I had mentioned the changes to Ballista a couple of weeks back and pretty much stated that I was moving away from the concept of a periodical to an actual system and sourcebook which could be used in conjunction with one's game of choice (provided they have roots and compatibility to D&D and SRD material). The OSR community has been blessed with many offerings over the years and, WOTC is actually doing it's part with the AD&D reprints.
However, I haven't gone into much details about Ballista at all and I thought I'd share a few little tidbits to give an idea where I'm going with this. Maybe even suggest a timetable or two. A bit of background first:
Now as much as I love D&D (and by this I am lumping all OD&D through to and including parts of 3rd Edition), no particular edition was perfect and I don't think they will ever be. It's all about personal preference after all. While there were elements I liked about each my ultimate personal preference is playing Castles & Crusades which is a nice blend of 1st edition AD&D with some refinements which 3rd Edition had to offer. All in all, core 2nd edition AD&D is what I played the most during the past 25 years (having been introduced into the hobby between the mid and late 80's). AD&D was always 'the' game for me though we did play other things if we wanted a small break from AD&D. Mind you, this included BECMI D&D as one of the different options we chose. ;)
Today, thanks to the OGL and SRD, we have more options and various of these make little modifications here and there where as others stay true to the original design. In any case, they tend to be all pretty recognizable. Sometimes a bit too recognizable. In the end, I think this is also my disappointment with the hobby -- there just isn't enough variation to distinguish most OSR efforts from others. There are certainly favorites among them and I don't mean to say that any of these are bad either but in the end, if you liked one particular 'flavor' -- say Labyrinth Lord but liked what another game did. It becomes fairly easy for someone to just incorporate that element into your Labyrinth Lord campaign.
I don't want Ballista to be 'yet another clone variation'. Some material will hopefully be fresh and accessible enough to make aspects of it really stand out. At the same time, I want the larger whole to be 'familiar' to those who pick it up for the first time. In the end, I would rather see it used in conjunction with the game you play -- whether this is the AD&D, C&C, Delving Deeper, Labyrinth Lord, 3rd Edition D&D, or whatever. If someone takes Ballista and runs with the system 'as-is', well they'll still get a complete and comprehensive package needed to do so.
Development for the Rules Companion has 3 phases:
1) Character Creation and Skills - This is largely done right now and most has been completed for several months now. Part of this section was the foundation of an article which was to be published in the first issue when the project was still being considered as a periodical. While the system still employs an Archetype / Level system, it differs in the sense that you don't chose a class but rather build one. In conjunction with this there is a basic skill list which needs to be finalized and a section for races still need to be considered.
Anticipated Completion: 2-4 weeks. There will be more playtesting done using characters created with Ballista but employing a rule set from an existing system (likely C&C). The playtesting will likely be conducted online via Skype or other medium towards the end of that time frame.
2) Magic - This subsection of Ballista is a pain in the ass but the theory and ground work has been laid out. It needs to be tightened up, simplified, and remain in scale with existing vancian systems in case people wish to replace or use this system in conjunction with existing magic systems. Did I mention this was a pain?
Anticipated Completion: I don't have a firm ETA as of yet on this but, I figure it will be about 6-8 weeks. Phase 2 of playtesting for this will stack with previously tested material in late March or early April.
3) Combat and Task Resolution: While there are elements new in the Ballista system, nothing is inherently problematic in terms of balance. It is decidedly grittier if using all the proposed rules in this section (as far a combat is concerned) but remains simple enough to use in-game.
Anticipated Completion: No more than 4-6 weeks. Playtesting at this phase involves complete trials of system as a whole.
Now, based on what I have revealed here, we should see completed rules documentation by mid-April. This includes much of the layout though art will still need to be contemplated. Along with the Rules Companion, material in the form of a Bestiary will be forthcoming along with a setting. This could add a few more weeks to the timeline depending on how the development goes and whether or not I continue to go it alone. For now, I'm keeping details of the setting to myself but it has been something which has been dwelling on my mind a lot the past few weeks.
Beyond the Rules Companion, I do hope to do a line of material for Ballista -- focusing mainly on settings and adventure but, by it's very nature, anything that carries the Ballista logo will be compatible with other game lines.
There should be a release towards the end of April for an adventure with a condensed or light version of the rules to showcase the system as a PDF. We may go as far as do a limited amount of digest print editions of this as well.
The Rules Companion should be a small little hardcover to give it a bit of durability and hopefully add a bit of style for the final product presentation. That's my hope anyway.
I will give more details as the book project progresses.