[7:38 PM]GKG_Alan: I’m Alan Bahr. I’ve been making RPGs since 2016, as Gallant Knight Games, as well as various freelancing around the industry. Best known for TinyD6 (probably), I’m also doing freelance games for Osprey (among other companies). I’m a pretty open book and have been here a few times (I think I even mighta been a mod back in the IRC days.)
[7:38 PM]GKG_Alan: GKG is my full time gig.
[7:39 PM]GKG_Alan: I’m here today for Crescendo of Violence (which i often call CoV); a d10 pool based system called “STOPLIGHT”, where you play as noir-archetypical characters in a neon-noir setting (think cyberpunk but without the punk ethos to it).
[7:39 PM]GKG_Alan: The blurb from Osprey is: 2093, Neo York. A dystopian technological marvel, where concrete high-rises brim with holographic neon, as gilded mob bosses, flashy CEOs, and famous vid-stars all strive to consolidate their power over the masses. And while the rain reflects the neon, it never washes away the grim and filth of the streets. Welcome to a world of synth-jazz and cybernetics, where the status quo grinds down the hard-working man and vat-grown clone alike. Whether you’re the redemption-seeking gangster, the one good cop in a corrupt system, or the gene-modded musician trying to make it big, you’ll be trying to get by in a city that just doesn’t care. Epic fight scenes take centre stage in this game of stylised, high-octane bloodshed. Jump straight into the action with a unique ruleset designed to deliver a cinematic, neon-noir experience, as the spotlight focuses on the brutal showdowns that will define you – or leave you face-down in the dirt. So get ready to give them hell, as the sultry notes of the saxophone build into a crescendo of violence.
[7:39 PM]GKG_Alan: (done)
[7:40 PM]Dan the GMshoe: Thanks, @GKG_Alan! The floor is open to questions!
[7:40 PM]Dan the GMshoe: How would you describe the tech level of the setting?
[7:40 PM]GKG_Alan: hand-wavey cyberpunk.
[7:40 PM]GKG_Alan: If you think Blade Runner, you’re about there.
[7:40 PM]GKG_Alan: Hovercars, etc.
[7:41 PM]Dan the GMshoe: How common are cybernetics?
[7:41 PM]GKG_Alan: so common that nearly everyone has them!
[7:41 PM]Rated_Aargh: How do you de-punk cyberpunk exactly?
[7:41 PM]Dan the GMshoe: Are there any drawbacks to cybernetics?
[7:41 PM]GKG_Alan: Dan, nope. They’re just a normal fact of life.
[7:42 PM]GKG_Alan: @Rated_Aargh – I mean, I’m using cyberpunk as shorthand for the tech, but the game isn’t about “fighting the man”, or any of the punk ethos bits.1
[7:42 PM]GKG_Alan: you could run the game that way, but the central concept of the game is more noir than punk
[7:42 PM]GKG_Alan: folks are just looking out for themselves, even the protagonists.
[7:43 PM]Dan the GMshoe: And genemods are a thing as well?
[7:44 PM]GKG_Alan: Yup! Those are mostly represented through stat bonuses.
[7:44 PM]GKG_Alan: Not any particular rules for specific mods.
[7:44 PM]GKG_Alan: The game is more rules-light, and as such, the impact of certain pieces of near-future tech are distilled down to the basics (+1 to an attribute) rather than anything else.
[7:45 PM]Dan the GMshoe: What are the laws like in neon-noir NYC regarding weaponry?
[7:46 PM]GKG_Alan: as corrupt as the law enforcement is in our neon-noir setting
[7:46 PM]GKG_Alan: pay them enough, the laws are irrelevant
[7:46 PM]GKG_Alan: tick ’em off? Very relevant
[7:46 PM]GKG_Alan: Some weapons are tagged as “illegal” which gives the GM some room to introduce narrative complications if you use them.
[7:48 PM]Dan the GMshoe: What’s on the high end of legal weaponry?
[7:49 PM]GKG_Alan: a pistol or small sidearm style weapon, depending on the situation and what part of the city you are in.
[7:49 PM]GKG_Alan: Neo York is a floating city, as it was detached from the standard New York location, and as such other floating cities have glommed onto it, creating a mishmash of distinct and clear cities
[7:49 PM]GKG_Alan: Little Italy is literally a city from Italy that was floated over
[7:49 PM]Dan the GMshoe: Heh. Nice touch.
[7:50 PM]Dan the GMshoe: So does the action take place in Neo York?
[7:50 PM]GKG_Alan: the game defaults to that yup.
[7:50 PM]GKG_Alan: I wanted more than “The City”, and New York is a classic noir set piece
[7:50 PM]GKG_Alan: made sense to use it
[7:52 PM]Dan the GMshoe: How do you square noir with high-octane action? I’m definitely no expert on the subject, but from what noir I’ve seen, it seems like violence takes the form of very brief, fatal action rather that ongoing firefights.
[7:54 PM]GKG_Alan: well, this is where it gets interest. Classic film noir is punchy, fast, and fatal. You’re 100% right. But, if you watch any classic Hong Kong action noir (such as The Killer by John Woo), they are 100% noir movies, where the fight scene is an extension of the communication between the characters. So yes, they’re fighting. It’s high-octane. It’s dramatic. But, violence is a form of communication, especially in RPGs, and that communication simply takes the place of the dramatic talky scene before the fatal violence in classic film noir
[7:55 PM]GKG_Alan: they’re not terribly hard to square up actually. The character archetypes are very similar (disgruntled PI, undercover cop, bitter veteran, musician, etc.) All of those archtypes exist in heroic bloodshed and noir.
[7:56 PM]Dan the GMshoe: Huh. Interesting. I suppose The Killer and Hardboiled really are noir in their own way.
[7:56 PM]GKG_Alan: I’d posit they’re more noir than lots of “classic” noir.
[7:56 PM]GKG_Alan: I mean, look at Sin City.
[7:56 PM]GKG_Alan: That is some high-octane action.
[7:56 PM]GKG_Alan: Crescendo of Violence leans into that.
[7:59 PM]Dan the GMshoe: The other thing that strikes me about what little I know of noir movies is that they seem to focus on individuals, while the typical TTRPG focuses on groups. Is that a valid observation, and if so, what are your thoughts on the subject?
[8:01 PM]GKG_Alan: Again, I think it’s an evolution of noir. Classic film noir is often a single protagonist, but as noir has gone on, you get team-ups (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang; Hardboiled; the Nice Guys), to even more (L.A. Confidential is a three characters; Ocean’s 11 is debatably a noir/heist movie blend – I think it’s more heist than noir, but you see my point.)
[8:01 PM]GKG_Alan: The game has specific discrete scenes that allow you to break up characters into solo action segments for spotlighting.
[8:01 PM]GKG_Alan: There’s a five act structure that mirrors jazz music composition, and during certain portions, each player can go do their thing (get some equipment, prep some help, question someone, etc.)
[8:02 PM]GKG_Alan: it’s got a blend of troupe play, solo spotlight moments, and standard RPG group action.
[8:03 PM]Dan the GMshoe: I take it that you see jazz as the appropriate soundtrack to this game?
[8:04 PM]GKG_Alan: Yeah! The game features a jazz revival called “synth-jazz”, and it really lends to the elements (I used a lot of jazz composition theory in the mechanical design of the game.)
[8:05 PM]Dan the GMshoe: What form of current jazz most resembles how you envision synth-jazz? Acid jazz? Jazz fusion, maybe?
[8:06 PM]GKG_Alan: if you are familiar with polyrhythmic synth, a blend of that and jazz and you’re right there.
[8:06 PM]GKG_Alan: stuff like this.
[8:07 PM]Dan the GMshoe: Oooooh, yeah. Good stuff.
[8:08 PM]Dan the GMshoe: What sorts of adventures do the PCs typically get up to?
[8:08 PM]Dan the GMshoe: (brb)
[8:09 PM]GKG_Alan: There’s a variety: it can be classic noir style investigations into murders, lovers, and more. Cleaning up a neighborhood from the mob, stealing from criminals, or bringing down corrupt cops are all elements of the adventures.
[8:09 PM]GKG_Alan: if you can imagine, any classic noir film, you can do it in CoV but with a neon-veneer over it
[8:11 PM]Dan the GMshoe: Do you have a character sheet that you can share with us?
[8:12 PM]GKG_Alan: Lemme see if Osprey posted it
[8:12 PM]GKG_Alan: Nope, not yet
[8:12 PM]GKG_Alan: there is one and it’s nice
[8:13 PM]Dan the GMshoe: As best as I can make make out, it appears that styles of action take the place of attributes and/or skills.
[8:14 PM]GKG_Alan: That is a very accurate assessment
[8:14 PM]GKG_Alan: Osprey has a blog about that on their site
[8:14 PM]Dan the GMshoe: How does that work in practice?
[8:16 PM]GKG_Alan: it’s about your approach to solving a problem or obstacle in your path
[8:16 PM]GKG_Alan: do you try to power through it, do you try to overcome with force or violence/
[8:17 PM]GKG_Alan: that determines your pool of dice, which you roll against a TN of 1-10
[8:17 PM]GKG_Alan: equal or exceed to accomplish
[8:18 PM]Dan the GMshoe: Success-counting, I’m assuming here?
[8:18 PM]GKG_Alan: nope . Single die = you did it.
[8:19 PM]GKG_Alan: roll, keep the highest, compare to TN
[8:20 PM]GKG_Alan: it designed it to be as quick and intuitive as possible. “How hard, on a scale of 1-10”, roll a pool, pick the highest, compare.
[8:20 PM]Dan the GMshoe: I see… Is there any perk to rolling more than one success, though?
[8:21 PM]GKG_Alan: there are perks to mulitple ’10s’
[8:21 PM]GKG_Alan: you can trade them in for extra in game currency
[8:22 PM]Dan the GMshoe: Game currency? Can you give an example of that?
[8:22 PM]GKG_Alan: sure. So, there’s a meta-currency in the game (three in fact), which is why the core dice system is so simple. I put the complexity somewhere else
[8:23 PM]GKG_Alan: First, you have reserves, which are dice rolls you make before the game that can be spent on various effects (replacing rolls you don’t like, trading them in for bonuses with specific rules)
[8:23 PM]GKG_Alan: Secondly, you have momentum, which is a currency that grants you extra actions, as well as other bonuses (it’s one of the things you can spend ’10s’ on).
[8:24 PM]GKG_Alan: Finally, you have action tokens which are a single red token, single yellow token, and single green token, which you must spend on each roll you make. You get them all back immediate when you spend them all
[8:24 PM]GKG_Alan: Red grants you a -2d10 penalty. Yellow is a static. Green is a bonus +2d10
[8:24 PM]GKG_Alan: when you spend them, you or the GM have to narrate what is setting you back or helping you
[8:27 PM]Dan the GMshoe: Hmm… So for each action, the player is deciding the degree of difficulty?
[8:28 PM]GKG_Alan: the GM has control over the 1-10 and the player gets to leverage some input and modification
[8:30 PM]Dan the GMshoe: What determines the size of a PC’s reserves?
[8:30 PM]GKG_Alan: it’s the same for all PCs but standard unmodified humans
[8:31 PM]GKG_Alan: (they get a bonus +1 reserve)
[8:31 PM]GKG_Alan: CoV is designed to be cinematic, and so it tries to put all the protagonists on equal footing
[8:32 PM]Dan the GMshoe: Is that reserves bonus the only advantage to playing an unmodified human?
[8:32 PM]GKG_Alan: yuuuuuuup
[8:32 PM]GKG_Alan: it’s hard to be unmodified in a modified future
[8:34 PM]Dan the GMshoe: I notice that you stipulate “human”. What other options are there?
[8:34 PM]GKG_Alan: human, cyborg, genemod and clone
[8:37 PM]GKG_Alan: they are all basically what they say they are
[8:38 PM]Dan the GMshoe: So are cyborgs the only ones who get cybernetics?
[8:38 PM]GKG_Alan: they are the only ones who start with them, though anyone can get them
[8:41 PM]Dan the GMshoe: Does the same thing go for genemods and genetic modifications?
[8:41 PM]GKG_Alan: no, genetic modifications are the sole province of genemods, as they have to be introduced early in the process (like childhood)
[8:42 PM]Dan the GMshoe: I see. How exotic to genemods get?
[8:43 PM]GKG_Alan: They can be as exotic as the player describes, because the bonus is purely mechanical and applies to attributes. The cyber part of the game orients more towards the noir (so less hidden guns in arms) and more things like AR overlays, etc.
[8:44 PM]Dan the GMshoe: What advantages do clones have?
[8:45 PM]GKG_Alan: Oof I shoulda reread the book! (I turned it in almost a year ago!)1
[8:46 PM]GKG_Alan: Clones have more focused and slightly higher starting attributes, as well as a specific engrained skills
[8:46 PM]Dan the GMshoe: What is the status of clones in society? Are they treated any differently than are humans?
[8:47 PM]GKG_Alan: in the past they were
[8:47 PM]GKG_Alan: they are often perceived as inferior by some, but they have the same rights and protections as anyone else
[8:49 PM]Dan the GMshoe: Why were they created?
[8:49 PM]GKG_Alan: cheap labor
[8:49 PM]GKG_Alan: soldiers
[8:50 PM]GKG_Alan: biomedical replacement
[8:50 PM]GKG_Alan: Lots of reasons
[8:51 PM]Dan the GMshoe: Are they literally clones of specific people, or are they more like Bladerunner’s replicants?
[8:51 PM]GKG_Alan: they started as specific clones, but now they’re more like replicants in the setting
[8:51 PM]Dan the GMshoe: Gotcha.
[8:52 PM]Dan the GMshoe: How does combat work?
[8:54 PM]GKG_Alan: So it follows a spotlight initiative system, and you can use momentum to take bonus actions. You can’t actually die until the Act IV boss fight in each session, but you can be set back, have narrative complications ensue (a contact is accidentally killed in the crossfire, etc.)
[8:55 PM]GKG_Alan: characters suffer damage by losing “action tokens”, while enemies have a harm rating (as the GM doesn’t have action tokens)
[8:56 PM]GKG_Alan: During act 4, if characters lose all their action tokens, they might die in a blaze of glory
[8:58 PM]Dan the GMshoe: I’m unfamiliar with the term “spotlight initiative system.” How does that work?
[8:59 PM]GKG_Alan: after the end of your action (or actions if you use momentum), you choose how to pass the turn order and to whom (it’s also called popcorn sometimes).
[9:00 PM]Dan the GMshoe: Ah, I think I have heard of that.
[9:00 PM]Dan the GMshoe: How do the antagonists get a turn?
[9:00 PM]GKG_Alan: you have to choose them before you can loop back around
[9:01 PM]GKG_Alan: the Gm can also elect to use some of the game currency to swing the spotlight to the antagonists.
[9:02 PM]Dan the GMshoe: Aha.
[9:02 PM]Dan the GMshoe: How do weapons and armor factor in?
[9:03 PM]GKG_Alan: weapons have a “damage” rating, which you roll against the target. If you exceed, you deal damage. Armor raises that TN
[9:04 PM]Dan the GMshoe: What is the TN based on aside from armor?
[9:05 PM]GKG_Alan: your attribute (Resolute)
[9:07 PM]Dan the GMshoe: Is all combat based around the Violent stat? If so, how do you keep combat interesting?
[9:08 PM]GKG_Alan: not at all, you might try to be fast to hit an opponent before they can react, or sneaky to palm a knife and stab them
[9:08 PM]Dan the GMshoe: Ah, I see. Cool.
[9:09 PM]GKG_Alan: Violence is force. You can be violent towards a jammed door. Or while interrogating a perp
[9:10 PM]GKG_Alan: there’s a LOT of narrative interpretation behind those word choices.
[9:10 PM]Dan the GMshoe: On a cinematic action scale of 1-10, 1 being totally gritty (Warhammer FRP) and 10 being totally over the top action (Feng Shui), where does CoV fall?
[9:10 PM]GKG_Alan: I’d hope 10, but I imagine it’s more 8-9
[9:11 PM]Dan the GMshoe: Well, keep in mind that in Feng Shui, running along a stream of machine gun fire is a viable tactic, so…
[9:11 PM]GKG_Alan: If you wanted to run this one that way, you could without much modificaiton
[9:11 PM]Dan the GMshoe: Really? Nice!
[9:12 PM]Dan the GMshoe: Do you have any plans to use this system for anything else?
[9:12 PM]GKG_Alan: Maybe one day, but I haven’t settled on anything yet
[9:14 PM]Dan the GMshoe: Actually… how would that work, assuming that you wanted to do that? I know that you can’t trademark rules, but am I right that Osprey hired you to write this game and that it belongs to them?
[9:14 PM]GKG_Alan: Nope.
[9:14 PM]GKG_Alan: With Osprey, I own my games
[9:14 PM]Dan the GMshoe: (Please forgive my ignorance in these matters. )
[9:14 PM]GKG_Alan: There’s al ot of contract details, but basically: the writing and rules are all mine.
[9:15 PM]Dan the GMshoe: Now that’s a nice arrangement. How common is such a setup in the industry?
[9:15 PM]GKG_Alan: it depends
[9:16 PM]GKG_Alan: I own every game I’ve written (with a handful of small exceptions), though I often don’t own any adventures I write for friends for their games or kickstarters.
[9:16 PM]GKG_Alan: but all my licensed games (Tombpunk, Heirs to Heresy, CoV, future stuff) is all mine. At least the text, rules, and more remain my trademark/copyright, and sometimes the art.
[9:17 PM]GKG_Alan: when GKG publishes others, we also make sure they retain ownership of their games (and usually their art as well – there might be a few limited examples where they used art GKG already owned or something, but generally if we develop a property for someone, we make sure they own it lock, stock and barrel) (edited)
[9:17 PM]GKG_Alan: every game, publisher, and designer are different
[9:18 PM]GKG_Alan: what Osprey offered me, worked for me. I can’t say it would work for everyone, but I’ve found working with them to be nothing short of wonderful.
[9:20 PM]Dan the GMshoe: That’s awesome.
[9:20 PM]Dan the GMshoe: How did the game originate? Did they describe the concept to you and let you create the game, for example?
[9:21 PM]GKG_Alan: In this case, I reached out to them asking if they wanted some games (I was a fan of their ideas and I had some historical themed games), and they asked for any and all pitches. I had this one simmering and they liked it
[9:22 PM]Dan the GMshoe: I see… Why didn’t you publish it through GKG instead?
[9:25 PM]GKG_Alan: 1.) I’m pretty busy at GKG. If I had to do every game, we’d never see half of them. I already can’t get everything I write out if I want nice art and layout. Here I can write it and they can handle the rest. 2.) It’s fun to work for others. It pushes me to listen, grow and respond to insights I might be insulated or sheltered from. It makes me a better designer and a better publisher. Making sure I keep freelancing helps me remember to be the best publisher I can be, not just the best designer.
[9:25 PM]GKG_Alan: There’s other reasons too but they’re pretty specific to me.
[9:26 PM]Dan the GMshoe: That makes sense.
[9:26 PM]Dan the GMshoe: In the time remaining, is there anything we haven’t covered that you’d like to bring up?
[9:26 PM]GKG_Alan: Nope, I think we hit a lot of it (edited)
[9:27 PM]GKG_Alan: It was a good back and forth
[9:27 PM]Dan the GMshoe: Cool.
[9:27 PM]Dan the GMshoe: Thanks for joining us, @GKG_Alan!
[9:27 PM]Dan the GMshoe: Don’t be such a stranger!
[9:27 PM]Dan the GMshoe: Usual reminder: If you’ve enjoyed this Q&A and would like to treat me to a coffee or two, you can do so at https://www.ko-fi.com/gmshoe. Anything’s appreciated! Ko-fiBuy Dan Davenport a Coffee. ko-fi.com/gmshoeBecome a supporter of Dan Davenport today! ❤️ Ko-fi lets you support the creators you love with no fees on donations.
[9:28 PM]Dan the GMshoe: Now, if you’ll give me just a minute, I’ll get the log posted and link you!
[9:28 PM]GKG_Alan: cool, thanks