I like my coffee black…


I like my coffee black and my RPGs the same–that is to say, rich and complex, but it wasn’t always this way, I started out with lighter fare for both in the beginning. My first RPG was Fantasy Quest, a game of my own making modeled after Dragon Warrior, Final Fantasy, and books like the Black Cauldron series. They had simple rules and simple mechanics. I rolled a dice to hit you, you rolled a dice to avoid being hit and the highest wins, no modifiers and no damage rolling. We had special abilities, summoned monsters, and found Crystal Armor to gear our heroes. As I grew, so also did my game and at a certain point I started working on more complexity and my good friend Gregg asked me what I was doing. I told him and he kindly informed me that it was all done before, introducing me to Dungeons & Dragons. This escalated quickly.

RPG Family Tree

Second Edition D&D didn’t give me enough customization so I picked up AD&D 2nd Edition: Skills and Powers. My friends and I played that to death. Then we got D&D 3rd Edition, after which we moved on to White Wolf systems and that is where I decided to make my own game again. It was first called TICS for Time Interval Combat System, then it was RTCS for Real Time Combat System, then it was Chronos: Real Time Combat System, and now it is Unchained Heroes powered by the Real Time Combat Engine. Unchained Heroes is my “black coffee” RPG. It has a bold, hearty taste, and I can do whatever I want with it based on my mood, but most of the time, I take it just like it was intended; it has gritty combat, detailed customization, and plays to my love of the Skills and Powers roots. Like black coffee, it can put some people off the first time they try it, but if you get past the sharp first taste, you will keep coming back. I like my coffee with sugar and cream sometimes, though, that’s why I play a lot of different game systems and encourage you to do the same!

Unchained Heroes is going to be coming out in the next few months, so I wanted to let you know what it will be. If you have never seen the game before it became Unchained Heroes or you picked it up but never played it, I encourage you to take the plunge and dive into the rulebook. It is a 350+ page Core rulebook. What does that mean? It will have everything you need to play for Players and GM’s alike. There is no plan to make a Gamemaster’s Guide or a Monster Manual. Those books are included in this one. If you like customizability, powerful heroes, action packed spells, and high flying characters in the fashion of video games and MMORPGs, this game will be a good fit.

d20 Roots

In comparison to other RPGs out there, it plays a lot like Pathfinder RPG with a number of twists. The biggest twist being the Real Time Combat Engine. It uses familiar d20 mechanics with a dose of the customization you will find in Pathfinder combined with White Wolf systems. Those are the games I grew up with and that is what I really like, so it makes sense that you will see parallels, but I take it further with Unchained Heroes into territories that I felt were lacking in years of roleplaying.

I always tinkered, but making my own game gave me the chance I needed to tinker in a fashion that had everything I wanted in a game. I have a few other people that must feel the same way because they have stuck through the years with me and played it for some time. I made 10 Hero Classes ranging from an Alchemist to a Warrior, with spellcasters smattered in between. Each class has the option of taking many paths because your abilities are not set in stone. Each time you play, you get to choose how your character advances. You get 16 different ability choices that pop up during play over the course of 30 levels; that’s one ability every 2 levels plus 1 extra that you pick during character creation. It’s like picking a feat in various other games. The path you take is of your own choosing. Abilities are designed around themes like cold damage dealing classes, dark energy users, and genetic manipulation for protection or offense. The name of the Hero Class will give you a feel for its play-style such as Dread Knight, Abyssal Cleric, or Warrior.

Equal parts Powergaming and Storytelling

The classes and combat abilities are not your only area to customize. You get to pick special modifiers called techniques which modify your powers one way or another and you get to choose very powerful roleplaying powers. It was always a pet peeve of mine that my players that chose “role”-playing over “roll”-playing (think story-heavy player vs power-gamer) suffered in games. To fix that I made two forks in the road that can be traveled simultaneously, but don’t impact each other mechanically. Your Class Abilities are a separate path from your Roleplaying Abilities that I call Talents. Just by the names you can sense what is what. Some abilities are Strife Blade, Neural Sledgehammer, and Wraith Strike. Some Talent names: Vocal Possession, Aura Sight, and Decipher Enchantment. If you see the pattern here, one works best in combat and the other works best in story mode, so you don’t sacrifice one for the other.

I also tried to capture a more free-flowing manner to movement in combat besides the movement squares model. I used a Battlefield and Battle Zone breakdown that looks at the entire field of combat and breaks it into manageable chunks where you tell me where you will be. This gives us the complexity of tactical combat along with fluidity of the short/medium/long range models many other game systems are using today. This way I can say certain things are happening in a particular Battle Zone such as a cloud effect, trees to provide cover, or slippery ice and still keep it to logical boundaries.

All of these things help give me the “black coffee” feel to the game, but nothing does it quite like the Real Time Combat Engine. This is what makes it fit my playstyle the best. With the Real Time Combat Engine I can tweak my actions in combat in any fashion that I desire to give me the maximum impact on the battlefield. Sometimes there will be no ability that I can perform fast enough or potion I can drink that will help, even with the Real Time Combat Engine, but it is the only game that I have played so far that gives me the control I want (dare I say need) to handle combat. If my friend is going to die the next time a monster hits them, I want options. In Unchained Heroes, all I need to do is cancel my action and pop a fast or instant heal on my Ally. I don’t need to wait for my turn, because there is no turns. If I see my squishy Sorcerer ally getting the attention of a wyvern attack, I can throw myself in front of the attack and take the brunt of it so they don’t have to; better yet, I can throw my shield in front of the Wyvern’s face and make it’s claw scrape steel instead of sinew. Lastly, for those that love explosions, you can chain a bunch of powerful abilities in a short period of time to incinerate a foe before they get a chance to perform their final blow.

If any of this sounds like something you and your friends might fancy, I encourage you to check out Unchained Heroes by visiting this website, following us on G+ and Facebook, and eventually, picking up a copy of the game. It WILL be back in print and PDF in the next few months. I can’t wait for you to see it. Maybe it will be your “black coffee,” we all have a particularly gritty systems that we like and this one might be yours.


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