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Clash Bowley “Evolution of Blood Games”

Posted on August 1, 2008 by Flames

Last week I posted the first in a series of horror design essays. That essay, Degrees of Horror from Preston Dubose, told us about the work on an upcoming project for the Savage Worlds system.

The essay project continues today with Clash Bowley of Flying Mice LLC telling us about the history of the Blood Games RPG. In this essay Clash tells us how the original Blood Games came about and fills us in on some of the design goals, changes and other work that went into the development of the new Blood Games II that was released last year.

Blood Games I

In the spring of 2003, my buddy Wes Fornero came to me with an idea for a game. I had designed and published StarCluster in 2002, and Sweet Chariot just recently, and was working on the revision that became StarCluster 2E. What Wes wanted was a game in which he and his friends could all play vampires. They were playing Vampire: The Masquerade at the time, but Wes didn’t care for the mechanics. I said “Sure, Wes! I’ll bang something together using the StarCluster ruleset.” We started working on it, came up with some hacks, and playtested it with my group. It worked, but most of my players were not all that enthusiastic. I said to Wes after getting their opinions that I’d like to turn it around, and have the players play the vampire killers. Wes agreed, and we went back to work.

We came up with the “Paths of Power” concept, which gave us a sort of Class functionality which is absent from StarCluster. We threw out ideas on which Paths to create, but needed a core concept to keep things coherent. We finally decided to focus the game around religion, even though that was a ticklish subject. It gave us a moral compass for the Paths, and a reason for them to oppose Vamps – at that time, we were still focusing entirely on vampires as the enemies. I began working on a basis of ritual magic for non-Path characters as well. We then brought in Wes’ friend Jason Ludwig to do the illos and write some of the text, as I was hip deep in the massive rewrite and re-illustration of StarCluster.

My players loved the concept, and we began playing the game regularly, feeding back info into the design process. I designed separate magic systems for each Path that had magic – so the Witches were very different from the Esoterricists and the Templars were different from the Magi. Vampires underwent a complete redevelopment as they simultaneously became less and less the focus. Vampires originally were much like they are in VtM – after all, what Wes originally wanted was a hack of the StarCluster system with the setting of VtM – socially oriented immortals of different bloodlines, with a sire and powers that came through that siring. I was extremely dissatisfied with this, and Wes and I delved into the fundamentals. What emerged was a cold, selfish, and solitary creature who became increasingly withdrawn from human contact as time went on, and who became a vampire through his own selfishness. Meanwhile, we began bringing in any other type of creature, from werewolves to sea serpents. More and more, the shadow world where the PCs operated became far more real and menacing.

We released Blood Games in April of 2004, within a month of releasing StarCluster 2E.

Blood Games II

In February of 2007, Wes called me up. “I keep finding little niggling things I want to change about Blood Games. Magic especially!” “Me too,” I replied. “I think it’s time for a revision.”

This time we kept things just between Wes and I. We would both write and illustrate the book together. Wes is a photographer who developed ways of manipulating photos to look a lot like my electronic paintings, so our styles were a happy match. Most people can’t tell which illo is by which illustrator. I would do the final editing, pulling it together so it had one “voice.”

We decided early on to use the StarPool variant of the StarCluster system, where task resolution is by dice pool rather than by percentile. It gave the game a looser feel, and diminishing returns on high levels of skill kept characters from getting too focused. It is also grittier than the percentile system, despite the loose feel of the dice pools. We stripped out the magic systems and completely renovated them. We went for a far more open feel, giving maximum latitude to the group. What were defined Esotericist spells in Blood Games became just names which the group could freely interpret in Blood Games II. Magic now cost you in stat points, and since our Hit Point equivalent is derived from the character’s physical attributes, this made casting too much magic very dangerous. This was what made the magic system self-balancing.

We go rid of the Shaman Path and replaced it with the Vodoun Priest Path, and worked out some flaws in the philosophical underpinnings of the game. In Blood Games, evil is done through a conscious choice, usually through disregard on anyone else’s happiness – in other words selfishness. Yet we had oddities like lycanthropes who bit humans, changed them into evil lycanthropes. I searched these discrepancies out ruthlessly. Now lycanthropes became intelligent animals who use magic to become humanoid each full moon, their bite no more infectious then a regular wolf’s bite. They still kick major ass, BTW – they are far more dangerous than vampires! The type of animal now became whatever intelligent animal was common in the area – jaguars in South America, wolves and bears in North America and Europe, leopards in Africa, etc.

We also decided to emphasize the Renaissance-to-Now aspect that was always there in the old game. In playtest we ran games set anywhere from 1500 to 2007, and a few that bounced around in time. There are separate careers and equipment lists for ancient characters. I was finally happy!

We released Blood Games II in June of 2007.

-Clash Bowley

Visit the Flying Mice LLC website for more information on Blood Games, Starcluster and other RPGs.

Look for Flying Mice LLC RPGs at the Flames Rising RPGNow Shop.

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2 Responses to “Clash Bowley “Evolution of Blood Games””

  1. Preston says:

    Nice essay! I always find it interesting to hear the “commentary track” on how games are developed.

  2. clash bowley says:

    Glad you enjoyed it, Preston! Blood Games went through a complete conceptual reworking, so it was an interesting subject to write about. 😀


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