Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Shotguns & Sorcery has Arrived and It's Been a Long Wait, but Worth It!

In December 2015, about two months after the Geekerati Radio Podcast went on hiatus, I saw an exciting new gaming project called Shotguns & Sorcery proposed on Kickstarter. The product was based on the Shotguns & Sorcery trilogy by Matt Forbeck, itself a part of Matt's 12 for '12 series of Kickstarter projects where he hoped to be able to fund and write 12 books in 12 months. Quite an ambitious project, but if anyone was going to try it Matt Forbeck was the man for the job. I backed his Brave New World, Monster Academy, Dangerous Games, and Shotguns & Sorcery trilogies when they were proposed and we interviewed Matt about the project on the old podcast (embedded at the bottom of this post).

A couple of confessions before, I get into the nitty-gritty of the Shotguns & Sorcery book. First, Matt's a friend and one of the nicest guys in the gaming industry, so I'm very happy that this project was completed. Second, my wife Jody did some illustrations for the first (and maybe the second, but I'm not sure about that) Monster Academy book and provided the art for the Storium Monster Academy page.

When I backed Shotguns & Sorcery on Kickstarter, I knew that I was supporting a friend. I also figured that there was a high probability that the product would be published. The Kickstarter presentation was very professional and had lined up a good team of experienced rpg designers including Robert Schwalb to write the product, had artists lined up, and they were using an existing game system's mechanics as a foundation. These were all things that pointed to completion in a reasonable time.

Sadly, making things is difficult and things fall behind schedule and sometimes never get completed. Such is the creative process that even with a good team, cost overruns, writers' block, or a host of other things can lead to a project not being completed. I've seen it happen with a couple of the 500 projects I've backed, and it looked like Shotguns & Sorcery was going to be one of those projects. Though it started strong, the production lost steam, updates became rarer, and I thought the project would never reach fruition. Since I backed the project (at the $100 level) to support a friend in creative work, I wrote it off as a sunk cost. A lot of backers weren't so generous and had some pretty angry things to say, things that might have contributed to the delay more than they helped keep the project going. It's one thing to check the status of a project, it's another to call into question the motives of the creators. This is especially true when the stakes are relatively small. In the end, over four years passed before the book came out.

Sometimes when a project finally comes out after a long delay, it looks like it was thrown together "just to get it out the door." That is not at all the case with Shotguns & Sorcery. Instead, this product seems to fall into the category that "you are only late once, but you are bad forever" and so it's better to be late than bad. The book has solid binding, high end printing production on the cover, and is beautiful inside. While the pages aren't printed on glossy paper, they are printed on acid free paper and the sepia tone of the book gives a nice overall look to the product.

Mechanically Shotguns & Sorcery uses Monte Cook's Cypher System, a system that will be very familiar to fans of Numenera, The Strange, or No Thank You, Evil! It's an easy system to learn, but flexible enough to cover any genre from street level espionage to superheroes without stretching the mechanics beyond utility. In order to determine if any action is successful, the player rolls a twenty-sided die and compares the result of the die to a target number based on the difficulty of the task. The difficulty can range from 0 to 10 and this number is multiplied by 3 to give a target number between 0 and 30. As you might have noticed, you cannot roll a 30 on a twenty-sided die. In order to achieve tasks that are at this "impossible" level, or to make other challenges less difficult, characters can spend points from their abilities to reduce the base difficulty. They may also have special abilities or training that lowers the difficulty, but the main game play is the same. Get a target number and roll equal to or greater than that number. Unlike D&D, the players make all rolls in combat by rolling both "to hit" and "to defend."

In order to flush out the characters, players rate the games in three categories (Might, Speed, and Intellect) and then select a Race, Type, and Focus. The Race and Type will be familiar to D&D gamers with things like Halfling, Dwarf, and Elf being available as races and Freelance (Rogue), Veteran (Fighter), and Wizard being among the Types available. Players will also add descriptors like "cunning" or "aggressive" to their characters and choose a Focus like "Commands the Dead" or "Carries a Quiver." Initial character creation is as simple as completing the following sentence, "I am a (fill in the adjective here) (fill in a noun here), and (fill in a noun here) who (fill in a verb here." More simply a character is an adjective noun, a noun who verbs. For example, I am a Hardboiled Human, a Freelance who Packs Heat."

The book includes scads, yes scads, of types and foci for characters to use. It may have been a long wait, but in this case it was a wait well worth it seeing the final product. One final comment. If you don't want to play Shotguns & Sorcery using the Cypher System, the setting was originally designed for use with D&D as a part of the campaign the resulted in the Eberron campaign. The combination of straight fantasy with the Old West works well with Cypher, but it could also work with 5e or with Savage Worlds. There is so much setting and adventure information here, that using it as the basis for a Savage Worlds game would be very possible.

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