerely for that. We’re eternally grateful for your support and commitment, and your patience with us even as we make mistakes and continue to learn from them. We hope that one day, we’ll be able to make something out of War of the Cross that you’re going to love.

Thank you.

Gen Con 2018 Call for GMs

Friends, Family, and Fans of 7th Sea, We Need Your Help!

We need Heroes to be Game Masters at Gen Con, to run games of 7th Sea, Second Edition.

You can get some 7th Sea loot (perhaps a free badge), our gratitude, and the opportunity to let our players tell awesome stories in the world of Terra.

For more details, and to sign up, click this link.

May your winds never die, your dice roll true, and your friends and you enjoy a good yarn and ale around the gaming table.

Sincerely,

Monte Lin

GM Coordinator

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!