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Monday, 19 November 2012

Salvaging treasures from the sunken continent

I've been looking through our material for the world of Abraxas recently. This, if you've just joined us, is the science fantasy setting that Jamie and I created for a massively-multiplayer online game we were developing at Eidos about a decade ago. No orcs, no goblins, no elves... Instead we had psionics, flyers, prehistoric civilizations, alien foes and vril-powered rifles. It would have been different from the usual crop of CRPGs, you have to give us that.

Fortunately, when Jamie and I left Eidos, we had the foresight to get them to cede rights in the aborted design for the game, including ownership of the wonderful concept sketches and maps that Russ Nicholson and Darren Horley had done for the game. So now I'm looking for a way to get that material out into the world. But it needs to be in a form that will encourage people to use it, sticking something up for free on the internet being a quick way to consign it to the contempt of over-familiarity.

Abraxas is available as a Kindle book but you don't have to splash out $1.99 because it's also available right here on the FL blog. I've been thinking of publishing it as a paper-and-pencil role-playing game, adapting the Tirikelu rules that I originally designed for the paragon of science fantasy - and indeed of fantasy world-building in general - namely Professor M.A.R. Barker's magnificent creation Tekumel. But would today's gamers be interested in a setting that lacked all those cherished tropes (see orcs, above) that have been enshrined in fantasy by descent from Tolkien via Tad Williams and then Dungeons and Dragons and finally gamebooks? I guess there's only one way to find out.

38 comments:

  1. Today's gamers are interested in lots of weird things. Considering names standing behind Abraxas, this will be an instant hit. Just throw it at Kickstarter, do a promotion on 3-4 popular forums and start counting money. Seriously.

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    1. Hmm - although I like the concept of subscription funding, Kickstarter really does have all the hallmarks of a bubble. Of course, that doesn't mean it isn't possible to make money before it bursts.

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  2. Yes, they would be interested. I think todays pen and paper gamers would be even more open to this than old timey gamers who spent their time arguing what level wizard Gandalf is or do female dwarves have beards. You just have to get the word out.

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    1. I've never been much into LotR or D&D myself, Jonas, so at least I avoided those two debates :-)

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  3. "But would today's gamers be interested in a setting that lacked all those cherished tropes (see orcs, above) that have been enshrined in fantasy by descent from Tolkien via Tad Williams and then Dungeons and Dragons and finally gamebooks? I guess there's only one way to find out."
    Yes!
    As an RPG, it will be amazing. But perhaps it will be wise to start with a gamebook, to introduce the people to this new world.
    About the rules (for RPG), I advise you to look the latest indie games. Many are amazingly simple to learn and better than the old D&D.
    Ikaros

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    1. Can you recommend two or three games I should look at? I know that it needs to be a lot simpler than GURPS (which my group uses but which many of the players struggle with) and more versatile than Dragon Warriors. Tirikelu lacks a single central mechanic, but I do still like its option to concentrate on either attack or defence or to balance the two, so I may keep that.

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    2. Ofcourse, It will be an honor!
      I actually know a few games compared with the massive amount of rpg out there (especially the last 10 years).

      A short (and free) games list:

      Lady Blackbird, by John Harper
      Is a fine example of character-driven adventure and simple mechanics (the rules fits in the character sheet). To be honest is an adventure more than a complete rpg.
      http://www.onesevendesign.com/ladyblackbird/

      Old School Hack (Ennie Award: Best Free Product 2011) by Kirin Robinson
      This is an excellent game. It is more an example of rule desing (what do you want to do in the game). Perhaps is dificult to adapt for another setting, but nevertheless is an excellent game.
      http://www.oldschoolhack.net/

      Dungeon Slayers
      This is not a short game, but it is a another great example of simplifying rules to tell the old stories of dungeons, dragons, and treasure ( a lot of treasure).

      http://www.dungeonslayers.com/?page_id=228

      An finally, one that will cost some shards
      Spirit of the Century
      This is an amazing game for playing character-driven adventures in the pulp era. I recomend this over many other indie RPG, because it has gained his own place in the big market. I have to add that if the game is payed, the engine (FATE 2E) is free to download and use

      http://www.evilhat.com/home/spirit-of-the-century-2/
      http://faterpg.com/dl/FATE2fe.pdf

      There are many more, but this four (unfortunate two Dungeon based games) are my best choice. The first two are short but powerfull examples of game design. If you have the time, I also strongly recomend to view the Ars Magica system for magic and spells. This is one is really detailed (and the 4th edition is free to play). It makes you forget the old D&D spell list and embrace the improvised magic (cast on the fly)

      Ikaros
      (sorry for any grammar mistake)

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    3. You might want to look at Legend and/or Runequest 6, given your work with their predecessors. Legend has a really easy license, and RQ6 is interested in more properties (see The Design Mechanism's forums).

      In fact, I'd love to see your old Questworld work see light under the Legend/RQ6 system. The conversion work from RQ2 stats should be really easy. Happy to help with that.

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    4. Now there's an idea. I haven't looked at RQ for years, but you've given me a hankering. I always liked the idea of RQ being used for Legend (ie the DW world) ironically.

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    5. In the end, any system that you use will be ok as long as it's comfortable for you.
      The setting is the most important part of an RPG... where true creativity lies.

      I'm considering to make an adventure in Abraxas for my regular group. I really love the Daedalanths, Xoanons, Emulants and Living armor. As a Biochemistry I find it a really facinating concept (Just imagine an armor with flu).

      Ikaros

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    6. Armour with flu! Ikaros, that's so good I'm going to have to tweet it. Let me know how the adventure goes.

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  4. Parallel Worlds by Tomas Arfert. It's in Swedish but it shouldn't be too hard to translate. I can even check with the author to see if it hasn't already been done. It's a universal gaming system, very simple but useful. If I had to change the gaming system of DW Parallel Worlds would be my choice.

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  5. And what about Apocalypse World? I have yet to try it but I've heard a lot of good stuff about it.

    Interesting project, btw! Go for it!

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    1. I haven't tested yet, but I have heard really good comments.
      There is a free version of Dungeons World (without image) who runs the same system that Apocalypse World.

      http://www.darkshire.net/jhkim/rpg/srd/dungeonworld/

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  6. Thanks, guys. That's really useful advice.

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    1. Our pleasure! I started to re-read Abraxas and sounds fascinating. I wish you the best luck in this enterprise. Sounds like a setting that I would play (gamebook or RPG).

      Ikaros

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    2. I second Swordsman's suggestion about RuneQuest 6, Legend, OpenQuest (which has recently had a successful crowdfunding and is headed for a second edition) or one of that family of games. The system you choose *is* an important decision (I like Tirikelu too BTW) not only because the system directly affects the exerience of play, but also for the demographics. The more players who already play the game, the more who may be inclined to give Abraxas a try. The basic roleplaying/runequest family of games has been tried and tested in many different settings over many years and has a fair number of players.

      On a side note, I am playing in a campaign which uses a basic roleplaying variant (Classic Fantasy) in Legend. Works well.

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    3. We've always used GURPS for Legend (apart from when I was originally getting my group to playtest DW) but I never felt it was a good fit. Not that I dislike GURPS - 4e in particular is admirable - but RQ feels like it would fit the whole Jewelspider experience a lot better.

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  7. Really? RuneQuest or BRP for demographic reasons?

    For example, I have never played RuneQuest. On the other hand, D20 (or Pathfinder) are really popular. If the reason is just cover more people, you can choose Pathfinder blindfolded.

    I guess the choice is to play boldly (with a brand new system) or play safe (with a stablish system).

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    1. I never did anything in my life for demographic reasons, Ikaros, I can assure you. The reason is simply that Jamie and I have enormous affection for RQ based on many all-night RPG sessions in our youth :-)

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    2. They have sold massive numbers of copies of Legend (which used to be Mongoose Runequest II) on DriveThru for a dollar. There appears to be a lot of theoretical interest in the system given the activity on the Mongoose Boards, but there is a dearth of settings for it - Elric is the only appreciable one (although all the old Mongoose Glorantha books are available for a buck each as well via The Design Mechanism). So I suspect there's a market out there waiting for a good setting.

      RQ6 is a better system, in my opinion, but Legend has the advantage of being completely OGL.

      And you won't notice much difference from the RQ of your youth. The magic systems are refined a bit, and the combat is smoother imho. I've converted the old 80s Pavis books with very little difficulty.

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    3. Sorry, Dave. I tried to respond Swordman's post
      "The system you choose *is* an important decision (I like Tirikelu too BTW) not only because the system directly affects the exerience of play, but also for the demographics"

      I tried to remark that if you consider demographics reasons, BRP or RQ may not be a wise choise. Nevertheless, if you *like* the system and helps to evocate the game, then is a perfectly valid option.

      As School Master says below, Savage Worlds could also be a good choice. I havent tried Tirikelu, but if it is your system you should defintly choose that.

      Ikaros

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    4. Hi Ikaros - I probably ought to consider factors like market and demographics, but if I do get around to doing this project then I need to love what I'm doing (it's unlikely to pay for the time it takes, after all) so I'm definitely leaning towards either BRP or Tirikelu.

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  8. Yes! Yes! By all means, yes!

    Another system you may want to look into is Savage Worlds. Action-oriented, easy and free to license, large following.

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  9. Why limit the setting with a particular game system? Maybe a detailed system-free world description book will be more useful?
    Also, add some kind of OGL/CC license for people to convert to their favorite systems - if they like it, they will come.

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    1. You mean like this?
      http://fabledlands.blogspot.co.uk/2010/09/baby-and-bathwater.html

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  10. I have Abraxas and liked it a lot. I also have Tirikelu and liked it. The two fit well. I would buy it and many gamers would .

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    1. Thanks, Tom - and good to hear from you!

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  11. My suggestion is keep the rules very simple and old school - use Labyrinth Lord or one of the other D&D retro-clones - and concentrate on the background material and the roleplaying possibilities. That way it can be virtually elf-contained and easily usable by anyone. I'd be interested in being involved in a graphic design capacity Dave, sounds like an interesting project (Peter from tekumel.com here).

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    1. Hey Peter - well, it'd be fantastic to have you involved! This will have to be a project worked on in odd moments in between our official FL work (Dirk Lloyd, etc) so I expect to take a while getting anything done, but as & when I do I will certainly keep you in the loop, thanks.

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  12. ... That'd be 'self-contained' - 'elf-contained' would not apply in this case! :)

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  13. Hey, speaking of rules, what about the Fabled Land rules? Not the RPG, the game book. They are really straight forward and easy to learn. Maybe you could add some tricks like more ranks (maybe 15 or 20), a 'fancy' dice (D10 or D20), split magic in two kind of skills (ritual and psionic).

    That would be awesome

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  14. I've always loved The Fantasy Trip from Metagaming Concepts, and C.R. Brandon has just put out a retro-clone called Heroes and Other Worlds. I haven't looked at the system yet (just ordered it, sight unseen), but anything TFT-like warrants a looksie, in my book. http://heroworlds.blogspot.com/

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    1. TFT was good, but really only a prototype for GURPS. I'm not sure that it'd be versatile enough to cover everything a modern game needs.

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  15. Zzzzzz. Eh, what was that? Did somebody mention the Lands Of Legend and the Dragon Warriors system? Blimey, this place has been lively! Personally, I much prefer the Dragon Warriors system to LL or OGL... and I just had a bizarre sense of déjà vu.

    Anyway, back on topic, I think it would be fair to say that Abraxas has huge potential as an RPG setting. Regardless of whatever system Abraxas might eventually end up with I'd still be very much interested. Where do I pre-order? :)

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    1. Pre-orders..?! Oh for a 25-hour day and an 8-day week :)

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  16. Tirikelu is an interesting system and it might be better suited to your Abraxas setting. I've made my own reformatted copies of both Abraxas and Tirikelu (for my own use) and have enjoyed reading them, though I have yet to use either in a game.

    Although they might not appeal to the majority of gamers, there is definitely a sizeable segment of the gaming population with an appreciation for non-Tolkien fantasy/science-fantasy.

    Perhaps you could revamp the two as separate projects? A systemless Abraxas setting book with suggestions for several sets of rules, and a setting-less system (but with illustrations, perhaps) for use with either Tekumel or Abraxas.

    I'd buy both (as print products, preferably.)

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