Expert Nova’s Fundamental Precepts

When you buy a car, you look for a model whose performance suits your needs. The generic car, equally good at all tasks, doesn’t exist. This observation also applies to RPG rules: their designer has, hopefully, a clear notion for what purposes his game is intended.

So, when I start working on a new set of RPG rules, I first visualize a key issue: “What do the adventurers do here?” In other words, what kinds of story/movie/TV-series do you wish to emulate? Your decision takes you to the next question: “What important features does your choice require?” (Dogfighting spacecraft? Sneaky espionage gadgets? Clever heists?) Hence, you must establish a set of precepts to serve as the foundation of your project.

My favorite example is West End Games’s Star Wars D6 from 1987, designed by Greg Costikyan. When I read that game for the first time 33 years ago, it was like seeing an intricate piece of machinery put together by a master craftsman. Greg knew exactly what the Star Wars setting required and he designed the game accordingly, scoring a Gold+ medal for his efforts.

One year ago, I decided (at the spur of a moment) to write Expert Nova. From hour one, I knew for what types of campaigns its rules were intended. My intentions are summarized in the following precepts (central ideas are underlined):

  1. Milieu: Expert Nova is intended for action and adventures in contemporary settings (circa 1880-2050) with technological underpinnings, that is, near-future science fiction, steampunk, dieselpunk, solarpunk, spy thrillers, pulp adventures, alternate history, etc. I also apply two Classical maxims to the game: pántōn chrēmáton ánthrōpon métron eínai* (“man is the measure of all things”, Protagoras) and homo homini lupus est** (“man is man’s wolf”, Plautus), that is, Expert Nova deals with our species facing the universe while simultaneously presupposing that we are our own worst enemy. Hence, moderate “weird technology” lies within Expert Nova’s scope, whereas horror and supernatural entities don’t.
  2. Mood: The players’ adventurers are supposed to be competent people with agency, free will, and a desire to make sensible decisions. That is, a campaign may introduce powerful NPCs with malicious intentions, but there are always ways of opposing them; a setting may be grim, but the adventurers still get the choice to “do the right thing”. For those reasons, railroading adventures, moral nihilism, and “let’s embrace the darkness” attitudes are out of bounds.
  3. Mindset: Adventurers are supposed to think outside the box when facing challenges. Therefore, I encourage clever schemes, cool stunts, and witty repartee.

A Swedish game designer recently asked me whether he could use my rules for a new game project. When he explained its setting to me. I saw that it lay within Expert Nova’s scope, so I granted him permission. I’m looking forward to see what he will accomplish with the Expert Nova “toolbox”.

Expert Nova is available in Swedish and English …
… as paperbacks — link >>>
… as PDFs — link >>> 


* Människan är alltings mått.
** Människan är människans varg.

Looking back, looking ahead

Traditionally, late December is a time for summarizing the past year and taking a look at what the next year might entail. Here in my blog I focus on my writing endeavors — what’s been accomplished in 2018 and what I hope work with in 2019.

2018: My Accomplishments

  1. Partisan, the Great Surprise: In March, somebody found the sole remaining printout of the legendary and never-published Swedish RPG Partisan and gave it to me. It deals with foreign occupation of our country, presented in the four settings Brown (Nazi Germany), Red (Cold War Soviet), Blue (Cold War with an authoritarian United States), and Ultraviolet (nefarious aliens from space). Serendipity: everybody had thought that the game was lost forever, but here is my incomplete manuscript from when the game was shelved thirty years ago. The printout nowadays rests securely in a safe. Link (Swedish) >>>
  2. During the autumn, I launched my Patreon page, where you can sponsor my writing role-playing games (RPGs) and get various goodies, such as the extant three Partisan settings Red, Blue, and Ultraviolet; and Thriller, my unpublished RPG manuscript from 1983 (espionage and sleuthing in the vein of the original Mission Impossible TV series). Link (English) >>>
  3. In October, Helmgast published Sorgeveden, my campaign setting for Krister Sundelin’s fantasy RPG Hjältarnas Tid. The book depicts an immense forest, stretching from spruces and birches in the subarctic north to jungles in the tropics. Link (Swedish) >>>
  4. In November, I delivered Märk hur vår skugga, an introductory adventure to the new edition of Chock, a Swedish horror RPG that will be published by Eloso in 2019. Link (Swedish) >>>
  5. In December, I launched my product page on DriveThruRPG. So far, it is a trial version, but I intend to use it to sell English PDFs of Traveller settings and other “stuff”. Link (English) >>>
  6. In December, my adult daughter Elin, aka the Tiger, joined forces with me as Team Fox. She is currently a student at an art & design school and she will illustrate some products that will get published at DriveThruRPG. Link (English) >>>
  7. In December, I published Dust & The Road, a paperback with two dieselpunk shortstories that are partially based on my experiences of serving in Afghanistan ten years ago. The stories introduce my setting Patchwork World, a fragmented steampunk & dieselpunk world. Link (English) >>>

Q4 2018 was obviously a hectic time. When I look at the list above, I feel contented with what I achieved.

2019: My intentions

  1. Since 2014, I have planned to make a revised version of the vintage Swedish postapocalyptic RPG Wastelands, but I quickly encountered various snags and obstacles. When Tove & Anders Gillbring a few years later decided to produce Freeway Warrior as an RPG, we agreed that I would turn Wastelands into a Swedish setting for the game. My vision is best summarized as “Lars Molin meets Mad Max”. Tove’s cancer has repeatedly delayed the project, but I hope we can get it moving during 2019.
  2. The hush-hush job: I have made a deal with an publisher about a major RPG project. A non-disclosure agreement prevents me from mentioning details until the publisher has announced the venture. But I am already working on it, and the production team has had fruitful brainstorming sessions on Skype. My deadline is late 2019. Yeah, I feel good about this project.
  3. Dusk and Dawn is a standalone steampunk novella taking place in Patchwork World, though far from the locations of “Dusk” and “The Road”. I have written the first half of the story and and I hope to complete it in 2019. Link (English) >>>
  4. I have outlined a Traveller universe with distinctive qualities, grimmer than the one Marc Miller developed. It’s there to be written when I get time for it. It will sooner or later get published via DriveThruRPG. What rules? Well, probably one set of Cepheus Light and one set of BRP.
  5. I have outlined a dieselpunk RPG, working name Iron Empires, that takes places in an alternate timeline. The game will get at least two Terrestrial and one Martian setting. It is too early to go into details, but you’ll get updates in my blog when I have something substantial to tell. My plan is to publish Iron Empires via DriveThroughRPG, using a variant of the Cepheus Engine rules.

I don’t expect to complete all these projects during 2019, but if I get sunny weather with the wind in my back, and there is plenty of coffee in my thermos flask of holding, I might walk a part of my road. However, an ancient word of wisdom cautions us: Man supposes, God disposes.

“Dust” & “The Road” on Amazon


Ten years ago, I served six months in the civilian police mission EUPOL in Kabul. I was press and public information officer. The mission was organized by the European Union and I was seconded by Sweden’s Folke Bernadotte Academy.

Returning to normality in Sweden afterwards wasn’t easy. Our counselor Adam advised me to write about my experiences in a literary medium. By writing about them as dieselpunk science fiction, I could more easily explore the essence of my experiences, how they changed me, and how I reinvented myself after coming home.

Now my two short-stories are available in one self-published paperback on Amazon — link >>>

The following excerpt is the beginning of “Dust”:

I will always associate Ariana with the smell of dust, dry as cinder. It is a land of few colors: brown soil, grey rock and green vegetation characterize the hills and valleys. What do the inhabitants really subsist on in this arid home of death? It took some time before I realized what the farmers cultivated and what their herds grazed. We will usually not eat what they grow, but they are able to eke out a meagre existence here.

The sole relief for my eyes was the blue sky, a brilliant shade that I had never seen back home. Occasionally puffy clouds would drift across it, adding white to the limited palette. The sunlight is so sharp that the human eye cannot determine its color; just dazzling, be it white, yellow, or pale orange. It is only at the brief sunrises and sunsets that you are able to look in the sun’s direction and then the disc is orange, casting pink and purple hues across the sky.

What do we do here, aliens in an unearthly land, hated by some, distrusted by most and appreciated by too few? Ariana had for decades been a place shunned by the powers-that-be, the home of fierce natives and devoid of anything that would attract the attention of outsiders. However, the game of power is played according to rules that often are hard to comprehend for common men.

 

Patreon Progress (3): Almost there

This weekend, I made a complete mock-up of my Patreon site. What remains to do is adding the final batch of PDFs.  My Patreon supporters will get access to: Thriller, the first Swedish role-playing game I wrote; an English alpha version of the rules to Iron Mars, a dieselpunk planetary romance RPG I have been working on for over a year; and some other goodies in Swedish or English. And there is more stuff waiting in the pipeline. Launch within a week or so, so stay tuned to this blog for further news.

Quick Authorial Update For Q4 2018


I haven’t touched the blog for three weeks, because I have been terribly busy with my daytime job as a techwriter and with various family-related matters. However, I’m gearing up for an exciting fourth quarter. My first priority is to complete my introductory adventure to Eloso’s new Swedish horror RPG Chock. Only 20% of the text remains to be written.

After that, it’s time to get going on Wastelands Sverige, a Swedish setting for Åskfågeln’s postapocalyptic RPG Freeway Warrior. My setting is based on the classic Swedish RPG Wastelands from 1991, updated to fit the 21st century. I intend to pay a lot of attention to the port city of Gothenburg and to the fertile farmlands of the adjacent province of Västergötland.

And there are a few other “gamey things” in the pipeline, though my non-disclosure agreements prevent me from saying more. It looks like I’ll have an exciting 2019 when it come to writing games.

I am still working on my Patreon site, and I want to get it up and running before the end of the year.

As for my science fiction and fantasy novels, they are in the backburner for the time being; they have no deadlines, unlike the game texts.

“The Ice War”: An Alban juggernaut at work

Polar scene by Rob Watkins (click on picture for lager version)

When I wrote my dieselpunk spy adventure The Ice War (link >>> ) some years ago, I let the story have three protagonists: two people — spy Johnny Bornewald and mechanic Linda Connor — and one continent — Alba, an alternate-history substitute for Antarctica. Transportation across Alba’s icy wastes is mainly by juggernauts, huge diesel-electric vehicles that take people and supplies from one frozen location to another. This illustration by Rob Watkins captures quite well what a freight juggernaut of the Russian army looks like.

Podcasten Bortom: Jag blickar tillbaks på mina 40+ år i branschen

Summary in English: I have been interviewed in a Swedish podcast about my 40+ yaers in the RPG business.

Robert Jonsson har intervjuat mig för sin podcast Bortom Bortom. I avsnitt 62, inbäddat nedan, berättar jag om hur jag började med hobbyn och tar er med på en resa igenom min karriär där världsskapandet är den röda tråden. Jag berör bland annat rollspelen Drakar och Demoner, Mutant 2, Partisan, Gondica och Wastelands.

Partisan: ett svenskt rött-vitt inbördskrig?

Summary in English: This blog post deals with the unearthing of the lost unpublished Swedish role-playing game Partisan, which deals with Sweden under a fictional foreign occupation.

Den hypotetiska Socialistiska Rådsrepubliken Sveriges flagga

För några veckor sedan fick jag den enda existerande manuskopian — åtminstone så vitt jag vet — av det sägenomspunna opublicerade rollspelet Partisan (läs mer om fyndet här — länk >>> ). Häromdagen blev jag tillfrågad om hur jag såg på en Partisan-setting med ett svenskt inbördeskrig. Efter lite funderande kom jag fram till att ämnet förtjänar att stötas och blötas här på bloggen.

En inbördeskrigskampanj fanns inte i min tankevärld när jag skrev Partisans urmanus för trettio år sedan. Dåförtiden hade jag sett tv-serier som Hemliga Armén (en allvarlig skildring av livet i det ockuperade Belgien, inte att förväxla med parodin ‘Allo ‘Allo) och V (en invasion av förklädda rymdödlor), samt läst John Hacketts två böcker om tredje världskriget . Så jag tänkte enbart i termer av Sverige under ockupation av främmande makt.

Nåväl, hur ser jag på saken idag? Jo, när det gäller ett svenskt inbördeskrig, oavsett om vi tänker oss i nutid, på 1980-talet eller tidigare under 1900-talet, har jag svårt att visualisera en kampanjmiljö som skulle upplevas som spelbar. Vi svenskar saknar ju den typen av erfarenheter, till skillnad från exempelvis Finland eller Tyskland. Och där startade inbördeskrigen när den gamla samhällsordningen bröt samman på grund av första världskriget.

Om vi använder Sverige 1917-21, de stökiga åren när demokratin slutligen segrade hos oss, som utgångspunkt kan vi notera följande:

A. Den svenska vänstern dominerades under 1910-talet av reformister. Socialdemokraterna var tydliga med att de skulle ta makten via demokratiska val och att de inte godtog våldsamma “minoritetslösningar”, medan partiets revolutionsvurmande leninister förblev ett litet men bullrigt kotteri som bröt sig ut 1917. Detta till skillnad från de finska socialdemokraterna som var redo att gripa till vapen på grund av det politiska tumult som drabbat Finland efter den ryska republikanska revolutionen i mars 1917.

B. Den svenska högern var inte heller beredd att sätta hårt mot hårt. I och för sig hade kungen och hans kamarilla genom politiskt fulspel kuppat bort en liberal regering vid borggårdstalet 1914, men riksdagens högerledare ville ändå inte upprätta en auktoritär regim, eftersom de redan inför rösträttsreformen 1909 hade förstått att en sådan vore dömd att misslyckas. Sålunda accepterade högern utan större knot att socialdemokrater och liberaler hösten 1917 berövade kungen all personlig makt och införde parlamentarisk demokrati med allmän rösträtt. Återigen till skillnad från åsiktsfränderna bland de vita i Finland.

C. Finska inbördeskrigets vita och röda parter stöddes av varsin stormakt: Kejsartyskland och Sovjetryssland. Röda upprorsmakare i Sverige skulle sakna försörjningsleder österut, till skillnad från de finska röda som kontrollerade järnvägen från Helsingfors till Lenins Petrograd. Och utan sovjetiskt logistiskt stöd vore en röd revolt dödfödd. Samtidigt skulle en vit sida få stöd via havet, antingen av Tyskland till oktober 1918 eller från 1919 av Storbritannien.

Slutsats: Jag kan inte se en trovärdig Partisan-setting med ett svenskt inbördeskrig av finsk modell, eftersom vårt samhälle saknade nödvändiga kulturella, politiska och militära komponenter. Det finns andra, mer stämningsfulla alternativhistoriska miljöer; mer om sådana i kommande bloggposter.

Steampunk and the Dark Man’s Burden

Colonialism is a frequent backdrop to my stories, regardless whether I write dieselpunk or fantasy, stories or role-playing games. Since I have one foot in Europe and one in India, I have had the unusual experience of seeing that phenomenon from both sides. Some of the elders of my Indian clan, all of them sadly departed by now, participated in the liberation struggles in the 1930s and 1940s, whereas others served in the British Indian army and fought the Japanese. All had much to tell me and I cherish those memories. And here in Europe it is hard to avoid the “white man’s burden” narrative of colonialism; it appears in all kinds of popular culture.

So I write about characters from both sides of the fence and let them explain by themselves how they relate to an authoritarian colonial order − make no mistake about it: colonialism is getting a stranger’s fist punched in your face, even though the force of the blow may vary depending on what nation does the colonizing and when.

“The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much.” − From The Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad.

Scene from the US conquest of the Philippines circa 1900. Artist: Vasili Vereshchagin

Colonialism often gets soft-pedalled in steampunk. SM Stirling’s alt-history Indian Raj in Peshawar Lancers is an illustrating example: the author unsuccessfully strives for a Kipling-ish mood in a tall tale (featuring airships, evil cults, etc) in which romanticized British and French adventurers save a colonial regime, and incidentally its native subjects, from Russian machinations, while Indian nationalists appear as terrorists and Afghan tribesmen resemble pseudo-Orcs. Bruce Sterling’s The Difference Engine approaches the same issues in a less rose-tinted manner, for example by an unflattering portrayal of the English protagonists’ harsh attitudes toward First Nation Americans.

So this is the above-mentioned burden of colonized peoples: to be amusing sidekicks, expendable femmes fatales, and devious adversaries to white protagonists, or to be background witnesses to the plot-shaking actions of Americo-European heroes. It reminds me of Arthur Conan Doyle’s use of foreign characters in his fiction, for example devious or temperamental Italians and South Americans, or the predatorial savage in The Sign of Four. Such aliens are strange to behold and difficult to comprehend, thus becoming menacing outsiders to white insiders − them versus us, the psychological curse afflicting colonial settlements everywhere.

However, all is not gloom. In Steve Turnbull’s novellas about Anglo-Indian sleuth Maliha Anderson, Indians are full-fledged protagonists in his steampunk Raj and Ceylon. And I approach colonialism with a critical mindset in my dieselpunk novel The Ice War, in which, for example, Eurasian spy Johnny Bornewald faces widespread racism, and is at times able to exploit that sentiment, because those contemptuous Europeans presume that he is an ignorant yokel.