The Agony of Production

This is a sample of the first page for All Us Gamers – Inner Core Rules. It looks really nice. Phaedra has worked tirelessly on graphics, layout, and colour coordination.

Unfortunately you probably won’t ever see this released. Why? Two reasons.

The first is that the first release is a free pdf with the base inner core rules. That means people are going to want to print the rules out on their home printer. I printed these pages as an experiment and it killed my toner.

The second is that this layout is for A4. Everyone outside America uses A4 as a standard. Sadly US Letter is the paper size of choice for role playing games due to the US market.

You can see some discussion I have been having about this at RPGGeek.

Before We Begin

Wherein I explain why I’m making a new RPG and a bit of a plan for the future.

As I write this in December 2019 all that can be seen is a sparse home page with a “Mail Us” form. All Us Gamers does not yet exist beyond the walls of my office and the minds of the twenty or so early play testers.

When the game is finally out there what you should see is a core game system, explaining how to play role playing games that involve players that have characters as avatars within a game master’s imaginary setting, plus a set of really engaging settings in fantasy, science fiction and horror genres. That’s the future, and maybe you are there right now?

There are, of course, lots of role playing games. Some don’t have a character focus, instead they have a narrative focus, where the rules help decide who gets to write the next bit of a commonly developed story. All Us Gamers is not one of those, although narrative is an important element. In the character focus games there are the venerable giants, Dungeons and Dragons, Traveller, Call of Cthulhu, and great indi games like Stars Without Number. And there is the fabulous 200 Word RPG challenge for those that want some fun, simple but highly innovate games to play.

So why am I going to add “Yet Another Role Playing Game” to the market?

Lets get in the Wayback machine and travel to the groovy, large moustache and platform shoes days of 1974. (Yes, that was me but the photos are in a thrice locked vault where you will never see them!) My friend Grant and I played a lot of miniature figurine table top war games back then. Early that year we got hold of the game Chainmail. We were fine having little armies run around bashing one another but then along came original D&D, in its white box, to rescue me from armies and introduce me to adventuring!

In D&D, you are either the game master (or Dungeon Master as D&D prefers), who runs the game, or a player who looks after a single character in the game world. You go about exploring, encountering and fighting monsters, and finding treasures. After D&D many other games began appearing and exploring the possibilities of game design, and I have played a largish number of them. But there has often been a niggle, an annoyance with the games. Well several I suppose.

In many such games the rules tend to devolve into really nitty gritty pieces, what my friend Andras calls “rules by exception”. So for example you might want to play a character who is a military sniper, and so you find a game that has lots of stuff about snipers. Rules for caring about ammo and adjusting the sights on your weapon and how to adjust the gun balance and breathing styles for long shots and on and on. And you end up with some careful and well balanced mechanics about “snipering”. The thing is there is a balance between game mechanics that give you structure about what your character may do during an adventure, and getting detail that is so esoteric and rarely used by players that it gives poor return on the time invested.

An interesting thing about detail is that it can be attractive. If you look at Traveller there are rules about rolling dice to create the sectors of space that players will play through. The planets have a size, an atmosphere, hydrology type, colony size, law level, technology level and star port. And you romp through before playing and roll up all these planets in a sector and note them down. Only, that work doesn’t really make an adventure, it provides a structure that sometimes has some use. And there are game masters, myself included, who love to design different kinds of starships and make up rules about how planets should “really be” based on current scientific knowledge, but again it doesn’t really further the adventuring part of the game much, while taking up a lot of game master time and mind space.

As a response to these complexities people have tried creating simpler, more universal rules systems. Some are good fun, like TechNoir which is very innovative. The players collaboratively build the connections between elements of the game world as they play, so the game master has no idea what is going to be the case when things start rolling along. It relies on people having reasonable knowledge about the real world and how it hangs together and draws on that. It also does something I have always liked, top down context building.

The idea is that you start with a comprehensive description of the world. Its fuzzy, not very detailed, but provides just enough knowledge that if you threw players anywhere in the world there would be enough context to decide who the characters are and what they might be experiencing, what scenarios you could improvise. This level is not ideal for play but it does mean that there are no complete blanks in the world. (This article on incomplete game structures would give you an idea of a complete blank problem in an existing game, with this follow up regarding Plugging the Traveller Scenario Structure).

Next in context building an adventure setting there is some intermediate region of the world. Its more detailed. There are some factions of people doing things. There are important places. There are trade routes and major points of interest. Specific cultures are apparent. All of this remains consistent with the broader brush strokes at the higher, broader level, but this region only covers a small part of the large picture. Detailing this level takes more work per square foot, as it were, so you just do enough to surround the players out to some reasonable distance. If you start playing with the broad level and one area of regional level detail then you will have a pretty good time with the players, and only have to improvise details as needed.

And then the lower, local level, which is inside a region, inside the broad description. Again remaining consistent with the higher levels but getting into some clear focus on individual people, streets, buildings whatever. You only do this for places you are sure the players are going to interact with because now your effort per square foot is really high.

I created a simple system for building low preparation Traveller Campaigns in this fashion once.

And that is the approach I want to use with developing a game system. There is a very broad brush stroke game, what I call the inner core. It tells you how to imagine an adventure, a character, and have characters “do things”, sometimes using dice to decide how well those things get done, given the character’s aptitude and the difficulty of the task. It also includes saving your character from harm (the classic “save” dice roll) using the same action mechanism. This level of rules is comprehensive, gives some procedure for running the game, and is very adaptable for any genre or setting, but leaves the game masters and players to do a fair bit of heavy lifting still when it comes to running the game in detail. I have play tested this inner core a lot. It’s very satisfying and has allowed time travel adventures, adventures in mythological ancient Greece, an adventure in the middle of the Vietnam War and several other impromptu, once only games.

The next step of the plan is to produce the outer core, which has richer ways to design characters, have characters grow, and run more detailed procedures for conflict, investigation, navigation, wealth building, politics and so on. These outer core features will get developed along with specific game settings that require their specific use, and the game setting will come with extensions that are most useful for that setting. These extensions will include step by step play procedures, such as how to handle players investigating a potentially zombie infested neighbourhood, or how to explore star systems that are outside the graviton stress lanes that make up the interstellar empire.

So that’s the plan. I’m working like crazy to get the inner core out to you all for free as a pdf. We’ll see what happens with that and hopefully embark on the larger quest to RPG joy together.