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Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Esoteric Enterprises, a potential new project.

So, just a quick one today. 
I got a copy of Orpheus a little while back, and that's been stewing in my head with a bunch of other games and settings. Lacuna (just play it, it's amazing), Shadowrun (great concept, shitty bloated rules), Wraith, hellboy, a bunch of stuff. Out of this, I've had an idea for a game.
Basically, you get a modern setting. It's focussed on ghosts and the afterlife, with PCs as ghosts, mediums and necromancers and stuff. You're essentially a little independent firm in the occult underworld. Gameplay is very mission-based, with stuff like break-ins to get magical artifacts, taking out dangerous hauntings, exploring horrible ruins in the city sewers. Everybody is a weirdo in a black trenchcoat with a pocket full of occult gewgaws and a sawn-off shotgun, and it's after dark and raining, and something's horribly wrong.
In a lot of ways it's an OSR-esque take on the same idea as WoD. No big conspiricies (that players are part of, at least) or grand powers, just the barely-alive and recently-dead scrabbling for their continued existence in the world's most dangerous profession.

So, what do I want to actually /do/ with this as a game? A few things.
  • I'm looking at having undead be playable. There's a class for ghosts and a class for physical undead, as well as a fighter-mage-thief set of classes for living humans. 
  • Classes are front-loaded. You don't really get new abilities as you gain levels, just better at them, and stronger overall. The exception here is necromancers learning new spells.
  • A single save (like S&W does) that's modified by an appropriate attribute modifier depending on what you're saving against. Skill rolls work in the same way - a single value that improves by level and is modified by an appropriate attribute. Basically all the rolls you'll make as a player are either these or an attack roll.
  • The meat of the player-facing rules is in the interaction between physical and ethereal stuff. I'm still hashing out the details, but essentially you get two HP tracks, one for physical damage and one for ghostly damage. Mostly, you only need to worry about one sort (ghosts don't get hurt by physical attacks, for example). 
  • Each of the classes interacts with the physical/ethereal divide differently, so gets a dramatically different playstyle based on what they can do.
  • Unlike a lot of OSR games, I don't want character death to be final like it is in most games. If a living character dies, they get to re-stat as a weaker undead one. Undead characters who are killed will come back again weaker and weaker until they eventually fade into nothingness. Basically, you ressurect one level lower, but if you hit level 0, you die. On top of this, I'm thinking of letting PCs swap classes (with the same penalty of a level) if their circumstances change. This is going to take a decent amount of work to feel right, but it means I can make things SUPER lethal and not worry about PC attrition so much.
  • On the GM's end, I want the game to be pick-up-and-play, without too much prep ahead of time. This means random tables and flowcharts and stuff. I want it to be pretty simple to make a quick mission for an evening's play basically on the fly from randomized prompts and complications.
  •  I also want to include escalating danger. The thinking here is that the party racks up 'heat' the more dodgy/illegal/flashy stuff they do, which means that more and worse random encounters turning up until they go to ground to loose their heat. This should tie in nicely with the equivalent of wandering monster tables, with what type of unwanted attention you attract depending on what sort of job you're doing. 
This is likely going to be another big project like Wolfpacks was. I'll be throwing some ideas around and stuff, as ideas occur to me. Probably I'll have a functional ruleset hashed out fairly quickly, and then stuff like the GM-side procedural game generation will take longer, as will putting it into a workable form and getting it publishable.


  1. I've had a very similar project parked on a "work on me some day" list for a long while now. Somewhere between paranormal investigators and MIB kind of stuff. Hellboy is a very good reference point.

    For purely fluff reasons, you should check out the Dark Matter setting for Alternity. I used it as the basis for something like this run on Savage Worlds for a while. It might spark some ideas.

  2. It sounds intriguing; make sure you talk it about more as the concept and gameplay get fleshed out ;)