Thursday, November 29, 2012

[Q&A] John Berry (Heaven's Shadows)

[19:01] <+Gyr|Laptop> Anyways, welcome to John_Berry, writer and designer for Heaven's Shadows.
[19:01] <+John_Berry> Hullo.
[19:02] <+Gyr|Laptop> For those new to the chat, John will be taking questions as they come in, and when an answer is finished will close with a (done).
[19:03] <+Gyr|Laptop> Feel free to pose additional questions while a previous one is being answered, if things start to backlog I (or later Dan) will ask for a pause.
[19:03] <+Gyr|Laptop> So to start things off, please tell us a bit about what Heaven's Shadows is about.
[19:04] <+technoshaman> is it self published?
[19:04] <+John_Berry> Heaven's Shadow is a game about religious assassins who hunt the Nephilim, half-demon beings left over from after the Great Flood.
[19:05] <+John_Berry> It is based on the Mini Six system, which is a subset of the classic D6 System from West End Games.
[19:05] <+John_Berry> It is entirely self-published and self-written.
[19:05] <+John_Berry> The only work in the actually book not of my own is some logo help from Sam Drost and an ancient Renaissance historian.
[19:06] <+John_Berry> *actual
[19:06] <+John_Berry> Well, that and some bits directly taken from the OGL'd version of Mini Six.
[19:07] <+luc> What was your inspiration for using the Nephilim concept?
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[19:09] <+John_Berry> Well, some of it was born from a previous abandoned project pitch I wrote called Devil's Blood Story, in which the Nephilim featured prominently.  When I decided instead to tackle assassins as a concept, I wanted to create an enemy of suitable evil that the task of thep layers would still leave them the "good guys" of the setting.
[19:10] <+John_Berry> The interpretation is based off the one from Enoch and Jubilees, that the Nephilim are by nature demonic, and servants of the Adversary, most of whom were cast into hell after the Flood.
[19:10] <+John_Berry> It made sense that something half-man, half-demon would potentially have survived unseen within society for this long, so they seemed a natural fit.
[19:11] <+Gyr|Laptop> Can you tell us a bit more about the game setting?  Is this 'modern Earth with a twist', as is common in urban fantasy?  A more historical setting, or a future/SF setup?  Or is this something designed to be flexible?
[19:11] <+John_Berry> I've always wanted to work with some more explicit Judeochristian themes in a game, and this is my attempt.
[19:12] <+John_Berry> Gyr|Laptop: The default setting is out modern day, so it is essentially urban fantasy, but the only fantastical elements are the Nephilim themselves, and the ancient Prayers that players can utilize.
[19:12] <+John_Berry> Prayers are deliberately designed to mirror Biblical and Quranic miracles.
[19:14] <+Ximni> What types of assassins can you play in the game?
[19:15] <+John_Berry> Players are Shadows in service of an Agency.  Shadows are selected from any number of backgrounds, usually in some way connected to the intelligence community, but also law enforcement, special operations, and even criminal and terrorist organizations. It just depends on the Agency in question.
[19:16] <+Gyr|Laptop> Are all players expected to be part of the same Agency at game start?  Or is there cross-splat cooperation?
[19:16] <+John_Berry> The Agencies in the book are: ICON, the Congregation of Judith, the Lazarus Pact, the Royal Order of Daemonhunters, the Sons of Ehud, The Second Order, and the Church of the Lotus Root.
[19:16] <+John_Berry> Players are assumed to be part of an Agency, yes, though inter agency cooperation is discussed.
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[19:18] <+John_Berry> The more esoteric secrets involved in demon hunting basically require it.
[19:19] <+Gyr|Laptop> So what threats do the Nephilim pose to the setting?  Are they likely to attack directly, corrupt in secret, work magical rituals that cause natural disaster?...
[19:19] <+John_Berry> In order to have learned how to see Nephilim for their true form one must have been taught the technique for doing so, so even an independent agent will have been with an Agency in the past.
[19:19] <+John_Berry> Nephilim primarily act by insinuating themselves into positions of power and using that position to corrupt society and sow sin and destruction.
[19:20] <+John_Berry> Each Nephilim worships a particular sin, and uses his knowledge from millenia of survival to continue sowing that sin wherever possible.
[19:22] <+John_Berry> A Nephilim who worships Murder might be a warlord, a general, or the head of a league of evil assassins.
[19:22] <+Gyr|Laptop> So are the Nephilim's human minions/dupes as likely to be enemies as the Nephilim themselves?
[19:23] <+John_Berry> Gyr|Laptop: Operational policy on handling a Nephilim's servants varies from Agency to Agency.  Nephilim rarely reveal themselves even to their own followers, so while those minions may be evil in other ways, they're often not really aware they actually serve a demon.
[19:24] <+Gyr|Laptop> Sounds like the choice of Agency could be an important starting point for the campaign.
[19:24] <+John_Berry> As a result, the interpretation of how to handle a Nephilim's soldiers varies, from the Sons of Ehud's policy of treating them as enemy combatants, to the Church of the Lotus Root's policy of avoiding any non-Nephilim casualities.
[19:24] <+John_Berry> Yes!  Very much so!
[19:25] <+John_Berry> I'm a big time believer in leaving a game open to be run how a GM likes, and choice of Agency has a big impact on how a campaign will play out.
[19:25] <+John_Berry> A bunch of ex-gangsters who've been inducted into the Lazarus Pact are going to have a very different game than a team of agents for ICON.
[19:26] <+Gyr|Laptop> So you mentioned earlier that the game mechanics were based on the OGL Mini Six rules.  Can you tell us a bit about the content you've added for Heaven's Shadow?
[19:27] <+John_Berry> Much of the added rules material centers, naturally, around ways to kill people.
[19:27] <+Ximni> You mentioned Prayers earlier. Could you please give us some examples?
[19:28] <+John_Berry> There are rules included for stealth and surprise kills, environment-based death like drowning, arson, and so forth, poisoning, booby traps, keeping a kill silent, and the Planning the Hit and special maneuver systems.
[19:29] <+John_Berry> Ximni: Part of the legacy that has been handed down by the Shadows over the millennia are a series of Prayers.  these mirror a lot of famous miracles, some of them tweaked slightly for utility to an assassin.  A Shadow seeking to wine and dine an asset, for instance, might use Wine to Water, to avoid himself getting drunk.
[19:31] <+Gyr|Laptop> What sort of Prayers is a starting PC likely to have?
[19:31] <+John_Berry> The range is from small favors like Wine to Water, to Passing Unseen through a crowd, the Curse of Babel which confuses language, to extremely rare and secret prayers which are difficult to cast and include things like Commanding the Storm, Resurrection of the Dead, and the Night Walk.
[19:31] <+Gyr|Laptop> And are there Prayers that are only available to experienced characters?
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[19:32] <+John_Berry> A starting PC knows only the Wordless Sight, which is the prayer that allows them to see the true form of Nephilim.  Later prayers are earned with experience, and the Secret Prayers like the Night Walk are so rare and powerful that only a few know them, and so one must seek a teacher who can teach it to them.
[19:33] <+Gyr|Laptop> So does that mean that every PC in a group will have the same prayer selection, at least until a session or two of experience is awarded?
[19:34] <+John_Berry> No, players can learn whatever prayers they desire so long as their Faith die pool is capable of beating the difficulty number for the Prayer.
[19:34] <+John_Berry> Excepting the Secret Prayers, the others are all bought with Character Points.
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[19:36] <+Gyr|Laptop> Alright.  I'm not that familiar with Mini Six, so I wasn't sure whether starting PCs had a pool of Character Points to be customized with or not.
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[19:36] <+John_Berry> Ahh, I see what you mean now.
[19:37] <+John_Berry> Basically, starting PCs by default are new recruits, so they'd only have the same prayer that all Shadows are taught.  After that it would be up to the player in what they wanted to spend experience on.
[19:39] <+John_Berry> Chargen customization is mostly centered on attributes and skills, as well as choosing complications.
[19:39] <+John_Berry> And special training.
[19:40] <+Gyr|Laptop> So how capable is a starting PC, in comparison to a typical person?
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[19:42] <+John_Berry> In Mini Six terms, HS characters are considered "heroic" characters.  The average human in D6 games has 2D and maybe 4D in his best skill, while Shadows can easily start with 3D in all attributes if desired and up to 5D in a skill at hargen
[19:42] <+John_Berry> The presence of Conviction and Faith also give them an additional edge.
[19:43] <+John_Berry> The intent is that the PCs should begin as capable agents, as most have been recruited from prior service elsewhere.
[19:43] <+John_Berry> That was also the idea behind the Special Training rule, which lets players assign an additional total of +3 to different skills, in exchange for providing a sentence of backstory explaining how they learned that particular skill.
[19:44] <+John_Berry> So my Congregation of Judith Shadow might have +1 in Demolitions, which I explain as having been from working as a bomb-maker for the IRA once upon a time.
[19:45] <+Gyr|Laptop> Are there any limitations in what sort of backstory can be taken, other than GM veto?
[19:46] <+John_Berry> Not really, other than it needs to explain the skill specifically.
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[19:46] <+John_Berry> "2.For each skill to which special training is applied, the Shadow must include a short sentence explaining how they came to be so skilled. This can be anything the player feels is suitable to their backstory, whether a course of special training as the name implies, a tour of duty somewhere, an unusual experience, or any other suitable explanation"
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[19:47] <+Gyr|Laptop> So how do Conviction and Faith work, in a mechanical sense?  The WEG Star Wars game that Mini Six grew out of had a "Force Point" mechanic - is this related?
[19:47] <~Dan> (Gah. Sorry. That took longer than I thought, obviously.)
[19:47] <+Gyr|Laptop> (wb)
[19:47] <~Dan> (Let me scroll back and get caught up here...)
[19:47] <~Dan> (thnks)
[19:47] <+John_Berry> Conviction works similarly to Force Points from Star Wars.
[19:47] <+Gyr|Laptop> (Start of the chat is logged with a string of plus signs.)
[19:48] <+John_Berry> Spending one gives you a bonus to a roll equal to your Faith pool, or can shrug off a wound level, or even provide "divine inspiration": basically, GM clues.
[19:48] <+John_Berry> Faith is a special attribute, that governs both how effective Conviction is, as well as providing the die pool rolled when attempting prayer.
[19:54] <+John_Berry> There's even a mechanic inspired roughly by the Dark Side Points, in that spending Conviction for selfish/evil purposes accrues Sin, which must be bought off before further Conviction can be earned.
[19:55] <+John_Berry> Conviction is rewarded both as a general benny from a GM, and as a result of confronting one's Complications.
[19:55] <~Dan> (Okay, caught up. Want me to take the helm, Gyr?)
[19:56] <+Gyr|Laptop> (Go for it.)
[19:56] <~Dan> (Thanks so much for your help!)
[19:57] <~Dan> Given how low-key the supernatural seems to be, had you thought of making just a "straight" assassination game?
[19:57] <+John_Berry> Dan: Yes.  And the game could easily be run as one.
[19:57] <+John_Berry> It was important to me, though, to come up with a premise that would suit those who wanted a less morally ambiguous motivation for assassination.
[19:58] <~Dan> Ah, that makes sense.
[19:58] <+John_Berry> I wanted to make an assassin game where the killers were still clearly the "good guys".
[19:58] * ~Dan nods
[19:58] <~Dan> The "Remo Williams" approach didn't do it for you?
[19:58] <+John_Berry> If you drop the Prayers and the Nephilim, you could still use the book as a D6 game for spy and assassin games.
[19:58] <+John_Berry> Not familiar with the reference.
[19:59] <&StormBringer> And you call yourself a geek?  :)
[19:59] <&StormBringer> (Link:
[19:59] <~Dan> Oh, it's the name of a movie from the 1980s, which was an adaptation of a series of books called The Destroyer, about a guy who works for an ultra-top-secret branch of the U.S. government as part of a long line of assassins.
[20:00] <+John_Berry> Ah.
[20:00] <~Dan> Who basically kill bad guys who would otherwise get away with their evil deeds.
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[20:00] <+John_Berry> Yeah, my inspiration was more in the vein of Burn Notice, Assassin's Creed, and Dishonored, chiefly.
[20:01] <~Dan> So how supernaturally potent are the Nephilim? Will anything that kills a human kill one of them?
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[20:02] <+John_Berry> Dan: They're still more or less mortal, is the plan, though they do have some special powers they gain as demonic forces which make them a trickier threat.
[20:03] <+John_Berry> Despite their supernatural nature, they suffer from a bullet to the head no different from the next mortal.
[20:03] <+John_Berry> They are immortal, but only in the lifespan sense.
[20:03] <&StormBringer> For the record, you people need to stop writing all these awesome games until I have a chance to catch up.
[20:04] * ~Dan chuckles
[20:04] <+John_Berry> I originally thought to make them reincarnate unless slain by someone wielding the Faith, and that was an element to the Devil's Blood Story pitch, but I think that gives them too much strength to fit the relatively "realistic" theology I'm working with.
[20:04] <+John_Berry> Despite horror movies and folklore, demons in the Big Three religions are actually kinda chumps, since they by definition are always weaker than God.
[20:05] <+John_Berry> The Nephilim threat is more their skill in deception and evading discovery and elimination by conventional and secular forces, thus necessitating the existence of the Shadows.
[20:07] <~Dan> Do the Nephilim have ridiculously high skills, given their immortality?
[20:07] <+John_Berry> Dan: Many of them probably do, yes.  :)
[20:07] <+John_Berry> Which suggests a careful approach is recommended, and is also the reasoning behind the Planning the Hit system.
[20:08] <~Dan> I was going to ask about that next: How dangerous the Nephilim are to take head-on.
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[20:09] <~Dan> (Howdy, Rand!)
[20:10] <+John_Berry> It will depend on the Nephilim, I think.  Especially what his focus is.  One who worships violence or murder is probably liable to be quite the foe in open combat, while one prone to sloth or lust might be an easier kill but harder to get to and more wiley about defenses.
[20:10] <+John_Berry> Really though, they generally should not be the hardest part of a mission if it goes well, it's getting the plan set up that the challenge.
[20:11] <+John_Berry> If the Shadows have executed a good plan and made sure all the pieces line up, getting the drop on the target is meant to be the payoff, rather than a boss fight.
[20:12] <~Dan> Is there any bonus gained from good planning?
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[20:12] <+John_Berry> Yes!
[20:12] <~Dan> Cool. :)  How does that work?
[20:12] <+John_Berry> Basically how it works is that the PCs make their plan,and then as each member of the team successfully executes their part of said plan, they add a die to the Planning Pool.
[20:13] <+John_Berry> That pool can be spend to add a bonus to either attack or damage rolls against the target, and anything unused after the target is dead can be used to escape the scene safely.
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[20:15] <~Dan> Does that mean that more complex plans are automatically more potentially potent?
[20:15] <+John_Berry> Dan: Well, there's a limit to it, each player only gets to pitch in once, though this does mean larger teams have an easier time killin'.
[20:18] <~Dan> How over-the-top is the action?
[20:19] <+John_Berry> It is generally not.  Being D6 it runs pretty loose, but combat is deadly and dangerous and best approached carefully and with the element of surprise and stealth.
[20:19] <+John_Berry> Outright firefights are a good way to die.
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[20:20] <~Dan> (Howdy, nick5!)
[20:20] <~Dan> Have you tweaked the rules to enhance that?
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[20:21] <+John_Berry> A bit, yes.  Armor has a penalty to movement and Dodge now, I've used the flat defensive values over rolled because they provide a lower target for injury, and I've tended towards shifting weapon damages upward.
[20:22] <+John_Berry> In addition, there are special maneuvers that cue on a double success that can even lead to one-round kills by giving the chance to follow through an attack.
[20:23] <+John_Berry> There's also rules provided for how stealth and surprise affect defenses, and rules on some common forms of environmental murder like drowning, defenestration, arson, vehicular manslaughter and so forth.
[20:23] <~Dan> Speaking of special moves, are there any ninja-like martial arts at play?
[20:24] <+John_Berry> There's a bonus to unarmed damage from Martial Arts skill dice, and the special maneuvers cover stuff like choke outs, disarms, limb-breaking, and finishing moves.
[20:25] <+John_Berry> Failures by half or more trigger "opportunity", which allows the defender to counter-attack and even attempt disarms and takedowns in response.
[20:27] <~Dan> Very nice.
[20:28] <~Dan> So the Nephilim have no supernatural servants?
[20:28] <+John_Berry> I wanted the system to, as best as D6 can, capture the very rapid attack/counterattack pace of the fights you see in stuff like the Bourne and recent Bond movies, with a little inspiration from the recent Batman games as well.
[20:33] <~Dan> (Still there, John?)
[20:34] <+John_Berry> Yes.
[20:34] <+John_Berry> Sorry, I missed your question.
[20:34] <+John_Berry> No.
[20:34] <+John_Berry> Nephilim use mortal servants.
[20:34] <+John_Berry> Nephilim are, in fact, the only supernatural beings operating in physical form in our world.
[20:35] <~Dan> What about in non-physical form?
[20:35] <+John_Berry> Angels/demons likely exist (given everything else that's true in the setting) but not really the purview of Shadows.
[20:37] <~Dan> Are there rules for spy gadgets?
[20:37] <+John_Berry> There are some common gadgets included in the equipment section, though this is more in the real-world vein than the James Bond exploding pen vein.  ;)
[20:38] <+John_Berry> There are things like listening devices and keyloggers and GPS trackers and nightvision goggles though.
[20:38] <+John_Berry> And a generous assortment of standard modern weaponry in most common calibers.
[20:38] *** Le_Squide is now known as Le_SHOWAR
[20:39] <~Dan> brb
[20:41] <~Dan> back
[20:41] <~Dan> How much use do melee weapons see?
[20:42] <+John_Berry> As much or as little as the player's style desires!  Melee weapons have the advantage of being silent, and in most countries still quite legal, so they are still a popular tool of the assassin.
[20:45] <+John_Berry> In particular, attacks with a blade are a great way to ensure a killing blow and a silencing blow in one stroke (and there are even rules for handling that!)
[20:45] <~Dan> Looks like we have about 12 minutes left... Is there anything we haven't covered that you'd like to mention?
[20:45] <+John_Berry> I think we've covered most of the mechanical stuff, save the Stunt Die.
[20:46] <~Dan> What's that?
[20:46] <+John_Berry> It was sort of my take on a stunt mechanic crossed with the Wild Die from D6.
[20:46] <+Gyr|Laptop> Pssst.  Pitch the donate link!
[20:47] <+John_Berry> Basically, if the player can offer a clever plan of action, they can take the Stunt Die as a bonus to their rolls, but it both explodes and implodes, so there's a greater chance of success, but also failure.
[20:48] <+John_Berry> Oh yeah, and as Gyr points out, this is the IndieGoGo page: (Link:
[20:49] <+John_Berry> Heaven's Shadow is effectively my job for the next month and change between terms.  Pitching in to get in on a copy means you get the game when it comes out and I get to eat food and have a roof, so please give it a grab!
[20:50] <~Dan> Anything setting-related we haven't covered?
[20:50] <+John_Berry> I've just finished the chapter on Agencies, so only Nephilim themselves are still to go, and then I'll spend the whole month on editing, polish, playtesting, and so forth.
[20:51] <+John_Berry> Well, I'm pretty proud of the included Agencies for the most part. :)
[20:53] <~Dan> Cool. :)
[20:53] <+John_Berry> It's a small list, but I think I have an assortment of believable and interesting factions across the Big Three Abrahamic religions.
[20:55] <~Dan> Excellent. :)
[20:55] <+John_Berry> I have an American interfaith CIA-alike, an order of Catholic friars, a secret society of survivors of death row, an Anglican order founded by a Victorian game hunter, a spiritual descendent of the original Assassins with a front as a multinational corporation, a cell network of Chinese house churches, and even an order that goes clear back to Old Testament times.
[20:56] <~Dan> No Scientologists? :)
[20:56] <+John_Berry> Nope./
[20:57] <+John_Berry> The theology of Heaven's Shadow assumes that the Abrahamic faiths are explicitly correct.
[20:57] * ~Dan nods
[20:57] <+John_Berry> The God of the Jews, Christians, and Muslims is the "right one".
[20:58] <~Dan> Gotcha.
[20:58] <+John_Berry> They might not all agree on the details, but they basically worship the same god, and the mythology is based largely on Jewish and Christian apocrypha.
[20:58] * ~Dan nods
[21:00] <~Dan> Thanks for stopping by once again, John!
[21:00] <+John_Berry> No problem!
[21:00] <~Dan> The log will be up shortly.
[21:01] <+John_Berry> give early, give often!

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