January: Captains & Heathens

Hello outlaws,

Crimesmas is over, and we bid fair farewell to our own sale, as well as the Forged in the Hearth bundle. It was a great pleasure to join forces with my fellow Forged-on-Itch designers, and if anyone is coming to this post having joined us from the bundle: hey. The bundle was a great success for us and I'm happy so many people are turning out to support this experiment in independent, DIY game development and publishing.

I'm coming off a very long and very needed holiday vacation, but the task of game dev never rests, and so I have a bit to talk about as we enter 2020.


Part of the fun(?) of this end-stage of Copperhead County development is kicking every tire in the game and making sure I am satisfied with it. I've never been fully happy with the state of "cohorts" in the game. "Gangs" have always been a problem, because I've never felt the Blades style of having various Tier-scaling gangs with their own spheres of ability was a good fit. Like, in this genre, would any crew have a dedicated gang of Rooks? Or a bunch of dudes who can only drive? I don't think so.

The longtime solution was to simplify "Gangs" to one type of goon, who were basically good at grunt soldier work like group combat and basic stealth (with an upgrade that can make them drive good, and one that can make Gang Captains kind of reliable sub-leaders for the crew). As for Experts, I've always liked them but thought they were a little weak, so a few updates ago I made it a core rule that Experts can take a free downtime activity. Cool. That's not like, amazing design, but it worked okay.

Cut to: recently I was playing Jedi: Fallen Order, and, as one does, idly thinking about a Star Wars Forged in the Dark game (no disrespect to Scum & Villainy, I mean like, a regular, optimistic Star Wars game about heroes and Jedi). My mind turned to Chewbacca and how to model an NPC sidekick, and I thought of making him like a mini-PC who, rather than having a type like Wookiee Mechanic Who Also Has a Bow and is Strong and Cool, has access to a limited set of PC action ratings. Because, really, why do we have a separate "quality" vocabulary for cohorts? We already have a great vocabulary for how characters take action in the game: actions!

Well, when you idly have a cool idea, you probably should not abandon it to a Star Wars game which will never exist, but figure out a way to use it in your own game which does exist. On this page, you can see my current mockup of just such an approach.

In this approach, each "cohort" is a "Captain." Captains are the key support NPCs of your crew. When you create a Captain, you do two things. You assign them one free type (Expert or Leader); Experts get +1d to a defined field of expertise, while Leaders have a gang of five minions who, although not that useful on their own, can provide backup to the Captain + your crew. You also assign them four action dots, across actions that you choose. Captains have a limit of four action ratings, and a limit of three dots per action. You can then spend crew upgrades to give Captains a second type, or to increase their action ratings. During downtime, all Captains can perform a single free activity. And since Captains aren't PCs, even though they can use their action ratings for rolls, they don't have Stress and can't resist consequences.

I think this is pretty cool. I haven't been able to test it yet, but there are a lot of things I like about it. We'll see if it makes the final cut, or if I end up reverting to the current approach, or some new hybrid.

(BTW, this end-game tire-kicking isn't always so productive. I recently just blew a couple of days fooling around with alternate approaches to gaining Cash and Heat from Claims, before deciding that the current system, which I already developed after many many many iterations, tests, and brainstorms, already did what I wanted it to. Sometimes you go down a rabbit hole!)

Music Corner

As I've written this post, I've been listening to the top tracks playlist from The Bitter Southerner's Best Southern Albums of 2019 list. If you're not reading The Bitter Southerner, well, you're missing a lot of great writing, but you also missed a great list of albums. Check it out and marvel at the diversity, majesty, and power of Southern music and Southern people.

Recently, I was also lucky enough to catch my personal hero Patterson Hood, the co-frontman of Copperhead County patron saints the Drive-By Truckers, at his yearly solo end-of-the-year show at the Doug Fir Lounge here in Portland. He opened with one of my favorite DBT songs, "Heathens", which you can also enjoy below. (Sharp-eyed observers may notice a certain tribute to Patterson in the setting of Copperhead County, and perhaps even a certain tribute to "Heathens" in the factions list.)

That's all for now. I'm looking forward to getting a lot of writing and editing done in January, so stay tuned for further updates as we slouch towards the finish line.

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I did something similar with my hack of Adrenaline.  Cohorts have 4 action ratings:  Attack, Influence, Move, Scrape.  Ratings of 0-2.