Razed Update

by Will Hindmarch

Ken Hite’s excellent GUMSHOE thriller, Night Black Agents, has changed the way I’m thinking about some of the GUMSHOE tech in this game. Razed was always meant to have a couple of different functioning play styles—and it’s still using its system of dials for creating the setting and campaign background—but I’m taking inspiration from Ken’s work and more clearly defining two key modes of play for Razed.

In short, one mode is for ordinary people surviving in frighteningly extraordinary times and the other mode is for extraordinary people working to change an ugly world into something better. This is, in a way, simply a better way to get at a topic I was chipping away at in the manuscript already (and which we dealt with in my last Razed campaign), so it’s a great fit. Razed campaigns can also switch from one mode to the other during play to reflect the tenor  or voice of your unfolding stories. Do your ordinary survivors spend a year training to take back their planet from invading aliens? Switch the dial from “defense” to “offense” and have at it! (All terms are subject to change, still.)

I’m hoping to get these locked down in the next month so that I can submit the game to outside playtesting this spring. I’d really like or you to see it.

Speaking of seeing it, art and graphic design for the game continues to develop. I find it immensely helpful to have a sense of a book’s final look when I’m writing for it, so I’ve done up some book-design sketches for the project and am delivering art notes for concept artists in that design style. It’s great fun.

As part of that process, I’ve been experimenting with a color palette and a new logo for the game’s cover. Here’s one sketch I did up recently:

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RAZED Update

By Will Hindmarch

Last week, I finished the first playtest campaign for RAZED. This is bad because I wasn’t planning on ending the campaign when I did, but I’m moving 700 miles and so the campaign had to come to a close. This is good because RAZED is meant to be a game that supports and rewards multiple campaign frames, and now I have a chance to start up a wholly different test of the setting and the mechanics with all new players, to see what resonates and what whimpers. And this is all at the alpha stage of development, before we enter deeper playtesting of the actual manuscript at game tables other than my own.

At this stage, playtesting means experimenting with mechanics and the game-world in equal measure. One week, a faction of alien invaders might be armed with charged-particle guns that incinerate human flesh, the next they might use stunning bolts of electricity, all the better for harvesting human subjects. Firefights might play out very differently from one week to the next, depending on the rules we’re using. (Lately, I’m using the combat rules from The Esoterror Factbook, though I expect to change those up in the next campaign.) Everything is up in the air at first, yet things narrow with each play session as I learn what works and what doesn’t—what’s frightening and what’s funny, what’s frustrating and what’s fun.
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The major alien factions are settling into place, right now, from the enigmatic Hexapods to the legions of hovering A.I. drones to the monstrous air-worms that sail through Earth’s blasted skies. Still more continue to develop, getting into position so that you can include them in your own apocalyptic vision of the future. In the end, I hope to have half a dozen antagonistic forces for GMs to cast in vital roles for their own post-apocalyptic play.

RAZED, as a GUMSHOE game, is still about mystery and investigation (and survival), and throughout all the testing one central element of the game has stayed sturdy. RAZED campaigns are all about answering this question: Who killed planet Earth?
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The question I’m wrestling with, in the meantime, is how much (or how little) I need to tweak the GUMSHOE rules to model the kind of play I’m after—a combination of hectic, desperate action and tense, mysterious exploration. GUMSHOE is a simple but flexible rules set, responsive to a wide variety of narrative styles. I want to add a few new mechanisms to play, but I don’t want to mess too much with a machine that runs just fine as it is. The game responds very well to changes in the narrative style; how you describe the loss of 4 Health matters more than needlessly complicating combat to determine how those 4 Health are lost. So, instead, I’m focusing more on using the established GUMSHOE systems to raise dramatic questions—like whether your character stays civil in the absence of civilization—and less on trying to fasten a lot of new gadgets onto the GUMSHOE chassis.

Stay tuned for more RAZED updates as I enter phase two of the playtest after Gen Con.

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