In ye ancient days of yore, Jared Sorensen (designer of many things) put forward three questions that now collectively bear his name. Between writing on the subject, I've been attempting to decide how I wanted to answer.
What is your game about?
Sword & Scoundrel has the tag: A game about Passion, Violence, and General Skullduggery. Above all, the game is a passion play. It's medieval morality theater presented as an HBO or AMC-style character drama. Players decide what's most important to their character, what they care about, what they want, the lines they will not cross. Through play, we challenge them to see how far they are willing to go and what they are willing to sacrifice. The game is about moral conflict, with forces set in motion against the player's goals and beliefs. Finally, it's a blood-opera with the player's passions leading to quick and brutal violence. We wanted the fantasy equivalent of a western or a john woo film, with swordplay being quick, flashy, and lethal.
How does your game do this?
Mechanically speaking, characters are not just their attributes and skills. Their goals and beliefs are represented by player-nominated phrases called Drives which have a mechanical weight to them. Similarly, characters have Traits which can represent everything from the character's history and background to their physical or personality quirks and their relationships with other characters, including the players in their group. These all have mechanical significance in play, often giving them additional dice for their pool when relevant.
On the other side of the coin, the game is written in such a way that it is explicitly about conflict. If there is nothing in conflict and nothing at stake, there is no roll made. Further, while the game goes out of its way to play up its blood-opera persona with a detailed combat system, the rules support conflict in a broad range of arenas. The current beta supports anything when rolled as a simple conflict, but as we get the opportunity we intend to add a fully formed social combat system, faction rules, magic, and other forms of more abstract conflicts.
How does your game encourage/reward this?
The primary reward mechanism is through the accumulation of Drive Points. When players engage in conflicts with their drives, they are rewarded for it through additional dice that drive is worth. These dice come up as bonus dice in any conflict that is directly about the drive in question. Further, when players engage in certain behaviors that highlight their drives and traits, they can gain additional points that can be added to the drive of their choosing. The quickest way to earn these points is often to allow your drives or traits to get you in trouble, rewarding the player directly for making choices that are in line with who their character is even if those choices are not the optimal way to get what the player might want. Finally, these drive points can be spent to increase any of the character's abilities or traits or learn new of the same.
In short, players advance solely by making the kinds of characters suitable for good character dramas (ambitious, resolute, yet flawed) and then role-playing them in the fashion that these characters tend to behave (struggling between who they are and what they want). When they do this, the game not only gives them more dice to throw around in the conflicts they will face but also gives them the means to improve their character's scores as they play.
There was a minor mix-up in the last version of the document. Rather than the final version, I uploaded the last of Higgin's revision docs, red pen and all. Things get a bit hectic here on release day.
Version 0.1.4a is now in the downloads section. This is both the correct version of the file and also incorporates some of the feedback we got yesterday.
Sorry for the mix-up,
It's that time again. This update focuses on character creation. Priority Tier values have been adjusted for balance, Trait Point costs have been completely audited and overhauled, and a number of small typos, clarifications, and errata have been fixed.
Character creation has been completed with the introduction of Book III: Iron & Gold covering everything one needs to round out their kit. It includes rules for our abstract currency system, as well as all the rules for armor, weapons, and their customization. The latter is a particular point of pride, as it includes our weapon codices, allowing you to create your own custom weapons to suit the vision you have for your character. Rounding this out, we have included support for weapon and armor ornamentation, giving you even further ability to stride the battlefield in style.
Minor update this week. The July 13th release contained the basic rules and character creation materials, and we've had a blast seeing what you guys have come up with. This week's update is a direct response to your feedback. It contains a number of error corrections and rules clarifications as well as some minor buffs to the characters themselves, with attributes, skills, and proficiencies all getting a little more love on the priority table.
Keep your eyes peeled, the next release is a big one.
As always, feel free to join the discussion on our forums.
Today we are happy to announce that Sword & Scoundrel has begun its beta release cycle. If you haven't poked around our site lately, we've updated our information to bring you up to speed on on what you can expect.
For the first official release, we have a handful of goodies for you in our downloads section. The Sword & Scoundrel pdf contains the first two sections of the rulebook, detailing both the basic rules and our updated character creation system, weighing in at a respectable 70 pages of total content. With character creation now more robust and flexible than ever, we want you to dig in and show us what you come up with.
To aid you in this task, we've launched a series of character creation tools. In addition to the expected print character sheet, we've optimized a variant for form-fillable use in two versions, one including a character creation worksheet that auto-calculates and populates as you go. Finally, our comprehensive Roll20 character sheet has been approved as a community sheet and is now available for selection when you create a Roll20 campaign.
Thanks for sticking by us this long. You won't be disappointed.
As always, feel free to hit us up on our forums and let us know what you think.
Ah Thursday™, everyone's favorite day of the week.
The draft is now copy-complete through the end of character creation and currently in the editing and layout stages. You'll have that in your hands soon enough. In the meantime, Barbarossa has completed the roll20 sheet, which will be our teaser for this week.
Keep your eyes peeled, a lot of stuff is coming down the pipe.
A sneak preview of our Roll20 sheet, now feature complete.
"1915 lines of HTML later, we have a fully functional character sheet.
I'm exhausted, Hugs and kisses,
We've kept you in the dark for a while, but there is light just on the horizon. The last few weeks have been a concerted push to get the current build draft into your hands, but try as we might we just couldn't make it this week. Poor Higgins is red-penning a hundred-some-odd page section of manuscript as we speak.
HOWEVER, we did promise that you'd get something this Thursday, and one of our Drives is: A Man of My Word. Thus, we present to you this olive branch: Teaser material.
You'll notice our navigational bar has changed, with Downloads standing on it's own. This is because first and foremost we have an Official Sword & Scoundrel Wallpaper brand wallpaper up and available in three formats for different monitor sizes. After all, what's a game without some lame promotional material to play with?
With that out of the way, we humbly present to you the new Sword & Scoundrel character sheet.
The current sheet sports a number of useful features, new and old. It's designed to be printed landscape on an 8.5"x11" sheet and folded in half. The outside cover puts all the role-playing information you need directly in front of you and puts the focus where it should be, on the bits that make a character go. The back cover winds up then containing all the information for attributes and skills, and the sheet can be opened flat to have the two at a glance for most ability checks. This is further aided with the tap-value of attributes and skills all represented by the dots at either end, making it easy to tell at a glance what you have that can be tapped into.
Inside, all of the guts of the combat and equipment systems are tucked neatly away, out of sight and out of mind until they are needed. When you do need them, everything is in one place so you don't need to keep flipping the sheet around to look things up. We've also retained the wound wheels on the inside cover, so the sheet itself can be a play-aid at the table.
In the future, we'll make the cheat-sheets for the game formatted in such a way that they can be folded away into the character sheet like a booklet, keeping all of your stuff in one place.
For those of you who game online, we're pleased to announce that Barbarossa has already gotten a preliminary Roll20 version of the sheet set up. When the game makes its official debut, we'll submit the code to Roll20 so that it can be made publicly available. As time allows, we'll also be releasing a form-fillable version of the pdf, so no matter how you're gaming, we'll have you covered.
Stay tuned. Big things are coming.
As always, be sure to check out our forums and let us know what you think.
Thought I'd post a minor update and a bit of a teaser.
The rewrite is going full steam ahead and making good progress. Higgins is doing well with school stuff, so with luck, he'll be able to join us again soon. In the meantime, I didn't want to leave you guys completely in the air so I pulled Higgins away just long enough to approve a bit of a spoiler for you guys.
The above is the raw text output from scrivener, spaced as such to make it easier for Henri to red-pen me to death. The document isn't pretty, but it gives you a good idea of the tone/feel of the next draft. It's also functionally the core of the system. If you're using pre-gen characters (and yes, we'll be including a bunch when complete), then this is all new players would need to know up front. The rest can be taught as the game goes on.
Of particular note might be a new feature entirely. This edition will have a glossary in the back as an appendix, because no game has ever been accused of being too well-organized or too easily referenced.
Just a quick update. Looks like everything is back to normal. If you have any future weirdness, let us know.
Looks like our registrar is attempting to hijack our forum domain. As such, our forum's domain address doesn't currently direct where it's supposed to. And naturally it's weekend and nobody over there picks up their phone.
So, if you're experiencing withdrawal symptoms, feel free to visit the forums by it's less fancy address: http://heresy.planet.ee
[edit: that's no longer a valid address! Continue using http://www.grandheresyforums.com/ ]
It's the exact same thing. Everything you post will be there once we get the domain issue fixed.
If you lurk around our forums, you may have already heard: Band of Bastards is currently in the middle of a substantial overhaul. I thought it was appropriate to make some kind of a statement about what we're doing and why.
We've done this a few times before, though most were before we were ever under as much scrutiny. 'Bastards was (fittingly) the illegitimate child of the Trosfans forums, in their project to produce a new, unofficial, and revised edition of The Riddle of Steel after Driftwood went dark. This burst of creative impulse ultimately gave birth to Blade of the Iron Throne as well, which we still look at as a sibling for that reason. Like most siblings, though, we wound up going very separate directions.
The first iteration of the game was exactly what it set out to be - a TROS update, with all the bells and whistles. We had something like 60 maneuvers, 150+ weapons (most of which had more than one stat-line), and a whole mess of very exacting specifications for everything we touched. After the initial creative rush of cobbling together every optional rule from all of the TROS books and somehow making them more-or-less work together, we realized that this was a beast so ungainly that it would be a nightmare to run, let alone teach a new player.
Back to the drawing board.
The next iteration of the game would become what we promoted as Song of Steel. At the time, our focus was still on historical fiction -- a position we leaned into all the harder with Blade selling itself by contrast as a Swords and Sorcery game. It's a funny thing that siblings do. Bernard Cornwell had a prominent place on our bookshelf, along with a great deal of non-fiction that we picked up on swords and swordsmanship (including the book with a very similar title). This is about the time when we started pestering people like Nikolas Lloyd, Roland Warzecha, and Matt Easton for insights, which they all graciously provided.
This was the iteration when we really came into our own. Systems were scrapped, new bits invented, unnecessary bits stripped away. Our ranged combat and skirmish systems date back to this iteration (both of which were Higgin's contributions, amusingly enough. Thank him. He was very insistent on ranged combat being awesome).
Then came Song of Swords. What were the odds of another game being developed by another indie-dev team based on the same original game with a nearly identicalname? We discussed the thing with them - their hands were tied. The name was chosen by their fans. They were polite about the thing and even complimentary. At least one of them had been a fan of our work. It's always nice to be noticed.
Restriction breeds creativity. We were already competing for attention in the same sub-niche of a sub-niche of an already niche hobby, so we were left with the options of either sharing an initialism with who was arguably our closest competitor or redefine ourselves. We chose the latter.
One day, I'll shake Jimmy Rome's hand. Rebranding seemed like a setback at the time, but in the process, we had the license to re-evaluate everything we had chosen to do up to that point. Everything got cleaned up and polished, had the rough edges smoothed out. A lot of the stuff we had been so insistent in trying to replicate in exacting detail simply got dropped or abstracted. 'Bastards began to really hone in on what it wanted to be, which was a game about ambition and conflicts of the moral, physical, and bloody variety. In a strange way, despite being the furthest mechanically from its forebear, it may have been the closest in essence to what TROS wanted to be about.
This latest revision is a continuation of the iterative saga this game has undergone. The purpose of a beta test is to get feedback and have room to make adjustments. Between some of the cracks that have shown themselves at the fringes of our own play, and some of the feedback we've gotten on the forums, we're finding places where things could be better, tighter, or (conversely) need to be loosened up and made less rigid.
Higgins and I have both grown a lot as both players and designers since we started this project back in (dear God, really?) 2011. The last couple years, in particular, have been spent in a kind of ongoing game design boot camp. One of the driving forces in the revision is that certain areas of the game reflect designs that were either inherited from TROS once upon a time, or products of our early attempts to fix the products of those inherited parts. We can do better, and we're going to.
The end goal is to make a game that we will be inspired to play again. In slaughtering some of the sacred cows we've held on to in search of better design, of cleaning the clutter that we've amassed, we hope to create the kind of game that we're going to want to play and run for years to come. I want to be so again impassioned by this project that we have the energy and drive to see it through to the full vision we had for it. We hope that in making ourselves passionate about the thing, in cleaning up and overhauling the design of the thing, we'll make you passionate about it as well.
It's Thursday in Estonia and that's close enough for me. Today's release updates the Skirmish chapter and releases our Wounds and Healing rules entirely, in case you wanted your characters to occasionally recover from their own butchery.
Release 6 is now available on our Downloads page, which you can pick up at your leisure.
Exciting things coming down the pipe, however. With this release, we've begun work on a new draft that makes a number of changes to the existing rules in the interests of making the game more dynamic and easier to learn, play, and run. We'll have more information on the specifics of those changes and the reasons why as the draft takes shape.
Big things coming. Stay tuned. As always, you can let us know what you think on our forums.
Just a quick (if anticipated) update. You can now pick up Release 5 from our Downloads page. This update includes Chapter 12: Skirmish, as well as some minor edits and changes. Some clarifications have been made following forum feedback, and the rules for fighting multiple opponents have been rewritten.
Chapter 13: Wounds and Healing is nearly complete, save for the examples to be written, and will be following next week.
Let us know what you think.
Thanks for sticking around,
-The GH Crew
If you've been hanging around the forums lately, you'll already be aware of our Dueling Kit, an abridged arms, armor, and wounds document designed to get you up and fighting while we hack away at the next sections of the book.
Version 3 has just been uploaded, featuring some feature corrections and the usual errata but also a rebalance to wounds based on player feedback. If you haven't gotten your copy already, head over to our downloads section and give it a look.
As always, our forums are up for any questions or feedback.
- The GH Crew.
Last week we said we'd be delayed until Friday. We were right(ish). We just got the wrong Friday. Oops.
Release number 4 is now available on our downloads page. This week's update includes a number of minor fixes and clarifications, some technical updates to the file itself, and even the proper cover finally formatted and applied.
However, the most exciting update is the addition of the ranged combat section, letting you pour copious amounts of arrows, bolts, and bullets into people you dislike. A discussion thread will be up on the forums, as always, and any feedback is welcome.
Next week we hope to get caught back up and on schedule. Stay tuned!
- The GH Crew
Another Thursday, another release. Last week we got a ton of feedback on 90 pages of content and some very interesting discussions going on the forums. You guys have been phenomenally helpful. We tried to incorporate as much of that as time allowed, but we've still got a great deal of it ahead. That will be a project to carry us through the weekend.
In addition to some editing for clarity, this week we introduce two chapters that you have been eagerly awaiting.
Chapter 09: Full Contest gets into the core rules we use for chases, debates, and other prolonged skill-based conflicts.
Chapter 10: Melee Combat gets into the meat of our fighting system, which many of you have been speculating over for months now.
We haven't had as much time to work on everything this week as we had hoped, so the examples are still missing in certain areas. If our schedules allow, we may toss in a mid-week update before next Thursday to get everything taken care of and our release schedule back on track.
Thanks for sticking with us, folks. Enjoy.
- The GH Crew
We've added a downloads section under the Band of Bastards bar across the top of the site. In addition to wherever we plaster the beta links, we'll be keeping the most current copies there as well.