Sunday, April 29, 2012

Average Joes available in print and Servants of Gaius available for pre-order.

Average Joes (Available Now)
When Terrorists interrupt a day of shopping at Bellpoint Mall, a group of ordinary citizens rise to the occasion and kick butt. Average Joes is a combination source book and game module for Terror Network that presents a different way to play the original game. It comes complete with the mall scenario, special rules for playing Average Joes, and ideas for future campaigns.
Order here: AVERAGE JOES 
Servants of Gaius (Available in May)
Unravel sacred mysteries and explore the empire in this unique alternate Roman history setting where a mad emperor is savior of the world. As Neptune's armies threaten the empire, Gaius Caesar Augustus Germanicus ("Caligula") creates a secret order to root them out. The Servants of Gaius come from all the ranks of the Empire, chosen by the divine emperor. In their quest to save Rome they face dark cults, backstabbing politicians and even the gods themselves.
Servants of Gaius is a game of intrigue and investigation. It comes with a complete alternate history setting but is perfect for any Roman campaign. The book includes:

·         A complete and flexible rules system
·         An overview of Roman society and government during the early empire
·         Stats for important historical characters
·         Monsters and other supernatural threats
·         Rules for gods and rituals
·         A map of the Roman world in 38 AD
Check out of other products at:

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Pillars of History Part Three

To make good use of history in an RPG you need to decide how you will approach history and how to address some of the problems it creates at the table.

HOW DOES HISTORY WORK: Everyone has an opinion about history. Some subscribe to grand theories while others focus on the big movers and shakers. Is history set on a firm path? Is it a build-up of micro-level events? Are there key turning points in history or are those an illusion because history is directed by massive forces that are greater than individual men and battles? How you answer these sorts of questions will directly impact the game and how much infuence the PCs have over future outcomes. And fundamentally that is the key concern: can the PCs actions change the future?

CAN THE PCs CHANGE THE FUTURE: This is entirely up to you (and builds on how you answer the previous question). Keep in mind that much of this is situationally depenant. Even if you decide that bit players like the PCs can change hisory's course, they still need to be in the right place and time to do so. They also need access to the means. It can be great fun to out a little power in the player's court and give them a hand in shaping history. As a general rule though their ability to do so should be limited by the amount of power they wield or have access to. The Emperor can change the course of history with a single word, but a single soldier in the Roman army, even if he wants to, will have a hard time changing things. Afterall most people have enough trouble mastering theor own fate let alone the fate of the world. And to truly manipulate history, you need foreknowledge of it, which the PCs don't normally have. This raises a big concern in historical RPGs: metagaming.

METAGAMING: This is a huge problem in some historical campaigns. The players know the future, but their PCs do not. So how do you deal with this? An easy way is to change the future enough that the players' real world knowledge has zero impact. Another approach is to step in at times and prevent the players from metagaming. Simplay say "your character doesn't know Cassius is the future assassin of Caligula so he has no reason to stab him in the back. The problem with the later is it can impinge on player freedom, however if the player is genuinely abusing real world knowledge, most people at the table shouldn't object. Of course even if the players have the power to change history (let's say they stab Cassius before he is in a position to murder Caligula) that can be a good thing because it launches you into a sea of unknowns.

THE SEA OF HISTORY: Anytime the players (directly or indirectly) alter the course of history, things change. The more they change, the less future campaign events will match our understanding of histoy. To use the above example, if the PCs kill Cassius, then everything after that is up in the air (at least everything related to the the imperial family). At least the players knew where and when the historical conspiracy against the emperor was, but if they take out its ringleader, that doesn't mean there won't be more. Most likely another conspiracy emerges and could succeed.

But everything that followed form the original conspiracy needs to be re-examined. We are no longer sure if Claudius succeeds Caligula for example. And this raises all kinds of interesting possibilities. Who will be the next emperor? Will there even be another emperor? Perhaps the next conspiracy restores the Republic or divides the empire into multiple parts. Maybe civil war breaks out again. Who knows. What about a Britannia? If Claudius isn't the next emperor, we can't be sure of its conquest (perhaps the next emperor doesn't need further military victories to secure his standing).

(Continued in Part Four)

Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Pillars of History Part Two

As you can see, taking a historically detailed approach is a great deal of work but also a great way to unearth adventure worthy details. The biggest hindrance is time. It can literally take hours to flesh out minor aspects of the adventure. And some people just don't enjoy the research. If donning the historian's cap isn't your cup of tea try some of these other aporoaches or techniques.

CHUCK HISTORY OUT THE WINDOW: If you have seen Inglorious Basterds you know breaking away from history, using fact as a springboard to more interesting things can be great fun. Under this approach you might keep some of the very basic, well known details of history, but invent everything else beyond that. As a rule of thumb, you never pause to research and only retain historical components you know of the top of your head. The great thing about this aproach is your players have no idea what to expect.

DEVIATE FROM HISTORY IN KEY PLACES: One of the major problems inherent in historical RPGs is your players (if they know their history) have knowledge of the future. They know the major battles of the Revolution, the key figures of Caligula's assassination and the outcome of the 1453 siege of Constantinople. Even if they don't metagame and use their player knowledge in-game, they won't be surprised by significant events.

This can be remedied by altering history in ways to retain a measure of unpredictability. Your players all know Vesuvius erupts in 79 AD, and therefore Pompeii is on their "do not visit" list that year. Throw them off by delaying the eruption, or having it take place a few years earlier. Or in the case of something like the assasination of Abraham Lincoln, stir things up by taking out Booth and putting Mrs. Lincoln in his place.

RE-FLAVOR HISTORICAL FIGURES: Redeem the wicked and besmirch the good. Try playing around with your players historical expectations by recasting historical characters in new roles or imbuing them with new personalities. Perhaps Thomas Jefferson is a master vampire bent on creating a nation of chattel, or maybe Ben Franklin is an irritating fool who knows a good deal less than history gives him credit for.

LET PLAYERS DO SOME OF THE WORK: If one of your players knows more than the period than you do, don't be affraid to ask him for key information during or prior to play. This can be a handy resource when your are running things off the cuff.

(continued in Part Three)

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Pillars of History Part One

Prepping and running historical RPGs presents unique challenges to the Gamemaster. Even veteran GMs can be thrown off their game because history can either impede or aid imagination. Historical games require research, massive quanities of research to yield just a fraction of an adventure. So it takes time and patience, as well as a sense of how to use history to your advantage, to run such games effectively.

My first foray in historical RPGs was the old Mighty Fortress green book, basically Elizabethan AD&D (2nd edition). The less said about that the better. I probably ran a single adventure and did so with virtually no knowledge of the period other than what was contained in the book. Aftter that I believe my next attempt was The Glory of Rome, followed by Masque of the Red Death (Victorian AD&D) and a Cthulu game set in the twenties. Progressively, my attempts started to resemble functional games. Over the years that followed I ran other games like Colonial Gothic or just ported standard D&D into historical settings.

That whole time, even though I got better, I always found historical games more work than regular campaigns. This despite a degree in history and years of interest in the periods I ran games for. I think the reason is quite simple: in a regular game you are only limited by your imagination and even if you are using an estabished setting, things are rarely as detailed and concrete as in history. In a historical RPG there is a desire to adhere to the historical record and there are also lots of details that are very hard to track down. So in a fantasy setting you can fill a given town with a big bag of generic fantasy tropes (an inn, a constable, a nightwatch, even a magic shop). In a historical setting, you almost need (or perhaps just want) to check the specifics of the community or region you are dealing with (what was the administrative structure of Alexandria in 40 AD? What force kept order intp the city? Did they have anything like an Inn? Where were the shops located and what were the demographics?). So it is easy to freeze up against these challenges.

How does a GM, who probably doesn't really have all that much, time manage a historical game then? Here are a few possibilities. Everyone is different so take what works for you and ignore the rest.

INDULGE YOUR INNER HISTORIAN: I admit to being something of a wannabe historian. I enjoy using my adventure set in Roman Egypt as an excuse to look up information of archaological sites, read accounts of the local Roman prefect by Philo, and track down accurate maps of ancient Alexandria. Its fun, but usually slow and sometimes draining. Still I enjoy it. In a way it is a wonderful challenge because the needs of the GM are so specific. As a gamemaster you want to know who the prefect gave his orders to, what the administrative hierarchy looked like, where the PCs can get a good meal, what they would have eaten, etc. So you almost have to reconstruct ancient Alexandria in your own mind. Luckily there are countless tools available to you.

First you want to build yourself something of a reading list. Any time and place will usually have a standard biblioigraphy, respected and reputable books or articles that cover its different aspect. You should be able to go to your local library ask what these are (and there are actuallly large indexes at most libraries specificlally for history that provide all the major works as well). Once you have this, start reading and take notes (if you don't take notes you will regret it later). This should supply you with a good general knowledge of your period. After you have that and feel like planning the adventure, you will need to get into the specifics mentioned above. Just take them each as they come. Consult your books and essays, and if you can't find answers there try to find more in depth articles or even consider shooting an email to the history department of your local university. Some of this stuff can be a real challenge to find.

You can also use the internet. There are all kinds of online databases now (some free). Colleges sometimes have internet research pages dedicated to your subject. Youtube is a great way to view documentaries or lectures.

So far this is all secondary source material for the most part. You are looking at other peoples' research but not really doing any first hand yourself. Consider adding in some primary sources once you are comfortable. This is just a game so you don't have to read Greek or Arabic to understand the original sources. Just find some solid translations.

This is actually my favorite part of prepping a historical RPG. It is where I get a lot of my NPCs and conflicts from. For exampe, I wanted to use Alexandria in my Servants of Gaius campaign, which was set 37-38 AD. I discovered that Philo of Alexandria (who was alive at the time and part of a Jewish delegation to Caligula) wrote something called Againt Flaccus, which is an indictment of the Roman Prefect Aulus Avilius Flaccus. It describes his character and places some blame on him for violence against the Alexandrian Jews. So I used this to flesh out Flaccus and build an interesting backdrop. To make things interesting I tied the local tensions to a supernatural plot by the Prefect.

(Continued in Part Two).