Rescue from Without
Life on the Edge
With Karl running Crooked Dice and working on 7TV: Apocalypse, and Peter lecturing full time and writing roleplaying material for Modiphius Entertainment and Chaosium Inc., 7TV: Pulp always seemed likely to remain a great idea rather than a viable project. Fortunately, like many cliffhangers, the situation was resolved by outside help.
In 2014, the Creative Writing team at Edge Hill University had discussed the possibility of starting up what became Edge Hill University Press (EHUP). A year later, two members of the team, novelist Dr Rodge Glass and poet Dr James Byrne, began EHUP with the financial support of the university. As Rodge explains:
“We were looking for ways to provide students with concrete opportunities to get involved in the publishing industry, to see first-hand how it works. And to gain experience which would later help them into jobs in that industry.”
The plan was simple. Each year, students would apply competitively for jobs as interns to work with staff and a partner publishers to produce a professional publication. The process would cycle through the teaching expertise of the Creative Writing staff, beginning with fiction, then continuing with poetry, script and games.
When the prospect of 7TV: Pulp arose, EHUP had enjoyed considerable success.
Head Land, a celebratory anthology of short stories written by the winners of the Edge Hill Prize for the Short Story, had been published by Freight Books in September 2016.
The Press’ second project, Atlantic Drift, a transatlantic anthology of poetry and poetics from Arc Publications, had followed in September 2017.
A third publication, Scenes from the Revolution: Making Political Theatre 1968-2018, was being planned in collaboration with Pluto Press.
Rather than considering a collection of critical essays on tabletop gaming as EHUP’s fourth project, Peter decided to pitch 7TV: Pulp to Rodge and James. As directors of the press, they would decide whether or not the project was viable. Rodge reflects:
“7TV: Pulp felt fitting in terms of what we’d done before. Each project so far had its own needs, which followed from the form it was working in. Naturally, a games project was going to work differently from a standard book, but that was exciting too.”
7TV: Pulp would differ from previous EHUP publications in two distinct ways – and raised a couple of interesting questions. Firstly, and for the first time, student interns would be developing creative content in addition to fulfilling the roles available in previous projects, including liaison work, editorial tasks, proofreading, and events management activities. But would students have time, in their busy study schedules, to do what was required? Secondly, 7TV: Pulp was conceived as a two-year development rather than a one-year project. This meant that EHUP would be running two ventures simultaneously in 2017-18: Scenes from the Revolution and 7TV: Pulp. Would there be enough student interest to make both possible? Time would tell…
EHUP to the Rescue
In August 2017, Peter and Karl framed 7TV: Pulp as ‘A Collaboratively Produced Tabletop Narrative Wargame co-designed and co-written by Edge Hill University Creative Writing Students, Staff and Crooked Dice Personnel’. Karl’s support and enthusiasm were essential. Writing in support of the collaboration, Karl explained,
‘While I love the freedom Crooked Dice gives me, I do miss working with publishing teams. If there was an opportunity to help students into the industry (gaming or publishing) then I would love to help – particularly if we could bring 7TV Pulp into being.’
Working together, Karl and Peter won the support of Rodge and James, who welcomed the value of the experience to Edge Hill’s students. Rodge recalls:
“Here we had a fantastic partner in Karl Perrotton, who was keen to work closely with us. But we also had something that would meaningfully involve students in the development as well as execution of bringing a wargame into the world. How could we possibly say no?”
It was agreed that EHUP would provide time and resources to enable the development and production of 7TV: Pulp. Peter would receive a small allocation of time to develop the game with the student interns during the second year of the project and Karl would have the backing of EHUP during the production phase.
EHUP’s support for 7TV: Pulp was only the beginning of Edge Hill’s unstinting enthusiasm for the project which would, as time moved on, involve the university’s Corporate Communications department, the Student Opportunity Fund, Learning Services and ICT Resources.
7TV: Pulp is Go!
From the outset, 7TV: Pulp had several objectives. The primary purpose was, of course, to produce a highly entertaining, absorbing and fun skirmish game with an authentic pulp sensibility that could be developed by players in the same way as the core 7TV game and, later, 7TV: Apocalypse. This would include modifying the 7TV2 ruleset and building an appropriate game-world akin to Sidney Barron’s 7TV Productions; designing and writing profile cards, gadget cards, and cliffhanger cards; and playtesting the game. Since 7TV: Pulp was also planned to provide students with experiences that would help them into professional careers, it would include opportunities for:
- improving interview techniques;
- conducting research and adapting and pastiching texts for commercial purposes;
- developing students’ professional practice in a commercial context;
- building project coordination, management and teamworking skills;
- design and editorial processes, writing for a brief, and playtesting;
- contributing to design and layout choices;
- exploring copyright and public domain materials;
- liaising with Karl and Peter as project coordinators and lead designers;
- demonstrating the game at key shows, including the UK Games Expo 2019;
- client-facing work through liaison with Crooked Dice and with the general public during trade shows, building confidence and maturity.
Karl and Peter worked out an ambitious timescale:
- interview and appoint interns to form a 7TV: Pulp Development Group;
- set up a 7TV: Pulp Development Group on Facebook for easy communication and secure a Dropbox account for file sharing purposes;
- help the interns to learn to play 7TV and become familiar with the rules structure and conventions;
- research a range of 1930s and 1940s cinema serials, identifying different genres and distilling out archetypes, events and cliffhangers. Ideas for Star Qualities and Special Effects would start to be compiled at this stage.
November – December 2017
- define the six genres that would provide some of the game’s architecture;
- commence work on statting profile cards, and developing gadget and cliffhanger cards;
- continue to play 7TV to ensure familiarity with the ruleset.
January – March 2018
- complete drafts of profile, gadget and cliffhanger cards;
- design a fictional studio concept for 7TV: Pulp.
- playtest the alpha versions of the profile, gadget and cliffhanger cards;
- revise and balance all cards;
- playtest the revised cards.
- submit the first full draft of the alpha ruleset to Karl for revision and development.
- Karl and Peter would revise the alpha ruleset to form a beta set to be tested by the second wave of student interns.
- interview and appoint interns to continue work as the 7TV: Pulp Development Team;
- help the new interns to learn to play 7TV and become familiar with the rules structure and conventions;
- familiarise the new interns with the beta ruleset in preparation for playtesting.
- playtest the beta ruleset;
- research public domain pulp images and texts;
- begin working on material for a 7TV: Pulp Development Blog, complete with historical information about the fictional film studio introduced by the first group of interns;
- liaise with Karl on commissioning new sculpts for 7TV: Pulp miniatures;
- organise and book stand for the UK Games Expo;
- final revisions. Deliver all profile, cliffhanger and gadget cards to Karl for layout and design;
- make final decisions regarding game components and the style of 7TV: Pulp.
- launch the 7TV: Pulp blog;
- develop material for posting to the blog.
- continue to develop the 7TV: Pulp blog;
- work up promotional material;
- shoot a tutorial film to teach new players to play 7TV: Pulp to post on Youtube.
- launch game at the UK Games Expo on 31st May.
Of course, like all battle plans, as Helmuth von Moltke the Elder warns us, the proposed schedule didn’t survive contact with the enemy – in this case, time…
See ‘Assembling the Team’, Chapter Four of the 7TV: Pulp Design Blog.
With many thanks to Dr Rodge Glass.