D101-019 The Company

The Company

This one was OpenQuest Modern. Around the early 2010s, when OQ had been out for a while,  one of the regulars posted about using OQ mashed up with D20 Modern SRD to create a secret service vs Cthulhu game on our forum. I said nope on that one for many reasons, and I realised that I was enjoying all manner of Modern Day thrillers and had no roleplaying outlet.  So I put out the call for someone to turn the OQ SRD into OQ Modern, and Rik Kershaw Moore answered the call. About 12 months later, The Company was the result. Published on 13/04/2012, as a softcover/hardcover and pdf via Lulu.com

The game is centred firmly around a fictional UK Private Military Contractor, a modern-day mercenary company that recruit primarily from ex-UK Armed Forces and with a Royal Charter to provide military services in response to falling numbers of UK armed forces.

In many ways, the Company is my favourite of the early trio of OQ games, completed by OQ 1-2 (Fantasy) and River of Heaven (Sci-Fi). I ran some fun convention games. Operation Mudbrick, where operatives guard an archaeological team in the ancient city of UR post-Gulf War 2, and Operation Camphor, where the team reclaims a recording device left by a spy working for The Company that had been left in the Lockheed Sea Shadow, which was now floating inside the hull of a converted cargo ship in one of the US Fleet Arm fleets, moored off the coast of California. In many ways, the scenarios I ran for The Company, although based on real-life situations, were more fantastic and eye-opening than the weirdest fantasy adventures I’ve written.

While the Company was a good steady seller over the years, I never got beyond publishing the core rulebook, even though there was an adventure book and companion written because its principal author – Rik – suddenly left the hobby.  The main rulebook finally went out of print at the end of the OQ3 Kickstarter back in October 2020.

One day, I hope to bring back The Company for OQ 3, but it will be a slightly different set-up, with a different name (Modern Operations is the current favourite).

Update: Inspired by the nostalgia this post brought up, and with my interest piqued as a Game Designer, I’ve started working on the spiritual successor to the Company, Modern Operations.

Crypts and Things 1st Edition (D101-018)

This release was a D101 Games game changer…

Crypts and Things 1st Edition Cover by Jon Hodgson

I was already aware of the Old School Renaissance, which was in full swing in the 2010s,  due to its fans in the OSR blog-sphere taking a liking to OpenQuest.

I was very impressed with Swords and Wizardry’s tight presentation. So I basically took this OGL Systems Resource Document and mixed it with a bevvy of Swords and Sorcery inspirations from my 80s British Gaming History.

Inspirations:

  • Old White Dwarf.  A whole slew of adventures (The Lichway, and The Hall of Tizun Thane for example) and rules ideas (The Barbarian for example, Using CON as physical hit points , while HP become quickly recharged energy) was lifted from the early days of this classic British TTRPG publication. The mid-80s was the cut off date.
  • Early Fighting Fantasy, we are talking about the first six books, where the authors were obviously riffing off their D&D games, not the expectations of what a FF book was.
  • Early Slaine from 2000 AD, when it was black and white and short and punchy. None of the epic Simon Bisley era stuff.
  • Savage Swords of Kull. I got the first of the two graphic novel compilations put out of the Marvel comics from the 70s/80s and was instantly in love with the slightly acid-tinged brooding proto-Conan.
  • Michael Moorcock’s Elric books and the resulting Stormbringer RPG put out by Chaosium, specifically the hardcover licensed version put out by Games Workshop in the 80s, which I’ve raved about on my Sorcerer Under Mountain blog.

Art fell into place nicely with a fantastic cover by Jon Hodgson and the rest of the artists of illodeli.com, which was a small art collective run by Jon, that was selling fantastic stock art.  This was a resource I liberally plundered, with my mate John Ossoway filling in the gaps with a piece here and there.

It was playtested at great speed and enthusiasm, which bemused my regular circle of RPG buddies, who were more into modern RPGs like FATE and HeroQuest at the time.

First time I used crowdfunding, indiegogo.com, which was successful although modest at indiegogo.com

The resulting book that was released in 20??? was 150 pages of old school O&D goodness, with a distinct flavour, in a nice slim hardcover from Lulu.com. For some strange reason, I never got around to putting the POD version on drivethrurpg.com.

And by thunder, it sold well. After seeing OpenQuest’s sales crawl along, and Monkey fails at Drivethrurpg.com (but strangely sell out when I was selling in person at Conventions) it was lovely to see it outsell both titles. Partly because it’s a version of D&D, but also because it struck a chord with older gamers who fondly remembered its British Fantasy 80s roots.

 

Book of Glorious Joy (D101-017)

This was a fun one to do. Jamie “Trotsky” Revell did about three supplements worth of Gloranthan setting books about the West for Issaries INC. When Moon Designs took over Gloranthan publishing, for various reasons the chief of which those books represented a “Medieval West” rather than a “Bronze Age Ancients West”, they declined to publish them. So they offered me the chance to put it out as a fan publication and I lept at it.

I called it the Book of Glorious Joy, like it was an in-game sorcerer’s Grimoire, to dispel the negativity around the book, that had arisen because it was rejected manuscript. And it worked! Peter Town did some fantastic character pieces, much of which now adorns the pages of OpenQuest 3rd edition, and it turned out to be a nice chunky supplement.

The book had decent sales as well which makes my inner-publisher glow, so it wasn’t just fan service.

Eventually, after five or so years of being available and sales dwindling to nought, I called time on it which gave it a nice flurry of end-of-life sales (again inner-publisher happy).

A fun book, that while not being 100% Glorantha was a high point of my publishing up in 2011 when it came out. Also, you might see the cover, modified, as the cover of a big setting/adventure book for OpenQuest 3, that expands and details the Empire of Gatan called “Dark Corners of the Empire” at some point next year. So as a source of inspiration, it will live on 🙂

Adventures in Wordplay issue 1 The Drowned Lands (D101-016)

A very brief post for this one.

The Drowned Lands was a very short sandbox for Wordplay the Big Five (D101-09), written by Paul Mitchener. It was a post-apocalyptic setting based in a near-future where the sea level had raised by fourteen metres, and the weather was constant rain. It was a nice little British Post-Apoc setting, set around Paul’s home city of Southampton, where you discovered the setting and plot through play. Oh, and it had intelligent sentient bipedal Bears 🙂

I pulled it after two months because I wasn’t happy with the art I had thrown together for it. A selection of images from Wikimedia commons which I put through a “Rainy” filter. See the cover below for an example. I got a fuller release when I redid the Big Five as the Worlds of Wordplay.

Currently, it’s passed back to Paul, so it may see the light of day again.

Life and Death (D101-015)

I rounded off 2010, a bumper year of releases with Life and Death, a setting and adventure book for OpenQuest. I started writing about 2006, so it felt like an eternity when it finally came out, to relatively little fanfare. But I was happy and proud of it.

I already told Life and Death’s origin story in OpenQuest 1st Edition’s (D101-06) post since it’s so interwoven with that rule set’s beginnings.

It’s my fantasy love letter to George Romero Zombie movies, where a magical apocalypse was brought on by a proud, vain Lion Emperor trying to ascend to the Houses of the Gods. Instead, he ends up wiping them from existence along with the route to the afterlife, which was my rationale for all the undead folk hanging around. It was inspired by a Glorantha fan saying rather angrily on one of the Glorantha-yahoo-lists 1 that you couldn’t just wipe Glorantha’s Mythology and Gods out like erasing a Hard Drive. Which got me thinking, what if you could. I also knocked the idea that after the erasing of Mythology/Gods, the five city-states of the region the adventures were set in were magically isolated by force fields up to ten miles from their city walls.

It came in two versions. The initial release was in 2010, which had two adventures. A short one-shot introduced the setting called Dead Pot Country, where the characters investigated a missing merchant’s son in a land where a dead river civilisation, think Mesopotamia, buried its dead in large ceramic pots in ordered fields. Which the characters had to go tromping across, breaking the seals and disturbing the zombies. And the longer second adventure, which was Life and Death itself. In part 1, you go to a militaristic, xenophobic city-state in the grips of, you guessed it, a zombie plague and discover the culprit behind the Zombie apocalypse. In part 2, you go up into some nearby hills and find out the secret of why the path to the world’s afterlife is blocked, and make the final choice between Life and Death.

In 2014 an updated version of the book was released that had two new introductory adventures. Joining the Guild, where the characters run for their lives in an ancient city-state and end up joining the Adventurer’s Guild. Real basic stuff to introduce the setting and the system to new players.  Their new Guild’s first job is to teleport them to old ruin in the second adventure – The Dust of Eternity – overrun with guess what? That’s right, Zombies! But zombies that still half-remember their lives moan and groan and have behaviours based on that 2.

I have a soft spot for this, so it’s coming back in an expanded/revised version for OpenQuest at some point. BUT it was a pain to write due to various internal conflicts, which made every step forward hard-won. So I’m not in a great rush. When I do bring it back, I will have a clear head and write with joy. Perhaps I’ll get the other five books3 in the series that this was meant to be the first written too 3 😀

Notes

1. Remember those? Glorantha had at least two official Yahoo groups during the HeroWars/HeroQuest period, from 1999 to the early 2010s.  Faults aside, that’s where I first connected with the Gloranthan Fan Community.

2. I was big into playing the first Bioshock game at the time.

3. The plan was one book per city in the setting, including the ruined city of the Lion Emperor.

Gloranthan Adventures #1 New Beginings (D101-014)

During the 90s, in my formative years of running RuneQuest, one of my favourite fanzines, when I could get it was RuneQuest Adventures.  Every issue took you on a guided tour of Glorantha, in the form of a series of linked adventures. Issue 3 for example The Block, was based around the Block in Prax and the adventure locations around it. As well as notes on the Stormbull cult, it had a fantastic adventure where the dungeon was the hollowed-out skeleton buried under a hill. So this was my primary inspiration for the Gloranthan Adventures fanzine, of which this is the first of two issues 1.

My records show this one too along with Hearts in Glorantha #4 (D101-010) was released in time for the bi-annual gathering of Glorantha fans at Continuum 2010.

First, for the record, of the covers Jon Hodgson has done for me over the years this is one of my favourites ever, depicting an Orlanthi Stormlord flying menacingly as farmsteads in the burn-in valley below. As well as being a cracking illustration it sets the scene for the content within its covers.

The four adventures in the book rise from my early days as a HeroQuest evangelist at my local conventions 2. I took the Sartar setting, that every Gloranthaphile has at least a passing familiarity with and is dead easy to explain to newcomers. Then I threw every chaos foe against a small “peace” clan, called the Silverwinds, who was woefully ill-prepared for such an assault on their way of life. Although there is a bit of clan politics in it, one of my aims was to provide a working example of a clan that the players could be members of, its fairly and squarely leveraging the HeroQuest system to provide an epic crusade against chaos. Think 13th Warrior mixed with Jason and the Argonauts and you’ve got the measure of it. 3

Notes:

1. GA 2 Red Sun Rising appears four years later, and I’ve still got a cover and a good 30-40 pages for a series of Troll adventures, which is the unreleased GA 3.

2. When I was leading the Ring of HeroQuest Narrators which mutated into the semi-official Masters of Luck and Death and then imploded!

3. The set-up for the adventures, divorced from the Sartar Timeline, and general approach do a bit of roleplaying then fight a chaos thing, actually make it more like 13th Age Glorantha mini-campaign well before that book was put out.

Wordplay Basics (D101-013)

This was a blink and you miss it, in the bumper year of releases in 2010. Basically, a promotional book for Wordplay the Big 5 (D101-09), that had a good chunk of the system. These days I would have done a Quickstart set of rules with an adventure. After a couple of months, I realised it wasn’t driving sales to the Big 5 as I had hoped, so it was quietly pulled. Did however form the template for OpenQuest Basics further down the line in 2014.

Ye Little Book of HeroQuest Fantasy (D101-011 + D101-012= D101-023)

Ok, this is a composite entry that covers three releases.

Ye Little Book of HeroQuest 1 Dungeoneering (D101-011), released Sept 2010.

Ye Little Book of HeroQuest Fantasy, Dungeoneering, cover by John Ossoway

Ye Little Book of HeroQuest Monsters (D101-012), released Nov 2010.

HeroQuest Monsters, cover by Simon Bray

Both of which were only available in pdf.

Ye Little Book of HeroQuest Fantasy (D101-023) which appeared years later in 2015 and is the combined pdf/print version of the above.

HeroQuest Fantasy cover by Jon Hodgson

In 2009 if memory serves me rightly Moon Design offered the HeroQuest Gateway license 2 to potential third-party publishers. I had already done some generic gaming with HeroQuest, so thought let’s give it a go.

The “Ye Little Books of HeroQuest Fantasy” was meant to have been a series of cheap and cheerful short releases, a sort of counterpoint to all the D20 and even Savage Worlds pamphlets that were flooding drivethrurpg.com in those days. Looking at my folder on my hard drive, I also had plans to do “Adventures”, “Heroes”, and “World Building” as part of the series.

So I quickly brought the project together. HQ was easy to write for and I think each release only took a couple of evening writing sessions to write because I had a laser-sharp focus on what I was doing 3.

Dungeoneering was well-received. In its lifetime it was a Silver Medal seller on Drivethrurpg.com. Monsters did less well but still got a Bronze medal over its lifetime. I’m not surprised since it was basically a generic listing of typical fantasy critters, using the descriptions and art from OpenQuest at the time, and we’ve all got far too many books of that sort of nonsense 😀

I decided when I was putting the project together the whole series would then only get a full release as a printed version when all parts had been out. This is why there’s a huge delay between the pdf releases and the combined version. I kept putting it off because I kept thinking that I would do the other parts, which for one reason or another never happened.  Truth be told by the time I put out YLBoHQ Fantasy, I was quite jaded with the whole idea because being a HQ Gateway publisher had not been the road to instant fame and fortune that I had expected it to be 4. I’d not had that crucial moment of self-realisation that the pdfs had actually sold quite well and had been well received by fans, who quietly emailed me politely asking when they were going to see the other parts. In short, I should have put my head down and got on with it 😀

Notes:

1. The game is currently being rebranded as QuestWorlds and is due a new edition from Chaosium (current owners of the game) soon(ish). The actual rules have been released for free.

For the purposes of this article, I’ve kept with the old brand name, which has been sold back to Hasbro so they can bring back the board game of the same name, for historical reasons. Plus referring to it as “the-game-formally-known-as-heroquest” is a bit longwinded 😀

2. The HQ Gateway license was actually quite elegant. It nicely explained what you could do with the HeroQuest ruleset, basically do supplements/adventures without going too risque (or edgelord as we call it now) in a way that would damage the brand and reputation of Moon Design, and no Glorantha (but I had a separate license for that). And that was it. No approval process, apart from Moon Design giving you a license in the first place.

3. One of the successes of this project, was that I really got the whole idea of writing a scope, refining it, and then delivering it without scope creep. Well for the first two releases any way 🙂  This success helped me in other D101 Games releases further down the road.  If nothing else it made me the master of putting out short pdf to print fanzine sized books, which are now actually good sellers and quite popular.

4. This was quite a depressing internal battle that I fought with myself over the next five years or so. 2010 was a great push to get as many books out, in the effort to become a “name” publisher. Something I’ve realised further down the road, due to my personality, I’m not all that interested in. For me, it’s the creation of the work. I’ve seen some RPG creators go to great lengths to publicise their works, and it just strikes me as vulgar. It coincided with a slump in my energy levels. Work and having two kids were to blame here 😀

Hearts in Glorantha #4 (D101-010)

Hearts in Glorantha issue four emerged in Summer 2010, just in time for Continuum 2010, which despite its general all games appeal, was still a major Glorathaphile gathering due to its roots.

This was the last of John Ossoway’s covers, and personal high-point with it featuring virtually no-Dragon Pass material (aka “those hairy barbarians” as one reader succinctly put it). Instead, it had part of Jamie “Trotsky” Revell’s Western Glorantha supplement in the form of the Kingdom of Joruna. D101 would go onto publish a full book worth of his work as the Book of Glorious Joy (D101-011) a year later. I did a mini-setting, the town of Vastar in the Lunar Heartlands, which would be the first trip I would make to this region before 2015’s Red Sun Rising (aka D101-035 Gloranthan Adventures #2).

Wordplay the Big Five (D101-009)

This one was one of our big game releases and quite a significant milestone for D101 Games.

Wordplay the Big Five, cover art by Jon Hodgson

Wordplay was Graham Spearing’s D6 Dicepool narrative game that he wrote under a creative common’s license. My original publication plan was to do a standalone Fantasy game using rules and the Empire of Gatan setting from OpenQuest for D101. As well as contributing a setting or Theme, called Infinite War, to Graham’s big release of Wordplay, alongside three other themes. Mark Galeotti’s Cold Crusade (mythological superheroes), Charles Green’s Keep Portland Weird (Urban Fantasy) and Graham’s Epic Fantasy theme. For various reasons, Graham’s release of the core rulebook fell through, and Wordplay, the Big Five, was my release of the core rules + the themes as they were in 2010.

Here’s the content’s page

Everything was pulled together at breakneck speed, as was typical of D101 early releases, still keeping to a fast and furious Punk Rock ethic of Do it! The artists of Hearts in Glorantha came through big time. Peter Town and Ilkka Leskelä stand out especially as heroes who opened up extensive portfolios of illustrations that nicely illustrated a narrative game. Ilkka also, some fantastic full pagers, which he allowed me to use again in the recent OpenQuest 3rd Edition.  This one especially stands out for me.

Fantasia by Ilkka Leskelä

The book sold moderately well, making its costs and a little bit of profit, and was critically well accepted.  It was also the first big book RPG that I wasn’t the primary author of but instead focused on being a publisher. Which was a good experience in itself and made me more confident later on.