Friday, 7 August 2015

Judeo-Christian/Angelic RPGs

I commented here that I cannot see many wargames (apart from Helldorado - but they're French!) with an explicit focus on either Christian or Judaisitic myths.  I thought it was surprising due to the widespread awareness (or not?) and relatively rich background material. Some commentators suggested it was still a sensitive/controversial topic. However, a quick google showed RPGs have less "squeamishness" if that is indeed the case. Which kinda surprised me, as I recall the RPG community were involved in some controversy from various groups in the 1980s.

Anyway, I'm interested in this topic as a source of good background material for "modern pulp" that's a bit less cliche than anything involving vampires or werewolves.   Here's some I came across.  I'm giving my 10c with regards to potential for wargaming backgrounds/skirmish gaming inspiration, as I have 0 interest in pen-and-paper RPGs.

Armageddon occurred, Earth was destroyed, but God overlooked the space colonies.  Rapture's simple premise gives a lot of potential for hard sci-fi/horror gaming.

I now have...
This is a "pay what you want" at Drive Thru RPG.  It's two books - Dread and Spite.  It's less angels and demons and more horror-splatterpunk-noir.  Kinda like those old hard boiled detective novels with disgusting stuff thrown in.  An unhealthy obsession with tentacles coming out of lady parts.  It tries to be "hardcore" but comes across as merely try-hard and tacky.

Rapture the End of Days
This is interesting, supernatural with a hard sci-fi seasoning.  Basically, the End Times have come and Earth has been destroyed.  However, overlooked humans remain on the space colonies and stations.  And the legions of hell are loose. There are nation blocks, corporations, and religious factions and cults.  Possession, spirits, hellspawn, undead mixed with hard sci fi.  It it was a movie, it'd be Alien meets the Fallen, Diablo with a touch of Cthulhu and the hard sci fi of say the 2300AD universe.

Seventh Seal
Ordinary humans "Sentinals" are imbued with angelic powers in the final battle between Heaven & Hell.  Sentinels belong to various angelic orders with different traits and powers.  With Graces, Divinities and Blessings it embraces a different "magic" system.  It has a clear Heaven v Hell orientation, despite humans being the primary players.  Quite a lot of skirmish wargaming potential and a solid "magic" system.

Seventh Seal has enhanced humans aligned to angelic factions battling the rising darkness.

I don't have, but I'd like to try...
In Nomine
This is the only "Angelic" game I was originally aware of before I began my hunt.  It's an old 90s-era Steve Jackson game, with a Heaven/Hell Cold War being waged between angels and demons.  Sounds interesting but at $24 for a pdf it can wait.

Demon: The Fallen
This White Wolf title sounds interesting.  Due to an upheaval in Hell, lesser demons are able to escape.  They must cohabit  suitable host body (which has effects of its own) but have found the heavenly host have vanished.  The competing factions of fallen have interesting wargaming potential.  Again, a pricey $25 rulebook keeps this on the wish-list only.

The End: Lost Souls Edition The good have gone to Heaven.  The unworthy were cast into damnation.  However some humans abstained from either choice - and they are the "meek" who inherit the Earth. Poor buggers.  It wasn't a promise. It was a warning.  At $18, I considered it - for a moment.  Nah, I'm waiting for a special.

 Pandemonio's gory approach tried a bit too hard, and was more "Raymond Chandler with tentacles" than theological...

Somewhat relevant - I could be talked into trying...
This dabbles in mythos beyond angels and demons, tends to focus on demigods, and from what I've read tends to have uber super-powered characters and philosophical navel-gazing.   Also it's $20 so that's a no from me.

Armageddon: the End Times
The final battle has begun.  Has angels, demons, but also old pagan gods - and the battle is against Cthulhu-like beings rather than the traditional Heaven vs Hell.  Again $20.

PDF Rant
What the heck is it with these overpriced PDFs?  $25 for an electronic file? There's no frickin production cost, as it must cost cents (or fractions of a cent) for the actual download.  The PDFs cost more than most hard copy books. And if you want to print them out, you can have a crappy B&W or pay through the nose for a proper print job.  It just does not make sense.  Do they want people to pirate them?

A PDF is the price of a new-release hardback novel at my local bookstore.  Why so much?  Osprey seems to turn out nice hard copy rulebooks for half that.  Not to mention the comparison to videogames - where $25 gets you a lavish blockbuster production with 100-man design teams taking tens of thousands of man-hours; you're expected to pay the same for a type pdf?

...To sum it up...

Whilst some appear to be rebadged vampire/hunter fiction (Demon: Fallen, Seventh Seal) of a Supernatural vein, others are more straight horror than Biblical/Thelogical horror (Pandemonio) or simply include the themes as part of the overarching backgound rather as the background itself (Nobilis, Armageddon).  That said, there was some interesting fluff, especially the sci fi Rapture, which has a lot of applications for wargaming.

There's plenty of background material to make very structured bestiaries, and "magic" systems which follow different paths than the normal fantasy tropes. There's potential for spirit/material world crossovers (it would be cool to have a "spirit world" gaming table). Some have "sanity/faith" counters a la Cthulhu while the focus on possession allows you to rebadge humanoid forces, 40K Chaos-cult style.   While the topic is perhaps not for everyone, as I suspected, there IS a lot of useful "material" for wargaming there and I plan to investigate it further...  ..if the damn pdfs go on special any time soon... 

Anyway, if anyone has tried the latter five I don't own, I'd appreciate their feedback - how useful would they been for a wargaming background (i.e. factions, "magic"/faith system, backstory). Also, did I miss any RPGs of this ilk? Theological "fluff" seems to be a more popular RPG topic in comparison to its relative obscurity in wargaming circles.

Psychic Horror, anyone?
I'd like to do a similar exploration of RPGs including psychic powers - with horror themes similar to the STALKER/FEAR videogames, so if readers have any suggestions in this field, I'd appreciate it.


  1. Check out the kickstarted reboot Demon: The Decent. It describes itself as techgnostic espionage because in this reboot the fallen were once angels of the god-machine. It's burned super-spies meets the Matrix.

    My favorite part is the new reason for demon-pacts; in order to hide themselves from the omnipresent god-machine, the Fallen make deals with mortals to take on part of their life. A mortal is willing to give up their family? Excellent, my demon re-writes the world so he replaces the mortal in his family's memories. What does the mortal get out of it? It depends what they negotiate for, but when demons hack the god-machine's code they can only re-route, not create from nothing. All that money the mortal wants has to come from somewhere and so every bargain is a devil's bargain and a storyteller plot hook.

    1. I read it more an "Agent Smith goes rogue" rather than a Heaven-v-Hell concept, so I was saving it for a cyberpunk/tech post. Sounds like an awesome setting though, and would allow you to use a range of mini lines.

  2. In answer to your PDF Rant... yes most PDFs are over priced. But, why should any writer just give his / her material away? RPGs have a very short circulation, a few hundred if your doing well. To move thousands or hundreds of thousands of units you have to be in the big leagues.

    While I agree that I'd not pay more than £10 or so for a PDF I do think you shouldn't undervalue the contribution of the writing team (writer, editor, artist, layout guy) on any particular book. None of the writing team are going to make anything more than peanuts on their work... and it is a lot of work, some times years of work... I know.

    1. You may be able to answer things I'm curious about then:

      a. How much goes to the author, and how much to the digital distribution centre? i.e. is the ratio 50/50, 70/30, 30/70?

      b. I understand hard copies with a limited print run being expensive to produce, but why PDFs? I.e. $20 for a PDF and $25 for a rulebook makes no sense. Hypothetically speaking, if a book costs $20 to produce and the author gets $5 profit, and a PDF costs$1 to produce... which not charge $6 for a PDF? The author gets the same profit per unit.

      c. Is piracy extensive? I.e. I know there a lot of 40K codexes "available". Some of the PDF RPG "lines" would be 100s of $$$ if you bought them all. a PDF is directly comparable to a pirate product, so reducing the cost would promote more legitimate buys? I know the low cost of Steam games has almost eradicated videogame piracy amongst my circle of acquaintances.

      d. I'm not aware of how the RPG market works, but wouldn't lowering the costs promote "impulse" buys? I.e. from someone like me, the $25 PDF sellers make $0. But those pricing it at $10 made $10. I'm sure I'm not the only one like that.

    2. If I may interject and try my hand at those questions?

      A: Through the Vault, you get 70%, if you publish through them exclusively.

      B: The truth is nobody actually knows what digital goods are supposed to cost :-)
      It's true that you can earn more profit per unit from a PDF than a physical book, but I don't know if there's a "sweet" spot.

      It also depends on who you are. I can't charge what some companies charge, but then, I can charge more than some other guys can.
      When I priced a 100 page game at 15 dollars, it'd sell but slowly. It sells a bit more consistently at 10 dollars.

      C: I have no idea. I know some of my stuff is out there, but I prefer not to think about it too much.
      From people I know here, people either buy most of their content or they pirate most of their content.

      Im the only one I know that have moved from piracy to legitimate purchase. Most people just do whatever they've always done.

      Anecdotes and all though.

      D: Lower prices do increase sales, but not by an exact equivalence, at least in my experience.
      Cutting the price in half does not double the sales but it does increase it some.

      For something like "big" publisher stuff, they know they will get the sales they plan for, priced at 25, so that's where they price it.

      I also think the paradigm might be different if you are ONLY selling digitally.
      That said, I do compare PDF rules directly to hard copy rules, just as you'd compare boxed PC games to Steam ones.

      "Im the only one I know that have moved from piracy to legitimate purchase. Most people just do whatever they've always done."

      Really? Counter anecdote: I know as a kid most of the games within my circle of friends were 'bootleg.' My high schoolers tend to binge out on Steam sales, but I'd estimate only about 1/5 would pirate. Because they can get it cheaply, and as conveniently. Its why TV shows (in Australia) are heavily pirated - the pirate sites are not only free, but they have them BEFORE the legitimate channels. And to watch say, Game of Thrones costs $45 - $25 for cable TV, and $20 for that channel. It's too difficult, and expensive, to be legit. If a show is on Netflix, people pay $8/month for netflix. If it is for $45 on an exclusive cable channel, people pirate it...

      The hardcore will probably always pirate. But in the case of RPGs and wargames, wouldn't it be "casual pirates" that would be the concern. People interested in your game, but unwilling to pay $50 for a electronic file they can get identically for free.

      I'd expect halving the price not to double sales - you're in a smaller, more saturated market. I think key would be the point where it pushes it to "impulse buy" - i.e. looks interesting, chuck it in the cart. Obviously that varies for different people.

      I doubt anyone has analysed wargame/RPG sales in depth - with so much self-publishing, the information would be too fragmented to collate effectively.

    4. yeah, it's all very anecdotal regarding piracy and it's entirely possible my local acquiantances are different.

      For some, it's just a question of where they can get it first and easiest.
      FOr others, pirating everything (or nothing) is a matter of principle.

      It's not an easy talk because Im sure piracy is not as dangerous as the big media-corporations would have us believe, but I'm also sure it's not as harmless as internet crusaders would have us believe either.

      With wargaming specifically, I don't think most pirates are actually playing the game. They just want to take a look or check out a few mechanics. That probably doesn't hurt sales significantly.

      As for price points, as you say, who knows?
      I /think/ 5 and 10 dollars are important price points.

      Below 5 and I'll buy pretty much anything if it looks even slightly useful. 10 dollars I stop to think about it, but it's still likely to be a purchase if I see a few good comments.

      20-25, I'll buy without reviews IF it's from some place I tend to trust, like THW.

      I've only ever bought one PDF that was more than that, and I did end up kind of regretting the purchase.

    5. Piracy attitudes can be a little inconsistent. I.e. someone vehemently against internet piracy can happily wear a knock-off Star Wars t-shirt. In Australia it's a bit weird, because it's not a crime per se, and our copyright law is from the 60s which was based on art reproductions.

      I'd say my "price point" is $10. $15 is possible, but I start to compare it to hardcopy rules. $20+ is very unlikely.

      "With wargaming specifically, I don't think most pirates are actually playing the game. They just want to take a look or check out a few mechanics. That probably doesn't hurt sales significantly."

      See, I'd be happy to pay $10 to "check out" their rules. How many others would too? Though given the free demo rules and quickstart stuff available, this argument may be tenuous at best...

    6. In case it wasn't already obvious I am one of the writing team at Vagrant Workshop. Everything we make from our products goes back in to the company, to cover our costs and allow us to buy art for the next project, artwork... good artwork costs!

      I want to be clear that I'm not complaining about this. Our intention from the outset was to make the best books we can and that means investing what little money we earn to buy in the skills (art essentially) that we don't have within the team.

      Okay on with the questions:

      Margin, honestly I have no idea exactly how much we make on each PDF. Realistically we want to sell a PDF + Hardcopy. You get the instant gratification of the PDF, followed by the beauty of an actual book. Margin on Printed products may be as small as 20%.

      Looking at the Vagrant catalogue on DriveThru RPG
      The PDFs are aimed squarely at the $10 mark, prices rise to around $25-30 with a hardback edition + PDF.

      Side note (check out Vampire City, its something a little different, GMless, cooperative story telling).

      Piracy is not much of an issue. In fact Postmortem Studios release their own 'pirate' editions and ask people who enjoy them to buy a real copy. They say piracy doesn't harm them. I think there is a place for the open distribution and pay what you like model.

      Pricing is a tricky one. You want to encourage sales but without devaluing your brand. Like I have said I think $10 is about right for a PDF (depending on page count and artwork).

    7. I presume the RPG market would be very small one. "Breaking even" is probably a reasonable goal.

      "Margin on Printed products may be as small as 20%."
      I presumed only a small margin on print products i.e. $5 on $25 book.
      I expect books with small print runs to be comparatively pricey. I'm just curious about PDF pricing, which does not seem in proportion.

      I remember one of the White Wolf dev saying that ~2000 copies would, for an indie/new publisher, be considered a breakout success.

      "....the best way to make a small fortune in the roleplaying industry is to start with a large fortune..."

      As an outsider to the RPG sphere, besides D&D (which I presume is the Games Workshop equivalent) I'd be hard pressed to name many RPG devs/publishers: White Wolf, Pinnacle, Mongoose, WotC and Steve Jackson games. Which I presume are the big hitters.

      I found some sales figures on Evil Hat (I've heard of Diaspora and SoTC, so I presume they are a reasonable-middling company)

    8. I checked DriveThruRPG, they say margin on printed products is 65-70%. But that is not a true margin... there are a lot of costs in preparing a good manuscript. As I've said art takes a massive bite. But there are other costs, before you let a hardcopy go out to the public domain proof copies in all formats need to be ordered and checked... sometimes through several iterations. Everyone involved also gets a copy, another cost.

  3. Demon the Fallen is pretty cool actually. It uses the basic White Wolf system but had a rather interesting setup and they do the typical White Wolf thing with having a lot of differnet factions powers etc.

    Is it super useful for a wargamer? I dunno.. not without a lot of work, I'd say.
    (Though we did play the White Wolf systems as a skirmish wargame many years ago and had a good time).

    1. I'm not interested in the RULES per se. It'd be a rare RPG (SW is the only one I've ever liked - and it was an ex-wargame engine) that I'd "play."

      I'm more interested in spell lists, background, factions, "how the world works" which can be adapted to wargames mechanics, as I tend to replace the generic systems usually shipped with indie rules, and I like having cool "inspiration" or guidelines.

    2. From that perspective, I'd say it's worth it.
      The setting is very game-able and there's a lot of content in there.

  4. I do remember reading the German RPG "Engel" a long time ago. It plays in a pseudo-medieval future where the Angels seem to have come to Earth and protect humans from a Darkness. The Setting sounded really cool and made use of a unique card-drawing mechanic to solve conflicts instead of dice. It was published by the German printing house Feder and Schwert.
    There seems to be an English translation available which streamlined the rules to d20.

    You can read a good summary on its English wikipedia page.

  5. A second title that MUST be mentioned is the controverisal Swedish rPG "Kult".

    While it includes some drastic art and text, it features a nice and neat dice system, which might even be plundered for skirmish gaming (only d20; roll under skill to hit, every weapon has different d20ranges to do either no damage, light wound, hv wound, crit. wound or kill; tougher characters might endure more light or heqvy wounds, but only the supernatural was able to deal with more than one deadly wound), and really transported the leathality of fighting the supernatural well.

    However, it also has a fairly good background including a mad God (the Demiurge) who abandoned his creation and now allows the supernatural to walk freely on earth, hidden dimensions beneath what humans could see.

    Its a little bit matrix/dark city ( though its actually older) with very much Clive Barker thrown into it. I remember it fondly becaue of the easy and original dcie mechanics and the super detailed martial arts section which did indeed allow matrix-like fights if you wanted your characters to discover the horrible truth beyond what they thought was reality!

  6. A couple more games:

    Testament. This is a D20 (Dungeons and Dragons 3rd edition) supplement for playing in the Old Testament times. Its mass combat system actually plays out a bit like an abstracted wargame!

    Witch Hunter: The Invisible World - Solomon Kane-esque antics in the 17th century. King Solomon sealed Hell away. Now it's slipping back through.

    All for One: Regime Diabolique - See above, but place it in the 30 years war. Uses the same system as Hollow Earth Expedition, I find it a nice level of crunch, but the setting is a bit wobbly.

    Dogs in the Vineyard - Narrative game. Mormon gunslinger-knights a la King's The Dark Tower go about enforcing The Will.

    1. Thanks! I always thought the world of the Nephilim (pre-Flood giants, offspring of men/angels) would be an interesting alternative to Greek demigods...

      I do have SW Solomon Kane for witch hunter-ish antics in the 17th century though.

      I do like the idea of some sort of mystic wild west. Deadlands didn't quite hit the spot for me though (and sadly I have the awesome but out-of-scale Black Scorpion cowboys ~35mm which doesn't allow me to easily use them with random critters/minis)

    2. Testament will do you for pre-flood. It's actually got guidelines/suggestions for playing in various testamental periods (including late/intertestimental maccabee play). For a D20 product (not at all my preferred system), it's well researched, easily read. I give it a solid B+/A-

    3. And re: Black Scorpion. Something a few groups I work with tend to do for RPG play is use a slightly larger scale miniature for designating heroic characters, major villains and the like. Because our combats tend to be only roughly sketched out (vinyl mats with grids on them, wet erase markets to designate terrain), we don't put TOO much of an eye for detail to things.

      Dogs doesn't use tactical combat, so the minis would work purely as visual representations of the Player Characters.

    4. I remember trying Open GL d20 stuff for a dungeoncrawl/skirmish about 10 years ago... the AC/hitpoint thing made NO sense as well as being clumsy. It has the most unintuitive mechanics I've ever used... :-/

      I'll put some of your suggestions on my wishlist in case wargame vault has a special - thanks!

    5. D&D/D20 is generally not a game you play for the mechanics ;-)