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The Sword, The Crown, and The Unspeakable Power is a PbtA dark fantasy role-playing game focused on power and intrigue.
The Sword, The Crown, and The Unspeakable Power is a PbtA dark fantasy role-playing game focused on power and intrigue.
709 backers pledged $20,359 to help bring this project to life.

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What is The Sword, The Crown, and The Unspeakable Power?

The Sword, The Crown, and The Unspeakable Power (SCUP) is a tabletop roleplaying game from Wheel Tree Press designed by Todd Nicholas and Thomas J. Using the Powered by the Apocalypse system, SCUP focuses on power, intrigue, and shifting alliances in a dark fantasy setting. Inspired by political science-fiction and fantasy such as A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin, The First Law by Joe Abercrombie, Imperial Radch by Ann Leckie, and the TV show Vikings, SCUP provides players with an immersive role-playing experience, where they can get their hands dirty in the bloody machinations of power. 

How Do You Play The Sword, The Crown, and The Unspeakable Power?

SCUP uses the revolutionary Powered by the Apocalypse system, originated in the game Apocalypse World and utilized by such games as Monsterhearts, Dungeon World, and Masks to create a role-playing experience that is simultaneously deep and intuitive. Players in SCUP will select from a variety of character classes, detailed further below, that allow them to interact with the fantasy world they are creating with other players using narrative-shaping moves and powers. Through it all, you will explore the harsh realities of power, duty, servitude and privilege, as you command your subjects, fulfill the obligations of your station, or struggle against those above you, who would see you crushed beneath their boot. 

A campaign of SCUP begins with the players collaboratively imagining a unique mythology and setting using rich, world building tools provided in the game's rules. The world building exercise will help you create legends about great heroes or tragic battles as you define the flavor and themes of your shared world. Once you've completed that, you will populate your setting with factions ranging from noble houses to secret societies to religious cults, and dream up The Unspeakable Power: the source from which all magic in your realm flows. At the end of the exercise, you'll have built a complete story about your world that provides you with rich details to springboard off of as you create characters and construct your story.

Once you start playing, the game is coordinated by a Master of Ceremonies, or MC, who is tasked with bringing the fantasy world that you've built to life. The MC has their own unique moves and tools through which they can interact with the players to provide them with challenges to overcome and desires to fulfill. The MC's moves highlight status and intrigue, giving them the ability to push the players to fulfill the duties of their station, wrap them up in webs of rumor and innuendo, or confront them head on with powerful interlocutors seeking to take away what they have built for themselves. As examples, the MC has different moves to use against characters depending on whether or not they are high or low status. 

For example, an MC challenging a high-status character, such as a character who is part of a noble family, may use moves such as Hint at vast conspiracies against them or Force their hand and make them wield their power. These moves are designed to give the MC ways to threaten the status or powerful characters and call on them perform the obligations that come with their station. Heavy is the head that wears the crown, as they say. When acting against a common character, someone who lacks noble titles or powerful connections, the MC may choose to use moves like Subtly remind them of their station or lot in life or Crush them with debt to those above them. The moves aimed at common characters exist to give them something to struggle against- the machinations of power and the privileges of the elite stand in the way of what they want. How will they rise against them?

Through using these moves, the MC can help the hierarchy of the world you collectively create come alive, highlighting the harsh realities of power in your game. The MC's role in SCUP is designed to be every bit as rewarding as playing a character, allowing them to let their imagination run wild with with what nefarious schemes are plotted in the shadows by secret societies, or what treachery lurks in the hearts of the nobles who rule over the player characters.

What are the Character Classes in SCUP Like?

Players take on the role of extraordinary characters, both noble and common, with powers and connections that let them get their hands dirty and shape the fictional world of your game in the blood opera you write together. What character class will you choose to play? 

  • The Adept, wizards who command authority by bending the fabric of reality to their whims and desires. 
  • The Beloved, a prophet who acts on behalf of a deity or supernatural force, preaching their theology to a cult of followers.
  • The Black Hood, mysterious thieves and assassins, living in the shadows, working at the behest of a guild or secret society.
  • The Bloodletter, healers who hold dominion over the very gates of life and death themselves. 
  • The Crown, nobles sitting atop their thrones, ruling those beneath them.
  • The Gauntlet, a fearsome warrior who does the bidding of those with coin or status to make it worth their while. 
  • The Hex, witches striking deals and bargains, using their ill-gotten magics to charm and bind their prey.
  • The Lyre, an artist who collects information using their wiles and charm. 
  • The Screw, who discovers the secrets of those unlucky enough to cross their path through... unsavory means.
  • The Spur, who leads a rough & tumble militia of either bandits or hired soldiers in the service of a ruler.
  • The Voice, an advisor with an ear at each door, gathering secrets and whispering in the ears of those with power.

As you play, you will draw on powerful, narrative shaping moves to make your mark on the world you create. For example, the Hex can use her move Devil's Ante to make promises sworn to her come true by mystical means. The Voice can rile a crowd through spreading rumors and secrets with her move Strange Words, while hiding her tracks to keep the source of the information discreet. The Bloodletter can create life from death, stealing the essence of one soul to give to another, using her move Blood for Blood. And the Adept can bargain with The Unspeakable Power itself, using her move Dream Quest to make horrible deals with it to get what she wants. 

All the while, the various Factions the characters belong to will provide them with fruitful information and support, as well as task them with deeds both noble and nefarious to advance their agenda. The Factions in SCUP are created by each player during character generation and represent the social groups the characters belong in that both give them status and provide them with responsibilities and obligations. You may call on your Faction to present you with information or aid as needed, but if you want to stay in their good graces, they may demand your help in advancing their agenda.

So what might you do as the various classes in SCUP? In the video above, we present a scenario that might occur in a typical SCUP game: your character has been cast down before the Queen and charged with treason against her. The video features the responses of several classes- The Black Hood, who responds with indifference, knowing her ability to move in the shadows means that can escape the dungeon if need be; The Lyre, who turns to seducing the Queen, her former lover, to save her own neck; The Gauntlet, drawing her sword and attempting to fight her way out; and The Screw, who relies on the information she has gathered about the nobles in the room to turn the tables on the Queen. 

These responses give you an idea of how the moves in SCUP operate. The Black Hood can roll her move Like a Shadow in the Darkness to escape from those who are trying to hold her, while The Lyre may use her move Charmed, I'm Sure to influence the Queen, her lover. The Gauntlet may use her abilities to fight a large group with no penalties, as well as gain bonuses in combat as she fights, even beyond death, while The Screw may be drawing on her move Pretty Please, which allows her to discover the darkest secrets of characters at her mercy. 

Each character class is designed towards a specific end: doing something that makes them useful, gaining information in a specific, evocative way, or making themselves fearsome and formidable to those around them. As their paths cross, these various ways of wielding power and influence will provide you with ample opportunity to get your hands dirty, allying with each other to accomplish your goals or turning against other characters in bloody revenge. 

The Production

We designed SCUP because we were interested in playing a dark fantasy game that focused on the everyday concerns of people wrestling with power, duty, corruption, and honor. There are, obviously, no shortage of fantasy-themed games about questing and strategic combat, but we had seen significantly fewer that focused on the kind of close-up, personal stories about relationships, politics, and intrigue that we were interested in. Having just played a campaign of Apocalypse World, we realized that the basic stats, moves, and mechanics of that game would work well for telling the kinds of stories we wanted to tell, but we needed to rework the feel of the game, including coming up with new splats, new MC moves, a different world creation system, and new mechanics to make the setting and themes come alive.

Several years and many playtests later, the game is fully written. The money from this Kickstarter will be used to produce the game, as well as pay key people who have worked on it. First, our layout artist Nathan D. Paoletta. Nathan is an independent graphic designer, game designer, small press publisher, and narrative design consultant. Nathan is a designer himself, releasing games such as Annalise and World Wide Wrestling, and is also a layout and design expert, having assisted in the production of games including Ron Edwards' Circle of Hands, Elizabeth Sampat's It's Complicated, and Russell Collins' Tears of a Machine. Additionally, we want to pay our talented team, which includes Jenn Martin, who is doing artwork, administrative work, and design, as well as pay for all aspects of the production and distribution of the game, including the work done by the voice actors on our Kickstarter video. The game itself with be produced by DriveThru RPG who are one of the leading manufacturers and distributers of games. 

Stretch Goals

We need $6,000 to cover our basic production costs, but we'd love the opportunity to make SCUP something that really sings, so we have three stretch goals that we'd love to reach to get you the best product possible.

(REACHED!) At $8,000: Artwork by Marnie Galloway!

Marnie Galloway is a cartoonist and illustrator working in Chicago. Her award-winning debut graphic novel "In the Sounds and Seas" (see the image above) made the Notable Comics list in Best American Comics, and was mentioned in the Best Comics of 2016 round-up by the AV Club. She is a former organizer of the Chicago Alternative Comics Expo, and her illustration clients include Cricket Magazine, 826CHI, Saveur Magazine and Narratively.

If we reach 8k, Marnie will provide her signature style of evocative artwork for the character class playbooks. If you want to see more of Marnie's work, you can go to her website, Monkey Rope Press to get a taste of what she can do for the look and feel of the game.

(REACHED!) At $10,000: Marnie does the whole book!

If we reach 10k, Marnie will provide illustrations for the entire book, giving it a unique aesthetic that will fully capture the vibe of what we're going for with SCUP. 

(REACHED!) At $12,000: We make extra playbooks!

Tom, Todd, and Jenn have a handful of ideas we've batted around for experimental playbooks that are slightly orthogonal to how the classes included in the main book operates. If we reach 12k, we'll release a limited edition set of five new playbooks, made available first to our backers. 

(REACHED!) At $15,000: Julia Bond Ellingboe and Eric Simon write primers!

We've always envisioned SCUP as a game that could be played in a variety of fantasy settings, informed by the great diversity of histories, traditions, and folklores of the world, yet many gamers (including us!) are predominantly familiar with fantasy that draws on Western European history for inspiration. As such, we've brought on Julia Bond Ellingboe and Eric Simon to collaborate with us on writing primers for people interested in playing a dark fantasy game like SCUP in a setting that draws inspiration from non-Western European settings. 

Who are these lovely folks who we're hoping will be able to help us? Glad you asked!

Julia Bond Ellingboe is a freelance writer and roleplaying game designer who runs Stone Baby Games. If you are a SCUP backer, you are probably most familiar with her groundbreaking game Steal Away Jordan, or perhaps Tales of the Fisherman's Wife, but she is also a writer of fiction whose work draws on a variety of folkloric traditions, such as African American slave narratives, Japanese kaidan stories, and the Francis J. Child Ballads. Julia holds a bachelor’s degree in Religion and Biblical Literature from Smith College and lives in Greenfield, Massachusetts. 

Eric Simon is the writer and publisher behind the Steamscapes setting for Savage Worlds. He has written for Pinnacle’s Savage Tales of Horror and for Time Cellist by Wheel Tree Press. He also recently released Rockalypse, a new setting for Fate.

We are big fans of both these amazing authors and we are super stoked at the possibility of having them on board to write something for SCUP!

At $17,000: Tasha Robinson will write an essay primer on dark fantasy! 

SCUP is a dark fantasy role-playing game and we wanted some help exploring the themes of that genre as thoroughly as possible. If we hit $17,000, culture writer Tasha Robinson will write a primer on the themes of the genre to help players think about how to actualize the genre at the table! 

Tasha Robinson is a culture editor and writer based in Chicago. She was a longtime staffer of The Onion’s arts and entertainment site, The A.V. Club, and a contributor and co-editor on the books Inventory and The Tenacity Of The Cockroach. She has been an editor at Pitchfork Media’s film site The Dissolve, a reviewer for NPR Books, a co-host of the podcasts Reasonable Discussions and The Dissolve Podcast, and a frequent guest on Filmspotting and The /Filmcast. Her writing has appeared in The Chicago Tribune, The Comics Journal, io9, The Wrap, Vulture, RogerEbert.com, and many other publications. She is currently one of the co-hosts of the Next Picture Show podcast, and a writer and editor at The Verge, Vox Media’s tech and entertainment site. She is not-so-secretly addicted to designing, running, and playing in RPGs.

We at Wheel Tree are big fans of Tasha and we could not be more excited to have her on board. Her writing on popular culture is always illuminating, and we're really looking forward to seeing what she can do with the topic if we make 17k!  

At $18,000: Willow Palecek will write a primer on playing hard!

SCUP is a game about the nasty, brutish, and short lives of people scrapping for power in a rough world. We want you to have the full blood opera experience at your table, so we've invited author, designer, and all around gamer extraordinaire Willow Palecek to write a primer for SCUP called "Playing Hard: How to push yourself to the limits to up the stakes for your roleplaying." If you're not familiar with Willow's work, she is the designer of a number of games including Escape From Tentacle City, Awesome Adventures, and Conclave. She also runs the annual Forge Midwest convention, and is one of the hosts of the Fastcast Podcast. Additionally, Willow has been playing and running SCUP since nearly its inception and we know of almost no one who gets the themes and tricks of the game quite like her. We are truly excited about hearing her thoughts on how to push your game of SCUP as far as it will go! 

Risks and challenges

SCUP is currently a completely written game. While we will continue to tweak it based on playtests during the production process, it is predominantly complete and the Kickstarter exists to fulfill the costs of producing the book itself.

This is our second Kickstarter through Wheel Tree Press. Prior to SCUP, we successfully funded and completed Time Cellist, a role-playing game about a time traveling superhero. The experience we gained on funding and delivering Time Cellist gives us the confidence that we will be able to fully complete SCUP if we get it funded.

Having said that, there are always risks and challenges involved in bringing a project of this scope to completion. While there are no specific challenges that stand out to us right now, we will do our best to communicate any issues that arise throughout the process of production to backers.

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    You have whispered into all hearing ears of the Unspeakable Power. It appreciates your loyalty.

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    The Sword

    You get the rulebook as a PDF, when it releases, including the full game and the character class playbooks.

    You have hired the sword, it will spill blood in your name.

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    The Crown

    You get the rulebook as a softcover book as well as the PDF. This includes the full game and the character class playbooks.

    You have taken the crown for yourself, but will your pawns act out your plan?

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    The Unspeakable Power

    You get the rulebook as a hardcover book as well as the PDF. This includes the full game and the character class playbooks.

    You have gazed into the unspeakable power and it has gazed back into you- what will you do with the power it has given you?

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    Three Who Conspire

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    A Bustling Marketplace

    This is a tier for brick and mortar stores. You get six softcover copies of SCUP.

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    A ritual artefact

    You get the book (hardcore or softcover, your choice!), the PDF, and SCUP artist Marnie Galloway will draw your character based on your specifications.

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    Symbol of Power

    You get the PDF and hardcover versions of the book and a replica sword or crown (your choice).

    We're not kidding.

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Funding period

- (30 days)