Why is it called "Band of Bastards?"
We've been kicking the idea around for a while, but we were having a hard time putting our finger on exactly what kind of feel we were going for. In the end, we started listing a lot of the qualities of the sort of stories we wanted to tell and the comment was made that it had a lot in common with a kind of low-fantasy Sword & Sorcery vibe. It was at this point that it was suggested that it was less Sword & Sorcery, and more Sword & Scoundrel. Over time, this gag morphed into Blade & Bastard, which ultimately lead us here. Weirdly, it's kind of fitting. There are very few other terms that can simultaneously be an expression of condemnation and worn like a badge of honor. It's a kind of gallows humor. We're big fans of that.
In a lot of traditional RPGs, the game is played in such a way that the GM sets up a story and the players show up to work their way through it. Like in many more narrative-focused games, Band of Bastards does this the other way around. The rules are written in such a way to emphasize that the player's role is to direct the story, with the GM facilitating that story and taking control of the world that reacts around them. In this way, 'Bastards is best played as kind of a sandbox experience, with the basic premise set and the players turned loose to do what they do best: get into trouble.
But I asked about Skulduggery!
I'm getting there. There's a brilliant analogy I heard once where sandbox games were concerned. If I ever remember where, I'll have to give them credit. The short version goes something like:
For a sandbox game, Lex Luthor makes a better protagonist than Superman. While Superman might explore a sandbox, going place to place, he's ultimately just fishing for a plot to be dangled in front of him. He's waiting for the narrator to announce that a bank is being robbed, a villain is on the loose, or some other story that he can passively pursue. Because he represents the status quo, he has no purpose until something goes wrong.
Drop a player as Lex Luthor on that same city map, and he can immediately begin plotting: Well, my kryptonite is almost in, so while I'm waiting I'll go blow up a couple cars on mainstreet. While the police are dealing with that, I'll rob a bank and then I can use the proceeds to fund my new kryptonite-coated plate armor in case ol' spandex decides to get frisky.
Heroes take part in stories. Rogues create them. In a game that's all about player-driven plots and moral conflicts, there is no better place to focus than on the people most likely to create conflicts in the first place, back-stabbing, cheating and all. We all have a soft-spot for the scoundrel, with or without the heart of gold.
Why the Renaissance?
We should start with the disclaimer that while we're taking a lot of flavor from this period, we aren't completely beholding ourselves to it in a direct simulationist sense. You can definitely ignore the rules for any kind of magic and fantasy in the core book (they are designed to be modular for exactly this reason) and use our rules to play a strictly historical campaign set anywhere roughly in the 16th century and it will work out just fine, but that wasn't necessarily our goal. We've kept as much period as we can, but we're sure anachronism has slipped in here and there, both through perhaps incomplete understandings and an interest in keeping toys around for us to play with on the off-chance they come up. The chances of finding a 10th-century center-grip saxon shield in 16th century Italy is relatively slim, but just in case your game happens to have a place for it, we've left the rules in place.
But for us, the renaissance has some extremely desirable qualities to serve as a starting place for a game. In terms of setting, there's no other period quite like it. Knights charging in shining armor, lances down with plumes fluttering, charging headlong through the thick gunpowder smoke of artillery batteries. Musketeers and pikemen marching steadily in block formation to the beat of the drums. Mercenary free-companies in their colorful, gaudy regalia marching along-side livery and maintenance men wearing their lord's colors. Swords and pistols against pikes and clubs and cannonballs. This is even more true in the beginning of the period, when the newer ways of fighting still clashed against the old. There is a kind of variety and dynamism in war of this period that is never seen again.
This also means that, because so many things are to be modeled, we can provide the greatest amount of resources in a single setting without having to deliberately leave things out. This is important for you, because it means if you want to run a Norse 'Bastards campaign, you won't need to actually make up any new material. Simulating any era prior to the one in which our book is set is a simple matter of ignoring the specific bits of arms and armor that haven't been developed yet. Likewise, modeling later periods (moving forward, say, to the 17th century) follows a very similar set of procedures: simply ignoring the bits that are no longer in use.
Didn't you guys used to be Song of Steel?
Song of Steel was a game we were working on, yes. The name change was unfortunate, but ultimately for the best as we're all extremely excited about the shift in direction. More importantly though, even under a different name all the best parts of it all made it into 'Bastards and in the process we had some really interesting ideas on how to streamline the game. If you were interested in the former, you should definitely be interested in the latter.
Wikipedia says Song of Steel was a The Riddle of Steel "successor game." Is 'Bastards also a successor game?
We're on Wikipedia? Awesome. Short version: Yes and No.
Long version: Song of Steel did begin its as a "spiritual successor" to Jake Norwood's game, but when we started the project our first move was to begin deconstructing the design decisions made and rebuilding them in what we thought was a more unified manner. You could probably tell that first draft had been heavily inspired by TROS, but we were comfortable calling it it's own stand-alone game. When we made the shift to Band of Bastards, it spurred us to further re-examine our influences and solutions and there was even more rewriting involved.
You can absolutely see Jake's fingerprints on our work (he's even done some consulting in places where we've gotten stuck) and we've kept the heart of what we learned and loved in TROS, but creating a "successor" was never as important to us as doing what we thought would make for the best game, mechanically. In most cases this meant significant departures from the original to make our vision a reality. At this point, the Band of Bastards RPG is a whole different beast now, ready to stalk the wilds on its own.
When is the public Beta?
We're agonizingly close. So close, in fact, that it's been a real work of discipline trying to not just release the material in the raw state that it's in. Unfortunately, you only get one chance to make a first impression and we want to be absolutely sure that all of the moving parts function together before we ask you to spend your time and energy on it. We aren't going to worry about layout as much on this pass. We have a lot of that actually done and in the works, but we want to get you guys involved as soon as possible. The rules themselves are 99% complete, with just a couple obscure bits to finish to our satisfaction. Whether or not we do actually finish those to our satisfaction, the beta copy will be released once we have the remaining text written in such a fashion that it is fit for human consumption. So. In short: Soon. Probably Thursday.
Are you capable of writing short answers?