Farewell to Vortex

I had some rather sad news last week. It appears that Battlefield Press has lost the license to the Vortex System, the game engine behind the Doctor Who Roleplaying Game (formerly known as Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space), as well as Primeval, Rocket Age and (unfortunately for me) Pulp Fantastic.

Pulp Fantastic was my first proper game writing credit, and it holds a warm place in my heart. The original Pulp Fantasy from BPI was a D20 derivative, which I re-wrote for Vortex, expanding the game world so ably crafted by Chris Helton, Jonathan Thompson and others as I went. The resulting game was toolkit for rollicking high-octane pulp adventures, and while flawed, I still think it was pretty good. When the word came down that we’d lost the license, I was just finishing up an extensive magic system for inclusion in the second edition, which we were hoping to unveil at GenCon in August.

I’m not going to pretend I wasn’t upset. Working on the magic system had been a welcome distraction over the last year, helping me recover from the shock of my best friend’s suicide. To be denied when we were so close was a horrible blow. For the first time in my life I left work early, went to the pub and cried on a friend’s shoulder for a while.

Since then, with a bit of distance and some time to think, I’ve realised that this is a good thing. Vortex was a good fit, but it could have been better. There are always problems arising when dealing with a licensed system – you want to keep the material you produce close enough to the source that it remains compatible, but you still need the flexibility to be creative. It’s a tricky line to walk, and I’m not sure how successful we were – in many ways Pulp Fantastic is it’s own system due to the tweaks I made to make it fit the genre. With that experience under my belt, there are so many things I would have done differently.

One of the advantages of working on Pulp Fantastic has been the realisation of my own strengths and weaknesses. I’m not a big “crunch” guy. The rules systems I love are elegant, fast, clean and simple. As much as I love D20 in all it’s forms, asking me to write it will just bog down a project. I’m a writer at heart, and my strength is creating worlds. I can write “fluff” (such a misnomer – it’s the meat of a setting, what drives the characters and what they’re fighting for. Not fluffy at all) of a sort that will make players think and want to explore more. I make compelling villains, relatable heroes and NPC’s that live and breath. I need to focus more on that.

So, where next? Well, Vortex may be off the table, but the world of Pulp Fantastic remains. I know Jonathan Thompson has plans for it, and hopefully I’ll be involved. This is, I think, an opportunity for us to create something better. What it will be, and the shape it will take, we’re just beginning to get a sense of.

But it’ll be awesome.


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