Serendipity is the Kindly Grandma of Invention

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Creative Commons photo by Steven Depolo on Flickr

The story of how the d6•d6 CORE RPG project came to be is a series of happy accidents.

In January of 1997, Archangel Entertainment contracted me to work with Steve Stone on a role-playing game based on his artwork. The result was Zero, an underground, telepathic dystopia ruled by an eternal, body-swapping queen.

Happy accident #1 was a challenge at the time, by another Archangel game designer, Tony Lee, to design an RPG with as few attributes as possible. Tony suggested Body and Mind. I wanted to “one-down” that, and came up with a single attribute: Focus. The Zero role-playing game would be my first experiment with that mechanic.

Happy accident #2 was meeting author Bill Bodden a few years later, and him saying how much he had liked Zero, and suggesting I publish a new edition. That got some wheels turning.

The thing was, I already had a different role-playing project planned. Since about AD 2000, I’ve been working on a “d13” horror role-playing game at But with a full-time job in educational publishing (which I love) and involvement in the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets, and a family, it isn’t easy finding time to write something long.

Happy accident #3 was the opening of last year. It allowed me to take a burgeoning knowledge of electronic publishing and print-on-demand books, and apply it to card-game design.

I already had several games developed using poker decks; DriveThruCards allowed me to publish illustrated decks to match those rules. So 2013 became the year of Kickstarting a half dozen decks, promoting them online and at conventions, and discovering if a former professional game designer still had any fans.

Turns out I did. And card-game publishing worked. It was time to experiment with publishing a role-playing game. I wrestled with my desire to finish When Shadows Rise, balancing it against time available, and against a desire to revisit the Focus system. The latter was less of a commitment in pages, so it won (for now).

The plan was to strip the game mechanics down to barest bones, and rewrite from ground up, keeping things as trim as possible, incorporating a few innovations, and making something adaptable to any genre. In July of 2013, I tried it out at Quincon with a setting called “Ghost of a Chance,” and the feedback was extremely encouraging!

So I started listing all the settings I’d need to create for a good multi-genre book, and figuring out how to schedule the writing.

Happy accident #4 came about when Doug Niles asked if Popcorn Press would like to publish his Watershed trilogy in ebook format. Upon reading it (while laying out the manuscript), I was so impressed with it’s inventiveness that I asked Doug, “Can I use this as the default fantasy setting for the CORE RPG?” (Why reinvent the wheel, right?) Doug readily agreed.

With that, something clicked in my head, and I wondered, “How many other authors might be willing to have their worlds represented in this project?”

I started making a list of authors works I admired—authors I know, and those I didn’t—many of my friends had things they were happy to have join. That was great!

But the real turning point was writing a carefully crafted letter to four authors in particular who didn’t know me: Adrian Howell, Andrea K. Höst, Matthew Brian Laube, and Hanna Peach.

Howell’s Psionic Pentalogy not only kept me up at night reading past my bedtime, it also filled a niche for a modern psionic setting. Höst’s Touchstone trilogy had left me breathless with it’s visualization of alien worlds and cultures, as well as its strong characters. Laube’s The Ancient series was such a powerhouse of horror action that I had waited anxiously for each new release. And Peach’s Dark Angel series both touched a nerve in my Biblical background and my fondness for a good love story.

I sent off those emails, and I waited, hoping against hope that one of them might say yes.

Happily, they all did! And that gave me encouragement to contact more authors. As the list of acceptances grew, the task became easier. (It’s one thing to say, “I’m starting a new role-playing game,” and quite another to add, “A couple dozen other authors are already on board.”)

Which brings us to today. As I write this, the d6•d6 CORE RPG Kickstarter is rolling along nicely, unlocking goal after goal. Playtests of the main rules and various settings have been going on regularly for a year. I’ve been reading voraciously, seeking out new authors, and we now have three dozen settings planned, and counting!

We have a book in the making! The only question at the moment is “How big will it be?” It keeps growing. Come take a look!

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