Dec 272011

So I’ve recently been pushing hard to make sure Evil Hat has enough plates spinning at once that we’ll have a pretty steady (if a bit irregular) slate of releases once the projects start reaching their conclusions. This means I have a spreadsheet with about a baker’s dozen projects listed in it, all in various states of development. And because Evil Hat is all about the transparency, I’m going to share some of what I’ve got in there — basically an outline for our nearish future in 2012 and beyond (sans release dates, because we don’t do that sort of thing).

It’s worth saying that some of these things aren’t surefire, definitely-happening projects — sometimes the project is figuring out if it’s a project — but most of them are capturing some amount of my attention on a regular basis, and I certainly want them to happen.

Do we have the money to make all of these projects happen at once, simultaneously? No. (We do have enough money to make sure the creative folks working on the projects get paid for their efforts — that’s my necessary minimum.) But they won’t be happening simultaneously, and in at least a few (or maybe even many) cases, we’ve got the option to throw a little Kickstarter juice at them. Our ambitions would be just a tad smaller if we didn’t have the option of crowdfunding in the mix. Thanks to Kickstarter, our ambitions are having a bit of a right time, right place quality to them, which is great.

Let’s get into the details.

Role-Playing Games

Don’t Rest Your Head

Don’t Hack This Game: Hopefully you’ve read the post about this already. Don’t Rest Your Head is over 5 years old at this point, and Ryan Macklin & I think there’s been a lot of great, creative play and hackery going on out there. Don’t Hack This Game will be a supplement for Don’t Rest Your Head where we collect some of the best ideas and give folks a roadmap for hacking the game to be what they want it to be. The system can be bent into all sorts of shapes, but that’s really only one piece of the puzzle.

Dresden Files

The Paranet Papers: This has been one of the “big dog” projects since the Dresden Files RPG launched. The Paranet Papers is part system update and setting catch-up (getting us mostly current into the beginning bits of Ghost Story), part campaign starter kit. That latter part is being addressed by us cracking up the city creation mold a bit and looking at six different “cities” that do it a little differently, all viewed in light of the fallout from Changes. Those locations: Las Vegas; the “Neverglades”; the open road (taking the Dresden Files in more of a Supernatural direction); the Russian Revolution; South America; and some of the “outlands” of the Nevernever.

DF Adventures: Fairly recently we got ink on a contract addendum that lets us do a handful of “for-pay” adventure arcs for the Dresden Files RPG. Previously we were only in the clear to do free web support type stuff, which is where our collection of one-shots for the Dresden Files (as well as a Fiasco scenario) came from. Now, we’re going to get to do some more ambitious stuff. We’ve got three such projects slated, and the option to do more. You’ll probably see these parcel out over the course of the next two years; at least one of them will include some new details about the Dresdenverse gathered straight from the Word of Jim.


Fate Core: This would be that new core Fate book that we’ve been promising folks since Spirit of the Century. We haven’t been burbling about this as much as we could over on, but that doesn’t mean the project’s on hold. Lenny is in straight up nose to the grindstone mode with this one; we’re hoping to have the full text to an editorial squad by February.


Bubblegumshoe: Evil Hat’s going to be exploring Pelgrane Press’s Gumshoe system a bit, with a focus on taking it in some more deeply “story-game” directions, in a pair of projects. The first of these is Bubblegumshoe, the teen detective roleplaying game. In essence, we’re looking for something that runs the gamut from Nancy Drew to Veronica Mars here — a mostly female-protagonist perspective, but with plenty of room for Hardy Boys and The Great Brain besides — with a focus on how our teen investigators interact with the authority figures and other relationships in their lives. This one’s got a trio of RPG experts working on it: Kenneth Hite, Emily Care Boss, and Lisa Steele.

Revengers: Evil Hat’s other Gumshoe system game will be penned by Will Hindmarch and features ghosts-as-cops who investigate murders for the recently dead and, when possible, get revenge for them. This one will be half whodunit, half let’s-get-’em, and Will and I have been talking about making several system decisions that put some real story-shaping power in the players’ hands, as well as building some unity between the game-space and the story-space. That’s a bit gearheaddy, so let me stress again: you’re dead cops solving murder mysteries and haunting the bejeezus out of the murderers. Badass.

Spirit of the Century

Strange Tales of the Century: A Spirit of the Century inflected tour of the mostly-real international pulps that existed in the first half of the 20th Century, with geek librarian superstar Jess Nevins as your tour guide.  This will be a must-have for fans of pulp who want to break outside of the often-common American-inflected mold. Strange Tales of the Century is one has been in the works for a while, but got spun into an editorial limbo a few years back. We’ve managed to breathe new life into it with an expanded editorial team and believe we’ll see this one out in 2012 for sure.

Board/Card Game

Race to Adventure: One of our two big forays into the board game arena. Race to Adventure!™ is an easy-to-learn family board game you can play in 20-30 minutes. It features heroes from the Spirit of the Century setting racing around the globe on a scavenger hunt, trying to be the first to get their passports stamped and return to the Century Club’s home base. Of course, they run into all sorts of complications from the villainous masterminds of the SOTC setting along the way. The game was designed by Evan Denbaum, Eric Lytle, and Chris Ruggiero, features card art by Spirit of the Century illustrator Christian N. St. Pierre, and graphic design by Daniel Solis.

Zeppelin Armada: The flipside of Race to Adventure, Zeppelin Armada is a fightin’ card game featuring the villainous masterminds of the Spirit of the Century setting. An artifact of ultimate power has been discovered — and EVERYONE wants it. So they gas up their zeppelins, and of course, all arrive at the site of the artifact at the same time. A nasty brawl ensues! Featuring rules designed by Jeff Tidball. This one’s going to end up coming up a little bit behind Race to Adventure in part because we’re using the same artist for both projects — there’s only so much he can draw at once!


Don’t Read This Book: A fiction anthology set in the Don’t Rest Your Head setting, edited by Chuck Wendig. This features some incredible authors — I’m seriously agog we got the roster we did for this — but I can’t list all the names just yet. I can say that it will contain a new short story by one of my favorite authors, Harry Connolly, and that I have read it, and that it is fantastic.

Dinocalypse Now: A novel — possibly the start of a trilogy if it is well-received — set in the Spirit of the Century universe, as psychic dinosaurs from the distant past try to take over the present and rule the future. Chuck Wendig will be writing this one, with the pulp action and strange science dials cranked to eleven. Expect to see the heroes from Race to Adventure put in an appearance, including our game’s classic love triangle, Jet, Sally, and Mack.

Graphic Novel

ElectriCity: ElectriCity will be a stand-alone graphic novel written by longtime friend C. E. Murphy — a superhero story set in a new world, with the rivalry between Tesla and Edison as part of the backstory of it all. We’ve been having a lot of fun developing the script and are working on finishing that up and assembling the artistic team. More than any other project on our roster, we’ll be relying on Kickstarter to help us determine if this is just a lovely dream or something we can actually bring to the world. 🙂

Mystery Projects

We do have a couple of them — pipe dreams, or opportunities that haven’t gotten any momentum yet. In nearly all of these cases that adds up to shouldn’t or can’t when it comes to talking about them, so I’m going to simply put a footnote here at the bottom that what I have listed above is not necessarily the whole span of what we’re hoping to do. In most cases, though, if something’s not listed above, it’s a project more likely to happen in 2013 than 2012 — though any of the above projects could end up in 2013 as well simply due to scheduling and effort particulars.

Nov 282011

I’ve talked briefly before that we’ve got two Gumshoe system projects in the works at Evil Hat.

The first is Revengers, a Gumshoe game of ghostly investigators to be penned by Will Hindmarch. Take a look at that link to learn more, and also his recent Page XX article.

The second (previously unnamed) one is under the working (and possibly final) title of Bubblegumshoe, with the project team helmed by Kenneth Hite, who will join forces with Lisa Steele (of GURPS Mysteries and others) and Emily Care Boss (of Breaking the Ice and others) to bring you a game of teen girl detectives in the vein of Veronica Mars.

As mentioned in that earlier post, I’m damned excited about the opportunity to rough Gumshoe up a bit and take it in some new directions inspired by the best of the story-game set, but it’s hard not to get positively geeked by the talents working on both of these projects.

But today I want to talk, briefly, about the long term themes I see (potentially) at work in these two games. In olden times, this might be where I talk about the games’ metaplots, but really, so much of the story of each of these games will grow straight from the characters themselves. So, instead, I’m focusing on the themes that tell us how the long-term stories of the games will grow out of these characters. These long-term themes are likely to color the campaign, while the PCs will “day to day” be dealing with mysteries both episodic and sequential; but even in one shot scenarios they should see some relevance.

In Revengers,  the long-term theme I see at work is “You are the mystery.” PCs are ghosts, and the reasons they remain as ghosts instead of Moving On are opaque even to them (most of the time, at least). Moreover, they don’t (necessarily) want to solve it. Moving On holds as much mystery for them as death does for us. Regardless, those hidden reasons will color who they are, and how their long term story plays out. Naturally, that’s going to see some support in the mechanics as well, though Will and I are still sorting out the details.

In Bubblegumshoe, the long-term theme I see at work is “The town is the mystery.” Everything points inward; the fabric of relationships in the town makes the town; and long-term, the big mysteries that play out will occur wholly within that contained environment. Outside factors may come into play, but what’s going to matter long term is what the town does with it, and the town is the home base, the whole world for our teen girl detectives. We’ll almost certainly see some kind of relationship map mechanic brought to bear here (the story-game version of the Quade Diagram, perhaps). Important game mechanics will focus on defining, revealing, and occasionally reshaping the town by way of its relationship map (and not all connections of that map will be immediately “visible” either).

Hacker’s note: In Bubblegumshoe, the “town” ends up being a fairly portable concept, for folks who want to drift the game. Maybe it’s a college campus. Maybe it’s the backwoods of Eastern Kentucky — a recent epiphany: BGS will probably drift nicely for a Justified game. For that matter it might work great for something with a Twin Peaks vibe too, and so on. We’re already planning on a chapter that explores and discusses drifting the game through a variety of genres and applications.

Designer’s note: Folks familiar with my blather about how — in Fate — “everything is a character” might notice a similar principle at work in both of these long term themes. Each takes the notion that Gumshoe is a mystery game and decides to locate some of that mystery in the characters themselves, directly or indirectly. In Revengers, it’s the characters and their history — their murders — that got them to where they are in the afterlife. In Bubblegumshoe, it’s the relationships the characters have with the authority figures and movers and shakers of the town they’re “stuck” in, growing up, that will hide layers of mystery and backstory that the adults haven’t told — or are straight up hiding from — the kids. Sometimes design is about looking at what you already have established in a system and simply applying it to a different context. That’s a lot of what we’re looking to do with Evil Hat’s takes.

Nov 022011

So if you’re a right-thinking person and already following Will Hindmarch‘s blog, this part will be old news: Evil Hat is working with Will to produce a new game titled Revengers, and it’s going to be based on the Gumshoe engine created by Robin Laws, which powers several games from Pelgrane Press, including Trail of Cthulhu, Mutant City Blues, and Ashen Stars.

Will calls what we’re going to be doing “a substantial hack” of Gumshoe, and he’s right. My hope is that the Evil Hat flavor of Gumshoe will be something that folks who normally don’t get into Gumshoe will be willing to give another chance, and will also appeal to folks who think it’s great just the way it is.

Personally I sit somewhere between those two positions, which is part of what motivated me to get this project — and another Gumshoe hack of a different flavor with Ken Hite that’s still on the drawing board — rolling. (I see some really interesting things in Gumshoe as a system, and I’ll get into that in a bit — it may not be what you think — so in a way this is an attempt to take the things I like about the system and the things I think are underused and tune them to produce a play experience more like what I would want from it.)

Will and I are still sorting out what the hacks will be, so I can’t get into the details of Revengers specifically just yet; the project’s still quite early in its life cycle. I can tell you that I’ve set a few ground rules about what I’d like to see addressed, including things like reducing the number of abilities from (my opinion here) overwhelming quantities to something more manageable, closely examining the necessity of the dividing line between investigative and general abilities, and what sorts of things a player can do to the story with a “spend”.

That latter bit — the utility and implementation of a “spend” in Gumshoe — is where I think a lot of juice can be squeezed, and I’ll touch on that in a moment. But you may have noticed one thing I don’t touch on in that above list, and that’s the bit about Gumshoe that gets all the press: the whole thing about “discovery is inevitable”. If you’re not familiar with Gumshoe, the gig is that the system places importance on the notion that access to information is important for moving the story of the game ahead, therefore, it should not ever be something at risk of staying hidden on a failed roll. So, investigative abilities in the system carry an element of inevitable discovery: if you have the ability to know a thing, you’ll come to know it, and the plot will move ahead. That’s a great gimmick, and I get why it gets the press, but it’s highly portable to other systems and when it comes down to it, it’s just one gimmick. It works, and there’s little need to fiddle with it (aside from maybe expanding the underlying concept of inevitability to other abilities or widgets in the system)[1].

So instead I’m inclined to look at the rest of the system and ask how it could do its job a little differently, and maybe a little better. Setting aside the inevitable discovery aspect, what do we have in the core system?

At the end of the day, it’s a resource allocation game that’s paired with a flat distribution randomizer (a single d6 roll). Without the randomizer in play, the resources (points in your various abilities) can be spent to do things like buy access to additional, non-essential, but still elucidating pieces of information, or to absorb stressors placed on the character (Health and Stability being the examples there), and possibly a few other things. With the randomizer in play, the resources are spent as a one for one adder to the d6 roll. In essence, you spend points to purchase certainty of outcome.[2] Roll a d6 to shoot the monster, and maybe you hit; roll a d6 and spend some points, you’re more likely to hit. As resources dwindle, tension about their allocation escalates, as does the character’s exposure to randomness. Actions may be undertaken to refresh those resources under appropriate circumstances.

But for some — occasionally, me included — there’s not a lot of there there with that resource allocation game. While each ability has points tied to it, giving us our resource source, those points don’t feel particularly pregnant with meaning on a story level. Abilities end up having three states: abundant, scarce, and depleted, and while you can ascribe some meaning to those states, it’s only with a few  particular abilities (like Health) where they really seem to have some narrative punch. I’m not sure what it means, exactly, to have run out of points in my Stealth or Driving ability, other than that I’m gonna be more at the mercy of fate.

So in a way, that forms the root of our mandate as we create the Evil Hat brand of Gumshoe. Give those points more meaning. Tie them and the resulting ability-states to explicit story effects whenever possible. Figure out other things which could be given points like abilities, and use that as an engine to drive story.[3]

At the end of the day, the system is posing questions like What price are you willing to pay in order to get the outcome you want? and What are the consequences of paying that price? But in its present form, it might not be posing those questions in a particularly interesting way.[4]

It’s on us to change that.

[1] Some might even argue that the effect of the gimmick is that clue discovery becomes less of the point of a mystery game, and thus it creates an experience that feels less like a mystery, but I’m not sure I buy into that take. For me clues are less about their discovery (though that’s when “the reveal” happens) and more about their content. What new questions do clues create? What discussions do they trigger? What actions do they call the characters to? None of those aspects of clues hinge on the method of their discovery. [Back]

[2] Perhaps not immediately obvious is that this “certainty economy” needs the randomizer to be a flat one, a single die where all the outcomes are equally likely. On a flat distribution, you can’t be sure that any particular part of its range is going to happen more often. If two or more dice were used, you’d get a bell curve, with outcomes in the middle being more likely than outcomes at the extremes. This would muddle the source of certainty in Gumshoe; Gumshoe wants certainty to come from those points, period. [Back]

[3] Consider: what happens if you stat up relationships like you stat up abilities in Gumshoe? What’s it mean when your relationship is an abundant, scarce, or depleted state? What does a point spent from a relationship do? What sorts of actions do you need to take to refresh the points in a relationship? [Back]

[4] Or maybe it is, in which case, great! This is more a statement about taste and perception. Clearly, not everyone experiences Gumshoe the same way. [Back]