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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?

doublezero

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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DoubleZero System and the Black Box Movement

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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DoubleZero: There’s No Reason to Wait

doublezero

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.