Friday, February 7, 2014


Now that we are getting close to the release of Sertorius, I wanted to talk about the team behind the game. As always, Bill Butler and I worked together on the project but we felt the game needed another point-of-view so we brought Dan Orcutt aboard. Dan has been a member of our play test groups and our regular campaigns for some time. He is a skilled writer and excels at system mastery. When I run 3.5 he often doubles as a living rules encyclopedia. I felt this was the right blend of talent and perspective to give Sertorius more scope than our previous RPGs. At its core, Sertorius is a Network Game, like Servants of Gaius or Terror Network, yet it is also more robust. It retains the simplicity of our past projects, while enabling you to dig deeper and draw on more mechanical possibilities. Dan played a big role in shaping that.

I've always worked best in teams of three, because its easier to bounce ideas without getting an echo chamber effect. All three of us are just different enough that we were forced to give our best, because each person brought their own high expectations.

Bill excels at asking the hard questions for any mechanic or setting component. If you bring a new idea to Bill, it is a virtual certainty he will spot the potential problems it creates by combination with other parts of the game or unforeseen events in the setting. He has a keen eye for those sorts of issues, probably because he runs and participates in several weekly games and is the most veteran GM of the three of us.

Dan has a strong head for math and is endlessly creative. This really helped us explore the probabilities that emerged with the dizzying array of options the magic system presented. More than that, he brought a new critical eye to our system. Dan's been playing in my Network campaigns since the early stages of Terror Network's development. Since then he's been in numerous Crime Network, Horror Show and Servants of Gaius Sessions. In fact, Dan's feedback on Servants of Gaius was essential. He also has never been shy about sharing his opinions about the game. There were always pieces of it, here or there, that annoyed him, and I thought having that kind of critique while we built the next variation would be useful, because we wanted Sertorius to be different.

Our prior games are all no more than 100-114 pages in length. That forces you to stay tight on word count, and keep the rules to a minimum, even when we wanted more. This time around we knew we'd have a much bigger book with more elements (magic, afflictions, a campaign setting, more monsters, etc). We had room to breathe and set out to use that space well.

This wasn't about creating tons of rules for their own sake, it was about having the amount needed to keep Sertorius campaigns afloat for many years. To that end we performed two kinds of play tests: scenario tests and campaign tests. This meant having 1-2 regular Sertorius campaigns as we designed the system, but also running combat, magic and skill scenarios on off-days to check out the mechanics in specific situations. An important part of that process were the meetings between the three of us afterwards. These could go on for some time, and often involved disagreement over what worked and why. I can't speak for the others, but that really forced me to evaluate things more objectively and distinguish between what I wanted because of my own desire to put my personal stamp on the system and what the game needed.

By the end of the project all three of us learned to make this distinction, and I could see the improvement in the game itself as a result. We've taken that design approach forward as we started work on Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate.


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