This new, ongoing Q&A will ask some tough questions about Cosmothea that I’ll attempt to answer. As with anything on this blog, because many things are still under construction and because we are still playtesting, some things posted could change by the time the game is actually published. Even so, I think the Q&A will be helpful to reveal more about the game and setting. This is a healthy process to address throughout a game’s development cycle.
Please note that when I answer questions about the game and setting, I usually do so from the position of looking forward in time to the completed game and setting, not where we are now. i.e. If one were to say, “What’s the magic system like? I’m not going to say, “Well, there’s still a bunch of spells that need to be designed…” because I know that when the game is completed, the magic system will be the way I want it, and therefore answering that way isn’t helpful nor would it be accurate in the future when the game is actually available. I answer bearing in mind my goals and expectations for it to be completed in the manner I envisioned and according to what is in development. From time to time, that vision needs to be tweaked somewhat to accommodate the design and marketing goals and during playtesting. Where there are holes or problems, we will endeavor to fix them. I will propose 1 question each Q&A, and you are more than welcome to ask questions as well. Thanks! Ready? Here we go…
#1 What is Cosmothea about?
Cosmothea is a multi* and blended-genre** game and setting about a single, coherent storyline-driven universe on the verge of collapse, with active, wayward gods, powerful A.I., primitive worlds, uber high technology, magic, superheroes, real faith, a huge variety of subgenres, character options, and adventuring possibilities; all of these elements can be shaped by both the players and GM and are supported by a single set of mechanics that include layers of complexity and multiple resolution systems that you can switch on the fly.
While you can’t do everything (like we have a distinct way that magic works), we consider that a feature not a flaw, as by creating a distinct storyline and mechanics that support it — a system and setting that are expansive, you don’t have to sacrifice a great deal of time to set things up like you do with universal RPG’s, and you don’t have to worry about smooth integration of multiple setting books because we only have one (albeit big) setting.
With Cosmothea, you have a lot of control over the type of character you can create and the types of stories you can explore without sacrificing personality and story or having to force the settings to feel natural together. Cosmothea has a lush setting built over the course of 3 decades. Which means you don’t have to shell out a pile of money just to play in a blended-genre universe and you don’t have to make up excuses as to why the unrelated setting books are being shoved together. Because Cosmothea, the storyline has been careful laid out and the blending is deliberate. Now, we also wanted you to have the option of playing all fantasy or all superheroes, etc. so we deliberately built that in too. Cosmothea isn’t generic, it’s just huge and the storyline and mechanics are robust enough to cater to a wide variety of adventures and interests.
While there weren’t many pen and paper RPG’s on the market when I first began developing Cosmothea 1.0 (back in 1979), the market is now flooded with them (and people are still playing some of the games that are out of print). Many RPG’s are fighting to fill the same roles; a few RPG’s stand a part and have distinguished themselves, in some cases by catering to a very small niche, and yet I still see the same hole I saw back in ’79! Now, there are some blended-genre games out there, but I don’t see any big ones designed around a core storyline of Cosmothea’s magnitude with mechanics that support it right out of the box, which is surprising considering how incredibly popular blended-genre stories are! The closest I can get is to buy a universal game and then buy a pile of books, and even then, its missing the key ingredients I’m looking for without a ton of work, and I bet some of you are in the same boat.
The hole is wide open and while we’ve been slow to publish, I believe we are on the right track, taking our time to do blended-genre right, and while every game out there has gamers that love it and gamers that hate it and Cosmothea will be no different, Cosmothea does exactly what it set out to do and does it in a way that doesn’t feel forced. Why? Because we built it for that purpose.
Of course every game has been heavily inspired by those that have gone before, and Cosmothea has gone through a lot of revisions over the years, so in a sense Cosmothea is also about finding what works and what doesn’t, listening to what many are saying they want and aren’t getting, not just making the game for what I like and want, and finding out how to give them what they want without betraying the big storyline. But even if you hated the storyline that runs through the game, you could still use the highly customizable game engine to dive in and use your own setting.
Cosmothea gives enough creative room for you to tell your own stories within the context of the larger one or go off completely on your own without a pile of work, and smoothly handle a great deal of diverse story concepts of your own, and that’s more than you are likely to find in a universal RPG. If you are looking for heavy crunch or uber lite, and building everything from scratch, you should likely look elsewhere – it’s not what Cosmothea is about, but I’m confident that most that want to stretch their wings and fly will find we have a pretty high ceiling.
Now to answer the question by inverting it:
We’re telling our own story and are intentionally leaving out unrelated concepts and rules, though we do have a decent number of options, such as playing a race variant, because the same race can be found on various planets and dimensions in many cases. We aren’t about giving the GM homework to do, asking them to build their own races and worlds. That’s our job. If they want to do it though, we do give them the tools and space in the storyline to go off on their own if they want. We won’t publish twenty different settings you can play using our set of rules. Every book we put out will be completely relevant to the universe and the storyline, yet enable you to do lots of things – it’s a big playground after all. We’ll leave the generic “every book is a different setting” concept and the uber crunch or uber lite rules to games that are already doing one of or the other, like GURPS, HERO and Savage Worlds. There’s nothing wrong with those games at all, they are just not what we’re about. ‘Nuff said.
Multi-genre*: Cosmothea enables players to move their characters between distinctly separate genres.
Blended-genre**: Most Cosmothean worlds are a blend of two or more genres; by default, thoroughly blended, however the GM has control over how blended the adventures are.
What’s next for Cosmothea?
We are hard at work on Vol. 1 of our Cosmothea Anthology. Why start with an anthology instead of the game itself? This was a hard decision, but ultimately it comes down to awareness. Everyone has heard of Star Trek, Star Wars and Lord of the Rings. If you make an RPG about one of those, people know exactly what they are getting. We aim to focus a good amount on increasing awareness of what exactly Cosmothea is. We have not stopped production on the game, though it has slowed down somewhat. We aim to increase awareness in exactly what you can expect if you play the game and what makes the universe cool. The anthology will help with this as it is all about spotlighting various areas, races and concepts found throughout the setting! We also have some videos planned and more blog posts, of course!
Now, Cosmothea 5.0 isn’t done yet, and it’s a lot of work, so we applaud those games that have beat us to the market, at least those where you can tell they really tried hard. It’s a lot of work, and I’m impressed with several of the games out there. There’s a lot of garbage out there, but there’s some real gems too. We aren’t about to compromise and give you a cheesy game just to get published. If we can’t put out a top-notch game, we’ll move on to one of our many other projects. But we aren’t about to give up any time soon! For those that love blended-genre stories like I do, I hope that you will stick around and look deeper into what we’re about and I’d love to hear from you! If you have a question you would like us to cover, just let us know, and we’ll do our best!
We aren’t trying to act like we’ve got the hottest game ever. Great games take time, and so as I said, we’re taking our time to do it right and have more work ahead. If you would like to be a brainstormer, playtester, or contribute in some other capacity, let me know! Thanks! My ego isn’t so big that I’m not willing to listen to others, and I’m well aware that any game can be improved. One of the reasons why I am building a new Design Team like I had for a time when we were worked on Cosmothea 4.0, is to make the game even better than I can do on my own and also because a game of this magnitude takes a long time for one person to complete by themselves, so I appreciate your patience as we work hard to bring you something cool.