Spark RPG Open Beta – Version 3.5

Hello everyone,

I have definitely learned a great deal during this open beta process so far.  I want to explain the evolution of the game before I point you at the last version of the open beta text.


Version 1

The extensive feedback and the original AP from The Walking Eye podcast led me to restructure the text, to provide extensive example text and generally refine the game. Version 1 showed me that the world-building component of the game is one of its strengths. It also pointed out that some of the mechanics encouraged the wrong kinds of adversarial behaviours in players. This led to some major revisions to the text, which I managed to get out a few days before GenCon.


Version 2

Version 2 was a more solid version of the game. I reorganized the text and integrated much of the advice directly into the procedures of play. I also wrote a running example of play in the the setting creation, character creation and gameplay chapters. This version had slightly cleaner formatting, but time pressures kept me from tinkering with it too much.

My GenCon 2012 experience was a real eye-opener. I was able to get 3-4 playtests of version 2 at Games on Demand rules with mixed results. All of the tests of the Setting creation process went amazingly well, even with players who had little exposure to story games.  I ran into some challenges with the gameplay sections though. The mechanics _worked_, but there were far too many moving parts for me to effectively teach the game in that context. I realized that in a 2-hour time-slot, I spent a major portion of that time teaching the rules rather than actually playing the game.

In the last of these game sessions, I was fortunate enough to have Timo of the Jankcast  playing in my game on the Saturday afternoon. His excellent comments forced me to give an honest and critical look at the game.  The core mechanics, which I originally designed several years ago, were showing their age. While playtesting helped me refine the system and I had many excellent mechanics in there, the overall structure wasn’t serving my design goal for Spark. That is when I came to the decision to rip out the core resolution system and restart it from first principles.

Version 3

Saturday night I sat down with my text, crossed out the Collaboration and Conflict sections of the text, and got to work. The new system that I wrote up is much more elegant and does actually reinforce the desired behaviour of challenging your Beliefs.  I chatted at length with Timo, where he looked over my proposed version of the text and gave me his thoughts.

I brought this version of the rules with me the next day when I ran a 4-hour playtest of the game for the crew of The Walking Eye. That game session, which you can find as a bonus episode of The Walking Eye , was a blast. It gave me much needed confidence that I was on the right path.  You can find that episode here!


Version 3.5

Over the last month, I have used all of the GenCon feedback to create a new revision of the open beta of the game.  Version 3.5 is now freely available right Here.   This will be the last version of the text that I will post as part of the Open Beta, but I will extend the beta until November 1st 2012.

I would really appreciate any feedback and playtesting that you can provide on this last version. I want to make sure that this revamped version of the game is as solid as possible.

Thank you all.

Open Beta Feedback and Revision

Hello all.

I have gotten some incredible feedback on the first version of the Beta, enough that I am now revising the game text to prepare the next version of the beta.  I wanted to let you know what the major findings are and explain my next steps.

Findings and Flaws

  1. I utterly failed to explain how Fate worked or how it interacts with the Beliefs.  This will get its own section in the game text, either within the Introduction or Mechanics. I would love your feedback on which area would be appropriate.
  2. I need to promote and expand the setting-creation and faction mechanics, as that is one of the areas that make my game unique.
  3. The advancement system that I included in the game, where you simply bought yourself new Attributes, Talents and Conditions with Fate, doesn’t quite work out.
  4. The layout and cross-referencing in the text were poorly done. The next version of the beta will still be laid out via word processor, but will be better graphically designed in improve comprehension.
  5. The text fails to teach effectively or communicate my passion for the game. In short, it’s a dry reference text to the detriment of people trying to get into the game.
  6. I didn’t really understand my audience. I was writing this game for story game designers and people who had never heard of RPG’s before. The next version of the text will be calibrated to serve players of story games.
  7. I need to provide large amounts of descriptive advice on how declaration work and how they serve to encourage roleplaying.
  8. I need to remove all references to Proxies, rename them “Influence” and describe in great detail how they function in play. Influences are to be used in all Conflicts where you are not using a PC to support or oppose the declaration.
  9. I need to generally reorganize the text and work most of the advice and examples directly into the game text. I had originally intended on strictly separating the different kinds of content, but that has proven to be an ineffective technique for game organization and teaching.
  10. I need to explain the resolutions and why you should pick any given one during a conflict. The Walking Eye playtest was very PVP and they went for the throat, so I need to explain why you would want to use some of the kinder resolutions in play.


Next Steps

I am attempting to revise the text and release the next version of the game as quickly as I can, for another cycle of open beta playtesting. I will be running a number of game sessions at GenCon during Games on Demand with the most recent iteration of the rules, and I would love to invite you to participate.

Thank you for reading

Spark Open Beta – Major flaws identified

I have gotten a variety of insightful comments on the first version (v1.0) of the Spark RPG Open Beta and I wish to thank all of you for your feedback to date. I will be making a revised version (v2.0), incorporating these comments. My current target is to release this revised version on August 1st, 2012.
Various astute readers have found two major flaws with the current version of the game text. I wish to correct these problems with the revised version.

What makes Spark Different?

I created the Spark RPG with two different, distinct goals in mind.
1) To create a game about exploring and struggling with your Beliefs.
2) To create a genre-agnostic system, on purposefully built to support world building. The system would be equally useful for adapting existing fictional worlds without requiring system modifications.

In the introduction, I did a tolerable job in explaining my first goal and failed utterly in explaining the latter. One of the game’s strengths is in supporting world building and I woefully undersell that in the current version of the text.



Fate is a major component to the game, functioning as the major currency that you gain by challenging beliefs in a scene. I failed to explain this crucial element of the game in its own dedicated section of the text to explain it properly. Amusingly, I actually originally dedicated an entire _chapter_ to Fate in an earlier iteration. All of the necessary rules for using Fate are in the text, but I never explained what Fate actually was.

You may gain Fate by:

  • When you challenging one of your three Beliefs in a scene, either directly supporting or refuting it, you gain 1 Fate during “Closing the Scene” phase.
  • When someone (Player or GM) challenges all three of their Beliefs over one or more scenes, everyone in the game recieves 1 Fate.
  • When someone siezes the platform/tilt/question from you during the Framing phase, they give you 1 Fate.
  • When someone uses the Inspire Resolution on you, they need to offer you an amount of Fate equal to the size of your Spark die.  Eg, if someone has a Spark of D8, they need to offer you 8 Fate if you change your Belief as they suggest.

You may spend Fate in these ways.

  • You may give 1 Fate to seize a platform/tilt/question in the Framing phase,
  • You may spend 1 Fate to maximize your dice in a conflict where you challenge your beliefs,
  •  You may spend 1 Fate to gain a resolution in conflict
  • You may give 4-20 Fate to inspire someone to change a Belief to one of your choosing.
  • You may spend 4 Fate in a Conflict or the Advancement phase to add a Rise Condition or remove a Fall Condition.
  • You may spend 8 Fate in the Advancement phase to add a new Talent.
  • You may spend 20 Fate in the Advancement phase to add another level of Attribute.
  • You may spend 1 Fate to gain a proxy die the same size as your Spark Attribute


Your comments are welcome!

The Blood Oath Empire: Dreamation 2012 Playtest

Dreamation 2012 started with a bang and I snagged four players for a Thursday night playtest session. For ease of reference, let’s just call them players A, B, C and D. We achieved my goal for the session; to test the Setting Creation and Character Creation systems/procedures. Fortunately, we also got a chance to play the normal game for the second half of the session and a fun story emerged. Here is an explanation of our process and the lessons I learned from this test.

 Setting Creation

The first step of creating a setting was determining our Lines, Veils and Thresholds. I will warn you this gets a little dark. Lines are strict limits; topics absolutely forbidden during gameplay. By contrast, indirect references to subjects under Veils are acceptable. Thresholds are topics that you personally find sensitive, but you would be interested in seeing respectfully explored during game play.   We came up with rather dark lines and veils, and had thresholds of “Inbreeding” and “Ethnic Cleansing”.

Now we needed to determine what kind of setting we were making. I went around the table asking everyone to provide their favourite book, movie, tv show, video game or song. Once we got this together, I asked them to each state what specific aspect of their chosen media they most enjoy.   This is the list of inspirations we created from the process.

  • Army of Darkness – Comedy Horror
  • Mass Effect 2 – Mortality
  • Hardboiled – Heroic Bloodshed
  • Revolutionary Girl Utena – Dream-like Symbols.

We added a few more inspirational ingredients to add to that list:  Drug abuse, Duels and Mechs

Using the various inspirations as guidelines, we started to brainstorm potential setting Beliefs. After producing this list, we selected three of them (bolded) to represent our new world.

  • Change requires bloodshed
  • The ends don’t justify the means
  • Drugs are the only way to make it.
  • Everyone dies for a Reason
  • Laughter makes us human
  • Honour lost is blood lost.
  • The price of Honour is blood.

Faction Creation

Once we had the core themes of the setting established, we started on developing the various major factions and their relationships with each other.  We went around the table twice, with each person picking either a faction’s Name or their Mandate. The Mandates represent the organization’s core purpose and must be related to one of the setting’s Beliefs. Our final list was as follows.

  • The House of Crimson Shackles: To tell bereaved families the reason for their loss.
  • The Mechbuilder’s Guild: To ensure the weapons of war stay in Noble hands.
  • The Crows of Heaven: To punish lies.
  • Diviners of the Black Gate:  To eat dishonour from the dead. (Established as exclusively female)
  • The Children of the City: To tally the honour of the ruling houses.

Once we had the factions established, each player chose one relationship between different factions.  The House of Crimson Shackles and the Crows of Heaven became rivals for control of the truth. The leaders of the Mechbuilder’s Guild and the Children of the City are brothers. The House of Crimson Shackles apparently owns the Diviners of the Black Gate, who are plotting against them.   Lastly, the Mechbuilder’s Guild are apparently unwitting pawns of the Crows of Heaven.   It’s a great deal less confusing with a relationship map in front of you.

 Character Creation

This went by quickly enough, with four key characters established.

A’s character was a noble from the House of Crimson Shackles with these key beliefs: “The Children are our future.”  | ” I will control the future.”  | “Change requires bloodshed”.

B’s character was a torturer from the House of Crimson Shackles with these key beliefs:  “I don’t ask questions.”  | ”A man isn’t measured by his actions.” | ”A torturer is an artist”.

C’s character was a drugged out mech pilot with these beliefs: “The drugs pilot the mech” | My will is Reason enough” | “I follow a false purpose”.

D’s character was a jaded duelist with these beliefs: “Duels and honour are meaningless” | “Laughter is the Coward’s Way” | “Violence must be democratized”.

We took a break, two hours after starting the session, then dove into game play.


Gameplay Summary

We started game play with the prelude. I provided the group with a focus for play “Darshim, a Child of the City with a secret to reveal”. Each of them had a chance to narrate a short introductory scene where they showed off their characters and determined why they needed to reach the focus of play.  This went fairly quickly and we established some interesting facts about the world at that point.

We then got into normal gameplay where a duel had commenced in the royal dueling arena. We established that there were two kinds of duels in this world: The Duel of Wits and the Duel of Blades. We had various characters try to interrupt the sacred tradition of the Duel of Wits and they learned that the House of Crimson Shackles was plotting against the Emperor. Add some imperial adultery from A’s character’s wife, and you get a very tense and exciting scene.  It was short, but we ran the system through its paces and discovered a few spots deserving of attention.


Lessons from the Playtest

  • The first thing we noted was that by starting things off with Lines, Veils and Thresholds, the game became very adult and very dark, very quickly. Everyone at the table was comfortable with this, but it was a concern.
  • I need to give a list of potential lines and veils to kickstart the discussions.
  • It was hard for people to come up with Thresholds; likely due to the conflating of “Handle with care” and “request for others to handle”.
  • I need to create a separate setting-creation worksheet where the Lines, Veils, Thresholds, Inspirations and brainstormed setting Beliefs could be recorded.
  • We needed a stronger setting agreement before play. I resolved that in the future, we would create a title and tag-line for the settings during the process to help tie it together.
  • I failed to deal with the step of character creation where the players would provide their setting concepts to the group. As a result, the characters were only loosely related.
  • I need to more clearly define talents and conditions with more examples.
  • We were having a hard time remembering to narrate after pickling Resolutions.

My kind playtesters said they really enjoyed the process of using existing media and transforming them into tangible beliefs representing a new setting.  I have to admit, it was enjoyable on my part as well, so I will be keeping this in with a few minor modifications.

The Blood Oath Empire was fun to create and explore. I wish to thank all four of my kind playtesters for their hard work in crafting a world and PC’s in a span of a mere two hours.