Making the Midnight Legion

When I showed up at Aaron Kreader’s suburban Chicago home I had the idea for an interactive sword and sorcery mystery novel and most of a game system worked out. But I asked him to tell me his game book idea first.

From the moment he started talking I was so blown away that I never even bothered to open the sketchbook containing my notes. What he described sounded like one of my own stories, just one that I hadn’t happened to have written yet. And the game mechanics he had developed provided the perfect vehicle to convey the story’s themes. What Aaron described—the Midnight Legion—was an unfolding character arc of self-discovery.

In the story, you wake up without knowledge of yourself or your mission. The game mechanics let your memories return over time based on the choices you make. But even without memories, your skills and training matter. By emphasizing certain skills—combat, stealth or sixth sense—you determine your personal style of play and end up with entirely different experiences than someone else confronting the same encounters. Sixth sense is particularly cool, because you can use it to view the immediate effects of alternate choices before you make them.

One of the most exciting parts of the project was that because Aaron is an artist, the art would be part of the story, containing clues and puzzles you would need to resolve in order to proceed.

The only problem was that while I had come in with the expectation of working on a single product, the vision Aaron described encompassed an entire trilogy, not even counting an additional book of memories. Before we had even started, the workload had tripled.

Once I got back home to Maryland and started working out the plot I found myself stealing from some of my favorite classic games to achieve the effects I wanted. From the Lone Wolf books I took the idea of additional specializations to enhance the core skills. From Steve Jackson’s Sorcery! I borrowed the concept of numerical keys that allow players with the right experiences to change the dynamics of a scene—walking through a hidden doorway, for example, that otherwise you wouldn’t even know was there. The keywords in the Fabled Lands and Megara Entertainment’s Arcana Agency are the antecedents of the Insights that allow the world to change as you interact with it. From Neverwinter Nights and the Knights of the Old Republic I took the general lesson to be awesome.

I put a lot of thought into figuring out how to reduce the primacy of chance while still retaining its disruptive and tension-inducing effects. After a bit of experimentation I came up with Energy Points. By giving up your Energy Points you can influence the outcome of combat and skill checks, meaning that even rolling the dice forces hard choices—should you risk your Energy or not?

Now all of the planning, plotting and playtesting have been done and the Kickstarter for the first Midnight Legion book has been launched. I hope it gets funded, because I really want people to see what we did with Book Two.

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