No one would have believed in the last years of the twentieth century
That internet arguments fuelled by alcohol could lead one to do silly things….
Actually, all too believable
The year 2000 was, actually, the last year of the C20th and I was one of a group of people writing a 4th edition of the venerable role-playing game “Chivalry and Sorcery”, a tidied up version of 3rd trying to recapture the feel of the 2nd.
In the world of the biggest gorilla in the room, Wizards of the Coast had just released 3rd edition D&D, with the innovation that its system could be used as the basis for games by other companies as part of its “Open Game Licence”.
Somewhere, probably on Usenet, this was being discussed, and a comment by Matt Johnston, an RPG author for, at that point, Crucible Designs, asked why not, rather than write a niche game with its own system, instead get on the d20 OGL system bandwagon, and produce a worldbook to give D&D players a proper medieval game world.
It is a question that deserves a better answer than it got, the short version being one that it would mean starting again from scratch, the original authors would not have supported that and it would have meant perhaps losing the game’s unique identity. However, I had been drinking, so my actual answer was to try and produce a version of Chivalry and Sorcery that used a d20. Now it didn’t use the WoTC d20 system, in part because I didn’t know that system until years later, it used my own d20 system.
I knew I couldn’t recreate all of C&S, I was aiming for one page, and so went for “general feel”. As it turned out, that was too ambitions. I got it down to four sides of paper and that was with using a tiny font, which is fair enough, C&S 1st edition also had a tiny font.
So that was finished the next week, as C&S Essence, and went onto the Brittannia Game Designs website as a free download. I could do that as I was webmaster at the time and actually wrote or, at least, transcribed, a lot of the content. You can see the final version of the website here http://www.its-them.me.uk/marak/ with C&S Essence under “Freebies”.
That was well received. The fan club, the “Loyal Order of Chivalry and Sorcery” was still active, and two members did translations, Stefano Bartoletti translated it into Italian, Guy-Franck Richard into French. More than that, we found out that an anonymous Italian person had produced a version sent in a Fantasy Imperial Rome. This was without asking us and only years later did I find out that the setting, Lex Arcanum, was actually an existing RPG by Francesco Nepitello (renowned, rightly so, for “The One Ring” RPG).
For some reason, I don’t know why, but I suspect because I had been reading far too much “Flashman” at the time, I used the same system for a game of Victorian adventure, “Vis Imperium Victoriana” (ViV). Given the character background based on the Flashman version of Lady Sale in the First Afghan War, that has to be it. This was also available on the BGD website.
One weird thing to come from that was that someone started, but did not finish, a version of ViV for “The Fantasy Trip“, itself kickstartered back to life in 2018. Being a game of Imperial Adventure Literature, I put into the game that the attitudes of the time were racist and sexist, and the opportunities for characters reflected this. A review spoke of this as how unfun it was, and discussions later on convinced me that I had handled this badly.
I ran C&S Essence for the group I was with. I did that in the “Darken” setting I was writing for as a Dragon ruled kingdom of Men, Orcs and other usually enemy folk for BGD’s “Marakush” Game world, so the additions I made for the system were low fantasy and gritty.
Having written a more modern game with the system, Steve Turner of BGD asked if I would write a Science-Fiction version, well, Ed Simbalist, one of the authors of C&S had written the classic “Space Opera” SF RPG. I thought it would be 32 pages and quickly done, but I ended up trying to do my game as Pulp SF covering a similar scope to “Space Opera” and it took two years, play-testing it with the group I was playing with then.
Some of us even play-tested the spaceship combat system at our local wargames club.
Part of the problem with the system I wrote is that I am, or was, I am getting old, fairly handy with mental arithmetic, and the system had mechanics like “how much did you succeed by mechanic” and derived range and magic effect statistics that were a necessity of lack of space in the original C&S Essence. This new game, “Rocket Jocks”, simplified the skill success mechanic, and that made it more playable for everyone.
That did not see the light of day. The reasons why are valid, and not in the main, mine to tell, but years were to pass, and we come from 2003 to 2011. Over the years I had suggested to Steve Turner than sites like DrivethruRPG and RPGNow, might be good sales venues for his products. Print on Demand had matured to be worth considering too. Nothing happened though.
Suddenly he had this bright idea “Maybe sites like DrivethruRPG and delivery methods like Print on Demand are worth doing! Colin, why didn’t you suggest that”. He is lucky he doesn’t live in slapping distance ;). He started putting BGD products on DriveThruRpg and in 2011 asked about putting up C&S Essence.
I agreed, and started to increase the font size, add in some clip art and update the system to that found in, the still unpublished, “Rocket Jocks”. Steve then told me he planned to put it up for sale. For actual money. For that I thought it needed some more stuff in it before asking people to part with their hard earned cash. So I added in the Darken “enemy character” information and an adventure I had written years ago.
That got published, nominated for an award but some of the reaction was that the system/setting was too low key and the adventure had no obvious lead in. I did a free download to address the adventure lead in and add some extras to the system. I then thought about the lack of a “High Fantasy” fee to it and decided to create one or rather to use the Arthurian Mythos, as “everyone knows that”!
Famous last words. Turns out I don’t generally know as much as I thought I did about the Arthurian mythos and, in any case, it morphs, changes, twists with less concern for continuity than Brannon Braga. However, I got on with it, first as a setting for C&S Essence and later as a complete game with system in its own right. However work got more involved and I had less time to devote to this and, by late 2013 I got burned out, with most of the game written and I just couldn’t continue.
2013 seeing me with an insane early commute, knowing I couldn’t devote time to this, I asked Andy Staples if he would finish it for me. He told me, straight out, that he did not have much time himself, but if I could accept that then he would try his best.
A few years wind on. Andy’s situation doesn’t let him do much, which is as he warned me, and I took the Arthurian project back in 2016. Around that time Steve told me that he was finally able to get “Rocket Jocks” into getting edited and later on, actually have art commissioned. A bit of a change from my art-free or clipart games of the past.
I was a bit apprehensive about this. Since I had delivered the manuscript Pulp SF had become a bit of a thing again. There was even a game in the interim called “Rocket Jocks”, so the “Unique selling point” of my game was no longer there. Moreover, I was aware that my system written in 2000, would be a bit crunchy and old fashioned by today’s standards. However by late 2018, when I started to see the art, I reread my manuscript for the first time in years, and I was heartened that the system, apart from Psionics, wasn’t that bad, and the level of my corny sense of humour, I hope, makes it a lot more fun.
I also wrote a spaceship combat game, but I do not know if it will ever see the light of day. It is a complex, Star Fleet Battles/B5 Wars kind of box marking system for damage. If I can ever figure out a lighter system for this, and a way to get counter art, I may get this published as a free download later.
So, at the turn of 2019, Rocket Jocks – Blast into the Future is now available as a PDF and it, and C&S Essence v1.1 are to be made available as Print on Demand books and then Steve Turner asks me, “You remember that ‘Vis Imperium Victoriana’? Could we publish that again?”.
Obviously the basic answer is “Yes”. I had thought about doing it again back in 2011. Believe it or not I had even spoken to a musician to see if I could write his character into the new version. However I needed to correct the flaws identified all those years ago, to make opportunities more even for characters, without denying the inequality of the colonial age.
Changes to the system were fairly simple, to update it and to reduce some of the maths. The biggest time spent has been in research, to try and give enough of a feel of the time, without turning it into a sixty volume setting series covering seven continents and eighty years of history.
This is intended not to be free, but “Pay what you want” which puts me into “adding more of value” mode. Clipart has been added, free to use fonts for flavour used and I even put some photos of my own through filters to try and make them of the time and made a few pieces of art to illustrate it, Amazing given my own lack of talent in drawing.
It’s been a weird road. Basically three pieces of work written between 2000 and 2003 coming back to life nearly two decades later. It has involved machines using MacOS, Linux of various flavours, iOS, Android and several generations of Windows, storage systems including Floppy Disks, Zip Disks, USB Flash drives and cloud, and all sorts of text editors. Changed world.
I was planning to finish the Arthurian book this year, still do, but first ViV needs to be completed, and then I have promised myself that I will write a short story, just to get back into fiction.
Thanks then to Ed Simbalist, Wilf Backhaus, Wes Ives, Matt Gilbert, Phil McGregor, Mark Ratner and, accidentally, Matt Johnston for getting me down that strange road. And doubly thanks for all the contributors, translators, readers and play-testers for their help.