Scarlet Heroes Kickstarter Now Live

Cover-Working-WebAfter months of toil and the heroic efforts of my talented artists, the Scarlet Heroes Kickstarter is now live. The game of one-on-one old-school adventure is now ready to be backed, downloaded, and played.

Backers who pledge for the game will be able to immediately download the layout and text-complete PDF. As soon as you pledge, you’ll be able to download the game and start reading- and start playing shortly thereafter. The rules are as compact as you can expect from a Sine Nomine game, but it’s also fleshed out with plenty of system-neutral helps and tools for building adventures and spinning out some solo play.

These Kickstarters can be fearfully stressful things, so I can’t really understand how anyone would want to start one without actually having finished everything they could possibly do before they started taking money. I’ve done everything I can, and thanks to the agile pens of Luigi Castellani, Nate Furman, Dyson Logos, Ian MacLean, Earl Geier, Joyce Maureira, David L. Johnson, Eric Lofgren, and Miguel Santos I’ve been able to get 42 out of 62 illustrations complete before the KS has even started. Their hard work is impressive- and fast.

So fire it up and give it a try with your spouse, kid, or friend who’s curious about old-school RPGs. It can be tough to find the time to pull together a full gaming group these days, so Scarlet Heroes is here to make your gaming a little more amenable to your available time.

Classes in Scarlet Heroes

Fighter-Blog-ThumbScarlet Heroes is a stand-alone game, but it’s also intended to be capable of functioning as an overlay on top of your own favorite OSR game. Given that purpose, it’s got to have classes that can map neatly to the OSR standards.

Scarlet Heroes offers four classes- the classic Fighter, Cleric, Magic-User, and Thief. Each class starts with a fixed number of hit points- 8 for Fighters, 6 for Clerics, and 4 for Magic-Users and Thieves, gaining half that many for each further level, all of these numbers modified by Constitution modifiers as is customary. Each class has its own attack bonus progression, with Fighters fastest, Clerics and Thieves about half as fast, and Magic-Users less than a third as rapid. Class weapon restrictions do not exist as such; instead, classes other than Fighters are capped in how large the damage die of their weapon can be. Clerics, for example, are capped at 1d6; even if they pick up a greatsword, they’re still not going to be able to roll more than 1d6 for the damage die. Fighters have no cap, Thieves are capped at 1d8, and Magic-Users are limited to 1d4. By the same token, there’s no hard bar against armor for any class, though Magic-Users can’t cast spells while armored and Thieves can’t use their special archetype trait for movement or stealth checks while wearing anything heavier than leather.

The classes are designed to be thematically loose, the better to provide quick mechanical representation for a wide range of concepts. The Thief class, for example, is intended to cover all “skill heroes”, who rely on a particular set of non-magical skills to make their mark. A paladin could be represented by a Fighter or by a Cleric depending on the nature of their focus- or the hero could just multiclass, taking a dash of clerical abilities to complement his pious hewing.

Of course, GMs don’t necessarily have to adapt other classes into Scarlet Heroes. Classes from other OSR games can actually be dropped directly into the system with only trivial changes. Their existing THAC0 can be used to determine their attack bonus, and they can keep their hit points, descending armor class, and class abilities without change. The only real addition necessary is to give them a Fray die, an automatic damage die they can roll against inferior foes each round. Most classes would simply get a d6 Fray die, while Fighter-type classes would smite with a mighty d8, and Magic-User types blast with a d4 that can affect even powerful enemies.

Of course, these are just the high points of character creation. If you’d like a more detailed, look, here’s the full 12-page character generation chapter in its current pre-proof state. As you can surmise, the book is very close to completion. I’ve been deeply impressed with the speed and reliability of my artists, as they’ve already managed to finish 2/3rds of the book’s art before I’ve even started the Kickstarter. There’s a distinct chance that their lightning-fast pens will have the art done for this book before the campaign ends at the end of February. I’m eager to see what they can do.

Scarlet Heroes Character Creation Chapter

 

Scarlet Heroes and Traits

One of Scarlet Heroes‘ biggest changes from standard OSR gaming rules is the introduction of traits. Traits are intended to assume all the functions normally covered by skills in other games, along with adding more distinction and mechanical variety to the classic four-class character generation system.

A trait is a brief phrase describing something about the hero’s background, relationships, or innate qualities. “Escaped mine slave”, for example, or “Constantly watchful”, or “Drunken ex-guardsman”, or “Friend to a city magistrate”. Traits are measured on a scale of 1 to 3, with more points indicating more investment and importance in that quality. Every hero gets three points to spend on traits at the start of the game, plus a couple more to reflect certain racial abilities or native aptitudes if playing a demihuman.

Traits don’t come with explicit mechanical effects. You may have a “Tireless endurance: 3″ but it doesn’t give you a hit point bonus. Instead, they’re cues for the GM to let them know what your hero is good at, and the kinds of things they should automatically be able to do without a roll. If your character is a Pirate: 3, then she should be able to handle a boat, drink bad rum, clamber over rigging, and identify port-city fences without having to strain herself. The only time she should be rolling her Pirate trait is when she’s pulling off some feat that would challenge even an exceptionally salty dog.

For occasions of greater difficulty, traits are used in conjunction with checks. Whenever the hero wants to accomplish something unusually difficult, they roll 2d8, add their highest relevant attribute modifier, and add their highest relevant trait. If the total is equal or greater than the check’s difficulty, they succeed. If it’s less, then things don’t work out so smoothly for the hero.

Checks take the place of many of the sub-systems found in classic OSR mechanics. Bending bars/lifting gates is a check. Saving throws are checks, albeit with the character’s level added too. Even thief skills are checks, though that ties into the thief class’ special ability.

The thief class provided in Scarlet Heroes is something of a catch-all class meant for those heroes who rely on guile and expertise more than sorcerous power or heavy weaponry. At first level, a thief picks a trait to be their archetype. It might be something as straightforward as “Adventuring Thief” with the classic OSR bundle of abilities, or it might be “Academic Tomb-Robber”, “Grizzled Woodsman”, “Streetwise Guard Captain”, or any other archetype that suits. The thief automatically gets 3 points in that archetype- and each time they advance a level, that focus gains one more point, even above the usual trait cap of three points.

It doesn’t take long before that thief-hero is getting bonuses of +5 or +6 in their specialty, while other stealthy heroes are limited to +3. Thieves rapidly become almost supernatural in their talents, capable of overcoming challenges and beating difficulties that other classes would have almost no chance of handling. In Scarlet Heroes, if a master thief wants to infiltrate the Temple of the Frog, the Temple of the Frog is going to get infiltrated. The question then is what the thief is going to do once he’s inside.

Together, traits and checks are meant to streamline things for the GM and player while still giving the hero some mechanical distinctions from others of the same class. For some people, it’s always been enough to just decide that your fighter was a blacksmith’s son and let it go at that. Others have preferred more elaborate skill systems such as those found in 2nd edition AD&D or the D&D Rules Cyclopedia. Traits serve as a bridge between these two preferences, and a set of automatic hooks to let the GM know what parts of a character’s past and present are most important to the hero.

This talk of the thief class brings up questions of how Scarlet Heroes‘ class system is meant to overlay on top of another game. Next time, I’ll discuss ways in which the four classes provided by the game can be used as quick templates for more exotic professions- or how those professions can be brought in entirely to import new classes from other OSR games.

Scarlet Heroes As An Overlay

Creeper TidespawnOne of my favorite parts of writing OSR material is the sheer flexibility of the framework. Fans of the genre might argue over which of our favorite systems does a particular thing better, or which rules might suit us best, but when it comes down to it there’s very little in the genre that can’t be made to work with all the rest. Any GM savvy enough to know that there’s a difference between B/X and AD&D is savvy enough to do conversions on the fly. People swap parts from different systems in and out without batting an eye.

I kept this in mind when I was building Scarlet Heroes. The game is stand-alone and requires nothing but the 128-page core book for play, but it needs to be able to stretch. Let’s be honest- most of the people who might get this book already have a favorite system. They like that system and they’re going to keep playing that system. So what do I offer them that’s going to be useful, that’s going to really help them get more mileage out of the material they already have and love? I need to offer them an overlay, something they can lay down on top of their existing system to open up a fresh style of play.

Scarlet Heroes relies mainly on reinterpreting standard old-school stats to produce a different play dynamic at the table. The most fundamental changes are in the way it treats damage differently for PCs and NPCs and the way in which it reads damage dice.

In Scarlet Heroes, damage dice are rolled exactly as you would expect for an old-school game. Swords do 1d8, fireballs do Wizard-d6, dragon claws do 2d6, and so forth. Unlike in standard OSR games, however, the dice are read differently. A die that rolls a 1 does no damage, 2-5 inflicts one point, 6-9 inflicts two points, and 10 or more inflicts four points of damage. Thus, a 1d4 dagger might inflict 0 or 1 points, while a 1d10 polearm could inflict as many as 4 points.

These points are subtracted from the hit points of PCs- and from the hit dice of NPCs. A mighty-thewed fighter who swings well with that polearm could do up to 4 hit dice of damage to his target, hewing down an ogre in a single stroke. Against a mob of enemies with comparable ACs, that same blow might lay out four common bandits, or a fistful of wretched kobolds.

This damage differential turns even a 1st level PC into a fearsome engine of destruction. A 1st level fighter in Scarlet Heroes with 8 hit points can now endure eight blows from most weapons and every time he strikes he’s laying low at least one or two petty foes. Heroes can now handle the kind of combat situations that would normally require a party of several adventurers to survive, simply because they’re taking much less punishment and dishing out far more pain.

Of course, this isn’t the only adjustment in Scarlet Heroes, and other tweaks such as the Fray die, heroic initiative, character traits, and Defying Death all combine to give a properly Conan-esque patina to any hero. But these adjustments all fit smoothly into the play of most other OSR systems. As the Kickstarter launch draws nearer, I’ll be talking more about these tweaks- and about the GM tools the book provides for generating the kind of excitement such heroes deserve.

A Crimson Hour Draws Nigh….

Scarlet HeroesAfter long months of unsleeping labor, Scarlet Heroes is almost ready for its impending Kickstart. Once the last ten pages of layout is complete and the sure hand of Eric Lofgren has been given the cover art topic, the project will be sufficiently close to completion for a timely kickstart execution.

So what is Scarlet Heroes? In brief, it’s a 128-page standalone RPG built to allow you to use classic OSR game material for single player/single GM gaming sessions. You can run this material with Scarlet Heroes or you can import certain mechanics from the game into your own favorite OSR system to allow for ultra-small-group sessions.

So who needs Scarlet Heroes? If you’ve ever been in a situation where you wanted to show a friend some old-school gaming goodness or share the fun with your spouse or your kid, you know that it’s not always practical to get an entire group together to give them an intro session. Even when you have a standing group, sometimes only one or two of them can make it to the game, and you’ve already played out your boardgame collection. When these situations come to hand, just grab your copy of Scarlet Heroes, pick out your favorite classic module, and go from zero to gaming in five minutes flat.

“But Kevin,” I hear you say, “being a canny, experienced, and extremely handsome GM of the sort that loves Sine Nomine products, I already have a large library of techniques for making solo-PC OSR games survivable!” And I’m sure you do. I’m sure I could hand you Keep on the Borderlands and you’d be able to figure out some way to make it survivable by a single 1st level B/X thief. But don’t you have more enjoyable uses for your time? Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to just grab some old-school content, call up a friend, and just game right there on the spot with no prep needed? Like so many of my other books, Scarlet Heroes works to give you the support you need to put your creativity and energy into the things that are most fun for you and your players.

In the weeks between now and the February start of the Kickstarter, I’ll be showing you some of the tools and resources I’ve packed into the book. But just to tip off a few of them…

  • Scarlet Heroes is based on the Red Tide campaign setting, but is built to accommodate more traditional worlds.
  • Save your pencil lead; use standard OSR attributes and statistics from existing products without needing to change numbers or adapt them to Scarlet Heroes rules.
  • Relish a piping-hot bestiary focused on Southeast Asian monsters and foes. Why? Because not only does it fit with the Red Tide setting, you already have several thousand stat blocks for Euro-flavored enemies.
  • You liked adventure tags in Stars Without Number? You liked them in Red Tide? Well have sixty more of them, divided between urban, wilderness, and dungeon tags.
  • Rules and tools for 100% solo, GM-less adventuring, mixing your own creative interpretations with the tables to give your hero an adventure at any time- or help you build the framework for your own creations.

Stay tuned. There’s more coming.

Suns of Gold Now Available

Suns of Gold is now available at DriveThruRPG, serviceable for all your reckless space-mercantile needs.

They are merchants, thieves, grifters, saviors and worse. They roam the untamed void to bring the wealth of foreign worlds to their customers, trading in the treasures of half a hundred worlds for the sake of riches beyond human imagination. You will find them in dirty starport dives, in the palaces of lostworlder kings, and in the gleaming towers of their corporate palaces. They are the far traders, and the treasures of the sky are theirs for the taking.

In this supplement to the free Stars Without Number sci-fi RPG, you’ll find all that you need to add classic mercantile adventures to your campaign. Whether a doughty crew of adventurers just trying to keep their battered ship flying or a cabal of aspiring merchant princes who seek the control of whole sectors, the tools in this book provide a GM with everything necessary to plot a course for profit. Within these pages, you’ll find…

  • Rules for buying and selling cargo between the far-flung planets
  • Guidelines for building interstellar business empires and planetary holdings
  • Trade tags and tools for giving mercantile flavor to your campaign worlds
  • Adventure templates for quickly generating a session’s entertainment
  • Guides on how to establish new colony worlds to rule and exploit for profit
  • Tips and advice for running mercantile campaigns at your own table

Suns of Gold will give you everything you need to handle the commercial ambitions of your players, from short-run cargo hauls to interstellar trade empires. Unleash the forces of fearless avarice in your campaign, and seek the wealth of the skies!

New Freebie: The Yellow Bone Legion

Lately I’ve been sweating away at Suns of Gold, the new merchant campaign supplement for Stars Without Number. Inside, you’ll find a full suite of tools for running mercantile games- not just the customary rules for buying and selling cargo, but also a thick sheaf of GM tools to make mercantile adventures quick, easy, and fun. Twenty-four new economic tags are included to add some character to business dealings on your worlds, and helps are in for creating exotic alien trade goods, generating random problems for merchants, and fleshing out flash-quick side adventures for when your PCs decide that they really don’t feel like paying a 100% import tax on their load of jewelspice fruit and want to do something about it. Full systems are also provided for establishing and running interstellar business concerns in a quick, smooth fashion, so you can spend more time adventuring and less time calculating the upkeep cost on that trade prince’s private legion. As a capstone, I also give you tools for establishing and developing colony worlds for those merchant lords who won’t be satisfied by anything less than planetary rulership. It’s coming together nicely, but I still need to put the precise numbers through a heavy shakedown.

Which means that I need a palate cleanser in between courses of development. So I wrote for you The Yellow Bone Legion, a free Labyrinth Lord-compatible supplement for my Red Tide Campaign Setting. In its six pages you’ll find a grim interlude from Xian’s faded past and the truth about the tireless warriors who saved it in its darkest hour. You’ll get a shiny new character class, the Walking Ghost, and a trio of plot seed tables for generating a fast situation worthy of an adventurer’s notice. The contents are easy enough to rip for your home game even if you’re not using the Red Tide setting, so haul it down and strip it for parts if that suits you best.

Now I just need to finish putting together The House of Bone and Amber art pack for free distribution, and then I can go back to testing math. Ah, the thrills of game design….

The House of Bone and Amber is Finished

Thanks to the tireless work of my artists, The House of Bone and Amber adventure for Spears of the Dawn has been finished and provided to all backers. PDF and print copies should be available through DriveThruRPG within a week or two, along with the public domain art package containing the art I used to make the file.

With this completion, the Spears of the Dawn Kickstarter is now finished. The core book was shipped two months early and the stretch reward was provided on time, thus making it fully successful within the promised time frame. It has been a frankly exhausting process and would have been quite impossible without the help of Luigi Castellani, Miguel “Pictishscout” Santos, Ejiwa Ebenebe, Pamela Ngouoghe, Mohammed Agbadi, Nicole Cardiff, Andrew Krahnke, IanMacLean, Earl Geier, and Sara Mirabella.

It’s quite likely I’ll come back to this mode of funding again some time in the future, when I have need of art or other polish for a particular work. One lesson that has been emphasized, however, is that the text of a product should be at least draft-complete before the KS begins. The strain of coordinating art, doing editing, handling layout, and dealing with the hundred and one practical business details needed during a kickstart is enormous, and a creator just isn’t likely to have much mental ease to actually write a project. It can be done, but it’s substantially harder than doing it while there isn’t a looming deadline and a group of several hundred backers to keep happy. If I hadn’t had Spears of the Dawn manuscript-complete before the campaign was fully funded, I’d have been very hard-pressed to get things in order as quickly as I did.

But things did work, and the kickstart was successful. It’s thanks to generous patrons such as they that I’m able to keep putting out books and I’m glad of the opportunity. Now that Spears of the Dawn is settled, it’s time to turn an eye back to Stars Without Number with Suns of Gold, a merchant campaign guide for those who want a little more commerce in their interstellar swashbuckling. I hope to have more details of it soon, but within its pages you’ll find guides for far trader commercial empires, tags for building the economic profile of the world, tools for creating suitably exotic new goods for these worlds to trade, and systems to let bold traders establish new colonies on distant worlds or deep in the void of space. With luck, it should be available by the end of May.

Spears of the Dawn Now Available

Get it here!

Now that OneBookshelf has the backer list and the cash for fulfillment, it’s time to open up Spears of the Dawn to those souls who couldn’t make the kickstarter. In addition, interested souls should grab the Spears of the Dawn art pack, a free file full of every piece of art and map in the book, all public domain and free for your own products and projects. The art pack also includes an InDesign CS6 file containing the paragraph and object styles I used to make the game’s layout, plus the source file for the entire first chapter for you to use as a worked example.

Now to finish up The House of Bone and Amber, and this kickstarter will have officially finished ahead of its promised schedule.

Writing for Sine Nomine games

Every now and then someone inquires as to the prospect of writing material for my games and supplements. Since it’s a question that crops up regularly, it seems worthwhile to put things down here where all the interested parties can see them. While I can’t represent the following as a properly particular legal contract, I can say that if you stay within these lines I won’t object a bit to whatever you might care to do.

First, all non-commercial writing of any kind is welcome. Feel free to reference my settings or reproduce any of my free material. If you’re not charging money for it, you should feel free to do what you like.

Second, whether commercial or non-commercial, you should feel free to copy any and all of the mechanical elements of my games provided you use your own wording and setting content. If some questionably-rational soul wanted to clone Stars Without Number and redid the entire book in his own words and with his own setting, well, I’d applaud his dedication. If you like concepts or ideas in the book, feel free to reproduce them in your own idiom. If you think the end result is reasonably compatible with Stars Without Number or one of my other games, you can feel free to plainly say as much as well, provided you don’t represent the work as being “official” content.

Third, if you have some project that doesn’t fit the above, you can always ask me. Not everything fits my plans for my game lines, but it can’t hurt to ask.

Hopefully the points above will be of some use to designers who want to do something with the games and supplements I’ve written. I welcome any interest in my games, and it’s always a pleasure to see people getting some profitable use out of them.