The Story Behind Black Clover

January 11, 2010

Concept art for the Black Clover character, "The Organist." Yes, that's a mechanized arm.

So, for many of you, I’ve talked about this random game — Black Clover — and you’re confused as to what it is.  You may have seen it on my Twitter background, you may have heard me talk about it in tweets, and you may have read some of my random descriptions in my blog.  You’ve been introduced to one of my characters — Xavier Guldstein — but you don’t really know much about this world or what this game really is.

Well, now that Black Clover is coming closer and closer to being a reality instead of one of my ludicrous fantasies, I feel that I can talk a bit more freely about this project, this pen and paper roleplaying game.

Black Clover is my first professional attempt at a pen and paper roleplaying system.  For a while, the game was going to be nothing more than a modification of Dungeons and Dragons Fourth Edition, running off of Wizard’s new open gaming license.  However, when that brand new OGL never came through with the release of 4th Edition, I turned away from using the new D&D as a base and began experimenting with my own, deciding to take advantage of the moment and really craft a game that suits my world.

Black Clover is set in what I like to call Gothic fantasy steampunk, where it’s really a dark mishmash of steampunk values with punk/rock/emo/Victorian fashion.  It’s a bloody world full of the wonder of invention, the intrigue of a fledgling nation recovering after the destruction caused by a great plague, and a society where heroes barely exist.  It’s luscious, it’s twisted, it’s dark, it’s gory, and it flirts with the inappropriate constantly.  While it’s one of my newer fantasy worlds, it’s quickly risen to be one of my favorites.

The world took off centered around two thoughts in my head one day when I was eating lunch:  One question was, “What would a world that was obsessed with death be like?” while the other one was, “What would be the most powerful weapon in existence?”  The answers came quickly — the world would be dark, corrupted, and the center stage for a few heroes taking on all of the wrongs in the world in a bitter, weak struggle to make things right while the most powerful weapon would be the human soul.

So created was the Black Clover Rifle, a mythical wonder of technology that had the power to distill the essence of the human spirit by siphoning it out of the person through six sharp, wicked hooks attached to the back of the gun.  The energy would be routed through a central chamber containing an odd, onyx gem shaped like a four-leaved clover, where the energy was then dispersed into the barrel of the gun.  Black Clover had two firing options:  pulse the trigger quickly to only fire a part of your soul, or hold the trigger down to siphon your soul until you let go… letting the whole thing fire in one gigantic burst.

This was the weapon that finished a war by creating a two-mile wide canyon down the center of the continent for four hundred miles.  This was the gun that destroyed an entire army for the cost of one human life.  This was my world’s atomic bomb.  Of course, after firing the gun, the weapon and it’s holder disappeared.  Some say that he and the gun were consumed by the force of the blast, while others still believe the gun survived… hidden out there in Clover Canyon.  If a full burst could obliterate an army, then how powerful could a person be if they only pulled the trigger for a fraction of a second?


So, with this world had to come a brand new way to play roleplaying games.  Carbon copying rules wouldn’t cut it for this universe (in addition to being illegal.)   However, I did not want to innovate for the sake of innovation (and legal reasons.)  Innovating to be innovative gets you nowhere fast — this system had to solve a problem in roleplaying.  Lo and behold, after just one brainstorming session and a suggestion from a few friends, I stumbled over the idea of dynamic statistics instead of the usual static physical characteristics, like strength, dexterity, etc.  With that, the Personality Drive system was born.

Personality Drive is how Black Clover solves a fundamental flaw of pen and paper roleplaying games: rewarding roleplay in a truly meaningful way.  While many games support roleplaying, and we all know how great D&D can be when the people sitting at the table are dedicated to not dicking over the game… some people like to dick over the game.  It’s hard to roleplay when power gamers are being jerks at the table, rules lawyers are shoving errata down the GM’s throat, and some people refuse to roleplay — preferring to play the whole game as one giant statistics fest.

How does Black Clover fix this?  Quite simply — it ties your statistics to your roleplay.  Each stat represents one of the aspects of the personality of your character.  Utilize these aspects in positive ways that your GM believes to be true to your character, and your stats rise.  Act like a dick… and well… you get statistics worthy of being a dick.  The only person you can blame is yourself.  Black Clover rewards you greatly for playing your character by offering you new abilities, new weapon upgrades (yes, you heard me, you build your weapon from the ground up), and better dice rolls.  Character improvement isn’t measured by scores of experience or level — character improvement is measured by character improvement.  As you explore who you are as a character, your abilities increase as you become more sure of what and who you are.  Act in contradicting manners, you’ll have memories that will haunt you.

This system, while it sounds limiting, really offers a more unique experience by making the player understand that some choices ARE hard decisions.  Heroes don’t make cavalier decisions when lives are on the line.  Or, will you break your morals to do the right thing, even if it means doing the wrong thing initially?  Will this power in personality lift you up or smack you down?

That’s just one aspect of how this game is very different from your standard roleplaying experience.  Hopefully I’ve made some of you excited or curious to see more.  Some of you… well you might be a little miffed right now, or baffled as to why I’d do such a thing with my core statistics.  Trust me when I say that it works out. 🙂  But, I won’t be completely sure of that until I enter playtesting… which isn’t for a bit yet.  But, in my initial runs… things look dandy. 😀


  1. While I’m not particularly interested in an emo steampunk setting, it sounds like you’ve found something that really scratches an itch for you and your group. Especially regarding the connection of personality and statistics.

    There are other games that do this in varying degrees. Variations on the Fate system (Spirit of the Century, Houses of the Blooded, Diaspora), all include variations on Aspects, which are personality traits that provide statistical benefits as well as weaknesses.

    Burning Wheel and its offspring are similar. Your character’s lifepaths determine your age, stats, available skills, and available character traits. Pursuing your beliefs and achieving your character’s personal goals gives you Artha, which you can spend to momentarily boost your rolls, or you can save it up to improve your character. Also, as your character evolves in-game, other players vote on and off different traits, which provide both roleplaying and mechanical impact.

    I don’t say this to show that you’re late to the party – on the contrary, I really dig games like this. But you should be aware of games that cover the same realm of experience you seek. That way you can borrow or avoid similarity at your discretion.

    I’ll also note that I’m not sure if it’s best to require players to be heroes and then punish them for acting otherwise. If your goal is to embrace roleplaying, allowing players to pursue any ethical path they like is a lot more interesting. I understand the desire to have players working together instead of against one another, but characters can have wildly different ethos while sharing a common interest or goal. Mechanize that. Make the players write goals that include each other’s characters. And reward them as they pursue or achieve those goals. “Everybody is a hero” is often a bigger obstacle to what I think you’re pursuing than roleplaying and raw stats being disconnected.

    Playtest a lot! Keep at it!

  2. I really love the concept art that’s surrounding Black Clover. In fact it might even be fitting for the final product, instead of just concept art! It looks gorgeous and well suited to the atmosphere of the world you’ve been describing.

    I think that another steampunk/Victoriana setting can only be a good thing, personally. I absolutely adore high fantasy but steampunk needs some fleshing out; more diverse worlds and canons to create a bewildering variety that’ll leave fans of the genre as happy as high fantasy freaks like me are with the variety that spreads before us. So kudos to you for doing your part, it sounds awesome. 🙂

    This Black Clover Rifle is an interesting concept as well. Sounds like it could be your world’s Frostmourne? 😉

    I’d love to see some details about the cities and such that you’re putting into this world- it sounds like you have a campaign setting and canon/lore in the works for Black Clover. I like the Personality Drive system and with Paul’s caveat in mind (ensure that players are allowed to pursue all ethical paths) I think it’s an excellent idea. I’d love to see how it all works and I look forward to more detailed explanations of it in the future.

    Pen and paper RPGs are ideally suited to rewarding roleplay, which has always been the advantage of D&D and games like Neverwinter Nights where DMs and players could materially alter the game world rather than the perpetually static environs that predominate in MMOs. I like this idea of tying *stats* directly to RP, though. While we are used to roleplaying our stats (like how I often RP sage-like characters if they have high Wisdom) I sense you’re taking it to the next level here. As I said I can’t wait to see it fleshed out further. 😀

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