The day after I release a game, I like to go over what all my thoughts are about the game, the process, and how it all has worked, as well as what can go better next time.
Segira: 1985 is one of those examples of "things will be a lot easier next time," in part because of what its development history looks like.
For reference, Segira sprung out of an idea I had in 2017 for a game to make over a week-long spring break.
I think the term "development hell" applies to Segira's development.
That's not to say that Segira is a bad game, by any means: if I thought it was objectively bad I wouldn't have released it.
Development Hell and Product Identity
However, there are a lot of issues with it, some of which just come from its extended development process. The original idea for Segira was to create a game that was sort of Metal Gear inspired.
Then the influences became broader and more muddied, and the whole thing started going a little further from where it was supposed to be at the start. I don't think that Segira is "fun" enough to appeal to a general audience on its pitch alone once it developed to be a more realistic game, but the counterpart to this is that it's not a strictly realistic game either by any means.
Throw in the fact that Hammercalled is fairly light on combat rules and a lot of the rules that Hammercalled does really well, like gear creation, don't necessarily belong in an alternate history setting unless it's sufficiently willing to mess around with technology, and you've got some potential issues.
The Segira we wound up getting is the best Segira that ever existed, and the best I can make with my current resources (it's not equivalent to my older Street Rats, which is far below my quality threshold), and I think it's a decent offering, but these foundational flaws in its product identity really make it suffer a little.
I think another thing that's worth noting here is that Hammercalled is designed as a multi-genre system, and Segira is a very particular subgenre. The nice thing here is that Hammercalled doesn't go for the massive complexity of something like GURPS, so it's not that we have too much overhead, but it's got relatively shallow mechanics.
Now, I'm of the mindset that speed beats depth except when you have a really good reason for slowing down to hit that depth, but things like the automatic weapon rules are an example where you can have issues: Do you really want a military roleplaying game where combats resolve in fifteen minutes?
For telling stories, that's wonderful, but I don't know what audience there is for storytelling-based military roleplaying with speed emphasized over accuracy.
Hammercalled In Depth
So I think that Segira was great for Hammercalled's development, and it's done a lot to help us make the game system run smoother and better (as, really, any progress in development should).
However, I think that Segira raised some issues with the Hammercalled mechanics that makes me question some of my future plans.
Right now I have three games that I intend to make in the near future with the Hammercalled ruleset:
• Genship Exiles, a sort of neo-Golden Age sci-fi game with a focus on community and connections between individuals.
• Othenar, a kitchen-sink fantasy game.
• Hammercalled, a science-fantasy game.
On paper, I think that all three of these work much better with the Hammercalled ruleset than Segira does (not, again, that Segira's bad, but it's overly niche and perhaps has mutually incompatible niches). They can theoretically leverage all of the rules for Hammercalled well, but there are a few things to consider.
The next big step in Hammercalled is working on the affinity trees. I love them so much as a mechanical idea that they're going to be integrated into the core of the Rules Reference 2.0, and I'm confident that they will be come a positive defining feature of the system going forward.
However, with Genship Exiles, that could be a bit of a problem: I want it to be a storytelling-focused game with a lot of focus on content creation, and while affinity trees do a good job of tying the setting and mechanics together they are not particularly easy to make (high-load for a GM, not necessarily able to be offset to players without major balance issues).
Further, Genship Exiles has a lot of bespoke systems. My original plan was to make these and then port them to Hammercalled through a modular Rules Reference 2.0, but I'm starting to think that there are a couple major problems with that:
Build, Then Replace
Making a system and stripping it down is not an efficient solution to game design. I've always had that in my head while working on Genship Exiles, but I was interested in making the system highly modular as an experiment and I'm starting to think that doing so is folly.
Segira didn't do any replacement of systems, but it did take out a few, and the core Hammercalled experience is altered in a way that I'm not sure I prefer. Hammercalled relies on characters feeling very distinctive and being very flexible, and I'll be honest: I think that Segira still delivers this, but it just doesn't do it as well. The Backgrounds mechanic was supposed to give an extra little bit of depth, and it did (and laid the groundwork for the affinity trees for future Hammercalled), but it just doesn't compare to having a lot of flexibility at every step (gear creation is the part I'm most heavily focused on when I say this).
Individuation in Hammercalled
So in Hammercalled we have basically four layers: Attributes, Specializations, Talents, Gear. Affinity trees aren't factored in because they're not individuated to the player character in any way, but these four things are all able to go on a broad axis.
In Segira, we have Attributes, Specializations, and Talents. It's decently deep, but there's a lot of room for re-treading, especially because you don't have fantasy things like "I am able to use evocation magic" or "I am able to hack computers" in the mix.
Looking at Genship Exiles, we could probably pull off the Hammercalled approach, but it would be similar to Segira where it's a little bit neutered to build up the community feel.
So, I basically describe games as large or small, and I've thought of them in this term since my reviewing days. Large games are those which have a lot of flexibility and do a lot of things, like D&D or GURPS, and you can basically have an expected playtime of "as long as the players want to go."
In terms of length, these games tend to run about 300 pages, though they can be shorter. 200 tends to be on the low end here; Open Legend is the shortest game I can think of that clocks in like this and runs 140 pages and is a more traditional blend of mechanics and storytelling. A rules-light system like Fate Accelerated clocks in at less, but is a little outside what I tend to like in terms of feel.
Shorter games, like our own Waystation Deimos, tend to be much shorter and focus on one particular theme or topic.
For much of Segira's history, it was going to be something more like this.
I did something that's usually a bad idea (in hindsight, I'm like 90% sure it was) and tried to make it fit right in between these two things.
Now, this has upsides. You can play Segira as a standalone game with a lot of play potential if it's your jam. Waystation Deimos, on the other hand, is going to wear thin pretty quick.
The problem here is that I don't see a lot of people picking Segira over another game because it lacks some of the systems that could otherwise make it better; no gear or vehicle creation, and the like. I might release these for Segira at a later date, but I'll have to weigh if it's worth it or not. There are decisions I made, like baking the effects of qualities into individual pieces of gear and vehicle instead of using a quality list, that were intended to keep our length short, but we weren't really prioritizing keeping our length short across the board.
Now, I don't think this necessarily reduces the quality for the players, but it sure impacts the quality of the product for us: we put a lot of work into making an experience that doesn't have quite as much potential as a full Hammercalled game will, but also won't have the easy quick-up-and-play of a smaller title and has basically locked us into a project that had almost full-system development time and doesn't have full-system product line potential.
I've got other thoughts about everything, but I think they're more general and I'll cover them across posts in the coming days.
For now, however, here's my current plan:
Finish fixing up the Hammercalled ruleset. I'm not sure if I'm actually going to move to Rules Reference 2.0, since I'm more or less walking back the modular design idea, or just pretty up the rules reference to a point that I feel comfortable putting it on DriveThruRPG. I hope to have this done in early January. Revisiting the Hammercalled Quick-Start is a good idea, too.
Work on Hwaet!, our epic heroism game built on the Resistance toolbox. February?
Velotha's Flock needs to be finished, too. I'm thinking of rolling the current advanced player's guide into the core rulebook, then making it not be free verse poetry. That was not a great idea.
Work on Genship Exiles. I've got a lot of great art and conceptual ideas for this game, but I think the core mechanics need to be re-evaluated. Not sure for an ETA on this one. Will entirely depend on scale.
Work on Othenar. The first full-scale mainline Hammercalled system game, set in a fantasy universe that I've been working on for a couple years now (though it's been on the backburner for a lot of that). Since I can't predict Genship Exiles, I can't predict this yet.