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: min “Tack till”-kvartett

Summary in English: I write about four people that inspired me when I wrote the Swedish RPG Expert Nova.

Nova_Front

När jag skriver en spelprodukt brukar dess försättsblad (kolofon) innehålla rubriken Med tack till, där jag räknar upp folk som på olika sätt bistått mig med råd eller inspiration. Jag har fått roade läsarkommentarer angående en del namn. (Ett exempel: I settingen Sorgeveden till Hjältarnas Tid tackade jag bland annat Tacitus och Julius Caesar, vars tvåtusen år gamla böcker hade givit mig många goda idéer angående storskogens befolkning.)

Tacklistan på Expert Novas försättsblad är kortare än vanligt, endast fyra namn; här förklarar jag vilka de är och varför jag tackar dem.

  • Samantha Carter, spelad av Amanda Tapping, är en huvudperson i Stargate-franchisens teveserier, en duglig amerikansk officer. 2012 var jag allvarligt sjuk och hemma i över en månad. Långtråkigt eftersom barnen var i skolan och hustrun på jobbet. Varje vardagsförmiddag sände dock en kabelkanal två Stargate-avsnitt. Samantha Carter blev snabbt en favorit och när jag skrev Expert Novas regler för spelarnas rollpersoner blev hon mitt riktmärke för hurdan en skicklig äventyrare ska vara.
  • Peter Høeg är en dansk författare. På 1990-talet läste jag hans thriller Fröken Smillas känsla för snö och gillade bokens arktiska kusligheter och mångbottnade huvudperson Smilla Jaspersen. När jag satte upp parametrarna för Expert Novas syften och innehåll bestämde jag att en spelledare ska kunna använda reglerna rakt för en minikampanj baserad på Smillas äventyr. Och så blev det.
  • Marc Miller är en av mina tre läromästare när det gäller spelkonstruktion. Hans SF-rollspel Traveller från 1977 gjorde mig till spelkonstruktör. Jag började spelleda det spelet 1978, och 1979-80 blev jag professionellt publicerad för första gången i speltidskriften Journal of Travellers’ Aid Society. Mina många artiklar där 1980-85 ledde till att Äventyrsspel anställde mig 1985. Läs en lång intervju med Marc här — länk >>>
  • Åsa Roos är en fixstjärna på den svenska spelhimlen. Hon recenserar ofta rollspel i branschtidningen Fenix. När ett färskt nummer hamnar i min brevlåda börjar jag med Birger-stripparna och går sedan över till Åsas recensioner. Där visar hon på spelens starka och svaga sidor och många gånger innehåller hennes bedömningar yrkesmässiga guldkorn. Till exempel gjorde en Åsa-recension att jag insåg behovet av helt nya regler för socialt samspel mellan äventyrare och SLP; de ursprungliga reglerna var nämligen inte tillräckligt flexibla och tydliga.

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, 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.

My Ruby Jubilee as a Game Designer

I played a role-playing game for the first time in May 1977 at the first Gothcon (Swedish post about that event — link >>> ), Sweden’s premier game convention. Little did I know … etc.

Purple prose aside, it was a momentous experience but I did not realize that it redirected the course of my life: that day, I discovered a fountain of suspense and of never-ending joyful creativity. My first game was Dungeons & Dragons, the off-white box with three nigh incomprehensible rulebooks. I quickly acquired my own set plus a copy of Jim Ward’s science fiction RPG Metamorphosis Alpha (adventures in the lost starship Warden with mutants and monsters). After all, I preferred SF to fantasy.

In that autumn, I made my first attempt to design an RPG. The rules were based on Dungeons & Dragons and the setting was an SF cosmos inspired by Edmond Hamilton’s Star Wolves novels. And no, the nameless game was a dud. I ran it once and then consigned it to oblivion. In 1978 I instead discovered Traveller, and immediately started creating house rules. (Read more about that here — link>>> )

Forty years have passed and I am still an RPG designer in my spare time, even though these days I prefer to create setting while using already well-established rule engines. But the creative enthusiasm is still there. Jim Ward and Marc Miller opened the gates to Never-Never-Land for me and I rushed past them, and in there I still reside.

Nowadays I am the grizzled veteran, who gets interviewed by young gamers who want to hear what it was like in that legendary First Age of RPGs, but rest assured: I intend to go on writing games and novels as long as I keep my wits about me. My father was a vital chap until he turned 86, so hopefully I will follow in his footsteps and have another 20+ years of creative work ahead.

However, man proposes and God disposes.

Loren Wiseman in Memoriam


The veteran game designer Loren Wiseman passed away yesterday. He worked for many years at GDW with both board games and role-playing games and after the demise of that company, he produced GURPS Traveller for Steve Jackson Games. His former colleague Marc Miller has written the following eulogy:

I first met Loren Wiseman more than forty years ago: he was one of the small group who played games in the University Union at Illinois State University, and a fountain of knowledge about history in general and ancient history specifically. When Frank Chadwick, Rich Banner, and I created Game Designers’ Workshop, we immediately added Loren to our partnership because he was a solid, dependable, and insightful friend. I have never regretted being in business with Loren.

Loren designed the fifth game published by GDW: Eagles, Rome on the Rhine Frontier, AD 15. He had a catchy concept: retrieving lost Roman legion standards (the Eagles) from the Germanic tribes, and he did an excellent job that made us proud. We were equally proud (and a bit jealous) when Avalon Hill picked up the game and published it under their banner. He followed up with Pharsalus, a board wargame of the Roman Civil War 48 BC in 1977.

Loren did a variety of jobs at GDW and they shaped everyone’s perception of him. He ran the warehouse at a time when everything was done with pen and paper and by hand. When we created the Journal of the Travellers’ Aid Society, he became its editor.

Loren also was the line developer for Twilight: 2000. The process at GDW was for the designer to write the text, but the developer brought together that text and some draft diagrams and some art needs, typeset it, and then made sure it was properly published. It also fell to Loren to design titles in the series (out of 46 supplementary titles, he is credited with designing 20).

After GDW closed its doors (in 1995), Loren moved to Steve Jackson Games in a variety of roles, including editor of their Journal of the Travellers’ Aid Society online edition.

Along the way, Loren was recognized for his excellence and expertise: with the H G Wells Award for Going Home (1986), and the H G Wells Award three years running for the Journal of the Travellers’ Aid Society (1979-1980-1981). In 2004, Loren received perhaps the highest of honors within the gaming community: he was inducted into the Adventure Gaming Hall of Fame, and the above recounting of his credits gives some insight into why.

But I remember Loren as a friend and a game player. I remember he and I both in a board game competition at GenCon many years ago. I rarely play games, and so I was gratified to make the finals, but in the end Loren beat me. That is what the industry he loved is about: friendly competition, with an emphasis on “friendly.”

Loren is the chap who put me on the professional game designing track. I started playing Traveller in 1978 and in 1979 I bought the first issue of Journal of Travellers’ Aid Society, GDW’s inhouse magazine for the game. Loren served as its editor. He accepted my first submission surprisingly quickly and for many years he kept on accepting my Traveller articles with only an occasional and well-explained rejection. I still have a photocopy of the first cheque he sent me way back in 1980 (more about that here — link >>> ).

In 1990 I had the pleasure of meeting Loren face to face at a Swedish game convention in Sundsvall, where he was the guest of honor. A pleasant chap in all regards. He will be missed by all in the game industry.

A salute to his memory:

My 2016 — a summary

When a year approaches its end, it is tempting to summarize it in a few bullet points. So here are my significant SF/fantasy/RPG experiences in 2016, listed in chronological order.

  • Collaboration of the year: Gustaf Gadd and I wrote Skymningshavets gåtor, a seafaring fantasy campaign book for Drakar och Demoner, during the spring.
  • Boost of the year: I received the Swedish RPG Dragon Award at Gothcon in April.
  • Book of the year: I read and re-read Agent of the Imperium, an complex and enjoyable science fiction novel in the Traveller universe by Marc Miller.
  • RPG campaign of the year: We were Pinkerton agents investigating a murder in New Orleans in early 1870.
  • Boardgame of the year: Terraforming Mars by Fryx Games — wow!
  • Tragedy of the year: Evert Johansson, one of my old Traveller buddies, suddenly passed away in November at age 58.
  • Movie of the year: Rogue One.
  • TV-series of the year: Agent Carter S1 — yes, I know it is not new, but I did not have a chance to watch it until a few weeks ago.

Traveller: The Soundtrack

I have mentioned a few times here on the blog what great importance the science fiction role-playing game Traveller has had for my career as a game designer (for example in this post >>> ).

Marc Miller, Traveller’s creator, recently published Agent of the Imperium, a good SF novel based on the politics of Traveller’s space empires. And now a fan has composed a soundtrack to one particular event in the novel, viz. the experience of hyperspace travel. That’s a novelty; I wish someone would do something like this to one of my stories.

Anyhow, the music is currently available at Soundcloud — link >>>

The literary roots of Classic Traveller

Michael André-Driussi has written an interesting web article about what kind of science fiction served as the designers’ inspiration for the original “classic” Traveller role-playing game — link >>>

The real thing: some vintage Traveller books

André-Driussi pays particular attention to E C Tubb’s many Dumarest stories and H Beam Piper’s novel Space Viking.

I agree largely with his observations, though I have not read Space Viking, but I would ascribe more design influence to Jerry Pournelle’s Falkenberg stories (future mercenaries in action on rural planets), perhaps also to the John Grimes stories by Bertram Chandler (plenty of low-level espionage and trade among the stars). Also, when I GM’ed classic Traveller in 1978-82, I got a lot of thematically appropriate inspiration from gritty British action novels of the 1960s and 1970s, e.g. by Desmond Bagley (whose High Citadel can be transferred straight into Traveller.)

Mercator — the Roman Traveller RPG

The original Traveller role-playing game had a characteristic “style” or “mood”, emphasizing traveling, “geography” and trading like few other games. My old game group spent many happy hours going from planet to planet in its far-future cosmos. It was a best-seller in 1980 and it is still around today in its fifth reincarnation. Traveller has also served as an inspiration for other role-playing games.

The Mercator RPG
Here is a 60-page PDF with Mercator (link >>>), an amusing pastiche of Traveller. It takes place in the Eastern Mediterranean in the early 1st century AD. Its rules, campaign background and minimalist layout are accurate reminiscences of GDW‘s Traveller booklets with black covers that were published in 1977.

The players ply the waves instead of the star lanes and have to deal with the intricacies of the Roman Empire instead of the Third Imperium. The many Hellenistic realms of the East have recently come under Roman rule and a lot of inhabitants resent that. The adventurers thus have to make their hazardous living in a restless multi-ethnic region. The potential for high adventure is certainly there.