Rose is an author and rpg designer with a long and illustrious pedigree working in gaming, primarily with Onyx Path but also as a freelancer. These days she runs a successful Patreon where she designs and releases short indie games. While mostly indie in nature, her work is reflective of OSR (and NSR) philosophies. Rose was kind enough to answer some questions for me.
Question. One of your biggest most recent projects is Cavaliers of Mars, a swashbuckling game set on Mars during its last gasp of glory. Can you talk a little bit about writing this game and what influenced you, both the mechanics and the setting?
Answer. Cavaliers of Mars started as a "trailer" text montage that I put together to pitch a game to a group of my friends during a Thanksgiving visit. I was thinking of something a little bit Fafhrd and Gray Mouser, a little bit Dying Earth, and a little bit Scorpion King. I'm not sure where the "of Mars" came from -- probably cultural osmosis of Burroughs' Mars series. Then I posted it on RPGnet, and the ideas kept rolling.
As it developed, I started reading a lot of other swashbuckling fiction, like the almost-noir world of Perez-Reverte's Captain Alatriste novels. (I highly recommend those to anyone who likes moderately dark adventure fiction.) I also read the John Carter books, which influenced things like the peoples of my Mars.
I say "my Mars," but it's really our Mars. I hired a great team, starting with my senior writer, Audrey Whitman. The crew I had developed these really wild places and came up with the literally hundreds of adventure hooks in the book.
In talking about the writing of the game, I think it's important to talk about the tools it provides. The prevalence of random tables was definitely OSR-inspired.
Here's how that works: there are around 80 locations described in the game, and every one of them has quick NPCs and plot hooks, and each set of those things can be rolled on randomly. There's also a huge set of character and story generation tables in the GM chapter. Benjamin Baugh came up with some really original stuff, like the d66 story table that builds adventures off of Polti's The Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations.
I also wanted a character creation system that sparked ideas relatively easily. I created a lifepath system that drew on some influence from Traveller, some from Barbarians of Lemuria, and some from Dogs in the Vineyard. The combat mechanics were among the hardest things to get right. I wanted a system that could do fights like Errol Flynn and Basil Rathbone's climactic fight in The Adventures of Robin Hood. I went through a _lot_ of iterations on that. The system of a "hand" of dice that represent strikes, parries, and stunts came together after many attempts.
Q I know one of your current projects is Bright and Terrible, set in, well, a dying Atlantis. Can you talk a bit about this project?
A. Bright & Terrible was my first Patreon game. I was on a kick of grand, tragic, often asshole characters and civilizations. I'd been rereading The Silmarillion and Elric, and I came up with a basic system of magic and doom.
Bright & Terrible uses a Lasers & Feelings and Trollbabe-inspired Number mechanic, which represents the push and pull of the two title stats on your character. The two stats kind of came into my head in a flash from misremembering Galadriel's "Instead of a Dark Lord you would have a Queen" speech from The Fellowship of the Ring. Then I did a Flashback mechanic like in MWP's Leverage, and it sort of all came together.
But once again, a lot of what I love about writing and using it is the huge amount of scenario and character tables. I believe the original Bright & Terrible has 27 d6 tables.
I'm working on two related games. One is a prequel set in pre-Fall Atlantis, among its many masques and intrigues. It's called Wicked & Graceful, and you can get it here (https://rose-on-mars.itch.io/wicked-graceful).
In the other, Majestic & Venomous, you play the still-potent spirit of one of Atlantis' slain dragon guardians, wandering an island cursed with a thousand dooms. Each region you enter has its own apocalypse and factions, and you must navigate them to reunite with your family. I plan to release it in the next few weeks.
Q. One of the things that has always impressed me about what you do is your creative range, both thematically and incorporating neat mechanical tricks. I can see why your current trajectory of writing short, mini-games is perfect for this. Can you talk a little bit about some of the shorter games you're most proud of, or perhaps some rules you've incorporated that help set the tone of the game?
A. Bright & Terrible is definitely my favorite of my short games. The stars just sort of aligned on that one, both creatively and it being a hit with my group. Most of my other games are at least a _little_ longer.
I really like One Weird Trick to Be a Hero, which I designed to capture the feeling of old Sierra games. I loved those inventory puzzles, but emulating them exactly would bring a tabletop session to a dead stop. So I came up with a mechanic for finding objects and then sort of mashing them up into solutions to obstacles. That one was also fun because I wrote it in the style of an old Quest for Glory manual. (I hope my puns were up to the classic designers' standards!)
Of my longer games, I'm really proud of Miserable Secrets. It has a really unique investigation mechanic -- you match cards in the style of the classic game Memory (also called Concentration or Pairs). The suits of your card matches determine what kind of secret you reveal; for example, a pair of Hearts reveals a relationship secret.
Q. Do you have any upcoming projects you'd like to tell us about? Also, what sort of games do you find yourself playing these days?
A. I'm putting the finishing touches on Witchblood, a game that aims to mix the pulp heroism of Conan and Solomon Kane with a world of Grimm fairy tales, seen through a queer lens.
Like the Atlantean games, it uses a system of opposed stats, this time in a noir-ish form devised by my friend Greg Stolze for his game A Dirty World. It has a neat magic system based on uncovering clues and then exploiting them through your cunning or powering through them with resolve.
Witchblood will be available via itch and DriveThru in April or May 2022, depending on how long the PoD proofing takes.
I do a lot of playtesting of my own stuff. I also recently had a great time with Age of Sigmar: Soulbound. It has a remarkably colorful setting and a lot of fun character archetypes. My favorites are the Daughters of Khaine, because who doesn't love a blood cult run by a batwinged gorgon goddess?
Thanks for taking the time to talk to me!