OngoingWorlds blog

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5 steps to world domination: How to create your own sim

Nathan Fillion, Mal Reynolds in Firefly

Nathan Fillion (image: Gage Skidmore)

Blame Nathan Fillion. That’s what I do.

I’ve created a good number of sims for my club (Phoenix Roleplaying) and elsewhere over the years; including some original concepts that I have covered in a previous article.

In this post, I will be covering some more general points about sim creation, focussing in particular on Kvant, the Simulation Cup winning Firefly sim that I created for Phoenix in 2011. I’ll give you a description of that sim to help you get the idea:

The Eagles of Warsaw are an elite mercenary group who travel the ‘Verse, tackling ruthless pirates, vicious Reavers… and rabid music fans. The crew of Kvant, after an embarrassing incident involving a cargo shuttle and a Skyplex, are now having to deal with the latter. Given a chance to redeem themselves by protecting the radioactive thrash band Girls With Exploding Guitars, they find themselves unsure who needs protecting more…

Get a good idea

This is both the easiest and the hardest part of sim creation – as a good concept could strike you literally at any moment, be it lying in bed or crammed onto a Docklands Light Railway train as it departs Canning Town. You’re going to get a lot of ideas, many of them awful and some of them good. It’s handy to keep a notepad (or electronic equivalent) with you for when inspiration arrives like an Israeli ninja sailing through your window.

SEE ALSO: 5 ways to advertise your roleplaying game

Kvant’s genesis came when I was at AJJE Games. Heavily impressed by a sim I was in, Prinz Eugen (which involved a group of mercenaries writing wrongs), I was looking to create something similar. In addition, I was (and still am) a subscriber to the Hugo-nominated comic Schlock Mercenary, so I wanted to bring some of that vibe to the game – there was also a decision to add a satirical edge to the sim at an early stage. Other events (namely the 2010 Schism) intervened and any plans to create this sim at AJJE were over – but I would carry the idea with me.

When deciding what ideas you want to take forward, you’ll need to be aware of the tastes of the club that you plan to pitch the sim too. When it came to fully proposing the sim at Phoenix, there was a pre-existing fanbase for Firefly – indeed, it’s our most popular setting (unusually for a sim discussed here, we currently have no Star Trek sims).

Build the world

How difficult this task is going to be varies depending on your sim. If you’re using a pre-existing setting, it’s largely been done for you and you’ll just need to check that your additions to the universe don’t clash with things already in canon… you’ll also need to establish rules regarding canon and what use people can make of it. As a general rule, characters from the TV show Firefly are barred from being used in a sim set in The ‘Verse, for the simple reason that it could lead to arguments over the way a player handles one of them.

Either way, you’ve got to build a convincing world (or worlds) for your players to RP in. For Kvant, I had to create a number of private security firms and find a way to integrate them into a setting with an authoritarian government that might not like them. I worked around this one by remembering that the Alliance’s authority breaks down somewhat the further away from the Core that you get, local sheriffs might appreciate someone doing their dirty work and there are certain things that the Alliance doesn’t want to hand to the Hands of Blue folk either – sometimes you need a deniable hammer.

The firms also took distinctive style. Maczarek Security owes its influence to the US military while Brent Cross to the British one (it has regiments that are named after shopping centres in my home country – indeed, it’s named itself after one in London). Wallenstein, the sort of frenemies of Maczarek Security, are styled after the modern German armed forces – the Bundeswehr. The name comes from a famous mercenary commander during the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648, a conflict even bloodier than the Second World War for Europe when you look at the relative demographic impact), which was intended as a nod to Whedon – who named a corporation in Dollhouse ‘Rossum’ after the story in which the word ‘robot’ first appeared.

Build the people

You also need distinctive NPCs and GMPCs (the latter are those with more fleshed out backgrounds than “spear carrier”) to provide dynamic tension with your players, especially before you reach the magical stage when players are RPing with each other without GM intervention. In addition, you need someone to deliver exposition (looking cute while doing it is optional); those familiar with NCIS will know that Abby and Ducky’s primary job is to do this. You’re also going to need a good villain, if your RP has that sort of thing.

At the same time that the original concept of Kvant was being developed, I started watching the ABC dramedy series Castle; which as you may well know stars Nathan Fillion (Captain Mal Reynolds in Firefly). Impressed by his co-star Stana Katic (Detective Kate Beckett), I decided it would be amusing to chuck her into the mixing and developed a character based on her screen persona; recycling a previous NPC name, Anna Maczarek, for this mercenary commander. In addition, the History Channel in the UK showed Patton 360, a documentary series on General George S. Patton. Patton’s overall persona, thinking that he was basically a great historical commander reincarnated and a penchant for not particularly well-mannered (the story about him stopping while crossing the Rhine in 1945 to urinate into struck a chord), seemed great for Anna. Elements of Beckett’s personality and dress sense fused to create Colonel Anna Maczarek, Unification War hero and savvy CEO.

Other NPCs followed; Major Miriam Koizumi, a former lingerie model, was conceived as “think Kelly Brook but shorter and with red hair – don’t walk into a lamppost while doing so”. Girls With Exploding Guitars came from famous rock groups of the 1960s that could never leave a hotel room or guitar intact. Major Cowley got his name from the 1970s British espionage show The Professionals; it was my decision to make him a bit of a pervert.

Get it approved

This is also the first step; if you can’t get the sim set up by the site leadership, then there’s not a lot of point doing the thing in the first place. Make sure that you’re familiar with the sim creation process of your site (which may well require minimum rank and time as a member, although Phoenix doesn’t have ranks or a requirement for the latter, with a certain number of players generally required too); who to approach and how to fill out the form, to avoid delays in the process. In addition, you need to know if not who to bribe (I discourage that sort of thing), who to avoid annoying unduly; getting on the wrong side of Admiral White Haven or whoever isn’t advisable in general circumstances, especially when he has final decision.

When I set up Kvant, I was Deputy General Coordinator of Phoenix Roleplaying and the Sim Support Officer (IIRC, I was certainly something rather senior) – I now, as of time of writing, am running for a second term as General Coordinator. I can therefore only draw from my AJJE experiences; where I had to submit two proposals – one draft and one full to a set structure – the latter for Covert-81 came in at 34 pages; although that contained a lot of background material. A well-developed proposal, even if it’s for your own use, is very useful.

Get off to a great start

You need to start your sim with if not a literal bang (although that can help) a metaphorical one – a great set of opening posts that lure your players in and keep them hooked. It really helps you if you draft the first posts (and key later ones) in a word processor. Make sure that you also get enough applications ready and set up before you hit the launch button as well.

I have an opening post for Kvant (here); which was strongly informed by my own RL visit to the city sometimes called Lost Wages in 2010 – it was also inspired by the relative lack of water in the ‘Verse; a swimming complex would be a big draw for tourists.


So, there you have it – my tips for relative success in the sim creation business. If you have more, please post below – I would also encourage you to check out Kvant.

Thank you for reading; may your mechanic never get shot in the stomach at an inconvenient moment.

This article was written by Silent Hunter from Phoenix Roleplaying.