Saturday, November 21, 2020

About Neurocity

 Neurocity is a roleplaying game by designer Gavriel Quiroga, who recently gifted me a copy.

The game surprised me quite a bit (think Orwell's 1984 meets The Matrix meets Paranoia!), so here I am to share my impressions.

But first, some facts.

  • Neurocity was funded in August with a successful Kickstarter with more than 200 backers.
  • It is a 105 pages book, available now on drivethrurpg both as a pdf and as Print on Demand softcover book.
  • The pages are black & white (or rather: grey scale), with an occasional splash of red in the text, and (nice, in my opinion) b/w art.
  • The game features a unique game system (2d6, roll under), strictly tied to the setting.
  • As stated in the book, the game is meant for short campaign play of 3 or 4 sessions.

So what is Neurocity about? In the author's words:

Neurocity is a subterranean city complex crowned by a glitched digital sun ruled by an ever watchful supercomputer named I.S.A.C.
A closed society on the brink of collapse suffering an involution from digital to analog technology due to the scarcity of materials and constant recycling of components.
Neurocity is a tech-noir roleplaying game with an emphasis on psychology and existentialism.

Characters are citizens of a dystopian, closed society, where the individual has value only if he is "functional", i.e. obedient to the hierarchy, bureaucracy and technocracy of the city, and the A.I.'s teachings known as Vitalogy, which form a sort of philosophy of unquestioning obedience for the "greater good... and ultimately a powerful means of propaganda.
The technology level can be defined as "post-cyberpunk", as it features a super A.I. governing the life of the city (and deciding the life or death of "dysfunctional" citizens) and advanced bioengineering and cloning (which brings back to life "functional" citizens!) but, as components are continuously recycled, much of the daily life resembles the '80s.
It's Orwell's 1984, with an A.I. governing it all, and not even death can set you free from the dystopian nightmare, because you'll get cloned or repaired forever... unless your behavior proves dysfunctional. This, so far, is the Orwell + Paranoia, in a way. The Matrix inspirations? Keep reading...

What do players do in such a world and game? The characters can be from any of the different social castes and "careers" allowed by the A. I. governing the city, and their job, for the most part, will determine the type of stories you play.
The first twist in the setting is that (of course!) you have individuals and groups who have come to realize most of their life is a meaningless slavery, and suspect reality, history, and life itself is or should be different. They end up actively questioning authority and are therefore automatically considered dysfunctional terrorists. The second twist is the Trancers: people who experience bizarre perceptions (and occasionally display extraordinary abilities a la Matrix). Some of them choose to ignore the meaning and possible cause of their "trancing" and keep on with their functional lives, while others choose to question everything around them and usually join the "terrorist" groups mentioned above.
The A. I. of course tasks specialist groups to eradicate (and usually destroy) such people: both the rebel "terrorists" and the Trancers. The general assumption of the game is that you do not play such dangerous individuals... not from the start, at least: players begin as functional, obedient people, who are tasked with more or less common jobs, or specifically investigating and destroying rebels.

But the game offers plenty of opportunities for player characters to change sides (or point of view, at least): it is specifically designed to make it happen.

This is where I liked the game the most: first of all, it offers lots of tables with adventure seeds and random encounters and events (associated to specific areas or activities of the city, for example), meaning you can set the game going easily, AND as easily you have the themes and features of the setting come into play, including experiences which may push the characters (and players) to question the true meaning, value and purpose of the "Vitalogy" propaganda...  and their lives.
Moreover, the resolution system includes the possibility for player characters to become Trancers during play, in dramatic, stressful situations. Again, this is meant to open the possibility for the characters to change their point of view, and change the direction fo the campaign accordingly.

All in all it is a very neat game. The resolution system, more focused on narrative outcomes than "realism" or "simulation", is simple but effective, and wonderfully integrated with virtually all the elements of the setting. In this respect, Neurocity is a wonderful model of coherence of mechanics, setting and themes, (which I realize I've barely hinted at, as the game world really has a LOT going on, including the foundation of the city which is one of the mysteries the players may or may not unravel).

The coherence of game tools, mechanics, system, setting, and themes surely makes the game easier to run, and thankfully so, because it certainly is a game which offers a simple system, and a setting that can lend itself for action-oriented stories, but it can also become an opportunity for a deeper experience, as it can lead the players to question several facets of our society.

You can check it out on drivethru!

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

10 QUESTIONS TO: Allan Wroe

Allan Wroe is the mind behind The Secret Files of Section D, an officially licensed Pulp / Espionage Roleplaying Game setting for Savage Worlds Adventure Edition, currently crowdfunding on Kickstarter.

Allan has previously written an adventure for Triple Ace Games' Hellfrost but this is, as yet, unpublished and believed to be scheduled for the Hellfrost Second Edition… But now he’s taken the big step! He got his Ace License from Pinnacle Entertainment Group and is launching his setting book for Savage Worlds Adventure Edition.

But who is Allan? Allan is a nice guy from Manchester (and the word for that is Mancunian, believe it or not!). He’s worked in the print and packaging industry and IT Recruitment, but is now determined to make a career as an author, designer and publisher. He’s got a clever, amiable sense of humour and knows how to pour it into his writings.

1 Hello Allan. First of all, tell us about The Secret Files of Section D, as if you were trying to explain it to my aunt!

Hi there, thanks for giving me the opportunity to chat about my baby! And ciao Zia Rotondo!

The Secret Files of Section D is a tongue-in-cheek game about the adventures of a group of fictional spies who work for a real world organisation. Section D of the Secret Intelligence Service existed in the late 1930s and ultimately became a part of the Special Operations Executive. Imagine Indiana Jones, Reilly Ace of Spies and Monty Python in one book!

2 What are the influences from any type of media that are more easily recognizable in Section D?

It’s hard to ignore things like the Indiana Jones and Mummy movies when you’re writing something like this so there is a definite influence there. X Company, a fantastic series about WWII resistance fighters, was also a big influence but shows the very serious side of clandestine operations in occupied Europe. 

Added to this are more comedic elements from TV shows like Blackadder Goes Forth and the sublime ‘Allo ‘Allo which both show the more farcical (or should that be futile) side of war. 

Lastly, we took a lot of inspiration from the “dime book” novels and comics of the era to establish the look and feel of the game. The Commando comic books also heavily influenced the art style. The artwork in the book is mostly provided by Mat McGawley but there are a  couple of other contributors as well. 

3 The Taster Edition of Section D shows a nice mix of pulp action and subtle humour. How are they developed in the full game?

A lot of this comes from the new Edges and Hindrances I’ve written for the game. For example, the Edge “Magic Laundry”, which is previewed in the Taster Edition, draws heavily on James Bond and The Last Action Hero. No matter what the hero goes through, they always look immaculate within moments. Humour around a game table almost always comes from the players so I’ve made sure there are plenty of tools to allow opportunities to try outlandish things. 

Worth noting is that the book presents the world pretty much as it was in 1938 when Section D was founded. The pulp and humour elements are built on the top of that but it’s often the case that the truth is stranger than the fiction!

4 You’ve released the Taster Edition free PDF of Section D a few weeks ago. What feedback have you received? Has it proved helpful?

We’ve had close to 500 downloads of the Taster Edition and most of the feedback received has been extremely positive. People feel the art style, while not like modern RPG books, is fitting for the time period (which is what we were going for) and the few Edges and Hindrances they’ve seen are appropriate to the setting. In general the look and feel of the Taster Edition was well received though a couple of people commented that the text spacing could have been a bit more generous. I’ve taken those comments on board and when layout starts for the full setting there will be subtle changes. 

I haven’t received any scathing criticism as yet so I’m taking that as a good thing!

5 You’re currently using Kickstarter to fund your first big project, which is the perfect example of what crowdfunding was originally designed for. Through the years, though, it has become more and more important even for the “big players” in the RPG industry.

Do you consider that unfair? Or is the presence of big publishers beneficial to the small ones? Do you see that changing anytime soon? How would YOU like things to change?

It’s fair to say that Kickstarter is now the most used route to market for RPGs and Table Top Games in general. Without it, I think our industry would be a much poorer place. 

I don’t consider it “unfair” for the larger publishers to use Kickstarter at all, in fact I’d say a lot of them are now big publishers because of Kickstarter. The larger companies draw the audience to the platform and help the smaller ones get noticed. Pinnacle is a great example because they put out great products. I hope that by association, my product will also be seen as great. If Pinnacle trust me enough to give me an ACE license then maybe the backers will also give that trust. 

How would I like things to change? That’s a great question. One thing I would like to see more of in Kickstarter is support for retailers, particularly in the games industry. A lot of companies use Kickstarter to bypass the FLGS and I think as publishers we should be supporting them. That’s why The Secret Files of Section D Kickstarter has a retail pledge at a wholesale price. We want to open up that channel and build a relationship with game stores and gamers around the world. 

6 You’re an Englishman launching a setting about a British intelligence group, for a game whose audience mainly is from the US. Do you see a challenge or an extra value in that?

Another great question. I certainly don’t see it as a major challenge, at the end of the day it’s a roleplaying game so, by definition, it’s supposed to take people out of their day-to-day life. Also, I think if you ask pretty much anybody to name a spy they’ll say “James Bond”. Ian Fleming was heavily influenced by Section D and the SOE when he wrote the initial Bond stories. 

I’ve had really good feedback from US based people I’ve spoken with and I ran three sessions for the recent Hollerween event which were really well received by a primarily US based audience.

There’s no reason at all why players couldn’t play a US agent, in fact one of the pregenerated characters in the Taster Edition is American. At the time of the beginnings of Section D, the US didn’t really have anything other than Naval Intelligence by way of a clandestine unit. Who is to say that an American wasn’t seconded to Section D to ultimately help set up the OSS?  

I will say at this point though, US based readers should have a read of question 9!

7 Inclusion and representation of minorities in RPGs have become a hot topic, recently. How does Section D address that? And I’m asking both as a product and as the in-game organization.

This is something I thought very hard about when I started planning the book because we’re talking about a different era with different attitudes and, let’s face it, some pretty horrendous things were happening in the world. 

The history of the real Section D actually gives the best answer to the “in-game organization” question so I’ll address that first: 

One of my best information sources for the game is a book called Section D For Destruction, superbly written by historian Malcolm Atkin. The book discusses some of the recruitment techniques for Section D and, for the time period, the methods were groundbreaking. Candidates were targeted (you didn’t apply for Section D, they found you!) for recruitment because they had a particular skill set and that was all. It’s worth mentioning at this point that most people targeted for Section D were experts in communications, journalism / propaganda, engineering and so forth. They weren’t “soldiers” for the most part. Gender, sexual orientation, religion and ethnic background were largely irrelevant, it was the skills that mattered. For example, It is now known that Section D’s upper echelons hid the fact that several of its agents were homosexual at a time when homosexuality was illegal in Britain. Section D recruited from all over Europe, and further afield, and trained agents to go into situations where a heterosexual, male, anglo saxon christian might stand out like a car at a bike show. 

So it’s safe to say, any character a player can come up with is likely to be fine from an historical point of view. 

As for handling the inclusion and representation of minorities as a product, that’s a tougher question. As I mentioned above, The Secret Files of Section D is set at a time when the world had different attitudes and while I certainly don’t share those attitudes, I can’t say  they didn’t exist.

In game terms, the GM will be advised on the historic attitudes of some people to certain others but also that bringing those into the game should probably be avoided. In some circumstances that may make roleplaying a certain situation a little less realistic but certainly more palatable. We want to encourage players to play any character they can dream up without boundaries. 

8 Let’s see how good you really are as a role player. Now you are a Hollywood screenwriter and must write a short email to convince Mr. Warner Bros to produce a movie based on The Secret Files of Section D. Go!

Dear Mr Warner,

Please read this like you are the movie trailer voiceover guy. 

“In a world where Nazi Pseudo Science, Miracles and Magic are real, and sinister figures stalk the shadowy corridors of power, a group of secret agents with an overriding mission to protect King and Country take on their greatest adventure yet.”

Cut to action montage: 

Silhouetted figures rappelling from a gigantic airship onto the roof of the British Museum

Fleeting glimpses of a high speed car chase through 1930s London

A huge brawl in a casino 

A deep volcanic cave in which stands a maniacal villain, a strange statue stands behind him bathed in a lava red glow. The villain speaks…

“You cannot stop me! Soon, you will be dead and the Fuhrer will live FOREVER!! Muahahaaaa”

Back to voiceover guy

“Can Section D save the world again and blow up some really big stuff? Find out in the new Section D movie, Trouble In Tripoli”

I look forward to hearing from you soon,

9 You’re quite the creative, so I’m sure you already have at least three other ideas for new RPG products that you might be publishing in the future! Am I right?

Absolutely right! The Secret Files of Section D takes the unit through to the end of WWII time wise. Section D doesn’t have to be a WWII game but the world changed in 1945. It’s worth noting that officially Section D was merged into the Special Operations Executive in 1940. We like to think, somewhere within the depths of the intelligence network, there is still a Section D for Destruction!

The second book handles the Cold War era which has some really interesting possibilities. The CIA and other agencies are introduced as sides change, enemies become allies and vice versa, and the arms and space races begin. It’s also the era of UFO paranoia and Project Blue Book etc. So the pulp and espionage elements are huge for this expansion. 

Next is the modern era expansion with much cooler gadgets and more dangerous villains. The battlegrounds may change but the threats are always very real!

I also have a whole bunch of adventure ideas to develop. Section D is supposed to be a little bit of off the wall fun but I have ideas for a more serious campaign which is rooted in actual WWII history rather than alternate history. It’s more gritty but if there’s a desire from players for it then it will get done. 

10 If you could buy any franchise/IP for an RPG, which would it be? Tell us about the franchise and the game you’d make.

An easy question at last! I really want to make an RPG set in David Gemmell’s Drenai world. It’s a series I’ve read over and over since the mid 80s and I just love the way David wove his stories. 

I’d use Savage Worlds for the mechanical aspects of the game because it’s a perfect system for the world. Flawed heroes and really nasty villains abound and there are great big holes in the timeline that an RPG could easily operate in without affecting canon. 

I’ll let you into a secret. A couple of years ago I partnered with Triple Ace Games and we put a proposal to David’s estate to get a license to produce this game. We had fans, famous authors and even a member of David’s family on our side but we heard nothing back. I was gutted.

11 I know, they were supposed to be 10, but I have one more question before we say goodbye. Please point us to a song you think we should listen to.

On The Turning Away by Pink Floyd.

It carries a poignant message that is highly relevant in these difficult times. 

Thank you Allan! Bye!!

Thanks for the opportunity to speak with you and to everybody who has read this far!

Stay safe and Happy Gaming. 

So go check out The Secret Files of Section D!

Stay tuned for more interviews! Hit me on the Axian Spice Facebook pageon Twitter or even on Telegram to never miss one! 

If you want to support this blog, check my OSR and Savage Worlds stuff, or simply shop on DriveTrhuRPG (affiliate link).

Thursday, November 5, 2020

10 QUESTIONS TO: Diogo Nogueira

Diogo Nogueira is a one man band: game designer, illustrator and layout artist of Old Skull Publishing games.
His most successful games include:

Sharp Swords & Sinister Spells

Solar Blades & Cosmic Spells

Dark Streets & Darker Secrets

Lost in the Fantasy World

He’s also designed Garden of Bones, one of the “Deadly Dungeons Hosts” adventures for Gold & Glory!

Diogo is also a father, a cat lover, and one of the few internationally known game designers from Brazil.


1 Hello Diogo. Tell us about your work as a designer, as if you were trying to explain it to my aunt!

I write, I draw and I combine the two things in a pretty and comprehensive package? Well, I love tabletop gaming, especially RPGs, that brings friends together to create something unique only they can create together. So I try to follow my heart and I create games I would like to play. I try to draw from many different sources, from literature, comics, cartoons, movies, other games, history and even our daily lives to make something that speaks to me and, hopefully to others as well. My focus is to make games with simple yet very flexible rules that allow people to play with as little preparation as possible, and requiring very little rules consultation during the game.

2 Sharp Swords & Sinister Spells was your first hit as Old Skull Publishing. What have you learnt about design in particular since its publication?

I’ve learned that the way you present the rules and arrange them is as important as the rules themselves. You may have a very tight and well thought system, but if the presentation isn’t good, it won’t seem it’s like that for many people. Graphic Design, Information Design and Game Design are actually way more connected than we think. I am still learning a lot and each new game I make I think gets me a little bit further in my practice.

3 Dark Streets & Darker Secrets is defined as a “Street & Sorcery Rules Light Role-Playing Game with an Old School spirit”. That’s a lot! Can you explain the setting, and how the rules are Old School?

Street & Sorcery is my way of saying this is a sword and sorcery game in modern times. So imagine if Conan, Fafhrd and Grey Mouser and other iconic S&S characters lived in our world today, and you get Dark Streets & Darker Secrets. It’s a game that’s inspired by Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Supernatural, Dresden Files, X-Files, Grimm and so on. In terms of rules, it presents a modern and streamlined system that fosters the style of play presented in the Quick Primer for Old School Gaming and Principia Apocrypha. It focus on player’s skill instead of character powers and rules, it’s open ended, it encourages improvisation, the focus on emergent storytelling and not character building and so onz

4 The Rumors rules in the Sharp Swords & Sinister Spells Addendum are, in my view, one of the smartest rules I’ve ever read, and the perfect example of how your games blend the Old School spirit with more modern solutions. Which are the modern games that you’ve appreciated the most?

I play everything. I love the OSR, but any games that seems interesting to me I do my best to try it and experiment with it. Some of the games that inspire me outside of the OSR are The One Ring, Cortex Prime, Genesys, Fate, Blades in the Dark, Fiasco. There are probably others, but it’s hard to keep all of them on your mind. There are so many cool games out there.

5 Crowdfunding has become more and more important for RPGs. Do you see that changing anytime soon? How would YOU like things to change?

I don’t see it changing any time soon, at least internationally and in the US. Here in Brazil Crowdfunding is not seen with good eyes anymore as many publishers have done less than reputable things with it. I like crowdfunding because it’s a great way to connect with a community and get people involved. It allows people to pursue projects they could not pursue by themselves alone. However, it would be great if the fees were reduced or if there was a way to give more visibility to indie creators in these platforms. I would love to say that I wish creators earned enough money to be able to fund projects themselves, but nowadays almost everyone is struggling. But I can dream.

6 I know you are currently working on several games. The one that intrigues me the most is Descent into the Abyss, a Diablo inspired dungeon crawling solo rpg. A project that shares the same inspiration as Curse of Aufgartz... What can you tell us about it?

I can tell you that I have little idea of what I am doing, lol. Solo Game Design is a bit scarier for me because balance seems a bit more important because you won’t have the GM as a buffer and companion Game Designer to help you. The book has to do all the work. So I am experimenting with it and will probably release parts of it for people to play with and give me feedback. The goal is to make a Solo Dungeon Crawling game that feels like diablo but plays nice and easy. You will be able to choose different builds for your character. You will make choices before going to the dungeons that will affect the game. The dungeons will be procedurally generated, but will have unique tables and themes for each area (Cathedral of Death, Haunted Catacombs, Infernal Caverns and so on). It’s a love letter to a game I played a lot but also a reinterpretation of it.

7 If you could buy any franchise/IP for an RPG, which would it be? Tell us about the franchise and the game you’d make.

Gosh, that’s hard. I love so many IPs and would love to make games about them. This is the hardest question here. I think if I gotta pick just one, I would pick… Cadillacs and Dinosaurs!

8 Younger players. Any experience or tips you want to share? Has your experience as a father influenced the design of Lost in the Fantasy World?

Oh yeah, absolutely. I played with younger audiences before my son too as we organize Tabletop Events in schools here in Brazil from time to time. Kids and people new to the hobby have a lot of untapped creativity and they want to pour it all out on the game. And if you say no to them they will shut down. So try to say yes as much as you can, even if it a “yes, but…” where there are consequences or they need to pass a test of sorts. Some games are more loose than others and fit this style better.

9 Your games are published by Gallant Knight Games. What can you tell us about your collaboration?

Gallant Knight Games is great! They do all the boring stuff for me and I get to just create things with total freedom. Not to mention being from Brazil, I am very limited geographically, ans GKG is able to take my games to conventions and deal with distributors more easily than I can. Not to mention that Alan Bahr from GKG is a great friend and a mentor to me. I’ve learned a lot with him.

10 You are the only game designer that I know from Southern America. Do you think your origin has affected your games? Have you ever felt as an outsider in the rpg community at large (in a good or bad way)?

I’ve been asked this a few times and I am not 100% sure if it has. I try not to think so much about it and being too close to analyze my own stuff, I think this is easier to answer for someone else. But I am starting to think it affects my stuff a little bit. Being from a country always under the influence of more powerful nations, I often associate power and influence with something bad. The distrust of authority, the way governments, corporations and people appear in my games may be shaped by my perception of reality from down here. And yes, I constantly feel like an outsider in the RPG Community at large, in many ways. The way that people talk about living of games, production and distribution, or simply their reality. I go outside the house here and I am always afraid I can get shot. People in my social media from other places seem really surprised to hear gunshots. Here it’s a constant reality. I wish it wasn’t.

11 I know, they were supposed to be 10, but I have one more question before we say goodbye. Please point us to a song you think we should listen to.

A song? Just one? I guess I will have to go with What a Wonderful World by Joey Ramone. It just fills me with hope and joy!

Thank you Diogo! Bye!!

Stay tuned for more interviews! Hit me on the Axian Spice Facebook pageon Twitter or even on Telegram to never miss one! 

If you want to support this blog, check my OSR and Savage Worlds stuff, or simply shop on DriveTrhuRPG (affiliate link).

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