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Future Development of the DoubleZero System

Even though I’m not ready to begin work on the inevitable Guide Manual, I’ve been thinking a lot about future development of the DoubleZero System. My mission statement, roughly, is that this is a go-to system for settings that don’t feature magic or superpowers. There’s an action focus, because that’s the nature of the tabletop roleplaying market. It’s not strictly for espionage, as the system that inspired it allegedly was.

The settings already released are meant to reflect that. There’s conspiracy, retro-future science fiction, and comedic mystery. I want to show the potential other than “gunfire, gunfight, car chase, gunfight” ad infinitum. It’s one of the reasons why I cancelled The Gun List, a 96-page book that was nothing but supplemental firearms mechanics and weapon statistics. It’s off-brand for a number of reasons. Portions will appear in the Guide Manual, specifically the guidelines on writing up real-world guns. Showing you how to do things is more my vibe than selling you a catalog filled with tables and numbers. (Those “art for art’s sake” people that criticize me because I dare to have a profit motive for designing and publishing roleplaying material will never acknowledge how much money I’m leaving on the table there.)

Future Development of the DoubleZero System

There are three areas that I want to delve into more deeply: investigation, social mechanics, and chases. I have no idea what that looks like right now, but I would expect the Guide Manual to have a chapter expanding upon each of these. There will probably be a refinement or expansion of skills and concentrations to accommodate these. All of these can provide danger and excitement without combat. With the legacy system that inspired DoubleZero, I could run entire sessions with no fight scene, and the players wouldn’t even notice. Many of the novels, television shows, and movies that inspire me have little to no combat; when it does happen, it’s a big deal.

That doesn’t mean you can’t run a combat-focused campaign. The Core Book still supports that. It’s just that, moving forward, I’m more interested in exploring more subtle and nuanced applications of the system. I want the focus to be more on story and characters.

About the DoubleZero System

DoubleZero is a percentile based, skill-driven tabletop roleplaying system. It is designed to emulate the action thriller genre, things like the Die Hard movies, Jack Ryan books and films, and the grittier entries in the James Bond franchise. It can be used for any sort of “realistic” modern setting that doesn’t lean into magic, the supernatural, or superpowers. Info Page ¦ DriveThruRPG ¦ Our Shop

About Dancing Lights Press

Dancing Lights Press is a lo-fi publisher of tabletop roleplaying systems and system-agnostic creative aids, including the best selling Building series, the DoubleZero action thriller system, and Hippogryph, a fantasy story game system with traditional  roots. Our products embrace a minimalist aesthetic in design and presentation because roleplaying is an activity, not a collection of expensive rulebooks.

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Is DoubleZero a Fantasy Heartbreaker?

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The term fantasy heartbreaker, as coined by Ron Edwards, is not meant to be derogatory. It’s simply a way of assessing a few common flaws that fledgling designers fall prey to. A heartbreaker is a fantasy roleplaying book that did not live up to its potential. Edwards’ essay was written in 2002. Times have clearly changed. I still see a lot of these same issues popping up. In the spirit of intellectual honesty, I had to ask myself:  is DoubleZero a fantasy heartbreaker? Or just a heartbreaker, allowing for an expanded definition of the term to include things in other genres?

The Four Elements of a Fantasy Heartbreaker?

Edwards had four criteria for something to be labelled as a fantasy heartbreaker:

  1. critical perspective of the intervening history of game design,
  2. knowledge of actual fantasy instead of gaming-fantasy,
  3. originality of concepts in mechanics, and
  4. business acumen.

I won’t go into how he devised these criteria, or his rationale behind them. You can read his original essay for that. As I go through each point below, I will explain why I find these points to be relevant two decades later and how I’m applying them.

Critical Perspective of the Intervening History of Game Design

As Edwards was writing primarily about fantasy games, he was largely critiquing games that were one step removed from Dungeons & Dragons. Heartbreakers are largely designed by people who have only played D&D. They are unaware of the other ways to do things that have been established. Many of the mechanics they come up with independently have already been done, and done better, in other systems.

The roots of DoubleZero lay in Victory Games’ James Bond 007 RPG. It’s not the only system I’ve ever played by a long shot. I’ve been involved with roleplaying for over 40 years. My experience covers a wide array of systems. This includes personal experience with other “espionage” and “modern” systems, including Top Secret, Mercenaries, Spies, and Private Eyes, and another personal favorite, Spycraft. There is as much Basic Role Playing in there, as expressed through various  iterations of Call of Cthulhu, as there is JB007.

My design goal was to capture a particular feel, not to clone an out-of-print system. So while that did lean heavily on how JB007 worked, it also incorporated ideas from other systems as well as an original idea or two. I think DoubleZero passes the sniff test here.

Knowledge of Actual Genre Instead of Gaming-Genre

This, for Edwards, came down to building systems and settings inspired by the tropes of Dungeons & Dragons rather than drawing upon the deep well of fantasy fiction. If he had one personal pet peeve that seemed to be a through line in several of his articles on The Forge, this was it. For the most part I agree with him, and expand this to “has the designer read any fantasy other than what’s listed in Appendix N?”.

My goal with DoubleZero wasn’t to faithfully clone Victory Games’ James Bond 007 RPG. It was not to emulate the James Bond films, Ian Fleming’s original novels, or other JB expanded media like comics or video games. My cited inspirations for the espionage genre include the television series The Sandbaggers, John le Carré’s George Smiley novels, and pretty much anything Len Deighton ever put his name on.

What I truly want the system to be is what I’ve used JB007 for all these years: my go-to system for settings that don’t feature player characters with magic, psionics, or superpowers. So while I’m not copping to a vast knowledge of real-world intelligence operations, that’s also not the point. I know the broader genre, and the applications that I have for the system. DoubleZero passes this criteria, in my opinion.

Originality of Concepts in Mechanics

Edwards was, once again, talking about straight-across copying to D&D with one or two tweaks. If I was intentially creating a retro-clone, then this would be definition have to fail. Since knocking off the original system would have been the intention, I don’t know that this could be counted as a fail.

My goal with DoubleZero was to maintain familiarity. I wanted players and guides to be comfortable with what I was presenting. The system isn’t meant to be groundbreaking. It’s supposed to be a workhorse. Flexible enough to not only handle the espionage/ action thriller genre, but to handle most “real world” settings. I’m going to call this one as wash. While it does exactly what I want it to do, it technically commits one of Edwards’ sins.

Business Acumen

When Edwards wrote this, the industry was a lot different. There was no Kickstarter, and no Itch. RPGNow was only a year old, and it would be another two years before DriveThruRPG appeared. The business model was pretty much to print physical books and either hope to get distribution, or sell them from your website. People would throw their life savings into printing their fantasy heartbreaker, with no knowledge of sales, marketing, or business in general. Seeing your darling in print was a joy, but quickly overshadowed by the boxes upon boxes of unsold books gathering dust.

As for today— angels and ministers of grace defend us from the people who say they want to create art for art’s sake. They take that approach, then complain that they can’t make any money. Too few people seem to understand things like how to make a budget. Or how to control costs, or how to set prices. The details are different, but Edwards’ general critique remains valid.

I have over 150 best-selling titles at DriveThruRPG. For over 4 years I have made a living doing thing. I also have a Bachelors in Business with an emphasis in Entrepreneurship, and graduated Summa Cum Laude. This is an area I think I have covered.

Is DoubleZero a Fantasy Heartbreaker?

My honest answer is: I don’t think so. The things that do align with Edwards’ criteria are intentional design choices. They exist to serve some purpose, rather than being there due to naivete.

About the DoubleZero System

DoubleZero is a percentile based, skill-driven tabletop roleplaying system. It is designed to emulate the action thriller genre, things like the Die Hard movies, Jack Ryan books and films, and the grittier entries in the James Bond franchise. It can be used for any sort of “realistic” modern setting that doesn’t lean into magic, the supernatural, or superpowers. Info Page ¦ DriveThruRPG ¦ Our Shop

About Dancing Lights Press

Dancing Lights Press is a lo-fi publisher of tabletop roleplaying systems and system-agnostic creative aids, including the best selling Building series, the DoubleZero action thriller system, and Hippogryph, a fantasy story game system with traditional  roots. Our products embrace a minimalist aesthetic in design and presentation because roleplaying is an activity, not a collection of expensive rulebooks.

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Hardboiled Follies: A DoubleZero Sourcebook

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In Hardboiled Follies, you take on the role of a completely unqualified amateur detective. You and your friends avoid your real problems by taking on cases and going undercover to solve mysteries. Opposing you are the trained and licensed professionals of the Columbia Detective Agency. They who urge you to please stop what you’re doing before you get hurt. You know the truth is that they just hate having competition. You’ll show them.

Hardboiled Follies is inspired by every story where an ordinary person gets swept up in some nefarious plot. It’s an homage to all of those comedic fish-out-of-water thrillers where people are suddenly in over their heads, and all of those cozy mysteries where amateur detectives somehow prevail over trained police investigators. Part Murder She Wrote, part The Big Lebowski, it’s a more lighthearted take on the genres covered by the DoubleZero system.

Download your copy now from DriveThruRPG or from our Shop!

Why I Wrote Hardboiled Follies

There were three major inspirations for this sourcebook. The first was the vastly underappreciated HBO series Bored to Death. Jason Schwartzman plays a literary fiction author with writer’s block, who becomes an unlicensed private investigator (he advertises of Craigslist) to alleviate his boredom. Joining him on his adventures are his friend Ray (Zach Galifianakis), a comic book artist who creates a superhero with a very unusual and specific power, and George (Ted Danson), the effete and intellectual editor of a New Yorker-type magazine and unabashed stoner.

The next inspiration is an unlikely one: the television show Orphan Black. Specifically, the characters of Alison and Donnie Hendrix. Alison is a high-strung soccer mom equipped with a pepper spray, an emergency whistle, and a big handgun. Donnie is her harried husband. In the midst of international intrigue, the two are ordinary people who rise to the challenges before them, while still providing a degree of comic relief to the series.

My final major inspiration was the Coen Brother film The Big Lebowski. It’s a plot right out of Raymond Chandler story, except the people swept up in a nefarious ransom scheme are a clueless stoner and his bowling buddies. There’s a reason it’s a cult classic, and it’s even spawned its own religion (as a matter of full disclosure, I am an officially ordained Dudeist).

Other inspirations include the novels of Jonathan Ames, creator of Bored to Death and the real-life person Schwartzman’s character is named for. Paul Auster’s New York Trilogy, three stand-alone novels that take a postmodern and philosophical look at detective fiction, put a lot of weird ideas into my head. O Henry’s novel Cabbages and Kings, in which he invented the term “banana republic”, is where I blatantly stole the Columbia Detective Agency from.

About the Setting

In Hardboiled Follies, you take on the role of a completely unqualified amateur detective. You and your friends avoid your real problems by taking on cases and going undercover to solve mysteries. Opposing you are the trained and licensed professionals of the Columbia Detective Agency. They who urge you to please stop what you’re doing before you get hurt. You know the truth is that they just hate having competition. You’ll show them.

Hardboiled Follies was designed to be used with Easy Mode.

This sourcebook contains the following chapters:

  • The City Proper – A lot of people say they’re from the City, but they’re actually from the suburbs or the boroughs or even a town that’s, like, an hour away. It’s not the same as being in the City Proper.
  • Amateur Detectives – An overview of the player character types available in Hardboiled Follies. This includes new options, restricted abilities, and other changes from the Core Book.
  • Columbia Detective Agency – The primary antagonists of Hardboiled Follies, this section covers their origins, what their goal is, and how they pursue those aims. It also includes notable members of the organization.
  • Rules Changes – Hardboiled Follies uses Easy Mode, so there is a recap of that rules option here. Professions that are not recommended for the setting, and skills that need to be considered.
  • New Equipment: Spy Gear – A word about weapons available to civilians, and notes on the acquisition and use of commercially available spy gear like listening devices, cameras, and night vision goggles.
  • Allies and Enemies – Full statistics for characters described in the Amateur Detectives and Columbia Detective Agency chapters. This includes a selection of supporting characters.
  • Creating a Mystery – Advice on setting up a simple mystery story for the player characters to solve. A breakdown of preparation, handling clues, and setting up the beginning, middle, and end.
  • Bibliography – Inspirations for this sourcebook, and recommended media to help establish the overall tone and intention of the setting. Use this section as fodder for adventure ideas and possible characters.

About DoubleZero

DoubleZero is a percentile based, skill-driven modern action thriller tabletop roleplaying game. All manner of suspense and intrigue are possible. This sourcebook requires the use of the DoubleZero Core Book.

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DoubleZero: There’s No Reason to Wait

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There’s No Reason to Wait

If you’ve been holding off on downloading the DoubleZero Core Book or any of the sourcebooks, there’s no more reason to wait. The system has multiple 5-star ratings at DriveThruRPG and good reviews. It’s a mere handful of copies away from earning a Gold best seller medallion. At $4.99 for a core book it’s a bargain, and the bundle takes the price down from there. We’ve even addressed the one major criticism, the high difficulty for characters, with a simple new optional rule.

Introducing DoubleZero Easy Mode

Since the release of the DoubleZero Core Book, people have been asking for a mode that’s less gritty. Sometimes you just want to play something a bit more lighthearted and freewheeling, where the characters crack jokes as they succeed at tasks that defy physics. Easy Mode is meant to be used with that style of play, and more cinematic sorts of campaigns and settings.

Easy Mode is also covered by the Open Game License, so you can use Easy Mode for your own creations!

The Easy Mode PDF has been added to the Core Book files. If you’ve already purchased the Core Book, it can be downloaded from your Library.

Save 20% with the DoubleZero Bundle

The Core Book and current sourcebooks are all included in the DoubleZero Bundle. As with all bundles at DriveThruRPG, you only pay for the titles you haven’t previously purchased. That means that if you already have the Core Book and just want to pick up the sourcebooks for 20% off, you only pay for the discounted sourcebooks.

Honestly, that’s one of my favorite features of DriveThruRPG. It’s a great way to complete collections on the cheap.

Almost a Gold Best Seller

In looking at sales figures, the DoubleZero Core Book is already an Electrum best seller and is a handful of copies away from making Gold. Since I’m currently ill (not that, thankfully, but I am back in quarantine because I’m vulnerable) and probably won’t be releasing anything new for a couple of more weeks, I would LOVE to see a second wave of DoubleZero sales. It would warm my heart to see MOLOCH and Spectres of Mars hit Silver, and they’re both close to that benchmark.

Be Safe, Stay Healthy

If you’re strapped for cash right now and can’t buy anything, I get it. These are trying times for all. One of the reasons I promote the Black Box Movement and Lo-Fi Publishing (see our website for more information) is because it keeps costs low and makes tabletop roleplaying more affordable for the masses. We’re surviving right now because folks that can’t afford to drop $30 and up for a new hardcover can still scrape up $5 or less for a useful and entertaining read.

What’s most important to me is that everyone is okay. Stay safe, follow the guidelines, and we’ll all get through this as quickly as possible. I want all of you to still be here when the world can finally reopen safely.

No Reason to Wait

Dancing Lights Press is a lo-fi publisher of tabletop roleplaying systems and system-agnostic creative aids, including the best selling Building series, the DoubleZero action thriller system, and Hippogryph, a fantasy story game system with traditional  roots. Our products embrace a minimalist aesthetic in design and presentation because roleplaying is an activity, not a collection of expensive rulebooks.

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DoubleZero Easy Mode Now Available

doublezero

Since the release of the DoubleZero Core Book, people have been asking for a mode that’s less gritty. Sometimes you just want to play something a bit more lighthearted and freewheeling, where the characters crack jokes as they succeed at tasks that defy physics. Easy Mode is meant to be used with that style of play, and more cinematic sorts of campaigns and settings.

The Easy Mode PDF is available for free in our Shop. If you purchased it at DriveThrRPG, it has been added to the Core Book files and can be downloaded from your Library.

About DoubleZero

DoubleZero is a percentile based, skill-driven tabletop roleplaying system. It is designed to emulate the action thriller genre, things like the Die Hard movies, Jack Ryan books and films, and the grittier entries in the James Bond franchise. It can be used for any sort of “realistic” modern setting that doesn’t lean into magic, the supernatural, or superpowers.