Game designer Rodney Thompson has experience in both the board game and role-playing game design worlds. He was part of the team that designed Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition, led the development of Star Wars Saga Edition for years and designed Lords of Waterdeep during his time at Wizards of the Coast. His one-man publishing company, Scratchpad Publishing, creates games that play to the strength of both worlds. These designs are simple enough that they can be pulled down off the shelf during a game night using impressive components that make character creation, game play and clean up very easy. But they also have enough meat on them that players who enjoy the experience can come back for a campaign should they so desire.
These boxes use a house system called AC100 that plays simply but still offers some tips to modern design. Characters make a percentile roll to take an action but in that roll they also put in additional dice that can come up with advantages and challenges. (The boxes come with dice built for this but normal dice can be substituted far more easily than other RPGs that do this, like FFG’s house system.) This adds the “yes and” plus “no but” types of successes that allow for players to feel like their characters have agency even if they have more problems to solve.
They also use board game quality components such as cards, tokens and campaign packs that offer several nights of play. Most modern boxed sets are built to funnel fans to a larger core book purchase but Scratchpad boxes want tables to come back again and again without putting pressure on the GM to come up with stories.
Dusk City OutlawsThe first of these games, Dusk City Outlaws, cast players as members of various crime families in a steampunk fantasy city called New Dunhaven. Players choose a family and a criminal speciality, combine them and are off on a fantasy heist. The game comes with several to choose from plus the Kickstarter that launched the game added on several from a variety of guest authors. The bright artwork and general feel of the setting brings to mind heist media like Ocean’s Eleven and Leverage where the question never seems to be about if the heist will go off but what twists will entertain everyone along the way.
This game came out right around the same time as another fantasy heist game: Blades In The Dark. When I run Dusk City Outlaws, I tend to make one change to the premise to put some difference in between the two; the heist is there to let the PC bad guys steal from the rich and/or corrupt. Blades is more of a crime family drama about building turf; Dusk City is a breezy action comedy. It’s a great choice for people who might want to play D&D but don’t want to get bogged down in spell lists or character options.
SpectacularsThis game puts the engine to work for a shared comic book universe. Spectaculars feels like a mix of TSR’s Marvel Super Heroes game and the most recent Cortex version. The simplicity of percentile rolls make it easy for anyone to play superheroes while the possibility of advantages and challenges let the GM twist the story as needed.
There are four different campaigns to run out of the box: Avengers style science heroes, a spooky mystic team, a gritty street team and cosmic heroes. Each of these campaigns has at least 12 sessions worth of material, not counting any original stories that GM might want to run.
The game is built under the idea that your table will be coming back and playing different campaigns either one after another or setting one aside to play another one. The rules are also built for a heavier bit of advancement. These options feel a lot like the ones you see in comic books, such as new costumes, secret origins and even the classic “I was a doppleganger the entire time” reset back to normal. My favorite options for XP are the optional meta ones where characters get new abilities based on their popularity with their comics fans.
For game masters looking for games that provide a big value in a single box, or an RPG that will appeal to friends at their board game meetup, the games of Scratchpad Publishing are worth checking out.