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Posts tagged ‘Lowell Francis’



RPGaDay 2015

18th: Favorite SF RPG

I don’t know that I have one.

I’ve used GURPS for my own loose setting many, many years ago. I enjoyed the old FASA Star Trek rpg back in the day. I’ve run a Star Trek game using a homebrew loosely based on Decipher’s Star Trek rpg. My best friend ran a fun Firefly-ish game using his own homebrew. I think I played some original Traveller back in the day. Other than that…???

If I had to run a sci-fi game right now…well, that would depend on the setting. If it was Star Trek, there’s a couple of fan-made systems and hacks out there I’d take a look at again, or I’d use Mutants and Masterminds. The mechanics and the way characters are built captures the pulp feel of classic Star Trek pretty well, albeit in a more cluttered way than I’d prefer. If it was Star Wars… I’d probably look at Fate, the many system hacks out there, or a variant of Lowell Francis’ Action Cards. For something in the Firefly or Traveller vein, just sort of generic trouble-makers in space… I’m so not motivated to run anything like that right now that I can’t get my head around it.

I feel like sci-fi roleplaying game systems tend to get bogged down in the additional mechanics supposedly required by their settings, like starship combat, space fighter-craft combat, various high-tech weapons, etc. I’d rather a system that could come up with a set of mechanics that would apply to every kind of task resolution, rather than tacking on special rules and sub-systems.

I will take this as an opportunity for anyone reading this to educate me: suggest a game system to me that does this. I readily accept my own ignorance here. The only system that I can think of that just off that the bat would probably be able to accomplish this is Fate.

Actually, just writing this has jogged my memory – if I wanted to run an actual, “hard” science-fiction game, I’d take another look at Shock, by Joshua A. C. Newman, so that going to be my pick. I haven’t used it yet, but it’s pretty interesting…



RPGaDay 2015

13th: Favorite RPG Podcast

I don’t think I have one – or rather, I’ve only been listening to one lately, so does that count?

Anyway, it’s Play On Target. One of the hosts is my pal, Lowell Francis – he of the mighty Age of Ravens blog. Lowell is one of the best GMs I’ve ever had the pleasure of being tormented by playing with, and he knows gaming like nobody’s business. I put a lot of stock in his thoughts, observations, and opinions on games and gaming, so, naturally, I like listening to him talk on a podcast about gaming.

Really, though, what’s great about PloT is that it’s not just Lowell; the other hosts  – Sam, Brian, and Andrew – have fairly different gaming histories, preferences, and viewpoints – moreso than amongst the co-hosts of other gaming podcasts I’ve enjoyed in the past. On top of that, they rotate who leads the discussion each episode. The net result is a show that always feels new.



RPGaDay 2015

11th: Favorite RPG Writer

My favorite rpg writer is the 2-headed, 11th-level Leader that is Rob Heinsoo and Jonathan Tweet, for their work on Pelgrane PressOpen Gaming License role-playing game, 13th Age.

See, it’s not often that I’m motivated to give an rpg rules book a complete read-through. It’s a matter of time, personal preferences regarding genre, style, approach, mechanics, etc., and a matter of a game being brought to my attention when I’m itching for that kind of game.

All blame and/or credit goes to Lowell Francis for recommending 13th Age in the first place. Lowell is the relentless gaming guru responsible for the ENnie-nominated website Age of Ravens. He and I talk every week or two or three, to discuss life, gaming, movies, tv, comics, and to work on some joint creative projects (our Ghosts of Gotham pitch, for example!).

For a while I had been looking for a game system I could run a long-term game with – something that would feel familiar to players of D&D and Pathfinder. Since those are two of the most popular games out there, I figured I could attract enough players to maintain a long-term game, something that has been a problem for my loose-knit gaming group for the past couple of years. I have children who were ready for something of that complexity but I dislike cluttered rules systems, so I needed something D&Dish, but lighter on its feet. Lowell knows my gaming history and preferences pretty well, and so suggested 13th Age as something that might be what I was looking for.

He is wise.

For me, the best thing about the 13th Age Core Book is the writing. Not only do Heinsoo and Tweet write with a light touch in a very straightforward, accessible prose style, but the text includes explanations and insights into why the rules are the way they are, and into their decision-making process as they designed the game. This openness, combined with the robust simplicity of the game’s mechanics, make for a rules set that is strikingly easy to understand. This in turn makes the game easy to run, easy to tweak or hack, and easy to write new material for – which many fans have done.


So, thanks Rob & Jonathan! You helped reboot my gaming enthusiasm, and my kids and their friends keep asking me to run 13th Age again!



I’ve known Gene Ha and Lowell Francis for…well, let’s just say “a long time” and move on, before my lumbago starts acting up.  There was a stretch of a few years during which the three of us worked together developing ideas into presentable comic book pitches.  Many of these involved DC Comics characters,  because we all grew up reading comics, Gene had good relations at DC,  I had colored a bunch of Gene’s (and other people’s) work there, and Lowell had a lot of storytelling and editing cred.  (Eventually we all worked together on Project Superman, but that’s a story for another day.)

There were two ideas that reached a full pitch level, complete with conceptual art by Gene.  Lowell posted about Riddles: Edward Nigma, Consulting Detective (with comments and some of the illustrations) on his excellent gaming blog, Age of Ravens.  Riddles had a small cast of weird characters, and each issue was going to be an homage and send-up of traditional detective and pop-culture tropes and settings. It would have been a wild ride!  He also posted about the more recent, text-only pitch Lowell and I put together for a  revival of Warlord for DC’s “New 52” relaunch.  Those posts by Lowell and the news about Fox’s  upcoming “Gotham” tv series got me thinking about one of our pitches that hasn’t seen the light of day…

Of all the ideas the three of us pursued in depth, Bruce Wayne: Ghosts of Gotham was by far my favorite.  It would have been part of DC’s  “Elseworlds” imprint, an alternate take on existing DC Comics characters, their connections, situations, histories, motivations, modi operandi, etc.  I kind of fell in love it, I think because of the fun and challenge of working out all those differences and new connection, because it was our own little version of the DC universe, and because of the chance to make more interesting a some characters who I normally don’t have much affinity for.

Initially it was a broad, sweeping thing that included characters from across the DC universe, including Superman, Lex Luthor, the Legion of Doom, and many more.  There was a whole alternate Teen Titans idea in there somewhere. Because of the scale it started feeling a bit like Mark Waid and Alex Ross’ DC mini-series Kingdom Come.

Eventually we wisely narrowed the focus to Batman’s usual stomping grounds, Gotham City, perhaps with the thought that we could explore the larger-scale ideas and implications in theoretical sequels.  Once we made that decision, the story really started to gel.  Lowell still loves our treatment of Edward Nigma (traditionally the real name of the classic Batman villain, The Riddler).  Once we started calling Green Arrow “Black Arrow”, I immediately thought of Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Black Arrow: A Tale of the Two Roses (a personal favorite of mine), and wanted to have his background and story arc mirror some of  things in that novel.

The basic premise of Ghosts of Gotham involved the ripple effects of one simple change to a seminal event in Bruce Wayne’s childhood:

Instead of the classic moment in Batman’s “origin story” when a random thug with a gun senselessly murders Bruce’s parents before his eyes – setting Bruce on a disciplined path of revenge, justice, and a war on crime – in “Ghosts of Gotham” Bruce’s mother alone was shot and killed, and his father proceeds to beat the thug to death with a brick – as Bruce watches on in horror.

But I should let the pitch speak for itself.  These are the actual full pages of the proposal we presented, so you’re seeing what the folks at DC saw.  Text by Lowell, art by Gene, layout by me.  I have no idea how I would have colored this comic at the time, had it come to that.  Looking at it now, I would approach it very, very simply, since Gene was using a lot of blacks.  The background images behind the text are taken from Gene’s rough sketches.

Click on the thumbnails below for bigger, readable versions.

GoG cover GoG p1 GoG p2 GoG p3 GoG p4

Sadly, aside from any story problems that might exist, there were two sort of editorial problems that kept this idea from going to any next stage:

1. Apparently, in an Elseworlds story about Bruce Wayne, by the end of the story someone has to put on a Bat-costume of some kind.  It’s a rule or something.  I think we just didn’t want to force the whole bat-thing, and kind of wanted to explore a Gotham that didn’t have that.  Oddly enough, our original, larger-scale idea would have not been so focused on Bruce Wayne and would have gotten around that.

2. By the time we presented the idea, DC was kind of done doing Elseworlds stories, but hadn’t made a point of it publicly.  They were trying to refocus their brand, which eventually led to The New 52 version of the DC universe.

So, there you have it.  I still have the crazy dream of using this idea – or something stemming from the same altered turning-point – as the setting  for a role-playing game with friends some day.

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