Adventures in the Underbelly Update

Things have been very quiet on the front of my first supplement to Starguild: Space Opera Noir. You can see a number of blog posts about work on these rules dating from 2017 but not much more recent than that. Where am I with “Adventures in the Underbelly”?

So what has been distracting me?

The short answer is that I’ve been distracted by other game ideas that struck me that I really wanted to pursue. First of these was A Cool and Lonely Courage which I was inspired to write on a flight home from America in June 2018, Playtested at Metatopia 2018, Kickstarted in May 2019 and delivered in August 2019. ENnie-nominated for Best Game in 2020. That was a roller coaster ride of goodness, and I thoroughly enjoyed the process of working on a story game with high emotional content based around the work of real-life women.

Right, I thought, now to get back to Underbelly! I had two final adventures to write for the linked series of cybernetic and psychic adventures in the rulebook, so I decided to write those and take them to Metatopia for adventure playtesting. In a nutshell the adventures worked essentially how I hoped they would (even though we only had two hour sessions rather than the four hours an adventure would normally take, and people who were unfamiliar with the mechanics). There were some useful insights and feedback, so I just needed to write them up and we would be on the way… and then on the drive back from metatopia to Boston in preparation for my flight home I was struck by another short story game idea - which gestated on the way home to what is now Love & Barbed Wire, an epistolary story game which is in playtest at the moment about love letters between the soldiers at the front in World War 1 and their lovers back home. That playtest is underway, and now it is time to get back to Underbelly.

Underbelly next steps

The first step here was to get all my writing into Affinity Publisher. Originally I was using InDesign 6, which had been getting increasingly flaky and finally gave up the ghost entirely with MacOS Catalina. I had no intention of getting on the subscription train with Adobe - it is expensive and if you give up the subscription then suddenly you lose access to all the files you had created with that software, which is no good to me. This is where Affinity Publisher comes in. I’ve been using Affinity Designer and Affinity Photo for several years and they are excellent drawing and paint/photo manipulation apps - fast, comprehensive and easy to use. I was delighted to hear about Affinity Publisher and I took part in the beta programme very successfully. Sadly I can’t import the old InDesign files, so it means setting everything up from scratch, so that was my next big task. I had heard that I might be able to import from a PDF I had produced, but I didn’t hold out great hopes for that.

I’m pleased to say that Affinity Publisher is continually receiving updates, one of the ones I was particularly pleased was the ability to anchor tables in with the flow of text. That saved a lot of time! I’m keeping my fingers crossed for cross-references next.

Once the writing was in Affinity Publisher it was a matter of finishing the adventure write ups, along with supporting characters and so forth, and then sorting out internal art.

Art? Choices, choices!

Deciding what to do with the cover and any internal art is always hard. Running a kickstarter to pay for art in Starguild was an excellent move, but it seems to me that a rules expansion/supplement is necessarily going to have a smaller market and less interest. I don’t want to run a kickstarter that isn’t set up to succeed. That leaves me with options such as

  • no internal art
  • Home-made internal art (black and white)
  • Pay for internal art and expect to not make back the cost

Although my games are never going to make me wealthy, I don’t like the idea of publishing them at a loss. That means that although I will probably want to pay for cover art, I probably don’t want to pay for internal art - the potential market for me is just not big enough to make the sums work.

So I’ve decided to set up a range of internal art that I’ve drawn myself to help break up the pages a little, and to illustrate the cybernetic horrors which can be found in one of the adventures.

woman armed with two swords in a derelict city

Next step?

My proofreader has taken on the unenviable task of poring over writing and stat blocks to help spot errors, omissions and other forms of mistakes. That has been going well, and there is only a few hours more work to do on that. Once that is done, it will be a case of finalising the cover picture and setting up a print proof.

Photo by Shuan Low on Unsplash