So the cat’s already out of the bag that Phantasm(2010) has been nominated for an Ennie Award for Best Free Game. I fully don’t expect to have any shot at actually winning, because I know what our sales are like, and from that I can extrapolate how many…er…few…people have heard of us, but still, even being nominated for something like this is a great big delight and a great big honor. Not to mention a great big shock!
Phantasm is among the very first games I ever designed; the original version of it dates back to 2004, or even earlier. If memory serves, originally, I began developing the game, on my laptop one morning at my friend John’s house actually, as an act of pure fannish enthusiasm for the old b-movies of the same name. I did not once consider things like if this idea was saleable, if anyone else was interested in playing this concept, etcetera. All I knew is, I wanted there to be a Phantasm roleplaying game so I could play one, with the obscurity of the source material, no one else was likely to make one for me (fun fact: I wassss wronnnnnggggggg, but I wouldn’t find out that my idea had already been gnabbed by Jared Goddamn Sorensen of Lacuna fame until years too late), so I’d better do it myself.
And I did.
The results were…mixed. As you can imagine with any first serious effort at game design, first effort at adapting non-interactive source material for interactive play, and so on. I was, after all, only 18.
Fast forward a bit…
When in 2010 I vowed to spend the year rebuilding my mechanically crappy, deeply flawed old Phantasm game (entitled Phantasm D6) from the ground up, again there was no thought of if this idea would “sell”. This second take at Phantasm, to be completed by 2010–hence the title, Phantasm(2010)–wasn’t motivated fanboyish glee for the source material like my first go-through. This time I was completely obsessed with the idea of creating something that was mechanically vastly better than my first attempt. I thought I had learned a lot about game design in the last five or six years (from running my own LARP for years, from playing and GMing a ton of different tabletop RPGs with a ton of different people, and so on) and I wanted to bring all of that newly minted knowledge and experience to an idea I thought deserved a better treatment than my adolescent self had managed. There’s no way I was going to come up with a game that was mechanically perfect, especially as a one-man show taking on a full length, full-sized RPG. Phantasm(2010) is a full-length RPG, at 56,000 words in manuscript form and 218 pages in print, comparable in sheer size and scope to the heavy duty corebooks adorning some of your shelves. I knew there was room in there for a lot more source material taken from other beloved grindhouse horror movies of the 70s’, 80s’, 90s’, and 2000s, and I squeezed it all in. I knew it wouldn’t be perfect, and it wasn’t, but it was a heck of a lot better than my last attempt, which was gratifying. There was no thought of making money off it, obviously, as it was a completely derivative fanwork: that’s why it remains in the *Free Game* category in spite of the production values.
I first gave Phantasm away for free on the Forge forums (in the dwindling days of that place) in January or February or 2011, a release marked with not even a piffle or a tumbleweed. It was just a big 143 page PDFified .doc with no art assets to speak of. No one would download it, even for free, to tell me what they thought. I was a bit disheartened and disappointed, not really realizing. I don’t have the time right now to explain the form of limited dementia that made me think the Forge was the kind of place you’d go to find people who want to *PLAY* homebrew RPGs, rather than just the kind of people interested in making them. I also didn’t realize that Phantasm(2010) wasn’t exactly the kind of “Indie” The Forge was into.
Now, backed by the amazing production values afforded to me by publishing as End Transmission Games my “this is way too obscure for anyone but me to show an interest in” fangame has been nominated for a gosh-darn Ennie award. I’m flabbergasted, but happy. Words fail. Who knows, maybe we’ll even break the top 100 small press on DriveThru…but I doubt it. : P
Speaking of things that make my heart soar, back at Origins 2013 I got to meet the incomparable Steve Long, the superhuman, (seemingly) single-handed creator of the massive pile of Hero System books I own. I gave him a copy of the Singularity System core rulebook that we were launching at that convention (just *slightly* overshadowed by the SR5 launch, as you can see on the front page of http://rpg.drivethrustuff.com/), mainly to lighten the heavy load of books and shame we’d have to carry home. He was kind enough to give us a shout out on his blog, which I have to admit made my inner fanboy squeal with furious glee.
I already gave the “secret origins” of Phantasm(2010) (ok, not so secret, I love Phantasm, I made a shitty game about it, I learned a little about game design and made a markedly LESS shitty game about it), so let me wrap up with a bit about the origins of The Singularity System, our current flagship product. The short version, because it strikes me this may be running long.
I mentioned a larp earlier. Well…since 2005 I’ve run a science fiction LARP of my own devising and creation. Mechanically it’s evolved from a first incarnation as a bastardized derivative of Tales Of The Dreaming which itself evolved as a bastardized derivative of NERO; but that’s neither here nor there. LARPing is great, and using your imagination is great, but there are things in my imagination that LARPing doesn’t work great for: like massive space battles between cruisers, carriers, destroyers, and squadrons of fighters and bombers, or massive land battles between towering mechs, menacing tanks, and assault choppers. Also, I noticed that not only did LARPing not work as a way of roleplaying that kind of action, but the vehicle combat rules in most tabletop games I had played were sorely, sorely lacking.
Initially, the Singularity System was just Systems Malfunction The Tabletop game; but then I realized that a) that would be creating yet another game system inexorably tied to an obscure Intellectual Property virtually no one has heard of b) with a few tweaks here and there, I could create a set of core rules for doing science fictiony stuff, starship, and vehicle combat that would work for Systems Malfunction, and could be customized to work for any other science fiction setting I could think of, from Star Wars to Star Trek to Battlestar Galactica to Stargate to…Aliens. Ran out of things with “Star” in them. So that’s exactly what I did, and since then I’ve been pitching Singularity as being to science fiction what D&D is to fantasy; a generic, highly modular toolkit for creating your own setting and stories within that milieu.
Where I’m going with all this is that Singularity System hasn’t actually been set up to work as Systems Malfunction the Tabletop Game, until now. Meaning my friends and I wanting to stage un-LARP-friendly adventures in that beloved (if obscure) universe we’d created were out of luck. Again, until now.
Coming soon, and if we’re really lucky (verging on the miraculous) maybe even coming by GenCon, the Systems Malfunction Setting Module, SET #00 for the Singularity System, is being written. Has been being written since February or so and is now desperately speeding towards completion. It will come with a “default” setting for The Singularity System full of history, personality, and character–a setting years in the making, authored by dozens of people over tens of thousands of man-hours. And it will, combining like Voltron with the Singularity System, make Systems Malfunction the Tabletop Game a possibility. At last.
If not that, we are cooking up a little something else for the upcoming Gencon, as a contingency plan of sorts, so keep a lookout.
– DTO (MM) Out