The Style of The Troubleshooters

Troubleshooters is an upcoming action-adventure tabletop roleplaying game set in an exciting and adventurous 1960s in the style of Franco-Belgian comics. Here Krister Sundelin, lead writer/designer,  talks you through setting up the style of the game. For more info see the Troubleshooters home page here or head on over to Kickstarter to back it direct!

When I see a new roleplaying game, the first question that pops up is “what do you do?” It is sometimes called the “elevator pitch” – you’re in an elevator with a top producer and you have thirty seconds to sell the game. 

The elevator pitch for The Troubleshooters is this:

“Imagine a fantastic world of the 1960s, divided by the cold war, where evil organisations try to take over the world, and superspies and secret agents try to stop them while fighting each other.  

Imagine a world where you travel the world like Tintin, unmask heinous villains like Scooby-Doo and the Mystery Gang, unravel mysteries like Nancy Drew, do heists like Carmen Sandiego, stop evil masterminds like Spirou and Fantasio, solve crimes like The Saint, and even catch spies like The Man from UNCLE. That’s the world of The Troubleshooters

Together, you and your band of troubleshooters help people, and fix the kind of problems that only you can fix.”

I think that clocks in at almost precisely seconds if I talk fast, and it covers “what do you do” as well. 

So what precisely is the soul of The Troubleshooters? If you have not read any French or Belgian comics, you’re up for a treat. Most people have probably heard of Tintin, arguably the most famous bande dessinée (as they’re called), but outside that, there are hundreds of titles to look up in a variety of styles, from detailed to simplistic, from realistic to exaggerated, from fantasy to science fiction. 

The main inspiration to The Troubleshooters starts with a handful of titles, set in our own world in roughly the modern era. The pair of Spirou et Fantasio, bell boy and journalist; and the young journalist Tintin and his friends Haddock, Professor Calculus, Thomson and Thompson have already been mentioned. It is curious that the two of the three main characters in the two biggest titles are journalists. It says something about the respect that journalism used to have when the characters were invented. 

There are also the electrical engineer Yoko Tsuno and her friends Vic and Paul; the lawyer Gil Jourdan and his assistant Queue-de-Cerise, the pickpocket Libellule, and inspector Crouton; the military and academic duo Blake and Mortimer, and many more. All these titles are available in English by the way, should you want to read them.

Although it is in those titles that you find the core of The Troubleshooters, there are other sources of inspiration – like Lupin III, The Saint or Carmen Sandiego – which are very similar in tone and style. In fact, you could probably steal the plot of any episode of The Saint and make it into a Troubleshooters adventure. Mystery solving like Scooby-Doo or Nancy Drew would also fit nicely as inspiration for The Troubleshooters

Inspired by those sources, we created some style conventions for The Troubleshooters

  • It is about fantasy tourism. We go to exotic places all over the world – glittering metropoles, lost valleys, deep jungles, even space. Travel is common in the game. You get your National Geographic or Wikipedia, read about an interesting place, and set an adventure there. And since the game has an international scope, the character sheet is actually a passport booklet.
  • Characters are experts. When you look at the characters in the inspiration sources, you find that they are not superhuman, but they are working professionals with an area of expertise. But they are rarely superspies, super soldiers or superheroes. 
  • Characters are friends. They trust each other. They may not pull together at all times, and they may doubt each other at times, but they won’t desert or betray one another. 
  • Characters don’t die. In fact, the characters are often not even wounded. They get knocked out and captured instead. Technically, they can die, but only if they choose to risk it.
  • It is easy to be captured, but also easy to escape. This follows from the point above. Game masters, or “the Director of Operations” as we call him, should plan for what happens if the characters are captured, and captured characters get lots of story points for being captured.
  • There’s very little Refusal of the Call to Adventure. In Joseph Campbell’s monomyth, the hero almost always refuses to go on an adventure at first, and it often takes a mentor to coax them over the Threshold. In The Troubleshooters, the characters not only goes on an adventure, but drag their friends along too. 
  • Technology can be weird. We don’t need to be realistic. We can have spy tech and weird tech, if it is motivated by the story of the adventure. Characters should be able to make inventions, even weird inventions. 
  • The aesthetic should mirror that of bande dessinée. The game should look as a Belgian or French comics album. That means that we had to find an artist and a graphic designer who understood the genre. 

With those style conventions in place, we started to write the game. As we did, we also wrote an adventure, The U-Boat Mystery, as a reality check. If we know that the adventure is within the style conventions and feel that the rules and world description support the adventure, then we know that the game works within the conventions as well. 

In the next blog post, we’ll talk about the world of The Troubleshooters, and what makes it different to our world.