What’s the intersection of the DoubleZero System and the Black Box Movement? Obviously there is the minimalist presentation. The book has no art, so that everything could fit into a tight, 96-page digest format package. That’s why we can sell the PDF of a Core Book for $4.99 and, eventually, a softcover print edition with a prospective price of $9.99. One of the aims of Black Box is, after all, to reduce the barriers to entry into the hobby.
There’s also the aesthetic of remix culture. Use what already exists to create something new. The original idea for DoubleZero, which I first had well over a decade ago, was to create an OGL adaptation of Victory Games’ James Bond 007 roleplaying game. That’s already been done, and done well, a couple of times. I was more interested in capturing the feel not of the original game, but that way me groups have played it. I used it as the default system for anything that didn’t involve magic or superpowers. A generic “realistic” system.
Black Box Theater
When you look at it that way, the system is black box theater. Stripped of sets and costuming, all that’s left are characters. Personalities, problems to be overcome, and goals to be achieved. You can look at cars, guns, and gadgets as “flash”, but not every setting or campaign has to focus on those. It’s not about all of the fancy bells and whistles that other systems offer.
One of the reasons I was drawn to using Basic Roleplaying as a foundation was its association with “character normalcy”. Few characters in Call of Cthulhu have powers. I played a lot of Runequest for a few years, and those characters were far more grounded in low fantasy than what other systems were doing. What I didn’t like were the terms of BRP’s open game license. It goes astray from the baseline OGL, and has some language that could be troublesome. That’s why I went with GORE, a previously established third-party BRP emulation.
Remix and Homage
Again, though, I didn’t want to recreated BRP any more than I wanted to clone JB007. Those were just parts laying around that I could use, rather than building everything from scratch. The core mechanic isn’t from either of those systems. Yet there is a familiarity in DoubleZero that pays homage to both, and creates a resonance and familiarity for the players. The recognizable bits are another attempt to overcome barriers to entry.
Beyond the production aesthetics, that to me is another important part of the Black Box Movement. Innovation is great. I love innovation. Comfort and playability is better. The problem I was solving for was a utilitarian, nuts-and-bolts system that could be used for a wide variety of things. One of the reasons the first few supplements have been settings has been to show that utility. We have cults and conspiracies, retro-future science fiction, and lighthearted mysteries. None of which are James Bond, Cthulhu, or anything their donor systems are known for.
DoubleZero System and the Black Box Movement
Ultimately, I think that the DoubleZero System is a solid representation of what the Black Box Movement is about. It isn’t about standing still, nor is it about ignoring the history of the hobby. I made exactly the thing that I wanted to make, in a way that was possible with the resources I had available. The finished product is affordable and accessible, and so far has been a hit with players. All of which was accomplished without bowing it conventional wisdom.
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.
About the Black Box Movement
The Black Box Movement embraces a minimalist presentation. Books are capped at 96 pages, requiring the writing to be concise. Art is included only when it is the necessary to communicate concepts and ideas, and to make more space for essential text. Production costs are kept low in order to keep the price low, with a current ceiling of $10. We succeed or fail on the strength of our ideas.
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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