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Interviews

Reborn: The Invessi Chronicles: A New Kind of Role Playing Game

An interview with developer Gary Allen
Awaking aboard a crippled courier, a band of prisoners with shattered memories discover they may no longer be entirely human. It quickly becomes clear they are the focus of sinister and powerful forces. Staying alive may be the least of their problems.

At the beginning of the game the characters struggle to solve the mysteries of their past and how they have come to be prisoners without clear memories of their past. At the same time they must find a way to survive, marooned on a wilderness moon and they are not alone.

The feature rich game interface offers you access to a game encyclopedia, character cards and awesome images, all of which will expand as your game progresses. There is an online interface to write your posts for the round, ask the games master questions and make your die rolls for the turn. Because RIC is turn-based, you can play at your own pace, potentially playing with other players from around the world, without having to commit huge blocks of time or play at inconvenient times.

Neither graphic-card or bandwidth hungry, Reborn is a text-based gaming experience which focuses on imagination, narrative and dialogue, where the players have an active role in the direction of the story.

You are in control... even if your character isn't.

Your banner ad says "A brand new online game for busy adults"

Firstly RIC is a text play-by-post [email] game, which at its heart is far more collaborative narrative than most RPGs. By definition that will appeal more to some people than others.

Next, unlike something like MMORPGs, where you need to devote many hours a week (if not every day) and preferably playing at a certain time (which can be a pain if, like me, you are an antipodean), you have 30 days to work on your round post at your own pace. So even though you might be in a group of five players, you don't need to juggle your schedules to be online at the same time.

All RIC campaigns will principally be about solving a mystery, surviving in the wilds, and exploring who you character was and now is.

Lastly, the game deals in some fairly adult themes, and rounds can involve violence, sex and drug use. So I have decided to apply an Australian MA15+ rating; so you have to be aged 15 or over to play. I know this is age-ist and has seriously limited the pool of potential players, but I want the approach taken by players to the game to be informed by a few decades of life experience. Thus far, this has been reflected in the player registrations.

Please explain the mechanics of your RPG Each round, each of the players in a group receive a post for their character. Concurrently the resources and information the player can access is updated. The player then writes their intended actions, goals, thoughts and feelings, and what they want to say to other characters in the unfolding story. Typically, this will be in the form of dot points and narrative. When they submit the round, the system will "roll" a sequence of d100s for them.

The GM uses what the players have said they want to do, their die rolls, and their character cards (eg skills, attributes and abilities) to determine what actually occurs to each of the characters. The GM will definitely "reward" those players whose round submission demonstrates good characterization, excellent ideas, and interesting direction for the story.

Players won't see each other's posts, but they may well be aware of the actions and intentions of the other characters.

The campaigns are definitely open-ended, but can involve moving onto completely new "missions".

The longest RIC test game has been 30+ rounds and is still going strong

Of course, a character might die (ending the game for the player) and players can elect to stop playing whenever they wish.

How can people join an Existing Game?

If the players have their campaign as open, or invite only, new players can only join the campaign in Rounds 1 - 5. After Round 5, the campaign becomes locked and no one can join that campaign. The theory being that up to Round 5, the players will still be getting to know the other characters. Of course, there is an expectation that a new player will try to stay true to the facets of their character that have become known prior to them joining the game. Their first round will be something of an omnibus of what's happened to their character prior to them taking over.

Think of it like Michael Shanks and his portrayal of Daniel Jackson in SG1. For the first few episodes he was definitely playing James Spader playing Daniel Jackson, but then his performance morphed into his own take on the character.

How many characters can one choose from?

Players can choose between 9 male characters and 3 female characters. An imbalance I know, but I suspect this will be reflective of the player ratio. I guess time will tell.

Even though players will not be creating their own characters, in a very real sense all of the characters are unknown quantities - having shattered memories and only very rudimentary insight into who they were before waking up in the courier. Even if they remember more of their pasts, a big question for the players is: do you want to be the same person you were before being "reborn", or do you want to be somebody else.

Character exploration and growth is a big part of the RIC journey.

How long does one turn take? The length of the round depends upon what’s going on and the point at which the GM feels the players need to make some decisions.

On average a round is about one day. But it could cover a week or a matter of less than an hour. In the case of very short rounds - because something major and unexpected has happened - the GM would normally arrange for all the players to be credited an extra round to their subscription.

Describe a typical game. The length of a campaign is hard to judge because it will really be a function of the tastes and choices of the players in a campaign. Players who are really into unraveling complex mysteries, exploring psychic phenomena and exploring complex characters are likely to get a lot of rounds of enjoyment out of RIC. There also some really fun twists, turns and developments in the plot.

Each round each player receives three to twelve pages of the story. The player then writes what actions they want to carry out, their objectives for the round, what the character is thinking and feeling, and their planned interactions with other characters in their group. As the campaign progresses, more confident players will start suggesting dialogue and plot developments. The next round ends up a blending of the instructions of the players, the progressing / evolving plot, the player's "dice rolls", and the skills and abilities of the characters.

If a character dies, and deaths will happen, the player will sadly leave the campaign. If they have any subscription credits left, the player will be able to take them along with them to a new campaign or "gift" their credits to another player in their group.

Explain the genesis of Reborn: The Invessi Chronicles.

The quick answer is the premise for the game, and the gaming experience, grew out of a play-by-email game I played with Ivan, an old mate of mine from England. That campaign ran over a four-year period and was a lot of fun. I came up with the idea for the game and how we were going to play. However, because of the nature of game play (we'll come back to that in a bit), the direction and focus of that first campaign was a collaborative effort.

I guess the longer answer is that I have played fantasy and sci-fi roleplaying games for more than 30 years - eek I'm not that old am I? I am definitely part of the paper, pencil and dice gaming generation. After finishing my undergrad degree, my gaming became more and more sporadic. The folks I use to roleplay with (myself included) got married, had families and generally got busy with the normal grown-up stuff which made the prospect of even a few hours together for a gaming session, much less a whole weekend, impossible.

I could never really get into MMORPGs. So I wrote some speculative fiction, played some computer games, read and re-read books like the Many Colored Land and Consider Phlebas, devoured tv shows like Dark Angel and Firefly and reminisced over my DVD collection of shows like Blake's 7. When Ivan and I caught up, we began playing Reborn: The Invessi Chronicles via email.

As we were winding down that first campaign, I started thinking: this has been a great game and worked well as a role-playing experience. I know that I’m odd, but I wonder how many 35+ year olds there are, who loved roleplaying games, couldn’t really fit face-to-face gaming into their busy lives, and just couldn't get what they needed from MMORPGs and the like? And how many of them might be willing to pay a low subscription for the chance to play alone, with friends, and with other gamers, in a campaign run by a real GM.

I already had some web resources, game material, and ideas for the campaign with Ivan, so in about 2007 I started talking to programmers and artists about how to turn the idea into reality.

I really don't expect RIC to be a multi-million dollar hit, and I've gone into this as much for fun and the chance to get artwork and other fun stuff produced, rather than expecting the game will be a viable self-funding proposition. I have been really thrilled by the reactions of the first few cohorts of players.

The initial premise for the game, and major plot developments, came out of that original campaign with Ivan, and the subsequent campaign with Renay, my wife. It's important to remember that, whilst every campaign starts in the same place, and the back-story elements are the same (mostly), the direction, flavor and events in individual campaigns will be very different.

I think RIC is pretty original, though I have been inspired by books, films and tv shows from the 70s through to very recent times. RIC is a bit of dark mystery, with psychic phenomena, gritty adult themes, and some action thrown in.

I am really excited to see what the different groups of players come up with, and I getting a kick out of roleplaying with folk dotted around the world.

How much computer role playing experience have the creators had

As the creator, site administrator and the first GM, my experience is limited to the original campaign (4 years) and running play-test campaigns (18 months). Most of my experience has been GMing a range of fantasy and sci-fi games. Ivan has been GMing a play-by-post sci-fi game for a few years. Pat Turner, the primary 3d illustrator and general artistic guru, has many decades of experience with a range of online, computer, and pan-and-pencil games. The programmers have also worked on a number of games.

A commercial play-by-post [email] game is a pretty unique beast, so this is new territory for all of us. But in terms of new RIC campaigns starting now, this is definitely not my first BBQ.

What comes first - the computer graphics or the plot? In this case, it was definitely the premise and plot, and the artwork second. I am first and foremost a writer. It has often been a challenge for Pat to turn my ideas into visuals. Initially, the imagery was to be decorations and illustrations for what is at heart a text-based gaming experience. But Pat's involvement, experience and ideas have definitely enriched RIC. Reborn is still a text-based game, but the images are now another voice in the story telling.

How long from idea to going online? From the point I decided to have a go at making Reborn a commercial play-by-post game, it's been about three years. The game system and playing experience will continue to be refined over the course of at least the next year. I want to be responsive to feedback and ideas from players.
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