Posted on August 26, 2008 by Flames
Recently we’ve had Greg Stolze tell us about creating his new game A Dirty World and Jason Morningstar fills us in on the development of The Shab Al-Hiri Roach. The design project continues today with Tim Brannan telling us about the work he did on the Ghosts of Albion RPG for Eden Studios.
Set in London at the dawn of the Victorian age, players join in the fight to keep the ever-present forces of evil at bay. Whether fighting a demon prince or even a band of infant stealing faeries, the battle wages on. Characters can join the fight as normal humans, ghosts, mysterious faeries or even wield the magic of the Protectors themselves. All against a backdrop of Victorian England with a dark supernatural undercurrent.
Based on Amber Benson and Christopher Golden’s wildly popular BBCi drama “Ghosts of Albion” and includes new material from the creators themselves, featuring new fiction and a complete, ready to run adventure.
How to Create a Game World When the World Belongs to Someone Else.
Writing games are tough. I had done some work in the past where the crunch and the fluff were both mine to create. So I thought that if I only had to create one of those it would be half the work for all the benefits.
Back in the Summer of 2002 I was talking to horror author Christopher Golden. He was contributing items to a charity auction I was in and we talked about a few of the things we had in common include both of us working on the Buffy the Vampire Slayer RPG with Eden Studios. I had mentioned to him that I thought his “Shadow War” novels would make a great game and that Eden should be the one to do it. He agreed but said he something else planned with Amber Benson and he wanted to make a game out of that.
In 2003 the “Ghosts of Albion” series “Legacy” appeared on the BBCi website and soon I was talking Chris and Amber up to George Vasilakos and Alex Jurkat at Eden. Later that year we had all decided that Ghosts should be Eden’s next property. I pitched the idea to them in a three or four page synopsis of the world and how it could be made into a game. I included things like the work I had already done with them on Buffy and the unpublished WitchCraft stuff, as well as a litany of Victorian era games I have played before. We settled on using Eden’s Cinematic Unisystem rules, the same rules as found in Buffy and Angel. I originally wanted to go with something more like the Classic Unisystem rules found in the WitchCraft RPG, but saw the logic of the Cinematic rules and now could not imagine doing it any other way. I big design concern was to make it as compatible with other Cinematic Unisystem games as possible. Not that it mattered to me much, I wanted to make a game that was the best way to represent the world of William and Tamara Swift, but I saw the logic in it. In fact when I mentioned it to Amber she seemed very amused of the thought of playing Buffy in the Ghosts universe.
I spent the next few months doing research into the early Victorian period. I researched gold exchanges to determine how much things were worth, rifle ranges and what sort of firearms were available in England at the time. All the while I was conversing with Amber and Chris via phone and email asking them particulars of their world and how they would see things done. We didn’t always see eye to eye things either. That might be the first thing I learned about doing a licensed project; this is not my world, it is theirs. I can’t recall if there was anything we deeply disagreed on, I do recall there were a couple of things I put in that I didn’t agree on and a couple things left out, but in the end I saw it their way, and that is assuming that they were in agreement. Sometimes it was me and one of them against the other! Highlights though were working with Chris and he asking me to help him on one of his own projects and going out to dinner with Amber Benson. Which was especially cool for me given what a huge Tara fan I was (am).
Among my varied inspirations were Celtic myths, the ancient histories of the British ilses and the works of Shakespeare. Among my more modern inspirations were tons of Hammer horror films, especially Christopher Lee’s Dracula, and a lot of Black Sabbath. I talked to friends about cockney slang, about guns, and I even had playtesters out taking pictures of sites around London.
The mechanics though is where I really put my skills to the test. The Cinematic Unisystem is as elegant of a game system as you are ever going to get, C.J. really out did himself, literally. Classic Unisystem had been my favorite game system to that point, but now I think I’ll stick with the Cinematic version. I am particular proud of the revised magic system of casting thresholds, flourishes, and arcane battles. Magical philosophies give the magic flavor and help to really add to the occult secrets feel I was looking for. And I love the Occult Poets maybe even more than the Protectors themselves! The new rules for Faeries and other supernaturals are very useful and compatible with the demon rules in Angel. Combine the two and you could make just about any creature in myth or fairy tale.
While this all sounds great, the truth is I never could have gotten through this without the help of editors like Alex Jukat at Eden and Garner Johnson or the work of all the playtesters. I have been on many playtest lists and sometimes it seems the people there are in it only to get a free copy of the rules, the Ghosts playtesters were given the orders to break it and bring it back to me to be fixed. One I still see on a regular basis always mentions how he broke one of the early versions of the magic system.
Now I have never been a huge fan of writing by consensus, but I have had enough experience in my day job so I knew how to work with people. I would have to say in Ghosts that things came together rather nicely. There were arguments, but nothing that was ever heated. There were times I butted heads with pretty much everyone, including Amber, Chris, Garner and Alex, but they worked out in the end. Even bad playtests were laughed at later and comments on how something really good came from them.
In the end I hope I came up with a game that people like in world they find intriguing and interesting enough to want to save it from the ever present forces of darkness.
– Timothy Brannan
The Ghosts of Albion RPG is now available as an eBook at RPGNow. Visit the Ghosts of Albion website for news, reviews and other updates. Check the links below for exclusive Previews of the game here on Flames Rising.