Expert Nova, English Edition Is Now Live on Lulu!

Expert Nova is my new role-playing game for action and mysteries in settings from the late Victorian era to a near future in which man still is the measure of all things. Put your players to the test in London’s seedy alleys, the trackless jungles of the Amazonas, the catacombs under Paris, or the Templars’ hidden headquarter. It is a translation of the Swedish version that I published last year, though with an extra chapter explaining campaign design according to our distinctive Swedish RPG lore.

Expert Nova is a 6″x9″ book of 64 pages. €25 at Lulu.

  • Flexible rules that favour playability and encourage clever schemes and social interaction.
  • Speedy character generation that produces hardy and versatile adventurers.
  • Action is skill-based: roll 1D20 as low as possible.
  • Adjust the grittiness and lethality of your adventures by applying optional rules.
  • Campaign design guidelines with a 1950s Australian science fiction setting as a hands-on example.

My RPG Accomplishments in 2019

At the New Year holiday, people often look back at the past year and muse on what has happened. In my case, I pulled off a few nice game-related accomplishments.

  • Ruby Jubilee as a game writer: In 1979, I made my first professional sale, a Traveller article for GDW’s inhouse magazine Journal of Travellers’ Aid Society. Read the full story here — link >>>.
  • Expert Nova, my newest game: My professional situation got a complete overhaul in April for reasons that are of no interest here. What is relevant, though, is that suddenly I had more time for making role-playing games. In May, I decided (snap — just like that) to use my forty years of RPG designer experience to write Expert Nova, a role-playing game for contemporary settings (currently an almost empty niche in the Swedish RPG market) The rules are inspired by Basic Role-playing, the dominant game system in Sweden since the  1980s. I launched Expert Nova via Lulu in October; buy it in my kiosk — link >>>.

    Elin Blixt’s illustration of the chapter on equipment, endurance, and health in Expert Nova.

  • Family Business: I have recruited my adult daughter Elin, an art & design student, for doing interior artwork in my games. Her first job was Expert Nova and she quickly grasped the ins and outs of illustrating RPG rules. We will proceed with new projects in 2020.
  • Expert Nova English Edition: In November I translated Expert Nova into English, an easy task because I am bilingual. Because foreign gamers are unfamiliar with Swedish RPG lore, I added a chapter about our traditional way of designing campaigns. The English text is currently being reviewed and I intend to launch Expert Nova English Edition via Lulu at the end of January. Stay tuned to this blog.
  • The Expert setting books: I have started outlining some settings, the Expert Series, for the Expert Nova rules. However, I haven’t yet decided which book to complete first.
  • Cthulhu Calling: The Swedish game publisher Eloso is busy developing a Swedish version of Chaosium’s classic RPG Call of Cthulhu, part translation, part new material about Sweden in the 1920s. In late 2019, they hired me to work on some chapters. Great assignment.

Stockholm Calling or Localizing Cthulhu

OlaLarssonCoC

Ola Larsson’s cover for the Swedish investigator’s handbook

I have been an inactive blogger recently. The cause is what you would expect: shortage of time. I am currently spending a lot time on localizing Call of Cthulhu to Sweden. Among techwriters, localization is a form of translation in which you not only translate from language to another, but you also make the product fit the new market by removing superfluous information, and inserting new information that your domestic customers need.

In the case of Swedish Call of Cthulhu, the publisher Eloso wants to give the game a distinctive “Sweden in the 1920s” flavor. Swedes today know little about what our country was like hundred years ago, so we must explain how e.g. law enforcement, academic institutions, and municipal bureaucracies functioned.

For instance, when the intrepid investigators do research in rural areas, a good source of information might be the local hembygdsförening (“local history association”), whose members delve into the past of their parish or village, holding lectures and writing newsletters and booklets about nearby rune-stones, old churches, and legends of things that go bump in the night. The local temperance lodge keeps a keen eye on the inhabitants’ use and abuse of alcohol, so its leaders might know who is making moonshine and who is smuggling illicit Estonian vodka.* The vicar** of the parish church occupies central role in rural society; apart from his ecclesiastical duties, he is charged by the state with maintaining a detailed population registry, keeping track on births, deaths, marriages, people’s domiciles and other matters. He therefore knows a lot about who is doing what, even though he might be unwilling to share his knowledge because of his pastoral vows.

In the major cities, the above-mentioned organizations are of lesser importance. Instead, trade union chapters and sports clubs in the neighborhood may provide useful information. Social control remains tight because people, apart from the very wealthy, live under cramped conditions in rickety apartment buildings.

We, Eloso’s team of CoC developers, are therefore busy with giving the original rules a Swedish touch and adding brand-new material, such as site descriptions, Swedish grimoires, new adventures, etc. We’ll spend the winter 2019/20 with these chores, a good reason to stay indoors and avoid the sleet and darkness of the season.


*In a tight national referendum in 1921, the Swedish electorate rejected a US-style prohibition; instead, they got a rationing system (link >>>) by which adult citizens in good standing were allowed to buy a certain quantity of hard liquor per month. People were of course circumventing the restrictions in more or less ingenious ways. Smugglers who transported Estonian vodka to Sweden by speedboat became folk heroes. Read about the dashing Algoth Niska here — link >>>
**The established Lutheran Church of Sweden had been governed by the king/state since the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century. In the 1920s, anti-clerical socialists and Christian dissenters, mainly baptists and presbyterians, disliked this arrangement but lacked the political clout to change it; it was eventually reformed in the 1950s.

Expert Nova English Edition

The day before yesterday, I finished translating my new role-playing game Expert Nova English Edition and emailed it to my test reader. Next step is line editing and proof reading. My plan is to complete those chores during December and publish the game on Lulu in January.
Here is an excerpt from the Preface that explains the background of Expert Nova.

In the mid-1980s, Sweden experienced an amazing role-playing boom. In those years, I was the inhouse designer at Target Games and we dominated our market with sales figures that an American company would envy. Our freelancers and I created an informal lore for what constitutes a good game. Its roots lay in Chaosium’s Basic Role­playing (BRP), but we blazed our own trail and developed a distinctly Swedish RPG style. Recently, Swedish RPG fan Wilper systematized this lore as Classic Swedish Role-playing (KSR). Its basic tenets, regardless of genre, are:
  • Skills rule! Action is skill-based, roll low with 1D100 or 1D20 to succeed; character levels aren’t used.
  • Medium-powered adventurers: Character Hit Points usually don’t increase; combat is dangerous; no nuclear magic/tech/etc.
  • Brains before brawn: social interaction generally pays off.
  • Genre-emulating settings: Open-ended adventures with plenty of problem-solving; the selected genre defines the setting; open vistas with much flexibility for the game master.
Expert Nova is a part of our KSR tradition: I have assembled a toolbox with flexible rules that you can adapt and expand on for any contemporary campaign you want to run.

Expert Nova: the next step

Recently, I published my new Swedish role-playing game Expert Nova at Lulu.com (link to the game in my Lulu shop >>>). Its is designed for real-world or science-fiction campaigns in the contemporary era (i.e. circa 1880 to 2050).

So far I have seen one review (it’s there at the game’s Lulu page); the reviewer awarded five stars out of five. I am eagerly waiting for the review in the Swedish game magazine Fenix later this autumn.

When I started working with Expert Nova in the late Spring, I made a mental survey of what role-playing games there currently are in the Swedish market. Half a dozen or more are competing the fantasy niche, each targeting a particular age or style segment. In the post-apocalyptic niche, there is one multi-faceted line, and as for space opera there are a few titles. But when I considered the contemporary/near future/near past niche, there was only one tentative competitor and it doesn’t resemble anything in my oeuvres.

In my gaming group (playing weekly or bimonthly since the 1980s), we have enjoyed several fairly low-key campaigns set in the 20th century, e.g. cops in Vermont 1931 or in Los Angeles 2003; freewheeling British intelligence officers in WW2; Soviet investigators of UFO phenomena in 1956; pulpish adventurers in 1930s Far and Middle East; and so on. So I made up my mind and wrote Expert Nova as a set of flexible rules for that kind of campaigns, using plenty of detective, spy and soldier tropes in its explanatory descriptions because they are familiar to the readers.

I selected Basic Role-playing 1D20 as my foundation for Expert Nova, because I know that system inside out, having used it creatively since 1979. But in Expert Nova I deviate from BRP’s common implementation by cutting the PC’s characteristics from seven to four (Push, Knack, Sense, Grit) and reducing the number of skills to a score broad ones.

For example, the Soldier skill encompasses everything that a competent infantryman is trained to do: marksmanship, field-works, orienteering, spit-and-polish, instruction, first aid, swimming, etc. I want to enable the players to play competent characters that won’t get lost in an an adventure because their team lacks one narrowly-defined skill.

My current intention is to proceed with an Expert series by books, each dealing with a specific milieu or trope. Such a book is supposed to contain a setting with campaign advice for the game master, adventurer creation tips for the players, and an adaptation of the Expert Nova rules with setting-specific add-ons. Each book will be a complete stand-alone game.

During October I have jotted down several ideas and outlines. Some milieus came easily to my mind, such as an adventurous oldschool solar system (explanatory link >>>) or espionage in a Cold-War or a pre-Cold-War timeline. Below I outline three appealing settings:

  1. I have always been fascinated by uchronias, i.e. when history took an alternate turn at some point and thereby created a world different from ours. My academic background of political science and history often inspires me speculate on “What if?” settings. Currently I am spending a lot of key-board time working on an retro-style alternate Europe, a setting designed for crime-fighting, espionage and liberation struggles in oppressive, conservative societies.
  2. I have also outlined a 1990s science fiction setting, in which the adventurers will deal with mankind’s unenviable minor role in cosmos while coping with the consequences of the collapse of the Soviet empire. Yes, this proposition makes sense in context.
  3. I am considering a reboot of the world of Gondica that I created twenty years ago; it would entail an extensive revision and expansion of Gondica’s original timeline and backstory to create a milieu with airships, clockwork automatons, steamships and strange places to explore. I might perhaps derive inspiration from Conan Doyle’s professor Challenger adventures and Kipling’s stories. However, I have currently no idea what results my creative process might deliver in this case.
  4. Also, some people have suggested that I make an English edition of Expert Nova. Yes, I hear you loud and clear, and I have started translating the texts.

I have earlier described myself thus: “Anders Blixt is a machine that turns coffee into role-playing games”. However, available time does not match my relentless creativity, so I must prioritize wisely. General Eisenhower once said:

I tell this story to illustrate the truth of the statement I heard long ago in the Army: Plans are worthless, but planning is everything. There is a very great distinction because when you are planning for an emergency you must start with this one thing: the very definition of “emergency” is that it is unexpected, therefore it is not going to happen the way you are planning.

Therefore, I make no promises about this or that Expert book. Please have patience and stay tuned to this blog for future updates.

Traveller: Podcasting an oldschool adventure

Last week I was invited by the podcaster Red Moon Roleplaying to run A Hard Night’s Day (pun intended), a small Traveller adventure in my alternate Traveller universe Phoenix Terra. Here is the result.

Yesterday, the Far Trader Menelaos touched down on the polluted backwater planet Khuda (UWP C-653-777-6). In the evening, the chief engineer headed into to startown for some well-deserved leave. She did not return. This morning, the captain orders the suave executive officer and the burly cargo chief to locate her. What could possibly go wrong?

Looking Back at my 60 Years

Four weeks ago, I turned 60. When I celebrated my anniversary with my family, I made an upbeat speech that reflected on some tremendous changes of the world that I have witnessed: the Apollo 11 moon landing in 1969, the end of communist tyranny in Europe in 1989, the opening and transformation of Asia in the 00’s. When I turned 20 in 1979, I couldn’t have imagined the world of today – it has become an incredibly better place.
I kept my speech short, so I did not address the reflections below, but I think they are as apt, though at the individual level.

When I was 19 years old in 1978, I decided reject what others expected of me. Instead, I chose to pursue the academic subjects that my heart prescribed, even though they included obscure languages (Hebrew, Aramaic) and studying a semester abroad in the troubled Middle East. That decision transformed me by opening up unexpected great vistas. My memories of a numinous afternoon at Lake Galilee, a chill and misty morning in the Golan Heights and a vivid sunrise over the Moab desert as seen from the Masada summit remain sharp 35 years later.

Then, I decided to leave the university despite the offer of a place in graduate school, and instead get to work. No regrets there, because even though I have no formal profession, I have had a mostly rewarding professional life.

In the 1980s, the American author and rabbi Chaim Potok taught me the word entheos: the inner passion for a subject that makes you push on ardently to achieve mastery. Yes, I have let entheos guide me through life; yes, I know that I made the right decision for myself and for others during that decisive solitary bike ride – sanningens ögonblick – next to the sea in August 1978. That way I many years later found a spouse and we got three wonderful children who now are on the verge of adulthood. That way I also found many other unexpected boons, but since they deal with the fortunes of others, those stories are not mine to tell.

Since May 1977, the role-playing games have always been there: my persistent creating and developing magical worlds that others enter for adventures of the mind. Many, many times my heart has been touched by adults telling me what joy and strength they derived from my creations when they were teenagers. I never predicted that during my years as a full-time professional game designer in the 1980s, but apparently the entheos that I poured into my work reached out to and nourished many other minds.

This insight warms and strengthens me here at the gate to my seventh decade. The world may be like a narrow bridge, but I am not afraid – Vis mecum – and I am walking ahead along my chosen path with an intrepid and determined spirit.

A small clarification: I am not retired. I will keep on writing games and stories as long as my mind is sufficiently sharp. Lots of people want it and I love doing it.