Weekly Design Blog #28: Crunch is Vital, but Fluff Might Be What Sells?

Hello All,

Ok fans of Steampunk Musha, bear with me – as I seem to ramble, but I have a solid point!

Yahtzee in a Pretty Package

So a month ago now when I went to Origins, and we stayed the first few days at my in-laws place (and I was able to work on the Bastard System!). While sitting there one night, a few glasses of wine in, I was trying to explain to my mother and father-in-law what we were going to (the Origins Game Fair), the kind of thing we’d see there (I pulled out my already purchased copy of Elder Sign from Fantasy Flight Games), and why my wife and I cared (games are fun! Oh and I make money doing this now).

In attempting to explain the game of Elder Sign, which if you don’t know it is a “fast play” version of Arkham Horror by the same company and using the same art/premise but with a simpler dice mechanic) my wife was trying to explain how to play and she compared it to Yahtzee. In that classic dice game, you’re trying to roll specific sets of “values” (in the case of Yahtzee, numbers, but in Elder Sign things like Investigation (magnifying glasses), Peril (skulls), and Terror (tentacle monster) on special six-sided dice). And suddenly for her parents the game clicked.


Paper? Dice? Pencils? Is Yahtzee a tabletop RPG?

The funny part to me was that Yahtzee WAS an accurate way to describe the game, but it’s also not in the least what “draws me” to the game. Instead, I like Elder Sign because I like Arkham Horror, but it’s impractical to play that game often. And even then, I like Arkham Horror because I like the Call of Ctuhlhu RPG from Chaosium, which in turn relates to my love of that kind of strange, weird horror that HP Lovecraft and Edgar Allan Poe (and many others) wrote.

And so, Fantasy Flight Games has sold me a new version of Yahtzee because they put it in a fun and interesting package.

Relation to Tabletop RPGs

I’ve had the pleasure these past few weeks to also work on a number of alternative RPG systems from my tried-&-true love, the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game by Paizo Publishing. I have dabbled in many other systems, but few give me the proper range of customization that I’ll find in Pathfinder Roleplaying Game without overburdening me (I’m looking at you original Rifts!). One of those is the just-released vs. Ghosts game using the vs. M Engine.

I wouldn't call us, we're no good at those kinds of things...

Rick pulled me in to edit, and in my usual style I ended up adding a bunch of bits and widgets to the game, but it was great fun to work with a system that was purposefully “minimalist” and constantly remind myself to not “overthink it” etc.

And while I know “official” RPGs exist for a number of classic and neo-classic “ghost stories” like an official Ghostbusters RPG from West End Games and Supernatural RPG from Margret Weis Productions, it was great fun to make this kind of tongue-in-cheek version of a “ghost hunting” <’cuz that’s never been done before> that as much pokes fun at ghost-hunting as it does some of the tropes of RPGs.


The thing is, and here I am getting to my point in relation to Steampunk Musha, a game like vs. Ghosts is as much about tapping into “existing” products and the buyers’ pre-existing assumptions about “ghost-hunting,” AND trying to take advantage of the popular zeitgeist of the moment! With a simpler system like vs. Ghosts, we don’t give a richly detailed world-setting, we’re hoping to let consumers of all-things-ghost “make it up themselves” and it’s very much a system where

For Steampunk Musha, we face a similar but different problem. The idea of “steampunk” has come and gone within popular conception, to the point that ‘normals’ know of it and recognize it, but happily, there is still a powerful contingent of especially gamers that LOVE steampunk. Likewise, “all-things-Asian” has come and passed over the US (our default audience, though in the modern era, you can buy a PDF on RPGNow.com anywhere in the world), though really that’s more a “cycle” type thing as say Pokemon Go (originally a very Japanese phenomena) has flooded my newsfeed these past few days).

What Pokemon is this again?

We aren’t getting to work with a specific, pre-existing license though. There is no “movie tie” or “long-running television show” for Steampunk Musha (though numerous anime, films, and comics/manga/etc. are obviously “influential” on the setting). And while many things exist to tap into, we are selling a world-setting, not just a “game.”

And so, we NEED to have good “packaging.” A while back I wrote a Design-Blog titled “Crunch Must Support Fluff & Vice Versa” and in it I talked about how we needed to have crunchy mechanical bits that “fit” and helped to support the “fluff/story” components of things in-world. For instance, rather than just a simple “filing off of the serial numbers” of the base tiefling race, maybe with some already existing option like being an “oni-spawn” variant tiefling, we needed our jinteki-oni to “fit” the story of their place on Rosuto-shima. So, we released this work-in-progress version of the jinkteki-oni, which is similar in some ways to the tiefling, but really a very different “thing” all together. The Beast Within trait is really the key bit, in my mind, as our jinteki-oni is all about that “struggle” with the monster they were born to be.

Selling Steampunk Musha on Its Fluff

And so, my key bit of insight is something that likely you, the buyer, already knew but I, its designer, really needed to think about. We could, in theory, have released Steampunk Musha (as it was already once released under Iron Kingdoms) under a number of different systems, but we have chosen the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. It has a lot of what we need it to, and the parts that are missing are the fun things we get to create and add to the game. But I think in these blog-posts, because in my own work, I’ve focused perhaps too much on the “mechanical” pieces of Steampunk Musha, and what I really should maybe feature at least as well is the story-elements of Rosuto-Shima, its lore, and its place in the world.

So, expect to see more “story-fluff” in these blog posts going forward, mixed in likely with the “mechanical bits” as fitting for the topic at hand.

 Lucus Palosaari, Editor & Project Manager at Fat Goblin Games (Like us on Facebook!

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published