Expert Outreach: My Next Game

During the spring, I pondered a lot on what would become the next installment in my Expert series of games, nowadays produced by Swedish game publisher Eloso where I recently became a minority partner. After a while, I made up my mind: Expert Outreach, post-apocalyptic space opera in which mankind has to survive in a dark cosmos. It is an extensive development of grim visions for the future that I previously have written about in Swedish (link >>>). Expert Outreach will only be published in English.

I have always had a fondness for science fiction RPGs, ever since I entered the universes of Traveller in 1978 (English link >>>); that game turned me into a professional game designer seven years later. I have experimented with plenty of futuristic settings over the years and acquired a taste for gritty ones, that is, The Expanse rather than Star Trek; Rogue One rather than The Phantom Menace. I give Expert Outreach the label “post-apocalyptic space opera”; its theme is “mankind facing a dangerous future” in which our survival as a species is at stake.

Despite my temporary assignment (ends August 31) as an information analyst at the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency, June has been a surprisingly productive month. So far I have outlined two-thirds of Expert Outreach and written perhaps one-third of the background. I see no significant obstacles when it comes to content, because I know what the game needs and how to make it work.

Expert Outreach uses an adapted version of the Expert Nova rules (that is, my variant of Basic Role-playing 1D20). Elin Blixt does the interior artwork, whereas Clarence Redd and Andreas Sölvebring contribute text. Hopefully some other Swedish game writers will join my creative team.

Hard Work in the Pandemic Months

I am still doing my duty for our nation at the Civil Contingencies Agency. Every weekday evening, I fall asleep easily; every weekday morning, I get on the half-empty metro train heading for the office. Yes, what I do there does matter for my fellow citizens. And that’s what counts.

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.

Writing Despite Covid-19

The covid-19 pandemic is currently setting the rules for everyone. I am a reserve officer of the civil defense service, and some weeks ago, I was called to duty as an information analyst at the Civil Contingencies Agency here in Stockholm. It is a regular  office job: I relieve my career colleagues of routine matters, such as summarizing committee protocols and producing daily updates on activities in other national and regional public agencies. Coordination is the keyword.
Therefore, I had little time for RPG writing in March, but I made the following creative moves:
  • I published Expert Nova, Swedish Edition as a PDF (price: 88 kr, appr. €8) at DriveThruRPG — link >>>
  • I wrote an article for the Fenix RPG magazine about a creepy science fiction creature for Expert Nova.
  • I joined the Eloso team to develop new products the Swedish Chock horror RPG after my “demobilization” from my civil defense duties (hopefully in late May). I cannot go into details at this stage, but I will write on a subject that has been close to my heart for many years.

Creativity Meets Corona

In January I published Expert Nova, English Edition, an English version of my RPG for contemporary adventurous campaigns. It is a straight translation with an additional  chapter on campaign design the Swedish way, with They Came From the Sea!, a “1950s monster movie” setting in a cinematic Australia, as a hands-on instruction.  The game is illustrated by my adult daughter Elin, who is an art & design student. You can buy the game at as a softcover book (64 pages) at Lulu (link>>>) and as a PDF at DriveThruRPG (link >>>). Expert Nova, English Edition got top marks in a review at the Swedish RPG forum WRNU (link >>>); the text is in Swedish, but if you copy-paste it into Google Translate, you’ll get a readable translation.

That being done, January and February proved extremely busy for me. I joined the Eloso team for the final production stages of the Keeper’s and Investigator’s  Books of the Swedish edition of Call of Cthulhu. Their launch is scheduled for Gothcon (Sweden’s premier game con) at Easter. So I spent my days writing, tweaking, editing, and translating. We have written several new chapters dealing with Sweden in the 1920s: society, customs, careers, creepy events, and so on. (For example, why did a Swedish mining company abandon the Pyramiden settlement in Spitzbergen?)

I write regularly for the Swedish gaming magazine Fenix. In February, I put together an article for issue #2/2020: a creepy SF monster for Expert Nova, useful for many contemporary Earth-based campaigns.

I have also outlined several projects for Expert Nova and the Swedish horror RPG Chock.

However, the corona pandemic is a spanner in the works. No, I’m not ill, but last year I signed on as a civilian reserve officer in the Civil Defence Service. Last week, I was called into service at the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency. It’s an office assignment, nothing out of the ordinary, but I feel proud that I can put my wits and skills to work for the sake of life and health of others. I will be very busy for most of March, therefore having little time to write games.  But I’ll have a small private notebook at hand all the time and every once in a while I’ll jot down new ideas. There will be game stuff later this year, rest assured of that.

Inspirators for Expert Nova

When I write a game or supplement, I usually put a “Special thanks to…” section on the title page, listing people who assisted or inspired me. The list in Expert Nova is unusually short, only four names. Here I explain who they are and how they contributed directly or indirectly to the making of the game. (Link to Expert Nova’s Swedish and English editions >>> )

  • Samantha Carter (played by Amanda Tapping) is a protagonist in the Stargate franchise. In February 2012, I fell seriously ill and spent a month at home. The solitary weekdays were boring: our children in school and my wife at her job. Fortunately, a cable channel broadcast two Stargate episodes every morning. Samantha Carter quickly became my favorite hero, so when I wrote Expert Nova’s rules for creating player characters she served as a benchmark for competent adventurers.
  • Peter Høeg is a Danish author. In the 1990s, I read his thriller Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow and appreciated its Danish and Arctic settings and its multifaceted protagonist Smilla Jaspersen. When I initially set the parameters for Expert Nova’s purpose and content, I decided that a game master should be able to use the game with no modifications for a campaign based on Smilla’s adventures.
  • Marc Miller’s career as a game wizard started at Game Designers’ Workshop in the 1970s. He quickly earned a reputation for quality designs and he’s still going strong today. His science fiction RPG Traveller taught me how to write role-playing games. I launched my first Traveller campaign in 1978. One year later, I sold my first article to GDW’s Journal of Travellers’ Aid Society (read a post about that here — link >>> ). I continued writing for that publication until 1985, when Target Games hired me as its inhouse designer here in Stockholm. (Link to a long interview with Marc >>> )
  • Åsa Roos is a leading designer, critic, and theorist in Sweden’s gamerverse. She regularly reviews new games in the bimonthly magazine Fenix. Whenever a new issue reaches my letterbox, I begin by reading Åke Rosenius’s Bernard the Barbarian comic strips (link >>>) and then I proceed to Åsa’s reviews. She skillfully assesses the strong and weak points of every game and occasionally her evaluations strike a spark of creativity in my mind. For example, one of her reviews made me realize that I should revise Expert Nova’s rules for social interactions by giving them more versatility and a wider array of PC actions.

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.