Wednesday, January 30, 2013


With Before Iron, I've been left to dole out information on a completed (minus layout/art) project after the fact. It's been difficult to settle on precisely how much information to give out and when, since I've no real idea when it's going to go out. I don't want to say a whole bunch of stuff when release might be another year away, finding that I have nothing to say when I actually need to promote a real, existing, solid book that's in my hands.

With ACTION MOVIE WORLD: FIRST BLOOD,  I get to do something a little different, which is talk about things I think are worth talking about as they get formed enough to do so. I'm not inclined to design in the open, but I do like to get people excited. Or bummed out! Whichever. I can feed off of that a bit and it can help solidify certain ideas which haven't quite gelled.

So, notes. Before I get to those, work's been going well. I tend to binge write, leaving things fallow for two or three days before going on a mad, all day spree. This is no different. Since I hit my homework in the same fashion, AMW:FB has meshed pretty well with my current schedule, which is good. I feel good about a preliminary playtest document maybe in March, though I don't want to overpromise. Anyway:


The stats are set at +Muscles, +Agility, +Drama, +Sexiness, +Swagger. The names are subject to change; they're all nouns but I sort of want them to adjectives. And Drama doesn't quite fit the way I want it to, in that the others are things that a person has, while Drama is read differently.

I reached these stats by breaking down what action movie stars do in movies. Stunts and violence, yes, but pathos-filled speeches about personal loss, love scenes ranging from touching to down and dirty, and non sequitur wisecracks left hanging for effect. Plus, not all stunts are performed the same way or for the same reasons; a muscley guy holding a portcullis open in a barbarian movie isn't doing the same thing as a person doing a backflip out of a helicopter.

So Muscles (I'm dropping the plus sign, since it tries to tag people in G+) is for stunts involving strength and close combat. Agility is for stunts involving dexterity and ranged combat. Pretty bog standard stuff but I'm happy with that split.

The other three tie into the meta aspect of the game a bit more. Even though you're never, ever supposed to directly acknowledge it, the conceit is that we're all in the know that this is just actors doing a movie. So it's not just that the actor seduces that guy, it's that the seduction is, ideally, interesting to this imaginary audience. Again, I don't want this to be directly acknowledged, but it affects the way the fiction works as you roll for your outcomes. A better example may be the wisecracks which come with the territory; they make no sense whatsoever in a "real world" situation, but make perfect sense if you imagine that everything you're doing is a scene on a screen, even if the narrative fluctuates due to your actions.

So, Drama is about how good you are at conveying real emotion and making connections with people which go beyond the deliberately superficial relationships in action movies. Sexiness functions an awful lot like Hot and is probably the closest to the AW stats of the five. Swagger is the unflappable sense of cool and humor which folks like Kurt Russell and Han Solo/Indiana Jones era Harrison Ford have.


Playbooks are mostly designed in a first pass sort of way. The mechanics, I'm certain, will change, but I'm pretty content with the action movie actors being represented.

Each has a primary stat and five moves. At least one move is always of the active, roll Stat and make choices type. The playbooks are:

The Musclehead (Muscles): Arnold Schwarzenegger, Lou Ferrigno type. Lots of raw power and menace in the moves. Right now bears a (totally accidental) heavy resemblance to the Gunlugger and I'm not entirely happy about that.

The Yeller (Muscles): Reb Brown. Reb's a little obscure and never actually did any "good" movies, but it's my game and, by damn, he's going in. He substitutes yelling for dramatic chops. Or he's a bard, if you prefer. A bard who yells.

The Gunfighter (Agility): Chow Yun-Fat. The John Woo, gun-fu type. I've had to expand the moves to include all ranged weapons, simply because it would be really lame to play a gun wizard in a barbarian movie. Moves center on making ranged combat look completely badass and creating dramatic scenes which revolve around the Gunfighter's weapons.

The Pugilist (Agility): JCVD, Bruce Lee, Chuck Norris, Cynthia Rothrock. This is the actor who got a start in martial arts or boxing and parlayed it into a career. Moves center on hand to hand combat, with one training montage move. Because of course there has to be a training montage.

The Thespian (Drama): Mel Gibson, Sylvester Stallone. It's really easy to forget just how good the first Rocky movie is. Sly showed some real acting chops, even if his range isn't stellar. This Playbook is that sort of action movie star, one who can drop real moments of drama in things. This may end up being my favorite because, in the course of doing the actual design, I found that I was making Drama for the Thespian function as a real narrative changer. Picture the guy in the movie (any movie) giving a soliloquy about what's going on in the plot or the conflicts driving things. Now, let's pretend that it's a chicken and egg argument, that it's insight of what's already happening but that the observations actually make things happen. A kind of reality bending through dramatic training. That's what the Thespian can bring to the table.

The Wiseass (Swagger): Kurt Russell. This one and the Operator (I need to change that name, since there's an Operator in AW) are my current work and, frankly, the toughest of the seven to get where I want. Unlike the others, the niche is mostly "stuff other playbooks do but BETTER", which is a tougher thing to make interesting than "stuff nobody else does".

The Operator (Sexiness): Sean Connery, Daniel Craig. The sexy Bond type. I feel better about this one than the Wiseass. I settled on some moves to grant some narrative control through romantic interests and making things "sexy".

The Other Stuff

I'll leave things like basic moves, the Camaraderie stat, and Scripts (movie playbooks) for another time. Short version: basic moves are good, though with a surprising amount of overlap with AW's and I'm not happy about that, Camaraderie is sketched out as a communally used stat which goes up and down through group action, and Scripts haven't been cracked yet (plus will probably be the most labor intensive part of the game).

Friday, January 18, 2013


(and yes, it is always, always in caps)

Work is rolling on what I hope ends up being a commercial AW hack. I'm ready to crack the door open a little bit more on it, since it's progressing more quickly than I expected.

Yes, it's about action movies of the 80s/90s variety. I'm aiming to deconstruct the common threads connecting American action movies of the era before building them back up in game form. +Bret Gillan  has been of great help in shoring up some ideas. It was kind of limbo for a few months after we initially dove in, but once I sat down a few days ago and actually wrote at length, it really began to gel.

Now, I know there are plenty of AW hacks out there. I hope some of the ideas pique the interest of people who might be inclined to wander away from "another AW hack". In somewhat brief form, some highlights of what AMW:FB is going to do:

-One of the big things is that there's a bit of a "meta" aspect to AMW:FB. Drawing a bit of inspiration from +Nathan Paoletta's currently in beta pro wrestling AW hack, the action is both real and not real, scripted and unscripted. Players of AMW:FB will be playing in the sort of unscripted fashion you would expect: outcomes are decided at the table, people die, people fall in love, etc. This is just as you would play any other AW engine game; no railroading allowed and player control is front and center. But it's also not real and is scripted, if only in retrospect: the action happens on an imaginary screen in a theater somewhere. Your character might die but your actor won't. It's going to require a dual-track in your head and I need to firm up the language, but that's why it's rough draft.

-Playbooks are going to represent actors in this very meta sense. This is to represent Arnold being Arnold in all of his movies. So if you pick The Musclehead, you are, in a very real sense, picking a brand. The Arnold Brand. Or, if you pick The Pugilist, you're picking the JCVD Brand (before it became passe, of course). That's what you will be throughout your movies. Typecasting is the goal.

This bit is also "genreless". The idea is that there's this larger, super-genre called "action movies" which is an umbrella for the individual types of action movie people know and enjoy. Actor Playbook moves are designed to be plugged into any of those individual genres, rather than tied to assumptions about what type of movie your group is playing.

-What are movies? In addition to the Actor Playbooks, the game will have Movie Playbooks. These contain your setting assumptions. It's expected that the group will play a Movie for four or so sessions before wrapping up and choosing another one. A Movie Playbook (and I may call them Scripts) will have your gear options, charts to help organize a loose plot for the movie, some Fiasco style relationship building help, and special moves. This is where the character/actor distinction really shows up. You can be Barnold Dortsenegger the Musclehead playing Tronan the Beerbarian for the length of the movie. All played by Joe, the real person.

The movie moves. This deserves a bit more explication. Each Movie Playbook will have four or so moves which are tightly tied to the movie genre being played. Each player will pick one. For the duration of that particular movie, he'll get that move, with an option to make it permanent through experience spending later (which leads to some wacky crossgenre potential with enough spending). 

So, going back to The Musclehead, he comes in with two Musclehead moves (we'll say +1 to Muscles and a move which helps him with stunts based on that stat). Everyone decides to pick a Ninja Movie Playbook. Not what big meatheads are known for, but fine. Looking at the list, he decides he really wants a move which lets him disappear in a puff of smoke. For the duration of the ninja movie, he has that move and can use it normally. He can make it permanent at the end, if he wants, and it becomes a sort of calling card, integral to his brand.

The combination of Actor Playbook and Movie Playbook should offer a wide variety of styles of play while both staying under the action movie umbrella and providing a sly wink that it's just a movie.

-Other things will be done to model some of the conventions. Incentives to allow your PC to die horribly (we need high body counts), a rotating lead role capacity which allows a certain level of immunity to death, tying certain GM moves to a player picked lead bad guy role (again, based on actor... pick Danny Trejo OR Tex Cobb analogues), and a stat based on friendship which allows powerful moves on the part of the group. These are more mechanically shored up than I'm communicating here because I've already gone on quite a bit.

Anyway, it's in very obviously rough draft status, but work is going quickly, as I said. I'm glossing over a lot of details above; it's not prototype status but it's not quite ready for public consumption, either. I may be looking for playtesters in a month. Maybe a little less. When the time comes I'll be posting on G+ and maybe here. My hope is that it ends up being something cool that people want to play.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Things To Come

A new year means that I should update this fallow blog.

Why is it fallow? Because I don't have much to report! Still, if you come here at all and are interested in my perpetually in development projects, an update is likely welcome. So how do things look for 2013? Let's go project by project:

Before Iron - This, of course, is the big one. I've written at length about it and have more to write, but I have to time infodumps with the development status. The final final draft was sent off to Greg prior to the holidays... timed just right so as to coincide with his work on Book of the Estate.

What does that mean? A little longer. I've seen a partially laid out version of an older draft. I'm hoping this drops in 2013. It's done. I feel good about this last draft. There's just a lot of busy stuff on the part of all sides: I have school and a three year old, +Peter Williams  has his career and Flatland Games, and Greg is perpetually busy with Pendragon, continuing Glorantha writings, and generally being a busy, cool guy.

So, Before Iron is done but not done. I'm confident that 2013 will see it hit the market.

Gonzo - +Bret Gillan and I have gone back to the drawing room on this, at least as far as the system goes. InSpectres, while a great game, just wasn't a great fit when we looked at the finished project. And it was, more or less, finished, which stings greatly. We had art and were weeks away from a Kickstarter campaign when we (with some of Jared Sorensten's input) decided to go in a different direction.

The good news: we both feel better about what's to come. While it's on the back burner at the moment, the rework will fit the source material better. A significant portion of the non-system specific material is perfectly portable over to the new book (I posted a chunk here in fact), so the work should go fast, once things line up. I'm not confident of a 2013 release, but I do feel good about the project in a holistic sense.

Amaranthology - This isn't my project, but my first short story should be published "soon" in a game fiction anthology for Machine Age's fine RPG, Amaranthine. I haven't flogged it publicly too much, simply because it's going to be out when it's out, but I'm immensely excited and honored to be associated with names like +Filamena Young and +Chuck Wendig for my very first foray into short story writing. I'll post something once it's released, of course.

Unnamed Project Which May Not End Up Existing - Bret and I have a thing. A proto-project. It's potentially very, very awesome, using an open source game system which we all know and love (well not ALL of us; it's not an OSR). One or both of us will spill the beans on this more when it's out of the planning stages, but there's potential for coolness if we can get over a few creative humps regarding the marriage of rules to game world. Which, of course, may never happen; games sometimes just disappear, and that's a good thing, not a bad one. It won't be 2013, certainly, but I do hope it gels the way I think it's going to.

So, that's it. It's a bit of a lull, at least with game/writing related stuff, but I'm busy otherwise and planning on a good year. As always, you can find me on G+ or here and updates of any appreciable importance will be posted both places. A happy new year to all of you!

Oh! As a late Christmas gift, here's a link to some late draft character sheets for Before Iron. Hopefully this whets the appetite for later.

Before Iron Sheets