Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Developing Ironbound

With the first ever playtest for anything ScreenPlay going down in less than four days, I've been working on drafting up some rough material for Ironbound. What is Ironbound, you ask? What a great question. Allow me a moment to introduce it.

Ironbound is a dark fantasy ScreenPlay where magic has been outlawed and its practice declared a sin by the Church. Picture a D&D-style world without the benefit of high magic merged with the harsh times and environment of Iron Age Europe. To combat these magic-users and the monsters they summon, an elite unit of soldiers known as the Ironbound are dispatched to investigate rumours of magic use and eliminate them using any means necessary (including the study - but not the practice - of magic). In this world, iron is considered a symbolic counter to magic and its affinity with the natural world (magic operates as a form of witchcraft with fireballs, summoning undead, and all that standard fantasy stuff).

In this game, the crew takes on the role of assorted members of the Ironbound dispatched to the town of Behn upon word of grave robbing and a kidnapping. While I have a few rough notes and mental concepts for the setting, my main goal is to have all the player components ready to rock and roll by Friday night and that means developing roles for the players.

Roles are a tricky part of character development in ScreenPlay, particularly for the lead roles. While there has to be some locked-in aspects to work with the story I have in mind, some flexibility is required for players to contribute to the final script. That is the purpose of gameplay - shared storytelling. It's why working on Ironbound as my very first ScreenPlay can be very helpful because the lead roles can be as loosely defined as roles within a medieval military unit. They must also simultaneously allow each crew member (player) opportunity to add their own personal touches to the cast they created for these roles, so here's what I have in mind.

Using the scout role as an example, here's how roles could possibly function in the game using the draft as it exists at this very moment.

The Scout

Magic-users typically dwell in the dark corners of the forests and thrive on the protection of unchartered territories. The Ironbound rely on scouts to guide them safely to their destinations, avoid detection, and discover clues to the successful completion of their missions. While no two scouts are the same, they are trained in the arts of tracking, stealth, infiltration and wilderness survival.

Equipment: Unlike others within the Ironbound, scouts are not commonly equipped with the heavy weaponry and armour of their brethren. As a scout, your cast member can start off with your choice of one-handed melee weapon (+1 steps to attacks; +2 damage), ranged weapons (+1 steps to attacks; +2 to +4 damage), and leather or hide armour (+1 steps to defence). Feel free to flesh out the rest of your scout's equipment as needed.
Grapple (Minor Complication): Scouts can place this Minor Complication on an opponent so long as the scout can use both hands (with at least one unarmed) and applied stealth into their triggering description. You must spend 1 Stamina to apply this Complication. The opponent is grabbed from behind by the scout and cannot move, speak, or make any noise capable of attracting the attention of another cast member without removing this Complication.
Skills: Scouts gain +1 steps when providing a description or reaction involving tracking, stealth, infiltration or wilderness survival.
Unseen: Whenever a scout has the benefit of moving in concealment or can take advantage of heavy coverage (such as behind a thick canopy of trees or bushes or a wall), you gain +1 steps to any Potential used to silently approach and attack a single target.
Wild Past: Scouts are commonly discovered in many backwoods outposts and uncivilized corners of the country. Develop a backstory for your scout with this approach in mind and include a superstition or biased opinion/viewpoint of magic in your character's personality. When you effectively play out this aspect of your character, you gain +1 steps to resist the effects of a spell.

What Do They Mean?

Even if you've had a chance to read the current iteration of ScreenPlay (available for download here), some of this means squat diddly to you. Allow me to explain.


For your average role-player, this is all standard fare but the mechanic of weapons and armour is a little different. One of the catches for each ScreenPlay is that they'll each require their own shopping list and I haven't gone into great detail on that as of yet. Not until I can see how often Complications actually come into effect and see a game in action. I do have a general guideline for Ironbound at this point.

One-handed melee weapons provide +1 steps to attacks and feature no other special features. They're nothing fancy and you still need to get in close to use them just as you would with unarmed combat. Two-handed melee weapons provide greater harm to your opponents and provide +2 steps in combat but they come with an alternate Complication that can temporarily eliminate them from your list of resources. Ranged weapons grant +1 steps and the advantage of distance and Ironbound's weapons mean they all come with the alternate Complication titled "Out Of Ammo," meaning you either bust the bow string, lose your arrows, or anything else you can think of at the moment. Armour simply increase your opposed roll by +1 steps for light to medium and +2 for the heavy stuff.


I'd like for every lead role to provide a Minor Complication in the character's repertoire and this one seems the perfect fit for a scout. To ensure it's not abused (particularly against extras), it comes with a mandatory cost of 1 Stamina should a scout fail to completely subdue an opponent. During my first go at this role, it seemed like such a thing should be a Major Complication but that would require grappling to having far reaching consequences beyond normal subduing of your enemy. This way, a scout who fails to kill an enemy with a stealth-based attack can at least prevent them from calling out for help or running away.


A common provision for roles, this is a very basic skill system where the cast member gains +1 steps under very interpretive conditions.


As with Skills, the Unseen ability allows a scout to benefit from poor visibility when they're trying to do their thing. It's a way of offsetting what I'm expecting will be a weaker role in open combat and based on my experience with thieves/rogues from other fantasy games, it really places the emphasis on the player to interpret how they can apply such an ability.

Wild Path

This is something experimental I'm trying for lead roles, something where the player can stretch their imagination and put their own spin on a role while gaining something for their efforts. In this case, finding a way for the scout to gain an extra bonus against magical attacks and effects based on their unique history. To be honest, I'm not sure if the wording on this one will stand the test of time, but it's enough to get the ball rolling and develop some feedback after the playtest.

What do you think? Good potential, too questionable, or there's really only one way to find out as you reach for your dice?

Download Version 1.01 of ScreenPlay's rules from here.

You can learn more about the development of ScreenPlay (AKA the Phoenix Project) on the Roleplayers Chronicle site.

And I'd like to give credit to Fraser Ronald for inspiring me to try signing all my blog posts with related links. If you're interested in anything you see here, you'll be equally or more happy with his own work and can find it here