Genesis of the Daleks, sorry C&S Essence

So, how did this tiny printed giveaway come to pass? Well, the usual answer, drink and someone kind of noising me up, in this case by email.

(this is my life btw – http://xkcd.com/386/)

Anyway. It was 2000, Steve and the gang were busy on C&S: The Rebirth, but the big news in the rest of the RPG world was the release of D&D 3rd edition. The significant, headline news were the couple of licences that was supposed to allow other companies to publish games compatible with the D&D system and that system itself, no myriad of platonic solids, instead everything was done as a d20. Not original, but a bit change for D&D.

Then one day Matt Johnson (never met him, but a respected RPG designer with Crucible Designs) said “why not release C&S as an d20 system?”

It was meant well, but after the blood sweated over C&S3, getting C&S from Highlander to Brittannia and getting C&S:TR written, that didn’t go down well. Also it would have meant losing some differentiation. C&S’s system is partly worked around the unfair feudal society of the Middle Ages, from the advantages of education, training and equipment, and to the influence you could exercise in society and the peculiar magic system of C&S.

As I said, I’d been drinking, so after a chat with Steve (he didn’t buy the drink, he never does. See the C&S:TR Hobgoblin mutation ‘Short Arms, never buys a drink’, word to the wise [only joking Steve]) I said “right, I’ll show him”

I didn’t own a copy of D&D 3rd, all I knew about it was that it used a d20. I might have known that it used skills or not, the important thing was that C&S did. My original goal was to try andd get it down to 1 side of A4. In the end it was 4 sides, and even then it took a tiny font size.

I had decided not to just write a straight précis version of C&S, but instead cover the main points of C&S, the main advantages, but in a quick and easy system. So it had

  • a character generation, that included the inequality of feudal life & starting vocations granting skills
  • contested skills
  • combat with different tactics
  • magic that allows the magicians to enhance their spells
  • character improvement
  • etc, it was a brief, but full RPG

I, of course, ran a C&S Essence campaign myself, using the kingdom of “Darken” as the setting since I had started writing that and it let me test ideas out as we ran it. Later on a C&S play-by-email C&S campaign I was running was also converted to Essence, as it was easier for me to do the system stuff.

I can’t remember why I wrote “Vis Imperium Victoriana”, the 8 page Colonial and Scientific Romance RPG, but after that Steve asked me to write a SF game. Since I am into Pulp SF I thought I’d try and write a game to allow play in a universe like that of the Lensmen, Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers etc.

Being a completist eejit, I included rules for a history of technology, including relatively primitive technology, so you could have Renaissance Robots if you wanted, but although the Rocket Jocks manuscript was finished in 2002 for various reasons it hasn’t been published yet.

That got a lot of playtesting though, and in doing so I suddenly realised that I could improve one of the clumsier C&S Essence mechanisms it had inherited. In the original Essence, the person who had rolled under their skill chance by the most, won a contested skill roll. So, if I have a skill level of 14, and you have one of 11, and I roll 10 and you roll 10, then I win as that is 4 under my chance. Combat used that difference in calculating damage.

It was clumsy as hell in play, at least for everyone else, only people with an unhealthy interest in mental arithmetic liked it, so I changed it to highest, successful, roll. That changed speeded up and simplified play greatly.

My involvement with C&S dropped off, and I started to convert C&S Essence, to a new game, Borderlands, based on my old C&S Play by Email campaign, set in the Scottish/English borders with a large dose of Celtic and Norse mythology to the early 14th Century Scots history.

Then, earlier this year, Steve (EVENTUALLY!!!!!) took my advice and started to look at PDF and Print on demand sales of BGD products. At the same time I started to engage with some C&S fans on a forum. I said I would update C&S Essence with some things from my campaign and with rules updated after years of play. I originally intended to put it on the forum, but Steve took a look at what I had done and proposed selling it, for a tiny, tiny amount.

Given that, I figured out that I should add some more for value. So THAT version of C&S Essence, with an adventure and a set of skirmish wargame rules (so that larger combats can be handled quickly) is the one for sale.

I’m a great one for recycling work. The Troll text for C&S Rebirth had been drafted originally for a different gameworld, other bits of that might see light of day if I ever do produce Borderlands, or finish any of my fiction set in the world and so, similarly my next big project, an update of “Vis Imperium Victoriana” will include things originally written for Rocket Jocks. I want to add SteamPunk to that, luckily the Rocket Jocks manuscript already contains Victorian era Steampunk gadgets, so I have a head start, but I can’t avoid it, sometime soon my store of incomplete works is going to run out.

I might actually have to start working!

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