Mercenaries, Spies and Private Eyes

Aside from being a table top roleplaying aficionado, I also love to play computer games of all kinds. Recently I’ve started a couple of games from my youth including Ultima IV, one of the classics from the CRPG genre. Eventually I started working on my own Ultima-inspired game using a LUA framework called LÖVE. If you want to learn more about this project, feel free to check out my other blog.

While researching these games of old and the tricks their programmers used back in the day, I stumbled upon “The Digital Antiquarian”, a very interesting blog about old computer games. If you are into retro gaming or just interested in the history of this hobby, you should definitely check it out.

Especially in the early days of both computer gaming and tabletop roleplaying games there were a few designers who worked in both fields. While reading the Digital Antiquarian’s article about the post-apocalyptic CRPG Wasteland, I learned that Tunnels & Trolls designer Ken St. Andre and Michael Stackpole who is nowadays mostly known for his various novels worked on that game. In fact the mechanics in Wasteland were based on Mercenaries, Spies and Private Eyes (aka MSPE) which was actually based on St. Andre’s Tunnels & Trolls.


As an avid collector of roleplaying games I immediately picked up a copy on DriveThruRPG. The 117-paged PDF is a scan of the 1983 rules and looks pretty nice. I haven’t had the time yet to read it thoroughly but it looks quite intriguing. Since it’s based on T&T the mechanics are pretty lightweight, even though skills and modern firearms are added to the basic T&T formula. Reading the game is definitely worth is, especially if you are not only interested in playing the games but also learning a bit about the history of roleplaying games. And for a 1980’s roleplaying game it actually doesn’t look that outdated.

Curiously there never was a Wasteland sourcebook for the Mercenaries, Spies and Private Eyes game, or at least none that I know off. I am pretty sure a lot of fans of the computer game would have eventually liked to continue their characters’ exploits at the game table. But I guess the fact that Electronic Arts owned the intellectual rights to the game back in the day, made this impossible. Luckily nothing prevents us to use the MSPE rules and adapt it for the wastelands of the South Western USA ourselves.

Reading Up On 7th Sea 2nd Edition

I noticed after my last post that despite being a fan of 7th Sea I had never gotten around to reading the new edition of books. Michael gets to list his “Currently Reading” as he is head honcho. So I hopped over to RPGNow and I saw this…

After a couple of sessions I can say with great certainty, that the 2nd edition is a great disappointment. 
The rules are mishmash of FATE, Houses of the Blooded, 7th Sea 1st edition and multiple tacked on sub-systems without any cohesion. The resolution system is a marginal improvement at best. The backgrounds are artificial limitations much like classes, totally unnecessary for a fiction simulator. Story rules are a more complicated version of the first edition backgrounds. Now you have Virtue and Hubris (why do I have to have them?), Sword schoools have one rule each, and duellists are and advantage, loosing much of their flair, etc. All in al not very elegant.

I know full well that when you create new editions of games that people know and love that you are not going to please everyone. What is the saying?  “Some of the people all of the time or all of the people some of the time but never all of the people all of the time.”

I don’t really care about this reviewers opinion too much but what caught my eye was the reference to FATE. I surprised myself by enjoying Ghost Ops recently with FUDGE at its heart is it possible that this could be my way into something FATE-like?

So right now I am reading up on 7th Sea Second Edition and I admit that yes it does feel very different but so far it seems to be different but better.

How many of you have tried the new 7th Sea? How do you feel about it?

Incidentally, does the guy in the image above remind anyone else of Leonardo DiCaprio?

Looking after the pennys

I kind of suspect that most GMs harbour some kind of desire, however small, to make a living from gaming. After all if you look at the success of the Forgotten Realms haven’t we all created just as good a campaign setting? Haven’t we all written adventures as good if not better than the off the shelf adventure modules?

All GMs almost by default are creative. We know our chosen game systems almost inside out. I am certain that any one of use could write and stat out and adventure at the drop of a hat.

And don’t get me started on writing your own games…

So, as many of you know I like creating stuff and selling it on the OneBookShelf network, RPGnow and DriveThruRPG etc., I have created many adventure hooks that typically sell for 99¢, random die tables, the odd supplement and my own game that sells for $7.99. I also publish a fanzine on a monthly basis both on OBS and on Amazon as print and kindle. None of this is earning me big bucks but it is fun, the barriers to entry in self publishing is very low, the new skills you need to learn are fun and the creation process is quite satisfying.

You will also undoubtedly know that I quite enjoy solo role play. It is more satisfying than watching TV and like most GMs I have more games than I will ever be able to play with my regular players. Solo play lets me take those games for a spin.

Most of what I create is branded as ‘system neutral’ meaning that I don’t include stats for any particular game system. It is just an adventure outline, pen portraits of NPCS and suggestions of monsters or foes for the encounters. Finding monster stats is not hard it is the creative idea for the adventure that is the bit that is worth paying the 99¢ for.

In total I have maybe 100 documents that I have published or co-authored and in general they collectively earn me about $2 a day. It is no great income but it does mean that I can basically pick up anything I want at any time from RPGnow and it costs me nothing. My publishers commission is accumulating faster than I am spending it which is rather nice.

So last week I created a little HTML/Javascript tool that I shared here for Fudge Solo Play. So far there have been 25 downloads of it and I kind of hope people are enjoying it. So this weekend I wanted to have a go at 7th Sea. I have not played the 2nd Edition but it does look awesome. So me being me the first thing I did was rewrite Karl Hendricks One Page Solo Engine to fit the D10 mechanics of 7th Sea. I then updated my Fudge HTML page for 7th Sea and built a Dice Roller that accounted for the exploding dice and the roll 4 keep 3 (4k3) mechanics of the game. So that was Friday afternoon while I was quiet at work (you know how Fridays can be when no one wants to return your calls).

Incidentally, I have recently bought myself a second hand copy of Adobe Creative Suite 4 just so I can make better looking RPG products. I am still very much learning how to use Photoshop and InDesign having moved up from CS2 to CS4.

Having now got a 7th Sea solo engine I cannot stop myself from trying to put together a published version using InDesign. To tempt me even more John Wick Presents actually have a free InDesign template to help people create good looking supplements and a Community Created Content programme so you can sell them through their own OBS portal. This is just too good for me to turn sway from. So Saturday evening is spent creating my document. There is a sample page…

I am really pleased with how it turned out. So on Sunday I published it on the Explorers Society portal and over night it has sold 13 copies. This makes it my fastest selling document so far.

Needless to say, Friday I wrote the rules up, Saturday I did the page layout and Sunday I published it via their community portal so as a result I never got to play the game at all. What it does demonstrate is just how fast and easy it is to go from idea to published product. So easy in fact that any one can do this. Michael publishes for free just so others can enjoy what he has created. I do it for money but not for mercenary reasons. I was once told that if I don’t value what I create then why should anyone else? I took that to heart and have stuck to it ever since.

So the next time you have a dull weekend ahead why not give self publishing an RPG product a bash? You never know, you may surprise yourself or make enough commission to get a free game!

A Roleplaying Games blog