Rivers of London RPG: An Interview

Lynne Hardy of Chaosium was kind enough to tell me more about the upcoming Rivers of London RPG. Based on the best selling-book series by Ben Aaronovitch, Rivers of London combines police procedural with modern urban fantasy. Thanks also to Michael O’Brien for setting up the interview and to Ben Aaronovitch for creating his magical world and sharing it with Chaosium so we can all roleplay in...

Lynne Hardy of Chaosium was kind enough to tell me more about the upcoming Rivers of London RPG. Based on the best selling-book series by Ben Aaronovitch, Rivers of London combines police procedural with modern urban fantasy. Thanks also to Michael O’Brien for setting up the interview and to Ben Aaronovitch for creating his magical world and sharing it with Chaosium so we can all roleplay in his setting.

riversoflondonrpg.png

Charles Dunwoody (CD): Thanks for talking to me about the Rivers of London RPG. What kinds of adventures can GMs and players expect to run in this setting?
Lynne Hardy (LAH):
Entertaining ones, hopefully! We’re designing the rules so that they’ll help GMs and players recreate the tone and atmosphere of Ben’s novels and short stories, so that their adventures feel as if they could be taking place in and around Peter and Nightingale’s own cases. So, fun and engaging, with some mystery and danger thrown in for good measure.

CD: What types of characters can players play? Will they all be police or are there other options? Will wizards be rare? Can players play supernatural beings?
LAH:
We expect that a lot of the game’s players will want to play magic-wielding members of the Met, so of course we’re providing the rules for them to do so. But the police aren’t the only characters in Ben’s books, so players will also have the option of playing non-police associates of the Folly if their game is set in the UK or civilian members of any number of organizations (even FBI agents) if their game is based in the US. As we’re aiming the game at new players, most of the player character options in the core rulebook will be human rather than supernatural beings. We are also working on an advanced rules section that will include the option to play people at the lower end of the demi-monde scale—someone like Zach Palmer, for example. Playing a more powerful member of the demi-monde, like a river or high fae, will be tackled in a separate supplement. One of the many cool things about the Rivers of London books is that anyone can do magic if they know how, and that’s something we’ll be sticking with. And, as readers of the books know, magic is coming back into the world, so practitioners aren’t as rare as they were once thought to be.

CD: The Rivers of London RPG runs on Basic Roleplaying (BRP), a d100 system that powers RuneQuest and Call of Cthulhu. How will Newtonian magic and the powers wielded by the rivers and other supernatural beings be translated into BRP?
AH:
Carefully! Paul Fricker, the co-designer of Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition, is our lead designer, and he and I have been working in consultation with Ben on the sorts of spells characters will have access to. As Peter often ends up chucking spells around in the middle of a fight, we’re also going to make sure that magic and combat work seamlessly together. So, while the system is BRP-based, it has its own little nuances so that it best supports storytelling in the Rivers of London universe. As to the rivers and the fae, we’ll be looking at them and their magic more comprehensively in a later supplement, although we will be providing enough information in this book for GMs to use them as NPCs in their own scenarios.

CD: Does the Rivers of London RPG introduce any other new rules or innovations to the BRP system?
LAH:
As I mentioned earlier, we’re aiming the game at new players and GMs, people who may be coming to gaming through their love and enjoyment of Ben’s books and are curious to see what this roleplaying thing is all about. Mostly what we’re doing with the rules is streamlining them to make them as straightforward and intuitive as possible, both to speed up play and to make them more accessible for newcomers. We’re in the early stages of playtesting at the moment, so certain rules may change depending on how well they work in practice. One thing that I’m pretty certain will stay is that we’ve made the Luck spending rules part of the core game – in Call of Cthulhu 7th edition, while recommended, they’re only optional.

riversoflondonbooks.jpg

CD: Rivers of London the book series has connections not just to present day powers but also to ghosts and past events. Will flashbacks and experiencing the past be part of the RPG experience?
LAH:
They may well be! We are toying with ideas for future supplements that would address this, but that’s a little way down the line just yet. And, of course, we’ll be providing advice for GMs on how to handle such things if they want to include them in their own games.

CD: Will a map of London, its rivers, and locations from the novels be included or will getting around and under the city be handled another way?
LAH:
Here at Chaosium, we like our maps and we have access to some very talented cartographers. As the game’s default setting is London, it would be remiss of us not to have a map of London with the rivers and key areas on it. There’s also going to be a plan of the Folly, designed by Ben (with suitable unmarked spaces to avoid any spoilers for upcoming novels, of course…)

CD: What is your favorite bit of design in the Rivers of London RPG?
LAH:
As the rules are still evolving, that’s a tricky one. Right now, I’d have to say the streamlined character creation and the Luck spending rules. Character creation is fast so you can get playing as quickly as possible, and Luck spending was always one of my favorite innovations from Call of Cthulhu 7th edition.

CD: Is additional support for the Rivers of London RPG planned and can you share any details?
LAH:
Ben and I have chatted about potential future supplements—it’s certainly something we’re keen to do and we have quite a few ideas about what those would be, one of which I’ve already mentioned. Whether we do or not will very much depend on how popular the game is.

CD: Many readers of EN World are D&D and Pathfinder players. What would you say if they asked why should they should try the Rivers of London RPG?
LAH: D&D 5e
and Pathfinder are very good at what they do, but they don’t do everything. Different types of storytelling work best when the rules help support and communicate their particular style, tone, and atmosphere effectively. So, if you like the Rivers of London books and fancy trying out a fast, simple to learn system that supports urban fantasy stories in Ben’s unique style, then you should give us a look.

CD: When and where will the Rivers of London RPG be available?
LAH:
I never like mentioning release dates at this stage in a project as you never know what bumps you might hit along the way. If all goes well, I’m hoping it will be ready for late summer 2021. When it is released, we’ll follow Chaosium’s usual strategy of PDF first, followed by the printed book a few months later. And, of course, it will be available from game stores once in physical form.

CD: Thank you for discussing the Rivers of London RPG with me. Any final comments you’d like to share with the readers of EN World?
LAH:
We’ve assembled a great team of designers and writers from a host of gaming backgrounds. Paul Fricker and Gavin Inglis I’ve worked with before; Adam Gauntlett, Helena Nash, and Lucya Szachnowski have all worked with Chaosium in the past, though this is my first outing with them; and I’ve known Keris McDonald and Lloyd Gyan for years and was keen to rope them into the Chaosium fold as well! The official announcement about the writers, with more details on them and their resumes, can be found at: Chaosium's website and I’m really excited for everyone to see what we’ve been working on. So, watch this space! Hopefully we’ll have more news for you very soon.
 

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Charles Dunwoody

Charles Dunwoody


Phenomen

Explorer
"BRP" and "Fast and simple" cannot be used in the same sentence. I'm still salty after The Design Mechanism ruined Lyonesse RPG with an extremely crunchy Mythras system (BRP derivative). And new BRP-based RuneQuest is almost a meme at this point with 4 pages of mounted combat rules.
 
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Dioltach

Legend
Urban fantasy, set in modern-day London (mostly, at least). Very strongly police procedural, it's just that those police also happen to be wizards who deal with "weird bollocks".
 

Von Ether

Legend
"BRP" and "Fast and simple" cannot be used in the same sentence. I'm still salty after The Design Mechanism ruined Lyonesse RPG with an extremely crunchy Mythras system (BRP derivative). And new BRP-based RuneQuest is almost meme at this point with 4 pages of mounted combat rules.
But there's also Pendragon.
 


Bilharzia

Fish Priest
It always amuses me when I see BRP labelled as "crunchy" when the same people don't bat an eyelid over d&d, WFRP and Pathfinder without any comment about how labyrinthine those rules can be. When BRP is described as crunchy or complex it's simply due to lack of familiarity - d20 systems are familiar, BRP generally isn't, so the reaction is frequently "it's too crunchy". At the same Call of Cthulhu is the second most popular RPG after d&d5e on Roll20 (Roll20 Blog) I wonder if the system is such a disaster, why is it the number 2 played?

BRP can be as diverse as d&d, it's not a unified system. Dungeon Crawl Classics and d&d5e are both d&d but still quite different. Call of Cthulhu is by far the most popular BRP game, but it's not the only version currently published and supported. You would be hard-pressed to see M-Space described as 'crunchy' and yet it's directly based on Mythras, using Mythras Imperative as a base system. Mythras itself is detailed but is also pretty easy to dial back, which is exactly the approach M-Space takes. Most of the detail and complexity is in the combat system, outside of that it's extremely easy to understand and straightforward to play. Mythras has 5 magic systems but how many you use depends on your campaign setting, in the official supplement Mythic Britain, only animism and theism are used (for Druidism and Christianity), conversely Monster Island expands sorcery significantly adding spells, sorcery colleges and gifts, details a number of cults which use Theism, and details a society of animist tribes. What you use depends on the specifics of your campaign.

Some version of BRP for Rivers of London sounds like a good bet, I know Ben Aaronovitch is a long-time fan of Chaosium games, including Pendragon, Elric and Call of Cthulhu.
 

foolcat

Explorer
"BRP" and "Fast and simple" cannot be used in the same sentence. I'm still salty after The Design Mechanism ruined Lyonesse RPG with an extremely crunchy Mythras system (BRP derivative). And new BRP-based RuneQuest is almost a meme at this point with 4 pages of mounted combat rules.
Mythras is a different animal. It’s roots lie in Mongoose’ RuneQuest II, a formerly licensed product which deliberately broke with some RQ2/RQ3 traditions; while it certainly has BRP in its DNA, its takes on combat mechanics for example are far removed from the old-school approach on BRP that RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha is, or the modern approach Call of Cthulhu 7th ed. does.

Speaking of which, CoC7 lends itself well for a modern urban fantasy setting in my opinion, and from what Lynn is telling (Luck mechanic), they use it as a basis to start from. Character creation in CoC7 is very straightforward: determine characteristics and derived attributes, pick a career, assign skill points, and off you go. Combat and magic rules are streamlined, and are consequently build on the simpler options BRP has to offer (I’m referring to the Big Golden Book here, of course).

BRP is flexible with a highly adjustable complexity, and I’m looking forward to see how this particular Rivers of London incarnation will turn out.
 

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