Where No ScreenPlay Has Gone Before

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An actual photo of an actual game of ScreenPlay in progress. Every game designer’s dream come true. 

They say, “Be careful what you wish for.” Then again, sometimes you get exactly what you were hoping for in the craziest way possible.

This past Thursday, I had the pleasure of running a ScreenPlay demo in a downtown Ottawa pub for six players, including ENnie Award winner, Jason Pitre (Spark, Posthuman Pathways). This was part of Cardboard Kingdom’s #beersnboardgames night and a big thanks to Kat for helping to set this up.  Rather than walk into this demo with a preconceived treatment or genre in mind, I wanted to see how the game would hold up against any possibility and have the Writers devise the genre, setting, plot, everything. Let the chips (and dice) fall where they may. What I did not count on was an experienced bunch of story gamers who love to let the mayhem fly when the GM doesn’t clip their wings and while it initially sent a wave of panic through my chest, it ended up being the greatest game of ScreenPlay to date.

Here’s what they came up with: a deep space romantic reality show (akin to The Bachelorette) where aliens of all genders attempt to win the affection of Captain Kirk’s preserved head in a glass jar (a la Futurama style). Yep, you read that right. Now the main thing to take from this is “romantic” and this is actually the most definitive element to the story. There was never going to be physical violence (maybe some face slapping) and all conflict rolls were going to be rolled against other lead characters to complicate their aspirations of winning Kirk’s affections and wearing down his Stamina until he could no longer resist one of the competitors. Oh, and those competitors included Kirk’s gorn ex-wife, a pure energy being, a cyborg who thought it was still human, a vulcan going through the full effects of pon farr, a half-Ferengi bartender with a drinking problem, and the Klingon director of this show (titled “Where No Man Has Gone Before”) calling the shots from behind the camera.

Feel free to take a moment and read over that last paragraph again. I’ll wait.

How did it work out? Incredibly well. Aside from the numerous laughs and rounds of applause (especially after the half-Ferengi decided to create a wormhole into a parallel dimension and bring back young Kirk – AKA Chris Pine – as a means of cheating and causing a tie in the competition), the game managed to keep this madness together and flowing. While I’ll admit there were moments when the rules were tossed out the window for the sake of brevity, I’m rather proud that what may be the best attempts to break it only helped make it stronger.

Now if this is your first impression of ScreenPlay, rest assured this is not par for the course. Yet the fact that it is possible and could become the norm for your own group should they wish it to be gives this game a much needed confidence boost. And me too.

(This post was written by The Warden, creator and lead designer of ScreenPlay… actually he is the sole embodiment of Broken Ruler Games working with a team of talented freelancers to create games that break the rules.)

Talkin’ ScreenPlay: An Update From The ScreenPlayers Guild Community

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Use the #ScreenPlayRPG hashtag to help maintain the hype!

It’s been a couple of weeks since anything for the ScreenPlay playtest has graced this page and it’s not because everything’s gone quiet. Far from the truth, the finishing touches are going into Version 1.4 of The Rehearsal Edition with hopes to release it by early next week to everyone who downloaded this free PDF from DriveThruRPG and RPGNow.

600+ downloads later and we’ve collected a fantastic group of avid playtesters are not only giving this game a run for their money, they’re creating new stories, settings, and genres to play. Playtest surveys are still rolling in with two additional unlocked treatments putting it at over 100 pages. The shining crown of this playtesting is the activity going on in the ScreenPlayers Guild, our online G+ community. Here’s a sample of the most recent discussions and events.

  • Ironbound Play-By-Post: Already into its fourth scene, this rendition of ScreenPlay’s dark fantasy tale of witch hunters features Derya (the scout), Gareth (the blade), Drachen (the archanist), Philip (the shield bearer) and Lyonesse (their new commander). If you’re looking for an idea on what makes this game tick, be sure to check out the Ironbound PbP thread.
  • Necronomicon Stories: Based on an idea created by one of our playtesters, we’re experimenting with a Lovecraftian tale of monstrous terror… in the future! The ball has only begun to bounce on this upcoming story and with only two Writers currently signed up, there could be room for a couple more.
  • EscapeFromTheX_logo_CMYK_preview2Escape From The X: The third treatment recently unlocked from playtest surveys, this sci/fi-horror story takes place in Mystical Throne Entertainment’s Mercenary Breed. The short and sweet of it: mercenaries hired to deliver an alien prisoner to a secret installation find themselves desperately outnumbered when someone mysterious releases every inmate to wreck havoc and spill as much blood as possible. Look for it in Version 1.4 next week!
  • Optional Rules For Building Potentials: With many core mechanics locked down, some optional rules are being considered. Such as building your dice roll’s value based on the number of details you apply in a scene.
  • Kickstarting It Up A Notch: Finally, we’re also looking at Kickstarter to help elevate the finished version of this project. With playtest surveys averaging a score of 4.6 out of 5 and ideas bouncing around for a small product line built using ScreenPlay, all options are on the table right now.

This and more is taking place at the ScreenPlayers Guild. Join us and see what all the fuss is about before the cool kids see what we’re doing and want to make it a crowd.

ScreenPlay: The Rehearsal Edition Launches October 20th

ScreenPlay: The Rehearsal Edition launches October 20, 2015.
ScreenPlay: The Rehearsal Edition launches October 20, 2015.

After nearly two years of extensive building, de-construction, over-gluing, head-banging, and soul searching, the story of ScreenPlay is about to take its next step. And YOU can help make it even better.

On October 20th of this very year (2015, for the time capsule), Broken Ruler Games will release the absolutely free Rehearsal Edition of ScreenPlay – AKA the playtest edition. Resting at over 65 pages of everything you’ll need to play this storytelling RPG, the Rehearsal Edition will also reward those who help strengthen this game through their feedback. Details are still being hammered out, but what we can tell you is that this playtest edition of ScreenPlay will work very much like a Kickstarter except that instead of unlocking rewards based on how much money you contribute, you’ll earn rewards based on the amount and quality of feedback you provide.

In Version 1.1 of this edition, you’ll find…

  • Complete rules for telling your stories as a Writer (player) or a Director (GM), provided in alphabetical order for easy reference
  • Helpful guidelines for directing stories in ScreenPlay
  • Ironbound, a dark fantasy treatment (AKA adventure) for immediate use and a great introduction to the game

With eight weeks from now until the Rehearsal Edition launches, we’re going to be flooding this site with previews and behind-the-scenes analysis of how this game came to be. Stay tuned to this site or make it easy on yourself and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+ and get ready to tell your story like never before.

Measuring Success: A Breakdown of the First Half of 2015

Every now and then, you’ll find an indie publisher posting their sales data (money and all) direct on their website for all to see. The biggest one of them all would be Evil Hat Productions, currently the mecca for all indie publishers looking to make it big. Those with business degrees would wonder why someone who do such a thing and give away any potential secrets to their success or reveal how poorly they’re doing in the market, but that’s the thing about indie publishing: we all ride on everyone’s success. Besides, the motto around here is “breaking all the rules,” so it’s not like we’re about to do what’s proper.

As the Big Cheese around here, I’ve been meaning to get around to posting these at the start of every quarter (April, July, October, and January) since our merger with Mystical Throne Entertainment. It’s just never panned out that way… until today. So when I say these are the figures Broken Ruler Games produced in the first half of the year, there should be a clarification that these results are actually what’s gone down since the merger back in late November of 2014. In essence, this is how things have fared with BRG since we started bunking with MTE. A fair warning that I will not provide any $ with these totals as anyone can figure those out if someone was really set on it and as BRG is in a partnership, such figures were deemed irrelevant and improper for this post.

Let’s Start From The Top, Shall We?

First off, the total figures from November 23, 2014 to the end of June 2015. Plain and simple, a total of 2642 purchases – downloads, freebies, and POD sales –  took place (not including bundles, of which there were 26). Of those, 1933 were made available at no profit to us whatsoever for a charity bundle back in April of this year and 541 came from the recently exhilarating Bundle of Holding last month. Here’s a breakdown of exactly what was purchased, regardless of source.

Killshot: The Director’s Cut
Total Sales – 578
(576 PDF, 2 print on demand)

Killshot: An Assassin’s Journal
Total Sales – 1955 (includes the 1933 for the charity bundle)
(1954 PDF, 1 print on demand)

Killshot: Direction
Total Sales – 0

Killshot Files #0: Redemption
Total Sales – 47 (all PDF)

Killshot Files #1
Total Sales – 31 (all PDF)

KIllshot Files #2
Total Sales – 31 (all PDF)

Before vs. After Partnership

As noted above, BRG formed a development partnership with Mystical Throne late last year, thereby allowing myself to move away from the day-to-day requirements of publishing and carry on with game design and project development. Not a day goes by when I’m not thankful for that and to prove how effective and agreeable a decision that was, I’m going to share one tiny dollar sign with you.

$40

That’s the exact difference in net earnings BRG has collected since the partnership formed compared everything else before hand. Yep, in only seven months and a few days, the partnership has allowed us to make almost as much as it took in 2.5 years trying by myself. Which is why today’s lesson is always learn how to chew your humble pie and know when to turn to someone with better skills than you.

While I will admit the biggest difference was participating in the Bundle of Holding, no doubt about it, for otherwise that difference would be closer to $600 but even with individual downloads alone there are 667 more copies of Killshot products on people’s computers since the partnership than beforehand. Even if a large portion of that boost came from a charity bundle and not a dime into our coffers, that’s a significant number more gamers with opportunity to discover our work (and we were able to help out a family in dire times, making it well worth the extra dust in the wallet). In short, there are now 4,609 editions of Killshot around the world as of the end of 2015’s first half. All in all, this year’s turning out Broken. (Wait, does that sound right?)

Up And Coming? Why, ScreenPlay’s Playtest Edition, Of Course

ScreenPlay's cover revealed!The time has come to start filling the virtual shelves with more than just Killshot products. It’s time to start moving forward with our next game, ScreenPlay. At this time, I’m cracking away at a special Playtest Edition of the storytelling RPG system with plans to launch this sneak peak by Autumn of this year. And by Playtest Edition, I mean a glimpse at what the game is about with enough detail to break it out at your table (complete with advice for Directors and Writers crafting their own tales and an introductory, grim fantasy treatment called Ironbound) and incentives for readers and players alike to help fortify this game into something stronger than I could ever imagine. Think of Kickstarter-style rewards without having to shell out money and instead sharing your feedback. Details to come as they become available, so stay frosty on that by keeping an eye on our ScreenPlay page.

For now, that’s everything… oh, wait. There is one more thing I’d like to announce, something a little more personal and fitting to this section. There’s a new body here in the Broken Office and while his skills won’t be put to the test for many years to come, there’s a new member of the team here nonetheless.

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My son, Logan. And yes, his dice are already on order.

Sincerely,

The Warden
Proud Publisher and Papa
Broken Ruler Games

Sneaking Behind the Curtain: ScreenPlay’s Cover Revealed

ScreenPlay's cover revealed!A cover can make or break a project, or it can bring it to the attention of those who would otherwise keep their head turned in the other direction. So when I contacted digital artist, Jeff Brown, in regards to creating a cover for our next project, ScreenPlay, there was a serious question to consider: what one image can turn heads for this upcoming story RPG? It didn’t take long to learn the answer: we needed to show many possibilities.

Roleplaying game covers tend to share common visual similarities and that’s especially true with universal systems like ScreenPlay. When your game can provide for a variety of genres, settings, time periods, and more, you tend to see things like individual images in thought bubbles or separated ideas brought together around a group of highly charged player characters… these were all things I wanted to avoid, yet also wanted to invoke. Don’t fix what ain’t broke, right? Jeff’s specialty is environmental/landscape art and the reason why I chose him was because this cover needed to showcase where these future stories could take place, not theorize who was going to feature in them. What we devised, I think, mashes all those ideas and possibilities together into a cover that I’m damn proud to slap a BRG logo on. A endless universe of danger, intrigue, and excitement existing in one place at one time as a group of Writers and their Director decide which story to tell. It’s a cover that’s already started turning heads, based on the result I’ve seen on my personal G+ account too. If it does the same for you, click here or on the cover image to the right and proceed to see what this upcoming mindblower is all about.

Killshot Signs Up With the Bundle of Holding Gang

KillShot-Logo_v1Does the idea of playing a hard boiled detective in 1930 Los Angeles intrigue you? Maybe you’re looking to start a new campaign in tribute to black-and-white noir films? Well, you’re in luck because if you like Killshot, there’s a new way to drop some crime onto your table.

Broken Ruler Games is proud to partner with the popular and noble Bundle of Holding site to provide the Deadly Games bundle. For as little as $5.95 US, you can get four crime/film noir inspired indie games and if you cough up as little as $10, you can get a copy of Killshot: The Director’s Cut to go with it. A portion of the sales will go towards Reading Is Fundamental and it’s a great way to feel like you’ve hijacked a truck full of premium goods without actually hijacking a truck.

But like any great heist, you’re running out of time. This bundle expires on June 23rd, so grab a welding torch and crack open that bundle to help out a great cause.

What Is ScreenPlay?

ScreenPlay_logo_earlyHighPlainsSamurai_logo_v1I’m happy to say the alpha-phase playtesting for both ScreenPlay and High Plains Samurai is well underway and so far banging out all the kinks in the mechanics and smoothing out the presentation. At this phase, we’re really testing out ScreenPlay and using HPS as an excuse to dive into this setting my Development Team and I created two years ago – it doesn’t take much arm twisting to get us diving into the dusty plains of the One Land. But that’s not what I’m writing about today.

With playtesting underway, it’s time to start shooting some holes in the walls keeping this game shrouded in darkness and expose it to some sunlight. In other words, it’s time for you to start learning more about what makes ScreenPlay… well, ScreenPlay. I put it that way because this game is unlike other roleplaying games. It’s built on a foundation of everything that is an RPG, but there is one major facet turned on its head for a dynamic and refreshing change of pace. Maybe I’m a bit biased (that happens when you design a game – it’s always the greatest achievement in game design as far as you’re concerned), but let’s allow the features of the game to speak for itself.

Here are the 4 key features of ScreenPlay and why you should be chomping at the bit to play. It’s also why you should be eager to discover more about High Plains Samurai too, seeing as the ScreenPlay engine will be powering this post-apocalyptic/western/wushu/super-powered mash-up. Whenever you see anything written in blue italics, that means it’s an important term in the game.

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Gaze upon the deadly beauty known only as the Jade Palm, one of the High Plains Samurai playtest characters for the project’s lead artist, Kieron O’Gorman. Don’t let her blindness fool her for she can see far more than anyone in the One Land.

#1) It’s A Story Game Where The Players Are The Storytellers

If you’re familiar with the concept of story games, you already know what I’m talking about. If not, there’s a fine line between these and your traditional roleplaying games. While differences of opinion exist on the exact definition, a story game allows greater control to the players using loose fitting mechanics and provides a more co-operative creative experience. If your traditional RPG has the Gamemaster dictating all the events in the story with players simply reacting through their characters, story games break from this aspect and allow the players to invest their own ideas into the story. Perhaps one of the best known story games on the market is Fate and I encourage you to check it out if you’ve never heard of it before.

ScreenPlay takes this a step further and places equal creative duties on both the players and the Director (AKA the Gamemaster, or GM). Each player is assigned the role of a Writer and creates a variety of characters (starting with at least one lead character with room to create as many supporting characters as they can handle) to tell a story. On their turns, each Writer provides a description for one character, an active account of how that particular individual propels the story forward. This is followed by an outcome from the Director, reacting to the description and rewarding the Writer with surrounding details, events, and reactions from other characters involved in the scene. The key difference between this and other games is that there are no point exchanges required for a Writer to insert their own ideas into the story – if she decides this story needs a fight scene, she can simply describe her character witnessing four shadow-cloaked ninjas leaping down from the rooftops with swords drawn. It’s now up to the Director to make this fight go down.

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This is just one of the sketches HPS’ artist, Kieron O’Gorman creates on the fly during each session. It’s incredibly handy to have your artist also work on your Development Team and act as a playtester.

#2) The Director Keeps The Plot Moving Without Taking Control

There’s more to being a Director in ScreenPlay than simply reacting to anything the Writers want, oh no. Each story – whether it’s conceived by everyone in the group or using a pre-purchased treatment (AKA adventure) – has a basic plot for the Director to use as a guideline. As an example, High Plains Samurai is a large scale treatment providing a setting (the One Land), history, a cast of supporting characters and extras, and a series of markers (key story moments) all designed to provide a working platform for the Writers to remain on track. While the Writers are telling the story, the Director uses his tools to integrate the treatment, facilitate the story and package it all together to reveal what wonderful outcomes the Writers are creating. During our playtests, I’ve been inclined to use camera angles and moviemaking terminology as a means of detailing our particular version of High Plains Samurai as if you were watching it on the big screen or as part of an awesome ongoing HBO drama.

One of the Director’s key tools for keeping it all together are triggers, pre-determined or instant reactions to descriptions. For example, the lead characters ride up towards the main gates of the City of Rust in the hopes of entering this rancid metropolis. What the Writers do not know and the Director does is that snipers line the walls looking for this posse with orders to shoot. As a Writer describes her character riding along the main road, the Director applies the trigger and cuts into the description by rolling dice as the crack of a rifle cuts through the dusty plains. A trigger can be avoided, even without the Writers knowing there was a trigger, if their characters learned about these snipers in advance and snuck into the city under cover of night. A Director can also devise triggers on the fly as a means of helping to keep the story moving along, like having the barkeep intervene when the lead characters become preoccupied with them surly buggers giving them the dirty eye from the back of the bar.

Think of it as improvised storytelling and the Director is there to make sure no one falls off stage. Just like directors of stage and cinema, the Director helps keep the story exciting and engaging through the outcomes they provide and the triggers they set to keep the Writers on their toes. What results is a fresh and exciting storytelling experience where the Director gets to experience the same thrill of discovery as your typical RPG player does every game.

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One of the first early sketches completed by Kieron. Notice how this gentleman gunslinger is firing two automatic handguns? That’s because there’s more to High Plains Samurai than a simple western/wushu/post-apocalyptic/superhuman story…

#3) Conflict Is As Easy As Knowing Odds vs. Evens

Are there dice rolls in ScreenPlay? You betcha – I wouldn’t design a game without them. I’m a sucker for dice rolls and the goal with creating ScreenPlay was to allow a simple, fast-paced resolution system where the dice did not blow up in your face. Here’s how it works: certain moments in the story, as told by the Writers, will trigger a conflict roll. That means whoever wants to achieve an action with a risk of consequences must roll against a Difficulty and that target number can be based on the opponent or the task at hand. Each character has a list of Potentials ranging from a d4 to a d12 (along with other modifiers and provisions to increase their odds, but we’ll save that for another day). Choosing an appropriate Potential, the dice are rolled and if the result is equal to or higher than the Difficulty, it’s a success.

But there’s more! You can use that roll to determine how much damage you cause or what effects occur as as result of your conflict roll. These effects are known as complications and range from minor (your gun is out of ammo, being knocked prone) to major (intimidated, acidic sand kicked in your face). Knowing the type of complication is simply a matter of whether or not you rolled an even number (major complications) or an odd number (minor complication). Failure works on the same principle: if you fail with an even number, nothing bad happens to the character, but an odd number results in the character suffering a minor complication of their own. Basically, even numbers are good, odd numbers not so much. Damage works on the same principle with a successful conflict roll: an even number yields major damage (the difference between your roll and the Difficulty plus any damage modifiers) or minor damage (only the damage modifier).

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A rough sketch of a sweet moment in our rendition of HPS where Jade Palm decapitates an opponent with a paper fan. What I love about this piece is how fluid and easy she makes it look. You can check out more of Kieron’s work at mayhem graphics.com

#4) Stamina Is The Ultimate Dealbreaker

All characters in ScreenPlay are assigned an amount of Stamina based on their character type (leads, supporting, extras). When a character runs out of Stamina, they’re removed from the story for the scene or permanently. More than just hit points, they also allow characters to break the rules and do things otherwise impossible to your average individual.

For example, most of our lead characters in the High Plains Samurai playtest have unlocked qi (pronounced chi) powers, such as the Jade Palm’s supernatural sense or Ronin’s incredible speed. Each qi power is clearly defined and faces normal limitations, but those can be broken by spending 1 Stamina. Characters can also spend Stamina to interrupt an outcome, retaliate against an opponent, increase/decrease the die roll by 1 (even if it’s not theirs), and so forth. While these applications create a variety of possible outcomes, you must judge your Stamina wisely because too many uses followed by a katana chop to the kidneys will result in 0 Stamina.

Just The Beginning…

Of course, all I’m doing right now is teasing you and that’s the entire point of this. As the Development Team and myself continues to work on banging out the kinks, we get closer and closer to revealing more about how this exciting game can come to life at your next session. And while I’ve been a big tease about it, I’d like to take things a little further. Think of it as spending 1 Stamina to break the rules.

Download the latest ScreenPlay/High Plains Samurai Playtest Draft right here. This particular draft is Version 3 and stems from feedback brought on at our recent session and will give you a greater idea into the fun-sanity that is both ScreenPlay and High Plains Samurai. Until then, you can stay up-to-date with ongoing playtests, working drafts, even ask me questions on the game’s development through our Facebook page, on Twitter, or on Google+.

Until the next time, thanks for reading and I look forward to revealing more about ScreenPlay in the near future.

Sincerely,

The Warden