Monday, 28 May 2012

Sleeper RPG: Playtest @ Birmingham Games Expo 2012 (Updated)


[30 May - Added scans of documents

13 June - Added more scans of missing characters. Thanks Anna :) ]

I turned up for my first ever games expo excitedly on Friday morning to pick up my tickets and rush off to play an unreleased RPG game called Sleeper.  A disaster occurred, they could not find my tickets. Within minutes someone introduced himself as Tony and whisked me away and sorted me out with tickets then virtually escorted me across the road for the game.

Thanks Tony, disaster to superb customer experience in minutes.

Sleeper RPG: Before The Game

UK Games Expo: Game Link -

Having never played a game at an expo before I thought I would try something new. The write up above looked quite intriguing and the briefest of scans of the Death Spiral website helped.

A bald gentleman introduced himself as Ben Counter, freelance author and one of the creators of the game, and said he would be running the session.

After a few minutes I figured out where I knew the name from, minus ten points for me.

The Famous Ben Counter

Sleeper RPG: Introduction

Ben introduced the general game concept. (from the Site)
Sleeper is a roleplaying game of Cold War relics and secret wars. It pits your character’s superhuman powers and elite training against the deadliest relics of the Cold War. The game combines military action, ultramodern gear, science fiction horror and the secret history of the twentieth century in deadly and thrilling battle for the survival of the world. During the darkest days of that conflict, the superpowers came to believe that nuclear war was a likely event. So they took their biggest secrets – the artificially enhanced agents and soldiers, possessing superhuman powers and the highest levels of training – and buried them in secret facilities from which they would wake when nuclear war had finished. These sleepers would then help found the post-nuclear world according to the principles of the regimes that created them.

I had a feeling of Cold City, Hot War meets military action movie. We had six pre gen characters to choose from. I selected Gravedigger as he was frankly the best. A teleporting KGB sniper agent. When I played him he developed a strange liking for the hot tub, I don't really know why.


Sleeper RPG: The Game

The scenario was set up to get us working together and into the way of the game fairly quickly. Our team AFBreaker (Toby), Orange Dart (Chris), Blue Saviour (Jinnie) and myself were tasked by our masters to go and extract an industrialist from him large mansion in the middle of nowhere.

All our characters were highly trained killing machines with some form of 'super power'. Gravedigger could teleport, fairly accurately, AFBreaker could suggest things to people, Orange Dart could regenerate damage and Blue Saviour could create matter from nothing.

Ben had draped a large map across the table and indicated where we were starting. A-ha! I thought large square gridded map this is like D&D4E.

Sleeper RPG In Play

After noticing two dead bodies floating in the swimming pool our crack team of hardened tough people realised that we were heading into a total Clusterfluff. Spotting a neo nazi with a giant german accented dog indicated AFBreaker would probably be attacked the most, this turned out to be correct.

The scenario involved quite a lot of combat and a good few opportunities to try out our other non-killing skills then more combat. Ben ran the scenario really well and the whole thing ran fairly smoothly from out perspective.

The Game System

Everything that follow is based on my fickle memories of a single game of a prototype of the system. They are hoping to have the game ready for release in time for the games expo in 2013. The comments are just an expression of my opinion and should not be considered a formal review.

The good news is I quite enjoyed the system once I got used to it, which took about 20 to 30 minutes.  The system to me felt like a mix between D&D4E and Savage Worlds. To me it had much of the strategic miniatures based nature of D&D but ran quite a bit quicker and all the feats and powers were replaced with a single ability that could be used virtually at will. The Savage Worlds feeling came from the use of different dice depending on skill level (d10 for normal skills, d12 for trained skills) and the speed of the combat.

There was something else as well. Ben stated that X-Com was part of the inspiration which completed the picture nicely.

I also thought there was a general atmosphere of Mythos style foreboding but I see tentacles everywhere.

Skill use could be combined so the character with the best skill could boost their roll with the help of others, when possible.

So at one point Gravedigger tried to calm down a terrified maid after appearing from nowhere in front of her. A persuasion skill then, which I was not trained at (an empty Sleeper RPG - Aboutcircle) based on nerve ( which I had 2 in) I had to roll d10 + 2 vs a Target Number set by Ben. Despite my best kindly Russian teleporting sniper impersonation:
"Be calm Fraulein! Stop crying!" (clumsy pat)

I failed the roll and she was saved from slipping into a catatonic state by the suggestive power of AFBreaker.

Later on I had the chance to shoot stuff, with my sniper rifle! I was trained in the sniper rifle (filled in circle) and had a base of 4 for all my shooting skills. Therefore a roll of d12 + 4. Plus bonuses for calling a shot and having a sniper scope.  Target Number was 8 modified by the expected kind of things.

If people got hit and the damage penetrated their armour wounds were taken. IIRC if the damage was even Special Damage results could happen. Dropping weapons, becoming immobilised, dazed. Damage and status effects were indicated by the use of coloured tiles placed underneath the character or NPC marker. It was quite enjoyable watching the markers pile up under an NPC who was being whaled upon.

The trickiest part with the skills was knowing when to roll a d10 and when to use a d12.

We mostly told Ben what we wanted to do and he told us if there were particular movement penalties or effects and told us what to roll.  This made it quite nippy. Instead of scouring a character sheet for the best skill, power, feat or whatever for each round you could just say I jump through the window and spray the baddies with bullets while teleporting their trousers off. The system seemed to make it quite easy.

Fate points could be use to  reroll dice or boost dice rolls. We had three fate points for the session and were given two temporary fate points for the encounter. As the encounter and the session were effectively one and the same this gave us five fate points each. I think I used to of help to help with fluffed rolls. They did help out characters feel a bit more like awesome action heroes.

I did actually try to teleport off a baddies trousers just for fun but it went awry. For some reason I never used a fate point.


The artwork I saw was really very good and caught the style of the game perfectly. I believe there is more information here. His deviantart page is here.

What Happens Next

The scenario ended with a satisfying conclusion. We got through relatively unscathed which I put down to our exemplary team work and some lucky dice rolls, helped out by the the use of Fate Points for rerolls.

Ben said experience points were probably not going to be used for character progression. Instead they would gain resources through playing the game. Prototype weapons could be taken and used in a later session. teachers could be rescued to improve skills. Gold could be taken from the vault of a villain and used ... the rewards would be greater for those that investigate and explore and role play.  Probably a bit like Traveller.

Summary: Not A Review

I am not a great fan of miniature based games, nor a huge fan of D&D4E which could have been improved by calling it D&D Tactics. I do quite enjoy Savage Worlds though.

Despite what I have just written above I really enjoyed this. The characters are all combat veterans  living in a changed world where all they have to go on is their training. It makes sense they would be used in military style operations and the miniatures system helps keep the combat flowing smoothly. For smaller skirmishes and grunt fight the miniatures would be entirely optional giving more time to progress through a lengthy scenario rather just just getting through a fight in a night.

The system worked quite well and we all managed to pick up the general principles fairly quickly. The general rule of roll high against a Target Number seemed to be consistently applied throughout. Ben sang the praises of the maths genius who was making sure it was worked and balanced. Rolling 1 just caused a normal failure for most non-power related skills.

The skills seem to cover a wide variety of things with broad sweeps. I have just noticed Esoteric which looks interesting. Maybe there will be tentacles?

I am guessing character creation is a points based affair. IIRC Ben said that normal starting characters do not start as trained (d12) in any particular skill. I am not sure how experienced our team were meant to be.

The high concept of empowered cold warriors fighting to save the modern world from horrors from history is quite good and could be taken in many directions by a GM. It is easy to imagine a mix of sessions involving mass combat, stealthy assassinations, dealing with interpersonal conflicts, voyages of discovery, secrets of the past being revealed and so on. Something for everyone really.

What they have already is a very workable system I look forward to seeing what they have in a years time if I am lucky enough to make it to the next expo.

If there are any specific questions about anything let me know. I am planning on scanning and uploading the documents from the game when I get access to a scanner :)


AFBreaker Background
AFBreaker Character Sheet

Billhook Background
Billhook Character Sheet


UK Games Expo: Game Link -
Company -

Ben Counter -,!/bencounter


  1. I was also a first timer to the expo and chose to attend a session of Sleeper, even playing Gravedigger (he is all manner of teleporty fun). Ben was the GM for that game also, and he definitely runs a good session. The rules work well. I like how they avoided going with the d20 system, which I have a real distaste for. 

    Of particular interest to me is your mention of uploading scans. I'm currently hoping that the Death Spiral team will decide to make the 6 characters from the event available online, along with the plot for the 3 sessions, perhaps written as a story. That would give those of us who took part and would like to get our regular gaming group hooked the tools to run a few tasters.

  2. douglasamcintosh30 May 2012 at 17:34

    Hi Anna. I sent an email to Death Spiral about uploading my scans and they have not said no so I will upload them later this evening. Scans are via my phone camera so may not be the best quality but should be sufficient to see what is going on. Hope these help.

  3. Hi peeps, Adam from Death Spiral here. It's not up to me to give the official ok, but I can't see there's a major issue. I'll be speaking with the others next week to confirm, so worst case scenario we'll get back with a polite request. Ultimately we're really happy and flattered that you both enjoyed the game enough to take the time to write about it! Obviously Sleeper is in early stages, so the main thing is people realise this isn't the final full quality product. We've got a solid basis for a game, but much of the polish you'd expect from a release comes later in the development lifecycle. Not that we have any specific plans at this time, but maybe you would be interested in some sort of beta testing? No promises, but I can bring it up.

  4. Given the above comment from Adam, I have a few other scans which you would be able to add. Orange Dart, Billhook and AFBreaker. I also have Gravedigger as a better quality scan if you would like. Basically all of the characters that took part in the session which I was in. 

    Assuming you're interested in putting them up, how would it be best to transfer them to you?

  5. douglasamcintosh1 June 2012 at 17:05

    Yep I am happy to put them up. My email address is dugamcintosh[at]g00glemale[dot]com. Once you have cunningly decoded the secret address you could email me the pictures or send me dropbox links or whatever. Is there any chance you could do a brief write up of the session as I would love to know what happened next.

  6. I'll have a go at a write up of the session, but I'm afraid it won't give you any additional information about what happened after your session as the one I was in was the first one.

    So it started off with all the characters gathered together at the Sleeper safe house. We were called in by a superior; an American military veteran. He informed us that there was a cold war era artefact which had been purchased by a corporation recently. That they couldn't be allowed to keep it and that they were not the only ones who had wanted it. Our enemies were expected to be launching a similar mission. So we headed to the helipad to try and get to the building first.

    The location we went to was in the centre of a major city, so we had to be careful. The helicopter headed slowly towards the building to allow for a closer look on the roof. Gravediggers well honed eyesight easily managed to pick out a pair of armed figures on the rooftop. This meant that we were denied an easy landing. The helicopter hovered over a nearby portion of the structure to allow the team to rappel onto the roof. Luckily this was done without attracting any undue attention from the mercenaries, but then how can they be expected to spot a Sleeper team.

    It was clear that this was not going to be an easy ride. The team would have to fight their way in, and fight they did. The mercenaries, and some reinforcements, were rapidly dispatched. The room below was filled with computer equipment, which held the potential of information about the artefact; however, there were sounds of a firefight occurring below, thus this was not the time for investigation.

    After sneaking down to the floor where gunfire could be heard Orange Dart kicked open the door and threw a grenade at some nearby enemies. This set the scene for the remaining combat. With the soundproofing of the building walls any attempt at stealth was left behind as this turned into a grenade heavy battle.

    Within minutes the Sleeper agents had managed to capture an enemy agent, killed a large number of mercenaries, obtained the artefact and destroyed a vending machine. Hefting the artefact revealed the name of the manufacturer and that the contents were liquid. The mission was complete and Aries ordered a pick-up.

    Hopefully that gives you some idea of the set up leading to your session. The industrialist which you were headed to meet was the grandson of the manufacturer of the artefact found during the session that I attended.

    I shall try and remember to send over the scans this weekend. Sorry for the delay, I have been rather busy.

  7. I sent the files to hopefully the right address.