The Comae Engine: An Interview with Clarence Redd

Following up from my interview with The Red Star authors Hintze and Hylander, Clarence Redd (interview), creator of Odd Soot, chimed in with further details on his RPG in a late beta stage, The Comae Engine, which spun out of that game as well as M-SPACE (review).


Charles Dunwoody (CD): Why did you decide to create The Comae Engine, a new d100 RPG?
Clarence Redd (CR):
The Comae Engine started out as a game developer tool. Quick in play, genre-independent, with lots of flexibility to allow for creative storytelling. And some pieces to better ground PCs and NPCs in a setting.

After the success of M-SPACE in 2016, I needed a quick-paced ruleset to try out new ideas on unassuming friends and in solo sessions. Other barebones d100 games lacked the mechanics I enjoy most - social conflicts, chases, research and multi-step tasks - so I needed a new approach to simplicity. It turned out that RPG writers Mike Larrimore and William Yon thought along the same lines.

We threw out all we knew about classic d100 design. Then we rebuilt the rules from the ground up, using Extended Conflicts from M-SPACE as a fulcrum.

Extended Conflicts are a nifty mechanic to play any conflict with the level of detail used for combat in most RPGs. It uses familiar concepts like rounds and hit points - but with a few upgrades.

And it’s incredibly flexible. Over the years I’ve heard Game Masters use it for both cinematic challenges and to slowly build tension. It’s been used for horse racing across a desert, hanging below a helicopter to rescue people, socializing and gathering clues during fancy banquettes - and everything in between.

It drives high-risk scenes, loaded with tension and rewards creative thinking - often without resorting to violence. Exactly what we needed for the play tests. Then it took about four years and three scrapped versions to really nail the mechanics and make it compatible with my other games, M-SPACE and Odd Soot. As a bonus, it ended up being an ultra-lite version of Mythras by The Design Mechanism.

CD: You describe The Comae Engine as d100 leaving its wargaming roots behind. What can GMs do more easily with this d100 RPG than with other d100 games?
From a storytelling perspective, using special rules for combat only - as most traditional RPGs do - makes little sense. It’s needlessly limiting to reduce every obstacle to either a single die roll - or add monsters to turn them into detailed conflicts. In my view, that’s a design flaw inherited from the earliest RPGs based on wargames.

Instead, imagine an action movie from your favorite decade. Then cut out all the combat. The scenes that remain - car chases, skydiving, figuring out alien tech, stalking dark alleys and what have you - are really easy to turn into exciting game play in Comae Engine. You use the same round-based system for all - including combat - just adapting them to the situation, giving players meaningful choices.

Good stories create thrilling scenes from so many diverse situations. Almost every challenge can be turned into a tense blow-by-blow conflict - as long as it benefits the overarching storyline.

CD: Many readers of EN World are D&D and Pathfinder players. What would you say if they asked why they should try The Comae Engine instead?
d100 games like RuneQuest, Call of Cthulhu and Mythras have been around for 40+ years, always striving for richer, more creative game play.

Comae Engine takes that flexibility even further. It gives you a versatile ruleset to add more tension to your stories, with all the ingredients you take for granted in a good movie or book - while keeping the mechanics familiar.
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Charles Dunwoody

Charles Dunwoody

Thomas Shey

I'm at least prone to giving the nod to people who decided that the way to deal with combat having all the detail engagement is to find a way to give that detail to everything rather than flattening out the detail in combat. Doesn't mean I'll necessarily like the execution, but I approve of the principal.

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