Today I released the full version of Karma in the Dark, v4.1. You can go to the Karma section of the website or use these links to check it out:
Quick Rule Ref
What does that mean?
For the first time since I started working on the game, all of the content is done. I've had to-do lists sitting in a doc for two years now. As of now?
Neither of those are core components of the game itself. So...the game is done.
Does this mean it's completely finalized? Nah. Playtesting will continue to refine certain mechanics. Questions help me clarify and edit the rulebook. But for now, I'm in a state of collecting feedback and tweaking, not doing full-scale design.
On another level, this version has been put in a pdf with formal layout, art, linked table of contents, linked index, and overall I like the organization of the book. It's still not perfect, but it's miles ahead of the last pdf release. I've also been able to brush up on Indesign and graphic editing skills that were dormant for a decade, so I feel better about my ability to keep improving the document but faster.
I'll have more in depth post(s) about some design things that came up on my blog...probably in a few days.
As always: thank you. To everyone who tested the game, asked questions, shared about it, everyone I interacted with made it better. If I left your name off the credits it was an oversight, and feel free to email me.
I wrote a stream of consciousness post on my design blog. I can't wait to read it after sleep and my sanity returns.
Karma v4.0 has been completed and is ready for layout. Also, I'm pretty happy with it.
The next update here will probably be the release of the pdf. Then I might go quiet for a few weeks since we have a huge inspection coming up at work.
But when I return . . . I'm probably not going to talk about Karma. Because I really feel like working on kids game about being household pets. And then I want someone else to GM it, so I can just play a rambunctious snapping turtle. Or a guinea pig.
When I opened up access to the v.40 documents a few weeks ago I termed it a "rough release." I still need to finish certain systems (e.g. antiheroes), write up more details in certain sections, and make a few copy editing passes.
The first two weeks I felt like I was constantly adding to my "to do" list. This list included everything I needed to do before I would make an official release of v4.0 with a pdf, linked table of contents, and index.
Then somehow over the past 1.5 weeks, that list has steadily shrunk as I finished items.
I am down to three items:
For the first time in weeks, finishing up v4.0 feels doable. I'm looking forward to creating the final pdf with official formatting and links within the document.
This is also the first version where I feel generally satisfied with the state of the campaign. I am sure there will be rule tweaks, need for clarification, etc., but overall I am actually happy with the game.
What Happens After Version 4?
Once version 4.0 is officially out in its formal pdf, I will step back from changing Karma for several months. I need to see how systems play out across multiple settings and groups. There are enough mechanics at this point, it will take a while to gather meaningful data.
During that time I will probably look into how I want to release Karma in a formal final version. (Not that a game is ever truly finalized.) I know that will include getting a group to do some actual plays on camera, looking into final art options, and deciding on my publishing venue/approach.
If I make any Karma content during that time, it will be in the form of example worlds, campaign guides, more GM tools, etc. Stuff that supports the fiction and GMs but doesn't touch the mechanics.
I also have several other games I'm juggling. Tides of Gold deserves an update based on editing and initial feedback. I really, really want to get a condensed playtest version of Pet Bridgade out...mostly because I want to roleplay as animals for a while. I have a half-finished boardgame design I would like to return to at some point and a computer game that needs some graphics work before it can really be played.
I also have a backload of video games I want to play, so I'll take some much needed downtime.
Overall, I am excited to get the next version of Karma out, and excited to mess around with other projects and hobbies as I collect playtesting data.
As someone who has played and enjoyed a significant amount of Shadowrun, the set playbook style of Powered by the Apocalypse and Forged in the Dark games has always felt a little...confining.
In the original version of Karma, character creation was almost completely free-flowing. The game came with sample archetypes, but you could ignore them almost completely. This turned out to be a little too chaotic once people started mixing and maxing abilities however they wanted. It also create some paralysis/indecision during the character creation process.
In v2.0 when I switched to a more faithful adoption of core Forged in the Dark mechanics, I also moved back towards set playbooks.
The release of v3.0 was my attempt at a middle ground: set playbooks to start, but you could choose your second discipline from any three playbooks (i.e. all disciplines within your soul).
As I've been talking to a number of players and GMing more Forged in the Dark games (Karma and others) I found myself telling people repeatedly, "Nah, you can make your own Xp trigger...pick any starting action dots...basically, just pick a soul and playbook with the equipment and first discipline you want."
I've led players through creating their own xp triggers often enough (and shrugged off the need to have 3 action dots set by the playbook), that I figured it's time to make it official.
By the end of the week, I will be releasing a revision of v4.0 character creation.
In this new system you will pick your soul, pick your starting discipline, and gain the associated playbook equipment. Each playbook gives you a list of xp triggers to mix and match as you want (or roll randomly). It will also come with 6 build templates with suggested actions dots and special abilities, but you will have complete freedom to pick your actions dots.
This version feels the closest to a happy medium between complete control and structure.
Examples for the Shadow and Drifter are below.
The antihero rules have been updated and the last two antihero playbooks have been released. The rules can be found in the appendix section of v4.0 and the playbooks have been added to the playbook folder.
All of the antihero mechanics and options have been updated since v4.0 to fit with the discipline system. They represent a way to continue the story of your PC while changing their way of interacting with the world. Most of the playbooks introduce new mechanics, so it will be interesting to see how they play out.
Right now, the playbooks are focused more on exploring interesting dynamics than balance. Antiheroes tend to be weaker with their actions but have more powerful special abilities. I expect it will lead to needing safer play, but more dramatic moments.
I made a Google sheet version of the PC and team playbooks on Google drive. This way groups who play online but don't use Roll20 Pro can have a shareable, digital version of their playbooks.
One version is for quickly building your sheet by copy-pasting playbook unique details.
The second version is designed for a playgroup to share, keeping their PCs and team centralized in one document.
Because formatting is consistent across documents, players can create their PC or team in the playbook builder, then paste it directly into the shared playgroup version.
The current version lacks the downtime sheet (i.e. professional skills and project clocks), but this should allow groups to record and share everything else.
The antihero playbooks were originally finished last spring.
Originally, I wanted playbooks that give a distinctly different feel than the traditional souls, with a darker slant. Coming back to them this week, I could see they needed some editing before release. Specifically, the old version encouraged a cynical play style that doesn't translate well to a team dynamic or frankly, enjoyable characterization.
I decided to rework the antihero playbooks to try and capture that different, darker tone while still making playbooks that work within the team dynamics.
Today, the first revision is complete: the Haunted.
Playbook pdf is here.
Revised antihero creation and advancement rules are here.
(Both are in the main v4.0 folder on Google drive, but these links go directly to them)
No one survives what you survived. A black site ... a wilderness ... a massacre ... a twisted research lab ... what you saw can never be described to anyone. They wouldn't understand, and the ones who spared your life wouldn't appreciate it either. The memories that haunt you cannot be killed or fixed. They come back to you: in a nightmare, in a shadow, in misheard words, in the stare of a stranger on the street. The one that captured you and the angel who saved you might be the same person, or different. Either way, you owe your life to another.
I've finished the first version of the rules reference sheets for v4.0 KitD. That link takes you directly to the pdf, but it is hosted in the KitD v4.0 folder.
I decided to focus on the rules you likely use every session (i.e. it doesn't include session 0 rules like character creation). Over time I will likely add a few more sheets. Ideally, it'd be cool to get the bulk of the rules in this reference sheet form. I think Blades did that originally for play testing purposes, but being able to read the core mechanics in like 20 pages was really nice.
I will also likely create similar reference sheets for a quick start world and starting campaign setting that I created back in May. I'm not in love with the setting (it's very urban fantasy), but the city and factions are fun and fairly detailed. I'd like to share it more widely now that the Quick Start has been play tested several times, but moving layout from one program to another (I finally made the switch from Scribus to InDesign) will be tedious, so it will wait for another few weeks while I finish up the v4.0 pdf version.
Up next: layout for the antihero playbooks.
Version 4.0 of Karma in the Dark is ready for its rough release.
What do I mean by "rough release?"
The update/revision is complete enough for play testing. The character, team, and safe house playbooks have been finished into pdf form. The main rulebook is currently available on Google docs; I still need to finish its InDesign layout before it can be transferred into a pdf.
My list of upcoming tasks:
After those main tasks, I have a few small pieces to finish, like a description of the items on the standard gear list. I also want to update/refine the Quick Start kit I tested last spring to help groups run one-shots.
All of the base character playbooks (i.e. not anti-heroes) have been transferred to the new layout and updated for version 4.0. Each playbook received changed xp triggers and tweaks (or a complete remix) to special abilities.
The new format incorporates the upcoming changes to the Contact system (e.g. if you have 3-bond with a Contact, they also act as an expert cohort for you) and the inclusion of attitude abilities, which are gained after your get your first jaded instinct. You will also see some term shifts on the sheet, with virtue now being called personal code.
Finally, with the added content and needed layout space, I've added a downtime sheet for each character, based on their soul, to track professional skills, recovery, and projects.
You can download the playbooks here and preview them below.
The team playbooks were also done, but lost due to a technology error. I've spent the past week trying to recover them with no luck; my goal this weekend is to get them all recreated.