There’s a humunguloid bundle of game pdfs in a bundle on sale at DrivethruRPG right now. Great value, better than half price, and includes stuff by me! Yay!
Too many to mention. I have a bibliography somewhere, but I don’t really keep it that up to date. There’s everything I’ve published myself, and then there’s the various other games that I have worked on material for. I’ve had stuff published for Call of Cthulhu, D&D 3rd Edition, D&D 4th Edition (official, not just OGL, but that too) and various other odds and sods over the years.
Tell you what, I’ll take this opportunity to talk about three of my favourite of my own games that I’ve written and since that counts as shilling, I won’t paywall the rest of this article.
Blood was a fairly obscure British horror game, very much slapped into the genre of Splatterpunk, the likes of Sean Hutson, the grimier end of Clive Barker, Graham Masterton and so forth. Film wise it very much lurks in B-movie slasher territory, though its gritty nature makes it perfect for survival horror. We played Blood to death throughout the nineties, a grislier counterpart to our high-falutin’ World of Darkness games. It especially led to some really gripping zombie horror games in the Romero tradition. We were the hipsters of zombie horror gaming, we liked it before it was cool. Blood also turned out to be perfect for short, one-shot convention games where nobody had ambitions to survive a full scenario. On the off chance I contacted the original writer and artist and they gave me permission to take the game on for a cut. Since then I’ve continued to publish a second edition of Blood and fully intend to make a more streamlined game for a third edition. There’s just something magical about the way the game plays and the attitude it engenders in Games Masters and players that makes me love it.
Agents of SWING
I love all those old 1960s and 70s adventure shows. The Champions, Gerry Anderson’s various shows, The Saint, The Avengers and so on. The straight-faced campness, the 60s style, all of it blends together nicely so that you could easily imagine many of these shows sharing the same world (many of them were produced by the same companies). This was a good fit for FATE which could allow all sorts of weirdness to exist side by side while still being able to compete with each other. I wove ‘mockbuster’ equivalents to all these wonderful characters into a single organisation (SWING), a private spy agency not dissimilar to – but written before – Kingsman. Turns out pregenerating all those characters was a great idea as it allowed people to jump right into the game and have a great deal of fun. We had a memorable convention game where almost every player was playing Roger Moore, just as different characters (Bond, The Saint, The Persuaders). A lot of fun.
Tales of Gor
Licensing games is fraught with difficulty and this goes double when they’re derived from controversial material. John Norman’s ‘Gorean Chronicles’ are notorious, more so than they perhaps deserve. Where in other pulp-style novels the sexual side is much more implicit (the nudity on Barsoom, the rape and plunder in Conan) in Gor it’s much more explicit, without necessarily going into ‘blow-by-blow’ detail. Gor is a planetary romance style series of books, but with sex and BDSM written right into it. Because of this many have considered it cheap and tawdry or even pornographic – though I don’t think we can call it that with a straight face today. In fact the world-building is extremely good and – through fantasy – it challenges ideas about gender relations, humans in a ‘state of nature’ and many other things. It’s more than just slave girls and chains. I’ve loved it ever since I was gifted the first twenty or so novels and long wanted to create a game around it. Tracking down who to talk to was tough, bracing myself for the inevitable backlash was tough, and bracing myself for the Gorean purist’s complaints was also tough, as was working through a period of particularly bleak depression. At the end of it though I produced a game that I am very proud of, illustrated by renowned fetish artist Michael Manning and which hasn’t elicited quite the backlash I was expecting. I’m very proud of it.
It’s hard to pick just one and it’s also hard to decide upon what criteria I should judge which is my favourite. Some systems are a joy, some a chore. Some backgrounds, likewise. It can be fun to create something new and it can be fun to work on something with a lot of reach. It can be great to turn a property from its form as a book, film or comic into a game. Each game has its own microcosm of different factors and can be a favourite in a different way.
I’ve worked on Dungeons and Dragons and that’s quite a feather in your cap (at least when you’ve worked directly for Wizards) but the various incarnations of D&D, even 5th Edition, just really aren’t my cup of tea and while I enjoy Dark Sun and Planescape, the more vanilla fantasy settings and ideals typical of D&D are frustratingly hackneyed and cliche (not that that’s bad, it’s just hard and not that enjoyable to write for).
Breathing new life into BLOOD! was fun, an old, relatively obscure horror game that we always loved, but it wasn’t really ‘mine’.
Agents of SWING was a passion project, and I enjoy writing for FATE (though less so the current edition). Working together all the threads of the action/adventure series of the 60s and 70s was a fun challenge.
Working on SLA Industries was great and I and Dave Allsop had good synergy and mutual understanding in the work I did for SLA. Unfortunately that joy has been lessened by falling out with one of the other people involved and the semi-butchering of the main book I did for them. A similar thing – editorial interference I didn’t like – happened in work I did for Call of Cthulhu.
Creating the semi-official Neverwhere RPG, adding to the lore and ideas, creating an innovative system and then giving the whole shebang away for free (terms of the agreement) was a huge amount of fun and that game – in its third edition – may be my most favourite, if least profitable, thing I’ve ever done.
But then, there’s still the tentacle porn…
Kingsman for Agents of SWING
This is based on the film, rather than the related comic, as honestly this is one instance in which the film really is better.
Kingsman’s concept operates very much like that of SWING in the game, a third-party, private espionage organisation trying to stop great powers from kicking off a new world war and also operating against massive threats, outside the laws and treaties that – theoretically – bind other espionage agencies.
Their sheer access to money (old and new), contacts and the ‘Old Boy Network’ of the British establishment and banking system gives them truly global reach which, when combined with their massively high standards and cut-throat training regimen makes them a small, but formidable force.
Failed candidates for ‘Knight’ positions seem to fill other roles within Kingsman’s organisation such as guards and support staff on a global basis (satellite offices are mentioned). So there is scope for playing characters who are not ‘Knights’. Merlin appears to be the head of the tech/support staff and training program but there’s certainly scope for others and given the success of Roxy (albeit in a minority) there’s no reason to think there aren’t plenty of women at work in the organisation – no matter what their codename.
Possible Arthurian Codenames
- Arthur (Head of Kingsman)
- Guinevere (Support – Medical?)
- Merlin (Head of Support – Technical)
- Morgana (Support – Personnel?)
- Taliesin (Support – broker/deal maker?)
- Agolvale (Knight)
- Agravain (Knight)
- Bagdemagus (Knight)
- Bedivere (Knight)
- Bercilak (Knight)
- Bors (Knight)
- Bruenor (Knight)
- Cador (Knight)
- Calogrenant (Knight)
- Caradoc (Knight)
- Claudin (Knight)
- Dagonet (Knight)
- Daniel (Knight)
- Dinadan (Knight)
- Ector (Knight)
- Elyan (Knight)
- Erec (Knight)
- Esclabor (Knight)
- Feirefiz (Knight)
- Gaheris (Knight)
- Galahad (Knight)
- Galehault (Knight)
- Galeschin (Knight)
- Gareth (Knight)
- Gawain (Knight)
- Geraint (Knight)
- Gingalain (Knight)
- Griflet (Knight)
- Hector (Knight)
- Hoel (Knight)
- Kay (Knight)
- Lamorak (Knight)
- Lancelot (Knight)
- Lanval (Knight)
- Leodegrance (Knight)
- Lincoln (Knight)
- Lionel (Knight)
- Lucan (Knight)
- Maleagant (Knight)
- Mordred (Knight)
- Morholt (Knight)
- Morien (Knight)
- Owain (Knight)
- Palamedes (Knight)
- Pelleas (Knight)
- Pellinore (Knight)
- Percival (Knight)
- Safir (Knight)
- Sagramore (Knight)
- Segwarides (Knight)
- Tor (Knight)
- Tristan (Knight)
- Urien (Knight)
Unlike SWING characters, Kingsmen are cut from similar cloth and have a similar degree of competence.
Kingsman characters must spend at least the following points in the following Skills.
Leaving 10 points for further customisation.
Similarly, gadgets are also standard issue in a way they are not for SWING.
Umbrella: The reinforced and gadget-packed umbrella makes for a good close-combat weapon. Its hook gives it the aspect ‘Entangling’ and as a close combat weapon it does +1 damage. The umbrella itself projects onto itself what is behind it, so you can take cover behind it. When taking cover the umbrella provides +2 Armour to the agent behind it, but they cannot move as they must brace the umbrella for it to be effective. The shaft of the umbrella also houses a number of bullets which can be fired with lethal force (+2) or non-lethal force (+1, and confer a ‘dazed’ aspect if they hit).
Kingsman Pistol: The Kingsman pistol is a custom-modified firearm with an underslung single-shot, shotgun barrel – reloaded by break action. The pistol does +2 damage, while the shotgun, with a standard shot, does +2 damage and has the aspect ‘spread shot’. It imposes a -1 penalty to hit, however, due to its short barrel. Specialist shotgun rounds are available, but not detailed in the film. Presumably these would include:
1. Standard Shot.
2. Solid shot (+3 damage, no spread aspect).
3. Incendiary (+1 damage, confers aspect ‘on fire’ and 1 stress damage per turn.
4. High Explosive (+4 damage with an area explosion).
5. Armour Piercing (+2 damage, ignore up to 2 points of armour).
6. Rock Salt (+0 damage, confers ‘in pain’ aspect).
Blade Shoes: With these a kick attack can be made doing +1 damage. On the following turn the target suffers a damaging poison attack with a potency of +8. The oil on the blade is only good for a single attack and the damage is not ongoing.
AR Spectacles: The AR spectacles can take pictures, provide an augmented overlay (+1 to Alertness rolls) and provide a live feed back to HQ. As standard, everything is recorded.
Watch: The Kingsman watch, as well as being a £5,000 top of the range watch can fire a number of amnesia darts (potency +8, forget the last hour) or a single shock/bola dart which does +0 damage, has the aspect ‘entangling’ and confers the aspect ‘shocked’ if it hits and does damage.
Poison Pen: The ink from the pen can be used as a powerful, ongoing poison. Normally harmless, it can be activated by the pen (if within a few metres range) after which it is a Potency +4 poison with ongoing effect.
Lighter: The Kingsman lighter (gold, naturally) can be used as a single-shot flamethrower (+2, confers the ‘on fire’ aspect and 1 damage every turn, or as a grenade. Doing +5 damage with an area explosion.
Waking up to a nice review is always a good booster. It’s especially nice when the reviewer seems to ‘grok’ what you were trying for and to appreciate the way you’ve gone about it.
Everyone says my reviews are too long and nobody reads them. So here’s my two paragraph summary first:
Want to see an amazing game that nails down a very slippery and specific genre and consistently and effectively pursues it? Buy this game.
Want a game that is mechanically well-balanced and won’t lead you into crazy problems? Give it a pass.
Now for the lengthy/verbose/nonsensical analysis.
It seems hard to imagine at this late date, when if you wanted to watch every James Bond movie it would take two uninterrupted days, when the deliberate but tense 1970s Bourne novels have been made into a visceral action series, and when Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy can sucker us in with the professionalism of lying, but there was a time in history when espionage and counter-espionage was just coming into pop culture. Of course The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad was a 19th century venture into the popular spy novel (and modern readers will appreciate terrorism as its central conflict instead of the Cold War), but in the 1950s and 60s, the spy-as-hero jumped into prominence, and a good deal of it was an almost countercultural espionage – the spy not as defender of the stodgy status quo, but the swinger, the con artist, Mr. Suave, the femme fatale, and of course, the only person who could tell that the whole Cold War was a sham, a big crazy lie, man.
To some extent this was because the other arm of visible authority, the police officer, was engaged, quite publicly, in a heart-wrenching shift from primarily being concerned with order to primarily being concerned with law. Cops knew as much as everyone else that when they saw fire hoses turned on voting rights activists in Selma that being a police officer had to change. So in addition to the cop who was in touch with the kids, we gained the spy who didn’t play by any rules. And sometimes these spy stories were lighthearted action romps – fantasies about what we’d do if we were trained to the top of our abilities and turned loose in the world with a gun, a quip and some cool gadget nobody else had.
It’s hard to remember this now when we can count James Bond’s genuine smiles since 1992 on one hand, but Austin Powers is a parody not of Bond but of the goofy/sexy spies that blossomed at the same time, but did not necessarily survive. (I have no idea why people chose to parody swingin’ 60s spies in 1997. Why not parody balloonist adventure tales or picaresques about travelling to the Mysterious East? Those would be just as relevant. But that’s far afield even for my normal rambling review style.)
It’s this fantasy that Agents of SWING targets, and hits, dead on. Not the parody (though I guess you could use it for that) – this is not a satire game, this is a game about that lighthearted fantasy.
Your characters are in an implausible agency, given implausible covers, and must battle against implausible villains, while bedding their unbelievably attractive and somewhat reluctant lieutenants and sorting out ridiculous gadgets. All of these things are given a thorough once-over. The quick-moving FATE 3.0 system (with some changes, see below) is a great setup for this.
It’s always a matter of walking a tightrope when replicating social attitudes of past times that might interfere with people’s enjoyments – Agents of SWING, I feel, does a pretty decent job of emphasizing that players who are women will have opportunities for fun along with those that aren’t. Because the agents are beyond the straitjacketed moralities of the (crumbling, it’s 1967) square world they protect, they are able to forge their own way. You can even play up the tension by selecting Aspects that will emphasize this conflict – and you gain fate points when they cause problems for you, so you’re actually encouraged to think about the issue and bring it to the table with your own spin on it. This game convinced me that FATE’s Aspects (perhaps along with The Shadow of Yesterday’s Keys) are an excellent mechanic for putting those issues into the hands of the players rather than having them feel imposed-upon by a GM or a group. There are a few examples of women characters who are not well-turned, but even if it’s not a bullseye, this game gets a lot of credit from me for aiming at a difficult target and hitting at least within the first ring (to extend the metaphor.)
The game also replaces the normal FATE 3.0 “Spin” with a third “Swing Die” which you can earn, and then spend in future rolls. (It uses the d6-d6 FATE setup rather than Fate dice.) This is a pretty cool way of putting the application of Spin into the hands of the player and prevents something I’ve seen in other FATE games, which is people scratching their heads trying to figure out how to Spin something that doesn’t really fit so that people don’t feel like it’s wasted. This is a really good solution to that – it shifts the probabilities significantly but doesn’t necessarily make it a slam dunk. (You can put your Swing Die on top of your pile of Fate chips too – a nice stack of your player resources that you have available whenever you’re planning for a roll.)
There are a number of ways this product could be improved:
For example, the stunt list doesn’t hyperlink to the description of each stunt, so the list itself is pretty worthless.
There’s no real explanation of what the NPCs are for or how you decide what NPC stats should be. The advice is just “try to keep it balanced with the player characters”, which is sort of bad advice given that there’s likely to be 3-4 player characters for each villain, and player characters may have a HUGE swing in their abilities to face off against the villain, since they can buy their skills all the way up to +8 from character creation. This is fine for the somewhat lighthearted/cartoony source material, but can easily lead to one or two characters walking off with the game and leaving others feeling useless without some clear guidance on how to create opposition (or tighter instructions at character creation).
I’m not super thrilled with the handouts. While it’s nice to see them divided up, the monospace font makes it hard to work out/remember where things are. (I guess they’re a good starting point and I’m glad they’re there because all games should have handouts in their PDFs, what are you gonna do, make me go to your website? My mouse only clicks so many times per game, pal.) Also, the stunt section of the character sheet doesn’t really give enough space to explain some of the more complicated stunts.
I actually rated this one a bit lower at first because of the difficulty in getting from the player characters to a workable scenario, but I have to reviewer tilt up one because it chases after something very specific, something rarely seen these days, and comes a lot closer than I thought it might when I first began reading the introduction. All in all, this is a pretty special game and it’s one that I’ve returned to many times.
Minis don’t necessarily fit with Agents of SWING as a FATE game, but they can still be useful. That’s why I put out some paper minis.
7TV is a skirmish minis game set in the same kind of world of 60s and 70s action/adventure serials that Agents of SWING is and as such they produce some great stuff and you could even cross over campaigns between the two games.
Check out Crooked Dice. They do good work.
An adventure for Agents of SWING that takes the agents on a chase across Southern Europe and India after a mysterious death is brought to their attention by the Spanish government.
A familiar enemy and a new threat stand against them, each with their own ideology but are they truly allies and can SWING prevent the revolution going nuclear?
NEW: Purchase via GUMROAD
This adventure will soon be available via Paizo, IPR and e23 if you prefer to make your purchases there.